Marriage is a reason to celebrate. But it raises eyebrows when considered in
middle-age. And when it is a woman who contemplates it in middle-age, it also
ruffles feathers. DR. Roma Kumar attempts to unknot the delicate tangle.
Inspiring women, brave women, brazen women…that is what comes to my mind when I talk of middle-aged divorced or single mothers looking for companionship.When you’re single, people make you feel like you’re not a full person. As soon as you’re married, all your actions are validated. When you get divorced, they make you feel invalid again. In a country where marriage is often considered sacred and even quintessential for a woman; divorce gets looked at as a sign of failure. Divorce is riddled with trauma, stigma, and is a giant awful rejection, no matter how long you were married, and even more so if kids are involved. You need time to grieve and heal. Even when you have healed, society continues to pull you down. Your loss is real. Your pain is real. However, you can move forward. The pain lessens as you seek to understand that freedom comes as you forgive. And there will be space in your life for new relationships.
The long-term outcomes of divorce for children and parents are the multiple life changes encountered following the act of divorce. These include changes in economic status, residence, occupation, childcare arrangements, social relationships, support networks, family relationships, and physical and mental health. Such changes have been related to the adjustment and psychological well-being of children and parents.
After a marriage ends, either through divorce or death, there's a span of time during which the remaining parent(s) should stay single. This will vary with circumstances, but typically people recognize the point in their lives when they feel they again have room for marriage. In the interim, the family should focus on coping with the massive change represented by a dead or annulled marriage and on building their personal strength to adapt to new circumstances. Once they are solidly grounded in their altered situation, they can begin looking outward and considering the possibility of a new relationship.
Men are allowed more freedom in deciding whether or not to marry in the first place, and in case the marriage does not work out (due to death of the partner, separation or divorce), they have relatively more freedom to remarry. This is based on the fact that a widowed or divorced person can come back to the currently married fold after remarrying. It is natural that women find it more difficult to remarry given considerations about their children and even the social stigma across communities, which is associated with remarriage in India. Although, economic independence might be changing things, but the magnitude has been slow.
Middle age is a time when women are stepping into their own. They are brimming with passion and confidence. However, they also have enough years behind them to have wizened perspectives and they are all too aware that their daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, and students are watching them. The older generation of females were specifically raised on self-sacrifice and persistence. They were not given any choices, but to get delayed gratification in a world where they had to work twice as hard for half as much. They taught their boys and girls by example that if they can’t find a quality partner, one worthy of all that they have to offer, then they can still be happy with no partner at all. Therefore, women who have reached middle age are the ones who have always thought and believed they are the ones to nourish, support, and protect the health of the whole family, even though their own emotional hygiene was at stake.
Middle-aged women are among the most educated, confident, and self-sufficient today. So why is it so hard to find a healthy, enduring, and romantic relationship? Falling in love and having a partner is a human experience most women are not prepared to live without, although they may not talk about it. Same goes for sex. Many studies suggest men who become single after years of marriage are quick to find a new mate, while women are more cautious. For some, it amounts to a much concerted decision to remain single. So behind this deep sense of loss and disappointment lie many reasons why older women miss out: male attitude, the dearth of social opportunities, and the emotional investment needed to date successfully online. Many women would simply rather be alone than be with the wrong man. So, no matter how much they might all wish it, when it comes to affairs of the heart, for the older single woman, there just isn’t a happy ending every time.
Coming out of a marriage and into the brave new world of singledom, especially if you were married before the advent of dating apps, can feel like you’re a domesticated seal, suddenly being released into the wild. You feel lost in an ocean of shallow interactions and meaningless matches.
A woman very often has a rough deal in a marriage, first or second. For every one success story there are two failures where the women had to either abandon children of an earlier marriage or spend the larger part of a second marriage fighting for their children's acceptance in the new household. Many second marriages come to a breaking point over the issue of children from an earlier marriage. Confused and hurt at the breakup of their parents' marriage, children often resent being asked to ‘love’ the newcomer in their parent's life.
Even while divorced/widowed women are challenging old stereotypes, they often have to a pay high price for daring to be different. Second marriages though usually succeed, despite all the odds. Unlike a first marriage, those in a second marriage are usually mature adults, who marry each other despite the obvious hurdles. Past experiences have taught them patience, wisdom, and a degree of flexibility in dealing with other people. In a second marriage, you don't share only bubbling joy and love, you also share pain from the very start. When two people come through this passage of fire, they cannot be easily praised apart.
Statistically,women are far more likely to be widowed and far less likely to remarry than men. Being widowed is a singular kind of displacement, entirely different from any other kind of separation. When you get a divorce, your family is no longer a family. But you do make an effort to move on. You know you’ll still see that man, the father of your kids, the person you once loved; but when you’re widowed, he’s just gone. When you’re divorced, you can be angry, call him names, throw things around. But when he’s dead, who’s to be angry at?
As their parents date, develop serious relationships, and eventually decide to remarry, children may be reminded of their original family and of the life they once had with their parents. Remarriage is a potential crisis for children, comparable to divorce. Losses incurred by divorce are often not ameliorated, and remarriage presents additional tasks and psychological complexities. Children of remarriage must negotiate major structural and relationship changes in the family system. Remarriage usually occurs before children have integrated divorce and resolved grief over the loss of a parent. The presence of a step parent may accentuate the child's loss, provoke competition for the remaining parent, and elicit conflicts in loyalty. In most cases where the children are supportive, it’s been when they have witnessed their parents living in a marriage from hell, with one of the two spouses suffering abuse at the hands of the other. In such cases it is the children who ask the parents to consider splitting. Our society allows adults to have multiple marriages, but children are reared to love and trust only their natural parents. Divorced or widowed women with children agree to marry again because they hope a husband will provide their children with the kind of stability that ageing parents cannot.
The truth is that all remarried (or recommitted) middle aged women with children feel and experience that their new life isn’t only about their love for each other, but they must include love and/or acceptance for the other people their partner loves (children) and has loved (ex-partner, extended family, friends). The intimate relationship they started out with cannot be sustained in a vacuum and will not survive if they don’t acknowledge the unfinished business each has brought into the new relationship.
Rightly or wrongly, many times life does not turn out the way you want or expect, and the widowed or divorced woman feels she lacks the mental and emotional resources to turn it around again. Growing old is tough. Growing old without the support and company of people close to you is tougher. We all need the love and support of other people. We need kindness and laughter and companionship in our daily lives. We need new things to do and companions to do them with. We need breaks from our habitual surroundings. Are you good at taking holidays? Don't be afraid to go alone. You will make new friends, as well as gain a fresh perspective on your life and a boost to your health and spirits.
If you are in this position, think hard about how you want your life to be. Those friends you don't see any more are still there, probably feeling that you don't need them. Tell your neighbors that you're bored of walking your dog on your own and see if someone would like to come with you. Break a habit –join a walking/dancing/theatre group. Make a conscious effort to pursue an interest through a day or evening class. Take this one small step at a time: an appointment with your doctor, one or two phone calls to the friends with whom you feel most comfortable meeting up. Give yourself some self-care…a massage, some yoga. Let's understand that we are very good at our own company too, and a lot of the time it works. But pride must not stop us from admitting that sometimes this competence and self-reliance doesn't work at all. We are human beings. We need other people, and often they are just waiting for us to take the first step. Despite all of the challenges, it is still clear that making friends and maintaining worthwhile relationships is essential. Having good friends is essential for our health and emotional well-being.There are millions of wonderful people in the world who want companions; people just like you. But, in order to find them, you need to face your fears, explore your passions, use your network and, most importantly, take a chance on reaching out to others.