The Sunday Magazine

Grey Divorce: five women's stories

Divorce among people over fifty — and much older — is on a dramatic rise. In fact, it's the only demographic where that's true. Marriages of many decades are imploding, exploding, and plain old fizzling out. And women — for better, for worse, and everything in between — are more often taking the lead in making it happen.

Divorce among people over fifty — and much older — is on a dramatic rise. In fact, it's the only demographic where that's true. Marriages of many decades are imploding, exploding, and plain old fizzling out. And women — for better, for worse, and everything in between — are more often taking the lead in making it happen. Hear Ashley Walters' documentary, The High Dive.

When we began work on the High Dive, we put out a call for grey divorce stories. Here are five of the many we received.

11 years ago, I divorced after 30 years of year of marriage. I was 50 years old.

Before my divorce I spent a lot of time thinking about the future and focused on the hope that my life would improve, that I would be happy in my marriage.

Once I made the decision to go forward with separation, it was definitely one day and one problem at a time. I found this essential to my serenity and have lived by this principle ever since.

The hardest part of divorce was coming to the decision, in admitting that I was deeply unhappy and in finding a way to communicate this to my spouse. There was sadness in the loss. And then all the practical things: dividing property, finding a place to live, informing children, family and church.

The reaction of my in-laws was extremely difficult and while I expected that they would have difficulty with my decision I was not prepared for the "shunning" I experienced from them and from my church.

I felt very alone and abandoned. At the same time, I never felt more free.

I came to realize that my shared history with my husband was in fact limited to our now adult children. Acknowledging the emptiness between me and my husband made the future I would build with myself and others seem much more valuable. It gave me hope.

I have remarried. But, like I said, I live much more "one day at a time." This does not take away from my commitment or loyalty to my new partner. I am just no longer willing to sacrifice my own serenity for him, for the sake of a "good picture" or for security. I know he wants this for me as well.

The best part of divorce for me was learning to stand on my own.

I was barely twenty when I got married. I came of age in the 60s and 70s, and the women's movement influenced me significantly. Some of the men raised in the same era have evolved and been able to adapt...But many have not. I believe this played a large part in my divorce and many others of my generation.

The thought of living for another 25-30 years in an unhappy marriage was pivotal in my decision to leave my marriage at age 50. Ticking the years off is a grim alternative.

Life is short, we are meant to be happy!

I turned 68 this year. I am going into my 6th year post divorce. This ageing thing sucks.

I used to live with a "best is yet to come" approach.

Now, I mourn the loss of my younger self. I sometimes allow the fear of never being loved in "that" way again to creep into my mind. The thought that I was really not loved "that" way after all is soul crushing. My self-confidence is tenuous.

The best, most vibrant years of my life were shared with this man. But I apparently lived an illusion. Knowing that clouds many memories. I am learning to quietly & privately remember my own history.

Family reaction to the divorce was caring & supportive. Our adult children who are in their 30's rarely talk about IT...but constantly check in & give me "wonderful mom" accolades.

My relationship with my older sister has deepened.

My ex and I were part of a group of couples for almost 20 yrs. After the divorce, they were good to me but we have little contact now. I mark their milestone anniversaries - 40 years ! - on Facebook. Happy for them - sad for me.

My new acquaintances are older women who live in the same apt complex. There are 6 of us: one still married, 4 widows and me, the only divorcee. All of us are learning to be alone. And we are beginning to be able to say "call me if you need..."

I see no real value in marriage now. I see lots of value in long-term relationships but, oh, there are so many possible painful endings.

This experience, for me, means starting over on every level of my being.

I never thought divorce would be part of my vocabulary. Even with challenges of married life, I was not just married. I was VERY married. For 38 years.

I come from an Italian background. And so, with divorce, there was some shame. But it didn't last.

The history, the intimacies you've shared, collected, created are so deep, you wonder if you can love again that truthfully, that honestly. The innocence is gone.

My ex would have preferred to stay married. But it was not to be. I'll never regret the married experience we had. We settled our affairs amicably and with the least amount of legal expense. We will remain the best of friends.

It's very different to begin again 62. Much more complicated. Men at this age come with grown children. Another challenge is self doubt. What have I got to bring to a new relationship? How many good years are left anyway, for me, for a new 'us'.... ten? twenty?

But that's part of divorce: personal growth.

Now I know I can live independently. But I am looking to share my life with another man. But it's really hard to meet a man close to my age who is interested in a woman my age!

My husband did everything for me: sewing on buttons, polishing shoes, cooking full meals, fixing my bike, making money. So when he announced that he wanted to separate after 40 years of being together...I felt like a heroin addict being denied her fix. I was unmoored.

My husband gamely explained that he would always 'have my back', always care deeply for me. He said he would be open and fair about splitting the assets. But he was adamant: he must move on, while he could. Time was fleeting. For three years, he had been watching his elderly mother on her glacial slide towards death. I think he was, at age 64, taking the wisdom of the New Hampshire license plates, literally: LIVE FREE OR DIE.

When I made mewling protestations about our 40 year history and 'what about the girls'...he poo-pooed it all with vigour, claiming, that we would be both much happier...and therefore 'everyone will be happier.'

I don't think he anticipated the fall out. Our two daughters, and most of our friends, have not spoken to him since.

Within a fortnight he was on OK Cupid. Not long after, he brought his new woman friend - 20 years my junior - into the family home.

I have a deep and abiding anger that he has done this. I would never have opted to separate at this stage of life. But I find myself strangely appreciative.

I feel wonderfully freed up to see and be with whatever friends I choose without censoring myself in order to not antagonize him or cover up for his social awkwardness. And I have a chance to "re-brand" myself , to re-make myself, while my health and mind are good. This is a gift for a "change junkie" like me.

I am aware that my late in life divorce is made hugely more bearable, for a couple of reasons: I have more than enough money to see me out, in style. I have always enjoyed very good health. And I have deep and meaningful supportive ties with my children and I am not lonely.

One of the most difficult transitions is letting go of my identity as a wife and caregiver. I am not dating yet, largely because I have this suspicion that many men out there - especially at this age - are looking for a caregiver or nurturer to 'plug into'. I have no interest in turning on the tap of caring for someone new.

I believe that the most potent expression of love can erupt when two factors co-exist: history and intimacy. I don't think one can beat that. I had it with my husband over our years. And I know I will never have a chance to create a full history with someone new. This saddens me.

I stepped out of my marriage because I realized neither of us would change, except to get older. Retirement was not something I could look forward to.

We got married because everyone around us was getting married. We raised two children together. With them in the picture, there were spells where things went well. But the overall picture wasn't pretty.

I felt ignored. I felt that nothing I had to say was of any interest to him. I stopped talking beyond the minimal exchange at meals. We didn't socialize as a couple because he felt threatened. And I felt constantly judged. If I bought a jacket he thought was too young for me, he would say so. If I did volunteer work, he would say that he didn't see why I felt I had to. I started second guessing myself. I dressed more plainly than I should have. I only went out when it was important enough to withstand the negative comments and clock–watching that would go with it.

One evening he made a fairly typical negative comment. I yet again said I didn't think it was warranted. He said that maybe we should just go our separate ways. I took that opening and agreed. No drama, no tears. We just looked at each other and said maybe we should call it a day. I think we both realized that we were a weight on the other, a barrier to being able to live a good life in our golden years. We get along well now, without the daily tension of living with someone who wishes you were different.

Deciding to be single after being married for over 40 years may not be for everyone, but my home is no longer a cage. It's a place to relax and be myself. I have no regrets beyond perhaps wishing I had done it earlier.


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