I was sitting in a friend's backyard, next to his new pool, sipping iced tea his wife had just set out for us. Brian, a financial planner, had graciously agreed to meet with me to assess my situation as a favor.
“You’re a 37-year-old childless woman married to an older man; chances are, you’ll be alone later in life,” he explained, “and if you want to take care of yourself, you’ll need money
His words made my mind race for a moment, but I nodded, realizing that he was correct: I needed a new strategy.
For the majority of my adult life, I made a decent living teaching Pilates, and in my late 20s, I opened a tiny studio that I still own and operate myself a one-woman show with minimal overhead and lots of flexibility. Up until that point, I thought I was good with money: no credit card debt, no student loans, a small but existent emergency fund, and my husband had his own retirement
My husband and I have been fortunate enough as a couple to be in a position where we can pay our bills while still having some discretionary income, which I realize is a situation that many Americans and others around the world may never have.
Growing up white, at the lower end of the middle class, in a stable two-parent household had undoubtedly stacked the deck in my favor, providing me with privileges that paved the way for this backyard meeting and allowed me to consider retirement and long-term savings.
Marrying young had also given me an outlier quality among my childhood friends
: as they were preparing to leave for college, I was buying my first house, and as they traipsed around the world on a gap year, I was already working. This meant that I had arrived in my early 30s with several major life milestones already under my belt, and just enough discretionary income to try to compensate for what somet
It's not surprising, then, that as a millennial imbued with an "experience over stuff" mentality, all of my extraneous income from the previous decade had gone to travel, filling my passport with stamps from foreign countries. I wore my outlier status as a badge of honor, and bent on solidifying this idealized independent status, I booked solo trips all over the world and leaned hard into that oth
My husband, an avid surfer and fellow traveler, would frequently leave home for months at a time, so I spent extended periods of time living alone, telling myself that because of my experience traveling and living alone, I would be fine navigating old age on my own.
And yet, here I was, 37 years old, being given an unsettling dose of reality: a kind but blunt financial planner was informing me that I was woefully unprepared to care for myself in the years ahead.
I realized I was surrounded by women
who were all looking down the same barrel: the prospect of being alone at an older age, on our own, and possibly with insufficient funds.
My friend advised me to save enough money to be able to hire help as I aged. Not a bad idea in and of itself, but given my income, current lack of retirement savings, and penchant for foreign travel, this was not going to be an easy task. I was also uneasy about the prospect of spending my final days among strangers.
I began polling my friends about their plans for aging
, hoping for some consolation and solidarity. A couple of us are married, but the majority of my friends are not. A few of us have become parents, but the majority of my friends do not. But, honestly, these two mainstays of traditional aging aid provide little protection against the peril women face later in life.
Women outlive their male companions statistically, and divorce
occurs in one out of every two opposite-sex marriages, with the percentage appearing to be even higher in lesbian marriages, so all women, regardless of sexual orientation, are at risk of finding themselves without a partner as they get older.
is also not a sure bet, as many parents still find themselves living out the end of their lives alone or in a home. Being a "childless woman," whether by choice or circumstance, can leave one feeling even more vulnerable. And in today's U.S. economy
, women still earn only 80 cents on the dollar as their male counterparts.
Looking around, I realized I was surrounded by women who were all looking down the same barrel: the prospect of being alone at an older age, on our own, and possibly with insufficient funds.
But hadn't we all just spent the last 20 years traveling with friends, living with friends, and relying on friends? Didn't that have to change as we got older?
I had grown up watching “The Golden Girls
” with my grandmother as a child. In the 1980s
classic sitcom, comedy
ensues as four previously married 50-something women move in together in South Florida
. They support each other through everything that comes their way, from health
scares to dating dilemmas, and they create the kind of chosen family
that many of us dream of having and want to create.
So, I reasoned, why couldn't we use Blanche, Rose, Dorothy, and Sophia as models for our own post-midlife sorority setup? As my panic subsided, I could see an alternative to the other less-than-appealing options I'd been considering, and I wasn't alone.
For more than a decade, two of my 40-year-old friends have joked about spending their golden years sipping lemonade in Juicy Couture velour tracksuits on our shared front porch.
Another friend in her 50s had already begun to work out more concrete details of a timeshare-style retirement plan with former college classmates. At some point, each single, successful woman would buy a small home or condo in some desirable location around the world to be shared by the group of friends, thereby creating a rotating ring of old lady tenants and roommates.
There are few brave knights, and more than likely, no one will come to save us; perhaps we should accept that our lives may not provide us with the traditional structure of having children or spouses to care for us in the end.
A quick Google search revealed that my small group of female friends was not alone in their desire to spend their golden years together, with some even going so far as to build female-only co-ops from the ground up, complete with built-in hierarchies requiring the younger women to assist the older ones with grocery store runs and prescription pickups.
This reminded me of a story told to me by a retired octogenarian NASA
engineer, who said that when she was in her 40s, her then 90-year-old grandmother told her, "By the time you're 70, half your friends are dead. If you don't want to be alone at 90, make younger friends, take younger women under [your] wing."
The plans these women were making seemed to me a more stable — and dare I say, more enjoyable — way to grow old than living alone or in a van. The same can be said for queer people
who have long formed their own chosen families and relied on each other through good and bad times.
I could already picture which of my friends would play hedonistic Blanche, filling our imagined home with a parade of younger men, and who would play Dorothy, with her pragmatism and dry wit.
While this still seems like a distant future to me, just the thought of living among friends into old age has lifted a weight off my shoulders that I didn't even realize I was carrying. It has long been a dream of mine to not just travel, but to one day live abroad, so I have begun sending listings for cheap Italian homes in need of renovation and teaching myself French in the hopes of one day living abroad.
However, my husband may outlive me, or we may simply be fortunate enough to spend our later years together. Perhaps he will end up living with me and my friends, or perhaps he will live across the street. Time will tell, but for now, as I make my new IRA contributions and daydream with girlfriends about which cities we all might want to grow old in together,
That, I believe, is acceptable, because even if we do have children or partners, we are fully capable of saving ourselves and each other.
Whether I'm officially living the Golden Girls life or not, I'll want to spend the rest of my days surrounded by friends. Few things in life are guaranteed, but the power and support of a circle of women is, no matter what stage of life we're in.
Ashley Brooks is a writer
, and owner of a boutique Pilates studio; you can reach her at [email protected]
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