Golden age of divorce

Elise T. Chisolm

November 06, 1990|By Elise T. Chisolm

IT HAPPENED about a year ago. He left her for a younger woman. Judy is 62. They'd been married 44 years.

"It's been a terrible time," she tells me on the phone. "Because now I am having some guilt about how much of it was my fault. I wasn't pretty enough, sexy enough, I needed a face lift, I wasn't interesting enough. I did volunteer work, but I had never had a real career, there was never time, I was too busy raising our five children."

Then she added the kicker, "You see, when you are a widow you get sympathy, at least for a while. Friends and family come around, they help you through your grief. With a divorce at my age, there is not as much support. I can't really expect to date, and I certainly can't go to bars and happy hours."

Judy lives in a small town, which makes it even worse because there aren't many support systems. I had urged her to join Displaced Homemakers for help.

Maryland has 12 state-supported programs for Displaced Homemakers to help women obtain their goals.

This is not the first time at my age I have heard this story. A dear friend whose husband left her after 35 years of marriage -- but not for a younger woman, just for his freedom -- is devastated.

She tells me: "One of the problems is that he found after the kids left home we did not have that much in common. He said he was bored, and actually we agreed on nothing. We suddenly lacked communication. That was when I realized in the past it was the children who held us together. He started playing golf every day, and then he wanted to move to Florida where he could play all year round. We argued; we tried to find some commonality, I even took up golf. I was terrible . . . my therapist called it mid-life crisis, but we are both in our 60s. I am picking up the pieces and now have a great job, and I will date again. But I still hurt, because I remember the first 20 years and I loved them."

These are not unusual stories. I hear them frequently, sometimes from strangers.

Sherry Glass, director of a Displaced Homemakers program at Carroll County Community College, says, "We, too, see more women over 60 whose husbands are leaving. It is a frightening phenomenon. Women are scared."

Baltimore has one of the largest advocates, "Starting Over," which is operated by Maryland New Directions Inc. and offers counseling and career opportunities, and WISH, Women In Self Help. All are part of a network of organizations across the country that administer to women who need assistance.

Television's "20/20" had a recent segment by Hugh Downs on "Divorce after 60" that reported it is more prevalent than ever.

That show pointed out that men have a harder time than women accepting "getting old." They see younger women as a way to get back their sexual and physical prowess.

Dr. Helen Weingarten, a University of Michigan psychologist and professor, explained in the segment that many women who are now over 60 had not had a life other than raising children and homemaking: "Women of that generation were socialized to build their lives around their husbands and their careers. . . . But I feel that there is definitely life after divorce at that age, and there are many support systems for women in this kind of pain."

One of the problems "20/20" brought out was that women have always been too acquiescent, and this has been the mind set for many who started out married between the '30s and the '50s.

Perhaps married women in their '40s and '50s should be looking ahead, before all this happens. Before the children leave home there should be a battle plan, a kind of approach for later on, re-establishing communication, renewing the marriage and taking up new and interesting pastimes that pull you together in the graying years for what is heralded as your golden years.

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