Single Again, At Sixty

By Jill Brown

If men are rumored to get the “seven year itch” after marriage, then perhaps women are experiencing a similar phenom; the twenty-seven year itch. With all the high profiled splits happening in the press lately, the Beatles may well have been channeling Nostradamus when they sang, “will you still need me when I’m 64?”

As Al and Tipper Gore’s join the ranks of the recently divorcing  – many of us are wondering what’s going on here? In some couple’s divorces, the reasoning is obvious and understandable. If you were Elizabeth Edwards would you have stayed in that marriage? Probably not. What about Robyn Gibson? We kind of ‘get’ the reason for her split from Mel. And don’t even get us started on agreeing with Morgan Freeman’s long time partner and wife, Myrna Colley-Lee leaving that union (“You want to date your twenty-seven year old step-granddaughter?! Uh, yeah, I’m out!”).

However in couples like the Gores or even Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins where the pair seem to have no obvious “reasons” to break-up, many of us are asking, “why now?”. Why after so many years of coupledom are partners deciding to split later in life? Is it the length of the marriage or is something happening with women in their sixties wanting to be free and instead of asking, “why now?” they’re starting to ask, “Why not!?”

It turns out both may be the case.

Many experts point to the fact that age definitely may factor into the decision to end a marriage.  Today’s average woman is more financially independent, more likely to have her own career and more likely to be inclined toward independence. Life spans are longer and woman are much more free to lead their own lives now than they ever have been.  So while women before may have stayed in long term marriages because their fifties and sixties were for golden days of retirement and porch swings with the grandkids, today it seems this is simply no longer the case.

Brenda Della Casa, dating coach and author of ‘Cinderella Was A Liar‘ explains, “Once the children have left the house and women are given some time to really sit and take inventory on their life, marriages come under scrutiny. If a woman in her fifties or sixties is unfulfilled, she is more likely to be vocal about it than a woman in her twenties might be. When you are younger, you’re more likely to stick around because you think you have time – and experience has not yet shown you that sitting around, waiting for someone to change can lead to massive disappointment.”

Clearly women today are leading longer lives and enjoying more freedom to leave marriages that simply are no longer happy or needed. Another possibility with these long term marriages ending is that the relationships are simply complete. Ending doesn’t necessarily always mean failure.

As Ms. Della Casa says, “Its a fallacy that people who are deeply in love never fall out of love.  Staying together ‘for the children’ is nice in theory but two people who are living in an unhappy marriage are two people who, as they grow older, will be filled with hurt, resentment and regret. I think, as men and women age, their mortality becomes more apparent to them and they have more fire to live authentically.”

This certainly seemed true of my own parents, who after twenty-seven years of marriage decided to divorce several years ago. It was a decision made primarily by my mother who had long been unhappy with the partnership but didn’t feel she could divorce earlier (not wanting to upset her kids). With her children grown and gone, she felt more free to move on to the who’s, what’s and why’s of what made her truly happy in life, outside of just raising her children. She was able to experience a new role that expanded beyond the realm of just a wonderful mom; she got to be a beautiful, dynamic and adventurous woman too.

Another possible explanation for the splits is that in our increasingly independent and individualist society, couples are simply choosing to grow apart and invest in themselves more than in continuing a marriage. Dr. Pat Webster, Ph. D, R.N., clinical psychologist and author of ‘Winning at Love; The Alpha Males Guide to Relationship Success’ says, “Many couples, especially in later life when the children have left the nest take a look at their marriage and wonder what is left. We often hear catch-words such as, ‘We grew apart.’ What may be more true is that couples can get so engrossed in the work and tasks involved in raising children and/or building or supporting one or both partners careers that they forget the important work, yes, and tasks, necessary to keep a marriage growing, passionate, juicy and alive. Working shoulder to shoulder to get jobs done doesn’t make a marriage work. More is needed.”

This certainly seems to be very likely the case with the Gores, who have raised four children and enjoyed (his) successful Vice Presidency and political career. Dr. Webster gives more insight into the dynamics of some types of marriages when an ‘Alpha’ (male or female) is involved, “they can get so caught up in really big projects out in the world that they forget to attend to their marriages. Alphas dream big. And they often have the connections, charisma and skills to successfully achieve their dreams. This is true of one or both of the partners in many of the broken marriages that we are witnessing, such as Al and Tipper, John and Elizabeth, Tiger. Yet these big dreams can often crowd out space that a marriage needs. Alphas can take the marriage for granted, or, worse yet, consider it to be second in importance.”

It seems that no matter the reasons, divorce is much more common than it ever used to be and the duration of the marriage is no indication as to it’s likelihood to last ( a 2008 statistic from the US Census Bureau reported over 25% of divorces that year were marriages of twenty years or more).  Like so many things in life I believe it’s the viewpoint we choose to see our world from that makes the difference about what we’re observing.

On the one hand the recent divorce announcements in the press can be seen as a sad end to a long term commitment that used to mean until ‘Death do us Part.’ On the other hand we can see these divorces not as the end, but rather a completion and can witness the progress in women who choose to leave a marriage and not repress their needs to stay in an unhappy union. Women of all ages are increasingly single minded in their determination to create their lives and are make the most of their experiences; single, married or otherwise.

-Jill Brown

Have a question of your own you’d like answered? Please leave your dating questions in the comments below or email me to get your dating questions answered at: Jill Brown is a Los Angeles, California-based coach and writer. She earned her Bachelors in Humanities and Sociology from USU and is a member of the National Association for Conflict Resolution and the Ladies Who Launch Network. She is the founder of “The Duchess Guide” a website dedicated to helping women become their most fabulous selves for dating success.  For more on The Duchess Guide or Jill visit:


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