Divorce - Even Solitary Middle Age Has Its Points
( Originally Published 1952 )
We are not going to claim that the advantages of a solitary life, after you have reached what we will politely call middle age, can compare with the close companionship of a husband. There are, however, compensations, though they may seem minor ones. And after all, as has been said some million times, the little things do count.
We hope, incidentally, that if you still are a widow or divorcee without children at this much-maligned age, you are living a solitary life. Moving in on- your relatives is al-most invariably a mistake and moving in on your children is a catastrophe. Maybe they do adore you—you'll still become a cross they have to bear three months after you're settled down in the spare bedroom. You won't find it so delightful either. The point of view of each generation is completely different from that of the one preceding or following it, and ought to be. The schedule enjoyed by a couple at thirty is very wearing to a lady of fifty-odd. The slight clutter that may be overlooked by even a good, young housekeeper gets under the skin of her mother or mother-in-law who has to live with it. The cute little childhood pranks that young parents take gaily in their stride annoy and alarm the most doting grandmother. And you might as well face the fact that if a young couple really wants you permanently on the premises, the chances are that they're looking for a baby sitter or someone to do the dishes. If you can't think of some-thing more entertaining than that to do with your time (and something more right, for you) you'd better not read this book.
It must be admitted that if you lived alone at some previous time, you probably did it from choice, while now you are doing it from necessity, which is a very different matter. But all the arguments in favor of this mode of life are still true, though temporarily buried by loneliness. You can dig them up (or look them up in another book) and your years of discretion will add quite a few.
The first that occurs to us is that you don't have to be so all-out chic, which is a lot of trouble. You probably wanted to be as up-to-the-minute as you possibly could when you were younger, and you ought to have done your level best when you were married. (There may be men who complain about what their wives spend on clothes, but there never was one who didn't want his wife to look as smart as the next man's when he took her out.) Now, however, you can forget all about those hard-to-wear extremes of fashion, those little numbers that the fancy designers with the almost-French names dream up and that take so much living up to. They probably wouldn't look right on you now anyway, if they ever did. (Half of the women who wear them shouldn't.) You needn't take time to look twice at those startling cabled pictures of Parisian ladies in next season's outfits, looking like nothing you've ever seen or want to see. You can skip the shorts and the slacks and the bare midriffs (you'd bet-ter). You don't have to run around town looking for a traffic-stopping hat within your means, or assemble costumes to make your friends open their eyes with wonder—or something. You will, in fact, be dressed in much better taste if you wear smart, classic suits and dresses which were as good last year as this and may be even better tomorrow. They will look much handsomer brightened by what really good jewelry you have accumulated through the years (even though it's really good costume jewelry) than by the gadgety new bits of the season. You will be happier in shoes of the conservative last you have found to be comfortable and you will soon collect an adequate wardrobe of these in the various colors you wear, not bothering with the little cut-out and built-up and fancy-scrapped or heelless jobs on which the younger generation teeters or plunks about. You ought to know by now what colors suit you best and give up experimenting with the others, to say nothing of the "new" shade of windsor brown or seashell pink or damson plum that may flash in and out come spring or autumn. All of which will save you a lot of wear and tear.
You will still want to look as charming as possible, of course, and the rules given will help and not hinder. Actually, you will probably look a lot smarter than most of the ungifted, but struggling ladies who try for, and miss, a look of high fashion. You will still want to splurge now and then on what interests you most—furs or a hostess gown or an evening dress, and you will have more to splurge with, be-cause you haven't scattered your clothes money hither and yon, and more fun because you do it less often. Clothes, in fact, can become much more of a pleasure and much less of a problem.
Another brand-new pleasure in your life is that you can be as sick as you feel. All men like to think their wives are as strong as horses, and do until something drastic happens. Even then, their sympathy, however real, covers a faint tinge of resentment. Your illness is a definite inconvenience to them and their sympathy causes them unwanted discomfort. Most wives sense this and play bridge cheerfully through their worst headaches, go to dinner parties with an oncoming cold, and do the usual housework with a bad case of bursitis, to say nothing of an imminent accouchement.
We are not recommending illness, but if you have one, it is very comforting indeed to crawl into bed with no feeling that it is your duty to be brave. A day or two in bed can be extremely pleasant and may halt the progress of some ailment that might have been very uncomfortable. If you've been married a long time, or even a short one, for that matter, the martyr complex may be so strongly developed that you'll feel guilty about not doing whatever you'd planned to do, but you'll be foolish if you don't conquer that feeling promptly. Being a martyr may be splendid, for a good cause (like a husband), but a bridge engagement or an appointment for a fitting doesn't fall into that category. Most things, probably, can be done just as well day after tomorrow, so be a fragile flower for a change, get all the attention you can manage, and enjoy yourself as much as possible.
The same self-indulgent viewpoint (and whom but your-self have you to indulge just now?) applies to breakfast in bed, if it's possible and you enjoy it, as who doesn't? We are a firm believer in rising when your husband rises and making his breakfast a cheery beginning to the day—but who is helped by this Spartan act when you live alone? Nobody, and we fail to see the point.
Among the really superlative pleasures of this time of life is the knowledge that you don't have to try to be more athletic than you actually are. When you were very young, your family no doubt struggled to make an all-round girl out of you, at considerable expense. Your friends were sure you'd love golf or swimming or whatever they loved, if you once became reasonably proficient. Looking back at your married life, you may recall fours of poor and painful tennis, terrifying afternoons on horseback, and cold and uncomfortable camping trips in the woods. You're glad you spent them as you did, but now that you're alone, it's nice to know that, along about forty, people give up trying to mold you. You can still take a twenty-mile hike if you want to, or go in for jumping if you're a horsewoman, but nobody expects it. They take you or leave you as you are, and you can read a good book while the rest of the party perspires on the golf links or gossip under a beach umbrella while they battle with the breakers, for which let us all be thankful. It makes one wonder (at any rate, it makes us wonder) what people see in the pleasures of youth.
A final joy that often comes at this stage, though unfortunately not always, is a change in your feeling about the pressing need to economize. Of course, if you have to work for a living or can barely make ends meet, things may be pretty much as always. But many widows and divorcees have incomes (statistics show that quite a proportion of the wealth of the country is tied up this way) and whether these are large or small, the women in question are wise if they live on a scale that allows some leeway of luxury, as many do. They no longer have the old familiar feeling that they must save for a rainy day or the cost of straightening the children's front teeth. Their incomes are fixed (or as fixed as anything can be in this changing age).
These are the ladies who flock unaccompanied to Palm Beach or Paris and have a delightful time when they get there. Or maybe they just buy their first bedjacket or string of cultured pearls. It may even be that, for the first time, they have someone come in regularly to do the cleaning.
They are also the ladies—great numbers of them—who do incalculable good through their work and their contributions in the field of charity, who have developed the wisdom to make many of our institutions well run, and who find great happiness through their own generosity.
Whichever their role, more power to them, and we hope they have a very nice time.
CASE xxv.: Mrs. D.—Several months after her husband died, Mrs. D., who was desolate, decided that she couldn't face life all alone any longer and moved in with her son and his wife, as they had urged her dutifully, if reluctantly, to do. Mrs. D. felt deep gratitude and gave her daughter-in-law all the family silver, some of which was handsome, massive, and greatly cherished by Mrs. D. The daughter-in-law thanked her warmly, wrapped the silver in nontarnishing tissue paper, and put it in the store closet until a day arrives when she will have time to take care of it—if one ever should, which she seriously doubts. Mrs. D. was deeply hurt, though wisely silent, as she has been about several other matters.
Throughout her married life, Mrs. D. had her breakfasts promptly at eight, her luncheons promptly at one, and her dinners promptly at seven, thereby suiting Mr. D. and making it possible to keep a satisfied staff of servants and have a well-run house. Her son and his wife, who have no servants and don't seem to care, have their meals when they get around to it. This arrangement not only upsets but alarms Mrs. D., who connects it vaguely with a trend to the Left.
Since Mr. D. died, Mrs. D. hasn't been sleeping very well, though she does fall into an extra sound sleep around six in the morning. She did, that is, till she changed her residence and moved into the room next to her grandson, who wakes up at six and howls for his bottle, ending all hope of further slumber for Grandmother. She realizes that all sensible babies howl when they're hungry, but she hasn't been feeling quite so well lately as she did when she came.
To be honest, the situation was showing signs of strain, in spite of heroic efforts on both sides, when the young couple decided to give a party. Mrs. D. loves parties and she entered into the spirit of the plan and began to think up ways in which she could help. It was just then that her son told her he was afraid the evening would be late, noisy, and disturbing to Mrs. D. and wouldn't it be a good idea to spend the week end with her sister in town?
Mrs. D. went, and while she was there, did a little looking for a small apartment `She didn't find what she wanted, but she is planning what she refers to as a shopping trip to town next week. Mrs. D. doesn't plan to do much, if any, shop-ping.
CASE XXVI.: Mrs. de W.—Mrs. de W., recently widowed, woke up the other morning with a bad cold in the head. "Oh, dear," she thought, "this couldn't be more inconvenient. The cleaning woman is coming and I'd planned to oversee the cleaning of all the closets this morning and let her do the living room this afternoon. I promised to meet Clara for lunch and there's all that shopping that I ought to do!" Mrs. de W. got out of bed resolutely and set about getting breakfast, feeling worse by the minute.
It was in the middle of her second cup of coffee that a light broke over Mrs. de W. "I don't have to stay up," she thought. "Who cares whether I do or not?"
By the time the cleaning woman came, Mrs. de W. had put fresh sheets on the bed, arranged comfortable pillows, and climbed in, wearing a becoming pink bedjacket she hadn't had on in two years. She had the telephone conveniently at one side, the radio at the other, and the morning paper and a book in her lap. Her first request of the cleaning woman was to move the roses from the living room to a table in her bedroom. "We'll skip the closets today," she said. "You can start in the living room. You won't have so much time for cleaning anyway, as °I want my lunch and dinner prepared and brought in on a tray."
The cleaning woman came next day too and Mrs. de W. had a good rest and a lovely time. She also kept warm and snug in a room at one temperature and the cold cleared up instead of running its usual horrid course.
CASE XXVI.: Mrs. F.—Mrs. F. was by nature an Alice-Sitby-the-Fire, but she married a fine man who could only be called Hearty. Over the years, she learned to play passable —well, almost passable—golf and tennis, to swim to the raft and back, by a supreme effort, and to look pleasant through fishing trips in a canoe. She hated them all, but she loved Mr. F. dearly.
About a year after Mr. F.'s death, a friend called her up one morning. "We have the nicest plan," she said. "We're going to Pinehurst for two weeks. The golf is wonderful and so is the riding. And when we told a certain friend of yours about it"—the voice on the phone got very coy—"he said he'd take time off and go too, and why didn't we get you to come along? My dear, he sounds very much interested."
Mrs. F. already knew he was very much interested and she had been doing a little thinking about the matter with-out coming to any conclusion. The telephone call decided, her. She saw, unrolling before her, long years of more tennis, golf, and struggling to reach the raft, and she told her friend how sorry she was that she had another engagement.