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How I’ve Found Success Living on My Own in My 50s

Author Elizabeth Kuster finds the challenges — and joys — of a one-person household

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I’ve lived alone most of my adult life, and yet the loneliest I have ever felt was when I was briefly married. Turned out my ex was hiding a secret life, and that created a wall between us — and between me and the world.

Still, I find myself having to defend my happy solo lifestyle to the comfortably (and not-so-comfortably) coupled.

“What will you do if Something Bad Happens?” these people invariably ask, conjuring images of me lying on the floor unconscious (possibly because I fell off the ladder while changing the overhead light bulbs).

Well, you do have to plan for potential health crises as you get older — I mean, everybody does. But living alone doesn’t mean you have no social support system. In fact, it’s often just the opposite, says Veronica Thomas, a professor of human development at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Compared to other adults, people who live solo are not only “more likely to have close connections with their families of origin, but to have close connections with friends — their chosen families,” she says. “They socialize more often, exchange help more often.” They’re also more likely to travel, Thomas adds.

Sheila Kay, 55, a TikTok influencer and AI consultant who lives alone in Miami, affirms this. “I have a very deep girlfriend group,” she told me. “Besides, just because you live with adult children or a spouse, it doesn’t mean they’re going to take care of you.”

In my New York neighborhood and beyond, I have a plethora of good friends, neighbors and family members who would come to my aid in time of need — as I would for them. I’m not sure how many concerned couples have benches that deep.

Of course, the solo life does have its challenges. One is the cost of living, since you’re not splitting expenses. People who live alone “may have higher health care, tax, insurance and estate-planning costs,” says author and lifestyle gerontologist Alexis Abramson.

And even though more American adults live alone than ever before — including nearly 13 percent of U.S. 50-some­things, according to the Census Bureau — there is often a stigma attached. Thomas calls it “single shaming” and says it’s especially noticeable in real estate transactions, where landlords sometimes favor couples over singles who are equally qualified. (FYI: Housing dis­crimination based on familial status is illegal.)

If you’re on your own for the first time in your 50s, it can take some getting used to, particularly if you’re solo by circumstance and not by choice. Still, experts agree that anyone can learn to thrive in a space that’s all theirs.

That’s what happened to Kevin Liles, 56, a machine operator in Burlington, Iowa. He has lived alone since splitting from his live-in girlfriend in 2013. “Things are done the way I like,” he says. “I go to bed when I want to. If somebody invites me to do something, I do it.”

Key to flourishing in a one-person household are strong social bonds, especially intergenerational ones, experts say. Abramson offers these strategies: “Join groups or classes that meet regularly — a book group, exercise class, volunteer organization, art workshop. Host small get-togethers and invite friends of different age groups and social circles. Become a regular at a local bar or restaurant; participate in college alumni events. Join storytelling groups where you share life experiences, to foster connection through personal narratives.”

Adds Thomas, “Don’t accept society’s stigma.” Your living situation isn’t who you are.

The bottom line? Living happily alone takes determination and resilience, but the rewards can be real. “For me, solitude is complete joy,” says Kay. “I do as much or as little as I want to do, in the way I want to do it. That to me is the ultimate in human freedom.”

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