Fly with the Phoenix

Finding your sassy solitude

One of my favorite groups growing up in the 1970s was Three Dog Night. They recorded a song “One,” in which the lyrics state “one is the loneliest number.” For recently separated or divorced adults–especially women–there is a period of pronounced discomfort as they learn to live alone. Author Erica Manfred examines why women sulk about living single in her book “He’s History, You’re No,” and the reason goes back to when we lived in caves.

Manfred cites Patricia Wall’s theory explaining why women are afraid to be alone. According to Wall, women owned and maintained the fires in caves. We took care of children, cooked and kept our tribe together. Men hunted and protected the tribe from predators. We are wired like this, no matter how much we may pretend to have evolved, which is why upon divorcing, women judge themselves as failures. We’ve lost our “tribe” and it feels like being cast outside the cave when our marriage ends.

In her book (a recommended read for divorcing women 40 and older), Manfred described an “AHA!” moment when she read Wall’s connection between divorce and fear, including a fear of death, something Manfred experienced. While I didn’t feel like I would die if not connected to my husband, I did feel like a failure as a woman and experienced anxiety about living alone. But after reading these insights from Wall and Manfred, something clicked in my head, and after two months of separation, I’m growing comfortable in my home. Of course, taking care of five pets helps.

Which leads me to my first tip for women who may be struggling with living alone. Consider getting a pet if you don’t have one. If you like animals and have the means to feed and care for them, there are plenty of shelters filled with sweet animals waiting for a forever home. But you must make a commitment as a pet guardian, so be careful not to rush into a decision you may later regret. Ask yourself it you want an animal two years from now (or longer). Your present state of affairs will not always be your current state, and be sure you can bring a pet along on your life journey. If so, know they will provide amazing company for you. Can’t decide but don’t like walking into an empty house? Foster a dog or cat. You may decide later to keep your foster, but finding a great home for the pet is a very rewarding experience. St. Louis readers, check out To find a shelter in your city, search

Manfred writes an entire chapter about learning to live alone and loving it. I’m so glad she did! She suggests activities like doing something creative, redecorating your home according to your tastes (not his), reaching out to others by volunteering, making new friends and practicing going to dinner or the movies by yourself. These truly are empowering.

Try this short exercise to help you find your center as an independent woman who loves her solitude. Write a list of pluses you enjoy living by yourself. Do something you couldn’t do as a wife/caregiver according to what moves you. For example, after working in my garden one evening, I took a glass of wine and sat on my patio at 10:30 p.m. to look at the stars. I was moved to do so and realized “why not?” Another night, I ate dinner at 9 p.m. just because I could.

For women with custody of the children, you may feel uncomfortable when the kids are visiting dad because the house feels so empty when they are gone. You can employ this new way of thinking to your life, too. Embrace the solitude. Do some important self-care (yoga, a makeover or massage, grab a coffee with a friend). You may want to join me in a free 30-minute teleclass July 14 that will discuss practices to help adjust to extended summer visitations. What you learn also can be applied to the regular weekends when you are child-free. Register at or just send me an email ( and I’ll send the instructions for joining the call.

Society’s image of the middle-aged single woman as a dried up hag is, happily, fading into the background. Women in their 40s, 50s and older can have vibrant, independent lives.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Deb, This is a great post. Thank you. It’s so important to look on the bright side of any challenge. It’s so very healthy emotionally. I’m glad you shared this with your readers, including me.

I do want to add that men also tend to feel alone post-divorce, especially when they are the noncustodial parent. They often feel like they have gone from being an important symbol in the family to being an outcast, being a “part-time dad.” They fear being replaced when their ex-wives remarry and their children seem to belong to a new family with a mommy and daddy that doesn’t include them. I’m not writing this to minimize what you said. I agree with your statements about women wholeheartedly. But it’s important to remember that men suffer too.

Thank you for such a positive post!

Comment by Sasha Townsend

Sasha, you are absolutely right that men suffer, too, following a divorce. It is a life-changing event that affects the entire family–including grandparents and extended family. While men may not find their “sassy attitude,” the post-divorce process of grieving followed by reinventing themselves certainly are appropriate activities to lead them to a new start. I would very much like to see some comments from guys about this, so feel free to point a few toward the article! Thanks for your comment.

Comment by hopefultransitions

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