Single & Child-Free: Who’s Going To Take Care Of Me When I’m Old?

“For-Ev-Er.” - The Sandlot, 1993

I have many feelings, or intuitions, if you like to call them that or live in Los Angeles. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be single and alone my whole life, that’s what my heart tells me. It is a feeling, not a prophecy I was gifted by a magical creature who visited me in a dream. But because apparently single women aren’t burdened enough with the quest to find the perfect partner, we’re often asked to predict the future as well.

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I’ve discussed before how I don’t want to have children, and I believe we’ve established that I’m as single as American Cheese. One of society’s favorite questions to ask me, in my single and child-free state, is: “Who’s gonna take care of you when you’re old?” Whelp, let me just take a Swiffer cloth to my old crystal ball here and sort out that answer for all of us, cool?

First of fucking all, partnering and choosing to raise children (or not) are not decisions to be made with a focus of any kind on the availability of late-in-life services. I don't conduct aptitude tests on dates with special attention paid to their propensity for bedside manner. I've never run the numbers on becoming a mother for their potential caregiving ROI past retirement age. In fact, of all the thoughts that flood my head fueling my desire to spend my adult life with companionship, none of them have ever pertained to elderly care.

I get a lot of questions about the future, as if I’m qualified to answer them. “Do you think you’ll be single forever?” I don’t fucking know, toss me that Magic 8 Ball. “When do you think you’ll meet someone?” Probably when I look my absolute worst while sweating on a subway platform talking to my mother while she’s waiting for her phone to connect to the Bluetooth in her car and screaming at me to “HOLD ON,” if I had to guess.

But it’s the “who’s going to take care of you when you’re old” question that really crumbs my cream cheese. It’s such a snide thing to say. As if I expect the person asking me the question to take care of me or something. As if I’m one big societal burden because I didn’t give birth to my own caregivers. As if marrying and having children sort it alllllll out for people and there won’t be a single thing to worry about in old age. It wouldn’t matter if I had zero children or 20 — elderly life and elderly illness are physically, emotionally, and logistically difficult for everyone. Period.

If it’s acceptable for people to inquire or wonder who’s going to care for me as an elderly woman if I never marry or reproduce, it’s acceptable for me to tell them the truth about what’s most likely going to happen to all of us.
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Who’s going to take care of me when I’m old? The same people who are going to take care of the people who ask me that question: The medical and nursing home professionals who are paid to, or the volunteers who deliver meals to those who can’t provide their own nourishment. That’s who cares for people when they’re old. I’ve seen it, my family and I have lived it. I don’t have to hear condescending questions about the end of my life when what’s going to happen to me, and probably to most people, is likely pretty similar to how much of this country’s elderly population is currently living. And I hate to break it to you, but if you’d like to visit nursing facilities or become a Meals On Wheels volunteer*, you’ll see for yourself that the way many elderly people live, regardless of whether or not they’ve partnered at some point, is alone. Partners die, children move away and have jobs and families of their own. This shit happens.

We might not want to hear it, we definitely don’t want to think about it, but elder care culture has by and large changed from individuals living with their families, to individuals living on their own or in facilities. (This is not an all-encompassing statement, I do realize that many families currently live with and care for their older relatives.) Professional elderly care might not be ideal, but it has become what feels medically safe and comfortable. If heaven forbid my mother was diagnosed with dementia tomorrow, I wouldn't have the knowledge or training to care for her in a way that was safe or effective. I am however resourceful enough to find quality care for her that is within our family’s means. Maybe the real difference in being single is that I’m just going to have to put things in place for myself in advance, and I’m cool with that.

That’s not to say I don’t have options. If I had my way, I’d do exactly what these seven girlfriends in China did, investing in a gorgeous house where they all intend to spend their elderly years — together — even if they marry and have children. They all assume that living with their female friends is how things are going to shake out anyway. But if even one of them is ill or their mobility significantly prevents them from caring for themselves, daily (and nightly) help will need to be brought into this space.

Or maybe I’ll be in a place like Hogewey outside of Amsterdam, a small village built to give its senior residents with dementia and Alzheimers a comfortable, safe, and familiar environment that is 100% monitored and staffed. Maybe I’ll finally build that tiny house community in rural Maine where me and all my friends will garden and bake and have shitloads of cats. But we’ll probably need some nursing care there too at some point.

I’ll never let fear of the future force me into a relationship in the present, or fear of being alone later in life force me into having children. I think the present is too precious to be dictated by the future.
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I don’t mean to be grim about things, but I do mean to be honest. If it’s acceptable for people to inquire or wonder who’s going to care for me as an elderly woman if I never marry or reproduce, it’s acceptable for me to tell them the truth about what’s most likely going to happen to all of us.

I can’t predict what’s going to happen in my elderly years any more than people who think they know who’s going to “take care of them” can. But I can say with certainty that the last years of my life play no role in my desire for partnership in present day. I want a partner because I’d like companionship, someone to do things with, and the occasional insect disposed of without any effort exerted on my part. Not because I fear my old age.

What I know for sure is that I’ll be okay. And that “okay” can take a lot of different forms. I have a very strong sense that I don’t need to be motivated, in any area of my life, by fear. I’ll never let fear of the future force me into a relationship in the present, or fear of being alone later in life force me into having children. I think the present is too precious to be dictated by the future. And I think the future holds too many options to decide on just one in the present. And in my elderly years, I feel for certain that whoever we are, however we’ve chosen to live our lives, there will be people who care for us, and about us, very much.

*It would mean a lot to me and my family if readers would visit Meals On Wheels online and consider donating to this absolutely vital organization currently caring for so many of our country’s elderly. You have my sincere thanks.

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