One Solo’s Wake-up Call

One Solo’s Wake-up Call

By Mary Young, D.B.A.

I was in my early 50s when I came face-to-face with one of the dilemmas of living solo: Whom do I call in an emergency?

I was crawling at 30 miles an hour in rush-hour traffic, when—bam!—the car in front of me abruptly stopped. As I slammed on my brakes, I watched in the rear-view mirror as the car behind me crashed into my rear end, jolting me forward, then the next car and the next. In less than a minute, 20-some vehicles had piled up on the highway. When it was all over, the State Police shuttled us to the tow lot where we watched as a procession of our battered cars was unceremoniously dumped at the junk yard.

This was back in the days before cell phones, so we were each allowed to use the waiting room phone to call for someone to come get us. I immediately stepped to the back of the line so others could go first. I had no idea who to call. While I listened to them reaching out to their spouses or children, I struggled with an existential crisis. Without a spouse or partner or adult children to call on, I felt a second collision. Who was my emergency contact? Whom could I call when my car was totaled, without feeling awkward for asking too much?

I also felt a twinge of shame. Unlike them, I wasn’t “hard-wired” to anyone in way that made them my natural go-to person. Although I had many close friends, we’d never had a “Will you be my person?” conversation. It wasn’t obvious whom I should call.

If you’re a solo, you’ve probably had a similar wake-up call—or many. The older we get, the more likely we are to live alone, whether we’ve done so for a long time or only recently. We may have been rock stars at functioning splendidly on our own. Yet there comes the time—whether it’s making a distress call from the tow lot or the emergency room, or making a high-stakes decision about our finances, living arrangements, healthcare, or overall aging―when we need some help from people we trust.

Ever since that highway wake-up call, I’ve had a personal interest in understanding how aging solos, like me, can take care of themselves and, when that’s no longer possible, ensure that others will act on our behalf. As a researcher, I’ve also developed a professional interest in this same topic. In future blogs for The Soloist, I’ll share stories from the soloists I’ve interviewed or heard from in focus groups, offer my own perspective, and suggest actions soloists can take, even if they’re still largely self-reliant.

What was your first wake-up call to the special challenges of aging as a soloist?

Mary Young, D.B.A. is Research Director for Davis Financial Group.

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