When I first got the idea to write my woman’s novel, Play it Again, Sam, the divorce rate for people age 50 and older was just starting a slow climb. Most couples who were married for 20 years or more, usually stayed married and worked through the challenges of growing older, facing an empty nest, and some form of mid-life crisis. That is what made a story like Sam’s a bit unusual.
I first developed the story for a line that Kensington was publishing, “To Love Again” and I had a contract for my book. The plot was based on a true story that a friend gave me permission to use, and I thought it was serendipitous that I had that story when Kensington was taking submissions for the new line. Shortly before my book was due to come out, however, the publisher dropped that line. Part of the reasoning, according to the editor, was that there just wasn’t enough interest in stories like this. Not that many older women are facing the same situation.
Now, the numbers of Baby Boomers getting divorced are surging, and there is even a term for it, Gray Divorce. In an article, Life After Divorce, that appeared in the June AARP Bulletin, Sally Abrahms quotes Jay Lebow, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University who says, “If late-life divorce were a disease, it would be an epidemic.”
It is estimated that one out of three boomers will be divorced as they face their later years. For women, like my fictional character Sam, who have not worked outside the home, this future can be difficult financially. It is not easy to find a job when one is 50 or older, so these women either go back to school for further training, or find some other way to make ends meet.
Sam made the choice to go back to school and get a degree in graphic art. She also temporarily moved in with a friend, Margaret, to keep expenses down.
Women sharing living spaces and expenses is something that is happening in real life, too. In her article, Abrahms mentioned one woman who moved in with her mother and became her caregiver after the older woman fell and broke her hip. Not only was it fortuitous that the daughter was there, after a short time she realized it was a blessing to have a closer relationship with her mother. “I went from being embarrassed that I was living with my mother to feeling so lucky we’re close and that I can do this.”
Other women are renting rooms in their homes or condos, as well as finding other ways to earn money. Edith Heyck gives art lessons and operates a decluttering business.
In Play it Again, Sam, the heroine meets someone who will probably be there to take care of her in her old age, but that doesn’t always happen in real life. Even if one remarries after the divorce, will that person be there when the need might arise? Will stepchildren step in to be caregivers?
Of course the future is uncertain for all of us, but these women and men who divorce late in life have more uncertainties.
Are you in a long-term relationship? Plan to stay there? What would be your toughest challenge should you lose your mate through divorce or death?
Play it Again, Sam was eventually published in paper by a very small press and had very small sales. More recently it was published by Uncial Press as an e-book, and then indie published in paper this year.