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(Mostly) Older Women on the End of their (Mostly) Long-Term Relationships

Edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin

Publication Year: 2006

Although breakups—whether celebrity or everyday—are a constant source of fascination, surprisingly little attention has been given to women who are cut loose in their later years. This is a book about (mostly) long-term relationships that have come apart. Each woman involved, the majority of whom are over sixty, tells of her experience through journal entries, essays, poetry, or stories. Although in many senses they have been abandoned, they have also been set free, untethered, and, for some, liberated sexually, mentally, or emotionally.

            The book is divided into two major sections. The pieces in the first part are personal narratives. Among the varied voices, we hear from women in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships who have been left by their partners or who have decided to leave them. In the second section, the contributors look at being left and leaving from psychological, sociological, economic, sexual, medical, anthropological, and literary perspectives. Other essays explore the shared experiences of specific classes of women, such as single women, widows, or abandoned daughters.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-xi

This book was born out of my own experience. As I was thinking about it I called it “The Dumped Book.” Some people hated the title, finding the reference to garbage quite offensive. Other people felt the crudeness and harshness of the title were apt. These two perspectives are captured in Diane Raymond’s exchange with a friend in this book: “Someone even told me to stop using the term ‘dumped’ to describe my experience; it’s a way you’ve embraced...

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pp. 1-24

Somewhere around age eleven or twelve, I became aware of the mothers, sitting around the side of the pool or in a game of canasta (yes, I grew up in the suburbs in the fifties), talking in hushed voices about women’s stuff. Often they talked about hot flashes, sometimes about divorce. I heard comments such as “he left her with two babies” or “he waited until the kids were finished...

Part I. He/She Left Her/Him

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pp. 25

Chapter 1. If Not

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pp. 27-28

I Give My Husband Fish Sausage

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pp. 29-30

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Chapter 2. What Was Home

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pp. 31-40

Julie tried to hold Tim’s hand, but they were forced by circumstance to walk single file; Bloomingdale’s was a traffic jam, people chest to back, stilettos digging randomly into toes, tossed hair a weapon. They escalated to the linens section of the Home floor. Tim had suggested this, buying new bedding; their linens were beginning to wear thin, shred. ...

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Chapter 3. "Chapter Four You Break Up": A Journal

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pp. 41-60

Note: These are excerpts from a journal written at least once a week from September 23, 2002 until September 1, 2003. Brackets—[ ]—indicate events and emotions that I have summarized for the sake of space and so that the excerpted entries make sense. I take the title from the song “Book of Love,” written and recorded by the Monotones (peak Billboard position no. 5, in 1958)...

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Chapter 4. Growing Up Middle Aged

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pp. 61-75

Iwas fifty-four and my husband fifty when he had an affair with a young woman in her twenties and left our marriage, declaring that he no longer loved me “that way.” And, incidentally, I was too fat, too bossy, and difficult. All true. He forgot to remember, however, that I was also honest, loyal, and steadfast during the times when he needed me to be that. During a year of...

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Chapter 5. Reflections on April Fool's Day

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pp. 76-89

Being dumped is, by definition, one-sided and abrupt. So my story will not be any different from those of the hundreds of others who have had such experiences. I wish I could tell the reader that my story has a happy ending. Or at least that I might impart some edifying messages to those in these same straits or to help others avoid my fate. Though I might wish for this, an upbeat ending with useful tips on how to weather such an experience is not forthcoming...

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Chapter 6. Talaq, Divorce

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pp. 90-96

Bleach is my alternative to crying. I have made white countertops and windowsills sparkle each time I had the urge to weep and I have wept every time I sniffed some bleach at a surprising place. My sorrow and anger are so interwoven in the smell of bleach that at any point when my sorrow is exposed, I become suffused with the scent of bleach...

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Chapter 7. No More Romance for Me

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pp. 97-105

When I was dumped in my mid-fifties by my lover, it was not the first time I’d been ditched by a woman. It set into motion familiar emotional upheavals around betrayal and rejection, hurt, anger, surprise, and noncomprehension. In fact the repetition of the emotions was in itself depressing—despite the predictability, I was unable to disrupt them. I had hoped that were I ever to face the chop again, I would cope better, having learned from previous...

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Chapter 8. From Buddy to Joe to Harriet

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pp. 106-110

When you’re sixteen and you’re dumped, dropped by a boyfriend you are madly in love with, it’s devastating. For me, it came as a shock. We were at a New Year’s Eve party and I had had too much to drink, something I was a novice at. I was from a hard working, working-class, movin’ on up Jewish family that had moved from Kinsman Road, down in the city of Cleveland, up to Shaker Heights, a wealthy enclave. We lived in a two-family house in Shaker...

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Chapter 9. So Much for "Happily Ever After"

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pp. 111-119

Cora, Eva, and Della are neither friends nor acquaintances, but they would recognize one another on the street in their rural town in upstate New York. They know one another’s stories. Everyone does in a small town. They don’t think about how much they have in common...

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Chapter 10. Dear Harry: Unsent E-mails to an Ex

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pp. 120-137

At the age of fifty-one, after a thirty-year relationship and early retirement from an academic career in conjunction with moving to a new country, I was suddenly dumped for a much younger woman. It took me nearly six months to actually absorb the reality of what was happening. This was complicated by the fact that my husband refused to move out, saying that there was...

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Chapter 11. My Own Dance

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pp. 138-145

Even though Ted had said that he wanted to leave, I was frantically working on being perfect, loving, and the woman no one would want to leave, so frantically that I really hadn’t even considered the actual reality until the night I was lying flat on my back on my bed and Ted was STANDING, legs veed on either side of my waist, shrieking down at me that he hated me. It was scary, I’ll...

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Chapter 12. Event Horizon

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pp. 146-157

Astronomers and astrophysicists have a flair for the dramatic. They created the phrase event horizon to describe the region near a black hole’s center, an area where light and matter have no chance to escape the beyondimagining gravitational forces that gobble up whatever comes close to that perilous edge. At that inevitable point everything is irretrievably sucked into the center and transformed. ...

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Chapter 13. The Only Life I Have

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pp. 158-161

It was I who came home in 2002 after being on retreat in Ireland and told my husband that I wanted out of our thirty-one-year marriage. Although he would say that I dumped him,” I would not describe it that way. As the poet Mary Oliver says in her poem “Journey,” I was saving the only life I have. I was married at twenty-three. I thought that if I had a man and was married, my life would be settled; after that I could develop my career. My mom was...

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Chapter 14. Observing the Cormorant

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pp. 162-163

In 1985 my husband admitted that he was having an affair with a former neighbor seventeen years younger than we were (we were both fifty-seven). He did not want to end our twenty-eight-year-old marriage, but it was clear that he wanted to change the terms on which it was based. He wanted to have the marriage and wanted to have affairs as well. What followed were months of acute...

Part II. Perpectives on Being Left and Leaving

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pp. 165

Chapter 15. Trashed

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pp. 167-168

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Chapter 16. Marriage Comes and Goes but Sex Is Forever

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pp. 169-181

Why is lifelong monogamy such a widely accepted goal? Is it even feasible for most of us? Aren’t we setting ourselves up for disappointment when we expect it from our partners, or ourselves? And finally, if we accept that our partnership will be less than lifelong or more than monogamous, are we contributing to its decline? ...

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Chapter 17. Lost Love: The Nature of Romantic Rejection

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pp. 182-195

Fires run through my body—the pain of loving you. Pain runs through my body with the fires of my love for you. Sickness wanders my body with my love for you. Pain like a boil about to burst with my love for you. Consumed by fire with my love for you. I remember what you said to me. I am thinking of your love for me. I am torn by your love for me. Pain and more pain. Where are you going with my love? I’m told you will go from here. I am told you will leave me...

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Chapter 18. Leaking Affections: A Socio-psychoanalytic View

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pp. 196-210

After twenty years of marriage and two grown children, Elsie finds herself alone and suicidal in a large apartment, her husband Irving having left her and everything they had shared for a younger woman. Using the case of Elsie, a patient of mine, as a starting point, I am proposing a reflection on being dismissed, pushed out, let go abruptly or, in a word, dumped. Dumping is conceptualized as a speech-act that is the expression of feelings through action. ...

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Chapter 19. What's Really Going On Here?: The Therapist's Perspective

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pp. 211-228

The woman reaches for a tissue from the box next to her chair in the psychologist’s office. “I don’t understand how this can be happening,” she says, her voice quavering as she dabs at her eyes. “We don’t fight. For the past year, we’ve barely spoken. He turns on the television as soon as he comes home and doesn’t come to bed until I pretend to be asleep. We’ve been married for twenty-four years and we’ve had our ups and downs, but this feels different.” ...

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Chapter 20. Divorce is Economic Suicide

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pp. 229-241

Warning: Park your emotions here before reading further. I sound this warning with the best of intentions. I mean to educate, not offend or put you on the defensive. I am neutral about divorce. However, our society and our economic system are not. Too often, the “emotional noise” swirling around divorce shuts down our ability to hear or recognize the realities of this legal and economic act of uncoupling. There is no denying that divorce...

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Chapter 21. Single Women at Midlife: The Always, Already Dumped

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pp. 242-255

As a single woman in my forties, I am an expert on getting dumped. I understand the experience of being dumped because I live it every day. If dumped is a term we use as an angry response to being left—being left alone— then those of us who live singly are leftovers, products of the dump, refuse. While some singles recycle and others settle into peaceful coexistence with their coupled brethren, the increasing number of people who live alone is becoming...

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Chapter 22. Snow White and Rose Red Meet Their "Prince"

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pp. 256-260

Back in the days when we both thought it was possible to meet a so-called prince, or even just a decent man, we did not know each other, but we were destined to meet through the same medium that caused our common pain: the Internet. We are not as different as we appear, though appearances do count in this tale. One of us is dark, the other fair; one is petite, the other tall, one has hazel eyes, the other brown. One of us has long hair, the other short...

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Chapter 23. Left Alone: Deserted by Death or Divorce

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pp. 261-297

Nearly half of women over age sixty are left alone. Widows make up 38.6 percent of women over age sixty; divorced women make up 8.6 percent; and women who are separated, 1.2 percent.1 In Widow to Widow, Genevieve Davis Ginsburg argues that widows and divorcées should not be lumped together under such titles as “Single Again” and “Women Alone.”2 On the other hand, in a recent Law and Order episode, a widowed mother responds to her grown...

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Chapter 24. Break-up Art

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pp. 298-299

When faced with the challenge of writing about being discarded from a relationship as an older woman, I submitted works of art created over ten years ago in a time of great pain and anguish. These works stand as a silent record of my tormented emotional climate at that time. The challenge became how to find a way to talk about silent stelae (archaic forms like grave markers) that resonate with their own internal intelligence and measured...

Chapter 25. Unholy Matrimony

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pp. 300-301

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The Chore

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pp. 302-303

My twenty-two years in a bad first marriage can perhaps be faulted to an upbringing that refuted divorce. Eventually, I did ask for, insisted on an end to a marriage where betrayal and emotional violence were daily occurrences. The poem “Unholy Matrimony” reflects the feeling of entrapment that dominated those years. My second marriage was very happy. ...

About the Contributors

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pp. 305-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780813561868
E-ISBN-10: 0813561868
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813538464

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 1
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Separation (Psychology) -- Case studies.
  • Man-woman relationships -- Case studies.
  • Women -- Psychology -- Case studies.
  • Middle-aged women -- Psychology -- Case studies.
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