For most of my adult life, I made a decent living teaching Pilates, and in my late 20s, I opened a tiny studio that I still own and operate myself ― a one-woman show with minimal overhead and lots of flexibility. Up until that moment, I felt I was good with money: no credit card debt, no student loans, a small but existent emergency fund. My husband had his own retirement sorted. A career firefighter, he would receive a pension, but that would disappear when he died.
Growing up white, at the lower end of the middle class with a stable two-parent household, had no doubt stacked the deck in my favor and provided me with privileges that paved the way for this backyard meeting and made the luxury of thinking about retirement and long term savings even possible.
Marrying young had also lent me a certain outlier quality among my childhood friends. As they were preparing to go off to college, I was buying my first house. As they traipsed around the globe on a gap year, I was already working. This meant I had arrived in my early 30s with several major life milestones already under my belt, and just enough discretionary income to try to make up for what sometimes felt like a thwarted youth.
It’s not surprising, then, that as a millennial ingrained with an “experience over stuff” mentality, all my extraneous income from the previous decade had gone to travel, filling my passport with stamps from foreign countries. I wore my outlier status as a badge of honor and, bent on solidifying this idealized independent status, I booked solo trips all over the world and leaned hard into that other millennial mainstay, minimalism. Aside from travel, sometimes all I wanted to do was sell all my stuff and move into a van.
And yet here I sat, 37 years old, being handed an alarming dose of reality. A kind yet blunt financial planner was informing me that I was actually woefully unprepared to take care of myself in the years to come.
My friend advised me to set aside enough cash to be able to hire help as I aged. Not a bad plan in itself, but looking at my income, my current lack of retirement savings and my penchant for foreign travel, this was going to be no easy feat. I also wasn’t too happy about the possibility of spending my final days among strangers. Still, his advice was not lost on me, and I set up my first investment accounts, thereby taking my adulting to the next level.
Hoping for some consolation and solidarity, I began polling my friends about their plans for aging. A couple of us are married, but most of my friends are not. A few of us have become parents, but most of us don’t have kids. But, honestly, these two mainstays of conventional aid for aging provide little protection against the peril women face later in life.
Looking around me, I realized I was surrounded by women who were all staring down a similar barrel: the potential of being alone at an older age, fending for ourselves, and with maybe not enough money.
Another friend in her 50s had already started to hash out more concrete details of a timeshare-style retirement plan with former college classmates. At some point, each single, successful woman would purchase a small home or condo in some desirable locale around the globe to be shared by the group of friends, thereby creating a rotating ring of old lady tenants and roommates. Sick of someplace or someone? Simply book a ticket and change your current live-in buddy.
Clearly, women taking care of women is nothing new. The plans these women were making seemed to me a more stable — and dare I say, more enjoyable — way to grow old than living alone or in a van. The same can be said for queer people who have long formed their own chosen families and relied on each other through the good times and the bad.
The idea began to feel exciting ― a way not only to mitigate loneliness and retain autonomy but also to remain vibrant and have fun well into our golden years. I could already picture which of my friends would fall into the role of hedonistic Blanche, filling our imagined home with a parade of younger men, and who would be Dorothy, with her pragmatism and dry wit. We would not only care for each other but feed off each other, keeping ourselves vital and young-hearted as long as possible.
While this still does seem like a distant future to me, just the notion of living among friends into old age has taken a weight off me that I didn’t even realize I was carrying. It has long been a dream of mine to not just travel, but to one day live abroad, so I have started sending like-minded friends listings for cheap Italian homes in need of renovation and teaching myself French in the hopes that maybe some of us will be brave enough to see out our later years overseas.
The truth is though, it might not go that way at all. My husband may outlive me, or we might simply be fortunate enough to spend our later years together. Maybe he’ll end up living with me and my friends ― or maybe he’ll live across the street. Time will tell, but for now, as I make my new IRA contributions and daydream with girlfriends about what cities we all might want to grow old in together, what I’m actually left with is this: There are very few valiant knights, and more than likely, no one is coming to save us. Maybe it’s best to accept that our lives might not provide us with the traditional structure of having children or spouses to care for us in the end.
No matter what my living situation looks like in the years to come ― whether I’m officially living the Golden Girls life or not ― I will still want to live out the end of my days surrounded by friends. Few things in life are guaranteed, but the power and support of a circle of women is certain, no matter what stage of life we’re in.