10 May 2024

Single at 60: building a new life when your old one suddenly falls apart

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 10 May 2024

Shortly after her 60th birthday party, Jo Peck's husband of 25 years announced he was in love with someone else.

In her new memoir Suddenly Single at 60, the Australian advertising exec encourages other women not to get stuck in the despair of divorce.

"Make sure you allow yourself the opportunity to reinvent yourself or to have a better life because yeah, that loss is horrible but it can also be transformational," she tells Kathryn Ryan.

Jo Peck

Photo: Text Publishing Australia

Although her marriage wasn't perfect, Peck says she and her husband had been through rough times before - including infidelity on her part - and she assumed they'd enjoy their retirement as planned.

"We just thought we would dedicate ourselves to working hard, being able to retire and then just take off and travel the world without an agenda and really without financial burden because that's what our whole life savings had been dedicated to."

Yet one Saturday morning when the couple were about to head to the city to buy a present for their godson, Peck suggested they look at getting a new television.

"My husband had a very violent outburst saying that we didn't need a new TV and why was I so needy and I seemed to be never satisfied these days. That outburst came completely out of the blue. And it just was so violent it it caused me to burst into tears. he said to me 'What are you crying for? It's only a TV!' Then I took a breath and I said 'Somehow I don't think this is only about a TV'. And then the room went quiet and he said 'I'm seeing someone else' and at that point, my world collapsed.

"That double whammy of rejection and betrayal just totally floors you and you realise that life as you knew it is over. It's been napalmed. Your life no longer exists."

With the support of good friends, Peck eventually got back on her feet.  Although "terrified" of online dating at first, she found it a wonderful tool for connecting and sharing banter with a range of interesting people, including a canine dentist, a Swedish journalist and a former manager of the Rolling Stones.

Rather than writing about herself in her online dating profile, Peck listed six criteria that she wanted in a man, including funny, smart, active, and good emotional intelligence. 

"I said 'You need to be at least four out of six of those things or don't bother responding'. That turned out to be a great strategy because it gave those people away a way in, something to talk about. And it was also a really good weeding-out tool."

Peck now knows that her marriage wasn't "a truly deep loving relationship" because she is now in one of those - with a man she met online and calls 'Edwin' in Suddenly Single at 60.

When they first met, Edwin was completely different to the "A-type personality, gregarious, life of the party" men Peck was usually attracted to, but she was determined to broaden her horizons.

"Edwin was not flash, our conversation was wonderful but it didn't flow that easily. But there was something about him. I sensed his authenticity and I sensed his kindness and those two things were something that I had not been used to.

"I really wanted to explore that further to see, you know, could I change my criteria to be with not the man I thought I wanted, but to let in a man I needed, the sort of man who would nurture me and look after me and that we could have an equal and loving relationship? It turned out that Edwin was that man."

The new, more peaceful relationship dynamic with Edwin still took a lot of getting used to, Peck says.

"I was the high priestess of the high-wire act and everything in my life up until then had been walking on eggshells and riding roller coasters. And suddenly I'd found a man who was constant and steady and there for me. I realised how bad my choices had been in the past in terms of finding someone who's going to be right for me."

To other women facing the difficult work of rebuilding their sense of identity after a separation, she wants to offer hope.

"Life doesn't end when your relationship ends. In fact, it gives you an opportunity for a wonderful new beginning. Of course, you have to do the analysis, you have to go through that grief process.

"What I would say is, don't get stuck there. Make sure you move on. Make sure you give yourself give yourself an opportunity to reinvent yourself or to have a better life because, yeah, that loss is horrible but it can also be transformational. I just want women to know that there's there's hope out there.