“Do you think I should learn to play golf?” a friend of mine asked me last week. Her husband, recently retired, has taken up golf and is spending many hours a week on the golf course having lessons and socialising with other golfers. She isn’t sure whether he wants her to join him or whether he enjoys the time alone. They haven’t properly discussed it and when they do endeavour to do so they walk on eggshells, being so polite to one another that my friend doesn’t really believe her husband is being honest about what he would prefer.
Her comment reminded me of when my mother confessed that she and my father had occasionally gone on a holiday that neither of them truly wanted to go on. They just didn’t want to offend the other by rejecting a suggestion – which made me think how important honesty can be in a relationship!
“Do you want to play golf?” I asked my friend. “No, not really,” she replied.
And such are the dilemmas of retirement. How much to do together and how much apart. Each of you may have hobbies that you have pursued over many years and it can be a time to combine these with exploring new activities. People frequently tell me that they are busier in retirement, than they were when they were working.
For me I question how much busyness I want in my life in the future. I feel I have spent the last forty years chasing around either after children or for clients and I long for spaces in the diary. So when I open my Outlook calendar and see weeks ahead full of cluttered commitments my heart sinks! I hadn’t realized how large families become as one’s children, nieces and nephews get married and have families. It is a joy and at the same time can be tiring if too much comes along at once. But it is about balance because if there was nothing in the diary I would, no doubt, feel isolated and bored.
And so it is finding the compromise between together time and individual time that my friend is struggling with. And she gets an emotional pull that somehow she ‘should’ be spending time with her husband even though golf doesn’t appeal to her – and quite possibly her husband is enjoying time on the course on his own. Who’s to know, when being honest about such things can seem like a minefield and one doesn’t want to upset one’s partner, nor he you.
Our sense of self and life changes in this stage of life, I find. One isn’t sure whether one’s health will hold up but one realizes that it’s sensible to travel hopefully and make plans as if all will be well. One isn’t sure how one will manage the bills and leisure pursuits when the monthly salary cheque is no longer coming in and the bank account dips. One wonders whether the plans one is making will be as enjoyable and fulfilling as one hopes. One wonders where we will find that sense of ‘belonging’ that one has experienced in the workplace. Will we miss the work that has been the pattern of our life up to this time?
The reality is that we don’t know what the future holds and whilst this has been the case since the day we were born, it can become a little more anxious-making as one gets older and one’s body shows the odd sign of fatigue. There is an excellent book I read some time ago called Transitions by William Bridges which suggests that in any transitory stage of life (leaving home, getting married, having a baby, changing jobs) one takes time to stop and reflect on which activities and behaviours one might like to let go of and which one would like to develop or take forward into the future.
My friend has decided that she will not take up golf. It isn’t for her. But she is happy that her husband is enjoying life. She has her own interests and they have agreed to put time in the diary for those events they enjoy together. And sometimes this will work and sometimes it won’t – we are, after all, human and fallible, even when we have a few grey hairs on our heads.
I have been ‘retired’ for a while now, having happily worked as a teacher until the age of 71. As you say, Helen, the exciting thing about retirement is to have ‘spaces’ in our diary, spaces I guard fiercely. I have used these spaces to explore within myself and with others what it is that I can contribute to ‘life’ and what it is that excites me and enables me to be creative. In this process I have morphed into a different ‘identity’ and sometimes I am still finding my feet, but I have managed to extract excitement and fulfillment from life. And it is not a question of having a large disposable income; maybe even the contrary is true, as having little money makes you more alert and open to venturing into opportunities, I think.
As for ‘separate and together’, I think the bottom line for that is trust. If you trust your partner and wish for him/her that they can have the freedom to develop new interests/find fulfillment, whilst being in a relationship (together), then your partner will be a more interesting and contented person to be close to and you can enrich each others lives. It’s hard for ‘possessive’ people to achieve this, but I am convinced that mature people can thrive on this path.