When you retire, this is where the emotional challenges begin. How do you control the unstructured blank time in your days, months or even years ahead after the novelty of free time wears off? Feelings of loneliness and emptiness in the beginning can be very overwhelming as they were for me. It is an emotional challenge just dealing with a new life supplementing places to go, routines, goals, trips and even, a culture change. Before both of us always had a destination every day, a place we were expected to be and now the emotional stereotypes of retirement were front and center.
I had read in one of my retirement books, “As your home becomes the primary social space, we may find our new emotional challenges can lead to unexpected depressing outcomes.” Being together in our work life for so many years Gary and I were together but separate. As with so many married couples with busy professional lives a great deal of the time we were together, outside of child care issues or home duties, revolved around client meetings, sporting events, social events or not-for-profit events. So our downtime together, completely alone was very limited especially in the last 10 years of our work life.
When you are married for a long time you think you know your spouse and we were no exception and emotional challenges would not play a part in our life. We women are usually the ones no matter how long we are married think that what you have hoped and dreamed will be exactly what your spouse wants. You absolutely know you two are on the same page. The old fairy tale walking hand in hand into the sunset ultimately seems to drift in and out of reality becoming very hazy.
Each of us individually creates our own picture of what we want and some sort of life style after we leave work. But also as many men Gary was not particularly effective in communicating his thoughts so differences soon emerged as many assumptions by both of us were made. This is especially true when one spouse is still working and the other retires. I was retiring and he was going to keep running his business so what did he need to worry about? It was simple … right? But there it was, like the elephant in the room, the big build up about retirement. Not that it is not a good thing, of course it is. But society has always sold the Kool Aid that retirement is the big reward for a lifetime of service. Especially with Social Security and Medicare it is has been ingrained in us that when we reach a certain age we are clearly done and the emotional stereotypes kick in.
I was also startled early on by society’s reaction when you said you were retired. It was if everything you were, everything you had accomplished was dismissed with that one single statement. I went from being a senior partner running a $25M a year company to one of the retired pack of old people. So as the line in the sand got longer and we started on our journey to retirement things continued to get even more interesting between us as our own emotional challenges grew bigger and dealing with society’s emotional stereotypes took its toll.