Love in the Time of Retirement

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Larry and I enjoying our retirement in  Mission San Juan Capistrano, California.

Larry and I enjoying our retirement in Mission San Juan Capistrano, California.

Ah! Young love! This is the time in life where two individuals cannot get enough of each other! Each moment away from one another is agony, and even when they are together in the same room, there is a desperate need to touch and hold and talk. Their wish is to share every waking moment together.

Yes, my husband and I were like that once. We met, we courted, we married, and we spent the next thirty-six years of our lives juggling our relationship with children, jobs, and outside commitments.

Then, Larry and I retired, and we got our wish. We were together twenty-four/seven, but we weren’t young anymore. As a matter of fact, living under the same roof resulted in a period of major adjustment.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love my husband dearly, and I am so grateful that we have had the opportunity to retire in good health. It is just that—well — love in the time of retirement may test even the closest relationship.

Our first battle took place soon after Larry retired. We were in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner. As was our usual routine, Larry was putting away the leftovers while I was putting the dirty plates in the dishwasher. He looked over while he was closing the refrigerator door and offered, “Here, Marilyn, let me show you how to load a dishwasher.”

I stopped mid-dish, and stared at him. “What do you mean by that?”

“You’re not doing it right. I can show you how to do it properly.”

“So you mean to tell me I have been loading this thing WRONG for the last three decades?”

“Yes, my way is much more efficient!” We had a brief, spirited discussion as to whether he wanted to accept my tried and true way of doing it or if he wanted to wash dishes on his own for the rest of our married life. Thankfully, he saw it my way.

The second conflict occurred six months later when I retired. I planned to set up my calendar and some files in our home office. When I tried to find room on our computer desk, not an inch was available. “Larry,” I said, “do you think you can organize all those piles on the desk so that we can share the space?”

“I retired first” was his response. “I already claimed the desk. You will need to find another spot.”

Initially, I managed to carve out a few inches of blank oak, but it wasn’t worth the fights that ensued when I moved any of his piles, which he referred to as his “filing system.” I eked out a two-inch crevice between the computer and the printer that allowed me to prop up a few folders. It took three years to have the sense to get my own lap top so I could have the flexibility to work on any surface in the house.

Over the next few months, we played an uneasy game of adjusting. Larry spent a great deal of time following me around closing cabinet doors and drawers I continually left open, a bad habit I had had my entire life. I learned to accept the fact that he was king of the television clicker. He could watch several television shows simultaneously, including a couple of basketball games, reruns of The Big Bang Theory, and a showing of a favorite movie. I found this tolerable as long as I was multi-tasking on the couch —doing a crossword puzzle, checking emails, reading a book, and cutting coupons—while he ruled the remote. My annoying habit cancelled out his.

I know that I am not the only person who has experienced post-retirement angst. One friend, whose son had been in a playgroup with Adam over thirty years earlier, told me that her husband had acquired this overwhelming need to be with her wherever she went. Grocery shopping, dropping off mail at the post office, running to the drug store for a prescription, was now regarded by Steve as a two-person outing. “If Larry isn’t busy,” Fern suggested, “maybe we can arrange a weekly playdate between our two husbands. Then I can get out of the house by myself for a couple of hours.”

My friend Judy commented that only after they were both retired did she realize how ‘uber-organized’ her husband was. A week before they left for their two-month stay in Florida, Judy was haphazardly stacking clothing on her bed and throwing cosmetics and toiletries into a bin. Charlie strolled into the bedroom and opened up a file marked “Florida.” It included a detailed list of everything he needed to pack, including the number of pairs of socks, shirts, and shoes he was bringing. Another list included restaurants in Naples, with notes on ratings and menus. He even planned their drive down to Florida in minute detail: He had researched hotels and restaurants en route on Trip Advisor, printed out weather forecasts from weather.com, and created a chart of estimated travel times between stops from Google maps. “He researches every single detail and isn’t willing to leave anything to chance,” Judy said. “It’s driving me nuts!”

Quite a few of my friends have commented that their retired husbands, who managed people all their working life, feel the need to manage their wives. “Mark loves to come up with projects,” Melody shared with me over coffee. “He suggests these projects on a weekly basis, pointing out, for example, that the linen closet needs to be reorganized or the bookshelves in the fourth bedroom need to be cleaned out. Of course, Mark is the idea person. I am the person who is expected to implement his projects.”

When I talk to couples about adjusting to retirement, I find that the wives are much more forthcoming about their experiences. The men I spoke to, for the most part, were oblivious.

This is not just part of our generation. Joan, a friend from North Dakota, remembered mediating a fight between her in-laws. After many years of farming acres of wheat and soy, the husband had decided to help his wife with her vegetable garden. While they were cutting up potatoes for planting, he insisted that each potato mound have five eyes. The wife explained that she had always limited the mounds to three eyes. When he tried to drag his daughter-in-law into the discussion, Joan demurred, saying, “I am sure it all depends on the year.” She said, in the end, they decided on four eyes, a nice compromise.

Compromise—the bottom line as two people learn to live their dream, to spend most of their time together. Maybe love is relearning give-and-take and embracing each other’s quirks.

My favorite piece of advice came from a man who held a high position in the federal government for many years before he and his wife retired. “I get to make the big decisions,” he explained. “Who should run for president of the United States. Whether or not we should go to war with Syria. And she makes the less important decisions, such as where we live, what we eat, with whom we spend our time, when and where we are going on vacation. It works out really well for us.”As I hope it works out for all the retired love birds I know and love.

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