Nov 23 2015
I had an Uncle Herbie who really did a great job of being retired. He used to work a lot with numbers, so he was the kind of detail-oriented guy who could make an exact science out of mowing the lawn. But he was also a dreamer whose passion was writing stories, so you could say he was a well-rounded man.
When Uncle Herbie was approaching retirement, he did a lot of research about how to retire well. He read books and articles and attended seminars. He did a lot of planning about all aspects of retirement, so that he and my Aunt Em could really enjoy the experience. The only thing he could have done better was to have lived a few more years, but I guess that was one variable he could not control.
My husband Fluffy really liked this idea of making retirement a project, and planned to do the same when he finally took that step. Unfortunately, life had other ideas. His company cut a bunch of jobs (including his) exactly two months into my three-month hospital tour in 2013, when Fluffy’s retirement was still way off on the horizon.
Fluffy was too busy with my health issues to look for another job, so he put that on the back burner until he had fewer pressing issues. Then it got pushed further and further towards the back of the stove, until it finally fell off and went splat on the floor.
He updated his resume and made a feeble attempt at job searching, but his heart just wasn’t in it. He had worked pretty much non-stop for 40+ years, and he was really enjoying his sabbatical. Retirement was a lot easier than he had envisioned, not only financially, but in other ways. So last year he finally decided to upgrade his status from “unemployed and kind of looking” to “happily retired.”
That means that Fluffy now spends a lot of time doing the research that he planned to do before retirement. He reads a lot of articles about retirement and attends meetings (both online and with real people). But most of his research is done by practicing being retired, which means puttering around the house and looking for vacations and doing other retirement-type things.
Last week he shared with me a statistic he had read in one of the articles he read. It said that 60% of working men were looking forward to spending more time with their wives when they retire. On the flip side of that, it said that only 43% of women were looking forward to spending more time with their husbands in retirement.
(The non-PC person who wrote the article actually used words like men, women, husbands and wives. Personally, it was a breath of fresh air, considering all the times lately I’ve been reading about idiots who want to replace “he” and “she” with the gender-neutral “ze.” Oh, please. Spare me from the politically correct dweebs of the universe. Get them out of my life and off of my planet forever.)
Now I was not a math major, but there was one interesting statistic here that really jumped out. If you take the difference between 60 and 43, that means that 17% of the ladies with soon-to-be-retired husbands do not share the same anticipation for having hubby at home 24/7.
Oh, I could relate to this. Even though we get along well now that we are old, I entertained similar thoughts when Fluffy was working in an office and would start to talk about retirement. Just as a working person gets into his own routines at work, a stay-at-home spouse adopts similar patterns and rhythms at home. The idea of disrupting these patterns and having a 24-hour roommate can be a little jarring.
I guess it’s a bit like our young Mormon missionaries, who suddenly inherit a companion that they must treat like a Siamese twin. As an introvert, I think the idea of having a stranger joined at the hip with me for every waking moment of my life just might be a fate worse than death.
So when Fluffy rhapsodized about retirement, he often asked me why I had a deer-in-the-headlights look. And even though I pretended I just had a piece of lint in my eye, I did indeed have a deer-in-the-headlights look. As much as I liked the little fellow, it scared the socks off me to think of him in my domain every moment of my waking life. Where would my private time go?
My answer to this, now that Fluffy is happily retired is, “What private time?” For, you see, my 38-year-old self was absolutely right. “Yours” and “mine” has become “ours” — at least it has in our marriage, where Fluffy is also my caretaker, cook, chauffeur, and bottle-washer.
Even when I am happily sitting in my office, thinking my time is my own, a little blond head is likely to pop in, saying, “What were you laughing about?” Or when someone has called me on the phone, I often hear a third party breathing on the line and say, “Fluffy, is that you?” He is more than happy to enter the conversation.
But the secondary answer to my question is, “Who needs private time?” Because the thing I did not realize, back in the days when Fluffy and I walked on eggshells around each other, was that there would come a day when my happiest moments would be spent in his company, and that he would be my companion of choice whenever I decided I wanted to raise my heels and get in some sort of mischief or other.
It really doesn’t bother me to have Fluffy as my party line on the telephone, as long as he makes his presence known. Watching television is more fun (and a lot warmer) as long as he is sitting next to me on the love seat. We may not eat the same things for lunch, but it is more companionable when we eat lunch together than it used to be when I dined alone.
Even in retirement, we don’t spend every second of every day together. For one thing, we have separate offices on different floors. Fluffy has suggested that we have our computers in the same room, but one has to draw the line somewhere. For one thing, I mumble to myself, and I must admit I enjoy my own conversations. For another, he listens to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and I would not deny him that joy but I am definitely not a fan.
One must draw the line somewhere.
We have gotten into the groove of retirement. We eat lunches out rather than going to dinner. We look for coupons to make those lunches cheaper. We go grocery shopping together.
Last week was our 39th wedding anniversary. On our way to our anniversary lunch, Fluffy drove me to Walgreens so I could buy an anniversary card for him. He went into the store with me and went shopping while I made my choice, and he pulled out my charge card and paid for my purchase because I do not carry a purse or a charge card with me. Now that’s togetherness.
Spending time together should be a joy, not a curse.
If you’re a husband or a wife who is not completely crazy about your spouse, start working now to make it a better relationship. By the time you’re old, your husband or wife is going to be your closest companion just out of convenience if for no other reason.
This is especially important when you have children, so that you will have a relationship again when the kids finally move out. One of our friends once told us, “Now that the children are gone, George and I just stare across the table at each other like two strangers. When the kids were around we could always talk about them. Now that they’re gone, I realize they were all we had in common.”
I’ve seen a whole lot of husbands and wives who have been trapped as old people in unhappy marriages and who have spent their golden years sniping at one another until the day they die. How much fun is that?
And the sad thing is, it is totally unnecessary. It only takes a small investment in loving words and kind acts to create a relationship where you will be glad to spend your golden years together. And the good thing is, as long as both parties want a good marriage, it isn’t too late to make yours shiny and new.
It’s so much better to hold hands under a blanket on the love seat or laugh at inside jokes that you’ve been laughing at with each other for forty or fifty years. Do the little things today that you need to do to stay in love with your companion. Every act of love you do is an investment in your happiness retirement account — and it will make sure you are not one of the 17% of unhappy wives of soon-to-be-retired men.
This article first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.