I still have precious few readers, but they are a mighty bunch. And they are not shy about responding to posts. “Gender and Retirement: Sobering Notes From the Front Line” inspired a small surge of emails, including these five:
Spot on. I have so many friends who are going through this.
I chatted with one the other night. He was an engineer, and his entire life was about his work. When he retired, it took him more than a year to be able to just sit and be still. Luckily for him, his wife had been a critical care nurse and still has extraordinary patience and empathy.
The other thing that happens for many women approaching or in retirement is uneven loading of parent care among siblings. My friend carries the load for her mother because she's the only one of three siblings who lives in [our city]. Her mother detests the care home, looks down on the other "inmates,” and complains non-stop — unwilling to carry the weight of her own life. The same can be said for my friend’s youngest daughter, now in her 30s, who still lives at home. My friend works. Her husband is talking about retiring. He doesn't drive and has no outside interests apart from beer club. (Yes, it's a thing.) I think she would go mad.
When my uncle retired, my aunt asked when she would be able to retire too. He hadn't thought about it. So they hired a housekeeper or a cleaning lady or someone like that. Not sure how long it lasted.
It's not all on men: ideally, it's about doing the work throughout your marriage — whether you just met or have been together for decades — to express expectations and balance responsibilities and workload. And that can be hard, because many of us were raised by parents who lived like Ozzie and Harriet. My husband still gets cranky sometimes when I ask him to do things. And I call him on it every time…
Anyway, good post. I like the “bulky trash" bit.
I think I could hear the ice cracking under your feet [on the gender post], but you made it safely to the other side.
This issue of “bulky trash” — it’s not attractive for a man to slide into ennui owing to failure of imagination. And it’s hugely unattractive for a man to expect that his wife will be his indentured labourer — making him nice sandwiches and keeping the house neat and clean.
But I wonder about a man who is still interested in life and who doesn’t expect a free ride. Maybe his domestic patterns carry clues from his unconscious mind about a desire to simplify, or to have scads of time free for psychic restructuring after decades of reporting to work. I’m thinking of Leonard Cohen’s line: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” At retirement, one can still feel young, with a good stretch of time ahead. There’s therefore potential for renaissance; for radical freedom. This rebirth may necessitate, for example, moving into a smaller home that requires less cleaning, or it may require largely abandoning meal formality. Such desires are not inherently unjust.
Caveat: the man needs to make sure that the words “Hey, where’s MY sandwich?” never pass his lips.
Loved the scary post about the Walkaway Wife. …I think about the transitions in our own life that are coming in the next decade. I was thinking of going back to school because the thought of being home and not having kids to look after makes me feel as though my days will be empty and unproductive. That, paired with the fact that when [my husband] is 65 I'll only be 53. Too young to retire?
I've decided not to go back to school just so I can get another job. The fact is, I'll still have people to care for, [my husband] being at the top of that list because I tend to be the one “in charge” at home and in our family life.
That's a pretty sad state of affairs when a wife considers her husband “bulky trash”! I connect this with one of your previous posts about having fun. If a couple has a base of contentment, surely the focus can be on fun and family in retirement. Being on the same page as a couple is key, I guess. I feel confident that [my husband] and I will be of the same mindset, but nothing can be taken for granted. It will help if his retirement will include interesting work: writing, some legacy projects (and hopefully associated travel), and consulting.
But it is a tricky time, and I have a few female friends who talk about the concept of their husband's retiring with absolute dread.
It has long been a truism that men tend to identify themselves by their occupation. The question “What are you?” was synonymous with “What do you do for a living?” You couldn’t call yourself a farmer if you no longer farmed. So what were you? Not much.
I saw this a lot as a paper boy in the Huron County village where I grew up, which was largely populated by retired farm couples. It was a morning paper, and as I did my rounds before dawn, many of the houses were already lit. Men folk sat at the kitchen table, dressed but doing nothing but waiting for the paper. Even to my young eyes, it didn’t look like much fun. Sodaigomi.
I find myself in a sort of reverse situation in that it is difficult for me to focus at work in the wind-down toward retirement. I’m not clawing my way up the corporate ladder or busting my ass to get that raise. I’m dreaming and scheming about going east to see the land I bought. Maybe build a cabin. Go fishing a lot. Meet new people. Explore remote canyons (as far as my knees allow) and try to do some gold panning with my grandson. Get to know life among moose and bears and quirky locals.
Or maybe decide that that life is too rigorous for my age, but still have fun in the attempt.
On the spousal front, our home might have a different gender slant. I have worked from home for so long that many of the mundane chores have evolved to be my domain. I now fully appreciate how so many women have come to loathe being taken for granted. [My wife] really tries but she comes home completely bagged after 10 meetings a day. She has dozens of reports, both direct and indirect. So I try to have the laundry done, start the cooking, and look forward to conversation. The decompression time she needs is not always in sync with me, who tries to work full time as well.
Anyway, this was not intended to be about me, but I regret to say that it took a divorce for me to really see a woman’s side of it. In our parents’ generation it must have been that much harder.