“Are you still working?” I am getting that question more often these days. First, I get annoyed: “What do they mean: ‘still’?” Then I rush to the mirror to check for new wrinkles. Then I realize it’s not me; it’s them.
I have a lot of older friends, like Barbara. We have been playing tennis together for more than a decade. When she told me she had a big birthday, I assumed it was 60 or 65. She was a teacher and most teachers I know retire in their 50s. Barbara started her career late, so she had to work longer to be eligible for her pension. Still, I was shocked when she told me it was her 70th. Barbara looks a good 10 years younger.
Sometimes the decision to retire is made for you. One friend recently lost a government job when the government changed. Mid-level executives are regularly fired when they reach the top of the pay scale. Instead of pounding the pavement, many embrace it. I assume this is how it will ultimately happen for me. I will either get turfed or get sick.
I just don’t believe in it — which is why it took some getting used to when my husband, Doug, announced his intention to retire. Not that he used the “R” word. Doug framed it as “stepping down” from his job. He gave plenty of notice to his employer … and to me.
Doug also looks a good decade younger than his years, and he is extremely fit. He started this last job when he was older than the traditional retirement age. It turned out to be the most challenging of his career. He was the last remaining member of the executive team he started with four years ago. Most days he was out the door before 7 a.m., around the time I was getting up. I can see wanting an end to that.
Doug was immediately asked to come back as a senior adviser to his organization. It’s only been about a month, and we are all figuring out what this new phase looks like. He gets miffed at me when I tell friends we are meeting that he has news to share. “I don’t see it as a big change,” he keeps telling me. I would agree with that — I think it’s huge!
Our retired friends have been working on him for at least a year. “How long are you going to keep doing this?” asked his childhood friend Dougald during a cottage visit a year ago. Dougald had just retired, a year and a half after his wife, Pat. They are thrilled with their lives after work. Pat threw herself into volunteer work resettling refugees. They spend more time at their cottage. They stop to have meaningful conversations when they run into friends while on morning walks in the dog park. I remember frantically trying to change the subject when it came up — with no success.
Doug has been his industrious self since the end of the day job. He goes in a few times a week, has lunches and bike rides with friends and colleagues, and he’s stepped up working with his favourite charity. I am awed at the speed with which he is tackling the household to-do list — some of which has gone undone for years. In a matter of days, he hired a handyman who repaired and power-washed all the outdoor furniture that I thought would have to be replaced. The windows have been washed, and the fence will soon be repainted. “Things deteriorate after 25 years,” he tells me, adding, “You barely notice!” I still do the cooking because I love it. But he’s happy to have the groceries waiting for me rather than waiting for me to pick them up on the way home.
So maybe all my anxiety is misplaced. The household is definitely running more smoothly. It’s the imbalance in our lives that I worry about. With most couples I know, one partner’s retirement has been followed by the pull for the other to do the same — to spend more time travelling, golfing, cottaging or whatever the retiree has more time to do. Not to mention that all those things get more expensive every year after a regular income has stopped coming in.
But it’s about more than money or even having a purposeful life. Our jobs have been a big part of our identities. Figuring out what comes after is a process. I am not ready — not remotely — and I may never be. Maybe we will just continue keeping separate schedules during the daytime and getting together at night, as we always have. So maybe Doug was right the first time, and this is not going to be a big change.