Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Our Commuter Marriage is About to End

Yahoo! This evening is the last time my husband will drive here from Madison and not return there on Sunday. For the last eight months Bruce has made the weekly round trip, and he has been such a good sport about doing that. Actually, I have been a good sport as well. We recognized how fortunate this arrangement has been as we have transitioned to life in St Paul. 

But enough is enough, and it is time to live in the same place full-time once again. Even though we both handle separation and being alone just fine, after almost 43 years of marriage, we would rather be together than apart.

Learning As It Happens
Still, I know there will be some adjustment. I am used to having the house by myself, and Bruce is used to coming and going on his own. Even though we are so eager for this change, I know there will be bumps along the way. Last weekend we experienced a minor tease of what could be ahead. 

The night he got home I told him I needed to do two errands the next morning.  That next morning while I was getting ready to leave, he called out that he was going to get coffee. No problem, until I had my keys in my hand and my purse on my arm and discovered he had taken my car. Yes, I could have taken his car, but I knew it was road weary, a polite way to say this car has LOTS of miles on it, and maybe it even needed gas. I decided not to wait till he got home, but called him and was pleased he answered his phone--that's another one of those ongoing discussions--and told him I needed my car. When he got home in a few minutes, he said I could have taken his car and I said HE could have taken his car. We laughed and moved on, but this silly incident was an indication of how used we are to functioning on our own. 

Yes, he has been here every weekend, but weekends have been play time, our elder version of Disney Time, and not much about the everyday routine of living in the same space. In some ways we will have to learn how to live together again. And the new wrinkle is that Bruce will be working from home the equivalent of three days a week with his desk, formerly known as the lady's writing desk, in the living room, almost the center of the house. How will that be? Will the fact that I like to listen to the radio when I am in the kitchen bother him? Will I need to wear a headset? Will he keep the desk looking neat and orderly? How much time will he need to be there and when? Is he interruptible? Am I? How do I establish and stick to my priorities? Will I always feel a need to respond when he wants to take a break and do something? What will our days look like? 

None of these questions are earth-shattering, and we have promised each other we will be hyper-communicative, but this is new territory and feels even more unknown because of the pattern of these last eight months.  

Opportunities for Change and Growth
This change makes me think how often older people are referred to as inflexible and unwilling to change, and even stubborn, just at a time in life when we are asked to and need to change even more. Retirement, even partial retirement, is a huge change and one that requires a set of skills that don't always seem to fit together. Be independent, but be collaborative. Be helpful, but stay out of the way. Be spontaneous, but find your own routine. Share space, but create your own space. Delegate, but not like a boss. Adjust, but be clear about your needs. 

Recently, I asked a friend, who has been retired for a few years, along with her husband, how it has gone. She laughed (A common response to that question!) and said the first year was great. Full of fun day trips and spontaneity and real pleasure being together. It was the second year that was trickier. The temporary vacation mentality turned into days settling into routine and accommodation. That's when the real adjustment began. 

Another friend was grateful her husband retired first, for he learned how to function on his own without benefit of a work schedule and colleagues to support him. He even had dinner waiting when she got home from work, discovering he enjoyed cooking. I am more than willing to be the cook in the family, and Bruce has always done a good job cleaning the kitchen,  never shying away from domestic duties. My good fortune!

The Real Issues
While those issues are important, they are not the crux of the matter. I am shocked that we are at this point in our life. How did we get here so fast? Our daughter turns 40 in August. How is that possible? It seemed like we coasted almost blindly through our years for so long, going to work every day, paying the bills, collapsing in front of the tv or falling asleep while reading a book, exhausted from days overflowing with activities and tasks. We never really envisioned that one day so much would come to a halt. It's not that we fear retirement or worry about filling our days or figuring out what's next, but the hourglass has more sand in the bottom than in the top, and we can't quite believe it. 

Some of us have been proactive, making changes in our lifestyle, even before retiring. We have a number of friends who have sold their family homes and moved into a home that promises easier living or have moved to be closer to family, as we have done. Downsizing and simplifying is a common mantra, and is a good thing, but in some ways it masks the bigger issue. We are doing this because we are aging, and we want to maintain some control over our lives. We hope our decisions will make the tough years less tough.  

Anyone in this post 65 age bracket is living their own scenario. Some have been forced to retire because of serious health issues. Some have retired and then are quickly faced with catastrophic illness. Some don't want to retire and are forced to, and others would love to adopt the "retired" label, but economic issues prevent that. Some couples are at odds with one another, discovering opposing hopes and dreams for this time or are facing issues that have been buried for too long. Some are still figuring out what they want to do with their lives only to discover they have lived most of their life. 

The truth is I don't know--none of us knows--what this part of the journey will bring. We know where it ends, but we don't know how and what will happen along the way. In the meantime I intend to do the best I can, take deep breaths, reach further into my spiritual being, and give thanks for the privilege of viewing life as a woman in her 60's. 

An Invitation
What advice do you have about retirement? If you are retired, what have you learned? What has surprised you? Is there anything you wish you had done differently or sooner? Where has your strength come from? I would love to know.

Bonus: Here are links to a couple blogs I think you will find valuable. The first is a lovely view of the flow of the day, and the next is a deep exploration of a recent loss.


  1. Dearest Nancy, thanks for linking to my recent blog post. I have no retirement advice, as I'm a few years away from that milestone, but wanted you to know I happily immersed myself in your last ten blog posts this morning! It's always a rich experience to check in on your blog and -- at my tender age of 55 -- your reflections have me looking forward to the wisdom years ahead. :-)

  2. I am happy to sharing your wisdom and insights at this crucial and fragile time of your life with my readers. You are wise now and will continue to grow in wisdom.


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