I’ve decided that retirement is very much like the honeymoon year of marriage. Minus the great sex.
Much the same as happens when you realize you are about to meet someone at the altar and walk with them through the rest of your life, there’s that little thrill that flutters your stomach at the realization that it’s finally gonna happen! This is followed by a moment of panic when you’re faced with the prospect of spending the next untold number of years with someone you’re not exactly sure you know well enough to sleep next to much less risk accidentally farting in the company of.
If you’re smart, you realize there will be adjustments to be made by both parties. The first of these usually occurs as you’re moving furniture into your first home. He carries in that disgusting blue chair and you refuse to allow it within sight of anyone entering the house. He likes all the cups and glasses in one cupboard, you know who’ll be unloading the dishwasher and refuse to walk across the kitchen to do so. You pick out lovely floral towels and he drops plain beige in the shopping cart. But you both agree on a coffee maker and suddenly the angels are singing again.
In the honeymoon year, you make discoveries that you hadn’t imagined were possible. He prefers buttered bread to mayo or mustard on his sandwich (MUST be a Yankee thing!) and wouldn’t touch sour cream on a dare. He actually can watch television with his eyes closed (and can talk and snore simultaneously). He visibly cringes at the sound of a baby crying (wonder if he’ll wake up when she crawls in bed between the two of you?). He is almost terse with your mother, but then, she does ask the most embarrassingly personal questions.
As the year progresses, there are less heated discussions regarding the things you cannot change and more resigned sighing as you once again remind him to please put the toilet seat back down after he flushes.
And you realize you can’t possibly stay mad at a man who brings you flowers when he stops at the grocery for milk on the way home from work.
I was advised early on by a minister friend, who did marriage counseling on the side, that marriage is cyclical and should be treated much the same as a contract. You work within the confines of your agreement until it is no longer suitable to the two of you, then you renegotiate and begin again. You have to agree from the start not to be nasty or devious and to only ask for those things that are most important to you. You aren’t allowed to use any canny strategies. No cooking his favorite dish or wearing a certain bra. Just straight forward negotiations carried out in the most adult manner possible.
In the retirement phase of marriage, this is known as choosing the hill you want to die on. And, by retirement phase, you are fully expected to come to the table in battle armor.
If you manage to stay married long enough to actually reach the retirement phase, you are fully aware that those things most important to you in the honeymoon year are no longer considerations. In effect, the battlefield topography changes. Where you once may have been negotiating for certain draperies or visits with your out-of-state relatives at certain times of the year or even who gets stuck sitting out soccer practice, things are now much more personal. You have determined, long ago, that there is no such animal as a 50/50 relationship and you’re hoping to at least break even.
Who, for example, gets the single bathroom sink in the morning? It stands to reason that the person up first has full bathroom access until they’re done. So why are you dancing around each other, toothbrush in hand and mouth full of toothpaste-laden saliva, vying for a chance to spit?
Who drives? That one is pretty easy since most older men would rather be driven as long as it isn’t insane. So then, who is in charge of the radio? The logical answer is the person whose car you’re riding in. But as soon as you tune in to your favorite artist, he starts to sigh and fidget and, worst of all, talk about totally inane subjects at a decibel three grades higher than the music.
Who pushes the grocery cart?
Whose car gets washed most?
Who cooks? Who cleans?
Who gets to choose the program to watch once you’re both in bed for the night or at the buttcrack of dawn when sleeping is totally out of the question?
Trust me, these are important issues that must be considered when renegotiating.
Almost without thought, you consider how it might feel to live the single life again. You find yourself at odd moments staring off into space, mentally tallying the various and sundry ways you can manage to break free without notice, followed by the realization that you’ve been sitting at a green light while the rest of the traffic, now totally disgusted with your inept abilities to safely navigate city streets, whizzes angrily past you, honking loudly and flipping you off.
Except you have to admit that, for however long it’s taken to get from that honeymoon year to this retirement one, you have been sleeping next to and, being totally honest, farting in the general direction of this person longer than any other person in your life.
I know there will come a time when none of this will matter much. It doesn’t matter all that much now, except that it provides a lot of laughter as we learn, once again, cohabitation of the same square footage. We know each other well and our tolerance for the other person’s quirks and oddities is pretty high. Truth be known, we probably have fostered many of the bad habits that now make us a bit crazy and we are honest enough to admit that nobody in their right mind would live with us either.
And I think this is how those old couples you see on the park benches sitting smack against each other or holding hands as they slowly shuffle down the sidewalk have managed to make it from honeymoon, through retirement, and into twilight.
Of course, the loss of hearing and sight, and smell, probably plays a very big part.