“Discordant Retirement”

After you turn 60, you start getting a lot more retirement-related communications — just like you begin to notice that you’re getting a lot more spam mailings and internet ads about things like cheaper prescription drugs and various devices that help the enfeebled perform daily chores.  And it all starts, really, when you get that AARP application in the mail that is the official acknowledgement that you are old.

istock_000021521956largeMost of the retirement materials you receive are just a variation on the kind of stuff you’ve probably received for years, that talk up some great investment opportunity that is so bullet-proof you’d be a fool not to put your money in, or promise to take great care of your savings and lead you to the retirement of your dreams.  For me, those kind of “cold call” communications get moused into the trashcan.  But sometimes you see something that’s actually interesting — like this piece on “discordant retirement.”

What’s “discordant retirement,” you say?  That’s the name retirement planners have given to married couples that effectively retire at different times — where the wife keeps working after the husband stops, or vice versa.  It’s a cultural phenomenon of sorts, because it’s obviously a reflection of the prevalence of two wage-earner couples, rather than the ’50s sitcom model of working husband and wife on the home front, where the husband’s eventual retirement would be the decisive, unilaterally defining retirement event.

And it’s also interesting in that it illustrates something else about the concept of working:  people react differently to it.  Some people tire of working and decide that once they’ve reached a certain financial point they just won’t take it anymore, while others find work empowering, or important to their self image, or a significant part of their social life that they just aren’t quite ready to give up.  The article notes that “retirement” isn’t always easily defined, and often a “retired” person has just decided to do something else, like work for a charitable entity.  There are many reasons to “retire” — however you define that notion — and an equal number of reasons to keep working, and everyone is going to approach the issue somewhat differently.  In a sense, the notion of discordant retirement shows just how far we’ve come, with each half of a couple making their own individual decisions about when and how they want to retire.

After reading the article I thought about couples we know and how many of them are illustrations of “discordant retirement.”  So, what are potential “discordant retirees” supposed to do?  Well, obviously, it’s something that couples need to talk about, just as any successful married couples need to talk through and reach agreement on many issues in their lives.  And discordant retirement offers opportunities, and challenges, as couples try to figure out when and how to pull the trigger on things like Social Security payments, Medicare coverage, and other consequential retirement-related decisions.

“Discordant retirement” sounds bad, like it’s a cause for bickering — and perhaps, for some couples, it is.  But it’s actually the result of people exercising their basic individual freedoms and working through their desires and needs in the context of a partnership.  The retirement planners need to come up with a better name for it.

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A Matter Of Degrees

The annual Webner Thermostat War has begun again.

The traditional summer armistice, when the parties have reached a prolonged truce on a suitably cool household temperature during the warm-weather months, is over.  The first salvo in this year’s contest was fired last night, after an ugly, wet, cold afternoon that turned into a wet, cold night.  When I turned in, the thermostat was set at a pleasant 69 degrees.  At 2 a.m., however, I awoke to a stuffy, overly warm room.  I padded downstairs to discover that the thermostat had been dialed up to an unearthly, sweltering 73 degrees.  Of course, I then nudged it back down to a slumber-friendly 69 again.

The parties will do battle over the thermostat settings constantly during the next few months, trying to find that happy medium where Kish is not too cold and I’m not too hot.  (Kasey, not being able to manipulate the thermostat, doesn’t get a say.)  The battlefield is over a matter of only a few degrees, and the fighting is focused almost exclusively on the nighttime hours — but when you’re talking about personal sleep comfort zones, fine gradations in temperature seem to make all the difference in the world.  I’ll happily throw another blanket on the bed to deal with cool temperatures, but I simply cannot get a good night’s sleep if the room is even a few degrees too hot.

Now that the War has started again, I guess it’s time to start thinking about my next offensive.

A Day To Remember Something Important

It’s February 14, in case you haven’t checked your calendar lately.  Today, with love and passion in the air, the daters among us will give each other gifts, send each other cards, and go out for a romantic dinner, and the jewelers, florists, candy shops, restaurants, and Hallmark stores will turn a few handsprings at the surge in sales.

vintage-valentine-clip-art_232457But what of those of us who have long since moved past the dating phase and have been happily married for years?  With our metabolisms slowing, we’ve made each other promise not to bring home that enormous, heart-shaped box of sinfully rich chocolates.  Because we’re in the perennial savings mode another piece of jewelry doesn’t seem like a smart move.  And a card stamped with some generic, manufactured sentiment doesn’t really seem to fill the bill, either . . . because a stilted, sappy poem can’t fully capture the depth of feeling generated by years of happiness, love, and devotion.  That leaves flowers and a nice dinner at a fine restaurant as the preferred option, for a delicate floral bouquet and a good meal and chance to spend some time together and talk about our world together is always welcome.

Valentine’s Day has its cheesy, commercialized elements, of course, but it’s also a helpful reminder of the huge difference a single person can make in your life.  And even in an ever-changing world, both those who are searching for that person, and those of us who are lucky enough to have found them, can remember that once again.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Monitor/Keyboard Tug Of War

You can always tell who in our household has been the last to use our upstairs desk and computer.

If it’s Kish, the  monitor and keyboard are positioned at the front of the desk.  She likes to get up close, almost to the nose-touching-the-screen position, when she’s checking her email and the New York Times. 

If it’s me, the monitor and keyboard are at the back of the desk, as far away as I can move them.  I’m like the squinting guy at the restaurant who can only read the menu if it’s held out at extended arm’s length.

So every night and every morning the computer gets repositioned, alternately scooted back or tugged forward.  We’re going to wear a groove in the surface of our desk, but that’s what happens when eyesight changes happen to a married couple.

The Matching Teddy Bear Outfits Test

Some years ago, our family was enjoying a trip out west.  We stopped at a diner in Arizona and were sitting at a table chatting when an older couple came through the front door and headed to a table, too.

I glanced at them and then did a double take.  The husband and wife were each wearing matching pink sweat pants and sweat shirt outfits, on which dozens of oh-so-cute teddy bear patches had been sewn.  The wife walked in first with a big smile on her face, with the husband trailing behind.  It looked as if she had created the outfits herself, perhaps in a sewing or crafts class at their nearby retirement community.  I’m sure she thought they were just frigging adorable, but they were so bright and saccharine and embarrassing it was painful to even look at them.  I pointed the couple out to Kish and the boys, and we all got a good chuckle about them as we sat at our table and ate our meal.

91aujzydxql-_sx466_Still, there was a serious aspect to this comical incident.  I felt sorry for this old guy, because I was reasonably confident from his demeanor that wearing matching pink teddy bear outfits with his wife to a local diner wasn’t his idea.  I’m sure he loved his wife, and I’m guessing that she wanted to make the outfits and brought it up until he yielded as the path of least resistance.  But there was an obvious issue of self-respect involved, too.  Once, I thought, this older gentleman had had a successful career as a business executive or banker, a man who was admired by his colleagues and neighbors.  Now he was out in public at an Arizona diner, wearing a garish, overly cute outfit that he wouldn’t have been caught dead in just a few years earlier.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Later that night, Kish and I talked about it.  We agreed that she would never suggest that we wear matching teddy bear outfits — or for that matter, any matching outfits — and I agreed that if I ever indicated an interest in doing so, she could put me away for good, because the matching teddy bear outfits test would show I had finally and irretrievably lost it.  It was one of those small but significant agreements and accommodations of which successful marriages are made.

Deleters Versus Retainers

They say that opposites attract.  It must be true, because Kish and I are complete opposites in one very important modern characteristic.

I am a dedicated email deleter.  She is a confirmed email retainer.

We get along well despite this significant difference in our approaches to modern communications.  It’s just one of those distinctions and behavioral quirks that we ignore in furtherance of the greater good and the ultimate goal of happy household harmony.

IMG_7439In reality, I try to avoid even looking at Kish’s email box when its on our home computer screen, because it usually provokes a grim sense of horror.  Even a casual glance tells me that her inbox is chock full of obvious deletion candidates, like that Williams-Sonoma solicitation for us to buy high-end knives — one of dozens of Williams-Sonoma emails that we’ve received since we bought some cookware there a few weeks ago and reluctantly agreed to track the delivery of our order on-line.  (Sigh.)

In my in-box, such unrequested solicitations and other junk emails would be identified, highlighted en masse, and deleted immediately, with great relish.  But in Kish’s emailbox they are examined, and then . . . accumulate and remain, apparently forever.  She is a gentle soul at heart, and no doubt is pained at the thought that whoever sent the email might be troubled by a quick deletion — especially a deletion without even being read.

I like the idea of keeping a crisp, limited in-box, so that the important emails aren’t mixed in with a bunch of crap and unable to be promptly located amidst the clutter.  And, candidly, I enjoy the little thrill of accomplishment that comes from highlighting and deleting an entire screen of junk and then hitting the garbage can icon.  It gives me the same sense of control and glow of basic achievement that also comes from rinsing off the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, putting them in the dishwasher, and wiping off the counter, or sweeping off the back patio to remove the debris falling from the trees overhead.  “Begone, solicitations, and Twitter announcements, and Facebook notifications!,” I think.

I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to experience the joys of regular email deletion — but I guess such differences make the world go round.

Final Thoughts On Same-Sex Marriage, And America

The Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling has America talking.  It’s one of those events that can’t help but cause people of all persuasions and perspectives to stop and reflect — not so much on the relative merit of the Supreme Court’s opinion as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, but rather on the fascinating, shifting, never-set-in-stone course of public opinion in our country.

In many recent conversations with friends, people have shaken their heads in wonderment at the speed with which people in the country have accepted the concept of same-sex relationships and, ultimately, same-sex marriage.  It’s hard to think of any other issue, during my lifetime, where prevailing public opinion seems to have shifted more rapidly.  Millennials have had a lot to do with this change.  At a recent dinner party, one of our friends was relating a conversation she had with her Millennial son about sexual orientation, and he said:  “Mom, to us it’s like being left-handed.”  I thought that was a really interesting — and encouraging — perspective.

On another level, the issue of same-sex marriage shows that, in America, if you wait long enough and pay attention, you’ll notice that things often come full circle.

Those of us who lived through the ’60s and ’70s remember that the avant garde, liberal position in those days was that marriage was passe.  Some people advocated free love and “open relationships” and argued that true commitment couldn’t really be based on a mere piece of paper, others derided marriage as a quaint throwback to the outdated notions of prior generations that could only stifle personal expression, still others pointed to the increasing divorce statistics and argued that the realities of the modern world meant that old-fashioned marriage simply could not work in the fast-paced modern world.  Of course, those arguments didn’t stop most of us from getting married, anyway.

During the ’60s and ’70s who would have predicted that, decades later, the issue of the right to engage in a legal marriage, in all of its get a license from a public agency, say your vows in front of the world, traditional glory, would be at the very forefront of the social change agenda?