Retirement can create social void

that requires initiative to fill

Dear Sage:


My husband retired six months ago and is experiencing a huge void in his social life now that he’s no longer working. He misses the lunches, the camaraderie, and, I believe, the respect and status. Over 45 years of work in the auto industry, his ego grew like a balloon – not a massive Macy’s parade-sized balloon, but one that was of reasonable and respectable size. Now it’s been punctured and he’s feeling deflated. We have moved to Florida and he has a lot of time to reflect, since all the distracting tasks involved in a 1,400-mile move have ended. He’s getting more than a little down, as if he’s been abruptly cut off from his known world, and his disappointment is driving me nuts, though I try my best to be understanding and supportive. He calls former co-workers, or emails them, but they often don’t respond. And when they do, the replies seem politely perfunctory, and hubby senses (correctly, I think) that he’s being patronized more than a little bit – they’ll treat the old codger with due dignity given his long tenure, but that’s about it. Short of my sticking a bicycle pump in his ear and blowing his ego back up, how can we get him out of this funk?


                                                                                            –  Frustrated in Florida


Dear Frustrated:


   First of all, The Sage would not recommend a bicycle pump, as you can readily purchase an air pump made for the express purpose of blowing up balloons. But you don’t really want to risk an invasion of your home by OSHA inspectors arriving with sirens blaring after you misuse portable power equipment, do you?

   Your husband’s issue is far from unique. Post-career adjustment difficulties are common, especially for those who have not planned for change in their social lives and who instead have assumed that as soon as they leave their retirement party, they will put that chapter behind them and proceed head-first into retirement as if cliff-diving in Acapulco. Problem is, many people don’t know how to swim in these new waters, let alone land safely.

   Research shows that many enjoy what a Berkeley expert described as a ‘sugar rush’ right after retirement, followed by a major drop in happiness a few years later.

   Some suffer from anxiety, depression and a significant sense of loss.

   "People can go through hell when they retire and they will never say a word about it, often because they are embarrassed. The cultural norm for retirement is that you are living the good life," the American Psychological Association reported, quoting Robert P. Delamontagne, a psychologist, author and expert on the psychological dynamics of retirement.

   The Gerontologist, a publication of the Gerontological Society of America, says that after we leave work we may experience a number of different losses: social contacts, income, status, daily structure and ‘purposeful activity.’ That’s a lot to swallow (unless you have a Ph.D in gerontology, in which case this stuff is crazy fun).

   In other words, we miss work for different reasons and suddenly face major gaps in our lives that we would do well to bridge with healthy, active lifestyles that stimulate longevity, cognitive health and general psychological wellbeing.

   Your Dear Hubby might want to create a list of dreams for retirement – a bucket list. It might include hobbies, a subject that he might want to study, travel, volunteering – whatever he thinks may enhance his happiness and retirement satisfaction. He should be passionate about these things, believe that they are important, and love to be engaged in them. Grandkids could be right at the top of the list, unless grandparenting for him is baby-sitting, and if oogats of diapers are involved, in which case care becomes not so much a passion as an obligation, beautiful as that child may be.

   Here are a few suggestions: If he’s still a car nut, perhaps he could give lectures on the history of certain automobiles … or start a club focused on particular types of vehicles … help organize cruise nights … work with local schools to tutor kids using books about cars … or take photos of classic automobiles and set up his own website.


   In all these cases, your husband would be broadening his social base, and quite possibly building friendships with people who have similar interests. Therefore, socializing would be much more gratifying than if he was, say, volunteering to shovel horse poop at the local racetrack (which still would be better than shoveling similarly textured material in, say, Congress).

   But he has to take the initiative to create these new social relationships. This is vital at any age, and even more so if his life now lacks certain needs, such as socializing, feeling valued, laughing, learning, supporting others and developing a positive outlook. After all, chances are that he would rather get out and have fun than sit around the house waiting breathlessly to clean toilets and take out the trash.

   What’s not so much fun is living retirement with the shades drawn, a bottle nearby, the TV blaring nonstop, and dreadful feelings of boredom, depression and unhappiness. That happens to thousands of retirees who become isolated, feel hopeless and sit as their golden years pass by.

   There are so many other ways to become social, too: courses at local colleges, exercise classes, library lectures, canoeing and other sports clubs, or, if hubby wants even greater satisfaction, membership in the Egg Beater Collectors’ Society of North America.

   Another benefit of an active lifestyle: If hubby is happy, that will enhance his relationship with you. Yes! Rather than dragging both of you down, you each will have opportunities for self-actualization – defined in psychology terms as reaching full potential through creativity, independence and other fulfilling pursuits. And that will go a long way toward building stronger mental, emotional and physical health, not to mention maintaining an upbeat attitude and avoiding unnecessary conflict between the two of you. Sweet nothings are so much more inviting than grunts, occasional nods and laser eyes, no?

   Kiplinger summarized it well:

   “Some people enter retirement with a full-blown plan. Other new retirees struggle to fill a blank canvas. The key to a meaningful retirement is not just filling your time but crafting a portfolio of pursuits that are based on what’s important to you. Many times, work is what you do and not so much who you are. Retirement is an opportunity to create a life that reflects more closely who you are.”

   The Sage wishes you the best and hopes that you luxuriate in a stellar retirement from here on. Oh, and if Dear Hubby joins an auto club, please encourage him to make it a Corvette association. Better yet, if membership entitles one to a 75% discount, please advise ASAP!

   Humbly Yours,

   The Sage