Joined At The Hip

When Martin and I are asked what we do in retirement, I sometimes see surprised looks and hear surprised comments as the listeners come to understand we are not doing everything together. Never a couple to be joined at the hip, we always had separate careers, hobbies and interests. We even had, and still have, a few individual friends as well as couples we engaged with as a couple. After decades of leading a combination of diverse yet integrated lives, it is anyone’s guess why we would suddenly fuse ourselves together in such a way in retirement as to sacrifice our separate interests and hobbies. In fact, I believe couples who maintain their individuality have a stronger, more giving relationship.

When I was young, I dated a guy for about five minutes who, if I disagreed with him, would say, “Don’t hassle me.” It was the sixties way of saying, “Just be quiet and do what I want.” I can’t imagine what my life would have been like for the last several decades, subverting my wants and needs to someone who didn’t care enough about me to listen to my opinion. I dumped that guy then because I wanted an authentic relationship. And, that’s what I want now.

Together not joined at the hip

Together not joined at the hip

While Martin and I have plenty we do together, like cooking, hiking and working on our property, we have many individual interests neither of us intend to abandon in retirement. For example, Martin loves bicycling. It is a central activity for him. As for me, I would be miserable riding a bicycle out on the road for 20, 28 or 35 miles at a clip. Looking over my shoulder at every car sharing my lane is not my idea of a good time. Even though I worry about him being on the open road, I would never ask him to give up something he loves doing so much just to make me happy, anymore than he would insist I join him.

The vegetable garden

The vegetable garden

Conversely, he helps me with the heavy lifting in the garden, but the majority of the work is done by me. While we both work on the care and maintenance of our six acres, I’m the one elbow deep in garden design, planting, deadheading and pruning. Gardening is my passion, not his.

We also go to OLLI at Furman University together but after two years there, we have yet to take a class together. We have totally different interests. Although we are both artists, he does acrylics while I do pen and ink or pencil or watercolor. I also take writing classes while he takes wood carving. As we prepare dinner together each evening we have plenty to share and discuss about our day. Our differences keep our relationship interesting, exciting and growing.

Martin staining a gourd he carved

Martin staining a gourd he carved

Over the years I’ve heard many people lament, sometimes resentfully, how they don’t engage in an activity or watch certain movies or eat this or that because a spouse or significant other doesn’t like it. In retirement I’ve heard the complaints more often. When one person subjugates a natural part of themselves for the other, resentment builds. The person feels deprived. Observing and listening, I have found that in retirement some couples think they will return to the bliss of the dating days when they couldn’t get enough of each other and did everything together. After years and years of going your separate way every day or at least every week day, it is unrealistic to think you will return to an earlier time and feeling. For starters, thanks to time and experience, you are entirely different people today.

We live in a society, which promotes coupledom to the extreme. Many will remember the Jerry Maguire scene where Tom Cruise tells Renee Zellweger, “You…you complete me.” We receive messages from all points that we are only half a person. It is common to hear people refer to their spouse or life partner as “my better half”. We romanticize togetherness and the idea of finding our other half to the detriment of our very identity as human beings. We are whole to begin with. Having someone who understands us, supports us and enjoys being with us does not make them our other half. It makes them someone who understands us, supports us and enjoys being with us.

Why should any of us, male or female, relinquish a part of our core being for the sake of togetherness? Though the idea of bicycling doesn’t appeal to me, I like the idea that Martin has a hobby he enjoys so thoroughly he’s been doing it for decades. I love that part of him and am there to cheer him on during time trials as well as go pick him up when his bike breaks down twenty miles from home. To me, that is a real show of love. And that is what creates a strong relationship. We are joined, not joined at the hip.

17 comments on “Joined At The Hip

  1. Excellent post! I would have “liked” it multiple time if I could. Time spent together is great, but time spent on separate interests is crucial to a healthy relationship – especially in retirement. Btw, I love the gourd art your husband is working on. I’ve often thought about trying that… maybe I will.

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  2. So true! So true! You and Martin sound like you have fashioned the perfect relationship parameters for the two of you. And isn’t that the goal? My husband Alan & I spend a lot of time in each other’s presence because I now work part-time from home and he has become more introverted as he’s gotten older. Sometimes we’re doing something together, but other times – even though we’re in the same room – we’re each in our own world. It would drive me batty to be “joined at the hip” with someone, like a three-legged bag race where you couldn’t move without your partner moving with you. A little breathing space is good for the soul. *inhale . . . exhale*

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  3. I thoroughly agree with the ideas you’ve offered in this post. It’s exactly how my husband and I have spent the last 12 years of our retirement.
    However, what I find to be a challenge now is maintaining these separate activities when one person becomes debilitated with health issues. My husband’s serious heart and back issues require more caretaking by me now and I’m trying to find ways to still pursue my separate interests. I’ve recently canceled a writing retreat and am trying to decide whether I can go to a weekend college reunion without him. I’ve also limited the time I spend away from him to 3-4 hours because he is at high risk for stroke now. This shift requires my careful consideration because to stay home all the time and share his sedentary activities is not exactly our style as a couple.

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    • Yes, that is definitely a challenge. Stay tuned for my next post named “Everything’s Fine Until…” it’s not. My husband and I have been very fortunate not to have any serious health issues yet. However, I had a wakeup call this spring, which, although it turned out not to be serious, provided plenty of food for thought. I’m glad to hear you are making some time for yourself even if it is limited. I’ll be thinking of you. K

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    • KAS – I’m glad you brought that up. I’m wondering how your husband feels about you having to give up activities that you love to care for him? I know my mom gave up so much to care for my dad. I don’t know that he realized it as she was always one of those wives that feels she “should” take care of him by herself. She ended up not even going to church – her main source of friendship – because she didn’t want to leave him alone for an hour (he had dementia). I know if she would have accepted help from others more often – which she did more towards the end – it would not have been so devastating for her. Maybe it’s time for you to start seeking outside help.

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  4. Pingback: Joined At The Hip — Kathy’s Retirement Blog « The Golden Age of Charli

  5. Kathy – what an excellent article on the topic of togetherness in retirement. I am doing a lot of thinking and jotting down notes in preparation for retiring next June. Since both of us love our own alone time I am wondering how that is going to work. Spending time having fun is important to me. My husband and I have very few common interests now but we share a daughter and 45 years of history so I am thankful to still have him around. He’s already retired due to health reasons and I will be retiring next June. He loves golf and it keeps him going along with cooking dinner on weeknights. I love genealogy and hoping to develop a couple of other interests when I have more leisure – patio gardening, crochet, bird feeding, reading and maybe some type of volunteer work. I’m so thankful for blogs like yours to help me ponder these issues before I actually retire.

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  6. In the world of the younger generation in my family….Yes! This! Exactly! I always kind of thought this attitude was more prevalent among those of us who married late and had independent lives first. My husband used to go on long weekends with the ski club in Germany, and a friend who had no kids and did everything with her husband was always asking why I never went along. I have a lousy knee. What was I going to do, pretend to be a ski bunny all day? And him quilting? Um….no! I will be sharing this on the blog or elsewhere, somewhere soon.

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    • Thanks Barb for the share. I’m not sure this is prevalent among those who married late as much as it is about the expectations set early in the marriage. Martin and I were very young, but I always wanted a career and made that clear to Martin before we married. I was a feminist and expected him to take on a role as husband, father and partner that included doing his fair share at home as well as our pursuing individual hobbies and interests. I think I may need to write another blog with an extension of this subject. Thanks for the idea! K

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  7. Love this post! You have described what I thought would be our retirement years. I was already retired before my husband. Life was good for me:) I maintained the house and meals plus had time for my hobbies (genealogy). Even took some research trips. But when he retired, he then, rightfully, pursued his interests. One problem….he still wanted me to maintain the house and meals while he was enjoying himself. With him home, I could not get the free time I needed to do my research. Needless to say, a lot of resentment built up. I felt like the maid, even though he said I could do anything I wanted. I gave up my genealogy to make life easier. Still, the meals had to be prepared, etc. Finally I insisted he clean up after dinner but I still have to wash the pots and pans, a chore he detests. I had dreams of doing so much together spontaneously….picnics, hikes, biking, etc. We do travel a lot (together or with friends) but those are well planned trips. It took 5 years to come to some equilibrium. Now into our 6th year of his retirement, I do a little genealogy now and then, but have stopped serious research. We do landscaping together and I love my gardening as well. Just got back from a month in Alaska with friends. Great trip!!
    His retirement was not easy for me. Our expectations were not aligned even though we’d been married 36 years! I was never warned about how difficult it would be to have him home ALL day. I now warn others so they can prepare their expectations, etc.

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  8. I totally agree with you, both about not wanting to do everything together after many years with someone, and about the negative or clueless comments you get from friends and relatives. For the 16 years that I was married, my husband and I often commented about how much we each appreciated the freedom we gave each other to be who we were and to do things that we enjoyed, without having to apologize or include the other person if he or she did not want to be included in the activity. We celebrated our different interests. Sadly, that feeling did not continue on his part, and when he filed for divorce, one of the things he said was that he resented that I did not want to do his favorite things with him. Talk about irony.

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  9. Great post! It reminded me of Jimmy Carter’s description (in The Virtues of Aging) of his relationship with Rosalynn. He notes that they made one attempt to write a book together (shortly after his involuntary retirement in 1980), which was a near-disaster for their marriage and something they never attempted again. Although they clearly share some work (at The Carter Center) and passions (Habitat for Humanity builds), their strategy at home is to work/write in separate wings of their house and come together in the center of the house for meals and sharing.
    I find it interesting that our idealized versions of marriage are so different from the realities of successful relationships.

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  10. Absolutely, Hear Hear!

    What’s the point of clinging to another person for dear life? Literally so. Have your own life, then get together and share.

    I never understand the bloggers whose profile proclaims them to be a ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ (to a lesser extent). A person in your own right first, married yes, happily so, yes, but not as your sole identity.

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  11. Very interesting and educative too. On retirement I have taken up to teaching management young minds in the university. And a round of golf 3 to 4 days a week. My wife was a junior school teacher and now enjoys her gardening and attends her yoga classes regularly.

    I admire Martins cycling hobby but am not confident of maneuvering through our unruly traffic.

    Have a good weekend. 🙂

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  12. My impression of the comments is they are going in one particular direction … what if you enjoy spending most of your time together in retirement? Hubby and I definitely have different interests and hobbies. But if you added up all the hours in the day (and night), I’m pretty sure the balance would tip in favor of the hours we spend together. I agree that no one should repress their own needs and desires for the sake of a (selfish) other. And since I was retired first, I also had some adjusting to do when hubby retired. Rather, HE had some adjusting to do, as I explained I was no longer going to be the only one doing all the grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning. Now we share these tasks, although I do a little more than he does. Perhaps the fact that we prefer to spend most of our time together has something to do with our both being introverted and not keen on striking up friendships in restaurants or in line at the Post Office … Just doesn’t suit us, so we are each others’ best friends, and that has always worked for us.

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    • Hi Nani, I agree with your assertion that you probably spend most of your hours together as I believe it is the same for Martin and me. Despite our separate interests, we still spend much of our time in each other’s company. He may be doing an art project in the same room where I’m sitting and writing. When I met Martin I was actually engaged to be married to someone else. I eventually realized Martin, who I enjoyed talking to after classes and was my lab partner, was the person I wanted to spend my life with — we were friends first and always have been. It sounds like your relationship is exactly what works for you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! K

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