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.
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.
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.
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.