Retirement: Phase II

By on May 12, 2013 in Essays

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Senior couple laughing

At age seventy and after thirty-six years of marriage, I am in a new relationship. He’s seventy-three, tall, lean, intelligent, curious, and kind. He’s got boyish charm, and when he laughs, his blue eyes sparkle. We share a love of good food and wine; we enjoy the theater, dance, jazz, college basketball, chamber music, and movies. We’re solitary types, readers, and we can be quiet together.

My new love is my old husband, Weldon, and since his retirement four years ago, we’ve been redefining our relationship. It hasn’t been easy, and the challenge took me by surprise. When Weldon decided to leave his job as executive vice president at the University of Washington, I was concerned about his adjustment and encouraged counseling before he retired. He took my advice and spent a year working through possible retirement issues. It didn’t occur to me that I might need some counseling or that couples’ sessions would be beneficial. 

Throughout our married life we had spent most of our waking hours apart. We worked long hours. I had a financial planning and tax practice that absorbed a lot of my energy. Weldon held a series of demanding positions in higher education administration and was active in national organizations. When we had blocks of time together, we were traveling or doing something fun like going to the movies or taking in a basketball game. Nothing prepared me for concentrated time together, day after day after day. Now it felt like we were newlyweds getting to know each other without the excitement of fresh love. This was no honeymoon.

When we moved to Eugene, Oregon, from Columbus, Ohio, in 1990, I sold my accounting practice and took on full responsibility for running our household. I managed everything and answered to no one. Weldon was busy and left it all to me. I should have known my husband would want involvement in our daily life when he retired. After all, he was trading responsibility for, among other things, millions of square footage of real estate and thousands of people at the university, for a 1,600-square-foot condominium and me. I should have realized that what I labeled as infringement on my territory was his desire to be useful.

Weldon had a lot of questions. Weldon likes to say that he looks at the big picture, and that’s true, but he’s very interested in details. He wanted the particulars on our daily life: my schedule, menu planning, laundry products, grocery shopping, repair people, window washers, carpet cleaners, housepainters, newspaper deliveries, mail delivery, the dry cleaner, cable TV repair, bill paying, bank relationships, investments, portfolio management. Now I was getting grilled on tasks I had been doing without interference for the last eighteen years. Daily life together needed so much coordination, so much explanation.

A few months after Weldon retired, I ordered new carpeting for our condominium. The carpet layers wanted the unit cleared so they could work quickly. I planned to clean out the desks and cabinets and pack the contents in boxes so the furniture could be easily moved.

Then Weldon got involved.

“Susan, how long do you think it will take to pack up?”

“I don’t know, maybe two days.”

“You’ll never get it done that fast.”

I should have reminded him that I unpacked all the moving boxes, including 3,000 books, in less than a week when we moved from Eugene to Seattle, and this job was miniscule by comparison. Instead, I acquiesced. After all, I was fifteen years older and maybe it would be easier to hire someone, so I found two women who specialize in this task. I scheduled movers to take our furniture to a rented storage unit while the carpet people did their job. Weldon insisted on knowing exactly what everyone would do and when they would do it. He said, “I need the details. I need to know everything.” He was quivering as he said this as though he was frustrated at not being in charge.

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Susan Knox's book, Financial Basics: A Money Management Guide for Students, was published by the Ohio State University Press in 2004. Other works have appeared or are forthcoming in CALYX, Forge, Melusine, Monkey Puzzle, Pisgah Review, The Rusty Nail, Signs of Life, and Sunday Ink. She lives in Seattle with her husband in a condo overlooking Elliot Bay just north of the Pike Place Market where she shops daily for fish, vegetables, cheese, and wine.