What Does Retirement Look Like For A Lesbian?

Things change in retirement, but you will adapt.

When I retired nearly three years ago, I was thrilled. No more living on an externally set schedule, no more coming home in a bad mood after a day of dealing with emotionally irresponsible adults, and no more trying to fit all fun and interesting activities into the few hours left after the 40+ I put in at work. I couldn’t wait to live each day as I chose, free to read for long hours if I wanted to, take walks with the dogs, travel to new places.

Even though I had been smart enough about myself to know that I would need at least a little structure, the reality turned out to be very different than those fantasies I reveled in during the last few months I was slogging through my old job. With so many possibilities in front of me, I went in a million directions in those first months of retirement, working on this project, offering help to that friend, ordering countless books on Amazon that I still haven’t finished, and even going back to work when they needed someone to fill in. It took more than a year to find my footing and to learn to manage the ripple effect of changes that occur when something this big is altered. One thing I had never even considered was the impact a transformation like this would have on my partner, who won’t retire for another four or five years.

Because as adults we often have our at-work life and our at-home life, we forget the ways in which a change like this might impact the other. And, in this case, it wasn’t even particularly negative. I was simply swimming around in unknown waters, as Jodi was heading out to work each day to her regular routine. Some days I had the energy of 10 people, greeting her in the evening with new ideas, a meal I’d never prepared before, and plans for a trip. The next day I might feel unmoored, my mood much darker when she came in from work. I wasn’t a whole new person, but I was someone with whom we both had to become reacquainted. We had never known each other under these circumstances, so her reactions to my reactions and mine to hers were all new to us in this arena. This was certainly not the first change we’d experienced together. When we first moved in together, we sold our individual houses to buy a shared one and that in itself prompted an unfamiliar territoriality and more than one conversation about “that’s not the way I do it.” And, since she has kids in their 20s who are the epitome of “change agents,” we have had to learn to balance our individual responses with our shared responses in that arena, too, as most parents and step-parents have to do.

Even if we don’t consciously strive for it, every couple still enjoys that part of our lives when things feel somewhat calm and predictable. But maintaining that over time is neither possible, nor even particularly desirable. Change is inevitable and, in a long-term relationship, the chances of something shifting the balance are doubled. One person can change jobs or be asked to re-locate, the other can lose a parent, get ill, or even receive a promotion. Both negative and positive changes can cause a ripple.

For me, because I’m a 65-year-old lesbian and have lived a long life in which the actions and opinions of the outside world have had an impact on my life, change often elicits an initial dukes-up response on my part. In many ways, obviously, the longer Jodi and I juggle the changes that each of us brings to the partnership, the closer we are. But that closeness doesn’t occur without hours of talking, processing, questioning, crying, and revisiting. Almost always, though, the change brings us to a more interesting place in our lives and usually opens the door for more. Now that I’m three years into this new iteration of my life, Jodi is getting nearer her own. She’s learned from my experience, and we’ve both been reminded how much what one of us does affects the other.

I’m fairly clear we haven’t seen the last reinvention or revision in our lives, nor in our relationship. We have plans to downsize when she retires, we each have our own creative interests, and we both have our own sets of friends. On paper, change sounds lovely and enriching and, looking back, it’s so easy to see how much we have needed circumstances to swing in a different direction. It’s the going through it that can be tough, but it’s also then that we get the chance to see just how interesting we each can be.


Read more from Ginny McReynolds at www.finallytimeforthis.com