Retirement Preview: The Temptation to Be a Hermit

8

June 4, 2013 by Jean

It has been two weeks since I arrived in Maine for the summer. This is the last year that I will return to Pennsylvania in August for the beginning of school; and in my new pre-retirement status, I’ve been thinking about this summer (especially the first half of the summer, before the coming semester starts breathing down my neck) as a kind of retirement preview.

In these two weeks, I have felt simultaneously relaxed and productive, exactly the way I want my retirement to feel. When the weather has been nice, I have spent a lot of time outdoors – taking care of a long list of early season yard and garden chores and also just sitting out relaxing, often with a novel open in my hands and a pot of tea beside me. Indoors, I have made a start on some housecleaning chores. Most days, I have done some scholarly reading and have also spent time  on blogging (both writing and reading).

What I haven’t done in these two weeks is have any face-to-face social interaction with friends or family members. I have spoken with a couple of friends on the phone, had email exchanges with a couple of others and with one family member, had on-line exchanges with “blogging buddies,” waved to the neighbor across the road when we were both out working in our yards, and had brief, pleasant exchanges with clerks in stores and the librarian working at the circulation desk. But I have not had any social interactions that involve sitting down and visiting with someone or going out and doing something together. This reinforces a point that I already knew: social interaction is going to be an issue for me in retirement (see The Issue of Social Relationships).

I should make it clear here that I am not a misanthrope who dislikes other people or an agoraphobe who’s afraid to leave the house. Nor am I painfully shy. I enjoy interacting with other people. After all, I have spent decades as an educator, a profession with human interaction at its core. But the truth is that I enjoy solitude even more than I enjoy other people. And this is what makes the temptation to be a hermit so great; at least in the short run, I would be a very happy hermit. But, as a sociologist, I know that humans are social beings and that we all need social relationships.

My problem is that, as a single woman who lives alone, I don’t have any social relationships built into the daily structure of my life. This means that developing and maintaining those relationships is something I have to work at; and it is all too easy to get lazy and not make the effort. Twice last week, I thought about picking up the phone and calling a friend to see if she wanted to accompany me on garden shopping errands. And both times, I talked myself out of it because it just seemed easier and less complicated to go alone.

If this summer is a preview of retirement, I need to practice strategies for addressing some of my retirement issues. Since I thrive on structure and routine as well as on solitude, the solution to the social relationship issue is to build some structured social interaction into my routine. Once I’m retired, I hope to do that through regularly scheduled activities like volunteer work, classes and clubs. For this summer, I have committed myself to a minimum of one meaningful social interaction each week (beginning with having a friend here for lunch later this week). This commitment will help me practice making social interaction part of my routines and it will discipline me to develop and maintain social relationships that will be especially important to my well-being in retirement.

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8 thoughts on “Retirement Preview: The Temptation to Be a Hermit

  1. Jean I know we have chatted here about this issue as I am content to be a hermit as well and have been so even in a large family. I am quite adept at getting lost in a crowd. But as you say it is a commitment we must make to ourselves. I hope to get out and see folks more and I think making a scheduled time once a week and also taking classes or joining clubs will help. Thanks for the shove to do this…perhaps we can schedule some time to engage in some garden tours or the like once we both are retired. After all I have never been to Maine, and I would never impose on you…just a get together and visit to keep us both socially active!

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I love the idea of scheduling some time to visit gardens together. This is something that I especially love to do with another person; my experience is that I slow down and look more closely at a garden when I’m with a companion, and the other person usually looks at the garden through different eyes and helps me to see things I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. One of my tentative plans is to leave Maine for a couple of weeks each year in early April (when I’m heartily sick of winter) and go visit gardens someplace further south where it is spring. And, of course, I’d be delighted to host you in Maine at some point.

      • ddonabella says:

        I would love to visit Maine and be a travel companion to visit other gardens if you choose to want company. I have been dealing with feelings of parting from my career which feels like I am departing from my life as it has been and I am struggling to find a new identity. I have about 30 days left and while I will do some work for my district for a few months to clean up grants, I am now anxious of the uncertainty ahead….but I feel this is another life lesson for me.

        • Jean says:

          Donna, I can imagine the last-minute anxiety and wonder if I will experience something similar next spring. But it seems to me that you have spent the past several years establishing an identity as a gardener, garden designer, creative writer and blogger.

  2. Carole says:

    Hi Jean. I discovered your blog via Bob Lowery’s blog. I am a new retiree, so will be interested in following your journey. I so relate to this particular post. I too, am someone who gets energized by my alone time. Too much social time and I feel drained. I recharge my batteries by staying home, or engaging in a solitary activity.

    I have a great interest in being physically active. Two close friends of mine are also retired, and I choose to include them (separately) in my trip to the gym, a hike or walk, or bike ride. I always enjoy my time with them. My husband is similar to me in this respect, however his social needs are usually greater than mine. We work this out quite well, and seem to provide a good balance for each other.

    I know exactly what you mean when you say you enjoy solitude. I do my best writing and thinking when I am alone. On the other hand, I recognize the importance of reaching out and staying connected to others.

    When I was employed, most people never would have guessed this was my nature. My job (which I loved) required me to be “on” for the bulk of each day. I would come home drained, ready to hibernate and not talk. Since being retired, I find it so much easier to engage socially as needed, since my reserves have not been spent at work.

    • Jean says:

      Carole, Thanks for visiting and commenting. Growing up in a large family and crowded household, I didn’t have many opportunities for solitude. I went from sharing a bedroom with sisters, to sharing a dorm room with roommates, to sharing an apartment with a husband without missing a beat. When my husband, who was in the Navy, was deployed to Viet Nam and I found myself on my own thousands of miles away from family, I was intensely lonely for a few days and then discovered that I loved living alone. (I’m afraid the marriage never quite recovered from that discovery :-|)
      My work doesn’t require me to be “on” all the time. Teaching, rather, alternates periods of being intensely on with periods of solitary preparation to be on. It’s interesting to consider whether I’ll miss the adrenalin rush (with its edge of terror) of stepping into the classroom. I hadn’t considered the possibility that my needs for solitude are partly a response to the pressures of being “on” in my work and may diminish some with retirement. Your comments have really given me new things to think about. Thanks!

  3. Jean says:

    I love this blog post and your attitude. I, too, would find it easy to be a hermit and get lost in projects even though I do enjoy being around others. Your idea of a commitment to one meaningful social interaction each week is a high bar for me but I’m going to give it serious thought. Can’t wait to see photos on your garden blog this summer.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, Because I have a strong friendship network in Maine but only a few months a year when I am here, I need to use that time to nurture those friendships — thus the once a week rule for myself. When I’m in Gettysburg during the school year, I aim for once a month.

      I spent today getting ready for lunch with my friend Joyce and then visiting with her all afternoon. We had a great time, and the in-person visit was so much more satisfying than phone calls. I’ll plan to get down to visit her in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, there are several other friends that I need to make contact with. Let the social season begin!

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