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.