Back in my forties, I attended a dinner party where a man in his seventies said, “I’m so busy in retirement I don’t know how I ever found time to work.”
This struck me as terribly amusing. In those days, long work hours plus raising my children took every minute of my time. Once I retired and my little ones were adults, I was sure I’d have endless billows of time, just mountains of the stuff. How could it be otherwise?
How, indeed? Yet here I am, almost seventy, fully retired and terribly busy. As I complained recently to the women in my meditation group, there are no days off from retirement. It’s one deadline after another: writing blog posts, writing books, teaching others how to write, how to edit, how to publish. Maintaining my author platform on social media. Doing a bit of community service, such as judging a regional science fair last weekend. Keeping up with children and grandchildren. Hanging out with friends and with my dear partner. I now understand exactly what that dinner companion was getting at, all those years ago. It’s not absurd, as I thought back then. It’s exactly true: Life after retirement can involve just as long a To Do List as corporate life. But there is one crucial difference: We are doing what we want to do. What we came here to do. What we put off doing for all those decades of childrearing and career, which, as wonderful as they were, may not have completed our purpose on this planet.
I’ve been dismayed this month to read published accounts of why the retirement age needs to be raised. Why people now in their thirties and forties should be forced to work longer to receive their full Social Security benefits. People in government (whose pensions are in no danger of being cut) argue for people without those pensions to work into their seventies. It is appalling, a sort of bait and switch, to expect workers to pay into a system that delays paying them back. This life that I and many of you are living right now, where we have the opportunity to develop our talents and truly live our best lives in retirement, is something everyone should have: Not just this age cohort that is in our sixties and seventies right now, but everyone coming after us. There are no guarantees in life, and many people forced to delay retirement would never retire at all. A dream deferred is all too often a dream denied.
I remember well the first year I hit the Social Security ceiling before the end of the year, when I had paid in the maximum and no more Social Security was withdrawn from my paycheck. I received a small increase in net pay for the rest of the year, and had to call Human Resources to find out why. I didn’t mind the extra money—who would?—but I was making enough for myself and my family, and realistically I didn’t need more. If our choice is between making low wage people work years longer, versus increasing the ceiling for Social Security contributions, it seems so obvious that the latter course is the better, more humane, way to go. It won’t affect me, or any of our age group, but it would affect our children and grandchildren in the decades ahead. And so I commit, and ask you to commit, to add one thing to our retirement To Do list: Let’s write to our congressional representatives and ask them to step up. Ask them to make the full funding of Social Security a priority.
We can’t do everything in retirement that we ever wanted to do, but we can do the things that are most important to us. And our government can’t do everything for everyone. But it can do the things that are most important to be done. It is a matter of priorities. And our top priority should be caring for people who need it most, whether those people are new mothers who need guaranteed paid parental leave or retirement age people who should receive the benefits they paid for their whole working lives.
Please make time to write this coming month. Write your stories, write your grandchildren, and in the midst of all that, write your elected representatives. Let’s keep this special part of life available for the women and men coming up behind us. They will deserve it then, just as much as we deserve it now.
Be well, stay safe, and until next time, keep the pen moving (or the keys clicking).
I typically publish two blog articles (published online on the 10th and the 20th) and this newsletter every month, so you hear from me (or a guest blogger) a couple of times a month. Below is a brief extract from last month's blog - click the links for the whole enchilada! If you've ever considered getting your voice out there, I welcome suggestions for topics, or a fully written guest piece in line with my philosophy for the site. Drop me a line......
If polyamory is new or unfamiliar to you, you aren’t alone! Until a few years ago, most people who practiced any relationship style other than monogamy were very discreet and kept their polyamorous lives private. Nonmonogamous relationships were treated with disapproval at best, or fear and contempt at worst. Recently there has been more media attention on these less traditional relationship forms and more poly people have “come out of the closet” to friends, relatives, and even on the job. Consensual nonmonogamy, open relationships, and polyamory are used interchangeably by most people to describe any relationship that is not strictly monogamous, where all parties know about any other partners, and everyone involved has consented to any other relationships. While there are many different models of non-monogamous relationships, the key components are honesty, full disclosure, and keeping agreements.
Many people have asked me, “Why on earth would anyone choose that?” Polyamorous folks are a very diverse group, and each person chooses to have the option of multiple partners for different reasons. Boiled down to their essence, these motivations generally fall into two categories: More or Different. Some people want to have more than one partner because they love everything they are getting in their relationship but would like more of it. For example, they may want more time, more attention, more romance, more affection, or more sex than they receive from their partner, and seek to satisfy that need with an additional partner. Others are happy with their relationship but there is some key resource missing.
February, with its hearts and flowers, is a great month to consider what each of us wants romantically, sensually, and sexually. After all, we are born to be creative and sensual. It’s no surprise that studies show that sex after sixty is good for us. It improves our heart health, lowers our stress, and promotes our well-being in many other ways, from decreased pain to better sleep. As Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, famously proclaimed, “Learning and sex until rigor mortis.”
A woman may become more attuned to her desires at midlife, right about the time that her sexuality is ignored or reviled in Western culture. Consider the British program How Not to Get Old, which shames women past menopause who choose to claim their beauty. And remember the negative examples of midlife Disney villains like Maleficent and Ursula. The erotic power of women past menopause has long been stigmatized rather than celebrated. Society bids us be quiet just when we have plenty to say. It’s past time for that to change.
The good news is that we are seeing a shift in media portrayals. Emma Thompson’s 2022 movie, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, is an intimate exploration of a woman in her sixties claiming her own pleasure for the first time. And the advent of the “Seasoned Romance” enables older writers to publish stories about characters their own age, instead of camouflaging their hard-won erotic knowledge in characters in their twenties.