You know the expression “the honeymoon phase”? It doesn’t apply to only marriage. Retirement is another transition that can trigger this period of euphoria known as the honeymoon phase. For the first few months of retirement, you may be madly in love with the freedom of no longer having to punch a time clock brings. But losing your daily routine can also bring fear and anxiety. Our identity is often wrapped up in our jobs.
No longer having to work dramatically alters your life. Many retirees do not fully comprehend the extent to which your life will change once you no longer work.
Even if you are financially ready to retire, you may not be psychologically ready.
After you cut the cake and say your farewells to your co-workers, you are essentially ending a routine established in pre-school or kindergarten. For around sixty-years of your life you woke, dressed, ate, and headed to school or work. Once there, you had another routine to follow before coming home to eat, go to bed, and start the sequence all over again the next day. Retirement ends that cycle. Suddenly there’s no where to go, nothing to force you to get up and moving.
In the beginning it might feel like a honeymoon or vacation. But have you ever been on an extended vacation? Three weeks, a month, a few months? A surprisingly short period of time without a routine can leave you feeling disoriented and restless. Ever forgotten what day of the week it is on vacation, or you think it’s Wednesday but somehow it’s already Friday? You can’t help but wonder where time went as it slips by without your routine to anchor it’s passing.
This can be distressing, but vacations end and you go back to work and the comfort of routine. Retirement might be the last major transition of your life. There is no return to “normal.”
This is your new norm.
Just like a honeymoon or vacation, retirement often means you get to do all the things you wanted to, when you want. You’re free! Life doesn’t have to be a mad-scramble to get everything done in too few hours. There’s no alarm clock to tell you to get up. No time clock to punch. If you’re sick, you’re free to stay in bed. Heck, if you don’t feel like getting dressed, why bother? And that freedom can be an intoxicating feeling.
During the first four months to a year of retirement you get to rediscover what fun means to you. Welcome to the honeymoon. If you always wanted to golf, go for it! Take lessons, visit different courses. Nothing’s stopping you! Life can be whatever you make it (within your budget).
But, your primary day-to-day social interactions evaporate. There’s no more talk over the water-cooler. The business lunch is a thing of your past. Over a third of retirees miss the social part of work, even if they don’t miss their jobs. In fact, the social interactions of a job are the number one thing people say they miss most of their pre-retired life.
But all those “work” friends tend to become more distant after retirement. Beyond not seeing them every workday, a huge chunk of your common ground is gone. What’s there to talk about when you didn’t experience the meeting that should have been an email and aren’t in on the latest gossip? You can feel out of the loop and find it difficult to sustain work friendships in retirement.
Socialization as a whole can become a challenge. Text messages, phone calls, and emails are a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction. A honeymooner might not feel the loneliness at first but as time moves on, many retirees find themselves feeling more isolated. When the shine has worn off of retirement, retirees can find themselves dissatisfied.
When the honeymoon is over, many retirees are left thinking “now what?” This is often accompanied by letdown, loneliness, boredom, and the loss of the fulfillment a job brought.
This is the part of retirement that may be unexpected. In as little as four months, you might exit the honeymoon phase and move into a post-retirement depression. Even the fun and freedom of doing what you want, when you want has waned as your definition of normal realigned to a life without work.
During this phase of post-retirement life, a retiree might long for their missing routine. Setting goals can help provide the feeling of fulfillment and help develop a new routine. This is also a great time for the post-honeymoon retiree to take up a new hobby, volunteer, take a class, or even get a part-time job. When you are no longer faced with limited time, the once too-short days can feel interminable. Staying productive can help off-set this feeling. It’s also a great way to make new friends and stay social.
Finding new friends and an identity outside of your past career can help you transition from honeymoon and “now what” to a happy retirement.