Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot…

The headline of a recent article in The Sunday Times had me rolling my eyes, “Anxiety drives over-50s to Drink”. Here we go, I thought, another nanny state directive to tell us to stop enjoying ourselves. But then my eyes popped when I saw the top “Reasons for Drinking More in the Over 50s” because, top of the list with 40% of the vote, was “Retirement”.

Now, nowhere in the article did it state if people were drinking more in retirement because they enjoyed it and felt they now had the relaxation time to do it. “No work in the morning, think I’ll just finish that bottle of red”, is something I’ve caught myself thinking on the odd Wednesday night. Or Tuesday. Or Thursday. Neither did the article state that 40% of respondents had increased their drinking solely to deal with the stress and pressure of retirement, although the final quote from an alcohol support group stated that, as a society, we have “an inability to support those who are experiencing radical changes to their way of life”.

This statement did ring a bell with me. Retirement is a “radical change to a way of life”, but it’s one that I’ve tended to view as a positive end goal. I was certainly in the camp that was drinking in celebration of the fact that I’d arrived at retirement relatively early. However, this statement did remind me that in my local pub, at least three elderly retirees have confided in me that they found it extremely difficult to adjust to their retirement. “Thank God for my model railway”, one stated, “I’d be dead otherwise”. I laughed, because I thought he was joking… and then quickly gulped my pint when I realised he wasn’t.

He served to hammer a point home all the same. It’s fairly obvious that you need to have post retirement goals and ambitions, hobbies and pastimes, to fill the hours that work used to. This appears to be a “no brainer” but it’s very easy to tell yourself that you’ll build that plan once you’ve the time to do it. And, of course, you’ll have plenty of “time to do it” once you’ve retired. Therefore it goes onto the back burner and there’s a good chance it will stay there until Day One of your actual retirement.

Now, clearly drinking isn’t meant to be primarily a pastime (although I have a friend who works with recovering alcoholics who tells me that one of the biggest regrets of ex-drinkers is the amount of time that they devoted to drinking that they’ll never get back.) One of the biggest bridges you may have to cross in early retirement, however, could be a social one. While you may have crossed the ER finishing line, you might not have many friends in the same position (unless you happen to have a lot of older friends.) Even then, you might not find that they are of the same frame of mind. A couple of my good friends could probably retire tomorrow if they wanted to, but it’s the last thing they fancy doing right now. Part of the reason for that is that they really enjoy the social side of their workplace – in fact, at the weekend, one confided in me that he’d actually quit work tomorrow if it wasn’t for the enjoyment he got from chewing the fat with his colleagues. He felt that the fact that their job was actually quite hard going and stressful helped them bond together to get through it.

You will find yourself with time on your hands and time on your own in retirement. That’s fine if, like me, you quite enjoy a bit of your own company. On the other hand, I also know I really enjoy the company of other people too, so I’ve made a big effort to stay in touch with friends and family on a much more regular basis than I used to. In fact, I actually diarise phone calls going forward in Google Calendar to remind me to stay in touch. I would admit that sometimes this feels a bit over the top and somewhat contrived, but I’ve also often been pleasantly surprised when Google nudges me with a reminder to give an old friend or colleague a call (and I actually go and do it!) Despite the fact that I often find it quite hard to pick up the ‘phone, I always feel better and have my spirits lifted when I’ve made a successful effort to speak to someone I haven’t heard from in a while. I don’t make the mistake of expecting a return call from them, however. I accept that making an effort to stay in touch is something that’s important to me, and that it could well be a one-sided sentiment – but my actual experience is that I get a lot more return calls now on a social basis than I ever did before. 

So, to return to the point of my opening paragraph, if there’s many better things in life than sharing a few drinks with good friends, I’d like to know what they are – and maybe that’s why you find yourself drinking more in retirement!

16 thoughts on “Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot…

  1. To draw a parallel. One reason I might give for drinking more would be ‘the weekend’ or ‘bank holiday tomorrow’. It sounds like The Sunday Times would take this to mean that I am struggling to cope with the stress of the weekend rather than celebrating a lie-in. Questionable logic.

    It does sound like Model Railway Man needs some support, it’s a warning lesson to us all to make sure we have multiple things to retire to rather than from. Must call an old friend today – thanks for the reminder!

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  2. Reblogged this on Live Da Life and commented:
    I thought this post was very on point. I’m actually much busier in “early retirement” than I expected. Part of the reason for this is because I have a long list of things I wanted to do with my life when I had the free time. If I didn’t, I might be drinking a lot more. 😉

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  3. Thank you – some useful tips here. I’m two weeks into early retirement, and although I am still appreciating the relief of having unstructured time, I can also see that this could become daunting. I have intentionally decided to keep in touch with old colleagues and friends as well. I recognise that my overall mood is better when I have daily contact with people, even if that is only a conversation in the supermarket.

    I’ve used the word ‘intentional’ because it seems to me that there men don’t always find it easy to have social contact in retirement – we don’t easily join groups or clubs, or indeed don’t always have the opportunity to do so in the way that can be the case for women. We therefore seem to have to work at being sociable, but ignore this aspect of retirement at our peril.

    You’re reflections on early retirement are helpful, particularly the practical realities of what it is like, rather than planning for it as a future event. Thanks.

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    • You make a good point about the “men” thing. We men don’t have such a big problem with the “tit for tat” aspect of maintaining friendships possibly because we find it hard to initiate contact in the first place. Still, I like to think that being aware of our limitations helps us get over ourselves.

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  4. “I don’t make the mistake of expecting a return call from them, however.” Thank you for stating this! I’ve seen many friendships allowed to expire from a ridiculous sense of ‘tit-for-tat’ when people are upset that others don’t return calls on a one for one, taking turns basis. As you said, we all gain benefit and a warm glow when catching up with our friends, regardless of who instigated the contact. It seems silly to lose a friendship over such expectations – people are at very different stages in their lives, and it does take effort to nurture relationships. I bet all of your friends are grateful that that you do.

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    • “I don’t make the mistake of expecting a return call from them, however.”

      It’s funny, until you stated this, I didn’t realise that this is what I do – I’m not bothered about who sent the first email or made the first call. It’s why I have some great and enduring friendships, which, had I resorted to the ‘tit-for-tat’ contact as mentioned by Mrs ETT, would never have lasted.

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      • I have occasionally wondered if nobody called me because I hardly ever called anyone myself, and suspect there’s a big element of truth in it. You get out of things what you’re prepared to put in, including friendships, and now I’ve the time I find I’m happy to make the effort.

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  5. Thanks for this Jim. Six and a half weeks to go for me before early retirement at 52. Plans include:

    Gardening
    Board Gaming
    Cycling around Europe
    Reading lots (especially History)
    Going to academic talks (eg institute of Physics/ Manchester Lit & Phil)

    As I de stress from hassled teacher mode I am hoping that my drinking reduces a bit.

    I have been advised to keep busy and I think I’ll do that.

    Best wishes

    Matt

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    • I found that my reading of non-fiction really took off when I stopped working. I hardly read fiction any more these days but, strangely enough, I can enjoy drama and films on TV a lot more now too. Perhaps I don’t object so much to the telly “robbing” me of my time, which is how I used to look at it!

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  6. I get the feeling that most people who are industrious enough to retire early should easily be able to keep themselves amused for most of their waking hours. Even if that does include a fair few beers over a chat with friends!

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