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     Volume 4 Issue 7 | August 6, 2004 |

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The Golden years are Beginning to Tarnish


My worst nightmare has become reality. My husband retired. As the CEO of his own software company, he used to make important decisions daily. Now he decides when to take a nap and for how long. He does not play golf, tennis or bridge, which means he is at home for what seems like 48 hours a day. That's a lot of togetherness.

Much has changed since he stopped working. My husband now defines "sleeping in" as staying in bed until 6 a.m. He often walks in the morning for exercise but says he can't walk if he gets up late. Late is 5:30. His morning routine is to take out the dog, plug in the coffee and await the morning paper. (And it had better not be late!) When the paper finally arrives, his favorite section is the obits. He reads each and every one -- often aloud -- and becomes angry if the deceased's age is not listed. I'd like to work on my crossword puzzle in peace. When I bring this to his attention, he stops briefly -- but he soon finds another article that must be shared.

Some retirement couples enjoy this time of life together. Usually, these are couples who are not dependent on their spouse for their happiness and well-being. My husband is not one of these individuals. Many wives I've spoken to identify with my experience and are happy to know that they're not alone. One friend told me that when her husband retired, he grew a strip of Velcro on his side and attached himself to her. They were married 43 years and she hinted they may not make it to 44. Another woman said her husband not only takes her to the beauty shop, but goes in with her and waits! Another said her husband follows her everywhere but to the bathroom . . . and that's only because she locks the bathroom door.

When I leave the house, my husband asks: "Where are you going?" followed by "When will you be back?" Even when I'm at home he needs to know where I am every moment. "Where's Jan?" he asks the dog. This is bad enough, but at least he hasn't Velcroed himself to me -- yet.

I often see retired couples shopping together in the grocery store. Usually they are arguing. I hate it when my husband goes shopping with me. He takes charge of the cart and disappears. With my arms full of cans, I have to search the aisles until I locate him and the cart, which is now loaded with strange-smelling cheeses, high-fat snacks and greasy sausages -- none of which was on the shopping list.

Putting up with annoying habits is easier when hubby is at work all day and at home only in the evening and on weekends. But little annoying habits become big annoying habits when done on a daily basis. Hearing my husband yell and curse at the TV during the evening news was bad enough when he was working, and it was just once a day. Now he has all day to get riled up watching Fox News. Sometimes leaving the house isn't even a satisfying reprieve. When I went out of town for a week and put him in charge of the house and animals, I returned to have my parrot greet me with a mouthful of expletives and deep-bellied belches. It wasn't hard to figure out what had been going on in my absence.

Not that my husband has any problem acting out while I'm around. He recently noticed that our cat had been climbing the palm trees, causing their leaves to bend. His solution? Buy a huge roll of barbed wire and wrap the trunks. After wrapping 10 palms, he looked like he had been in a fight with a tiger and the house took on the appearance of a high-security prison. Neighbours stopped midstride while on their daily walks to stare. I stayed out of sight. In the meantime, the cat learned to negotiate the barbed wire and climbed the palms anyway.

It is now another hot, dry summer, and the leaves on our trees are starting to fall. Yesterday my husband decided to take the dog out for some fresh air. They stood in the driveway while he counted the leaves falling from the ash tree. Aloud. Another meaningful retirement activity.

I think my husband enjoys being at home with me. I am the one with the problem. I am a person who needs a lot of "alone time," and I get crazy when someone is following me around or wanting to know my every move. My husband is full of questions and comments when I am on the phone, working on my computer or taking time out to read. It is his way of telling me he wants to be included, wanted and needed. I love that he cares -- but he still drives me up the wall.

I receive a lot of catalogs. In one there is a pillow advertised that says grow old with me: The best is yet to be. Another catalog has a different pillow. It reads: Screw the golden years. Right now it's a toss-up as to which pillow will best describe our retirement years together. Just don't ask me while I'm working on my crossword puzzle.

Jan Zeh writes from Houston, Texas. (c) 2004, Newsweek Inc. All rights reserved.Reprinted by permission.



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