The pattern is familiar: After 40 or so years of 9-to-5, a worker retires with a gold watch and happy visions of long, leisurely days ahead. But within months he has puttered himself into a state of bored anxiety and all the togetherness is making his homemaker wife climb the draperies.
But that pattern is being altered, and one of the significant changes in this era in which being single is a socially acceptable life style is the increasing possibility of retiring alone.
And that, pre-retirement specialist Judy Salwen said, is a possibility that presents challenges and opportunities not experienced by the traditional couple-in-retirement. Salwen, in counseling singles between 45 and 64, begins by telling them to "discard the concept that alone means lonely."
There is a huge pre-retirement population that is alone--statistics show one in five are widowed or divorced or never married. That is 14.3 million single Americans.
A successful and rewarding retirement takes planning, Salwen said, both financial planning and, for singles, planning to meet emotional needs, which may include the absence of adult children and other family bonds and the necessity of making decisions alone.
These needs are addressed by Salwen, executive director of New York-based Retirement Planning Services, in seminars presented throughout the country for single employees of corporate giants and in her book, "Solo Retirement: How To Make the Prime of Your Life the Time of Your Life," which is the text for seminar students.
Salwen was interviewed after she conducted a daylong session Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center primarily for the center's single employees.
A former early childhood education specialist at the City University of New York who describes herself as "in my 50s," Salwen became intrigued with the challenges of solo retirement when, 12 years ago, she found herself going it alone as a divorced woman after 24 years of marriage.
She is convinced that, as a rule, "If you have lived a creative, full life then you'll have a creative retirement. If you've led an uninspiring, trivial life, you bring this to your retirement."
But, she said, "I hope to be able to move people along. This quarter of your life is as important as any other."
Salwen scanned her audience, which was for the most part women at mid-life or older, and said matter-of-factly, projecting a chart onto a large screen, "Here's how many years are left to you, on the average. I hope you do a good job with them."
For the average 50-year-old man, the chart, which was provided by the National Center for Health Statistics, projects an additional 25 years; for the average woman of that age, an additional 30.9 years. The average man who is 70 may expect to live 11.5 more years, while the 70-year-old woman has 15.1 years ahead.
To her, "doing a good job" means more than survival. It means coping successfully when the security, status and recognition that go with a job are yanked out from underneath one, together with the built-in fellowship and socialization--"somebody to have lunch with," as Salwen put it.
She is equally concerned that the retiree keep physically fit--"If your health is not working for you, you're not going to enjoy retirement"--and, as a single, "there's not somebody to help you" or to make certain that medical appointments are made and kept.
When Salwen asked for suggestions from participants on keeping healthy, both mentally and physically, Virginia Bohannon raised her hand: "Become involved in something. . . . For me, it's handicapping horses." There were good-natured titters as Bohannon explained that she'd been doing it for six years and still considers herself "a sophomore. Each race is a new challenge."
Salwen said studies show that people who have always been single tend to be "in very good shape" financially and creatively when they retire--even though socializing may be a little tougher--whereas their divorced or widowed counterparts generally have "a bumpier time."
Nevertheless, she said, the newly retired can "expect a certain amount of depression" after an initial carefree period that is "absolutely sensational."
Above all, Salwen said, what is needed is a determination to "keep growing," to expose oneself to new ideas and to making new friends. "There is nothing worse than a bore."
It was apparent that this particular group had already been giving some thought to filling their post-retirement days. They spoke of their desires to have a garden, to travel, to take up a hobby. "Do any of you want to relocate?" Salwen asked, and there was a resounding "yes" from the participants. One spoke of going back to school; another said, "I want to make my mark. . . . I would like to do something before I leave."