When retirement goes bad

August 30, 2015

This is how most people view retirement: a time to enjoy a more peaceful life, sort of like these ducks floating on a pond in Sonoma, Calif.

And yet….

Ok, I’ll just come out with it.

I’m puzzled. I really am. When retirement goes bad, well….

I have watched friends who for decades were warm, compassionate and reasonable people before retirement  turn into complete curmudgeons in retirement.  They become intractable, intolerant, unaccepting, unyielding, unsympathetic, small-minded… I could go on.

They see black, they see white. They see no gray. None. Life’s nuances no longer apply.

They become people I no longer recognize.

When retirement goes bad, it goes really, really bad.  It makes me sad, but mostly it confuses me.

What has happened?

I’m truly flummoxed and I’m asking if you can shed some light on this?

19 comments on “When retirement goes bad
  1. Laura Kennedy says:

    I’ve seen this too. Out of touch with the “real” world, income guaranteed, no longer have to work at getting along with co-workers in order to survive, some people become hard. My way or the highway, people! And/or disappointed: this is what I’ve slaved for and put up with garbage for all these years? Now it should all be roses! And when it isn’t? It must be somebody’s fault! Who can I blame? Or, I no longer have a role to play in the world, so I can sit back and gripe about how everybody else is doing it wrong. There are a million variations on all this, but I think these things kick in for some people.

  2. Jack says:

    I’ve seen this too. Indeed, diminished social contact plays a big, big role. What some have also told me is that it takes more energy than you realize be nice & to get along…and to be patient. Some folks, especially as they get older and their energy diminishes a bit, lose patience and the “filters” go away. They just let fly. It is more common than you think. This energy/patience balance also relates to why some seniors tire of new technology–it just takes too much energy & patience to wade through the learning curve of the next generation or platform. They want to put the energy they have against other efforts, vs feeling more “learning anxiety” that comes w/ learning the protocols of iPhone xx.

  3. I think some people derive their identity from their work and when that’s over they’re confused, frustrated and consequently angry.

  4. Donna says:

    First, thank you for this gift. Just yesterday I was inwardly angry because I was still working so hard and many of my friends are traveling, spending boat loads of time on themselves. I wanted that!!! But after reading this, I realized it is the lack of opposistion in their lives. Let me explain….we need to be empathetic, kind, tolerant and mindful there are tons of other people in this world. Sometimes when people retire they surround themselves with like minded people. How boring! How unwise! I love to be around all different viewpoints and opinions. It keeps me sharper, and more sure of what I really believe in. My friends who retire and then serve missions are far different people than my friends who retire and think it is all about them. Is it wrong to think it is all about them? Not really, they get to do whatever they want. They have worked for 40 years for that right. But my dear friends who are in Kenya devoting their lives to others are really happy. Very tired, but happy.

    • When I read this, I immediately thought of this, from the Desiderata:
      “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
      for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. ”

      I’ve tried to live by this and still do.

  5. I think the problem is when work has been everything to a person – and then it suddenly stops. People who have other interests and passions, and can now spend their time doing those things they love, will thrive in retirement!

  6. Bernie says:

    I have no f#!#ing idea what he hell you’re talking about. Now get out of my yard and take your little dog with you.
    Yes, I’ve noticed that the folks who were jerks before retirement seem to be bigger jerks when they retire. I suspect many were forced into “early retirement” for the sanity of their productive co-workers. Another thing I’ve been seeing is “long time ideal couples” getting divorced as soon as they retire. Also, I think people do let their filters down as they age. Combine this with slowing developing dementia and you get DONALD TRUMP!
    See you soon!

  7. Good observation, Carol. In my opinion, it’s a matter of focusing on the destination and not the journey. People strive for retirement and then are disappointed when they arrive because that’s all there is for them. It’s better to stop along the way to explore, kick ass, and laugh until an adult beverage runs out your nose.

  8. Oriah says:

    I’m guessing it has something to do with loss of identity and a sense of no longer being an active participant in the aspects of the world that matter (or that they think matter.) When folks feel excluded or unseen, feel like they have lost their purpose. . . . well, their perspective narrows and resentment can build. A little volunteer work in the community might just open things up agai- but it really is up to the individual. 🙂

  9. chuck house says:

    We recently moved to “the ‘sticks” and many of our Bay area friends are flummoxed, as you say. Poor white trash, wouldn’t know about ‘high tech’ or Tesla’s or LGBT–“how can you stand it?”

    And the answer is, we’re learning… about another way of life, with 0% Asians and 75% Latino’s, and everyone “in town” drives a 1/2 ton Chevie or Toyota pick-up, but 400 yards outside town, it’s de rigeuer to have a Ford F250 or bigger, or a Dodge RAM with a gunrack. Water, lack of it thanks to San Francisco’s pristine Hetch Hetchy being exempt from Guv Brown’s mandate, is the biggest issue; air quality shipped in from the Bay looms large too. No Priuses or Teslas in sight.

    As for high-tech, they’ve long since adopted drones, ‘milk cracking’ and Internet of Everything, so they refer to Silicon Valley as “the little Valley”

    I can imagine that not everyone retiring here would view this as an exciting new way of life

  10. Although I quit my career to do other stuff which does not involve putting up with daily c**p in the working world, I am not actually retired. My husband has another 7 years to go so although we are almost into our 60s, we are still
    ‘In the game’. So I have no idea what it feels like to be ‘out of the game’ forever. I could, if I so desired, get a job still. I do wonder if people get frightened when they retire and feel like they are on society’s scrap heap. Retirement is the last stage of life before the very end – maybe people wake up too late and realise they wasted time? Maybe they get defensive and mean? I just can’t think why anyone would go like that. It’s scary. Hope we don’t get like that when our time comes!

  11. Hi Carol, I have nothing pertinent to add, but I wanted you to know that I thought the question you posed is very important & I gained a lot of “food for thought” while reading this great thread of comments . Thanks for that !

  12. I think it’s a combination of things. I look at my in-laws, who are decent, hard-working people, but they seldom see the good in anything, and as a result, can be pretty grumpy and negative. On the other hand, my parents, who are constantly learning and stretching themselves, are usually pretty optimistic. Dad had a few issues when he first retired – had a little trouble adjusting to not being the resident guru. But he admitted he was having trouble and adjusted fairly soon after. It’s as much about being open to life as it is anything else, I believe.

  13. I just had another thought – with old age comes aches and pains. Could be some folks just don’t feel that well physically. I know if my mom is going to be grouchy, it’s because her arthritis is flaring up.

  14. I wonder if it’s about health. My mother got super cranky, bitter, etc. But I think she didn’t feel well most of the time. And they get bored. Hubs and I are retired, but I write a lot, every day. So it keeps my mind working. But I do notice when I get out of bed I make all kinds of old lady sounds cause so much stuff hurts! I’ll probably be throwing rocks at the neighbors kids soon

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