Saturday, November 27, 2010

Retirement Transitions – Finding Stable Friends

One of the challenges of retirement is finding new friends if you relocate. You might think this is not an issue for people who are reasonably outgoing. That depends on one’s expectations for those new friends.

A few years back I titled the “Philosophy Corner” in my newsletter “I’m Sorry If I Made You Fat.” I’d recently read the results of a study showing that if the people in your social circle were overweight, it was more likely you’d be, too. Now I’ve read an interview with a Brown professor who claims that the same is true about divorce. Simply put, if you want to stay married, pay close attention to the stability of the relationships of those around you.

So, in addition to looking for new friends with a sense of humor, reasonable intelligence and a taste for ethnic cuisine, we’ll need to screen them for signs of a deteriorating relationship. I’ve come up with a handful of criteria that I believe will provide early warning signs that a partnership is doomed.

An obvious indication that things are not on solid ground: one of them has a divorce attorney on speed dial. If their prenuptial agreement is more than ten pages long, you can be pretty sure someone already had an exit strategy before walking down the aisle. They may as well have said “I do-ish” or “I might.” Call me a skeptic, but I think a marriage is iffy for long term if either of the parties is on their third marriage. I know, I know. “Third time’s the charm.” But that can be said for divorce, too.

My screening criteria include some behavioral-based observations about long-term compatibility. For example, if one of them listens to NPR daily and the other shops regularly at WalMart, don’t expect to be re-gifting that silver plated fruit basket you have for their twenty-fifth anniversary. Ditto when one of them is vegan and the other has a lifelong love affair with marbled red meat. There is no room for compromise in those diets, and a meat cleaver will out maneuver a potato peeler any day.

Other signs of impending disintegration come with a retirement that required downsizing. Keep an eye out for trouble if they used to have separate bathrooms, but now they have to share one. Based on my personal experience, I’d give that couple a wide berth. One sign that you probably never considered: they retired to a condominium, but he refuses to give up his riding mower. One day, he’ll head over yonder ridge and just keep going. You can afford a lot of gas for a mower, even at today’s prices.

These criteria should help Jagdish and me weed out most of the potential new friends who could exert a negative influence on our marriage. What worries me more is if the ones who pass our test are conducting the same type of screening on us. I can hear them now. “He seems nice enough, really mellow. But she’s a bit intense, don’t you think? How much longer do you figure they’ll stay together?”

Or maybe: “He doesn’t seem to give much thought to planning things, and she’s obsessive about every detail—a classic Virgo. They’ll never last.” “Didn’t he say he’s allergic to most wine? But she sure seems to enjoy the fruit of the vine. Let’s steer clear of that pair.”

So much for finding stable friends when we relocate. Now, where did I put that cork screw…

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