Author: Dorian Mintzer

Time Together Time Apart

In an article I read in the WSJ by Psychologist Maryanne Vandevere, she expanded on the notion of time together and time apart in an interesting way. She wrote about the role of parallel play in the life of retirees. She pointed out that, similar to small children, who play side by side and don’t always interact with the activity,  successful retirees have a similar process when each learns something new, follows their own passion and their partner also does their “own thing.” Each develops their own interests and it enhances their relationship since both are happy, enjoying their own creativity and mastery. This can bring new energy and excitement to the relationship.  It works for kids—why not give it a try in the second half of life?

Vandevere comments that “individuals who do almost everything together in later life—who are “joined at the hip” usually aren’t as satisfied or fulfilled as couples where spouses have their own interests and , ideally, are learning new skills. She points out that “the model of parallel play meets the needs “for both freedom and involvement.”

What are the benefits, you may be asking?  Vandevere suggests a few, such as more interesting dinner conversations, confidence for each that you can function independently and “tonic for the soul” to have some time and space for separateness and self-reflection. She also points out that challenging oneself can bring both mastery and pride and, as the old adage says, “absence (often) makes the heart grow fonder.” I like her image that “parallel play gives you ‘roots and wings’ and allows you to grow.” She further states that “It promotes the major task for this stage of life: becoming as whole as you can be. “

My suggestion: talk together about your expectations about time together and apart and creatively think about the notion of parallel play in your life and relationship. In the process, you can challenge and develop yourself and have more to bring back to your partner. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this.

Parallel play in the second half of life

In The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle we talk about Time Together and Time Apart as one of the “must-have” conversations for transitioning to the second half of life. It’s not unusual that partners have differing expectations.

For example, Mary, a woman who had primarily worked at home didn’t want her husband, Frank, around all of the time. In fact, she didn’t want him to retire from his work until he had a plan. She didn’t want him sitting around, being bored, maybe rearranging the kitchen cabinets, wanting her to cancel her plans so she would be around and basically being dependent on her for their social life.  A stereotype? Yes. Something that often happens? Yes.

Judy, in contrast, expected that her husband would want to do everything with her and she looked forward to it. He, however, wanted to pursue some other interests that she didn’t share.  Morris wanted to sell their home and move to Florida.  Ruthie, in contrast, hated Florida and wanted to stay in the family home and live near the grandchildren.  Although never spending time apart, they finally reached a creative solution. He rented a condo in Florida during the winter months and she stayed in their family home. Result: they ended up enjoying their time apart and learning new things—and saw that their relationship improved when they were back together. Thomas, in preparation for retirement, learned to play a new musical instrument and joined with other musicians for “gigs” while his wife continued in her usual activities, getting together with her friends and volunteering. Creativity in how to spend time together and apart is crucial for couples, whether you’re married or not.

Next month, I will chat about how pursuing your own interests can be good for your relationship.

Fast time and the ageing mind

Life-long learning slows the passing of time.

If you discovered that challenging yourself and keeping a steep learning curve while ageing would slow down your sense of time passing too quickly, would you want to increase your learning?

I believe in life-long learning, and a NY Times article by Dr Richard Friedman has strengthened my resolve to continue to challenge myself and learn. Part of my interest in life-long learning is the “use it or lose it” notion of exercising our brain. Now it seems that it can help modify our sense of time passing so quickly.

Often people talk about the perception that time passes more quickly as we age. I feel like I blinked three times and my son was suddenly older, I was older and each year seems to fly by, often at a startling rate. My “anxious self” worries: if it keeps going this fast, I may not be here for milestones that are so important to me.

Friedman’s cognitive illusion

Even though many of us view this as “a truth,” it’s hard to prove experimentally. Dr. Friedman calls this notion a “cognitive illusion”, citing studies in Germany, France and the US. Non-age related factors seem to influence our perception of time: emotions, attention and memory. He says: “To accurately gauge the passage of time required to accomplish a given task, you have to be able to focus and remember a sequence of information, which is why this is difficult for someone with ADD. On the whole most of us perceive short intervals of time similarly, regardless of our age.” “Why then,” he asks, “do older people look back at long stretches of their lives and feel it’s a race to the finish?” Dr. Friedman says our sense of time is a “cognitive illusion”. There are ways to understand it and to slow down “the velocity of time.”

He asks: “Does learning new things slow our internal sense of time?” He suggests we think back to what it was like when we were learning something for the first time – for example, learning to ride a bike or to swim or drive a car. Not long ago, at a parent’s class for driver’s education for teenagers, I realized that I no longer separated the components necessary to learn to drive. I took it all for granted, but needed to break the steps down into manageable learning sequences to be helpful to my son.

This experience seems to support Friedman’s comment: “It takes time to learn new tasks and to encode them in your memory. When you’re learning about the world for the first time, you are forming a fairly steady stream of new memories or events, places and people. When, as an adult, you look back at your childhood experiences, they appear to unfold in slow motion probably because the sheer number of them gives you the impression that they must have taken forever to accomplish.” As I recall, it seemed to have taken forever for me to learn to feel confident and competent driving, and now I take it for granted. More recently when I was trying to learn a new language for my adult Bat Mitzvah, time slowed down since the learning curve was so steep for me. Friedman suggests this is merely an illusion of the ways adults understand the past when they look through “the telescope of lost time.”

An important point he makes is that “almost all of us faced far steeper learning curves when young. Most adults do not explore and learn about the world as they did when younger: adult life lacks childhood’s constant discovery and endless novelty.” “Studies show that the greater the cognitive demands of a task, the longer its duration is perceived to be.” Friedman offers the example of his father who, after he retired, read about everything from astronomy to natural history, travel and gardening. He realized his father never commented on how fast or slowly his life seemed to be going. He was constantly learning, always alive to new ideas and experience. Perhaps this keeps us from noticing time passing.

He wonders if it really matters that older adults have an illusion about time speeding up; perhaps it does only “because the distortion signals that we might squeeze more out of life.” He asserts, “If you want time to slow down, become a student again. Learn something requiring sustained effort; do something novel. Put down the thriller on the beach and read something about a new theory. Take a new route to work or your house, vacation at an unknown spot, and take your sweet time about it.”

Learning new things as we age may open us to enjoying doing so and savoring our new learning and accomplishments, rather than feeling anxiety that time is passing so quickly that “I have to do everything yesterday.” It can be an urgency that may energize us, but also can immobilize us. It’s easy to lose perspective and feel sad that time is passing so quickly and “I won’t be here to do or see such and such.”

Through a philosophy of life-long learning we can actually slow down our perception of the fast pace of time, keep our brain stimulated and functioning well. We can enjoy the approaching years rather than dreading their passing so quickly that we go through the motions of doing new things – but perhaps not enjoying them and merely trying to fend off “the grim reaper.” We really do need to stop and savor the moment, but also, in an active way, up our learning curve and perhaps, by doing new things, actually control some of this “cognitive illusion/ distortion” about the passage of time.

Dr. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical Center

Revolutionize your Retirement

Retirement is no longer a destination — it’s a journey, a transition, an opportunity to live life your way!

You’re fifty to seventy-five or more years old.  You may want to continue doing what you’ve been doing or perhaps work in a different way, wanting to fit work into life rather than squeezing life into work. You may also want to use your skills in a different way.  Perhaps you’ve been downsized, or company policy says you must go, or something deep inside you says it’s time to move on.

Retirement used to signal the last stage of life. No more.

We’re living longer, which doesn’t mean a longer “old age.”  Ages fifty to seventy-five or more is now considered an “extended middle age.”

Many people don’t want to retire.  Some want to work in different ways and others can’t afford to retire because they fear they will outlive their money. Still others want to create encore careers, using their skills to “give back.”  We know from positive psychology that well-being is a combination of connection, engagement and purpose and meaning in life.  What’s most important is to be aware and intentional as you plan “what’s next?”

It’s about you

You have wisdom, skills, experience, energy …from your work inside or outside of your home. You may or may not be completely set financially, but that may not be the primary reason you want to continue working in some form.

You want the freedom to live life on your own terms.

Then don’t make the common mistake of jumping into the first thing that comes along.

You want finally to do work (paid or unpaid) that is a creative expression of who you are, work that touches your spirit, ignites your passion, and leaves you feeling fully alive.

Then retire retirement. Define your third stage of life on your own terms!

A second career?

How do you decide it’s time to retire from your work or to reassess how to work in a different way? It takes honest reflection, facing realities of your own life and abilities and often having crucial conversations with people important in your life and work.

Some people reach a point of burn-out; others begin to realize that the demands of work no longer align with their strengths and capacities. Still others are forced out of work because of mergers or downsizing and don’t want to stop working. Are you struggling with this decision? If you’re part of a couple, you may also realize that you and your partner are “out of synch” with each other. You may be different ages, have different energy levels or different health issues. It’s not unusual that women – having perhaps entered the labor force later than their partner – may be in their prime when their partner is ready to wind down. Talking together about your values, goals, interests and needs is extremely important. It’s helpful to establish time frames as you “puzzle” this out.

If work has been your primary identity, you may want to take time to begin to explore other interests so you don’t feel like you’ve lost your identity if you’re no longer working. In addition, work provides a structure for your time and a means for connection, engagement and a sense of purpose and meaning. Think ahead so you can anticipate how to “replace” some of these important needs in your post-work life.

You may decide it’s time to use your skills in another way and want to begin an “encore career.”  Marci Alboher, VP of Encore.org. has written a terrific book called The Encore Career Handbook.  She offers helpful information about encore careers as well as offers exercises, tips and resources to help in the decision-making process.  Some of you may not want to work at all (paid or unpaid) but instead explore other interests. There is no one way. Retiring from work does not mean retiring from life.

The second half of life can be an exciting time if you open yourself to new possibilities.