The bigger question, writes Carolyn Hax, is what does the reader want from these exchanges with friends and strangers?
DEAR CAROLYN: I retired over a year ago from a fairly high-powered job that gave me worldwide recognition in my field. The decision to retire (in my mid-70s) was a very difficult one because I was not sure I could fill my time with engrossing activities. I’m still trying — with a combination of volunteering, mentoring and a few consulting gigs — but haven’t settled in comfortably, and I find the situation emotionally difficult.
Everywhere I go, whether meeting with old colleagues or strangers, I get the same question: “So what are you doing in your retirement?” I wish I could answer honestly: “I haven’t settled in yet, and I’m scared.” But of course I can’t say that.
The questions are all well-meant, but I’m afraid the questioners expect me to say, “Oh, I’ve become chairman of Such-and-Such,” or, “I’m founding a company.” After a year, the repeated questions are weighing on me. Should I just answer, “Eating bonbons and getting fat”?
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DEAR SEARCHER: Sure.
If that’s what you want to say. Or do.
You can also tell them, “I haven’t settled in yet, and I’m scared.” You say you “can’t,” but of course you can. You can be as vulnerable as you’re ready to be.
What people “expect” you to say is not only not your problem — since when are we mere vehicles for saying what people want to hear? — it’s also, very likely, an expectation that exists only in your mind. Or, perhaps more accurately, in your fears.
You liked the way you defined yourself and now that definition, to your mind at least, no longer fits.
Since this is really about you, here’s the main question you need to answer before you’re ready to answer everyone else’s: What do you want from these…