Do women ever retire? Measuring life in lunches…

The second in a series on the ups and downs of early retirement

mealtime-lunchWomen planning their retirement have no problem finding information about finances, healthcare and the best places to live on a fixed income. But, I’ve never seen a single article that mentioned lunch.

Yes, lunch has become an unexpected challenge, particularly for me, because, at the boarding school where I worked, staff and faculty ate lunch along with the students. It was a meal designed for young people who would take to the fields right after the class day ended. I ate shepherd’s pie, macaroni and cheese, tomato soup and chocolate pudding, and put a couple of cookies in my pocket for the walk back to my office. Though my professional wardrobe is two sizes larger than the clothes I now wear, I don’t regret a single chip or brownie, but I do wish I hadn’t developed the hot lunch habit.

My retired husband is delighted to be eating lunch at home. Me? not so much. I say: “What about pasta?” He says: “Too much starch,” and points to his waist. “Tuna salad?” he suggests.

“I don’t want to eat mayonnaise after we had eggs for breakfast,” says cholesterol-conscious me.

It is daunting to realize that, if we make it to 90, we will have 8,395 more lunches to plan and eat.

These days we sleep a bit later, walk the dogs, and eat breakfast. By the time we’ve done some chores, we’re ready for lunch, and during lunch it is only natural to discuss dinner. In deep winter we only have a few hours of daylight when we are not eating or planning our next meal.

To be fair, I do love to cook, and if we’re home at midday, my husband and I enjoy preparing a meal together, but the kitchen soon becomes a mess, and it seems that we just cleaned up after breakfast. The dogs (they didn’t know about lunch until we retired) start circling the counter. Eventually one of us gives in and pours a little kibble in their bowls. The bags of dog food we haul home are going fast. Lola is looking a little fat, so is Izzy. We need to clean the yard more often. Why, I wonder has this one additional meal had such an impact?

This may be why many women do not encourage their husbands to retire. I am sure that if I was home alone I’d grab and apple and a slice of cheese and probably eat standing up at the counter. But once it’s the two of you, lunch becomes an event.

It is possible that we put so much into it because this togetherness is unlike anything we’ve known in our married life. We both always worked, often on weekends. Except for brief vacations, we have never had this much time together. Perhaps at a certain age when spending the entire day in bed no longer seems so appealing, the next sensual pleasure becomes food. Ah, that’s fodder for another essay!

One voice inside me says: “Relax, enjoy yourself; it’s not as though you’d be inventing cold fusion if you weren’t cooking and eating.” Another says: “You’re eating again. Isn’t there more to life?” And that’s one of the many challenges in learning to retire. You have to decide which message gets your attention.

I am mindful that this is a problem of privilege. Some people will need to work until they die. Some people will have to find ways to make their Meals on Wheels lunch stretch for dinner. Statistics indicate that women outlive men, and if that is true I will someday find myself alone at the table, missing every one of these food-filled days. Meanwhile, this journey through retirement contains surprising challenges; lunch is, at the moment, the most obvious.

Lee Wicks

About Lee Wicks

After more than twenty years managing communications and public relations for elite boarding schools, I finally have time for all those things one says she hopes to do in retirement. It turns out that I never really wanted to paint my pantry after all, nor sweat over a perfect garden. So now what? It seems that I must learn to retire in the same way I once learned my job.