Thinking about early retirement makes us wonder what we'll do with our new free time, will we be bored and will we be lonely? Big questions.
Then there's another big question. For those with a partner, maybe retirement means spending a lot more time together. Is that going to be a good thing, or a recipe for conflict and heartache?
This is my experience of how I (plus some of Sally's views) have found the transition to being a 24/7 couple.
My starting point is what life looked like before I retired. We both worked, so we were separately busy during the day. We spent just under half of every 24 hours at work or commuting, around a third of the time was for sleep, we had some activities that we did alone or with others (running and cycling for me), which left just 3½ hours a day that we typically spent together.
Not much changed when I started early retirement because Sally continued to work. Perhaps we spent an extra hour together as her working day and commute were slightly less than mine had been.
But in July 2018, things did change. Sally started a career break, originally planned to be one year but she's since extended it to two. Now, with neither of us having a job to go to, the amount of time we spend together has increased.
This was especially true for the first six months while we travelled in Asia and Australia for 4 months and thereafter downsized into our new apartment in France. During this time, we were together almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Being together for so much time seemed to work, perhaps because we were busy doing new and exciting things. It was a period of adventure rather than everyday normal life.
A more normal 24/7 life together started five months ago in January. But how 24/7 is it really? I'll look at my early retirement timesheet (I know, it really does sound sad😏) that I kept for the first two weeks of April and see what that tells us.
The bar chart shows what type of things I fill my weeks with. Skiing and cycling (plus running again soon I hope), coffee with friends, my blog, some chores, travel planning, plus family stuff too.
Some things I do entirely or mostly by myself (the green bars), some things Sally and I do together (the orange bars), and there are things that I do myself but where Sally is probably somewhere close by (the blue bars). An example of this last point would be writing this post - it's not something that Sally is involved with, but she's sitting just the other side of the table doing her own thing.
This is what an early retirement 24 hour day looks like in pie chart format. I like that the pesky work slice has disappeared.
In early retired life, we get a little more sleep. Well, Sally seems to get quite a bit more sleep, although the truth is that part of that time is actually spent on Facebook - Sally calls it keeping up with the news! We have a little more time together in the evening as I've decided that my structured early retired day comes to an end at 5pm, and there isn't a commute to deal with.
But what about the time that used to be taken up by our old workdays? What's it like to spend this new time together? I'm basing this on a 9-5 workday (shorter than we actually did), and this is what it looks like:
For 3 of those 8 hours, I'm doing my own thing, while Sally is somewhere else doing her own thing. In terms of being together, we're not, just the same as when we worked. This is the "my own activities" piece of pie from the chart.
For another 3 of those 8 hours, we're doing things together. In our case, things like French lessons, visiting or hosting family, chores such as cleaning or grocery shopping, or having our lunch. This seems to work quite well, I think because we're busy doing things, rather than simply being together doing nothing and being bored. This is the "together together" piece of pie from the chart.
And for the final 2 of our 8 hours, we're each doing different things, but more often than not we're both in the apartment together. For these hours, it's like our home is our early retirement workplace and we are getting on and doing our own things, just as colleagues in the same workplace get on and do their own things. This is the "separately together" piece of pie from the chart.
This mostly seems to work - I don't feel we're crowding each other too much, and bear in mind we've downsized to a 61 sqm (650 sq ft) apartment. For me, the secret is to be busy, active and to have a routine, although others may have different methods. Without this, the biggest issue would be an unfulfilling early retirement more than being concerned that we're living too much in each other's pockets.
Writing this post has got me thinking about our shared interests, or perhaps lack of them. This week, we celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary, so we're presumably getting something right - our values, ethics and general way of thinking definitely coincide. But I'm struggling to make a long list of closely shared interests. I like cycling, running when not injured, and now skiing, writing my blog, thinking about travelling and reading, but these generally aren't high on Sally's list (although she has just bought a bike). Her interests have been her teaching job, TV home improvement and detective shows, real life home improvements (although she doesn't get to do it much) and doing puzzles. Going for walks and enjoying a cafe stop are shared interests, and trying to learn French is, well let's just say, something we both feel we should at least try to do.
Having some different interests is perhaps a good thing as it gives us things to do separately. My main example is cycling, running and skiing which I do more than Sally, and therefore means we don't spend all our time together. We also run various errands, meet up with friends and sometimes go on trips separately. For example, Sally has just spent 10 days in the UK for a training course (she's doing some freelance exam marking) and visiting family, while I stayed in France.
Have there been any difficulties in spending extra time together? Not so far, at least nothing major. Sally and I don't always approach things the same way, and I think she was worried about this. I'm quite structured and routine driven, such as with my 9-5 early retirement rules, I like to get up reasonably early and vegging in front of the TV during these hours is something I avoid. On the other hand, Sally likes to sleep in (she says she just operates on a different time zone), and she'll happily watch back to back episodes of Murder She Wrote (and you thought I was sad with my timesheet🤣) or home improvement programmes on TV. Because Sally has a plan to return to work, she's happy to take this time to relax. She was concerned that I'd say she should make better use of her career break/mini early retirement, but I figure that it's up to her to do what she wants. A happy by-product is the peace and quiet I enjoy while she's sleeping in! Don't get me wrong, she's not lazy and does lots of other stuff too.
Something that Sally feels is that we don't talk so much now, because we no longer have the topic of "what I did at work today". I'm not sure I agree with this, perhaps we talk the same amount, or even more, but it's just spread over the longer hours that we're now together.
There are a few things that I also imagine may be true. If you're in a position to retire early then you've probably made some good decisions and shown an ability to adapt to circumstances along the way. These same skills can be applied to the new situation of being a couple in early retirement. Likewise, I feel that the things that make a successful couple pre-retirement will similarly work post retirement. And while I'm a big fan of planning for a successful early retirement, I've also realised that not everything can be fully planned, and sometimes we just have to go for it and adjust as we go.
That's our "couple dynamic" early retirement experience so far. Whether it's normal or not, I haven't a clue. We do have different ideas, but we try to figure a route through that works for both of us, and it seems to have panned out so far.
And one last thing, we both like ice cream, but me more than Sally, hence the need to run and cycle!