You’ve seen them. Those “Best Places to Retire” lists. They evaluate retirement locations on the availability of cultural events and attractions, along with the cost of living and access to medical care. Some include quality-of-life considerations such as the crime rate, walkability scores, and air quality. A few even add in volunteer and community engagement possibilities.
To figure out where you should retire, add up the scores, compare them, and start packing. Or if you think you should stay put and you want confirmation, plug your zip code into AARP’s Livability Index tool and see how your community stacks up for people over 50.
Armed with this empirical evidence, the choice is obvious, right? But that’s not the way it’s been for me and my husband. We aren’t ready to retire yet, but we are ready to talk, or dare I say, argue, about it. Currently we live in a college town with beautiful mountains that give us lots of fitness opportunities and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Over the years, we have collected and invested in many good friends whom we enjoy at tailgates, events, and lots of weddings now as our children are moving into another stage of adult life. My husband and I have a comfortable life in our town in more ways than I can count. Yet both of us are considering moving once we’re not working our 9 to 5 jobs.
The problem: we can’t agree on where.
I knew we had work to do when we flew out to visit our youngest daughter who lives in Los Angeles. We didn’t stay with her, so for the first time, we used ride-sharing apps to get back and forth to her apartment. At home, we drive ourselves, so this whole idea of summoning a stranger and hopping in an unmarked car made us feel like intrepid explorers in a new land. As explorers we asked a lot of questions, and this meant we were probably some of the chattiest passengers our drivers ever experienced.
One of the drivers asked us where we’d like to retire, and at exactly the same time we replied with two different cities.
“I wouldn’t want to live there,” my husband said about my choice.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to live where you chose either,” I replied.
Our driver glanced at us in his rear-view mirror. As luck would have it, our driver was a movie producer. He was only shuttling us from one end of the city to the other because he was picking up his dog that he had joint custody of with his former girlfriend. As he explained, if he was going to be stuck in LA traffic, he may as well make some money at the same time.
“Look, you’ve got a problem here,” he said, “and I know how to help.”
Our driver-movie producer—and now, marital counselor—instructed us that we needed a logical approach to solving this problem.
“Do your research. Each of you present ten locations you think you’d like to consider for retirement. Whittle it down to five each, and then visit all of them for at least a week over the next couple years. See if you can shorten the list to three total, and then go spend at least a month in each one. Keep visiting them until you can agree,” he told us.
“Wow that sounds like a great idea. How’d you come up with this?” I asked.
“Like I said, I’m really a movie producer.” We were at our destination. We scooted out of his car and waved goodbye, just like we do with family. The driver looked at us funny. I told my husband that next time we shouldn’t wave goodbye to our ride-share drivers. They aren’t family
When we returned home, we gave his suggestion a try. We started with twenty locations, and we were able to whittle the list to five, total. But each of us dug in as we got closer to the final three. We’ve been married for 39 years. I like to joke that a marriage is in equilibrium and balanced when both people compromise so that neither one is completely happy. We were in this state.
I’ve spent most of my life in academic settings. I thought it might be time to bring in an easel, a big tablet, and especially, those magic markers, and start writing down our ideas. My husband scoffed, but he dutifully set up our teaching props at our next session. We started by identifying what we thought we wanted to prioritize in our retirement. Staying within driving distance to our kids and grandchildren, having a community we found vibrant and would like to join, staying within our budget, were ones we could agree on. Climate preference was one we couldn’t: he likes it colder; I like it warmer. But we both could feel the impasse lifting as we continued to physically record our perspectives. We were more invested in understanding how the other one was looking at the individual aspects of how to make this decision instead of rushing to defend our own positions. We asked thought-provoking questions of each other. We made a conscious choice to be better listeners.
At the end of a four-hour session, we both looked at the clock and said simultaneously, “it’s happy hour.” We poured ourselves a glass of wine and clinked our glasses. We had our final three. Over the next five years, we plan to spend some serious time in all three locations. This part is going to be fun.
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