We’re Old, Retired and Apparently Invisible

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By Karen Kreider Yoder

In recent years, it seems that young people don’t even see us. Are we imagining things?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first couple of years in retirement are often the most difficult. But they also can set the stage for how you’ll fill the years ahead—both financially and psychologically. Stephen Kreider Yoder, 66, a longtime Wall Street Journal editor, joined his wife, Karen Kreider Yoder, 67, in retirement in late 2022. In this monthly Retirement Rookies column, they chronicle some of the issues they are dealing with early in retirement.


Karen

It was a June afternoon in the Rockies just after I retired when we agreed that we must be turning into ghosts.

Karen Kreider Yoder

We had been cycling in the mountains since breaking camp before dawn, and we decided to splurge on a private room in a hostel. We checked in and headed through to the bike storage area, walking our rig by young hostelers congregated in the common spaces.

We must have been a sight: two bedraggled 60-somethings pushing a tandem bicycle laden like a pack mule.

Except no one seemed to see us.

We crossed the living room, where 20-something hikers with ruddy faces studied their computer screens. No one looked up. We inched through the kitchen, where others were sautéing onions for a group meal. “Excuse us. Sorry to interrupt,” one of us said as we squeezed through. “That sure smells good.”

They turned a bit, giving us space. But not a word. Not a “How’s it going?” nor “Where’d you come from?” nor “Cool rig.” Nor eye contact.

“We’re invisible,” Steve whispered in the hallway. In our room, we plopped on the bed and laughed. “Nobody even acknowledged our existence,” I said. “We’re too old to see.”

We had noticed a growing feeling of being unseen before, but nothing like this. The episode inspired our secret code words for similar incidents. “We’re invisible,” one of us whispers, and we smile wryly as we recall our hostel encounter.

It’s a code we’re using more often these days as we move deeper into retirement and more often sense that younger people in the same room are looking right through us.

We stepped into a bustling reception at an art gallery a few months ago and instantly saw we were the oldest by decades. The chatting, laughing young crowd parted for us as we headed for the wine table—averting their eyes, it seemed, after giving that quick look that says, “What are these old people doing here?”

At an open meeting at a local nonprofit to which we contribute, we got the same feeling. The staff’s youthful energy was inspiring, but no one approached us.

Sometimes the feeling isn’t so much invisibility as irrelevance. I was with some younger gal pals recently, standing in a tight circle drinking coffee at an event. My friends chattered about their insanely busy workweeks, asking each other how they balance their professional lives with raising children and volunteer work.

Nobody turned to me. I had decades of that frenetic pace. I did it; I survived. Perhaps I might have had a few tips to share. Nope, I thought silently. I’m retired. Too old to be relevant. Unseen.

I’m thinking more often of how my 90-year-old mother must have felt when I pushed her wheelchair into a restaurant. She was sharp mentally but had suffered a bad fall. A restaurant employee turned to me and asked. “Where would she like to sit?”

I turned to my mom, asking her, “Where would you like to sit, Mother?” She wasn’t invisible to me.

To be fair to young people everywhere, not all of them ignore us. At a Montana hostel last year, several geology students about to head into the mountains saw us and eagerly chatted us up in the common room. We asked about their studies and they grilled us on how we managed logistics during the bike trip we were on.

Back in San Francisco, we seem quite visible to many good friends young enough to be our children or grandchildren. We have some over at our house nearly every week. A group in their early 20s had us over for their Super Bowl party this year.

Maybe we’re at a stage where we need to take more initiative with people much younger than us. When I do reach out to younger people and pick their brains, I find they have so much to offer. How about asking their opinions and seeking their advice instead of waiting for them?

We’re certainly going to need younger people more as we navigate retirement. My dad, who lived to nearly 97, increasingly made friends with younger people as he aged. “My friends die off,” he would say, “so I need to make new, younger friends.”


It happened again at an upscale restaurant near our house recently.

Stephen Kreider Yoder

“Are we just imagining this?” I asked Karen.

It was a rare evening of dining out, and by evening I mean 5:30 p.m. There were still many empty tables, yet we were having a heck of a time getting our server’s attention—to order drinks, to order food, to request water refills.

We could see him over there, tarrying cheerfully among young diners at other tables. But my hand gestures had no effect.