Teenagers often can’t wait to get to university, though that desire isn’t always based in education, at least not exclusively. It’s based in life. By the later teen years, living at home with parents can begin to feel constrained and limiting. In contrast, life at university promises new experiences, a greater sense of autonomy, and a lifestyle constructed around the needs and experiences of a single peer group.
As teens prepare for university, their conversations with friends and parents may touch on meal plans and room layouts, but they don’t rest there long. University provides a broader range of possibilities, autonomy, and meaning. It promises time spent with people who share interests and perspectives, who view the world from the same slant. The move to university isn’t a change in residence so much as it is a change in life, a transition from a context of constraint to one of possibility.
The move into a retirement isn’t typically seen in the same light, of course, though the analogues are nevertheless abundant. As we grow into retirement age we begin growing away from the peer groups that, largely, have sustained us. We leave the workplace. Family life, at least in some cases, can become less focused. There is less access to age mates, and there are many reasons for that, not limited or even related to mobility. The people that we encounter each day may be very nice, supportive, and important to us, but their worries aren’t like ours. The living environment can begin to feel isolating, constrained, and limited in ways that we hadn’t anticipated.
When considering retirement living, it’s often the physical aspects of ageing that come to the fore, though limiting the discussion to that is like talking to a teenager only about university meal plans and room layouts. Yes, nursing may be important, if not now then at some point, but it’s not the kind of thing that any of us look forward to. There are far more exciting things to think about, such as taking a cooking class, discussing politics, or watching a movie with friends rather than spending another night alone with Netflix. More important than mobility is having a sense of autonomy over when to seek out a conversation, and when to find a bit of solitude.
Indeed, that’s the basis of deciding where to live at any age—through the lens of possibility—and it serves everyone to consider any transition in that light. Retirement living can provide a lifestyle based in the shared experience of a single peer group. It can provide a heightened sense of autonomy—it’s not about bussing and cars, it’s about options. Residences aren’t the care facilities of the 50s and 60s in that they aspire to address a wider range of needs. Finding a residence isn’t about finding a place to stay, it’s about finding a place to live, a place to continue living a life with meaning.