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Patrons sit around an open kitchen at Bar Buca, an Italian restaurant at the base of a condominium on Portland Street in Toronto, Wednesday, March 26, 2014. (Galit Rodan For The Globe and Mail)
Patrons sit around an open kitchen at Bar Buca, an Italian restaurant at the base of a condominium on Portland Street in Toronto, Wednesday, March 26, 2014. (Galit Rodan For The Globe and Mail)

Retirement and RRSPS

Living in retirement: If you're single, don't move to the suburbs Add to ...

It’s a faux pas to admit it, but the scariest aspect of retirement may not be the fear of running out of money. No, the most frightening thing might be running out of companions or running out of things to do, or God forbid, both.

That’s why big city life works for single retirees. The bustle of urban living counters the tendency to become isolated as one grows older. The simple fact that there’s so much to do means seniors in the city can easily lead a busy life just by stepping out their front door. It’s expensive, but it’s also a hedge against being lonely, particularly for men, who are less likely to cultivate friendships outside of the workplace.

So what exactly can seniors living in the city do? There are coffee houses, eateries and cinemas open from early morning to late at night. I’m partial to a stretch of restaurants and bakeries on Dundas West in Toronto, aptly called Little Portugal, where I can find the best cod cakes with salad and an espresso for less than $12.  My favourite hangout is a west-end 1939-built second-run movie house where tickets for those over 60 are $10.

On a more serious level, a big city such as Toronto offers a huge array of intellectual and artistic pursuits. Seniors can complete entire undergraduate or most graduate degrees at York or Ryerson University for free. That’s a savings of $30,000 over the four years of the program.

For my taste, Soulpepper Theatre in the Distillery District hits the sweet spot. Weekday matinees are filled with theatre-lovers my age. I can tell from their hair colour.

I must confess that if I was single, I would have soldiered on in Toronto despite my objections, ensconced in my Queen Street West condo, paying my $600 a month in condo fees, learning to live with the noise of new condo developments being built around me, the commuter train running regularly outside my bedroom window, the fire alarm system going off every few days and waiting for the Queen Street streetcar that sometimes takes longer to reach Yonge Street than it does for me to drive to Oakville.

My decision to boomerang to the burbs was largely based on my new relationship with Mr. Wonderful. And my new career as a writer. The burbs is not the best place to be alone: senior and single and lacking a career or vocation can be a recipe for depression in the suburbs.

Living outside city centres is meant for couples and families. The spaces between people are too big for it to be otherwise and the variety of entertainment and cultural pursuits too sparse. Sure, it’s changing, but not fast enough for the single retiree. Much of what happens in suburbia is focused around the home, things like backyard barbeques, coffee klatches, family dinners and home offices.

My new house in Bronte, a waterfront neighbourhood at the south–west corner of Oakville, appeals mainly to older adults. Townhouses and condos are just over half the price of similar properties in Toronto. The house I recently purchased for $600,000 would sell for more than $1-million in downtown Toronto.

People my age like saving money. It’s in our bones. We enjoy walking our dogs along the wooded web of Oakville’s park trails. We enjoy lengthy lunches where no one is waiting impatiently for our table or when the worry about beating the traffic is not an issue. We certainly don’t want to worry about parallel parking our cars downtown. All that being said and however leisurely and frugal suburban life can be, I’m not certain that it would be enough to ward off the loneliness of the single retiree.

Since deciding to return to Oakville, I’ve discovered that a few of my Toronto friends are considering moving here as well. Others have located here after downsizing from larger family homes in the Oakville area.

All of them agree that they’ve “done very well” on their earlier properties and downsizing to a townhouse or condo in this pocket of Oakville is a smart financial decision. They are all empty nesters living with their spouses. None of them are entirely on their own. Although they travel, they do so with discretion. Like me, they’ve discovered that they prefer to be at home much of the time.

I’m not exactly certain when I changed, when the urge to go out turned into the delight of staying at home. Much of it has to do with the interesting person sitting across the dinner table from me.

The other fact is that I can finally say that I’ve turned into a professional writer. The more time and effort I put into my writing, the more important a spacious and private room of my own becomes. It trumps expeditions to the theatre or the art gallery or the shopping mall because it’s where I can explore the best thoughts that my imagination can deliver.

My new study is where my heart resides, a room with a view of the lake, walls of roughly-hewn oak bookshelves, and a gargantuan desk for stashing the reams of paper, the first to last drafts of the words that fill my days.

Follow Joyce Wayne on Twitter: @JoyceWayne1951

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