I Moved Into a Jewish Retirement Community in My 30s & I’m Never Looking Back

Age is just a number, folks.

I’m hip, don’t get it twisted: I know what slaps, my hair is appropriately parted, I send memes as a basic requirement of courtship and I refuse to consume animals as an obvious ethical and environmental obligation. But I also wear mixed patterns simultaneously, I call blush “rouge” and I occasionally select talk-to-text even when I’m not tied up with heavy machinery. I wish most cashiers a “lovely day” at the end of transactions and generally prefer medium-to-heavy talk with strangers. My friends come to me never seeking to feel better about themselves, but instead to get hit with a hard dose of indiscriminate reality — akin to the way one might ask the eccentric pigeon lady who keeps long hours in the park her outlook on the future. It is what it is, kid; man plans, God laughs.

I’ve always been, well, existentially older than my age — and that’s no accident. As an only child, I found familiarity and comfort in the company of adults. I learned early on to share their preferences, and, it could be reasoned, I emotionally matured more quickly as a result. Growing up, I didn’t always relate to my same-aged peers; I was simply on a different schedule.

At the start of the pandemic, I was living a big-city, fast-paced, highly-anxious life and going through a lot of the motions of what a typical 30-something “should” be doing and feeling. One might argue that the pandemic’s abrupt shutdown and shove toward survival mode triggered an unfeigned moment of reflection. Who are you? Where have you been running to all these years? Where do you think you’re even going?

Two years of contemplation made clear that, all this time, I may not have been living my authentic self, as the kids say. So I left the city and moved into a resident-proclaimed “semi-retirement community” comprising mostly older, widowed and/or triple-divorced Jewish women. And I’ve never felt more at home.

This is definitively who I always meant to be. We play canasta on Thursdays and mahjong on Sundays. We host happy hour on Fridays to close the work week — ironic, really, given that I am one of very few full-time employed members of the pod. We enthusiastically say hello in elevators and pry into each other’s daily schedules as a matter of principle. If it’s past 3pm and you appear to be leaving the building, the requisite inquisition involves some version of “So? Who’s the guy?” We exchange coupons and alerts for the latest sales; I get in on senior discounts merely by association. Other perks? I’m never more than a few doors down from freshly baked challah (with or without raisins), I have an ample and continuous supply of sons and nephews with whom to be set up, and no matter the hour, there’s always someone awake and very much available for a decaf coffee and chat.

Despite the description of our life together, no one here is “old,” no matter their age. My lady friends are incredibly active — some would even call them busy. They hardly sleep, they easily commit to 10,000 steps a day and they have satisfying hobbies that are hardly the knitting of the grandmas of yesteryear. They have a tremendous number of friends (and boyfriends) and go out to lunch and dinner on the regular — don’t even get me started on the 65-plusers and the observance of Covid protocols. I’m double-boosted, who cares if I asked him to come up? Nails did, hair did, everything did — these girls are fancy and impossibly vain, and you’ll never catch them on a bad day. They’re mostly kind, especially if they’ve decided you’re theirs, but they’re not stupid. They refuse to be snubbed or taken advantage of, and subscribe to the tenets of relational aggression if the situation forces their hand.

All this time, I assumed that age meant something, and that I was mismatched for my years. I figured that by virtue of being an “old soul” or “more mature,” I’d somehow skipped a bunch of really important life stages on my quest to becoming an 80-year-old triple-divorcee. How reassuring for someone who always felt slightly out of order or out of place: I didn’t skip anything at all. It’s all the same. Life’s trajectory is not nearly as complex or dynamic as some may have expected (or hoped).

Like many other categories we use to define ourselves, age may be yet another meaningless social construct. While lots of folks may fixate on a number and what it means to be old or young, I moved into a retirement community at the age of 37 and gained a wonderfully new (and fairly liberating) perspective. Aside from remaining life expectancy, when it comes to one’s age, none of it is real and none of it matters. The delights don’t really change, the inconveniences don’t really change, and — my sincerest apologies to those of you who were expecting to radically update your personality in due time — whoever you were as a young person is who you will be as an old person. Turns out, I was just a peculiar kid — and I’m still fairly weird now.

I hope this revelation comforts you and helps you to untether yourself from inflexible groups and labels. In place of those meaningless social constructs, I hope you lean in to the universal features of what it means to be human — at any age. When you do that, everyone becomes relatable and anyone can become a friend.

Anyway, gotta run — time is of the essence. Beverly was sent a flyer for a free dinner from the bank if she attends their workshop “How to Prevent Common Frauds, Scams and Elder Exploitation” — so we’re obviously going and I’m the designated driver.

Jennifer Rosner

Jennifer Rosner, Ph.D. (she/her/hers) is a social psychologist working in market research for a healthcare company. She loves Larry David, Drake, and most other Jewish men.

Read More