Not in my wildest nightmare had I imagined myself living in a 55-Plus Active Lifestyle community. Nada, no way, are you crazy?
My whole life I rejected suburban living, selecting instead a city life with neighborhoods that reflected interesting architecture, entertainment and services, walking distance access to shops and neighbors who varied in ages and stages.
And then I accidentally discovered Del Webb Lake Providence, just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where we live. An advertisement for the soon-to-be-constructed retirement community popped up on my monitor nearly five years ago on a normal Thursday afternoon when I was working in my home office.
"Hmmm," I thought. "What's this all about?"
Suffice to say, my husband and I now find ourselves celebrating nearly four years in our Del Webb Lake Providence home in a lifestyle that often makes me dizzy.
Like all living arrangements, lifestyle living has its ups and downs. Here's my take on the ying-yang of it all, and how to be happy in these communities:
1. The yin: We get to know our neighbors very well. Living in a close community allows us to create wonderful new friendships with peers who come from all over the country to live and retire. That means nearly everyone wants to make new friends. Social events and neighborhood camaraderie makes it easy to get started. If you're lonely in this community, you just aren't trying.
The yang? If absence makes the heart grow fonder, intimacy can be a booger. The survival technique to Post 50 Lifestyle happiness: Forgive and forget quickly and deeply. Let it go.
2. The yin: We learn so much from others who have been experts and high-level achievers in their fields and careers. Community leadership positions, clubs, hobbies, sports, social activities and intensely interesting conversations are everywhere as we get to know each other. This keeps our minds and bodies sharp and our interests expanding.
The yang? Experts know what they know. It's hard to change their minds at this stage of the game. The survival technique to 50-Plus Lifestyle happiness: Embrace the ideas you hear and know that even if they aren't true for you, they're true for someone. Let it go.
3. The yin: We can do it all, right here in our community. With more than 80 clubs and groups to join, everything from water bugs to Zumba, from writing to gardening, philosophy to pickle ball, and genealogy to tap dancing, the choices are rich and seemingly endless. If you can't find a club that meets your interests, you start one. If you want to be on the go day and night, you can do it. If you say, "No thanks, I just can't fit in another thing," everyone understands. We're all in the same boat.
The yang? Your children may bemoan the fact that it's nearly impossible to get in touch with you. Wait a minute. Maybe that's just another yin. (Only kidding, kids). The survival technique to Post 50 Lifestyle happiness: Say no when you need to, and yes to all the things you've always wanted to do. Feel like sleeping in? Do it and let it go.
4. The yin: We have maintenance-free living so we may lock the door and take off, or stay home and watch the terrific landscaping crew do its job. Nearly all lifestyle communities have common areas that are beautifully landscaped and maintained. We are able to enjoy the beauty every day in our long walks around the lake. If we want to travel or winter/summer in another part of the country, we can lock our doors, ask our neighbors to keep an eye out for our home, and go in relative peace. Most of all, our individual properties look great, and we didn't have to do the work.
The yang? Community rules and regulations strictly outline what types of plant, trees and objects can be placed in our gardens, on our porches and in our back yards. If you have highly creative ideas about plants, trees, and garden designs (pink flamingos, six big planters on the porch and bird feeders in the front garden) you may be disappointed. Homeowner Association communities have committees which approve additions and subtractions to the rules and regulations, so be prepared to be in step. The survival technique to Post 50 Lifestyle happiness: Read all of the community rules and regulations the sales agent gives you before you agree to build/purchase a home. If you can't live with the rules, don't buy into the community. If you are denied something that you wanted to do by a committee, accept the decision. Let it go.
5. The yin: It's all about us. No shame in that, I say. We've earned the time to be ourselves as we decide to sky-dive, swim in the sun, write our memoirs, entertain our grandchildren, paddle around the lake, careen around in golf carts, fish, sing, dance and have it all. We just might be the first generation to say that out loud. Boomers are famous for being self-centered, although we are a generous lot. We give to charities and volunteer to help others. Being in community, we are able to do it as a group so that our individual gifts become corporate-sized help. It's all good.
The yang? We realize that time and our bodies are catching up with us. For the first time in our lives, perhaps, we have to say no to tennis (bad knees), or close needlework (bad eyes) or long trips (bad kidneys). We know we are singing our swansong. The big yang of living with our peers is that we know every single one of our new and dear friends will die, including us. It's just a matter of time. Not easy to face. The survival technique to Post 50 Lifestyle happiness: Sing your song right up until the end. If you feel sad or frightened about what's ahead, have faith. If you can't have faith, just let it go.
I had never dreamed of living in a Del Webb community. And now, I can't imagine living anywhere else. It's a lifestyle of immense pleasures and healthy challenges. We cherish the people and friendships we've discovered. And we're having so much fun.
I'll be the first to admit, I'll have a hard time letting it go.
Martha Nelson is an award-winning journalist and a former educator, nonprofit executive, chef and musician. Her first novel, "Black Chokeberry," was published in April 2012 and is available everywhere including from her website, www.blackchokeberrythebook.com.
EARLIER ON HUFF/POST 50: