The right playmates and the right type of play for us, makes retirement much more fun.

Relationships change in retirement. Couple relationships change without the stimulation of separate work interests and workday routines that buffer daily contact. Without these separate interests and routines our lack of maintenance work, such as listening and negotiation skills, start to surface.

Likewise, relationships in retirement can change with friends too. Our focus changes as we look to explore different activities and we may need to renegotiate how we make life more fun for each other.

Thoughtfully injecting playfulness into relationships can make change easier.

Playfulness gives us empathy, adaptability and hope for the future. The truly great thing about play is that it blocks our self-criticism and shrinks our anxiety – issues that surface when we’re without the constancy of work. Play makes it easier to get to know others because we lower our ‘guard’ and we are ‘real’ to those around us when we are focused on play.

Play makes it easier to make good friends because it enables us to more easily understand each other’s needs.

Having different play opportunities for each partner can not only meet our different needs and buffer daily contact but can give us stories and observations that we can bring to the relationship.

Some of us know how to play well and some feel more tentative. Once we identify our own play style^1, we can feel more confident in play and more easily explore just who wants to share it.

Our play style might be:

  • the Joker (silly and clown-like)
  • the Kinesthete (physical activity)
  • the Explorer (new places, information or people)
  • the Competitor (score on top)
  • the Director (plans, organises and orchestrates others’ roles)
  • the Collector (assembles or maintains interesting objects or experiences)
  • the Artistic Creator (makes things)
  • the Storyteller (imaginative focus); or
  • we can be a mix of these play styles.

These different styles point us to where we’ll likely find our fun.

Our particular play style gives us a clue about inviting others to play in a way that feels right for us. For example, the Creator might invite a friend to make a model plane together; the Explorer might ask another to a lecture or to a new destination; the Storyteller might make a playful comment to a stranger in a lift. Most of us find it easy to be a Joker with children and animals. We’ve all pulled a silly face at some time. Silly moments are waiting to be shared. A useful technique is to watch and exaggerate a silly situation.

John Cleese shows us that it’s the juxtaposition of the serious with the silly that creates the humour in his Ministry of Silly Walks sketch. And it’s often a surprise that adults love to play games too, silly games you make up or any of the numerous cooperative and competitive games available that fit your particular play style. Playing well is about finding our playfulness and matching it with the right playmates.

Take time to unravel the sorts of exchanges you particularly enjoy and build on your play style. Observe who responds well to your banter, play organising, or imaginative stories. Who responds to your invitation to explore, create, or compete? Treasure them.

There’s a goldmine of friendships to enjoy at this stage of life as you attract others into your playful community.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing^2

Make a play-date for yourself with friends soon.

Gabrielle Leahy, Retire & Flourish

  1. Dr Stuart Brown, 2010, Play - How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul

  2. George Bernard Shaw