Never Say This One Thing to Someone Who's Retiring, Expert Warns

An etiquette expert reveals the pitfalls to avoid, and what to say instead.

For some people, reaching retirement is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to relax and live life on their own terms. For others, retirement is a much more complex proposition that can become a trigger for some major soul searching. And in some cases, retirement wasn't really a choice at all, but rather a forced set of circumstances that may not have been ideal. With that in mind, it's important to tread with caution and speak mindfully when you're talking to a recent retiree. To help you avoid potential hurt feelings, read on for our guide on what never to say to someone who's retiring, according to an etiquette expert.

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Don't connect retirement with mortality.

A senior man and woman having a conversation in a cafe
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August Abbott, PhD, a relationship counselor and etiquette expert on JustAnswer, who spent 40 years teaching etiquette classes, says the worst thing you can say to someone who just retired is some version of a message that connects their retirement to their mortality, such as, "I hope you live long enough to really enjoy it." Cringe-worthy as that misstep may sound, she confirms, "Yes, I've heard this said out loud—and worse, people recounting all the people they've known or even heard of who retired and died shortly thereafter. Oh my heavens, no, no, no!"

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Avoid offering heavy-handed advice about retirement.

Senior adult couple talk at outdoor park in spring or autumn season. They sit on a park bench and discuss their relationship difficulties.
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Abbott also recommends not offering any heavy-handed advice on what to do in retirement: These matters are very personal. "Another thing we should keep to ourselves is advice on how to live on retirement," she says. "No talk about where they really need to put their money or what vacations to take or pretty much anything else that's frankly none of our business or concern."

Keep conversation light and upbeat.

Senior man and woman talking over coffee
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When speaking with someone who's retiring or just retired, keep the tone light and positive. "Wish them a happy retirement," Abbott says. Ask cheerful questions, like "what they plan on doing first, second, long-term, keeping it light," she suggests, perhaps offering "fun" banter about the joy of throwing away those alarm clocks and calendars for good.

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Focus on the positive aspects of retirement (even if they're not all positive).

Two senior friends relaxing at the park
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Indeed, Abbott says, the best thing you can do when talking to someone who just retired is to focus on the fun and positive aspects of the new development, even though it may also have its downsides for the person in question.

"Personally, when I retired from structured work the first thing I did was get rid of all of my watches and to this day I absolutely refuse to wear a watch," she says. "Time no longer owns me. If it's daylight, I get up. If it's not daylight, I watch TV or do what I want to do with my evenings. And if I get tired, I go to bed. Life is good!"

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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