Commitment Phobia and Early Retirement as an Escape from Responsibilities

We are well into 2020 now. It is a new year and a new decade. Something that has been on my mind a lot is early retirement. Do I really want to retire early? Once you start earning more, it becomes harder to give up the salary. That being said, work has been hard lately, and whenever work gets hard, I begin to think about early retirement. 

Something that happened in 2019 was that I was in a brief relationship for about three months, but that ended. It was nice while it lasted but it definitely is over, which is a pity because I do want a girlfriend, but I think I do have a severe case of commitment phobia. I am fairly certain I don’t want children, and I could go on forever about the reasons for that, but I am also worried about marriage, which to me seems very risky. I have also witnessed many bad marriages. Many people say that conflict and argument are a normal part of marriage and you need to just work through it, but this seems to be an unsatisfactory answer. For 2020 and beyond, my plan for relationships is the same as always, which is to stay single but be open to meeting new women. 

At this point in time, I am probably as lonely as ever. I don’t think I have any friends. I don’t have a girlfriend either. I pretty much have nothing. Most of my interaction with people is work-related and there are a few people I catch up with every now and then. This is a bit depressing, but at the same time, I do like the solitude. I also like the freedom that comes from just being by myself. It is not like I am completely alone. People do contact me to have lunch or coffee with them, and sometimes I contact others to catch up with them, but mostly these catch ups are not that great. Whenever I catch up with others, I feel like I am just engaging in polite conversation. I cannot really express who I am or what I am thinking. Maybe I haven’t fully built up the courage to say what I want to say.

When I started my financial independence journey, my plan was to retire early in Southeast Asia, and I still want to do this. Whenever times are tough, I’d imagine myself living on a beach on an island in Southeast Asia. I’d sleep in a beach bungalow, wake up late, walk along the sands to a beachside cafe or coworking space, and spend my days reading books or writing books on a laptop, which I would self-publish on Kindle. I’d drink coffee and coconut by the beach while I read or write books. In the afternoon, when the sun sets on the horizon, I could go for a swim, and the water would be very warm.

Part of the reason why I’m hesitant to have children or to marry is because of the threat that children or marriage pose to my early retirement dream. There is something about children or marriage that seems so final. The commitment is so large, and it is a heavy burden. 

When you live differently, people naturally challenge you, and when I tell people about my dreams to retire to Southeast Asia, they inevitably talk about how terrible these places are, how they have poor healthcare, how the traffic is bad, and so forth. All these points miss the bigger picture, which is that the reason why I want to go to Southeast Asia is not beause I necessarily want to go to Southeast Asia but rather it is because I want to have the ability to go somewhere else. Even if I don’t like Southeast Asia, I could always move back or move elsewhere. It is the movement and the flexibility that matters. I want to have no major obligations and I want to be completely free. I don’t want to be shackled to a job I initally liked but have grown to hate as I try to pay off a huge mortgage and car loan. There seems to be a tendency for people to push you to decide on something, commit to it, and then settle down, but I want to keep my options open. I never want to commit and I never want to settle.

Why Retirement is Similar to Marriage

Within the financial independence community, there is a lot of talk about the date when you retire. Many people talk about having e.g. 4 years of work left before they save up enough money to retire.

However, I have heard of many people who retire who end up disliking retirement. Perhaps they realize that they don’t have enough money to to live the life they want to live. Perhaps they realize they are bored without a job.

The entire idea of having a fixed date at which you retire sounds very final and drastic seems very similar to marriage. When you marry someone, you bind yourself to being with someone for the rest of your life under threat of legal and accounting costs. The same applies to retirement. You bind yourself to not working under threat of having to apply for a job again.

What is the alternative to retirement?

Instead of retiring at a fixed point, a more flexible option is to experiment. It reminds me of a famous saying by Deng Xiaoping: “Cross the river by feeling the stones.” Rather than plunging into a raging river, it is better to cautiously and carefully feel for the stones as you cross. Deng used this principle to build modern China. It is always wise to try something at a small scale to see if it works before scaling it up.

An alternative retirement, in my opinion, is simply semi-retirement. Rather than quit your job, simply take a few months off to see how you fare during retirement. Another option is to reduce your hours and work part-time and to pursue projects that interest you rather than force yourself to do work you hate in order to get a promotion.

All this depends on how easily you feel you can find another job. If you have skills that are in demend and feel you can easily find a job again if you change your mind about retirement, quitting your job may not be a big deal. Nevertheless, when you are older, there is a degree of ageism in the workforce, so it always wise to exercise caution. Cross the river by feeling the stones.