How do I start over?
September 8, 2010 8:47 AM   Subscribe

How do I overcome this crushing sense of regret at my "lost 20s" and how do I build a life from scratch?


I'm 28 and change.

Not going into all the details here, but my life was ruined when I was 18 and my father died. I dropped out of college and moved in with my mom and sis and spent the next 7 years in two cities just getting by.

I then hooked up with an old girlfriend and moved across country to play house for four years. I didn't make a single friend and honestly feel like I was sleep walking through that whole time. Things finally ended (THANK CHRIST!) five months ago. I've come to realize I never really loved her and I was just doing the easy thing, which is a recurring theme in my life.

To an outside party I had a lot of cool experiences (I worked in security at nightclubs and bars and fancy hotels), but for whatever reason I was an observer, not a participant. I never kept friends, I never went to BBQs, I've never been invited to a wedding. I realize this is my fault, but it doesn't hurt any less.

Now, I've found a 30 year old woman I love dearly. We've been seeing one another for 2 months, but it's been incredibly intense and we clearly felt a powerful physical and emotional connection the first night we met. She has had an amazingly rich (and wild) life. Lived in a commune, partied almost non-stop for 10 years, now she has a good job and is very stable. I don't have a single real friend, I can't stand my family, and I would be completely alone if it weren't for this woman. Whenever she references her past and talks about parties and good times and awesome experiences I have a deep pang of anxiety founded in regret. You never realize how much conversation is simply referencing past experiences until it physically hurts you.

I talked to her about it in a letter (except the pangs) and she was incredibly sweet, but I'd really like to not freak her out. No matter the intensity, it's been two months.

To add to this, I've also found it almost impossible to make friends since realizing I have none. I read the "Help me be a friend! Anyone's friend." thread and there was some useful stuff in there, but it seems like the ship has sailed on getting back that time in my life. There is a certain sense of community that is built in college/early 20s that seems impossible to recreate working 40 hours a week and paying bills.

Also, the few people I'm in contact with all are done with the wild times of their 20s. They want to watch a game and have a few beers and relax. I don't want to be Peter Pan, but I'd like to tear shit up for a little while. Not hookers and blow, but at least some memorable nights would be great.

Finally, my financial/career life is horrid. I've got no education, currently in a contract IT position with little prospects of a permanent gig. My credit is utterly shot because I just defaulted on $20,000 of CC debt I couldn't pay on when I was unemployed for six months. Also, I fucking hate IT, but I have expenses, and what I'd like to do (writing and/or comedic performance) is incredibly difficult to get into or make money on.

This is a LOT of shit to dump on you nice people, but I don't have health insurance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
You've been through a lot. Finding a therapist who works on a sliding scale might be a first step to have someone who's trained to deal with a lot of heavy shit and perhaps help you reframe some of your assumptions.

I'm not sure what "tear shit up means" - hanging out in bars? going to concerts? what's fun to you? To you, right now, and not to some mythical younger version of yourself? What would be memorable to you?

Can you get involved in local comedy groups? Find other challenging activities that pull you off the couch and into social groups of people who enjoy whatever it is? Making friends is harder once you're out of college, but if you seek out groups to pursue activities you enjoy, the chance of making friends goes up - if you slowly start to take some risks and be present in your own life.

Having a job that you hate is soulsucking. Are you looking around for what other careers or jobs might be more interesting (and have health insurance?) I know the economy sucks, but there's no better place to look for a job than when you have one. Finding your way out of that mess will help your mood.
posted by canine epigram at 8:57 AM on September 8, 2010

Today is the first day of the rest of your life! Make it into whatever you want it to be!

Less rah-rah and more practical, a great way to make friends is through volunteering for a cause or organization you care about. You get to meet people who share your value in that cause, work on making the world a better place together, and generally bond. It's less socially awkward than lots of other ways of meeting people because you generally have defined roles and tasks and cause/organization-related stuff to talk about until you start to get comfortable and open up with each other.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:08 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

"the ship has sailed on getting back that time in my life." One of the familiar statements that used to come up on the Siskel and Ebert show when they reviewed a movie that they considered to be a complete waste of time, is "that's two hours of my life that I will never get back". The fact (at the risk of stating the obvious) is that we never get the past back. When time passes, it is over. Whether we used our time well or badly, we all live in the present and we all have only a limited quantity of future to look forward to. And we only get older, never younger. It has also been famously commented (I forget by whom) that youth is wasted on the young. Lots of people regret that they did not make better use of their younger years - this certainly includes me. I can say with some confidence that I made even worse use of my 20's than you made of yours, but I continued on with my life, and I am now 58. At least I made good use of my 30's.

It would be a very nice thing indeed if the universe were organized by a benevolent deity so that if you are at any time not happy with the way you used your time, you could turn back the clock and use your time differently. But alas, the universe is cruel and it doesn't really care if we are satisfied with the way we have used our time. We did not pay an admission fee to get into this universe, and no refund is available if we are not happy to be here.

From my perspective as a person who is slightly more than twice your age, you are still a young man and you still have plenty of opportunity to do good things with your life, and that's exactly what you should do. Don't worry too much about the past. It is over, move on. It's unfortunate that you do not like your job (although many people would envy you for having a job) but you have lots of opportunity to look for better jobs and to acquire additional qualifications for better jobs. It remains possible that you will eventually develop a career in writing and/or comedic performance, as you would like to do. Certainly there is no reason to give up on this at the tender age of 28. People can change careers at any time of their lives. Some people take up a new line of work in their 70's (which is a daring move). Even if you never make it in the competitive world of writing or comedy, you may well find other work that you like better than what you have now.

Although your credit is shot, that doesn't necessarily matter. I personally have never borrowed money for anything, and so my credit rating (which is good) has never been relevant. Of course, this does mean that I never bought a house. I rent. It's OK.

It is still true that there are lots of people out there who are just as much in need of friends as you are. Remember "Eleanor Rigby" - "all the lonely people, where do they all come from?" Lonely people always have the option of getting together with other lonely people and becoming less lonely.
posted by grizzled at 9:12 AM on September 8, 2010 [21 favorites]

You're 28, which isn't really all that old, first off. :P A few weekends ago I (at 26) went out with a few people, including a 29-year-old, and we drank tequila, shotgunned beers, danced to a cover band and stayed out til 3:30am. Not everyone is about just staying in all the time, so don't fret! :)

Nthing the hobbies. Even if you're interested in something like craft beers or British comedies, there are groups for that and people to make conversation with.

Though I hate to be the person to bring this up, keep in mind that she might just be a rebound for you. I say that because if things don't work out, don't feel like it's another negative thing in what you feel is a really crappy part of your life.

In a way, you have an opportunity that a lot of people who feel "stuck" don't have. You've got more freedom than you realize. Is there another job that you could do that, while not the career of your dreams, will at least help you pay the bills and offer you a different job experience? Even if it's receptionist or office manager, it's something that would change your daily routine.
posted by inmediasres at 9:17 AM on September 8, 2010

You sound exactly like myself when I was 26, so....

28 is not old. At all. In fact from my perspective you're just a kid. So drop the 'shouda, woulda, coulda' routine. Feeling sorry for yourself accomplishes NOTHING. And tread lightly with those therapy recommendations - it's not the answer to everything. From what you've told us some will say 'seek therapy', but I say 'get off your ass' - your time has come for that 'big life decision'. Some people make the jump, some don't (or thankfully don't need to). I think you need to dive in the pool.

Get out there and live your life. Do what you wanna do. Ditch the IT job, declare bankruptcy, eat ramen noodles, and follow your passions. You're only friggn 28 years old - with presumably no kids, no wife, and no mortgage.

At 26 I found myself in a position in life saying "Is this all there is to life"? For a while I thought "yup, I've missed the boat". I went to my dad's retirement party - someone asked him if he wished he'd done something different with his life. He started to rattle off a list! So I promised myself right then and there I wouldn't say that when I was his age. So I went back to Tallahassee and tried to figure out what I wanted to DO or BE. I looked up and saw a plane overhead and wished I was on it, going anywhere but where I currently was.

So I quit and joined the Navy. Hardest and (for me) craziest thing I'd ever done in my life. But I can't imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn't made that decision. I'm not saying the Navy is your answer - I'm saying there's something out there that you're looking for, and it ain't a girlfriend or a good job. You're looking for 'life'.

Sounds to me like you've been coasting through life up until now. Just like I did up until I made that leap to something different. Yes it's crazy, yes it's out there, and no it's not safe - but you gotta find that thing that seems out of your reach and just go for it. You're only 28. Trust me - you're young.

Don't answer the retirement question the way my dad did when you hit 65. Shoulda, woulda, coulda my ass.
posted by matty at 9:36 AM on September 8, 2010 [13 favorites]

Any MeFi meetups in your area? MetaFilter is a hobby for many of us. We're good people.
posted by zsazsa at 9:40 AM on September 8, 2010

When I moved to a new city earlier in the year, I joined a sports team, which pretty much provided an instant social network.

If things don't work out with the gal, moving to a new city may help provide a fresh start, as well as a backstory. "I'm new here" sounds a lot better than "I was a shut-in for 8 years"*

*Which isn't necessarily something to be ashamed about. As hard as it may be for you to fathom right now, there are much, much worse ways to spend your 20s. That said, it's also probably not something you should bring up on a first date.

Try to work on getting your career in order (and getting health insurance!). This is tough, because the economy is currently in the shitter. Fortunately for you, you don't have many commitments at the moment, and also very little to lose from a career shift. Lucky you!

Take a look at the course offerings at your local community college, and enroll in something that looks interesting to you. CC classes are cheap, available at night, and almost certainly provide the best "bang for the buck" on your resume.
posted by schmod at 9:42 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ironically, your regret is causing you to "lose" the present moment. Whenever you find yourself going down that path, take a moment to notice what is actually here instead of focusing on thoughts about the past and the future. You'll be amazed at how coming back again and again to what's here right now will lead you to the next step.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:44 AM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Some thoughts on meeting new people.

I've seen people gravitate to certain events / activities to meet new people when moving to a new town where they don't have a set of family or existing friends.

The burning man crowd (if its your thing) always has something going in bigger cities.

Certain non-profits have weekly evening events where you can help them out and often include dinner (a plus if you don't have a lot of money). They are often filled with folks with the same desire as you.

A couple times a year you'll find things like "The Santa Rampage" or SantaCon (or silly seasonal appropriate equivalent) which is a good way to meet new folks / tear it up - plus provide a context to talk to new people - and something to talk about later.

TechEvents through Meetup or upcoming / etc can be a quick way to meet folks and you already have something to talk about.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:47 AM on September 8, 2010

You've gotten some good advice so far, so I just wanted to add one thing. If you decide to try and make friends by joining a hobby or volunteer group, don't give up if you feel like you don't fit in at first. According to the author of this book, you have to attend a group an average of seven times before the other members will start thinking of you as a regular. I mention this because if you're anything like me you give up after one or two times if you don't feel comfortable right away.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:47 AM on September 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

I don't know if it helps, but I've made two of the closest friends I have in the last couple of years, my late twenties like you.

That ship NEVER sails. If anything, as you get older, it's easier to make friends because you're less flighty, less changeable, less all-over-the-frickin-shop.

Go make friends - you have to put yourself out there, occasionally put yourself out, but it'll be worth it, and it's never too late.
posted by greenish at 9:55 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I didn't really make many friends until my 30s. You can make friends at any time in your life: people are always looking for companionship, activity partners, etc. Shoot, just find a hobby you like to do, and usually you'll meet at least *one* person who is into the same thing.

Echoing what others have said; the past is past. I have some regret about my 20s also, some of the same things as you. Ruminating on it has gotten me absolutely nowhere, though. Instead, I've gotten into meditation a bit recently (I just bought a meditation CD but there are groups out there too) as an aid to stay in the present, and little by little, it is helping.
posted by medeine at 10:04 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't start over. Nobody does. Your life is where it is and you get to make decisions going forward and choose how to frame how you look at your unchanging past.

Start by ditching this nonsense:

my life was ruined when I was 18
the ship has sailed on getting back that time in my life.

This kind of talk is a black light and some mascara away from being a 14 year old goth cutting in your room. If you're worried about making friends you're not doing yourself any favors with this morose intensity.

Consider: if you were in a bar and saw someone throw an extended shit-fit because they picked the wrong numbers in the lotto last weekend - ie, the losing ones - how would you react to that person? A tiny thing, choosing 6 numbers, and if you pick certain ones you're suddenly a millionaire.

But does that justify endless regret over doing it differently? We accept that such choices are in the past and the theoretically WAY better result is now closed off to us. Why is that any different than the fact that you made choices - following a partner to a different state, for example - that you'd make differently if you could do them over?

In every way that matters, it's no different. It's done and you don't get to change your answer.

You made your decisions and got to where you are via those choices. That's not nothing - not only did it lead you to this great partner but it also apparently made you a good enough guy now that she cares about you. If it didn't equip you in exactly the way you wish it had... oh well. There are people out there who made every decision the "right" was and STILL don't like where they are now.

Stop viewing where you are as a prison term. If you don't like where or who you are you've got plenty of ability to change - nobody's stopping you from making better decisions going forward.
posted by phearlez at 10:22 AM on September 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

Ironically, your regret is causing you to "lose" the present moment. Whenever you find yourself going down that path, take a moment to notice what is actually here instead of focusing on thoughts about the past and the future.

This. Thisthisthisthisthis. I am in more or less exactly the same boat, went through kind of an (ongoing) existential crisis around January of this year, and spent the last eight months freaking the fuck out. And guess what? Now I'm 27, in exactly the same place and I feel even worse knowing I could and should have been doing something with those eight months. It's not going to be comfortable or safe and you're not going to know if it was the right thing to do until much much later, but for god's sake, get out there, make changes, throw shit at the wall and see what sticks (as it were).
posted by Merzbau at 10:22 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't be afraid to hang out with younger people (read: 23-26, not like 18 years olds) who will still be at the heart of their partying time.
posted by nomad at 10:36 AM on September 8, 2010

Ironically, your regret is causing you to "lose" the present moment.

Exactly. Nothing you can do now will change one iota of your past -- but at every moment, you get a chance to experience the present and create a different future.

Your problem is not the tragic, numb, unfulfilling experiences of your past -- it's the negative self-talk and depressive ideation that are creating your reality RIGHT NOW.

Seek cheap/sliding scale mental health resources. If nothing else, read The Feeling Good Book and There Is Nothing Wrong With You.

Do whatever it takes to shift your focus from the past to the present. Otherwise you risk losing your 30s to regret over your "lost" 20s.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:38 AM on September 8, 2010

If you're into comedy, maybe you'd enjoy taking improv or acting classes. Those are a great place to make friends.

How to do it:
Be friendly and supportive of the other students. Smile. Learn their names.
Sit with lots of different people so you get to know them all.
Come early to classes so you can chitchat before the actual class starts; likewise, linger after class for more chatting.
Be friendly during breaks- go down the block to grab coffee with people or hang out and chat while they smoke.
Most improv schools ask you to see their professional shows- you can be the proactive one on this. Get people's email addresses and set up a few evenings where you go together.
Basically, help make the class atmosphere positive, fun, friendly, and full of laughter. By that, I don't mean BE HILARIOUS, I just mean be a generous laugher when others make jokes, and compliment them when they do something particularly good.

After each class, casually invite people out for a drink or snack at a nearby place. (Maybe ask one or two people you feel comfortable with; if they can come, try a more general- "hey, a couple of us are gonna go for a drink, you wanna join?") The other students might not all be able to come out at first, but eventually most of them will start making time to come out.

This may very well net you a new friend or two- I know a lot of people who found friends in improv classes in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:43 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, the few people I'm in contact with all are done with the wild times of their 20s. They want to watch a game and have a few beers and relax. I don't want to be Peter Pan, but I'd like to tear shit up for a little while. Not hookers and blow, but at least some memorable nights would be great.

Memorable nights doing *what*, though? It sounds like you don't know. Memorable nights drinking? Seeing live music? Gambling? Driving? Urban exploring?

You make your own memories, is the powerful thing. You do.

The other thing you said is 100% true: it is harder to make friends as you get older. But you can do it. I just came to the realization that while I have a lot of friends, I don't see them anywhere near enough. So I am the one who is emailing people and making plans and pushing to make plans and if they forget to answer I don't get hurt or insulted, I email again and say "Let's do this, how about X day or Y day" and help make it easier. And you know what? It is working, and it is working well, and everyone is so happy and grateful to have the chance to connect. You can say "well it works both ways and if X person doesn't want to do any work I don't want to see them!!" but things are rarely that way. (I'm also not talking about people who are all "let's do lunch" but don't mean it.) So if you find someone who is a neat, cool person, go out there and make an effort, find something to do and suggest it, plan it, be specific, not just all "hey let's get together some time!"
posted by micawber at 11:09 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

If all of these healthy, sociable suggestions don't work out, you can always lurk bars until you're a fixture. At least the staff will know you.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:26 PM on September 8, 2010

There is a certain sense of community that is built in college/early 20s that seems impossible to recreate working 40 hours a week and paying bills.

This isn't true at all. I moved to a new state after college (age 27), and spent the next 10 years of my life having a great time, mostly while working multiple jobs. And I'm the LEAST personable person I know!

Volunteering is a good idea, and so is having hobbies and going where like-minded people congregate. Also, I've noticed that many bars develop a small community of regulars -- people who hang out there but have nothing else really in common. So pick a place to frequent! Find a good bar with a trivia night, pool tournament, or some other social activity and become a fixture. College bars and English-style pubs are great for this.

But the most important thing is also the most difficult: be positive. Otherwise, you will repel people like the plague.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:39 PM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Just keep those windows of possibility open.

I have been through these kinds of trials.

One of my theories is that happiness has a lot to do with luck. But you have to be ready to work on your goals. It helps to have coherent long-term goals.
posted by ovvl at 4:37 PM on September 8, 2010

and I would be completely alone if it weren't for this woman.

One of the few steps you can take to start over is never, ever give *anyone* except yourself that kind of power. You are alone only if you cant rely on yourself. And you can always learn that and be prepared to rely on yourself, bit by bit, by working towards different goals in your life. Please don't take a second easy way out to only realise this in the next 5-10 years.

There is a certain sense of community that is built in college/early 20s that seems impossible to recreate working 40 hours a week and paying bills.

Things get better if you stop comparing everything in life to the "good old college days". And 40 hrs a week is really great to have a life outside of work. It takes time to make friends. Join communities that interest you and make an effort to join these to meet people and purue your interests.

Finally, how the heck have you lost your twenties when you are 28?
posted by xm at 6:49 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't say where you're located, but on the off-chance that you're in Seattle: I have a really wonderful therapist who specializes in relationship issues and charges a sliding fee. My insurance doesn't cover her, but I find her fees reasonable. She works a lot with artists and, as she describes it, "people who consider themselves to be on the margins of society." She's wonderfully empathetic, nonjudgmental and creative in her approach. Here's her website.
posted by wholebroad at 2:23 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can definitely sympathize with you. I feel I'm in the same boat as you.

I'm working on it though. I think it's never too late to start making some positive changes in your life. With a negative attitude, things are just going to get worse. And before you know it, time will fly by and it'll be harder.

Take advantage of this feeling and follow through.
posted by morning_television at 10:06 AM on September 25, 2010

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