I don't want to give up on people or myself: how do you deal with persistent impermanence?
November 15, 2010 3:17 PM   Subscribe

After 15 years of disappointing dating, how do I hold on to my optimism and avoid apathy in my relations with others?

I've recently come out of another in a series of semi-long term relationships (2.5-4 years over the past 11 years) and feel extremely unhopeful about myself and my future. Up until the last one, I always maintained hope that if I just kept looking, I'd meet the right person and it'd happen - I'd find someone to share things with, have children, etc. But now I just feel.... empty. As in, getting over the breakup with my last ex was so easy. I'm now very adept at separating my property from someone else's, sort out unpaid bills, cancelling upcoming events, knowing how long to expect to mourn and consider that unremarkable, see every desperate after-the-fact communication for what it is, I go through the motions and just feel numb. I was worried something's wrong with me, that I am emotionless, that I'm becoming some sort of sociopath. (In fairness it could also be because he was a lying, cheating lowlife who smashed up my flat).

But then....

I feel bottomlessly sad that I have nothing and no one permanent in my life. The relationships never work out. I live in a large, metropolitan city and my friends typically leave for good every 6 months or so. Now I have 2 friends left that I've known for more than a year and a half. I just don't have a long shared history with anyone, and I feel almost like I don't exist, or may as well not. Nothing and no one ever lasts. I keep in contact with people on facebook but it's not the same, and I'm almost at the point where I can't be bothered to do the dance of making new friends and going on dates. I'm exhausted. And I'm worried that I'll never have any meaningful friendships and no one will ever care for me. All of my friends (who now live far away) are married and have children and navigating the normal ups and downs of everyday life so many people talk about 'escaping' from. But to me it's this wonderful thing I yearn for but am beginning to realise I'll never have. This thought is so painful I'm having a hard time just getting myself washed and fed at the moment.

I'm struggling to know how to mediate these experiences in a constructive, positive way, in a way that won't turn me into a bitter hermit with no empathy or real emotional reactions to people anymore. What can I do? I suppose what I'm saying is, how do you not give up? I'd really appreciate any advice.
posted by everydayanewday to Human Relations (17 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Best way to help yourself is to go help someone else.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:24 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been in a similar situation, but I keep my old friends from my hometown, try to visit somewhat regularly and yes, also communicate via facebook. It's really hard. I guess therapy would be helpful as well as finding something more permanent to connect to - either a hobby or your job, something that you enjoy. I will keep reading in case other meta-filterers have even better suggestions.
posted by bquarters at 3:33 PM on November 15, 2010

you sound depressed. have you considered therapy?

seconding volunteering as well. believe me, you will be appreciated.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:41 PM on November 15, 2010

It's almost pointlessly obvious to point out that you sound depressed. Very depressed. Getting into therapy and onto meds will almost certainly help your feelings of numbness, isolation, and hopelessness. Once you start getting a handle on those, you will likely rediscover your motivation for getting out there and meeting people, both platonic and romantic.

Good luck.
posted by supercres at 3:43 PM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Any "numbness" you may be feeling is probably just the hopelessness of depression. And you certainly don't sound numb, just a bit stunned and beat up by life. I'm afraid that I'm at a loss as to what advice to give you, but I can at least suggest that you don't worry about the numbness you describe. I don't think that's at all unusual after a breakup and I wouldn't expect it to last.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:01 PM on November 15, 2010

Best answer: One thing I hope you'll keep in mind is that periods of discontent and pain aren't necessarily bad things -- they can be a powerful impetus for making the kinds of changes in our lives that we don't normally muster the will to make. Right now, you're not happy with yourself or your life, but I say, cut yourself a little slack. Just because you're in a particular emotional place now doesn't mean that there aren't things happening behind the scenes of your consciousness that are building towards some positive shift in your thinking. I think the best thing you could do right now is trust yourself a little bit, let go of your anxiety, and just live. Soon enough, the thing you're looking for in your life will happen, and it'll happen so organically that it'll seem like your life and everything you've had to deal with was just preparation.
posted by Pants McCracky at 4:02 PM on November 15, 2010 [17 favorites]

I am nth-ing the "you sound depressed" and beyond nth-ing the "volunteer!" thing.

Will it help you to hear that I dated for 20 years before I met my amazing husband? I used to joke "you could kill someone and not get a sentence that long" but it's true.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:14 PM on November 15, 2010 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I think you should try being impeccably kind to yourself. I know you're struggling with basic tasks right now, so start slowly. Make yourself healthy food you like. Get plenty of sleep. Watch some TV that will make you laugh. Get outside in the sun. Get some exercise, even if it's just walking. Do something creative if you enjoy that. Reach out to anyone whose presence makes you happy. This is incredibly corny, but lavish on yourself all the kindness and care that you might lavish on a partner or children. Really. And, yes, therapy's always good to help with depression.

Heart break makes you open-hearted. Heart break makes you tender-hearted. Once you let yourself experience all the feelings you have, you might find yourself cherishing these difficult times as transformative, liberating times. You may find yourself making some necessary changes, to put yourself in a place where it's easier for you to put down roots.

But first you have to take care of yourself. I wonder if your numbness and exhaustion is actually happening because you have so many intense feelings, that it's just too much for your body and mind to process all at once. Do you think you could be holding back your grief and anger? I'd suggest letting it all out. Let yourself be as upset as you can be. Write about it, run until you can't run anymore, dance, whatever frees your emotions. You'll come out on the other side of it, healthier and happier. I know it's hard to believe -- I always have trouble believing it myself -- but I know it's true. If it helps at all, there's at least one person out there in internet land who believes that you'll make it through all this and feel more connected to people and more happy. Take really good care of yourself and you'll get there.
posted by zahava at 5:05 PM on November 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

how do you deal with persistent impermanence

By accepting impermanence.

No one is really permanent. Even if you do find someone, you could be separated by things other than choice. It's okay to crave some consistency in relationships but do these have to be just defined by family and friends? I am sure there are a lot of people who are not blessed with these to begin with. Maybe sharing your time with them will be of mutual benefit?
posted by xm at 5:25 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am pretty much going through the same thing right now. I split up with my fiance a few months ago (someone I met after YEARS of dating disasters, so the demise of this relationship feels like an especially big failure). Somewhat concurrent with that, several of my friends are not quite as available as they used to be, due to children, new jobs, etc.

One thing that is helping me tremendously is being involved in a women's support group that meets weekly. I can't say it's for everyone, but as someone who tends to isolate after something like a breakup happens, I realized I really do need to be around other people who, on some level, "get" what I'm going through because they're going through the same things themselves. Honestly, I have found it more useful than individual therapy, but that's just me (although I do that too).

Also, I have made a point to be almost a little too busy lately: joined a yoga class, joined two volunteer organizations, signed up for a couple of meetup.com interest groups, joined a book club, etc. etc. I'm actually starting to make a couple new friends through these connections, and that is exciting.

Anyway, good luck, and don't be too hard on yourself.
posted by medeine at 5:29 PM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Being in a relationship with a good person is a wonderful thing. But it's not everything. Whether you're in a relationship or not, the hours and weeks and months of your life are ticking by and a day that's ended is gone for good. So, are you letting those days slip through your fingers while you wait and hope that you'll meet "the one" and suddenly everything will be worthwhile, maybe even golden? Or are you pursuing your own interests, seeking out new experiences, challenging yourself, growing, taking risks and finding something to enjoy and smile about most days? Either way, this is your life, the only one you get. The lasting relationship may happen, it may not but I think your chances for it are better if you're really focused on living your own life to the fullest.

You sound to me like someone who would really benefit from a short course of therapy with someone who can help you get a handle on this pain you're so clearly feeling, and maybe help you see if there are any patterns in your relationship history that have you making the same mistake over and over. I'm not saying you're to blame for your troubles, just that a compassionate objective observer may be able to help you see things more clearly, and make some sense of the past.

In any case, your life has meaning whether you're in a relationship or not. But it's up to you to make it meaningful. The easy thing to do is sit at home and wallow in the sadness and loneliness. (what's that I hear .. tick, tick, tick, there goes another couple of months, oh look, it's been 2 years now, tick tick). Or you can decide that today, you're going to join a running group, adopt a dog from the shelter, plan a dinner party and tell each of the invited guests to bring a friend, volunteer at the senior center, work at the soup kitchen one night a week, go to a concert or a play or to hear a band in a pub, buy a dozen roses and hand them out to people who look like they need a lift, ride a train or a bus to a neighborhood you've never seen, sign up for ski lessons or surf lessons, donate your time for a cause you believe in, call an old friend and make plans to meet some place beautiful for the weekend, WHATEVER. Just do something you enjoy every single day, because that's what life is all about, whether you're in a relationship or not.

Enjoy your life or be miserable. Your choice. Tick tick tick.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:52 PM on November 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Try making a commitment to an organization or group, in addition to individuals. I just went to your profile to see if I could suggest something in line with your interests, and I realized that this break-up must be very, very recent. It looks like you were engaged. With that in mind, please consider the possibility that the numbness is a temporary coping mechanism keeping you from the pain. I found therapy to be a fantastic tool when I went through my last break-up; I suggest trying it for several sessions and seeing if it helps. Best of luck!
posted by studioaudience at 6:24 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I have nothing and no one permanent in my life. The relationships never work out"

You have some limiting beliefs there. Limiting in the sense that they keep you stuck and will keep you stuck. Its completely legitimate to form those beliefs as you believe they are a reflection of your reality- you don't have many friends now and all your relationships ended. But beliefs tend to form your reality more so than reflecting it.

In a recent analysis of many studies about loneliness, the only really effective approach is working with peoples' beliefs about themselves and others.

So your best bet right now is to go out and get some help to help you overcome this difficult time and help you move through your limiting beliefs to ones that are more useful for you.
posted by blueyellow at 6:41 PM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, as you're in England it reminded me of Richard Wiseman and made me think that you might do with reading about how to become a lucky person.
posted by blueyellow at 9:19 PM on November 15, 2010

Community, community, community....you've got to stop thinking about yourself.... I nth volunteering because you join a community of volunteers (which gives you a place to belong, new friends, and a pool of kind decent men) AND you're helping someone less fortunate so you are not just thinking about yourself all the time
posted by bananafish at 10:28 PM on November 15, 2010

I think volunteering or whatever is a necessary part of life's routine, but I'm not sure that using others' misfortune to boost my own mood and feel/be less selfish would work.

I think the Richard Wiseman book is the way to go.
posted by tel3path at 11:33 PM on November 15, 2010

Best answer: Sorry, should have finished that thought. Even if you volunteer in relation to an activity you like, a lot of it involves chores and drudgery.

I'm guessing that this: "I wonder if your numbness and exhaustion is actually happening because you have so many intense feelings, that it's just too much for your body and mind to process all at once." is fairly close to the truth. If you're struggling with basic tasks right now, taking on chores for others is even less likely to be your path to fulfilment (unless there's something you're really drawn to of course, YMMV).

I would do the minimum basic work to get through the day, including at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, and other than that devote yourself to activities you enjoy but which aren't too exciting or demanding. Gently does it.
posted by tel3path at 11:51 PM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

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