Post Quarter Life what?
December 6, 2010 10:08 PM   Subscribe

Is it normal to WANT to be single for a long time or am I [subconsciously] still hurt over a breakup?

8 months I went through a Quarter Life crisis. I woke up one day and told my bf, whom I had been planning a wedding with, that I no longer wanted to marry him, however, I was not ready for a breakup. He, in turn, broke up with me. I was quite devastated, but I think it was simply because I had not been alone for 6 years. I ended up also having a miscarriage at this time, one which he claimed was a lie. Long story short, the bf turned into a complete jerk by spreading lies about our relationship, our money, my reaction to the breakup (he told everyone I requested we remained friends with benefits, which is a total lie), vandalizing my stuff, stealing my stuff, etc. You name it, he did it short of a restraining order. Long story short, I know it was the best thing to happen to me and I know that I got the better end of the deal now. Throughout that time, my guy friends started to make a move on and I lost all trust in guys. One guy actually asked me to be friends with benefits with him 3 days after the breakup. Suffice it to say, I was VERY, VERY repulsed by the male species.

Fast forward to now, where I work 50 hours a week and am on my PhD, I have absolutely no desire to date. I do not have time to date, but I know I am also purposely avoiding situations that could lead to it. For instance, my friends invite me to a dinner party where I know a guy they want me to meet will be I go? No. I come up with some excuse to avoid the situation altogether, stay home, catch up on some reading, and work on my Netflix queue. I don't even have a desire to acquire male friends.

I went to therapy from May - September and I truly felt healed, at least as much as I could for such a short time, but a part of me wonders if my aversion to having any man in my life is normal. I can talk with them, perhaps even engage in social interaction, but as far as being alone with one or even flirting, I find myself nearing a panic attack. I do not think this has anything to do with my ex since, and to be perfectly honest, I am truly happy with my life and job and could not have accomplished all that I have had he still been in my life. However, I am in the thick of things and may not see the forest amidst the trees. I have lost 90% of my friends this year because of the breakup and do not miss any of them, but I feel like it may not be so healthy to be this comfortable as a homebody and introvert. I do not know if this is to do with the miscarriage, the breakup, the loss of friends, or all combined. But I thought after 8 months, I would be perfectly ok in social situations and I find myself far more comfortable and happy at home...and alone.

Has anyone ever experienced such a phase? I promised myself I would not date for a year just to give myself a break, but I now I feel like I would be more than happy in extending that just so I could continue to feel..."safe." Is this normal?
posted by penguingrl to Human Relations (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is it normal to WANT to be single for a long time or am I [subconsciously] still hurt over a breakup?

Yes to the first, probably yes to the second. But there's nothing wrong with that! Do what you feel like doing right now; if you decide later that it's causing you problems, you can address it then. There's no rush and no timetable.
posted by asterix at 10:14 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Time, time, time. I went through something similar and it's the only thing that helps, aside from maybe having purely platonic male friendships just so you know all men aren't shits. It's easy to think that way if you've been burnt. You will get past it, I promise. I'm happily married now so I can vouch for it.
posted by Jubey at 10:17 PM on December 6, 2010

Well if you're happy, you're happy.

Do you have children as a goal? That's the most time sensitive thing and depending on your age might require you to find a suitable partner or make other plans.

Otherwise dating can probably wait until you have the time, energy, and desire.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:18 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

@ the young rope-rider, that is the whole perspective in life has changed. before, I wanted to get married and have kids and now, those are the furthest thing from my mind. I want to finish my PhD, travel, gain more work experience, and basically, live and see the world. I've already accepted that if I wanted children, I could always go the adoption route myself someday and not have to deal with another person being the parent and worrying if I am on the same page as him on discipline, morals, educations, etc. Not to mention NOT having to deal with in-laws meddling, etc. Basically, I feel like I really don't need someone in my life, nor do I want someone. And I am not quite sure if that is healthy or if I am just used to being brainwashed by societal standards.
posted by penguingrl at 10:22 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it's fine. Don't worry. "Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. " -Schmich
posted by aniola at 10:28 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should take as much time as you like to resolve how you feel about relationships... and if it takes the rest of your life? So be it.

I think this is an excellent window of time for you to measure "societal standards" against your own. If you're happy with a life that seems to conflict with "societal standards" as you understand them... then so much the worse for societal standards.
posted by micketymoc at 10:34 PM on December 6, 2010

I don't think it's that odd not to want to be dating, but you say things like this
but as far as being alone with [a man] or even flirting, I find myself nearing a panic attack
which sounds like you're still responding to being hurt.

On the third hand, 8 months after what sounds like a really terrible breakup is not that long. Give yourself permission to be single for as long as you like. Maybe that's just how you're happiest, despite our acculturation to the idea we're only happy when in love. Or maybe some day you'll realize you want to start dating again, and you can take it from there. As asterix says, there's no timetable.

If you're still seeing the therapist, though, I would bring up your aversion to even friendly social settings. IMHO there's a difference between being comfortable and content as a homebody, and reacting to social situations with panic and avoidance.
posted by hattifattener at 10:38 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let's say you're 25, you were in this relationship for 6 years, you started dating this person when you were 19? You're a single person for the first time in your adult life. 8 months is not a long time to be on your own.

"Basically, I feel like I really don't need someone in my life, nor do I want someone. And I am not quite sure if that is healthy or if I am just used to being brainwashed by societal standards."

I think you ARE brainwashed to think that it's unhealthy to be alone for any amount of tim, even for a normal post-traumatic-breakup period. You're happy and young and have lots of great ideas. I don't see a problem here at all. You'll meet another guy when the time is right. There is really no hurry.
posted by amethysts at 10:38 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Totally normal. In fact, all kinds of relationships can be pretty messy and I have a hard time looking back and figuring out where I found all the time and energy I devoted to friend-drama and romance-drama back in the day!!

You know what helped me? Learning to re-calibrate the relationships I do engage in, learning to have the right quantity and quality and keeping them at the intensity level (usually upbeat & casual) that feels good to me now.

Balance is something you could think about. Also, boundary setting and maintenance. It's less scary out there interacting with folks when you have a few easy phrases and gestures to keep things friendly, polite, and yet on your terms.

PS. When you meet the right guy, you won't feel widgey. If someone makes you feel widgey, especially when you know they like you, that's probably your intuition telling you this person isn't right for you. He may be nice as an acquaintance or whatever, but probably not to date. You've had some intense past relationship experience and I bet you are farther ahead on the curve in this department than most folks your age. It's no fun dating someone and leading them on when you can "tell" it won't work out long-term, so don't bother if you're not feeling it!
posted by jbenben at 10:42 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can't tell, because I don't know you except from your post, but. I can imagine that maybe you're doing this in a reactionary fashion ("OMG I will NEVER let anyone into my heart ever AGAIN! I am a rock! I am an IIIISSLAND! because a rock feels no pain and islands never cry") but I can also imagine you might just be flat too busy to date, revelling in your solitude and enjoying your independence.

Your personal pendulum might swing back a ways, eventually. And indeed you might find yourself having a good lonely isolated agony-weep complete with regrets that you didn't seek out those dinner party setups. But - maybe not. I know people who've been through all sorts of epiphanies, who ended up with different kinds of relationships and families. There's nothing wrong with being an independent person.

I also know that the degree of singlemindedness required to finish a PhD is actually both unhealthy and abnormal but I don't see you worrying about that. So - get back to work. (Kidding. Except maybe not.)
posted by gingerest at 10:44 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's OK to want to be single Liz Lemon. I think the most telling part of your post is the last line though. ...Be more than happy in extending that just so I could continue to feel..."safe." Is this normal?

It's totally normal for someone who's been hurt to not want to put themselves back into a situation where they got hurt. However, if you're doing it just for that reason you could be missing out on something.

Ultimately, it's really up to you. If you care then it matters. If you don't care then it doesn't matter. You decide when you wake up if you want to have a good day, a bad day, be single, go on a first date, climb a mountain, immerse yourself in work.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:49 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

my whole perspective in life has changed

Actually this jumped out at me in your original post also. It sounds like you've had a pretty sweeping change of outlook. Do you know why? Is this something that's always been in the back of your head, and marriage and miscarriage forced you to look at it and choose; or is it something that a younger you would be surprised and dismayed by? Sudden personality change, as they say, can be a sign of various illnesses.

I feel like I really don't need someone in my life, nor do I want someone. And I am not quite sure if that is healthy

I think that's perfectly healthy, to be honest. "Quarter-life crisis" suggests you're, what, in your mid to late twenties? So you'd been dating this guy, and feeling like you had to conform to that particular relationship, since you were 20? And now you discover you want to live your own life by your own terms? Go for it.
posted by hattifattener at 10:49 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

@hattifattener, prior to dating the guy, I never wanted to be married or have kids. We dated, I changed my perspective because he wanted all of that and I felt comfortable to want it with him and then I woke up one day and realized I didn't want any of it with him. The miscarriage was difficult for me to accept because I felt...relieved. I am extremely guilty for having such a feeling, especially since I love children and do want them someday, but I am so unbelievably grateful that I will not be tied to him for life via child.
posted by penguingrl at 10:56 PM on December 6, 2010

Heh, okay, my inner armchair internet psychologist is satisfied, then.
posted by hattifattener at 11:09 PM on December 6, 2010

From a narrative perspective, you're in a different story now. Of course you don't want to incorporate threads of the old one into this new, safe one you've been working on (PhD, travel, independence, etc.)...look at how you know that other one to end.

It's ok. You'll work back in those former elements when you want to and how you want to. And you'll adjust the story as necessary to make it all fit. It's yours to write.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:58 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've been where you are. I had a hideous breakup with a long-term boyfriend (we were engaged, too) just before starting my PhD, and stayed single for the next four years. And it was great, and I don't at all regret it

In my case, the awful breakup was one reason for wanting to stay single, but it wasn't the only one, and after a while it wasn't the main one, and before too long it wasn't even a significant reason at all. I just liked the reality of being single better than I liked the idea of being in a relationship. I don't know if it was 'normal' as in common for my demographic (I remember a lot of frustrating conversations with friends about that, and it was both surprising and annoying how many people assumed that I couldn't possibly want to be single just because I liked it), but it was right and healthy for me at the time.

It sounds like it's right and healthy for you, too. You've had a huge upheaval to your life, and you're rearranging all the ingredients of who you are and what you want into something that suits you. You don't need to worry about how it develops or how it plays out in the future, or how long you'll stay jittery at the idea of someone flirting with you, or any of that - you only need to think about whether this is good for you now. If it is (and it sounds like it is), that's fine. Any future developments will happen because there comes a point at which *that's* what you want from your life at that point, not because you're trying to keep up with someone else's arbitrary schedule.
posted by Catseye at 2:03 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to take another tack and say "let's suppose that maybe you're right, and you really are still avoiding dating". Well...that's still a reason to avoid it for now, because regardless of the reason WHY it's not working for you, it's not working for you. And trying to force yourself into a dating situation because you feel like you "should be" ready will just end badly for everyone.

Everyone so far has given you great advice, but it sounds to me like you've still got a corner in your brain that's saying "but what about this, though," a corner that still think that you should be "getting yourself out there". And that's the corner of the brain that may have needed to hear, "well, it's not going to work anyway right now because I'm not ready yet."

I also agree that only 8 months after a major breakup like that is a heartbeat. I've still got hangovers of a breakup that happened two years ago.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:42 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

your profile says you are 30. I'm pretty sure I was 'mostly' single for 2-3 years around then. before meeting someone interesting. I don't think staying single for more than 8 months is weird at all.

I think the need to be constantly part of a couple is weird.
posted by mary8nne at 6:16 AM on December 7, 2010

I think something in you is screaming that you have to go back to therapy. I looked at your earlier posts and there's a lot going on back there and a lot of different prespectives from you on the same events described here.

This says that there's a lot going on there. You have "daddy issues" and have either cut off or been cut off from a lot of friends.

This is all a lot of chaos for you and I wonder what caused you to leave therapy so quickly. I suggest you go back to it for the long haul.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:28 AM on December 7, 2010

I've heard that as a rule of thumb it takes half as long again to get over a relationship, so if you were together for six years, it's quite normal to take three years to "get over it." When I was in college I once dated this guy for six weeks, had an incredibly messy breakup where I found out he was a giant liar and a horrible person, and didn't date again for OVER TWO YEARS. (In college! Prime dating time!) At first I needed time away to deal with the fallout and stop second-guessing myself and my obviously horrible decision-making; after a while I just got to like not dealing with all the dating crap and being by myself. A while after that I went on a few casual dates when I happened to feel like it. And a while after that, I met my eventual husband. But if you're happy being single (I was thrilled and delighted!), I don't see why it's a problem to be single. I loved it. It was very stress-free.

"I've already accepted that if I wanted children, I could always go the adoption route myself someday and not have to deal with another person being the parent and worrying if I am on the same page as him on discipline, morals, educations, etc. Not to mention NOT having to deal with in-laws meddling, etc."

I just wanted to point out that this sounds like your relationship may not have been very healthy, and/or you may not have had very healthy relationship models. This isn't how parenting with a partner HAS to be. But, again, there is no rule that says you Must Be Partnered or Marriage Is Better or Everyone Should Be In a Twosome. I have friends who are very happy single-parents-by-choice, typically of foster or adopted children, and it's a wonderful thing to do!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:35 AM on December 7, 2010

8 months is not long at all. You are perfectly justified in not wanting a relationship right now. You don't *have* to be in a relationship. There is nothing inherently wrong with being single. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be single either - especially after all you went through!.

Think of this as your time to heal, re-start in some ways. Use this time to figure out how to be happy on your own. When you feel like you are perfectly content with being on your own, when you've figured out how to be happy with yourself - then that's the perfect time to meet someone else.

And explain to your friends that you just don't want to get involved right now and that even if you were to meet Mr. Right at this time, it would not work out. Period. And that if they want to see you, they have to understand that you DO NOT want to be set up with someone right now.

I'd had a horrible experience with a relationship and it took me years to re-cover (I was very young, didn't know what I wanted out of life, had other issues, etc. Not the case with you). Fast forward, I'm with the love of my life now (and he had his fair share of heartache too). Although we'd been living in the same city, going out to the same places for several years, we agree that had we met earlier, we either wouldn't have given each other the time of day or it just would have de-railed really badly. Whereas when we did meet, we were both very happy with our lives. We both thought that meeting someone would be nice, but it's was very far from being a priority.

That being said (as in you are normal, justified, and wise to want to be single now), I'd recommend you start working on your trust issues with men. You need to have it your head that just because your horrible ex was absolutely not trustworthy, and your former guy friends were complete douches - all of which were unworthy of your trust - does not mean that all men cannot be trusted. There are plenty of people of all genders that are trustworthy.
I recommend you start making friends first, before you start dating. It's safer and easier. Join a running group, or book club, or some sort of class or hobby where you can meet new people. And yes, you are busy, but confining yourself to your home alone will not help. If you get too used to it, social situations will just become more challenging. Your goal should be to become a stronger you, not one a turtle retreating to its shell. So get yourself out there. Challenge yourself! Don't let those dreadful people make you into a lonely turtle.
posted by Neekee at 9:48 AM on December 7, 2010

Well, if you look at my posting history you can see that I've wrestled with similar feelings. First of all I'm a guy if that matters to you—I don't think it's relevant in terms of the general feelings you're having, although it sounds clear to me you had some experiences that have put you off dating which are uniquely about how lame some guys can be at times. And I didn't have a terrible breakup, but regardless I came out of the relationship feeling pretty hurt. That has diminished somewhat but has not gone away.

I can't tell how lonely you are; you say you are "far more comfortable and happy at home...and alone." Do you not get lonely then? And you say, you are "truly happy with my life and job..."

If these things are true I really don't see what the problem is. I wonder why you're asking this question—do you want us to validate your current existence? If so, consider it's fine to be alone, and be happy.

But, if you're at all like me, there is a part of you that is just trying to protect yourself, there is a part of you that is avoiding reaching out and building relationships, and on some level you do feel alone. Where you say at the end of your question 'now I feel like I would be more than happy in extending that just so I could continue to feel..."safe."' Suggests that all may not be as rosy as it seems for you. What is the reality of your feelings? Of course they can change day to day, and if you're like me or most humans I'm sure they do.

I know what it's like to feel as though you are opposed to pressures from society regarding marriage, children, etc. As I've said in numerous other comments, I think it's probably even heavier for women than men, guys get a fair amount of leeway. But regardless I think I can state that while how you feel may not be "normal" in the "normative" sense, it's certainly normal in the most basic human sense. I've been separated a year and a half now, and I still feel pretty ambivalent about relationships. I'm not sure when I'm going to be ready to get back into a relationship, if ever. But one thing that is true is that I'm more aware of my feelings now, and willing to be honest with myself. I know that I miss companionship and touch. I know that when I reject the potential for these things, I'm doing it because I'm not ready yet, and I am scared, and want to feel safe, just like you described. But I also know that part of it is me taking the time to figure out how I want to live my life, who I want to be a part of that life, what I am willing to compromise on, and what I am not willing to compromise on.

It sounds to me like you are perfectly healthy, but still in a "reactive" phase. I say that because it sounds so familiar to me, and it sounds just like how I've been. I don't think you need to rush it or feel like you are doing anything wrong: in fact, it sounds really healthy to me on some level. However, I would caution you not to trick yourself or lie to yourself. Please, be honest with yourself about how you are feeling; the alternative is to eventually become a bitter, unhappy soul.

It sounds like this (honest I mean, not bitter) is the sort of person you are anyways—your comment about the miscarriage is telling, it's brutally honest from my perspective (and for the record not something I think you should feel bad about)—and asking this question suggests that as well.

Best wishes!
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 9:58 AM on December 7, 2010

Basically, I feel like I really don't need someone in my life, nor do I want someone. And I am not quite sure if that is healthy or if I am just used to being brainwashed by societal standards.

It's absolutely healthy for some people, for their whole lives.

And it's absolutely healthy for many, perhaps most, people at some stage(s) in their lives. You have lots of stuff you want to do and focus on right now; it makes sense that that might take priority over relationships for you right now.

Let me ask you a question--if someone exactly like you, except that they were a man, told you what you told us, what would you say? It's an interesting thought experiment, isn't it?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:16 AM on December 7, 2010

Also, I want to add something I didn't specifically address, although other posters is unhealthy to live the rest of your life not trusting men as far as you can throw them. Despite the faults particular to our kind, we are just human, and have all the range of trustworthiness that all humans do. That's all there is to it.

As long as you have this feeling, you will not be able to engage fully with life—and it will color your relationships with other females as well, I expect. Do try to work through that, for your own sake.
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 10:19 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Completely normal not to want to be in a relationship. After a five and a half year relationship ended, I didn't date at all for about four years and I didn't get into another serious relationship (my current one) for about six and a half years. I had other things I wanted to deal with in my life. So do you.

I always told my well-meaning friends who worried about me (OMG! I was over 30 with no prospects!) that if I met the right person and we did get serious, fine. But I could also end up as the crazy dog lady at the end of the block and I would be fine with that too. It always horrified some of my friends when I said that. But you know what? It's true.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:34 AM on December 7, 2010

What you're going through is normal. Eventually you will feel the time is right to be in another relationship. It doesn't matter whether it comes in six more weeks or six more years. You've been through a lot. You've lost a six-year relationship and he betrayed you terribly at the end. And miscarriages are very traumatic. I'm sorry for your losses, and you have every right to take as much time to grieve them as you need.

Everyone has those well-meaning friends for whom the answer of how to get over someone is to get under someone else, but they are not you and can't make your decisions for you. Be good and gentle to yourself and go with your gut on this one.
posted by xenophile at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2010

you're doing all the right things for yourself right now. The only mistake you could make is in not listening to yourself.

I think one of the best ways to avoid future bad relationships, and to land (when you want to) in a healthy happy relationship, is to learn that you love being alone.

That way, you'll know what being alone is better than (and it's better than a lot of things) and when--or if--you meet someone who being with is better than being alone, he'll shine and you'll KNOW.

(I met my husband after a couple years of living alone and loving it, and not feeling a need for a change. I married him eight years after meeting him)
posted by smoakes at 2:35 PM on December 7, 2010

I could also end up as the crazy dog lady at the end of the block

I doubt the commenter intended it as such, but that's a pretty hurtful stereotype right there. If you've internalized phrases like this one, no wonder you're doubting that it's okay to be single for as long as you like.

And with grad school and some recent emotional turbulence, it's no surprise you aren't in a big hurry to get involved with anyone.
posted by tangerine at 9:43 PM on December 7, 2010

Oh man, reading the drama questions about the breakup makes ME want to be single for a long time. That, combined with your statement that you used to be more like you are now and that the time with him was anomalous, makes me think that your singlehood is really good. Time when you're single is also a good time to figure yourself out, if any figuring needs done. From what little I know, I wholeheartedly support your single status.
posted by salvia at 12:50 AM on December 8, 2010

I don't understand how it's weird to be single. 8 months is like nothing, especially if you're coming out of a relationship. For me personally, I don't like to get into relationships for the hell of it. If I make a sincere connection with someone, then I take it from there. And that could take years. Your situation isn't weird at all. Congratulations on getting your priorities straight.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:01 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

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