How do you stop comparing your status with everyone else?
March 6, 2011 5:37 PM   Subscribe

How to truly accept that it is what it is and stop comparing your life to others?

I'm in my mid 30s, have an incredible career, own my home, and a nice extended family (siblings, nieces and nephews) but have not accomplished what I truly always wanted which is to have a husband and children. The older I get, the harder a pill it is to swallow. I've dated a bunch, using every possible method to meet my match you can think of but have not met him. Yes, I'm picky. Yes, I've had many opportunities that I've passed on...maybe its my fault. I am so burned out on dating. How do I pick myself up by the bootstraps and continue trying even though How do I go on with my life if its going to be like this? How do I face this disappointment every single day going forward? I am so exhausted. In looking at facebook pages of all my classmates from college and high school, it appears that I am literally the last one to be married and have a family of my own. How do I make peace with the fact that my fate may be not what I want it to be? How do I truly find happiness being alone? And how do I stop torturing myself by comparing myself to everyone else I know who is married and has a family?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
I don't want to be facile about this, but have you tried therapy? It's easy for all of us to say, "Quit your stinking thinking" but harder for you to implement it. Working through it, week by week, with a therapist who comes to know you well and your situation well, might be precisely the answer.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:50 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Self esteem on things you're insecure about can't be reasoned into you; you have to wait for it to bloom. What you can learn is positive (accurate) thinking. What hasn't happened for you hasn't happened because it wasn't right for you at that point in time. For whatever reason. Learn to give yourself time and focus on the basics. Nevermind your fb friends. If you want to get married, focus on it as an authentic self directed goal. Deciding to make with peace with the fact that you may not be married depends on why you feel the urge so strongly. Figure why it's irrational for you (and it is because the imperative is dragging you down instead of building something useful in your mind.) As for whether you should settle for not having a husband or not, well that's beyond my pay grade, but what I do know is that people well beyond your age get married all the time and find a way to have or adopt children. Look out for your basic emotional state first before thinking about "oh god Jenny from middle school has done this and that." It doesn't matter. You do. Nobody is going to look out for you like you can.
posted by the mad poster! at 5:50 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I feel like I look at all my friends on facebook and they're all single and going on amazing vacations and have cool nights out, while I'm (happily) married with spawn and I don't really get to go to Thailand to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary. :) Or pop over to the opera on a whim. (Not that I even particularly like opera! It just sounds cool!) So some of it, I am SURE, is confirmation bias -- the people who have things you don't have, or do things you don't do, are the ones who stand out. (Does it help to know all those married people in your feed are going, "Man, anony has the coolest life! She has a gorgeous house and this awesome career and was out at ANOTHER save the whales benefit last night while my kid barfed on me in our rental house."

A good friend of mine, like you, had a satisfying and happy life but had always wanted a family. When she hit 35 with no man in sight, and no desire to settle for a sub-par gent, she realized she did not actually have to be married to have children, and she became a foster parent, fostering-to-adopt, for two beautiful, beautiful children. This isn't the solution for everyone -- foster care can be heartwrenching; her children have had periods when they've been sent back to bio-parents who temporarily get their crap together, then come back to her when it falls apart again, and she is still waiting to adopt them. But good foster parents are BADLY needed, and state support for the foster child (particularly for daycare) gives you a lot of options as a working single parent that you might not have if you had a biological kid.

(And if facebook and/or dating are making you unhappy, it may be time for a break from facebook and/or dating.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:05 PM on March 6, 2011 [12 favorites]

I just want you to know that I met and married a wonderful man, in my late 30s. We now have 2 awesome kids. Don't be too picky, and don't give up.
posted by hollyanderbody at 6:08 PM on March 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Seconding Eyebrows McGee. I am early thirties and married with two small children and watching my single girlfriend's facebook feeds makes me green with envy some days. They travel, spend a small fortune on designer handbags, go out every weekend, still have firm abs, etc etc etc. I fantasize about running away and being like them all the time. But they tell me that they are so jealous that I have everything-great husband, beautiful children, dog and a house in suburbia. So the grass is always greener.

And also, don't make peace with being alone, there is no reason to believe that you are going to end up alone forever. My best friend told me once that my kids would be old enough to babysit her kids at the rate she was going. Fifteen months later, she was married and delivering her first child with a man she said she would never be able to get serious with. Things change fast and when you find the right guy, you'll be all the more grateful you waited until the time was right to marry someone. So pick the things you cannot live without, take chances on the guys who are maybes, and have faith-you have plenty of time.
posted by supercapitalist at 6:38 PM on March 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

These questions percolate up out of the ether on MeFi all the time. Why can't we just accept ourselves and then go with the flow? Why do Facebook and the unrelenting, cruel demands of our peers drive the way we live our lives? This is INSANE.

It sounds to me like you want to produce multiple babies and a family to get more intense social affirmation. If you do this, find a guy, make some babies, and have all these expectations, you're just setting yourself (and your progeny) for unhappiness in the future.

If this isn't true, and you aren't frustrated (only you will know), then connect with what excites you, motivates you, drives you, in every area, and do so in a social way. You might meet a guy with similar interests and get a relationship that reinforces everything positive in your life.

Don't sweat the Facebook crowd. I promise you behind all the huge smiley photos and breathlessly shared accomplishments, there are a million midnight crying jags, everyone alone in their own cell. Breathe in, go for a walk or two, love yourself and relax.
posted by teedee2000 at 6:40 PM on March 6, 2011 [21 favorites]

I'm younger than you, but I really want a family and I figure if I get to a certain age and don't have a partner, I'll just adopt or use a sperm donor to have the kid(s) I want. If I meet a guy after that, awesome. If you definitely want kids, and you have the means (and are willing to be a single parent), it's not an option that goes away, necessarily.
posted by elpea at 6:49 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

If all you wanted was to get married and have kids you'd have them by now.

It doesn't sound like you want to get married and have kids - it sounds like you want to meet someone who is truly compatible with you.

The former tends to result more in general unhappiness and divorce. A lot of people settle for this. You don't sound like you want to settle.

So you don't allow yourself to face disappoint every day of your life - go out there and live life to its fullest. Along the way you will probably find the guy.

I personally find the whole dating scene abhorrent - it's artificial and tells me nothing about the person as a person - I like to find partners through interests/hobbies/work and go from there. I also don't go into those situations thinking about how this would be a great opportunity to meet a great guy - I focus on the interest/hobby/job and see what happens.

Let go and the world will open up to you.
posted by mleigh at 6:54 PM on March 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

I recommend hiding from your Facebook feed the people who's posting make you sad (this is not the same as unfriending, and is reversible) and taking a break from dating.

Fill your time with group activities that interest you and eventually you'll find someone when you're not looking.

And finally, be grateful for what you have - a loving, healthy circle of people is more than many can claim.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:00 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you should talk your feelings out with a therapist. Having strong relationships is an important part of having a healthy life, and it sounds like you're feeling lonely.
posted by anniecat at 7:00 PM on March 6, 2011

I also assure you that all those other people, their lives are not what they look like on Facebook. Their kids are shits, their husbands are unfaithful, they are taking family vacations while accumulating MASSIVE consumer debt, they're secretly in lust with their manicurists, they never have sex, and oh and yeah - they're stealing their children's Ritalin to lose weight and still spend every night sobbing in the shower with a glass or three of Chardonay.

Ok not all of them, but honestly - you are not the only one who is deeply unhappy with the current state of your life. Don't buy the bullshit veneer of happy families. You're comparing yourself to a fairy tale that only comes true for a tiny minority of people.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:07 PM on March 6, 2011 [13 favorites]

If you aren't comfortable with yourself, alone, how can you possibly be comfortable with someone else?

I've known a lot of people who GRABBED THE BRASS RING: spouse, kids, house with two-car garage. Half are now divorced; the others gripe about the kid on drugs or cheating spouse or the underwater mortgage.

They weren't happy with themselves, for one reason or another. (A lot of them, I notice, were trying to work through their childhood issues with their own families.) Some of them got it, on the second or third try: this is who I am, this is the person I am with, I will choose to be happy. Some (like myself) discovered that love-marriage-baby carriage is not the right path for them.

Your happiness starts when you discover what makes you happy. Not what makes you conform to a model of "a wonderful life" that you absorbed when you were a child.
posted by SPrintF at 7:43 PM on March 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Straight up, nobody - male or female - is going to find an attitude of "I'm exhausted and all I want is to check off this box in life because XX other people have done so" attractive.

You are sending out negative signals in your language here, most likely it's reading in your body language, the defeatist attitude you project on your dates, and your belief that your self-esteem is 100% tied to your relationship status. That is highly unattractive. Would you be attracted to a man whose attitude was, "all of my accomplishments as an individual are meaningless because I'm not married" or not?

Put another way: you know that single guy friend who blows his chance with every girl his friends introduce him to by loudly lamenting his single state, then wondering why no girls like "nice guys" like him? You're the female version of this guy. You have all the keys to being a great catch, but you act like you don't believe you are.

YOU ARE A GREAT CATCH. If dating is exhausting, stop. If you want children, have them and worry about marriage later. You don't want a husband so badly that you're willing to marry the wrong person or get pregnant in an effort to force a relationship to become permanent with someone, and that's extremely admirable and mature of you.

But remember, you are now - and will be, forever - so much more than "somebody's wife." That's not the end-all, be-all of existence for a woman, and it breaks my heart whenever I read questions like these because I've been on both sides of the coin emotionally.

And I say this having gotten married at 38. Believe in yourself... believe in love, stop beating yourself up about this and it WILL happen. Have faith, and in good time, the right man will cross your path. Hugs to you on dealing with this frustration, I know it's hard and we all sound flippant; it's so hard to be patient, but try to find the happiness within instead of looking for it outside of you and maybe that'll be the game-changer you've been searching for.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:08 PM on March 6, 2011 [17 favorites]

You're just not being nearly pessimistic enough. You need to spread that negativity around!

No, really, I'm completely serious.

Example: When you're doing your "who's married" survey of everyone from high school, don't forget to factor in "who's divorced," and "who's married to yet another total dick" and "whose life is on hold because she got knocked up at 22," and stuff like that.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:51 PM on March 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Try not to compare your insides to other people's outsides.
posted by colfax at 9:31 PM on March 6, 2011 [37 favorites]

Get off facebook.

There are so many GREAT points made above. Wow.

Eyebrows McGee mentioning confirmation bias and a grass is always greener perception.

Like hollyanderbody, I also met my truly wonderful husband in my very late 30's and our first child is soon to arrive.

mleigh nails it by discussing how worthwhile it is to focus on finding a compatible exceptional partner and the rest will happen. Honestly? I always planned on adopting because I doubted I would find the right guy during my childbearing prime. In essence, I opened myself up to alternatives so I wouldn't screw up the important part - being happy and stable whether married or single.

And everyone talking to you about unhappy marriages + kids and/or divorced parents + kids. Sys Rq, damn funny and damn true.

My favorite point though is SPrintF's about parents working out their childhood family issues on their kids. This is what caused me to wait so damn long. I wasn't going to subject my children what my parents subjected me to and I kept that goal strongly in mind, especially as I navigated my 30's.

Do the self-work. The relationship and the kids will come. Or not. Either way you will be become the best you can be and that will make you feel good about yourself deep inside where it counts.
posted by jbenben at 9:54 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of good answers above. Here are a couple of things that helped readjust my viewpoint:
Why facebook makes you sad
Why are we happy
posted by anadem at 10:08 PM on March 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is exactly why I don't belong to Facebook.

Live to your own needs, accomplish your own accomplishments. Succeed your own success. It sounds facile, but it isn't.
posted by Sphinx at 10:23 PM on March 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

you really need to cut yourself some slack. you are putting a ton of pressure on yourself to get married and have children and the guys you meet and/or date probably sense that from a mile away. i know because i was you a few years ago when i was in my mid-30s. as a number of posters here recommended, working on valuing my life as it is has been one of the things i've been working on with my therapist for years, because like you, i have a great career, a nice house, a nice car, good friends but i had always wanted to get married and i was nowhere near achieving that. and like you, i'd dated a bunch and used a number of methods to meet guys—and like you, it was exhausting. i was over it.

so early last year i finally decided to stop; to cut myself some slack and stop looking, stop dating, and to just enjoy my life as it was. i ended up having a great time and really enjoying myself. and then of course, bam, met my boyfriend (or rather re-met—we'd been friends in h.s. and got together at our 20th h.s. reunion last summer). a couple months after and since, we were talking marriage. if you had told me before that it was going to happen, i would have laughed and scoffed.

BUT, this is not to say that i am one of those smug coupled ppl who are going to sit here and reassure you that you will find the one as soon as you stop looking because i don't actually believe that. i don't know that there is one person out there for everyone. i don't know that you will find someone soon or eventually. i think it's pretty much all a crapshoot. which is why i told you to cut yourself some slack and stop pressuring yourself that this is something that has to happen for you to be happy or content, because it's not. there are different paths to a fulfilling life and yours might not be the one you thought it would. how you go about reframing this is up to you: therapy, if that's something you think might help you, is a great option. as is reconfiguring the how without giving up on the what (i.e.: if you really want a family, it doesn't have to happen in the conventional meet the guy then have the babies order). but the first thing you have to do is to stop pressuring yourself so much.
posted by violetk at 11:54 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

What mleigh said, with one addition:

If you really want to be pregnant with and give birth to your own biological children, you might want to consider switching up the order on that husband-then-children goal. You could meet the perfect match for you twenty years from now, but having children is a bit more time sensitive.

Do some deep introspection about what you want as a second choice if you can't have the husband AND children you've always wanted. Think about how you will feel about it when you're older, at 50, 60, 70 years old. How YOU will feel about it, not how your mother feels or your sister feels or your boss feels. Maybe they are pushing you to have children, or maybe you aren't considering all your options because you are worried what other people will think. Those other people will carry on with life much the same no matter what you decide.

Your question reads like you've never considered the idea of having children without the husband part, but surely you are aware that it is possible -- it's not even all that unusual these days. Drag that out into the light and examine it, you'll feel better once you have made a considered choice on this.
posted by yohko at 1:33 AM on March 7, 2011

In looking at facebook pages of all my classmates from college and high school,

There are good answers, anecdotal and otherwise, upthread (another -- me, mid-thirties divorce followed by great relationship, great baby, great job--all after 38 and the job after 40), but re. this -- don't do this.

People present the most shining moments of their lives on Facebook. They're at art galleries, they're out to dinner, they're on the beach, their relationships shimmer with perfection. It's a total load of crap. These are ads for the self and deserve at least as much skepticism as if they were selling toothpaste.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:13 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

facebook antidote
posted by flabdablet at 3:15 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Look, of course people are going to put the best bits of their lives on Facebook. Sometimes it's because they intend to misrepresent or show off. But most of the time it's because that's what you do, especially in such a public medium. If it were a good idea to publicize the awful or mundane parts of our lives, there'd be a network for that called Whingebook. So, nthing everybody else - you're just not getting the whole story.

The reason why I joined in the social media thing is because it's a way of counting my blessings - I look back over my posts and see how much I really have to be thankful for. It helps me to feel good. If social media are only helping you to feel bad, disengage for a while. You can always return when you feel better and have more things sorted out. Which in all likelihood you will.
posted by tel3path at 4:03 AM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

"People present the most shining moments of their lives on Facebook."

I've mentioned this before, but the person in my newsfeed who posts the MOST stuff about how her kids are perfect and her husband is awesome and her life is super-cool and she's so blessed is (now) four months sober. She is not posting these thing to brag to you. She is posting them because she needs to believe them, because she needs to know that she has things worth staying sober for. And she needs a community that reinforces that to her, that her husband and kids and life ARE worth staying sober.

Another of my friends who posts constantly about the awesomeness of parenting and her kid is a little unsure about being a parent, but desperately afraid someone will find that out about her, and she's reminding herself that it's awesome so she doesn't freak out. Other people are just people whom I call "performative," who have to live their whole lives as if they're on stage or being profiled for a national magazine and so only show off the nice bits.

I don't buy that everyone who posts happy shit on facebook is sobbing into their wine glass every night, but there's certainly a subset of people who are making very deliberate choices to present themselves in a certain way because other parts of their lives are hard to face.

While everyone gets a little sappy now and then, most people (in my neck of the woods, anyway) who feel pretty secure in themselves (kids or not, married or not) will poke a little fun at themselves now and then -- some home disaster, some awful date, some kid catastrophe, etc. The people who NEVER post like that (in my neck of the woods where gentle self-mockery is common) are either living performative lives or there is some desperate unsureness underlying their lives. (And a very small cadre of religious people who only post upbeat, positive, nice things, I guess as part of a commitment to only use speech in positive ways. Which I find frankly frakking annoying, but I bite my tongue.)

So if they really DO do nothing but post about their super-perfect life, think of my friend who is (yay!) four months sober and consider why they might NEED to post that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:42 AM on March 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

For what it's worth, I'm 26 and all the relationships in my peer group seem to revolve around teh fact that one person in the marriage needs the other. As in financially, or because if emotional immaturity, or because they didn't know what to do so marriage carriage gave them a direction while they were faltering underemployed and in debt. This is not what lasting relationships are built on. I think you are better positioned for a lasting relationship since you wont get stuck in some soul sucker / provider dichotomy of a relationship.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:00 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

And consider another aspect of this... I read a forum discussion which was all about how incredibly angry the posters were with fashion/decor bloggers. They were saying things like "who are these people to show their perfect lives" and "what makes them think anyone wants to know what they wore today?"

Well, the latter question, I guess the web stats and enthusiastic "love your outfit" comments and, generally, the fact that people show interest, is what makes them think people are interested.

As for the perfect life: one blogger got really upset and said, "look! here's a picture of the dirty dishes in my sink!" to prove that she wasn't pretending to have a perfect life.

I do hope this doesn't become a trend, because if I wanted to look at dirty dishes, I'd look at my own sink. If I wanted to look at something creative/stylish/fun, I'd look at some bloggers' sewing projects and daily outfit photos.

I don't need to see the dirty dishes to know they're there. Everybody eats off dishes. And just because someone shows me their outfit instead of their dishes doesn't necessarily mean they're being phony. It might just mean there are things they have no interest in posting about.

The human condition afflicts everybody. And I'm sure you know that marriage has its disadvantages, child-rearing has its disadvantages, and so on, and you still want them, and other people have them, and you don't have them yet. I know that hurts.

If you're burned out on what you're doing AND it's not working, all I can suggest is that you take some time off and then try doing something different. I don't know what, but maybe different actions will get you different results.
posted by tel3path at 9:16 AM on March 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

Loss and disappointment are an inevitable part of life. Things don't always work out the way we wish. There is no one path. The way you confront what life hands you is a test of your character.
posted by yarly at 1:24 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Because, if "It is what it is..." carries an implied "... as bad as that is", then you're making yourself ignore all the positive things you wrote about in the very first sentence below the fold. Don't do that! Look instead at your life as your life, and all of the good things in it, and "if I can do/have/create all that, I can do/have/create anything I want". In other words, an attitude of gratitude.
You don't have the partner you want - yet. Someone who appears to have that sorted may not have the incredible career, or own a home. Your life is the one you've got, and it sounds like a pretty darn wonderful, solid base on which to build. Focus on what's good about it. How to face that disappointment every day? Just don't. Face appreciation every day. How can that not make you smile?
How to find happiness in being alone? What if you rephrased the question as "how to find happiness while being alone?" Maybe that's what you need to learn. We can't be a good partner to someone, or even let them be good partner to us, until we learn to partner ourselves.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 6:33 PM on March 7, 2011

Believe in yourself... believe in love, stop beating yourself up about this and it WILL happen. Have faith, and in good time, the right man will cross your path. Hugs to you on dealing with this frustration, I know it's hard and we all sound flippant; it's so hard to be patient, but try to find the happiness within instead of looking for it outside of you and maybe that'll be the game-changer you've been searching for.

Guess I'm a bit late - just came across this thread and wanted to add my $0.02. Speaking as someone who has gone through the same thing as you anon, I can say that Unicorn nailed it dead-on. Yeah it's hard sometimes, but there's more to life than searching for a significant other. If you're burned out, then take a break and use the time to do something for yourself. Look for fulfillment in other things - get more involved with your friends and family, take up a cause, go travel - whatever makes YOU happy.

And if all those Facebook updates are getting to you, then don't read them (hiding them from your news feed is a good idea). You could also try adding more single friends on Facebook. If you don't have that many friends who are single, then go out and find some - having other single friends to relate to can make things so much easier. If you need specific ideas on where to meet them, there are plenty of MeFi threads out there with suggestions.
posted by photo guy at 9:08 PM on March 12, 2011

Where you live and where you're from - rural or urban - have an enormous, enormous impact on this. I'm mid-30's, unmarried, no kids, but left the small town to move to the big city. Almost all of my friends who stayed in the small town were married with kids ten years ago.

That said, it's time to go ask some friends if you're doing something wrong. If you are, lesson learned, it's time to improve farther. If you aren't, then stop being so down about it.
posted by talldean at 8:08 AM on March 14, 2011

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