The world is full of infinite possibilities - but how do I choose?
February 7, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe

I have a timeline, a rough plan, various ways to get out of financial entanglements, but I need a purpose and I'm spoiled for choice and I need to figure out how to find out who I am and what I want to do (Yes, very much mid-life crisis-ville).

And I need help, both discovering options and prioritizing them.

In late Fall, my already tenuous relationship will be dissolving almost completely as my former partner moves out and we go out separate ways. We will likely remain good friends and possibly lovers, but we will no longer be primary, nor be able to be said to be in a partnership and will be moving to opposite coasts.

Until then, the partnership will have lasted 15-16 years, depending on how you count it, and I put a lot of time and energy into it, and took a lot of identity and purpose from it.

And that's gone already, mostly, and I'm okay with it, mostly, but I need to figure out who and what I am, what I want, and whether I want to try another partnership. (I am absolutely fine with waiting and plan to wait before making a decision like that.)

So my rough plans are:
- Dissolve assets, split them.
- Sell house. Split whatever equity comes from that.
- Work remotely (looks quite likely with my current employer) and live in the SF/Bay Area (which is where I grew up - I currently live in Baltimore)
- See more of my West Coast friends.
- Make something of myself
- Maybe date?

It's making something of myself that bothers me. Without a partner, I'm not quite sure how to do that. As a person in a long term partnership, I knew that my compass pointed toward the erstwhile health of the partnership and pointed toward common goals between us. And some of that translates very well to living singly.

I can still keep learning about slow food and locavorism and general foodieism and becoming a better and better cook, and can do so as well with local friends.

And I'm thinking about branching out too - there are lots of things I've wanted to do but couldn't, mostly due to time constraints and transportation constraints that will be much less of a problem in the Bay Area - Metal, leather and glass working at The Crucible. Possibly studying more traditional Chinese martial and philosophical arts with my teacher (from my time with him in Boston) at Energy Arts. Foodie classes (charcuterie appeals!) in Napa Valley and points north. Maybe, if I decide to date, I could get off my ass and finally learn to dance (ballroom, freestyle, whatever), or I could learn to play, say guitar (I know piano okay) or learn to sing.

And other things appeal:
- I'd like to make some things and sell them on Shapeways.
- I'd like to get into game mod (minecraft?) programming.
- I'd like to make an iOS app.
- I'd like to volunteer.
- I'd like to find and do or help do something kickstarter-worthy.
- I'd like to run a convention.
- I'd like to go back to Aikido.
- I'd like to study Iaido or Kyudo.

Though I really am not enjoying this partnership breakup, the wide and infinite vistas of possibility are certainly beckoning, and I think I'm spoiled for choice.

So, how do I go about finding purpose? One foot in front of the other? Make a list? Try each thing? See if it still appeals?

I am open to all kinds of advice, but in order to try to keep this from becoming ChatFilter, here's my primary question: If you were ever in my shoes, how did you decide what to do next?
posted by kalessin to Human Relations (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So, how do I go about finding purpose? One foot in front of the other? Make a list? Try each thing? See if it still appeals?

Exactly. Test each thing. If you can't decide what to do first, do it arbitrarily, in the order you listed them above. Just make sure you're always doing something and not letting woe freeze you up.
posted by ignignokt at 7:30 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did things.

In particular, I made sure to spend some of my time doing things conducive to contemplation - walking, for example - and as little as possible of my time doing things that drown out thinking, such as watching pointless TV and browsing pointless internet.

I think too much prolonged and detailed planning is a waste of time, because as soon as you step foot into the water the landscape will change somehow - you will change somehow - and your plans will all become irrelevant.
posted by emilyw at 7:32 AM on February 7, 2012

I would look at your list above and think about which things you want to do First. Not that you won't try other things, but which of these items makes your pulse leap a little? In my case I've often chosen two things I thought were complimentary - foodie stuff because I love food, and something with exercise... because I love food (and moving my body, but one of those happens more readily than the other).

The other exercise that I've found useful in these situations is to journal about who I am now and who I'd like to be in 5 years - what I value, what I'll wish I'd have done if I haven't. Your identity is shifting, but you are continuing to be your fundamental self - listen to what makes him happiest.
posted by ldthomps at 7:49 AM on February 7, 2012

It is a bit chatfiltery, but if you're asking about how you find purpose, and not how to triage your time based on your list of activities, the answer might actually be to make some time to do nothing at all.

Try it. Make a date with yourself, once a week, or every MWF afternoon for a month, or whatever, you'll go to the beach or the park or the bridge or close the blinds in your apartment and do nothing at all for an hour, just to see what happens. Don't learn anything, don't make anything, just listen to yourself. If you need to move while doing this, move, but don't force yourself to move (don't say, "I'm going to do this kata", say, "if a kata happens, it happens.")

And then maybe you will feel yourself wanting to do one of those things on your list, or wanting to do something else. Notice that, but don't act on it at first. Let it become persistent or fade away over time.
posted by gauche at 8:18 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

You seem to have exactly the right notions here. You've got a list of things you want to try/do. Do just that. Once you find yourself in the Bay Area you'll find lots of other things you want to do. Staying purposefully single will allow you to let all of those things in and more.

You'll know if and when the time to date is right and you can make up your mind about it when the time comes. Until then just take care of yourself and remember that taking time away from your ex is a good thing. If you REALLY want to remain friends that's fine but there is no reason why you HAVE to remain friends.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:17 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You will be okay.

Really, you will. You have a lot of plans but also allow yourself time to grieve and reflect and take things slow. But mostly, you will be okay. You are about to have a wonderful time; something beyond what you can imagine now. I look forward to your minecraft mods ;)
posted by saucysault at 10:55 AM on February 7, 2012

Thanks all.

I sent an e-mail to a likely looking instructor in the Energy Arts tradition and found out that there's a school in Berkeley I can attend. And I've started having conversations with friends who are interested also in taking classes in the area with me.

But those of you who have said so, yes, I agree that I should take time out for myself too. I do need that time and can stand to hear the message repeated.

Just this morning, taking time to recover from the flight home, I found myself thinking relationship-related stuff that I'd never thought before.

I'll leave this question unmarked for a bit to see if any more advice will come my way.

Thanks again.
posted by kalessin at 11:59 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a small apartment in a beautiful place, with some non-challenging books, a journal, a radio, and a nearby grocery store. Go for walks, look at nature, meditate, make some notes, sleep a lot. Talk to strangers and maybe old friends you haven't talked to in a while.

Mostly just enjoy the world around you, while your mind talks quietly to itself. It has a lot to digest.
posted by ead at 10:18 PM on February 8, 2012

It's making something of myself that bothers me.

You also mentioned you can stand to hear it repeated, so – take time out for yourself :) Take time to sit with your feelings, whatever they are, and observe them. Over time you'll get to know them better, and since they're yours, well, you get to know yourself better. Being single is great for this – you're in a place where you have much less need to take others' feelings into account to an extent where they may replace your own. (Which can be a natural and healthy part of a relationship, but so often we need time to ourselves in order for that empathetic aspect of a relationship to be healthy.) You have the time and space to explore and test things.

For instance, I discovered that I don't gel very well with most martial arts (this surprised me, since I like watching them), nor do I much like dancing (though going to ballets is great!!), but I do love Tai Chi, which is a martial art, but also a gentle workout, and a large part of it involves getting to know your body in space, much more so than karate and tae kwon do courses I've taken. Also taking time to just do things I like, because I like them, for no utility reason whatsoever (because I finally allowed myself that luxury!), drew me back into childhood loves of cycling and sewing. That sort of thing. I also discovered that I really love just sitting on my couch with my cats, and watching them get up to whatever they want :) Exploring rest and relaxation is wonderful when nothing needs to be done in the house. I'd always thought myself an active person, but it turns out that I'm much happier when I can spend time in one place to get to know it. Travels where I went loads of places always left me feeling scattered and wishing I'd been able to spend more time at fewer sights. Since seeing as many sights as possible is "what's done" though, and what people I was with always wanted to do, I thought I was an odd one out until becoming single and doing short trips where I'd stay in one place until I was satisfied... and realized that I absolutely adored it. Turns out I just have a different travel style.

Parallel to all this discovery and rediscovery of things I genuinely enjoy, I realized that my job, which like any job has its boring and hair-rending aspects, is actually pretty cool, even though it's never one I would have planned on consciously. Having personal interests helped me see which aspects of my job fit my personality, and better appreciate aspects of my job that don't... because this very same job, good and less good, allows me the free time, head space, money, and travel opportunities that I can do what I love.

In other words, "making something of yourself" is what happens when you focus on what truly motivates you, and being single is a perfect time to explore that. (Not at all meant as being in a couple wouldn't necessarily, btw – simply that it's not the question here, and when in a couple, everything depends on the type of relationship you have.)
posted by fraula at 1:30 AM on February 9, 2012

Thanks to you all again for your wise and sage advice. I will take all of it and see what I become.
posted by kalessin at 7:17 AM on February 14, 2012

Also I put myself out on OkCupid, looking for friends, and found someone who seems to fit the bill for dating, so we'll see where that goes too.
posted by kalessin at 12:40 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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