how do you share your life when you're not sure where you're going?
June 20, 2012 6:07 PM   Subscribe

How do you share your life with someone else when you're not sure where you're going?

I put the whole love life thing on the side until I knew where I'm going. In my forties, I've overdone it (yeah, I'm late ) and I'd like to try and have love too. I don't know how to do this without losing sight of myself (I'm introverted, and being around other people makes it harder for me to know what I want). BTW I'm a woman.

mefites (especially women. especially introverts) who have grown and changed AND had a love life at the same time, how did you do it? Is there something I should look for in a partner (or stay away from)? Do you have tips how to stay on track with moving my life ahead when in a relationship?

(asking anonymously, because I feel pretty exposed. opened a throw-away address though:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Here's the thing: you don't "stay on track" when you decide to share your life with someone and make them your long term partner. You change your track for them, as they do for you. You have to be open to shifting your priorities, goals, values and dreams to incorporate theirs (as they do with you). Part of having a successful relationship is sublimating some of your individual goals to those of the relationship and of your partner. You will be changed by them, and they by you.
posted by amaire at 6:22 PM on June 20, 2012 [23 favorites]

I am a woman and an introvert. Look for being able to talk to someone. Stay away from people who make you feel uncomfortable or seem to want very different things from you. Those are the only bits of advice I feel like I can give, not knowing better the particulars of what partnering up means to you.

Please think about adding more info, despite feeling exposed (which makes sense)! I feel like it will get you more specific answers.
posted by kettleoffish at 6:37 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

The psychologist Bonnie Jacobson wrote a book which helped me (shy male) when I was navigating my first long-term relationship in my early 30's. I think it is either called Shy and Single or The Shy Single but it's the same book. Another book which is often recommend here for singles, not necessarily shy ones in particular, is Intimate Connections by David Burns.
posted by AuroraSky at 6:47 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check out Codependents Anonymous.
posted by Wordwoman at 7:26 PM on June 20, 2012

In my journey about learning more about relationships, this is what i've realized: first, how is your relationship to yourself? Relationships are about bringing yourself into relationship with another person. A good relationship is one where can see yourself through your partner's eyes. You are seen, heard, and validated and you provide the same for your partner.

If you want a healthy relationship, be healthy yourself. Know who you are, know what you want, and get some relationship skills (e.g. Know how to communicate, know your needs and boundaries, etc.).

How to not lose sight of yourself: well how does this happen now? Work on not losing yourself in the situations where you find that happening.

What to look for in a partner: someone who treats you well, and is emotionally available. What to avoid: see the blog

And finding a good relationship IS moving your life ahead.
posted by foxjacket at 8:29 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you are growing and changing part of that might be relationships coming to an end because you're changing. So perhaps be open to that and accepting of it (while not looking for the end).
My perspective is of someone who's long marriage came to an end about 6 years ago so not exactly the same. But for me it helps to feel that people almost come into my life for a reason. And that their roles change as I change - one who helped me by being a lover now adds to my life as a friend, a "go to to moan" friend is now more of a professional mentor and so on...
posted by sianifach at 11:24 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two things.

Remember that no matter how unique a person seems, there are many others.

Second, before you start, have a very honest talk with yourself about what matters most to you. In life, in a partner, in yourself. Be selfish and honest. Don't tell yourself things that flatter yourself. Make a list. The most important things. Be thorough and crude. Then later, as you start each relationship, listen to the voice that speaks to you quietly of your doubts. Some doubts are harmless, or tolerable. Some not. If you are doubting the presence and vitality of those most important things to you, in the context of this relationship, then this is not the right person. Move on. You would be losing parts of you that matter too much.

(You will always lose some parts; the trick is to lose only the parts you don't mind losing.)
posted by ead at 12:21 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

How do you share your life with someone else when you're not sure where you're going?

My grandfather used to say – at 75 – I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Immediately following that was if you want to make god laugh, tell him your plans. Point being that nobody knows where they're going. People have ideas of where they would like to end up but that's not the same as knowing where they are going.

Looking around the world today – especially Southern Europe and in the United States – many people who thought they were approaching retirement are, in fact, not. They knew where they were going five years ago. Where they have ended up, in many cases, was not even on the radar. They knew they were going to retire and were more concerned about staving off boredom than considering another ten years scrapping together livelihoods.

Young people in those countries knew they were going to graduate and enter the workforce. They were having fun in college, living with abandon, because after college, one goes to work for the next fifty years. Only now, there are no jobs for them, thus they have another swath of free time. Now, they know that their futures are dimmer simply due to bad timing. What will they know in ten years?

Similarly, ten years, people in China knew where they were going. The same place they went the day before, whether that was a factory or a farm. They had 'careers' for life, simply out of lack of options and they knew that if they were a farmer then, they would be a farmer now. Today, many are in cities, job-hopping every eighteen months making salaries they could not even consider. They know they will never go back to the farm or the factory.

In this first point, I would say stop being concerned with where you are going. You seem to be positing that it is difficult to share your life because you do not know what the future holds. In that sense, I do not see that you have a relationship problem, but rather an expectation problem in terms of your own life. There is not going to be a destination, where you arrive and you're ready for the next step. Thus, perhaps part of your love problem is really a problem of how you view your life journey. And it's actually not a problem. You already have the right answer.

The real question is Being that no one is sure where they're going, how do you share your life with someone?. And the extension of that is the real question being how do you share your life with someone else. And while that difference is subtle, it is essential, for in the previous question, you are saying that the problem is sharing your life in the face of uncertainty. The implication being that if you could solve the uncertainty, it would help you in sharing your life. But that is fallacious, for you will never solve the uncertainty. Thus, if what you're after is sharing your life, that is your query. Where you are is completely irrelevant. The solution will be much easier to find when you remove life direction from the equation. That may well be another concern of yours, but in this endeavour, conflating the two will not help. So you are where you are in life, and the real question is how do you share your life with someone.

I put the whole love life thing on the side until I knew where I'm going. In my forties, I've overdone it (yeah, I'm late ) and I'd like to try and have love too. I don't know how to do this without losing sight of myself (I'm introverted, and being around other people makes it harder for me to know what I want).

The first relationship that needs fixing is the one with yourself. The statements you make above are heavily in the negative:
I've overdone it, I'm late, I'd like to try, I don't know how... without losing sight of myself, I'm introverted.

Those statements are standing in your way, because you seem to be conflicted within yourself. I don't know you from Eve, but the way I read those statements is that you are not satisfied, either with where you are in life, or your capabilities to fall in love/be loved, or both. As mentioned, those statements do not serve you.

If you were to change them, it might look like:
I've done a bunch of things that I wanted to do, Now, I'm ready, This wasn't important to me, and now it is., I tend to fall fast and hard so how do I protect myself. (or whatever the appropriate translations are. If you make those statements instead of the other statements, you have the same life around you, but you are changing your attitude and assessment of that life.

As mentioned, I don't think you have a love problem, I think you have a self-acceptance problem. I'll go out on a limb to say that there is some regret present? That you've arrived at a place where you haven't prioritised love, and now you find yourself in a place where you're starting from behind. You cannot start from behind, for there is no race.

I mentioned China before. I have seen men and women who were farmers until their late fifties, who are now thriving in Shanghai, working as professionals and going out to jazz clubs every night, dancing like they're in college. They never considered themselves to be 'behind', rather, they are only looking at what's in front of them.

You may do the same, just look forward. Forget the past and the decisions you made there. Be at peace with them, enjoy them, remember the bright spots. When you look around you today, think about what you want – not from a place of what you haven't had before – from looking around today and saying, I want love, I'm ready to share my life, what does that look like for me?

As long as you are binding your present to your past or your future, it will be very difficult because you cannot change the past nor predict the future, thus the present turns into a tiny sliver bookended between Two Immense Intangibles. If you drop those bookends, the present expands to fill everything. What kind of man or woman do you want to be with? What does your ideal relationship look like? Where do they hang out? Where do you like going, where you feel attracted to people and energised? Where do you find your bliss, where you are completely happy with the way things are right now?

If you readjust your framing of 'where you are in life' so that 'everything is enough', you will start looking for love from a place of authentic sharing and joy. You want to share your life with someone, rather than find someone who fits in the narrow gap between your past and your future. That is very important, for right now, there is no room for someone in your life, as much of your mind seems occupied with where you are going and where you have been! Allow both of those to be, and let your present take over. Find someone's who's company you enjoy in the moment. Then for an hour. Then for a second date. And a third.

Pretty soon, the rest of your life will unfold, now maybe with someone new in it.

Good luck. We live in a world that is so focused on outcomes, it's easy to get trapped in thinking there is a race and we are either ahead or behind. There is no race. You are not late. You're right on time.
posted by nickrussell at 2:01 AM on June 21, 2012 [40 favorites]

No one knows what they want to do next year. You can't predict the twists and turns your life will take. I find it incredibly sad that you thought you had to wait until you "knew where you were going" before finding a companion for your journey.

Don't think of finding your love as someone with whom you can build something with. Think of finding your love as someone you can travel with.

I recommend making a list of the traits and characteristics of a great companion for you. Don't leave anything out. Now imagine that you'll be sharing a 200 sq. ft. hotel room with them for the rest of your life. That should add a few more items to your list.

The test of a great relationship isn't how far you've come, but how much fun you had getting there.

I got married at the age of 39 and we're still having a great time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:27 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

How do you share your life with someone else when you're not sure where you're going?

Day by day.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:13 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure what your specific concern is. Are you thinking you may have major career or living shifts ahead, like changing industries or moving? What does it look like to you when you envision moving your life ahead? If you're concerned about practical concerns like this, it helps to be pretty open about the possibilities with any interested parties. FYI, when I first met my now-husband, I told him it was likely to be a pretty short-term arrangement as I was looking to get a teaching job in another state. Then I discovered that teaching was really not for me and it turns out the economy crashed and I couldn't realistically expect to move. But by then, I had also decided that I wanted to be with him regardless. Some opportunities I wouldn't have had if I'd followed my original plan have come my way. Things are actually working out much better than my original plan. My partner's support has been invaluable here. He describes himself as my "biggest fan" and it really shows.

Being an introvert is sometimes a big challenge, though, especially if you aren't skilled in relating or handling emotional topics. Though I'd had plenty of relationships, they'd all shared an instrumental arm's-distance quality because that made it "easy" for me. Therapy has helped a lot. Reading about how other people deal with relationship issues has also helped. I had to really change my image of myself and find a way to be okay with expressing feelings and even vulnerabilities. It can be terrifying to have to face yourself that way when you've spent years so self-contained. It's sort of like learning a strange high-risk new language.

Luckily my spouse is somewhat introverted too and we help each other in many ways. He reminds me to meet him in the real world and talk about things I would normally avoid. I encourage him to have his recharging alone time. We find communication easier because we both understand and respect how tough (and draining!) the emotional stuff can be at times. On the other hand, my being more introverted and less emotionally demonstrative can cause some friction when it sparks his fear that I'll get tired of him or decide I'm happier on my own.

As far as what to stay away from, that's really a case-by-case basis. I know I don't do well with really smother-y people or ones that are super-clingy and in need of constant reassurance. I'd say just make sure you're spending your time with people who respect you and are willing to meet you halfway.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:58 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

No one knows what they want to do next year.

"The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I'll have lunch."
posted by bowmaniac at 11:34 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

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