Hello from the bottom of a pit.
December 9, 2012 7:09 PM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm at the bottom of a deep pit, and it will take a long series of successful maneuvers to get out of the pit. Other people's lives don't seem to be pit-shaped. Help me make this pit go away.

I'm a gay white male nearing 30 in a collegetown suburb, and I have social hangups, work-related hangups, money-related hangups, and lots of hangups in general. Am I "being mature about it" or "playing the victim of circumstance"? Where's the line? What's the alternative?

Here's an example of how my thought patterns run:

I'm not out to my (working-class immigrant) parents. I don't imagine they'd take it well, and I would prefer for the news to come from a happier place than "I'm gay, lonely, and kind of miserable."

So, a happy relationship looks like an important step on the road to coming out to my family. I want simple human companionship. But I haven't been in a lasting relationship since college. I am an incompetent flirt. I don't go on dates often, and, as with most people, few first dates turn into second dates.

Then I guess the key is to go out on more dates. But there just aren't a lot of people around here in this college town who are at a similar place in their lives (i.e., I'm not a student, faculty, etc.). Dating prospects are reportedly much better in town, an hour away, and on the other side of town, 1.5 hours away.

So the idea would be to move to a better established area. But I live very near my job, and moving to where the people are would double my expenses and treble my commute time. And I'm already making/saving relatively little money as it is.

The natural solution would then be to move and also find a new, better-paying job. But it's unlikely that I could find a closely related job, since my skill set is fairly unique. There are maybe 50 people who do what I do in this whole metropolitan area, and it's not a high-paying job by any means. It's also usually filled internally or via word of mouth.

Then, a different job? I've been doing what I do for a few years. Outside my unique qualifications, my other skills are broad and rather shallow. Like, I know some bash, but I'm not qualified to be a sysasmin or software engineer or whatever. Other than that, I've never waited on tables or slung beer, and have never been offered those jobs whenever I applied for them in the past.

So I guess the trick is to becomeā€¦ more employable? What does that even mean? I've got very basic academic credentials that don't predispose me to any common career. I've tried working with career counselors, but have never received any helpful, specific advice. The career assessments I took a couple times pointed toward "college professor."

A lot of times on Metafilter I see stories of people leaving everything behind and starting over from scratch in a new place. I understand the potential of a cross-country move, and I do have a few thousand in savings. On the other hand, I've had extended periods during which I was unemployed, broke, chronically ill, and lacking a good support network. I remember how easy it is to get to that state.

Am I putting up these roadblocks myself? They seem so real. Or is adult life really that hard? What kind of professional should I talk to for guidance and support? If you've had this dynamic on your life, how did you deal with it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Have you ever done something like What Color is My Parachute to see what you might love to do, rather that what you simply could do? I mean, what's your dream job? Is there a reason you're not considering working toward it?
posted by Glinn at 7:14 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Uh, I don't know. Dating someone an hour away doesn't seem that bad to me. You start out only seeing each other once a week or once every other week. And if it becomes really serious--several months later--you will stay for the whole weekend. And if it becomes really serious, and you want to move in together, the increase in cost for living in the city probably isn't that bad.

I think your moving/employment problem is a red herring so you don't have to do something about your relationship problem. (Which is that you should put forth more effort dating.)
posted by ethidda at 7:16 PM on December 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think you are depressed. And your depression is manifesting itself as a series of not-quite-insurmountable-but-legitimately-difficult-to-overcome obstacles, each of which you will have to negotiate, in turn, before you can be good enough to be happy.

With the help of a good therapist, you may be able to get into a mental space where you can be happy and satisfied with where you are right now, or maybe you will discover that you can make some small changes in your life to help you get more satisfaction out of it. Maybe you'll discover that it's not that big a deal to move someplace else, but that you don't actually need to move somewhere to lead a satisfied life. I don't know what you'll find.

But it sounds to me like you're depressed, and like you're building a narrative around a big long list of reasons why you can't be happy and it's just going to be too hard to overcome them. Seriously, this is what therapy is for.

Good luck.
posted by gauche at 7:17 PM on December 9, 2012 [22 favorites]

It sounds like perfectionist thinking. Like you're waiting for the stars to align to make any moves to make things better for yourself. But if you're always looking for reasons you can't do what you want and waiting for the perfect scenario to present itself, you'll never have the life want. So make a move. It may not turn out the way you hoped, but what if it gets you a step closer? What harm is there in driving a little farther for a date or interviewing for a new job that interests you?
posted by cecic at 7:25 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Dating prospects are reportedly much better in town, an hour away,

I think you are vastly overcomplicating this. Stay where you currently live and work, date in town.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:25 PM on December 9, 2012

Have you tried online dating? Limiting yourself to your college town seems to be something that's weighing you down, and a weekend trip into the city an hour away every couple of weeks could also expand your horizons.
posted by xingcat at 7:26 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I am thirty years old, I have a degree and I am currently employed a highly technical (or in whichever way your skillset is 'unique') job for the last bunch of years" is worth a lot more than you think. There are many jobs for which the people offering the job to not, at all, expect the person coming into it to be at all familiar with any of the duties or details of it. When I applied for the job I have now, it was completely obvious that I had absolutely no idea what the job actually entailed and that it didn't matter because my job experience indicated that I was incredibly detail-oriented and technically proficient and that's what was required, rather than having a skillset that can be quickly picked up by a person with such faculties (and if you know what 'bash' is you're pretty much sitting at the top of the heap as far as "technically proficient" goes for a non-technical job.) The job I have now? I fill out government paperwork all day, day-in, day-out. And you know what? I couldn't give two shits that it isn't my dream or goal or whatever. I personally believe the whole "dream job" concept is poisonous. I can do the work, I know for a fact that most people can't do the work, the environment is nice and the pay is good enough for now. I will not be curing cancer or making the next great work of art or singlehandedly funding a charity. I don't need that. What I do need is a job that isn't going to follow me home or make me worry about losing it. For some people that isn't enough. I honestly and firmly suggest that you try to be the person who has an nice (in whatever way you'd like, whether that means 'exciting' or simply 'not stressful') life outside of work rather than the person who has found their dream job, if you can. You'll be chopping wood and carrying water at any job you have; if you can be content simply doing that rather than worrying about the sort of wood and quality of the water, you can be happy.

Start applying for jobs in the non-college-town area near you any way you can. Punch up your resume - play down the actual aspects of the job and play up what skills those aspects require. Pepper craigslist with your resume on a nightly basis (yes, people still put up decent jobs on craigslist, regardless of the nay-sayers.) Do something, even if it feels like you're shouting into a void.
posted by griphus at 7:31 PM on December 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

And, yeah, I agree that you sound, in some way or shape, depressed. It also sounds like you can afford to talk to someone about that, and you should.
posted by griphus at 7:32 PM on December 9, 2012

I firmly believe place makes a difference in a person's horizon of expectations. With that in mind, slight tweaks of previous suggestions:

1) Short-term: use some of what bucks you have to rent a room in town just on weekends, or find some similar arrangement on craigslist. Or, just rent a room for the odd weekend. It'll probably be cheaper than travelling & having to get home, or hoping you'll find a place to crash. Getting into the city is important for your immediate mental health. Do things. Meet people. Build a circle of acquaintances, sexy and otherwise. This can support movement both in love and work.

2) Medium-term: everything gryphus said. Score yourself a job in a better city (the one nearby, or another, wherever's a good compromise between employment possibilities and lifestyle) and work what angles you can that way. Once you've settled into a comfortable groove - met some people, feel generally more connected and alive - think about more strategic lateral moves/acquiring any further qualifications you think you might want/need to pursue. Give it a couple of years.

3) Regarding life purpose: going to guess that on something like Myers Briggs you'd get letters like NT or NP. (I think MB is kind of silly as it's often used, but that it does grossly capture something about work habits, style of thinking, some of the more stable personality traits and possibly some inclinations.) If you can be described by any of those letters (especially the P), decision-making might be something to work on longer-term. I understand - from observation only, mind - that intuition and emotion are not always terrible guides to action. Practicing using these in smaller decisions may help with the bigger ones.

4) Not mentioned explicitly, but, on self-care: do all the things - work out, eat well, try to have good hair, find fun and sun and light where you can.

On 'how did I deal with it': I started small, waaaay small, one step at a time. Still not there. My hair looks good most days (for the first time in my life), & it helps. (Serious.)
posted by nelljie at 8:14 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

editing window closed before I could add: while I'm not 'there' yet, I feel better than I did at my worst, overall, and my larger goals are articulating themselves more clearly as I work through small ones.
posted by nelljie at 8:22 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Lots of good advice above. I'd just add that I've been in a situation very much like yours, around the same age, and at the time I, too, felt like it would take a huge amount of work to get myself sorted out in all those areas of my life -- love life, work, family, location, socializing. And it did take some work; being an adult is hard, and it means facing setbacks, making trade offs, and being lonely sometimes. But I no longer feel like I'm at the bottom of a pit.

Therapy really can help, especially to give you an opportunity to see your situation from a different perspective. You might realize it's not that bad, or see ways of changing it that you can't see right now. Going into therapy in times like this is also a commitment to care for yourself, which is a positive change in its own right.

Personally, I've also found that geography is pretty key, and I'll pay higher rent to live in a neighborhood where I feel more comfortable. It's understandable and probably wise that you don't want to move across the country to someplace completely new; a new apartment across town might be just the right amount of change. Good luck.
posted by unreadyhero at 8:37 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I felt like I lived at the bottom of a pit, the chief problem was depression. Once the depression was being handled, all my other problems seemed much, much more solvable -- and in fact I solved them. Honestly I would start there.
posted by KathrynT at 8:43 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

The one thing that stuck out to me, and I think it is your BIGGEST sticking point - is that you are not "out" to your family, and you are imposing artificial requirements on to coming out fully!

That would make me depressed, too, to not be true to myself.

The good news is you are an adult and entering your 30's, traditionally, a time when lots of late-bloomers take control of their own lives.

Come out to your patents. Be proud no matter their reaction. Get therapy and other support, don't do it alone, but for your own sake, Do It.

You'll never feel like a full person until you take back control of your life.

Ask me how I know:)
posted by jbenben at 9:03 PM on December 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

Yes, you are putting up the roadblocks yourself.

You don't have to be in a relationship to come out to your parents, and whether you frame it as happy or sad is entirely up to you. The idea that you have to say "I'm gay, lonely and miserable" is one that you have come up with, you don't have to tell them you're happy if you're not, but you can certainly just say "I'm gay, and I wanted you to know because it's an important part of my life that I've been keeping from you."

You don't have to be in a big city to date. People date people in different life stages from themselves all the time. Just because you're not a student or faculty at the college doesn't mean you can't date students or faculty. You can date anyone who's within an acceptable age range (to you) of you. Now, if you've actually give dating people in your town a solid try and you're still getting nowhere, looking for dates in 'town' that is a bit of a distance away is just fine without moving there.

As for the job, if you want a new job, go looking for one, but don't do it just because you think you have to as part of some life plan to get yourself a date. These two things don't have anything to do with each other. How do you think people get themselves jobs doing what you do, if the jobs aren't advertised? Someone does not come to you and tell you that such and such place has a job and they are going to recommend you for it. In my experience with this situation, you have to send blind inquiries to places that are not advertising jobs, follow up with a phone call to the boss where you talk yourself up and ask if there might be any openings on the horizon, and then get good references to testify to your skills if you get any interest. If you don't want to continue in your current field, then you can look for a different kind of job, but if you're happy with what you do, there's no reason you have to give up before you've started trying just because such jobs aren't advertised.

So you're conflating 3 different problems and turning them into one big problem that seems too big to address. Break it down and address what you want to address in a more realistic way and it will not seem as intimidating.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:48 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with jbenben. Your real issue that is making everything else an issue is not coming out to your parents. Look at it this way: You are not out to them and you are stuck in this pit. How much worse would the pit be if you finally told them? Not much I suspect. Tell them and the other issues are just things that are decisions that need to be made or worked out.

I have no idea what your parents are like or what they would say if you told them, but I would bet it would not surprise them as much as you think. I also think they might not be as big an issue as you surmise. Sure, they may not embrace the concept, but they probably would accept it at this point and not be an obstacle.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:12 PM on December 9, 2012

Nthing coming out. Believe me, it is better to do this as an isolated announcement of "I'm gay and I want you to know about it because you're important to me" as opposed to "I'm gay and I'm in jail on a crystal meth charge" or "I'm gay and my boyfriend and I are adopting twins next weekend." I can't predict your parents' response, but whatever it is, it will be a known quantity rather than the scary mystery you're making it now.

The dating thing can be approached methodically: you sign up for a reputable computer matchup service and you include in your geographical range "the town and the other side of town." It is even possible if you are making plans for more than one coffee-and-greet (which is what a first date is supposed to be anyway) you can combine them into a single trip to town.

Most dates don't lead to relationships, just like most job interviews don't lead to jobs. But understand that the time you are putting into answering messages on the dating board and meeting and coffeeing is an investment in future happiness. Remind yourself that a first date that doesn't develop into anything further isn't wasted time. One of these meet and greets is going to lead to a relationship, but you can't tell which one until you go on all of them up to the right one.

I would tend to disagree with the "moving across country" scenario for two reasons. First, it's based a fantasy that a new town is going to be an overwhelmingly positive experience. It could happen, true, but most likely the new town is going to be the same sort of mix of positives and negatives as where you are now.

The second reason is that it's so big a project that it's easy to put off and finally to dismiss outright. You're in, as you say, a pit right now. You don't need to figure out how to jump out of the pit in a single bound. What you do need to do is to climb up one step and establish a foothold there, at which time you can get ready to take the second step.
posted by La Cieca at 12:27 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

So the idea would be to move to a better established area. But I live very near my job, and moving to where the people are would double my expenses and treble my commute time. And I'm already making/saving relatively little money as it is.

I am only going to address this one part of your question, but misguidedly returning to MyAlmaMatertown really almost killed me. I'd been lonely as a student, but it was absofuckinglutely nothing like trying to live in CollegeSuburbiatown well after graduating. Just grad students, profs, and families. It really does affect dating prospects and everything else.

Can you put your stuff in storage and move to the city? Even take a short-term sublet, perhaps with roommates, to see what it's like? If you are contemplating a cross-country move, which would be much harder, then you should be able to move 1.5 hours away. And really you should try to find a job in that city, but I think you should do the short-term move first. I had a million excuses when I tried to make the move - where will I put my car? why would I double, triple my commute? were big ones - but I made it work.
posted by ziggly at 4:21 AM on December 10, 2012

I came in to comment on dating and coming out - I would highly recommend coming out BEFORE you're in a relationship. My girlfriend and I came out during our happy relationship and suddenly losing a familial support system pretty much destroyed the relationship.
posted by Autumn at 8:14 AM on December 10, 2012

Other people's lives don't seem to be pit-shaped.

We are all posers, putting the best face on our lives to others. Don't feel you're unique in your hole; we're all in holes made partially by ourselves and partially by our circumstances.

Personally, I think you're being too hard on yourself and making things too complicated. While there are interactions between the different aspects of your life, there isn't necessarily a correct order to solving them, nor is there a script for how they are related. For instance, you feel like a relationship is vital to coming out to your parents. But you have trouble establishing such a relationship. It seems to me that in having a specific goal for the relationship (showing your parents that you are happier as a gay man), might make getting into such a relationship hard and puts more pressure on the relationship from the start.

I think you should divide and conquer. If it bothers you that your parents don't know you're gay, just tell them and be done with it (caution: I'm a straight male, father of two boys, one or both could be gay, but maybe not; who knows?) My suspicion is that whether or not they will be accepting, they probably already know or strongly suspect you may be gay, and it's probably just better to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Once your family knows you're gay, finding the right guy could actually be easier.

So instead of building complexity into the solutions for your problems, try to break them into manageably small pieces. Then, as you resolve them, you will be able to see your progress and will be encouraged.
posted by Doohickie at 9:05 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not out to my (working-class immigrant) parents. I don't imagine they'd take it well, and I would prefer for the news to come from a happier place than "I'm gay, lonely, and kind of miserable."

I know a few guys in their mid-thirties who are in your situation, and the advice I'm going to give you is the same I've given them:

Stop valuing your parents' opinions more than your own happiness. It comes off as immature at best, and self-loathing at worst. Neither of those traits are desirable in a mate.

If you're not ready to take that leap and be honest with your family about who you are, talk to friends and get a recommendation for a good therapist. It really can change your life.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:19 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel like I'm at the bottom of a deep pit, and it will take a long series of successful maneuvers to get out of the pit.

What evidence do you have that it will take a long series of successful maneuvers to get out of the pit? Often we set the scenario harder than it need be.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:20 AM on December 10, 2012

Hi over there Anonymous. I don't have any advice really -- only you know your parents, when it's the right time, etc, but if you need someone to talk to you can mefi mail me. Best of luck with everything.
posted by elgee at 6:10 PM on April 12, 2013

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