Alone in a quarter-life crisis
May 27, 2013 11:45 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with being (emotionally) alone during this transitional phase of my life?

I am 23 years old and will be making a transcontinental move across the United States in a couple of months. For a little while now, I've been going through what I can describe as a quarter-life crisis. I'm freaking out about getting older and about leaving behind my childhood city. I am very excited about the future and very happy to experience new things, I am not depressed.

But I am extremely sentimental and nostalgic. I am craving and seeking recognition and common ground with other people about this and the only place I can find it is on Thought Catalog. I write lyrics and sing, so I've been coping with it that way too. At the same time that I am nostalgic, I am restless. Restless to get out there and meet people and take polaroid pictures of me with friends on empty streets late at night. I am keenly aware that I won't always be in my 20s and I want to live as much as I can. I just feel so much pressure, on top of you know, bills and working. And loss, I feel a lot of loss. I guess it's just growing pains.

I think about this quote everyday.

But the issue is that my SO is not going through this. I've brought it up quite a few times with him, looking to make a connection, looking for recognition, but he isn't interested. He said as much, that he just isn't interested in talking about it anymore and that he can't relate. He is the person to whom I am closest, or want to be anyway, and I need to know if it's okay that we cannot relate to each other about this. It's such an overarching concept in my life right now, but I know that one person can't give you everything.

How do I feel less alone knowing that he can't relate? Has anyone gone through this and come out the other side without a sense of deep loss for youth and one's childhood? What are some other ways to honor who I was and the experiences I've had? And to honor the experiences that I am going to have but will one day also be in the past?
posted by 2X2LcallingCQ to Human Relations (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
At the same time that I am nostalgic, I am restless. Restless to get out there and meet people and take polaroid pictures of me with friends on empty streets late at night. I am keenly aware that I won't always be in my 20s and I want to live as much as I can.

* * * * *

I need to know if it's okay that we cannot relate to each other about this. It's such an overarching concept in my life right now

This may sound a bit crazy but I think it sounds like you need to be single right now. You're wanting (wisely, in my opinion) to make the most of your last days of youth and I think that, more often than not, significant others get in the way of that project. Especially when they don't share the same urgency to live, to laugh, to seize the day.
posted by Unified Theory at 11:55 AM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I should have mentioned that ideally we wouldn't break up. We've been together for five years and are making the move together. There's a lot of good there, especially long term.
posted by 2X2LcallingCQ at 12:03 PM on May 27, 2013

No two people experience the same thing in the same way. That's ok, even when it is your SO.
We can't always understand the feelings of another but we can listen with respect and compassion. It could be that your feelings are hitting a little too close to home for him. If that's the case and he's not the type who is comfortable with self examination he could just want to shut off this line of conversation.

You are in a point of limbo now - not quite here or there, not quite present or future. That sort of in between period can make you a little crazy. Once you are actually in the process and then there it will become less angst and more excitement.

Bittersweet has a poignant joy. The awareness of the finite adds to a more intense enjoyment of the now. Use this emotion to truly savor where you are and what you have had in that place and time. The times we are acutely aware of how amazing a moment is happens very seldom.
posted by cat_link at 12:18 PM on May 27, 2013

Personally, I spent a lot of time listening to All My Friends and journalling about my intense feelings. It passes. My life now is immeasurably better than it was when I was 23, but sometimes I miss the sheer raw emotion that I felt about everything -- moving across the country, leaving my friends, growing up. Value it while it lasts. It won't be forever.

It's okay that your boyfriend isn't sharing this experience with you. You're different people. That's part of life too.
posted by baby beluga at 12:27 PM on May 27, 2013

Is this the same guy? If so, he's not exactly the type who wants to have long soul-plumbing conversations about emotional topics, I'd wager. And you know, this too shall pass, and you'll have something new to experience, and then you won't have time to be sentimental and so on. The best way to honor your life is to life your life. Don't look back, don't look ahead, be here now.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:51 PM on May 27, 2013

I don't think it has to be a problem as long as he doesn't actively try to keep you from having these experiences. There are plenty of opportunities to meet people and hit the streets late at night, with or without him, even if you two are still together. It could be that he just has a different personality, proclivities, that he's not introspective in the same way you are, that he wants to avoid over-thinking how his life "could" be. However, if he wants to sit on the couch in the new city and make you feel bad for wanting to go out and have fun, you will probably end up resentful. In other words, I'd focus on the practical end of it - can you have these experiences and process them in your own way while you are still with him, regardless of how he interprets them?

FWIW I'm more sentimental, introspective, intoxicated by the symbolic than my husband. I've learned that it's frustrating to try to have a conversation with him about some of the things I think are significant or fascinating. He's not keeping me from experiencing them, and often does so with me, but we each have our way of processing things. Not a problem once I figured it out.
posted by beyond_pink at 12:53 PM on May 27, 2013

Usually an artsy-fartsy person matches up with someone a bit more....level. My artsyfartsy recommendation is to put all this stuff in your art, because you are probably driving him nuts with it. Neither one of you are wrong exactly, but your mileage definitely varies with this sort of thing, and realizing that is part of being grown up.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:57 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

by the way, that quote? FYI, eventually you'll feel the thrilling nowness of your first house, your children's early years (if you have children), your parents' last days in their house before they move to supported living, your first day with big new responsibility at work... Life keeps being exciting if you can keep looking at it through those eyes (e.g., avoid becoming bitter after a tragedy hits). The first cold breeze of autumn may well still bring delicious nostalgia and melancholy all your life. I'm not sure this answers your question about your bf, but maybe it will help you enjoy it with less internal pressure.
posted by salvia at 12:59 PM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Man, youthful nostalgia. I know how that goes. At times it was even a premonitory nostalgia: being acutely aware in the moment as it was happening of a future version of myself who would one day look back fondly on that precise moment...

One way that I have 'honored' various eras in my life, without even quite knowing that's what I was doing, was to make mix tapes. For a lot of people, nothing evokes a certain time and place like music does. If your SO does not want to talk about it, but he is someone for whom life is not complete without an accompanying soundtrack, maybe that's a way to draw him in to get a sense of what it is you are feeling. You could ask him to make a mix for you, or better yet, get him to help you make a mix together that honors your time in the place you are about to leave -- 'hey what was that song playing on the radio that night that we [insert crucial memory here]?' And then you will have a sort of talisman from where you have been that you can play on your journey to where you are going.

Just a thought, anyway, in case you are both so inclined. And, whatever you do, just do not forget to turn that mix off and listen to plenty of new stuff, too. So you'll have a new soundtrack to look forward to reminiscing about some day.
posted by fikri at 12:59 PM on May 27, 2013

I am a few years older than you, and I feel this way a lot, and I've felt this way since college, basically. It's a weird thing, because you're always kind of sad even when you're really happy, because you know that life will never be like this again. I have this one night when I stayed out with friends really late at a concert and waited for the bus for an hour and ended up at a terrible diner at 3 a.m., and years later I still think - man, that's what it was like to be young in the city. (I thought that even while it was happening, which maybe makes it less authentic, but also probably helped stick it in my brain forever.)

I have one friend who is similarly freaked out about growing up/aging, and when I'm with him we'll joke about how old we are and opportunities are closing everywhere and it sucks etc., but otherwise I try not to think about it too much, lest I become a basket case. Honestly, it's probably for the best that your SO doesn't share these feelings. I find it pretty unproductive (and not very comforting) to dwell on them. I don't think you'll gain anything from making your SO feel mopey about growing up - good for him, really. I mean, why doesn't he feel that way? Is he confident in his future and excited about what's coming up? If so, man, let that rub off on you.

One other thing. I, too, often get caught up in the "oh man it's my twenties, I have to stay out late dancing and throwing my hair around" social pressure or whatever, but then I remember that I don't actually like some of those things. OK, on "Girls" they go to clubs and wild parties and do drugs and sleep with dubious people, and I guess those are things that you can only really do in your twenties, but so what? I don't actually want to do any of those things! So make sure that when you're making big decisions, decisions about how your life will be - make sure they are things that YOU want, and not things that twentysomethings are "supposed to" want.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:36 PM on May 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's okay to feel what you feel.

It's okay that he feels what he feels.

The important thing is, do you feel supported and loved and cared for, even and especially during these transition times. There will be many of them in your life, and this is probably a good measure of how the two of you support each other.

Also, I'm 34 and I don't feel like i've "grown up" or that my "youth has ended". People who tell you that once you hit X age you can't be a kid anymore or do silly things or even make a beautiful mess of your life are just plain misleading you.
posted by softlord at 2:53 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I felt almost exactly the way that quote describes in the past three weeks. I'm 37, full-time job, married, kid, mortgage, live way out in the exurbs. My point is that sense of aliveness isn't tied to age, and the specific kind of aliveness described in the quote is more a buzzed nightlife kind of thing than an age thing anyway.

It's fine to feel the way you feel, but I think you're creating a sense of what it means to be in your 20s that is only true for some people and that you have a lot of control over.
posted by jeoc at 2:58 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here you are.

“One never reaches home,' she said. 'But where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.” (Hermann Hesse)
posted by kcm at 3:06 PM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm 25, but reading your question I felt so much older than you. (Reminiscent of this Onion article, but I digress).

I used to feel like this all the time, replete with listening to All My Friends on repeat and journaling and thinking about moments as memories at the same time that they happened.

One of the most important things that helped me to get over this was making friends with people who are older than me. And not in a mentor/protege way or feeling friendly with my boss or whatever, but really feeling like equals and peers with, say, 35 year olds. And I see that even though they're 35 they a) still have fun, b) perhaps ARE in a different stage of life than me, but c) are navigating it, d) don't feel old, e) feel stable with who they are, and f) don't actually feel or act that dissimilar to me. I guess I was kind of unpacking my own feelings on the matter as I wrote that but the point is I know I'm not going to fall over any kind of proverbial cliff when I turn 30 because my friends have been there done that and survived.

In many ways this is just about entering the adult world, having a career, and joining communities that are driven by common interests instead of common hometowns or dorms. You'll see. You're going to be fine.

PS - I mean this in the nicest way possible: from someone who was recently 23 to a currently 23 year old, you are going to be single within a year or two. And it'll be good. Don't worry.
posted by telegraph at 3:26 PM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Hi, i'm exactly the same age as you, and was/am going through the same sort of thing while having similar thoughts.

My partner also pretty much isn't feeling this way since she approaches life in a very different way. I recognized this fairly early on, and don't even really discuss my feelings about this sort of thing with her much.

How do I feel less alone knowing that he can't relate?

Partially, the same way i deal with any issue that we can't relate on. I realize this is a bigger deal than discussing dissimilar hobbies/interests/kinds of music we have disparate tastes in... but it's one of those things where i've realized that "I don't understand this thing that's upsetting you, but i know that it is, and i'm going to comfort you and be there for you as much as i can with it" is powerful. The other person doesn't need to understand exactly where this uncertainty and pain is coming from to be supportive through it.

And on a similar note, while that type of comfort isn't really something you would(or should? after a certain point) expect from friends, i bet if you plumbed around the depths of your friend group and really sat down and talked to people in similar situations you'd find a lot of the same worries and feelings.

One of the most interesting things for me at this age has been watching how all my friends deal with this sort of existential crisis. Everyone is old enough now that they're finishing or done with school. Some people are going back, some people are moving across the country, some people are ambling around in a van from the north to the south and back. Some people ditched out on the rest of their normal lives to go on tour with a band, etc. A few people ended up back at their parents house after they lost a job, or a relationship+cohabitation blew up, or they got out of school and are just perpetually unemployed. It's been interesting to watch that too, and talk to those people.

What i'm getting at with this though, is that a lot of people are feeling this. And a lot of people are feeling it in different ways. For some people it's profound and soul wrenching, and for some people it's a mild "Man, i'm sad i'll never get to do that again" or "i hope i get to do XYZ dream in the next couple years". Some people manage to sort of skirt around it for a while, but i feel that for people like your partner(and mine) it just hasn't really hit them yet.

What i realize looking back on the past though, is that basically ever since highschool i've had this feeling. It's not really quite ennui(although it's that at times too), but quite a bit of "aww great, i'll never get a chance to do that again".

You know how i've mostly slain it though? Realizing that while i've had a lot of interesting experiences, and a few fairly unique ones, it's all been pretty small fry stuff. Neither of us have walked on the moon so to speak, even if it feels like we've done some profound things.

If you look at it as that, and just now you're moving across the country and getting started on your adventure. So while everything that happens so far has definitely mattered it's still those first 3-4 episodes of a TV show that set up "So this is what this character is like, these are the things that go on in their life, this is what's going on inside their head, ok.... GO". It's all prologue.

The more i think about it that way, the more it feels like i'm just finally qualifying and haven't even run my first lap of the race.

I've pretty much pushed out of my mind that i won't always be in my 20s, and definitely avoid thinking that days i just want to lay inside and read MeFi and stuff are a waste. The main thing is that i feel like i just now, finally, am starting to figure out who i really am while also starting to be in a position where i can figure out what i want to do with my life, where i want to live, what kinds of experiences(or opportunities for experiences) i want to have or give myself, and a million other forward thinking thoughts like that.

I'm definitely not saying i don't have moments of painful nostalgia, or wishing some days i could go back and live like i did a few years ago, or wonder what things would have been like if i turned left instead of right at that fork. But nonetheless, I honor the experiences i've had by respecting them as validly fascinating, exhilarating, eye opening, painful, beautiful, ugly, everything. As what they are, not as "childish", or any other pejorative to minimize them. Everything that's happened before matters, but there's just so much road left ahead.

Focus on the fact that everyone experiences this differently, and that it just hasn't hit some people yet. But also keep your eye on that at least some of this is just jitters of getting on the plane so to speak, in realizing that you're just about to start a much grander adventure of living somewhere completely different and having a million new experiences, that will lead to a million more new experiences.

If it helps, look back on what you thought you would be doing right now 2-3 years ago, then look at where you are. I definitely ended up in a very different place than i expected to be in an almost entirely positive way. Think about that much time ahead from now and wonder what you'll be, and try and spend as little time looking back and wondering what could have been or focusing on what was.

I'll also acknowledge it took me a long time to get to this point, and that i'm probably ahead of quite a few people i've met my age because i got a bit of a head start on moving out of the house, going to college, getting out of college, getting a job, Major Life Event fucked up things happening, etc. But it's just that i've seen this sort of uncertainty leading to either an outlook similar to mine of focusing on the road ahead, or of just... serious depression. And having seem both outcomes i pretty much psyched myself up to go "No! I don't want that, i won't be like that. I'm focusing on all the exciting things happening now, and all the opportunities i have, and all the things i'm about to do". It really is something you have to just will away and change your own focus on, and i know it's hard.

I hope this post means something, and doesn't come off as complete schlock from someone who's more assured or has it easier or something, because i definitely have been exactly where you are. And i can definitely still feel those things.
posted by emptythought at 3:32 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

At that stage of my own life, I found this funny and interesting book helpful.

(Disclaimer: The author's a friend. But I genuinely liked the book.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:01 PM on May 27, 2013

It sounds like you could benefit from therapy. I know you said you're not depressed; but you want someone to talk to about this sense of nostalgia, restlessness, and loss. You're having trouble dealing with the fact that you're growing up, and that means change and loss of freedom and a step closer to the grave. You'll find, I think, that it's not great for relationships to ask your significant other to be your therapist.

Maybe you're at a place where you need to be single. Or maybe you're at a place where you can be with someone, but only if they share this desire to be youthful and carefree that you're expressing. But if you love your boyfriend and want to give this relationship a shot, try therapy first.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:31 PM on May 27, 2013

That's a beautiful quote.

I'm 37, and didn't have many issues with 25, but man - 35 hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm just starting to feel like I've got a handle on what's going on with me. I've found that for me, remaining acutely in the now has helped a lot. No, I'm not in my 20s anymore - I'm closer to 40 than 29 - but there are good things now, too. I can't easily roam the streets at will anymore, but I can stay up all night with friends occasionally - and unlike 25, I have money from a full time job, and there's something to be said for that. I miss the intensity of feeling so many things for the first time, but spending time joking around with an old lover this weekend was full of happy and warmth and shared experience, and it's the sort of shared experience that you can only get after 20 years.

I think the real turning point moment while I was going through my angst was when my husband said, "OK, we don't have kids and you can work from anywhere. If this isn't working for you, what do we need to change?" And I realized that there wasn't much I needed to change, I just needed to acknowledge where I was at, and that I still had the ability to change my life if I wanted too - most of my nostalgia was in thinking I was "stuck", when in reality it was just that I hadn't really looked and said, Yes, this is in fact what I want.

I'm not sure if that helps, but know that it's ok to feel the way you feel, and that you're not alone. Big changes often trigger nostalgia and reflection for many people.

Oh, also - magic moments don't stop just because you turn 30 (or 40, or 90). In my 30s, I've stayed up all night with my mom counting shooting stars. I've stayed up all night sitting on a dock talking with a best friend. I've enjoyed the first restless warm winds of spring with a good friend outside a coffee shop. I've counted daisy petals with a 3 year old in the height of summer. Being present in the now reminds you that magic is everywhere, especially in the mundane.
posted by RogueTech at 12:08 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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