Solitude 101.
April 22, 2014 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Solitude, isolation, to be happy with related life choices and what to watch out for. Advice?

At the age of 39 I realise that by all normal Western measures and standards I have "failed" at life. A year ago I was made redundant from the job I loved and that I'd put heart and soul into for 20 years. When I left there was no farewell party, parting gift or best wishes from the people I'd considered family and friends. I've tried to work out why this was and apart from the fact I didn't make much fanfare about leaving I'm at a loss. I came to the conclusion that, as an older manager of a very young team, I probably wasn't very well liked. I left the city and now work freelance in a very remote and rural area. I'm quite alone. I quite like it this way. A series of rather dysfunctional relationships over the years has convinced me I'll always be single, I'll never marry or have children. Likewise I'll never be rich or successful in anyway that will be respected or renowned. I lost the city apartment I owned and am about to declare bankruptcy so financial success is unlikely in my remaining years. I have family I am close to (despite their kid gloves and slight pity) and a few, old, distant friends I communicate with online. I now keep animals and am pretty steeped in nature in a nice part of the world. My income and work is stress free and interesting. But I feel really weird being single, poor, low-status and now having no inclination to pursue any of the things that I chased for years (friendship, money, accolades, responsibility, respect, sex etc). My question(s) is basically this...can one be ultimately happy, healthy and self-fulfilled with such a spare and socially impoverished life? Is this going to lead to psychological problems, regrets of other issues? If so what warning signs should I look out for?
posted by Caskeum to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you are content right now, be content with right now. Don't go worrying about how you'll feel about things in a year or ten years down the road. The only thing I would try to plan for is a time when you may not want to or be able to work. Some sort of insurance/retirement plan can keep you feeling a little more stable.

But being happy with solitude is fine. Being happy with less money is admirable. Being content without constantly chasing the next promotion or business idea sounds wonderful.

You say "my remaining years" like you're old, though. 39 isn't old, even though it can sometimes feel that way. I suspect you'll have a couple of different turnarounds before you even reach your "remaining years."
posted by xingcat at 1:23 PM on April 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best answer: My question(s) is basically this...can one be ultimately happy, healthy and self-fulfilled with such a spare and socially impoverished life?

I have been homeless for over two years and have contemplated declaring bankruptcy (for now, the decisions is: No). I am divorced, gave up a National Merit Scholarship in my teens, dropped out of school, eschewed "success" to go deal with my personal issues. The last year has been the best year of my life.

I still think I will someday have financial and career success. I think the odds are poor that I will remarry but "never say never." So maybe I am not the right person to answer this. But I certainly do not regret the personal choices I made that resulted in the social isolation, lack of money, etc, that I have had recently. If I do have a bright future, I think this was the only hope of a path forward in that regard. If I don't have a bright future, I at least am healthier than I have ever been and the least harassed I have ever been. I am okay with making my peace with that if that is, in fact, as good as it will ever get.

I think public accolades and "success" as measured by what other people think of your life is very overrated. I think it is critically important for your day to day life to work well. It sounds like you finally have that. You might find yourself looking around and feeling better off than others some time soon, perhaps even feeling like they are measuring success all wrong.
posted by Michele in California at 1:26 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: The only measure of "success" is how you feel about it. The western world puts up a lot of expectations but they are far from realistic. Not everybody is going to be the next great inventor - it might just be enough to live a life that you are content with.
posted by wolfr at 1:30 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Of course one can be happy with that type of life. The question is, and always will be, are YOU? If you are, great! Live the life you want. If you truly don't care about living up to other peoples' expectations (and why should you?) and it makes you happy, go for it! If you try it and don't end up liking it after a while, try something else! There are no permanent decisions in this life. Everything can be altered, adjusted, or completely transformed.

Being rich, having a family, being 'conventionally' successful...none of those things *in themselves* will bring you happiness. The only thing that will is being content with your own life choices, and accepting yourself for who you are. This doesn't mean that you aren't trying to improve yourself, but rather improving yourself along lines that YOU find valuable, not along lines that someone else has set for you.

If you find, in this life you have now, that you are unsatisfied, desperately lonely, or start showing signs of depression, do something about it! If you can work remotely, that opens up a lot of options for you to try new places and cultures. Don't forget the pound goes a lot farther in some countries than others...

You are young and (I assume) healthy and have many decades to figure out what you want and how to get it. Or change your mind. Good luck :)
posted by ananci at 1:38 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Where I live there are actually a decent number of older single people who are doing their own thing and the fact that they are single or broke is sort of a non-issue. Is it possible that your rural location is a little more homogenous and it makes you feel weird? I think it's fine to be solitary but it's good to both like yourself and have goals that get you out of bed in the morning. As you get older, it takes a certain kind if constitution to DIY it as DIYing it gets more complicated but it's a perfectly reasonable life choice. Being close to your family is useful and important. Being able to take care of animals and nature is useful and important. Living where you like with a stress free work life is useful and important.

My alternate read on what you've spelled out is that you spent a while in a position that didn't really work for you, didn't play to your strengths and was ultimately unfulfilling. I think the bit that concerns you is the disconnect between how you felt about your workplace and how you think it turns out that they felt about you. You seem to have a somewhat dour outlook despite the fact that objectively things are okay (not great, not lousy, okay) and that's going to be the toughest thing to live with as you get older. Not saying "Hey make a decision to be happy" but that finding ways to reframe your outlook may be the best thing you can do for yourself over the long run.
posted by jessamyn at 1:45 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Make yourself happy. Pour any energy you have into doing that. Only you know what it is that will make you happy. Being alone doesn't automatically make people unhappy - it's when people are alone but they want to be around people that problems start.

There's never a guarantee that life will work out the way you want. There's no guarantee that you won't get knocked down by a bus tomorrow. All you have is right now. And if you're happy, right now, in this very moment, then you're way ahead of the game, way ahead of an awful lot of people on this planet.

Aim for what YOU want out of life. Other people want all kinds of fun and interesting things. Maybe you want some of those things too. In which case, go out and get them. It's kinda like food, though. It's an acquired taste. I can't stand olives, yet my sister loves them. Both of us are made happy by our respective choices - she eats them, I don't. We'd both be unhappy being forced to make the choice of the other person. So we just leave each other alone to eat whatever food we want, and we're both happy. In the same way, the Western Ideal of fame and fortune might be to you as olives are to me. If you don't want it, forget about it, because it's just irrelevant to you.

Why waste your time chasing something that you don't actually want? Life is too short to engage in such nonsense. Only you get to decide what is worth you chasing. Other people can suggest things, like my sister suggested olives, but if you don't like the taste, don't put them in your mouth. It's more for everyone else.

Being happy isn't a panacea. But it's very very much worth it. Regarding regrets: “Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy, you can't build on it it's only good for wallowing in.” - Katherine Mansfield, 1888-1923 If you're doing the right thing, for right now, then remember that when you look back in the years to come. You were doing the best you could with what you had available.

You have;t failed at life. You've succeeded in finding out what you actually want out of it. You can't carry a pie if your arms are full of jars of olives. Right now, you have a fantastic opportunity to make your life the life you want to have.

Social capital is a very useful thing. Even I, huge introvert that I am, know that. I wouldn't suggest cutting yourself off completely from everyone and everything, unless that's something you really really want. Other human beings are remarkably useful things. Sometimes, they'll point out to you if you're showing signs of distress that you aren't aware of because you're too immersed in them. They might even help you deal with that distress. You don't have to have those people in your home or your life on a day-to-day basis, though. Annual checkups with a doctor would go a long way to taking care of this, for example.

I think that spending some time in quiet contemplation about what your ideal life would look like would benefit you. Be honest with yourself and (maybe) write down exactly what it is that you'd like out of the time you have here. Only you will know what you come up with, so be brutally honest. Then, when you know, go out and get those things, whatever they are. If that's fame and fortune, great. If it's spending your days milking cows, great. If it's becoming a teacher at a local school and passing your knowledge on to the next generation, great. Only when you know what you really want can you start taking steps towards getting it. And getting it is such a wondrous thing, it all becomes worth it.
posted by Solomon at 1:49 PM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Um, you're life's not over. Probably not even half done.

"A series of rather dysfunctional relationships over the years has convinced me I'll always be single, I'll never marry or have children."
- Past =/= present =/= future.

"Likewise I'll never be rich or successful in anyway that will be respected or renowned."
- Not a foregone conclusion. Also, reconsider the meaning of those terms.

"I lost the city apartment I owned and am about to declare bankruptcy so financial success is unlikely in my remaining years."
- People recover from bankruptcy.

You're a living creature. So long as you're alive, you can grow and change (if there are things you want to change).
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:50 PM on April 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you are asking for permission to be happy. You can be happy doing whatever you want, even if you're not in the position you thought you would be.

I don't have any advice for you moving forward, other than maybe find some professional help. It sounds like you are depressed at the moment and are unable to see past your immediate situation. The "this is it and nothing will change" outlook is a hallmark of depression. If you're worried about regrets, they may come from making life decisions while in that state of mind.
posted by Willie0248 at 1:54 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I admire you, hermit.

It is tempting to romanticize the solitary life--and I am as guilty as anyone--but if I were you I would cultivate an appreciation of others who took a similar path. Thoreau is an obvious starting point.

And here's an article from the UK Telegraph from a couple of years ago:

Life lessons from modern day hermits

Your awareness and acceptance of circumstances, your ownership of your own decisions, make you a success.
posted by General Tonic at 2:01 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Dear me, if this leads to psychological problems, then I'm crazy. Our life experiences are different in many ways, but I am happily unmarried and living alone and I don't appear to be cut out for a permanent sort of relationship or a live-in one. I deliberately took a 2/3s pay cut (i.e., I sized myself down to 1/3 of my previous income) about a dozen years ago and although my pay has increased since then, it hasn't climbed to the previous heights and had I stayed in the same career I would probably be earning at least four times my current salary.

But I really like my job, I really like my life, it's completely fine with me that I don't have many of the things that other people my age have, and I really have no regrets about my decisions.

Have you heard of Quirky Alone? I find it a little...patronizing, but other friends like it.
posted by janey47 at 2:04 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Do you think you could have a case of the forties? (As distinct, of course, from a case of forties.) I ask because I'm 39 and have been feeling pretty much the same set of things - not much money, no career success, looking at my "remaining years" being more of the same (and probably not too many of those!), lonely, etc, and I feel that although I am not consciously thinking that forty is terribly old or a Giant Milestone, it does creep up on me and I think it's unconsciously influencing a lot of my thoughts. (I had a similar phenomenon at 29, which is why I'm trying to keep soldiering on instead of panicking.)

The one thing I learned from my thirties is that things do change, given time. Will you have a relationship and lots of money? Eh, perhaps not - a lot of things stay the same, I'm still the same anxious introvert I've always been - but I bet the texture of your life will alter a lot in a number of ways over, say, the next five years. I got to do a lot of new things in my thirties when I thought I was past it, and I expect I'll get to do at least some new ones in my forties, even though many nights I wake up thinking that all chance to make something of myself is over and I'm sure to die in immiserated poverty after some unspecified disaster.

Do you read middlebrow fiction at all? I find Ursula Le Guin's magical realist short story "Two Delays On The Northern Line" here from the New Yorker very comforting. It's about being forty. I don't think it's really a story about how to be forty, just about some of the things that can happen. In general, I find the stories in The Compass Rose (where it is collected) to be pretty comforting in terms of meaning and stuff.

I think it's really difficult to switch gears from "I am going to have, basically, reproductive success - I'm going to have a successful career (and thus "reproduce" something economically and socially) and be sexually successful (so I could have a kid if I wanted, even if I don't) and I'm going to shake things up around town and in the world" to "I'm going to figure out how to be, myself", but eventually I think everyone has to, even the people who do make a big success.

I think it is about coming to terms with death - I know now that I'll die, in a way that I didn't really internalize ten years ago. And coming to terms with the real, serious end of youth - I'm a fit person, I look pretty young still, but I'm not young. I don't have a young person's character, enthusiasm or concerns. I feel like I'm changing a lot - I've been in a year or so of feeling very jaded and...hateful, really, despairing and withdrawing from caring about the world because I can't sustain the sense of futurity that you have in youth any more, but I think there's something else.

Maybe it would be helpful to read books about middle-aged people, or people out of their first youth? I mean, not the blah kind where they're, like, rich white professors who cheat on their wives with graduate students, but I found revisiting The Manticore, by Robertson Davies, to be rather worthwhile. I've found new interest in stuff that's not about work or sexual success - English pastoral/radical music like Henry Cow or the Art Bears, that kind of thing. I feel like maybe it was good right and salutary (as we used to say in church) that I spent my younger years looking at the world for romance and money, but now I can look at the world for something else.
posted by Frowner at 2:09 PM on April 22, 2014 [22 favorites]

Best answer: If you need someone to ratify your lifestyle to find happiness, I'll do it for you!

It sounds to me like you actually are happy -- it's just not by the external standards society might expect.

I've made similar life changes recently, except for the redundancy. I am willfully single and recently moved to a rural location for a job. I have no real friends here and few acquaintances. It rocks.

If you feel lonely, go find friends. If you don't want company, you don't have to have it.

The only thing that sounds like a real obstacle to your satisfaction is coming to terms with being made redundant and unceremoniously dumped by your job. That does suck, but you can come to terms with it separately from the rest of you life situation. Would having a relationship and kids and a full social calendar change the hurt caused by being let go? No, it really wouldn't. You just need to absorb and accept it and wait for time to help with the hurt.
posted by mibo at 2:19 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, a person can be happy living that kind of life. But... It sounds like, as a result of things in your life you cannot control (being made redundant, losing your home, etc), you are giving up on dreams of things that are still very much in the realm of possibility (friendship, sex, respect, a family of your own). That smacks more of depression to me.

I would spend some significant chunks of your quiet time sorting out what is disappointment and depression talking and what is real. You have just as much to offer the world and others as anyone else. Don't sell yourself short and close yourself off from life simply because you suffered some understandably upsetting blows.
posted by cecic at 2:24 PM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I would not go so far as to call it depression. Perhaps shock. Letting go and moving on involves grieving. Grieving is not some kind of dysfunctional mental state any more than needing time to physically heal after being hit by a car is some kind of neurotic avoidance of exercise or something. If you have been hit by all this stuff in a short period of time and need time to grieve what you thought you wanted, that doesn't prove this revelation that all those things didn't really make you that happy is merely evidence of a broken spirit.

Still, time might mellow your view and convince you that you can strive again for things you want. That is certainly true.
posted by Michele in California at 2:28 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My question(s) is basically this...can one be ultimately happy, healthy and self-fulfilled with such a spare and socially impoverished life?

"Spareness" is not a problem unless you don't like it. If you do, it's a good thing.

"Socially impoverished"; you say you have some friends, and family that you are close to. But what I read in your post also was that you are feeling some dissatisfaction with those relationships, and relationships in general (personal and work-related), and wondering if they will fall away too, maybe. And then what? It's kind of scary.

And that's a healthy fear; losing all connection to other human beings is bad for people, long-term. You don't have to have best friends or lovers, but you do need some contact with others. And that takes effort on your part.

So: join something. Church, community organization, volunteering, hobby group, whatever. It will require hauling yourself into town once a week or so, it will be a pain in the ass and awkward at least some of the time, but it will also be better than undiluted isolation.

You mention "chasing" friendship, success, love. It's not surprising you don't want to keep doing that, it sounds exhausting. So don't. Just go be around others and do things with them once in a while, and be open--but not expecting--to relationships that might come from that. If they do, great, if they don't, well, you got out of the house for a few hours and maybe did something interesting or useful.

And let yourself enjoy the life you have, no matter what you think other people might think of it in terms of "success."
posted by emjaybee at 2:32 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The funny thing is that this is a big trend these days. That "normal Western standard" of career path, house, proper dinner parties is kind of being left behind by many people. If it works for you, great, go for it, but if you start to look at the small house movement, the off the grid/boondocking movement, the slow/grow your own movement you are in some amazing company.

That being said, I would recommend doing some research into these movements, just to be able to reset your idea of "normal Western standard", seeing that you are not alone, and being able to create a way of being that is totally your own and not filled with the 'shoulds' of other peoples goals.

(Full disclosure, we have been off the grid nomadic for 2 1/2 years and love it. I spend most of my time completely alone in nature and am more happy than I have ever been in my life.)
posted by Vaike at 2:58 PM on April 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Regarding your previous job, I wonder whether you're suffering from a little PTSD. When I exited my big firm, under strained circumstances, for life as a solitary freelancer, I was amazed by how all of those people continued to live on in my head and how much I thought about that company and its culture. If you're replaying events in your head and finding that you're still emotionally fragile around them, it might be time for some purpose-specific therapy-- or even a ritual you devise, like burning your old business cards--to effect a real separation. It sounds like being let go took you by surprise and then there was no formal closure... so you have to make it yourself and set yourself free.
posted by carmicha at 3:56 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You know there's not anyone standing at the end with a checklist that's gonna go "NOPE NOPE NOPE DIDN'T HAVE A HOUSE AND A WIFE AND 2.5 KIDS DOWN YA GO", right? Because I don't know your religious inclinations, but most of the ones I encountered don't require conformity to the suburban ideal to get into The Good Afterlife.

What you have been chasing is external validation and that is always going to leave you unhappy because, ultimately, you can't control it. If you got all that money and status you want, you'd still be unhappy, because there's always more money and always more status. You got a big boat? That guy has an even bigger boat. You got one of those? That guy has a boat with a helipad. You got a mansion? That guy bought a French chateau. It never ends because there's always more more more and people make money selling you on the idea that you always need more.

And I can tell you from watching my friends go through my 20s and 30s that living for other people never gives you happiness because they never, ever go "Okay, good job, be happy." It goes from GOTTA GO TO COLLEGE to GOTTA BUY A HOUSE to GOTTA HAVE KIDS to GOTTA HAVE MORE KIDS to GOTTA HAVE A MINIVAN FOR ALL YOUR KIDS to GOTTA SEND YOUR KIDS TO A GOOD SCHOOL to GOTTA MOVE TO THE SUBURBS WHERE THE GOOD SCHOOLS ARE and so on and so on and so on. But some of those people are the most miserable people I know because they're doing what everyone says they should do, but they've never once stopped to go "Hey, what actually makes me happy?"
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:35 PM on April 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: some people are probably very envious of the situation you are in right now (perhaps minus the bankruptcy).

you don't need society's permission to be happy. if some animals in a rural area is what makes you content, then be glad you have that. everything you might THINK you need to be happy is because you're of a certain age in america.

make your own "american dream" and live it.

(i have struggled with this for years and it took me a long time to be okay with the fact that other people would judge me for not having a big house and kids and what not. but those things would not make me happy, so fuck them. i'm also a freelancer and people look down on that too in certain circles, but i am 1000000000% happier this way than in a cube farm, so fuck that too.)
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:11 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It may also help you to be aware of what sort of assumptions you are making about your life - you seem to be framing everything in the worst possible light. You feel your family treats you with "kid gloves" If you have been going through some rough times, that means that they are treating you with kindness. You say "A series of rather dysfunctional relationships over the years has convinced me I'll always be single" but another perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw from your past is that you have learned what a dysfunctional relationship is, and you know now to avoid doing that again. You have "a few, old, distant friends I communicate with online" - so people that really know you stay in touch. As far as leaving your last job - I work in an industry with very high turnover, and I can tell you that there is no standard way that people leave a job - some people like a party, some people like to sneak out quietly. The best anyone can do is to take their lead from the person leaving, and respond in kind. If your co-workers didn't make a fuss when you left, it's because they were trying to respect your wishes - you didn't make a fanfare, so they had to assume that you didn't want one. Once again, they were trying to treat you with kindness.

Working stress-free surrounded by nature and keeping animals? do you have any idea how many people dream of that? The sort of negative worldview that I'm seeing in your question can be a symptom of depression, so take care of yourself. Cultivate your inner rebel - to hell with all that other crap, live your life how you want it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:45 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Have you spent a lot of time being truly introspective and figuring out what you really feel, how you really feel about things? I think this task can be daunting and not at all clear at times, but when you hit upon what's true for you, it rings. You know. But if you can't figure out what you feel, then you are often just repeating habits, ingrained ways of doing what you were taught to do, taught to want and feel. The majority of us are often more reactive and act out of habit and expectation than out of what we truly believe and feel. You ask:

But I feel really weird being single, poor, low-status and now having no inclination to pursue any of the things that I chased for years (friendship, money, accolades, responsibility, respect, sex etc). My question(s) is basically this...can one be ultimately happy, healthy and self-fulfilled with such a spare and socially impoverished life? Is this going to lead to psychological problems, regrets of other issues? If so what warning signs should I look out for?

Not wanting the things you used to want can be a jarring sensation. Your body and brain have ingrained patterns of wanting those things, and there are all those echoes inside your head of what you used to think and desire. Perhaps, after a period of getting used to what you feel now, you'll slowly forget what it felt like to want the things from the past. If you become good at paying attention to what you feel, objectively looking at what thoughts cross your mind, you may begin to find that the sum of what you now feel and think is actually, truly joy, freedom, and peace. Things could be worse than that.

On the other hand, if you don't feel good, then that's the sign that you might want to alter the circumstances and change your situation. Which you always have the power to do as long as you're alive.
posted by ihavequestions at 6:24 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sort of alarmed that you're talking in terms of your "remaining years" at only 39. 39 is really young and you have every opportunity to do anything with your life that you want, barring maybe entering a medical practice, being an astronaut, or an Olympic athlete. You can have a family and kids & etc if you want. You can

Of course people can be happy alone, or not having achieved some amazing career goal, or whatever, but the way you describe the last few years is really passive and somewhat negative. You assume you weren't liked because you didn't get a big party, you assume you're not going to have financial success because of a few (admittedly substantial setbacks).

If you want solitude for solitude's sake then go for it, by all means, but if you're sort of hiding away because of a few bad breaks then I'd try to reconsider what you're really looking for in life and try to strategize how to get there.
posted by sweetkid at 7:52 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think you're mourning.

Our culture isn't very good at recognizing loss as anything other than "your parent/sibling/spouse/child died." We don't seem to think anything else in life should be difficult to process, or should need to be mourned. We're idiots, frankly. Life is made of loss, and we either mourn it or develop weird maladaptive lifestyles to avoid the mourning.

So, I think you've found yourself some solitude and I think you did it because you need time and space to mourn--the loss of a job, of a home, of a life image you'd had for a long, long time, which you now are forced to admit isn't reality anymore.

The only thing I think you should do differently is to keep a little corner of your brain aware that "this too shall pass." Acknowledge that you don't and can't know the future, or what it will look like, or what you will want or how you will feel in 3, 5, 10 years. Don't burn more bridges than you have to--maybe write some people an email now and again.

But otherwise, hell yes, I think where you are could bring you quite a bit of peace and happiness, and there's no reason to think of it as "impoverished"--that's a value judgment, not a fact.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:17 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: But I feel really weird ... having no inclination to pursue any of the things that I chased for years

Oh yeah, seconding that this is always weird when it happens. This might just be the first time you're experiencing it. Still, I'd wager that you can probably remember a time when, after a breakup, you stopped missing the person...but then for a while, you missed the act of missing them.

That's all your brain, just getting out of its old rut and being confused because there is no New rut yet. It'll be normal to you soon enough, just give it time.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:22 AM on April 23, 2014

Best answer: This sounds like a very spiritual question to me, can one be ultimately happy... I don't read depression in or between your lines at all, just an admirable ability to wonder reasonably and realistically.

I'm not referring to religion, but it could be that at least partially reframing your question in a spiritual/cosmic perspective could serve you well.

Another thing strikes me. You mention that you work freelance and that your income and work are stress free. Clearly you understand how fortunate this is already, but I'm wondering if -- either with the experience of your 20 years on the job, or other skills and interests -- you might consider an entrepreneurial venture? This could be very rewarding in each and every one of the ways you have wondered about your future prospects.

Lastly, you are in meaningful communication with caring family, old friends, and Ask MetaFilter. You have a secure network.

I admire you and wish you all the very best.
posted by ranebo at 12:21 PM on April 23, 2014

Best answer: Lots of people trade in money & status for quality of life. If you are happy with it, then how can it be considered unsuccessful?
posted by Neekee at 2:14 PM on April 23, 2014

Best answer: Conversely, if you want those things you don't need to give them up. You can recoup, but then get back to the fight. The world is a cruel place. But plenty of people have come work from worse. If you are content, that's fine.

But if you have more you want, go fight for it. You're young. You could be 47 with a great career and a hot 30-40 year old wife (and smart and respectful), with a kid on the way. If you want it, don't give up. But you gotta be hungry for it.

I think you probably want it, because no matter what people say, there is a biological compulsion for a level of partnership and success. Few (men at least) can transcend the base urge for respect and partnership with a women. Why throw in the towel?
posted by jjmoney at 4:07 PM on April 23, 2014

Best answer: It was so weird reading this as you sounded like the male version of me, thanks for asking this question in a better way than I could.

No great revelations to offer, alas.. when I feel like hell.. it all feels wrong, when I feel good I think the changes I've made.. with the cat wife and a beautiful place to live are my foundations - me getting the basics in order (check out Maslows hierarchy of needs). I think I've always felt a bit 'different' and struggled with each decade. Maybe there are hormone dips in the late 30's... but I think the embers could still get reignited given the right conditions... Maybe getting more discerning is no bad thing but it can be a tough negotiation I find between that and self imposed exile.
posted by tanktop at 10:59 AM on May 19, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all, such good advice and perspectives.
posted by Caskeum at 12:48 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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