Advice for a 25 year old feeling lost?
July 15, 2014 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm not sure how to ask this question. I've been in a weird funk lately where I've been feeling lonely and frustrated due to many factors. I guess I am just having a quarter life crisis in that I am 25 and feel a little lost professionally and personally.

There are multiple factors contributing to this.

I just got back from a difficult family vacation. My dad died two years ago and my Mom is depressed and not herself. My sister is negative and abusive (like she would suggest I need plastic surgery, or we would be at a restaurant and she would order me to get the waiter and I would say I didn't like it when she asked me that way, and she would say I don't do anything which isn't true).

Second, I don't like my job, and it's been frustrating looking for a new one and evaluating my options.

But the thing I am most bummed about is my romantic life. I recently came out as LGBT about a year and a half ago, and I've struggled to find a community where I connect with other LGBT women or find women that I connect with. It's been tough since I am a "feminine" woman and I feel lost and not connected to the majority of gay or bi women. I've been dating a lot but I know what qualities I want in a long term partner and a lot of them don't really fit my criteria.

Recently, I finally met and really liked a woman I connected with after dating dozens of women. We dated really briefly (like two weeks) but then she revealed she got out of a serious relationship two weeks prior. She said she wasn't ready for a relationship and that she didn't expect to have such a connection with me. Clearly I was a rebound and that really bummed me out because I thought our connection was real. I decided to not continue to date and ask we be friends since I wanted a serious relationship.

Since then, she constantly still constantly reaches out to me with terms of endearment ("cutie" etc.) and says she misses me etc. It's frustrating.

And so I have been in a weird sad funk where I just feel very lonely and alone.

My question(s) are this:

1. How do you set boundaries or push people away who may be hurting you while you are lonely? I'm scared of just having no one left.
2. Is it okay that I am partner-less at 25? I want to have children and I am feeling pressure and frustration with dating.
3. What are good coping strategies / things to tell or remind yourself when you feel a little lost?

(I am already seeing a therapist which really helps).
posted by pando11 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
'Don't mistake your current context for you permanent truth'
posted by tanktop at 2:53 PM on July 15, 2014 [14 favorites]

Progress, not perfection.

Work on one of these issues in a way that underscores it's a process (not an overnight change). Maybe volunteer weekly on a cause you care about or go to meetups to make some new friends, or go on a few dates with new people, or apply for a couple of jobs. You don't have to fix your whole life right this second, just take care of yourself by doing a few things to move yourself in the direction you'd like to go. Knowing that you're taking action to nurture the life you want can change your whole mindset.
posted by ldthomps at 3:20 PM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hey pando11, I'm going to brainstorm the rest but for starters I'd start by getting some distance from the woman you had recently dated briefly. Her behavior doesn't sound very kind. It may be unintentional on her part but she doesn't seem like a healthy friend to have around right now. For starters, I'd start on your boundary-setting goal by asking her to not contact you for x-amount of time. (A couple of week, one month, six months, etc.?) It's often hard being around recent exes; having that constant reminder of something sad would certainly make me pretty unhappy, to say nothing of making it harder to meet better dates. Hopefully, with some time and distance, a friendship will be possible -- then again, you might have already found yourself surrounded by great new friends and love interests and not interested in her so-so company anymore. ;-)

It sucks that your family vacation left you feeling extra lost -- family strife is SO hard -- but it also sounds like it helped you realize you wanted some change, which is really positive. Good for you for finding a good therapist match and sticking to it! So glad it's helping!

I'd also try taking some time away from the hard interpersonal relationships and instead taking little steps to broaden your circle of friends and acquaintances. You deserve to be around people whose company you enjoy, who appreciate you, and help lift you up. They are out there somewhere -- the question is where?! I hear you on how it can be hard to make connections with fellow LGBT folk from a pure numbers stance. There is so much diversity within the queer community, of course, and it sounds like looking for a different group of LGBT people who have more in common with you would also be a good next step. Do you have any leads on where or what those groups might be?
posted by smorgasbord at 3:23 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am also 25 and also feeling a lot of these feelings. As a result I've done a lot of soul searching about my career and what I want (because previously I was really blowing in the wind), and I've also started exercising. The latter is blowing me up right now, like I'm so psyched about how it's changed my life for the better. Much recommended for mental and physical reasons!
posted by stoneandstar at 4:30 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't mean to diminish your feelings when I say that this is just such a common way to feel at 25, and while no doubt many of your peers put on the face that they have 'found' some sort of contentment or happiness or whatever whatever, I assure you they have not and that they share your anxieties.

Thing is, 25 is like about the age that all of the 'I'm going to do THIS,' and 'I'm going to love THIS person,' and those sorts of abstract and lofty ideas you had for your life start to fade and be replaced by the gritty details, the sorting out of what your actual needs in life are going to be on like a minutia, day-to-day type level, and the discovery that life is actually kind of really messy. It's quite scary really, but you must also recognize that it is good and important work. Deciding you don't like some job or career path is a very useful thing to know! Realizing that you need to set boundaries for yourself so you don't get strung along is a very useful thing! I'm not generally the optimist, but I urge you to look at these things as ways you've grown as opposed to reasons to feel lost.

There is not a time in your life that you won't feel some sense of being a little lost, I don't think. You think when you are young that you'll find some job and some partner and that will be it and then you'll just sort of happily and comfortably coast toward death. But for most, life doesn't really manifest itself that way, and a lot of not feeling lost isn't so much finding a perfect situation as finding a sort of state of being okay amidst the continual chaos of things, an ability not to coast but to ride the waves with a bit of tranquility. Even when you find someone you love dearly and want to have a life with (and oh, you will, you are 25, and I'd think it stranger if you were totally certain about your life partner at that age than partnerless and feeling confused by dating) it's still going to be messy and a lot of work and you'll still need to continually learn to set boundaries even with your partner and you'll still get lonely sometimes even if you are sleeping next to someone every night. And even if you find that dream career there are still going to be many, many days that it sucks and that you realize just how much you hate this idea of 'working' generally and that you'll wish you had chosen a totally different life.

25 is an age where you're sort of beta testing your adult self, which naturally means you're going to find a lot of bugs. For example, the women who just got out of a relationship and doesn't want to be with you but still flirts with you or whatever. This behavior is usually displayed by someone who doesn't want to be with you but doesn't want to not be with you, or, heaven forbid, you be with someone else. They want to just have the relationship in this liminal space that doesn't obligate them to anything but still sort of strokes their ego and keeps their loneliness at bay by stringing you along. This is the time you figure out that one thing you probably won't stand for, and don't have the time and energy for, is this sort of stuff, and so you'll tell her to fish or cut bait. You'll take that little lesson with you, and it will make the next situation you face like this that much less confusing and anxiety-making. You might call this sort of trial-and-error-learning wisdom.

The only thing that is really required of you, I think, at 25 is to just keep moving and try to make better decisions, but really just making decisions at all will do in a pinch. It's very easy when your young to freeze amidst all the uncertainty and terror and weight of life altering decisions (and yes, they are of course life altering, but all decisions are really and it's neither here nor there) and just not decide anything and wake up 30 years later wondering what happened. You needn't decide what to do forever, just what to do next. So tell looking-for-a-rebound woman to take a hike, tell your sister to either be kind to you like a sister ought or to shove it, and take a risk on some new job path, even if you aren't sure it's what you want to do forever, and know that getting lost is sometimes how you discover a new place.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:08 PM on July 15, 2014 [20 favorites]

How do you set boundaries or push people away who may be hurting you while you are lonely?

The same way you set boundaries normally. "This isn't working for me, good luck in the future, have a nice life, etc". Alternatively, be more specific: "it's making me feel uncomfortable when you call me 'cutie'. Please stop doing that." The fact that you're lonely is kind of a red herring. It's natural to want to hang on to any bit of human connection that you can. That's totally normal. Something feeling good doesn't mean that it won't actually harm you in some way, further down the line, though.

You've been dating a fair bit, it seems, so just keep doing that. The alternative is to stop doing that, which drastically reduces your chances of finding someone. Dating is hard and frustrating, but it's often the only way to get to the good stuff. You might find you have more luck not attempting to be friends with your exes or other people you're hung up on. If you're lonely, then keep meeting people and trying to make friends. Or even look for lovers and partners, if that's your bag. Unless you're extremely lucky, though, you won't get it quickly. It's a numbers game. Keep putting yourself out there. If you don't, the person who is looking for you might never find you. You have to make yourself visible to be seen.

Is it okay that I am partner-less at 25?

100% all-the-way absofuckinglutely. It's completely OK. There is no law written that you have to have a partner at any age in your life. Other people might judge you for it, but assholes gonna asshole. That said, it's also completely OK to want a partner at 25. It's all good. Being single, being partnered, being in a polygamous relationship, being a hermit - all completely fine.

Of course, it sounds like it's not OK for you to not have a partner. And that's OK. You want a partner - that's cool! Get out there and find one. I'm guessing you've heard the story of Edison creating the lightbulb? He was asked how it felt to have failed 1000 times. He replied that he'd found 1000 ways that didn't work. Those dozens of women you've dated were the ways that didn't work. Now you know a lot more about what to look for in a partner and what it is you want in someone. You have a lot more data on that than you did. That enables you to be more discerning about your future dates. It sounds like you already have a handle on what you want, so seek out people who have those qualities. Maybe add a list of those qualities to your dating profile.

What are good coping strategies / things to tell or remind yourself when you feel a little lost?

I loooooove "triumph over adversity" for this sort of thing. "Here are some (real or imagined) people who have done amazing things in very difficult situations, or with very little." If you're not careful, your inner critic can use this to shame you. I've linked to this mudskipper video before. If a fish with a brain that is smaller than a pea can dig a tunnel with it's mouth, twice a day, eat mud and fight off rivals by opening its mouth really wide, then just think what you, with your human brain and brawn, can do.

Your entire life so far has been people telling you what to do and how to do it and what to do it for, and now you're in control. You get to steer the ship, and that can be a scary thing. You don't have anyone to rely on who is going to tell you how to do it. There are other people on other ships who you can ask for advice, but it's only going to be your hand on the tiller. Welcome to adulthood. Being 25 (and close ages) is kind of like the first day of senior school. You have to navigate the waters, learn a whole bunch of new things, make friends, etc. What you actually have to do has changed, but you're going to have to apply the same skills you used back then all over again. And there's a lot less support this time. Now is when you become an adult.

It sucks, right now. But if you've never tried to steer the ship before, then you're not going to be good at it. Don't beat yourself up, but do start taking steps to make life better for yourself. Set some boundaries with your sister, and then enforce them. Figure out where potential partners might be, and then go and look for them. Start taking some control of your life. You can totally do it.
posted by Solomon at 5:16 PM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

1. Tell the girl you dated that you can't really be friends, and if she decides in the future that she'd like to explore a more serious relationship to feel free to contact you. Work on expanding your friend circle so that you are not reliant solely on a romantic partner to provide you with support and affection.

Setting boundaries with your family is more complicated - talk to your therapist. Try reading Harriet Lerner's "Dance of Intimacy" or "Dance of Anger."

2. It is completely ok to be without a partner at 25. You are ok with or without a partner.

Read advice columns and note all of the letters that start "My S/O won't sleep with me anymore ... my S/O won't stand up for me when others criticize me ... my S/O is an alcoholic/has a drug problem/doesn't take me seriously/is a narcissist/is bipolar/is abusive/in the mafia." Think to yourself that any one of these writers would be profoundly relieved to find themselves in your shoes.

3. Coping strategy, shmoping strategy. If I could go back and be 25 again I would not tell myself sage things. I would worry less about everything (except saving money responsibly) and date more, get involved with music, volunteer, have more friends and work on my drawing skills.

It's ok to feel a little lost. Most human beings feel that way from time to time. You are ok.
posted by bunderful at 6:34 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Everyone feels lost sometimes. And I think 25 is a common age to feel lost. At 25, you're entering the adult world for real and can't hold onto having "just got out of college" or anything like that. You start to feel like you should have everything figure out and know where you're going, but you probably won't.

For me, 25 was a time I felt lost. So what I did was got a new job in another city several states away and lived away from my home state for the first time. it took some time to make it happen, I didn't leave until a year after I decided it was the right course of action. But I'm glad I did. It's scary to feel lost when you're in a "comfortable" situation, like your home town or whatever. But to feel lost in a new place is how it's supposed to feel. You get there and you feel like, "OK, let's figure this out." It was exciting to leave and I felt like I was finally doing something with my life. And for me, it set off a new career.

Also, fellow gay lady here. Since you came out so recently, you're still kind of going through that awkward "where do I fit into this" phase. I came out as a teen and I was like, "do I wear rainbow shit and cut my hair now?" In truth, I'm a lesbian but I don't feel that connected to gay "culture" at all. I mean, I'm just a person and I have a lot of other interests I care about. (I also loathe the term LGBT.) It's also hard when you don't read as gay to feel like you are finding and connecting with other gay people. I find it's hard for me. No one really can tell and I don't run around announcing it. So in that way, it can be a little isolating at times. But 25 is totally normal to not be coupled. I think gay people take a little longer to couple because of the whole "coming out" thing, so I wouldn't worry that you're lagging behind or there aren't enough women our there for you or anything. I felt self-conscious that I didn't lose my virginity until I was 20. Now I realize how silly I was being. It was totally normal.

In short, you're feeling normal feelings and there's nothing wrong with you. I'd try a good old-fashioned shake up and go somewhere you can feel like you're living your life and you're in control. You can always go back home. Don't stay with your family if they are bringing you down, just because that's where you're from. Or maybe there's something that will fit better for you to give you a healthy sense of control in your life. I wouldn't feel like the solution needs to come today. Think about it, look inside yourself, and you'll figure it out.

I once saw a quote I thought was dead on. It was something like "If you're happy, keep doing what you're doing. If you're not happy, change something."
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:23 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

1. How do you set boundaries or push people away who may be hurting you while you are lonely? I'm scared of just having no one left.

"You're crossing a boundary here. I'd really like you to not cross it, because," (if true) "I would like to keep you as a friend. I won't be able to if you cross that line again." And, the important part, stick to it. Alternatively "You have crossed a line and I am no longer comfortable being around you. Goodbye."

2. Is it okay that I am partner-less at 25? I want to have children and I am feeling pressure and frustration with dating.

Of course it's okay! You've got at least 10, probably more like 15-20 years of being able to have biological children. There's also always adoption.. Feeling pressure and frustration with dating is the absolute standard for someone your age--or mine, for that matter. Maybe you'll meet That Awesome Person tomorrow, maybe when you're 30. But the old adage is true: if you want to meet your princess, you're going to have to kiss a lot of frogs.

3. What are good coping strategies / things to tell or remind yourself when you feel a little lost?

"This is now. This is not forever."

You may also want to look up the Litany against Fear from the Dune novels, adjust specific wording to fit your circumstances, but keep the meaning: "this will pass over and through me, and when it passes, only I will remain."

Mindfulness therapy, whether guided by a professional or done yourself, will also work wonders. Lost now just means you can't find your place on the map now, which is unsurprising; you're 25.

There seems to be an unspoken question here: "How do I meet nice women who fit my criteria?"

Well, look at your interests. Now look at your local QUILTBAG community and see what groups there are for women who share your interests. Join those groups! Whether they're knitting with couples who've been together for years or fixing motorbikes, or gardening or comic books or whatever, join in those groups. Maybe you won't meet the woman of your dreams there... but you can make friends there. And there's a high probability that your friends might know someone you might like and make an introduction. (I can't remember the statistic but a huge number of successful long-term relationships start by a mutual friend introducing two people.)

Rest assured, queer or not, you are a completely normal 25 year old. There's nothing wrong with you. Keep being an interesting, fun, awesome person--be yourself--and make friends.

As an example, a friend of mine who I've known for a little over a decade now spent his entire twenties dating (occasionally) idiot girls. The girls he was was really interested in, the nice, friendly, smart, geeky girls... they ignored him. Then they all reached 30 and all of a sudden he's been in a lovely relationship for a couple of years now and there has been talk of rings being bought. Sometimes, maybe this is part of it for you, you can be a little more mature (or immature) than your peer group but are uninterested in venturing outside a certain age range, for all sorts of good reasons. They'll catch up to you or you'll catch up to them and, from reading the introspective nature of your post, you'll be a catch.

Hang in there. Coming out recently takes about 1-3 years (in my experience, personal and witnessed) to start truly figuring out how you fit into the world at large and into QUILTBAG culture in general. You've got time. You're normal. Cliche, but true: this, too, shall pass.

Best of luck :)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:49 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just dropped in to say that the two examples of what your sister did/said made me initially think she is awful; I'm glad you stood up for yourself. How old is she?

If you are not close, perhaps put some distance between you at this point in time.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:23 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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