How can I move my life forward?
September 20, 2015 5:32 PM   Subscribe

I feel like my life is in a standstill and I’m going nowhere and I don’t know how to change that. Do I need therapy or a swift kick in the butt?

Past: I spent my 20s developing my career and planning for and then escaping to travel the world. Plenty of people are jealous that I’ve seen so many amazing places and had life-defining experiences. I did all of this alone though, and although I wouldn’t take it back I spent my 20s happily alone and have been chasing a relationship and happiness in my 30s. Closing in on 40 it feels like that will never happen.

Job: I like my main job working a 1-5 days at a time contract for different clients but it means a very uneven schedule. I make more money than I ever have but it’s very physically and mentally draining being “on” all day client-facing and working 12-16 hours each day. Because I am working on-site I am fed unhealthy catering for breakfast and lunch and eat out for dinner. It’s hard to control what I eat (I’m overweight), but I’m trying to limit quantity even if I’m routinely served breakfasts with 0 protein. After working I need a few days to rest and recharge - to stare at a blank wall and not think or have to make small talk. Despite this, I really love the work and the people and get a “high” from the work. This job allows me to come in on day 1, get the work done quickly and then leave with no follow-up. Being able to leave the job behind is great! I also have worked for myself/contract/non-9-5 for the past 12 years and can’t see myself going back to 9-5 in an office. I like being able to take month long vacations and go on a roadtrip on a Wednesday if I don’t have a gig.

Time off: In my time off between the draining gigs I always have a project due for one of my own clients. I take on these projects because they are long time clients and even though they don’t pay much I can keep up my skills that are slightly different than my current main gig. My clients never give me deadlines and because a gig always pops up last minute these jobs get drawn out —months longer than they should take. My clients don’t mind and work with my schedule but these unfinished projects always weigh on me and I can never fully relax because if I’m not at the full-on draining job I should be catching up on something else.

Recently I’ve been fascinated by people who come home from work and literally have nothing to do. I always have something, if not more client work it’s something from the long list of projects I’ve worked up (sewing a skirt, mopping the floors, the painting I’ve planned for my sister’s birthday for 3 years, updating my website, designing my own business cards… the list is pages long). I have lots of hobbies and project ideas but at the end of the day I spend my alone time marathoning Netflix or hitting refresh on a few websites becauseI don't have the energy for anything else. I used to go to the gym 3x week before this gig started but now it feels impossible to get in a workout groove when I have no consistent schedule.

Love: I’m unmarried, dating a guy I work with in the contract job. He is an introvert with depression so he needs even more time to regroup after working. Sometimes we work together but just as often our schedules clash with each of us on opposite sides of the country. When we’re together during our time off it’s amazing! We have so much fun and I can’t believe I’ve found someone like him. But after almost two years together he’s still having trouble letting me in (when he gets depressed he wants space to be alone and will confide in his ex-wife because she knows him better). The job means either we don't see each other for weeks, we see each other 24/7 or sometimes we have a week off together—those times are great. We have a talk about the future every 3 months or so when he hurts my feelings somehow, and although we both want to be happy and spend time together he’s already done the big life things (marriage, buying a place, co-habitation) and doesn’t value them and might not want them again. I want all of that. Maybe I have an idealized version of love and relationships, but having never experienced living with someone, a man buying me jewelry, planning long term together… all of these things are new and exciting to me. I want them.

I used to think I didn’t want kids (too selfish/busy) but at the same time also thought about making Halloween costumes for them. My boyfriend loves kids more than me, but says it’s too late for him since he’s over 40 now and too selfish. He’s asked me if I really want kids, and I don’t know. I want them for the fun times but not enough to be a single mom. I want a partner and a family more than just kids if that makes sense. My two siblings both have no children and are not dating. I’m not sure if any of us will have the opportunity before we’re too old—if I had a close niece in my life it might be easier accepting no kids in my own future. I can’t even get a dog because I am traveling for work so much.

Friends: Traditionally I’m the type to have 1-2 very close friends. When my two closest friends got married I had to give them up to some extent. Their partners come first, I get that. So I made new friends that like to go out and do things but in our mid- to-late 30s most are married, having kids, and moving out of the city. This weekend I asked six people to go out but they were all doing things with their partners. My single friends were all out of town. I kind of wanted to just be alone anyway, but I also wanted people wanting to do things with me if that makes sense.

Having spent so much time alone in my past I’m used to it, and I have always liked it. I’ve lived alone (no roommates) my adult life and have traveled for years alone. But having experienced two relationships where I spent time with someone, traveled with them, I now know that’s what I want and I miss it. When I travel alone now I'm sad, wishing I had someone to share it with. I am no longer content alone. I don't want that for my future.

At the best of times I have trouble balancing decompressing after work, my boyfriend, friends, myself, and work. I have so little time between work I find myself constantly playing catch-up. If I have two days or a week off, how much of it do I spend with my boyfriend, how much with friends, and then can I also squeeze in some me-time? I can become so infatuated with my boyfriend, especially if I haven't seen him in a week or two, that I just spend all of my time with him and forego everything else. If we lived together I can see this being more balanced, because we could see each other more regularly and not just in intense 3-day spurts.

Investments: I want to own a place. I rent and my apartment is great but I can no longer stand the messy storage area, the dirty washing machines or sharing garden space. I want my own place! I have the money to invest in a place but housing prices in my city have soared in the past few years and I won't be able to afford a place with a yard alone. I thought surely I would have a partner in my life by now to make this big step with but it hasn't panned out. I could go ahead and buy a condo as an investment, but I don't see how sharing walls (and assessments) with people is better than renting. I've put this on a back burner because I don't want to invest in a place when I want to be in it with someone else. How can I plan for 5 years in the future when I have no idea what will come?

I don’t know where to go from here. My friends have no advice—they don’t think my boyfriend will ever commit to me, and it’s probably true. I’ve done the whole “not looking” for love thing as well as the online dating thing and neither worked out for me. Try arranging dates when you don’t know which city you’ll be in next week! My current boyfriend and I happened naturally though working together, then friendship. I love him and want him so much to want to share a life with me but I'm terrified of waiting for commitment for years and finding myself back at square one, alone, in the end.

Most people think I’m a happy, “bubbly” and optimistic person and I’ve never considered depression or seeing a therapist before. But I feel like I’ve been looking for something for almost 20 years now and I haven’t found it and don’t know if it ever will happen for me. Does this sound like depression? How do I meld together my job, schedule, health, and relationships? Can talking to someone help with this stuff or do I just need to suck it up, be a grown-up, and accept that you can’t have it all?
posted by Bunglegirl to Human Relations (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You don't sound depressed to me so much as a little worn out because your life is all over the place. But it also sounds like you like it that way? There may be stuff you left out there but it may be that you can't "move forward" because you don't have a clear idea of what the problem is. For everything you identify here that you don't like you have multiple reasons why you don't want to change anything. The most obvious thing I see here that would give you a jumpstart would be to dump this guy and spend some time dating.
posted by bleep at 6:01 PM on September 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

posted by turbid dahlia at 6:26 PM on September 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Break up with your boyfriend and quit your job. Spend time on yourself. It doesn't sound to me as though you like your life at all.
posted by Automocar at 6:43 PM on September 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

If your main gig were pared back to 3/4 full time, you could use that other 1/4 designated work time for your side gigs, reducing the pressure on your free time. I don't know you, but I have a feeling with just a bit less work pressure you'd have the mental space to make some solid decisions: house hunting, relationship building (or re evaluating ), travel, and hobby development. In short, being the person you want to be.
posted by unlapsing at 6:48 PM on September 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

they don’t think my boyfriend will ever commit to me, and it’s probably true

To this internet stranger it sounds like the main reason you can't move forward is because you and your partner have incompatible desires for the future. You seem to be aware of this, and yet I couldn't help but notice it seems like you're trying to trivialize your desires and paint them as unrealistic or not worth pursuing? The things you want out of life and your relationship are important.

You want a marriage, home-ownership and a warm family life -- your boyfriend has 'been there, done that' and is no longer game. That's a glaring incompatibility that makes it almost impossible to plan any kind of future together -- I'd feel really stuck too. You may consider whether this is the right relationship for you or whether you want to be in a relationship and have that romantic connection again so badly that you're willing to sacrifice your dreams for it. IMHO 'feeling stuck' is what tends to happen when there's (deal-breaker) incompatibilities being ignored for too long.
posted by stubbehtail at 6:58 PM on September 20, 2015 [16 favorites]

My boyfriend loves kids more than me, but says it’s too late for him since he’s over 40 now and too selfish.

FWIW, I was was 38 when my first kid was born and 41 when the second came along. It's fine to just not want them, but this isn't a compelling reason not to if you do.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:19 PM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe you need to reframe your expectations? Lives progress in their own good time. You don't need to force yours into a predictable plot arc. It sounds like you have a lot of good things in your life already: work them!
posted by zadcat at 7:23 PM on September 20, 2015

How can I plan for 5 years in the future when I have no idea what will come?

You can't, really.

I don't know if I have any great advice to give but I felt compelled to answer because you sound remarkably similar to myself/where I am in life. Well, I'm a bit younger, the job is different, and I don't have a boyfriend....but everything else you said is pretty much me to a T. The investments stuff, usage of free time, friends partnering up, etc. I don't think you're depressed, mainly because I have had similar thoughts before and generally I perk back up pretty quickly. I just have funks and moments of introspection. When those strike I find that taking a break from worrying about everything (I'm serious! Just be mentally lazy and don't worry about things for a bit!) and treating myself can eventually draw me out of the downward thought spiral. Usually this is greatly helped with unplugging, reading a book, cuddling my cat, meeting up with a friend, or just calling it a day and going to sleep.

That being said, it seems like the relationship/partnering aspect of your life is a really important priority for you. Even though you love him it doesn't quite sound like your current man/relationship is meeting your needs--frankly, it doesn't sound like you guys are even on the same page regarding certain life goals--so maybe re-evaluate and possibly free yourself up to date someone more compatible and attentive. I know it sounds scary to go "back to square one" but are you truly happy with your relationship right now? A lot of people will say it's better to be alone than in a bad relationship, but hey I get it. Some people don't want to be alone. They really would rather be with anyone than be single for the rest of their lives. But it sounds like there's still a lot you want to experience--raising a kid with a partner, planning long term--and this doesn't sound like the guy who can give you that.

Also, maybe consider dropping those extra client projects you take on in your spare time. Don't feel the need to say yes to them just because they are long-time clients--you can hone your skills on other projects that you actually want to do for yourself. This would also free up time to do things you actually want to do. I used to feel like I had to take on every freelance gig because money! opportunity! But in the end it would get drawn out and I'd usually regret it. I figured that I was better off using my time doing the things I want to do vs pouring hours into something I had little interest in.

The list of things you have to do that goes on forever? I know that. There's always something to do. I think to key is to just give in and do what you WANT to do in your spare time. It's yours, after all. I just write all that stuff down and if I get to it, then great. But if not, that's okay too. I make it easier on myself sometimes by outsourcing certain hiring a cleaning service to mop. And then once in a while I'll look at my list and I don't feel the urge to do some of the things anymore. I let those go. The things I really need to do by a deadline will get done, even if I do waste a few nights netflixing in the process.

Like I said above, I don't think you can really plan for the future based on uncertainty and what you want to happen. Plan for the person you are now. You want a home, so keep saving. You can wait. Or if you see something you really like then get it because YOU like it and YOU want to live in it. Don't worry about hypothetical, not-even-here-yet future partner. If you get a place and suddenly he comes along you'll work it out. In the meantime, I also rent, but I find that living in a fourplex (or duplex or place with less units) with few shared walls and in-unit laundry is pretty great. Maybe look for something like that?

Life doesn't really follow a formula, I think that it can just appear that way when we look at the outsides of peoples' lives. Lots of things don't pan out the way people think they will. I think this is a universal thing. The older I get the more I realize that no one really knows what they are doing, 100% of the time. As zadcat said up there, lives progress in their own good time and with that comes unexpected joys and disappointments. There are some concrete suggestions here that you might take but overall it sounds like you have a lot of good things going on. Like I said, I'm pretty similar and I'm fairly content with life right now. But who knows, I could feel the same way you do tomorrow or in a month or in a few years. I think a lot of your life sounds awesome.

Sorry for the essay, but your post struck me and I found it really relatable. Feel free to memail me if you want to chat more.
posted by sprezzy at 7:35 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm with automocar. Your job makes it hard for you to have a life, and so does your boyfriend. I'd quit both and find something better. You have savings, you have lots of skills... see what the world holds for you.
posted by 3491again at 10:13 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

In my experience, the most effective first step is being so unflinchingly honest with myself about my wants and needs, the kind of life that I would be most proud to live, the kind of person I aspire to be--and going from there, even if it meant making scary changes or starting from scratch.

YMMV, but focusing on being spiritually centered armed me with a deeper clarity, confidence, and fearlessness in how I approach and navigate my own life's terrifying uncertainties. At the very least, working with a spiritual mentor helped me better evaluate my priorities and envision new paths towards fulfillment and 'true' happiness.

Best of luck to you.
posted by tackypink at 10:35 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dump the guy (confiding in his ex-wife?!?) and start looking for a new job (since you work with him). Since you're at least open to the idea of kids, date someone who is as well. And date someone who is willing to commit to you. And after you have dated both of them, date someone who is both things.

You're overweight (like most people), and you put it at the front of your question like it matters for solving your problems. Don't cling to the fantasy of being thin.

You can have a demanding job. You can have an emotionally drained (and draining) partner. But both? No. It's like you're playing your life on the "Hard" setting. Take to down to "Easy" or at least "Medium". Why are you holding on to these things? It sounds like you are trying to convince yourself that you like them. Which is hard to read. Make a change. I'm rooting for you.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:51 AM on September 21, 2015 [11 favorites]

You might consider short-term therapy. There's a lot of stuff here -- a lot of things that you maybe want, a lot of ways that you're mostly satisfied with your life but wish it could be better. You can't change everything at once. Over a few months, a therapist could help you sort through all this and figure out what your priorities really are, and what changes you could make in your life to make those priorities happen. We can all speculate and give you advice, but ultimately you're the only one who knows how much you value all the different aspects of your life. I think you need to figure out what you really want and care about before figuring out what to do.
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:19 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cohabitation and so forth isn't what you think it is. People who are married or cohabiting aren't exempt from loneliness or misery. It isn't another state of being, your life will be 99.9999% the same as it is now if you somehow convince your boyfriend to put a ring on it, except you would be legally bound to a guy who clearly has other priorities in life. Of course, there are people who experience marital bliss, but judging by our national divorce rate, people on average are really quite bad at selecting a marriage partner, and vows mean nothing when every marriage is a call to your lawyer away from ending forever.

My point isn't that you shouldn't want marriage, but rather that you should appreciate your good fortune for not being in a lousy one. You're one step ahead of the majority of the population because you're not stuck in a failing marriage (or something like it) that you would then have to weasel your way out of before seeking marital bliss.
posted by deathpanels at 4:15 AM on September 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

You are clearly a fantastic problem solver, able to set goals and follow through to achieving them.
I wish I had half your motivation!

I think you are so competent, that if you were giving advice to someone else in your situation, what would you say?

I think you might admit that your relationship isn't getting you where you want to be in life. You know it intellectually, you want someone to explain it to you well enough to believe it emotionally.

I think you would tell yourself that if you really might want to have kids, it would have to be the priority project for the next couple of years. If it doesn't work, then you would know why, and that you gave it your best shot, not just that you let it slide you by.
What are things you could do right now? Like, check your fertility - if it is bad, at least that would let you know you could move on with other plans!
You would tell yourself you don't have time to get involved with men who are on the fence about commitment or children, who have to be convinced, or never will, you would be looking for men who are on the same page, since that is what you have time for.

What would work for you career wise? Are you looking for a partner who will be the primary domestic partner, while you are primary breadwinner? Would you cut hours to part time? How can you keep what you find really interesting and rewarding in your work?
Ask yourself if you are REALLY interested in compromising on your job at the moment - maybe you aren't! Maybe you want an introverted, frequently away, sometimes traveling partner, who you share a house with when you are both in the same town?
If you want someone to travel with, try meeting people when you are traveling to the places you enjoy.

Your weight isn't holding you back, but if you feel like it is, what can you change? You mentioned breakfast, could you provide your own breakfast even if the other meals are catered?

Project plan! Get your requirements, which are NOT the same as anyone else. You may really appreciate the alone time you get from your current, not-very-committed partner. Think about the different outcomes that would equal a 'happy life' for you, and give yourself the time to really decide what that would mean for you.
posted by Elysum at 6:01 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

-End it with your boyfriend. He doesn't sound like a bad guy, but it does sound like you want t different things (and I do find it odd that he prefers to confide in his ex-wife, rather than you). Continuing the relationship will not be fair to either of you.

-Drop the side projects. It sounds to me like they take up way more mental space than they should, and you don't get much, if anything, out of them.

-Reach out to your friends more - including (possibly especially including) your coupled friends. As a coupled person, I've noticed sometimes this weird dynamic develops with your single friends where they assume you don't want them around, because you are presumably doing "couple things," and you assume they don't want to be around, because they will presumably feel like a "third wheel." Both of these things can be true in some situations, but I've come to realize that, usually, it's in peoples' heads. Your coupled friends would probably be happy to include you in things. Even your friends with kids who moved to the suburbs: call them up and go visit them! People with kids tend to spend lots of time just hanging around the house with the kids running around, and you can probably just go hang out with them. I'll bet they'd be happy to see you.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:51 AM on September 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to back up what sprezzy said in that this sounds familiar - going by what you've said, you don't sound as though you have depression, ( IANA Medical Professional etc etc ), you just sound like someone who's worked hard and then stops and looks around and thinks "I'm playing this game really well, but I don't appear to be winning". In the nicest possible way at your age you're not special in this regard.

And what Elysum said too... you're very smart, if only it was easy to direct your own intelligence at your own problems ;)

I think you'd some big decisions to make, look to the appropriate outside help - as you appear to be some kind of travelling consultant I expect you understand the value of an external expert... you just need to find one to help you this time, rather than you helping someone else.
posted by DancingYear at 1:37 PM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think if your self reflection leads you to write a question on Ask with a wall of text that hits all areas of your life, you're a great candidate for therapy, whether or not you also have depression.

I think the current boyfriend has different goals and priorities than you do long term, so that might not be a good fit. And the job stuff seems a bit overwhelming, but a therapist can help you work through the details of those things.
posted by zutalors! at 3:10 PM on September 21, 2015

I was working last week so only had a chance to process all of your great answers now.

If your main gig were pared back to 3/4 full time, you could use that other 1/4 designated work time for your side gigs, reducing the pressure on your free time.

Main gig is contract, so realistically I can work as little or much as I want or prioritize certain clients over others and could turn the job into something a bit more amenable to a healthy life. Doing that may mean sacrificing some good opportunities for professional growth. I can turn work down/take a week or month off or not take work if there's a person I don't want to work with (like my boyfriends' ex). There will always be some travel involved, but I could press for more local jobs. The point is that my schedule is inconsistent and undependable. I had an entire month of no main gig work this summer, but my side gig clients didn't get back to me until the end of that month either, so I was both waiting to catch up on that work as well as biding my time until another main gig job came along. Perhaps this is the curse of the self-employed, never being able to relax because you're either working or worrying about not working.

The free time is there, the problem is that I'm so mentally drained at the end of work that I use most of it to veg out instead of do the fun/free time things I've been meaning to do. I see you point that I need to make time for me though, and prioritize it. Right now my boyfriend needs days to recover after work and usually those days are the only days I have free so I don't get to see him. It's not only hurtful that he would rather be alone than spend time with me, but it also means that I'm waiting on eggshells to know if I have plans and then when I find out he's not in a mood for company most of my friends I try to make last minute plans with are already busy and I find myself alone.

I was surprised that the overwhelming thing brought up was the relationship stuff because it was only a small part of my question. It's been weighing the most on my mind lately and my age really is a big pressure in this. It's so hard to hear that, even though you've found someone who gets you and you can see yourself having a fabulous life with finally, you should move on and look for someone else. I've spent a lot of time thinking if the perfect person exists. I wonder if it's better to be with someone who you fit good with even if they don't want kids, etc. or to hold out and look for someone who wants those long term things but maybe aren't perfect for you. The idea of settling down with or having kids with someone as a way to meet that "goal" in life is terrifying to me. Being with someone who is a true partner and is great together with me is most important... I just was hoping that I could have both those things but after 20 years of looking I'm getting discouraged.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:16 AM on September 28, 2015

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