Total Life Failure, What Should I Do?
December 27, 2015 11:25 PM   Subscribe

I have managed to fail at all societal goal-posts as a single late thirty-something woman with no husband, children, job, money or property in Asia, what do I do next?

I grew up in a dysfunctional, poverty-stricken family in Asia (I'm Asian) but as a child I always had the hope that life would be better when I became an adult and am able to walk away financially and otherwise. I was a bookish kid and harbored an ambition to be a writer. I figured that I would become an English professor who wrote novels in my spare time.

Despite my truly hellish environment, all went well and I did pretty well at school until I fudged up my last year of undergrad studies. As a result of my mediocre results, I was forced to leave academia instead of going straight to grad school as I had originally envisioned. I never really recovered from the shock because I had all my eggs in one basket and was totally unprepared for the job market. I also had the luck to graduate during a recession. I bounced around in a couple of dead-end jobs including retail (insert “English major joke”) for a couple of years becoming so miserable at one point that I started binge-eating and became obese (At one point, I was so fat, I had trouble breathing when I lay in bed at night).

Long story short, I scraped together enough savings to go to grad school on my own dime (Do NOT go to graduate school in the humanities). I went on to waste my twenties wearing rags and living off rice and lentils while my peers were building their careers, travelling the world and dating. I had a horrific time in grad school while writing my dissertation, having to deal with disasters ranging from running out of funding, terminal illnesses/death of family members to my parents getting knocked down by a car. After taking far too long and being advised by everyone I knew to drop out, I finally finished and got my degree but I was far too emotionally damaged and exhausted at that point to go through the further steps necessary for pursuing an academic career.

I re-emerged in my early thirties into the Real World ™ to find out that all my age peers from high school etc. (including my closest friend) had gotten married, established stable careers, bought property and birthed 2.0 children in the meantime. My closest friend had casually dropped the bomb that she was engaged when she took me out for tea on my freaking birthday while I was still All But Dissertation. That day, I managed to control myself until she left me but I sobbed all the way home IN PUBLIC on the subway (I was worried that people were staring but I just couldn’t keep my tears from falling and kept trying to dab my tears away discreetly with a tissue). I know that my feelings about her engagement are my own issues but could she not have told me on my birthday!? She KNEW that I was insecure about growing old.

I was facing my thirties single and broke with no usable life-skills (I joke that the only useful thing I took away from grad school was the ability to cook low-budget vegetarian meals based on oatmeal, legumes and rice.) I had no idea what to do next career-wise and went through a number of jobs that I hated again (déjà vu of my early twenties). I quit my last job because I was expected to work hours of overtime every week for free (yes, this is legal in Asia) and I was getting so burnt out my physical and mental health was going down the tubes (increasing weight gain and other maladies).

I have since regained my health and shed the weight but am now technically unemployed. While at a loss about what to do with my life, an acquaintance who knew I crafted suggested that I make things to sell. So I started making handmade jewelry and set up an Etsy shop a couple of months ago. I have made some sales (both on and off Etsy) but know that I am having trouble making my listings attracting the right eyeballs amidst the plethora of offerings on Etsy. To make things worse, my depression about my life situation is not making things any easier by zapping the energy I need to promote my shop like I know I should be doing. Grad school in the humanities has really equipped me for running a one-woman craft business and I have already made a number of rookie mistakes e.g. listing too many items in a day instead of spreading them out. I may have to get a job soon to make ends meet. (Yes, I know most Etsy sellers have day jobs. If you don’t, how did you do it?)

I have become a virtual shut-in and social recluse (this trend started in grad school when I was too drained by my dissertation and personal problems to keep up relationships). An extreme introvert to begin with, the burning envy I feel of my peers with stable, successful lives means that I can’t even bear to friend them on Facebook for fear that seeing their status updates/baby photos will lead to my having a total nervous breakdown. Nor do I wish to “update” anyone on my current status as a total life failure so I have basically holed up alone to lick my wounds. At one point, my closest friend implied over the phone that if I only got my life together like her, I could have a husband and a stable career too. This hurt me DEEPLY but I could not bring myself to confront her over it because I was so humiliated. Anyway, the only friend I have left is single, older than I am and non-materialistic so I am able to continue seeing her without beating myself up with comparisons.

I am a total failure and the black sheep at family gatherings (my parents think I make them look bad in front of the relatives). As a single late thirty-something woman with no husband, children, job or property, I might as well be a non-being in Asian Country. My mother is constantly comparing me to my younger cousins/friends’ children who have married money/made a fortune/bought a house/had a baby etc. (If you’re Asian, you’ll be familiar with the usual Asian parental head games and guilt trips.) According to my mother, I am a “lazy useless fat pig” despite the fact that I have lost so much weight since quitting my corporate job that my BMI is around 22. She says I should be less than 50kg. The other day she told me that my father despised my being a crafter instead of having a “respectable” job. I am just one step away from menopause which will further improve my marital prospects and I just discovered a whole new patch of gray hairs hiding beneath the black. Heck, I even envy divorced women. At least they got to have a wedding and wear a wedding gown once. I got to spend money I could ill-afford as a broke grad student on other people’s weddings and baby showers instead. I have never been a warm, fuzzy person but even I feel ashamed about the schadenfreude I feel when bad things happen to other people (need not even be someone I personally know). It’s like my brain gloats “My life sucks so I’m glad your life sucks too! Hah, don’t expect any help from me!”

More than anything, I wish I am “special”, talented and successful but just look at the personal track record of life successes I have laid out for you here. Seriously. I am even envious of total strangers on the internet who are a) younger b) prettier c) richer or d) more talented/successful (especially in artistic/creative fields. I wish I could paint like others I see online but I can't afford classes) than I am. According to my mother, I’m headed for a life living on the streets when I get old (there is no social welfare system here and I will have no relatives or children who could care for me since I’m an only child/single/childless etc.). Another possibility is that I will spend the rest of my life in my mediocrity, obscurity and poverty, finally die alone in my shabby rented apartment and no one finds my corpse until I’m mummified. I am also constantly bitter about my poverty-stricken childhood that deprived me of any chance to take lessons in I love like music (I could at least be a music teacher now!).
What should I do next? How do I find happiness and how do I stop constantly burning with bitterness and envy?

Throwaway email: totallifefailure@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I scraped together enough savings to go to grad school on my own dime

[After] being advised by everyone I knew to drop out, I finally finished and got my degree

I have since regained my health and shed the weight

So I started making handmade jewelry and set up an Etsy shop a couple of months ago. I have made some sales (both on and off Etsy


You are clearly a resourceful and intelligent person. Also, a creative person.

I am a total failure and the black sheep at family gatherings (my parents think I make them look bad in front of the relatives).

Your parents are narcissists. This is no reflection on you.

At one point, my closest friend implied over the phone that if I only got my life together like her, I could have a husband and a stable career too.

Not a friend.

Anyway, the only friend I have left is single, older than I am and non-materialistic so I am able to continue seeing her without beating myself up with comparisons.

This sounds like a true friend.

You are not a failure. You are talented and successful.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:54 PM on December 27, 2015 [45 favorites]


Wow buddy I really feel for you here, you sound like you're in a really tough space. I think the first priority should be doing things that will get you into a better head space. Part of that can be recontextualised your thoughts and framing; your question here (I'm not sure it is a question, the mods may ask you to drill down a little more) is riddled with common cognitive distortions like over-generalising, control fallacies, and more.

I am not going attempt to address the totality of what you've said here, but you can - and should - start thinking about yourself a bit differently. Take some credit for yourself.

You have, despite poverty-stricken background:

1) Got a degree, then self-financed a graduate degree. Most people in your country, including many with better backgrounds than you, do not have this. (btw, that whole love/hate humanities thing? Super common. Don't worry it's a bumpy landing but a lot of us reconcile our humanities degrees with careers and maintain a love of humanity stuff)..

2) Speak super fluent English. Wherever you are in Asia, most people in your country do not do this.

3) You finished your degree in spite of tremendous adversity when many others would have dropped out faced with similar challenge. You are stronger than many others.

4) You had the courage to quit your job and face the unknown, when you knew your job was bad for you, despite social expectations that you wouldn't. This is actually very courageous! I didn't quit jobs when I was younger because I lacked the bravery, and it's something I really regret. Most people do not do this!

5) You set up your own online business in a very new field and it's growing. Most businesses fail and most people launching on etsy don't even make a few sales. You have done more than most already.

More than anything, I wish I am “special”, talented and successful

You are. It is your perception that is stopping you from seeing this.

The above may well be dismissed by you OP. "Disqualified", for some reason. I know how it goes, I've played this game myself and seen it in others, too. But the viewpoint elucidated above is no more or less valid than any other, and its effect on your self-esteem would certainly be better. Avoid comparing yourself to others, too much. There are always people who will be better, and who will be worse off than you.

I'd love you to try MoodGym, OP, a workbook for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It's free, it's written and run by academics, and I think you would find it helpful. I think you would find it helpful because it would assist you in taking a step outside yourself OP, and looking at this raging, negative, sad internal discourse you have with a more critical eye. And it will train you to start poking holes in it, where the narrative doesn't totally hold up; the ellipses and inconvenient contradictions. And then it will arm you with the tools to start building a new narrative, a better one.

An example: your cognitive distortion of overgeneralising leads you to say "Everyone in their thirties is married, has a successful career and their own homes and children and are deliriously happy". You train yourself with the realisation that, in fact, tonnes of people in their thirties have shitty jobs, rent, and don't have kids, and even more have those things, and they fucking hate themselves and their lives.

"But a new narrative won't be true! It will just be a stupid fairytale!" you're thinking, right? That's may well be the case, OP, but we build our identities and self worth out of the stories we tell about ourselves. None of them are true. You're in a pretty dark story right now, but if you look at it from the right angle, you might find a great story in there. With a great hero in it. Best of luck, buddy.
posted by smoke at 11:57 PM on December 27, 2015 [33 favorites]


I don't know how you find happiness, but I can tell you that running and hiking both have made a huge difference in my feeling of mastery and overall well being. Do you do any sports? This may sound like a stupid prosaic answer, but I'd suggest you think about exercise as a means of self-care and a way to find other friends who align around common interest rather than shared history.

I'll also drop you an email on the off chance you're actually in Hong Kong. As a 40-something former humanities major who failed at being married and having children and whose life plan of being a crazy cat lady is currently in danger because my cats keep dying, I may not be the best role model for success, but I'm more than happy to buy you a drink. :)
posted by frumiousb at 12:11 AM on December 28, 2015 [14 favorites]


If I were you, my first priority would be to get a stable income somehow (boring, easy day job + Etsy, maybe) and then I'd start writing again in my free time.

You can still date throughout your lifetime! There is no "expiration date" on dating, and in fact, a single childless woman can be a very attractive option for older, divorced men who already have kids and don't want more step-kids. (My parents are an example of this in their reparative re-marriages post divorce.) If you really want biological children you'll have to freeze your eggs/ probably spend a ton of money on a surrogate later- which yes, granted, is a long shot at this point. If you don't want biological kids, though, you still have many years and chances to marry someone and either adopt or make step kids part of your life. Many older couples (even in their 50s) adopt young kids -it's mutually beneficial, the adopted child gets a stable home and experienced parents, the parents get a late chance at raising children.
posted by quincunx at 1:21 AM on December 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Envy: You really can't know what's behind the photos. Read the work/money and human relations questions here to reconsider the kinds of tradeoffs some people have had to make for a "stable career" and/or a marriage. A lot of people might not admit it, but more than a few regret putting on that dress (or tux). A lot of people's careers are less stable and less fulfilling (and secure) than it appears to you. A lot of people are sick of their success but can't shake it. Most people have "what ifs" and regrets. Everyone encounters burden sooner or later, in ways you might not be able to grasp from the outside.

The pain of social stigma, that's something not everyone has to endure. I can't speak to what that might be like for you in your milieu. But I would say that if you find it hugely oppressive, think about moving (to a different social circle, or neighbourhood or city, if not countries). There may be places or people for whom being married matters less. Put a bit of at least temporary distance between you and those who judge you harshly.

Bitterness: I understand feeling angry about some of the obstacles you've faced, and you're not wrong to. The world isn't fair. On the other hand, staying angry closes off opportunities for growth and connection and progress. What's done is done. The question for you now is, what's next? Accept what happened, and think of what's next. Maybe you can find a way to draw from some of your experiences for the next step. Maybe not, and that's fine too.

Mediocrity: do you mean as a person? This isn't a way to talk about a human being. I think it's ok to have high personal standards in relation to specific kinds of work, but even then, you're not necessarily the best judge of your outcomes, and neither are the market (there are bubbles) or critics, necessarily (fads and trends). IMO, the best anyone can hope for is to live with a sense of integrity - to work on projects that are meaningful to you and consonant with your values. And that you live in a way that has some positive effect on others, as far as you can tell, even if that effect is small.

Obscurity: I hope you don't want fame; most famous people seem to struggle with it and mostly seem to want the feeling of normality. Respect or recognition, that's another thing. It may or may not be meaningful (bubbles and fakery exist here too). Again, all you can do is work hard, offer your best.

Poverty: I would say this is a concern worth putting energy towards resolving. Renting for life is on a par with owning, in some places (depending on the analysis), and there's no shame in it, lots of people are doing this now. You don't have to own a house to be happy or worthwhile. But it wouldn't be good to wind up losing control - for lack of money - over choices relating to health, in later years, for example. But (depending on specifics) you can probably rent and save for those years.

I'd suggest focusing on leveraging your degree to make money, now. Maybe ask a more specific question next week about career. I would prioritize figuring out a decently reliable income source that is reasonably secure for now, and work on nurturing personal and professional relationships. Odds are you'll still have to adapt to changing circumstances, but having people willing to bat for you is your insurance, if you need it.

If you want to paint, paint. Self-study isn't ideal, but there may be ways to learn for free. If you want to make music, do it.

Being a single mid-30s+ woman who wants to date: that's tough to think about, but many people do find a match in their late 30s and later. This thread has some good stuff in it on that and some of your other concerns.

tl;dr
- Instead of the past, think of what's next
- Try to live according to your values and personal standards, and focus less on recognition from others
- Connect with people
- Agree with you about money, good focus for now
- Do the things you love to do in your spare time
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:28 AM on December 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I want to 3rd the point that, despite your negative framing, it was the list of your successes that jumped at out me from your story. You got your degree. You got your PhD, which is difficult even without terrible surrounding circumstances and incredible in the situation you were in. You lost weight when you needed to. You have started your own business. Frankly, you sound like a role model to me, not a failure. The view that success for a woman has to mean marriage + babies is part of a story that traps women in dysfunctional and miserable situations - it depends on an unspoken thesis that "what else are women good for?" By studying hard, and going to university, and carving your own path in life, you have already rejected that thesis. Good for you. This doesn't mean that you won't marry and have kids, if that's important to you, but the success/failure framing of that set of choices is terrible patriarchal nonsense. You are a success because you have achieved so many of your self-defined goals - degree, doctorate, healthy weight - and the issue now is not about doing what will make you successful but about doing what will make you happy.

When I read your first paragraph, I thought the thing you were unhappy about was being single and not having a regular job at this stage of your life (extremely common for people who have relatively recently got their PhD and are looking around for what to do next). But honestly it sounds like the thing making you most unhappy is the toxic and inaccurate narrative of your life that you are getting from your parents. It's your parents who are modelling self-hatred and comparing yourself to others in a harsh and awful way to you. I do think you need therapy to put some distance between you and this narrative - if face-to-face therapy isn't an option, MoodGym's free online CBT is really very good as a second-best option.

I also think some distance between you and your parents is a good idea, at least until you feel robust enough to dismiss your mother's claims about your life as being 100% about her and Not Your Problem in any way. I would cut back on the family gatherings and avoid long one-to-one conversations with your mother when she gets to make her comparisons and her distorted judgments. Have a natural end-point for conversations with her - eg call her when you her you are ten to fifteen minutes away from to going out, or getting on the subway, or meeting someone - and don't engage at all with her comparison/criticism stories but redirect. (e.g. Her: "Cousin X got married and she's 22!" You: "oh, that's nice. Did you see that story in the newspaper about the flood?" Her: "You're so fat! You should be less than 50kg". You: "I've been trying this new recipe lately. What do you think of it?")

Finally, I think it may also help to meet some new people. The people currently in your life have different priorities and I get the sense that they've known you for a long time and aren't giving you a lot of energy and support anymore. I don't know what the options are where you live, but I would definitely join some kind of group if possible (reading group, fitness class at a gym, evening classes on a topic you're interested in, meditation or yoga classes). You may also want to look for voluntary work that is available in your area and appeals to you. It'll get you out of the house and help you to appreciate your own skill-set and capacity to make a difference to others.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:43 AM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


You have done so much with what you were given. You even managed to create things – several things, a degree, an independent life (even if it feels restricted, you're independent), jewelry – out of your own resources.

I know it doesn't feel that way. I grew up on the other side of the planet, in a household where my parents had money (that TRS-80 post on MeFi made me realize, yet again, they were a lot richer than they pretended, since they were able to buy a few computers and even a plotter for house designs), but they didn't give any of it to me, the daughter they never wanted. My brother got plenty. I had a bit more luck in school, managing to graduate magna cum laude, study overseas (while working 24 hours a week), and create an actual career as a freelance translator, which is a lot harder to do nowadays. I ended up having to change careers so I could count on having enough money to buy rice every month. BTW, hello fellow artist of rice and lentil dishes!

Your English is excellent, and East Asian languages are still good for doing translation work. Have you considered that? You'd be great doing English to your native language. Research translation agencies on Proz.com and find some that are well-rated with your language pair, then contact them. They may ask you to do a free translation test, which shouldn't be more than a few hundred words. Good ones will pay you for even that, but it's getting rarer nowadays.

Have you also considered doing English tutoring? If you like kids, that would be an awesome way to connect with them.

I'm throwing out these ideas because, being in your position but with a stable career (that's the only difference between us), having that stability really helps the other stuff.

Also, for perspective, I do own property, but I want to get rid of it. Right now it's killing my finances, and I honestly just want that weight off so that I can put that mortgage money into my bank account so that I can save for something else in the future, and travel. Owning property is only good if you plan to retire in it. As an investment, it's actually not a great idea (unless you get lucky in a bubble, but that's a bad bet). I no longer want to retire where that apartment is.

As for retirement, I do think others here are overlooking that... I hate to say it, but you're right to worry about it. Even the Western world is a shit place for single retired women. Get a safe savings account, and as soon as you're able, put money in it. Retirement is the one thing it's good to have paid-off property for, because your income is either fixed (savings) or unpredictable (not enough savings, still working). About my property, here's the thing. It's in an area where half the voting population consistently votes for out-and-out racists, a pattern held up over the past 50 years including regional elections a couple of weeks ago, and I'm a foreigner. Another example of a Thing Held Up As Good having hidden bad sides.

And speaking of that. I was in a long-term relationship in my twenties. It was unhappier than struggling as single. I see so many people in marriages like that.

Finally, check out this article on achievement and how much more important it is to know yourself and live according to your own values. You can lose everything (I have a few times now) and still have yourself. It's the most important thing there is.
posted by fraula at 2:09 AM on December 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


holy crap this is a list of amazingly cool things that you have done, but you feel that none of it is good enough and I'm going to have to point a finger at your parents here. Can you take a break from them? it sounds like they are pouring poison into your head. Stop drinking it! You sound like a cool interesting person that has been taught to hate all of your best qualities. That sounds so painful. Everyone's life turns out in ways they don't expect, and that's ok. The next person that criticizes you, go tell them to go fuck themselves. Not necessarily out loud, but in your head. Make a note of it. start a mental screw-you-haters list, and whoever shows up more than once, just start staying away from. and when you find yourself doing the criticizing, you just add a point to the list of whoever is in the lead, because that's most likely who you picked up those nasty ideas from. Marriage, children and normal jobs aren't for everyone, lots of people are better suited to a different path, and it's going to be so hard for you to see the path that is right or you when you have that fog of bullshit expectations lurking over your head. sorry to be all emphatic about this but the whole you-need-to-to-these-certain-things-to-be-a-real-woman thing really gets my goat! You are interesting, educated, strong and creative and to hell with anyone who says otherwise.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:38 AM on December 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know a bunch of people who went the other way than university+job+marriage in Singapore, and as a result have gotten told repeatedly that they're failing their families and should be ashamed of themselves.

The ones who thrive are either pursuing a passion that they hold as their first priority (art, music, social work etc) that they ignore the rest of the world for, or they've built an alternative social support circle of friends with similar indifference to the mainstream. Without one of those, it's really hard not to feel the pressure to conform.

If you're living with your parents, that's the first thing you need to fix. Rents are hideous, but it is possible to find roommates and get a tiny room somewhere further away or to schedule yourself so you are away from the house as much as possible. A friend of mine with a similar circumstance has an exercise/gym pass for $99 a month and goes to different gyms every day for classes and showers and things, so she only goes back to her family's house to her room as a place to keep her things and crash at night.

You need to get therapy to have someone help you work through and over your stress and anxiety. There's 7 cups of tea as a free resource, and even in Singapore, there are some therapists who will do a sliding scale or have subsidised care.

Meet-ups around art or social work are a good place to start, as is volunteering with a group that is low-key and hands-on.

Memail me if you're in Singapore and want some specific suggestions.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:32 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Stop talking to your parents and start talking to a therapist. I'm an educated, employed, financially stable mother. Talking to my Asian parents still makes me feel like crap. That brand of Asian parenting is designed to make you feel unworthy no matter what you do. Luckily, I'm in a good enough place where their shitty comments don't send me spiraling down into depression and self-hatred, but you are not there yet. They are not safe for you to be around now, and perhaps not ever. Stop chasing their approval. It's a mirage.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:01 AM on December 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm going to challenge you to buck the norm.

Why are you still in touch with your family? They sound dreadful. If you love them, but they're running their game on you, stand up for yourself. Set boundaries, "Mother, I love you and more importantly, I love myself. I've lived my life as I saw fit. It doesn't look like your definition of success, but I'm happy with what I have for now, and I'm working on doing better for myself in the future." Another tack would be to say, "get off my back! You brought me up in a shit-hole. At least today, I'm not as low as that. Despite the absolute nothing you contributed, I am an educated woman. What do you have that you presume to look down upon me?"

If you want to date, date Sign up on dating websites. You're looking for a nice person, not a meal ticket. I'm sure there are guys out there, not doctors, not rich, but good, decent people, who would love to meet an educated, talented woman.

As for work, get some. Keep doing your Etsy stuff, but find a regular job, just so you can be financially stabile.

You aren't a failure, as other here have pointed out. How many of those doctors of your acquaintance HATE their jobs. HATE being doctors, only did it because they were pressured to? How many of those marriages are miserable, but both parties are staying with it so as not to shame their families? Besides all of which, who cares? How other people live their lives is nothing to you.

I was 39 when I married, and while I didn't have children (and frankly at that point didn't want them,) I am so very happy I waited until I met a man who enhanced my life. He didn't complete it, he made it better. Look for that in a mate.

Here are some thoughts. Have you considered teaching English abroad? Abu Dhabi is hiring and the money is fantastic. It would be an adventure and I'm sure you'd meet some interesting folks there.

I too have an English Degree, I worked for the phone company for 25 years, got laid off and had to rebuild my career after that. Man plans, God laughs.

It's okay. Shit happens.

Do you want to continue to live miserably in the expectations of other people, or would you rather change your mindset and do something different? It won't always be great, sometimes you'll wish you never did it, but ultimately this is YOUR LIFE! You know there's something better out there. Go get it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:07 AM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I want to 3rd the point that, despite your negative framing, it was the list of your successes that jumped at out me from your story.

This is how I read your story as well. It's a good reminder that how things look from the outside is not a reflection of how they feel on the inside, and vice versa. I look at you and see someone who is accomplished and interesting, for example, and a lot of the people with the things you feel you are lacking are going to be feeling trapped and unhappy -- those accomplishments are no guarantee of happiness and success.

I agree that your parents sound like their approach is hurting you right now and that if it is possible it would be great to take a break from their negativity. That's not always possible, and so finding ways to reframe what they are saying as about them, not you, might help in the meantime.

Good luck. You sound like a neat person who would be interesting to know, and I hope you find a path towards happiness.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:44 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every single person here could tell you that you have accomplished a ton of amazing things. And that would be true but the problem is that it's not a narrative you believe.

The real issue here is you're struggling with a negative and distorted self-perception, and that's what you need to get help with. So I'm playing the #1 AskMe card: get thee to a therapist, stat.

You need help learning how to reframe your thinking, to take this incredibly harsh and unforgiving self-image and learn how to feel good about yourself. That's what's missing in your life and that's how you will find happiness.

Let me play devil's advocate. Let's say that you're actually right and up until this point, your life has been a Total Failure (except it hasn't and I'm making a point). What's holding you back from changing all of that as of today? Nothing, right?

How do I find happiness and how do I stop constantly burning with bitterness and envy?

You get qualified professional help so you learn how to treat yourself with the kindness you deserve. With that, you can see that you're actually NOT a Total Life Failure. Everyone here can tell you that you're amazing but you need to work on appreciating yourself so you can also believe it because it's the truth.
posted by sweetie_darling at 6:05 AM on December 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Your life sounds a lot like mine sans overbearing and toxic Asian parents (although my mother was an unsupportive bitch to me when I started grad school because she was convinced that by my improving my life beyond my shitty retail jobs and aiming toward a goal that I thought I was "better" than her...textbook narcissist bullshit). Only difference is: I had the fiancé and the house and the typical markers of "success." It didn't last and I found myself burned out by grad school and relationships and generally just a wreck by the time I was 30. And in a job I hated. I got into art and was a bit aimless and depressed for a while...but now I am working toward a new career and balancing work/life and pursuing creative pursuits.But you know, you've achieved far more than most AND you have the freedom to work through your current slump and eventually attain what you want with wisdom and a blank slate. There is no script that says we have to have x,y,z at a certain point. We set ourselves up for misery that way. You should take comfort in knowing that most people are struggling their way through life and that outlets like social media only reinforce the whole "everything is fine!" facade people have been acting out for ages via dinner parties and accolades and possessions. Nothing is perfect. You're not perfect. But you'll look back after you make it out of your rut, after the scars of grad school life fade, and you'll realize how awesome you are that you accomplished so much. Not compared to others but just in terms of your own narrative. Who knows, you may go one to make it in academia in time or write those novels. I hated everything to do with research after I finished my thesis and now, 5 years later, I am starting to feel passionate about it again.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:10 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just loved your post. I felt bad about loving it, because you're obviously in pain, but I was very carried along by your description of your life. Your anger and despair gives your story as you've put it down here a kind of narrative drive and sparkly energy that's the kernel of great fiction.

As a fluent writer who is in touch with emotion and experience, and really good at describing it, you could channel your feelings into a novel. I haven't yet read all the responses you received, so maybe this has been suggested already. I would definitely read a book like this!

And perhaps look for humor in the things you're going through. The scenes with your parents could be hilarious given the right spin. Maybe creating an alter-ego in the form of a fictional character who undergoes everything that's happening to you, could be therapeutic - and it might steer you toward becoming the novelist you say you've wanted to be from the start.

Go for it! Start writing today. I recommend Alan Watt's The 90-Day Novel. You don't have to take the telecourse (it's expensive) but the book alone is wonderful, and could give you a jump-start into the process of creating your fictional world.
posted by cartoonella at 8:18 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your parents sound a lot like mine, albeit we're French Canadian. They had very strict ideas of what success looked like and I kept failing to meet their requirements which twisted me into a big ball of self-loathing, bitterness and anger.

It's easy to get wrapped up in self-loathing by thinking you are being accurate, blunt, honest, realistic (etc) especially if you were raised in a negative environment or by negative people. My parents really struggled with their kids not meeting the usual goals on time and never realized that their shitty parenting was only making it worse. I absorbed their attitudes about me to the point where I believed it. None of my successes counted. All of my failures were just another sign that I was ill-equipped to function and a profound disappointment. However, it's clear that tearing you to pieces didn't work as a parenting strategy and it hasn't worked as a self-motivating strategy. You can't hate yourself into a life you enjoy.

You have fought countless battles and you are still here. You have achieved many things without support, often in the face of really shitty treatment from your loved ones which probably made it even harder to achieve those things. You have skills that you can use. You've already been using them. You might not be where you want to be or where others want you to be but consider how far up the mountain you have climbed while carrying the trauma of your childhood and parents. You are doing so well. Try to allow yourself a bit of positive feeling for that, a bit of pride for what you have accomplished, but if that is too hard then maybe you can find some solace in knowing that you are incredibly tenacious and resilient just by being here.

Your description of gut-wrenching envy to the point of avoiding people sounds like CPTSD/BPD (which I also have). You might find some validation and coping mechanisms by searching for resources focused on those.

It sounds like your family is very mean to you and does not support you in ways that help. Why are you echoing them so much? Why are you carrying their dislike of you into self-hatred? You deserve someone who is on your side and if no one else is going to do it, you have to become your own source of loving support. Again, you can't hate yourself into success. The next step is to take a deep breath, accept the life you have (which means grieving the life/lives you wish you had instead), and try to sift through the noise and panic to figure out the next direction to go in (CBT or therapy can help here). You can do this. You have so many skills, you have determination and strength of will, you just need to figure out where to go.
posted by buteo at 8:22 AM on December 28, 2015


I can relate to a lot of your story. In some respects you've actually done better than me (losing all your excess weight, finishing your dissertation)...being a grad school dropout still haunts me, and my weight is on my mind all the time.

I did marry in my early twenties, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to still be married and happy, even though we never had kids. I say lucky because most people our age and of our generation who got married that young don't manage to stay married. And really...you may have heard this before, but the heartache and headache of divorce aren't worth the wedding dress and party.

But I've felt like you for most of my life about not having kids...the world thinks childless women are a failure at the same time that a lot of people secretly envy us. One can divorce a spouse one regrets, even though it is painful. One can't walk away from parenthood (if one is a halfway decent person). A year or so ago, my husband asked me if I really wanted to consider IVF (we're in our mid-forties) or adoption, and he was serious--he was the one who didn't want children in the first place but knew how much the decision hurt me. I thought about it and realized that no, having children would turn our lives upside down, and, looking around, I'd made peace with the path I'd chosen. I still feel like a freak for never having experienced childbirth and pregnancy, and I still wonder what our children would have been like and feel vaguely sad about it. But I no longer think of it as a deficiency...I think of it as having chosen something else.

Reading your précis of your life, I think there are points where you could have found someone to marry. You probably encountered plenty of potential husbands (or maybe even had them thrust in your way by family members distraught over your unmarried state). You weren't forced to stay single. You could have given in to pressure, actively searched out a marriageable partner, whatever. But when it came right down to it, you chose not to, just as I chose not to secretly go off my birth control or pressure my husband into having children he didn't want, hoping he'd change his mind. And really, I think we both chose very wisely, despite what the world tells us to the contrary.

So ask yourself, honestly, do you really want marriage and children? Seriously, do you want them for their own sake, or do you want them because you think you have to, that everyone else will think you're a failure because you don't have them? Because they are huge life-changing things, and the changes aren't always happy ones. And I'm guessing that your parents would have continued to make your life miserable in one way or another, finding fault with your spouse or your parenting skills, because they're just that sort of people.

Like everyone else in this thread, I think you have a great deal to be proud of. You've forged your own path and are continuing to do so, despite tremendous pressure. And you should definitely reconsider your early dream of writing novels. It's been mine, too, and now that e-book publishing is so big, it is entirely possible. There's no reason why you couldn't make as much (or even more) of a success of it as you have of jewelry making.

However, if you really want to find someone to spend your life with, it's never too late, but it has to be someone you WANT to upend your life for, because, clearly, you don't settle. And if you want someone adorable to love unconditionally and cuddle and care for, consider adopting a cat.
posted by tully_monster at 11:01 AM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


You sound like a fun person! You have a good sense of humor and are very self-aware. I know that these traits can lead to a lot of judging yourself - since you know so much about yourself, it's easy to filter out the good things and focus on the bad.

I'm in somewhat of a similar position - have never been married or had kids at 45. I haven't had a date in the 5? 6? years I've been single. But several members of my family - including my mom - found love in their 50s. I still have hope.

I think you should reduce the effect that your parents have on you. Draw your own lines in the sand and if they are insulting or judging you change the subject. If they persist, end the conversation. They are not the boss of you anymore! It sounds like they'll express diappointment with you no matter what you do, so do whatever you want! It's none of their business and everyone keeps secrets from their parents. I've always had my mom's voice in my head overruling my own on any decision and telling me that my idea is dumb. I've just recently tuned out that voice and it has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.

Please take care of yourself and listen to everyone in this thread telling you how awesome you are. You have 100% agency over your own life - never give that up.
posted by bendy at 9:21 PM on December 28, 2015


From the OP:
Dear Mefites, thank you all for your responses, especially those who took the time to memail me. I will be saving and printing out this thread to read when I feel sad. You have helped me to see things from a different perspective. I have also been reading "What's the bright side of being single and childless?" and it has also been very helpful. (I am one of those who have zero desire to become someone's "maiden aunt" )

My story is ongoing, there is no easy happy ending and I do not know what will happen next but I will try to be courageous and resourceful in 2016 and hopefully, one day I will find the right door. Best wishes for you in the new year and may your dreams come true too!
posted by taz (staff) at 5:16 AM on December 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


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