Fantasizing about a better life
August 19, 2017 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Should I chase this need for a better life or will it end in disaster?

I've recently found temporary work after being laid off almost a year ago. I live in NJ. I had the hardest time finding a job and feel that through all of that I've accomplished a lot but began to realize how unhappy I am.

I'm in a three year relationship with a loving partner who is very supportive and wholesome and caring yet I've been having concerns about how deep we connect to each other. We have almost completely different tastes in music and film (something I like talking passionately about) yet we do share one big interest. Art. It's what brought us together and it kept us together. She doesn't have experience at all with relationships and I've been in a few dramatic ones. We converse passionately but it's sparse. Unless we're at an art museum, I struggle trying to converse sometimes. It's to a point now where I think about being with someone else who is more extroverted and open. We're both introverts and it can be kind of boring sometimes.

We're both still in our hometowns and with our parents. We've talked about moving in with each other but this whole unemployment situation I was in made me have doubts. She left her job of seven years because she was unhappy and she's currently pursuing activities and opportunities she didn't have time for when she was at her old job. The idea of moving in became more distant because we were both without jobs.

My family is supportive but I always get the feeling like I'm not supposed to be here. That I should be somewhere else because I'm not needed here. I have a huge family and they all live within the same area so I feel they all support each other. I love them and they love me and I want them to see me explore my artistic and self potential. I feel I'm not doing that at all at 31. Most of my friends have moved to other states and started living their lives. Meeting new people and having new experiences. I get really envious.

The past few months I've been relying on ways to escape these feelings of anxiety and unhappiness. Through drinking, sex (faithful!), social media and pointless entertainment. I do work on my art but I get easily distracted. I sometimes fantasize about moving out of state and starting fresh somewhere. NJ is a dead end. I've explored a lot of it and nothing excites me here.

I feel excessive shame and guilt over not seeing a possible future with my current partner. I feel like since I'm in a loving relationship, I should want to marry and have kids. But I'm doubting whether certain needs of mine are being met. Which I feel is completely selfish. We've talked about moving out of state and she seems open to it but she doesn't want to rush because she still wants to be close to her mother. Her father passed a couple of years ago and she experiences bouts of separation anxiety. I'm supportive of this and I would never make her feeling guilty or feel as though she's holding me back. I've expressed these feelings to her and she can understand most of it. She felt hurt but ultimately we decided to see where we're going to end up.

I feel since I'm in an ideal situation (not married, no kids, nothing keeping me here) I should pay extra attention to what's making me happy. And seeing myself delve into distractions and fantasies tells me that something's wrong. I'd like to know whether or not these concerns are valid. And important. Or if I'm just being selfish and unappreciative of a comfortable life. Yet there's always a nagging feeling that if I don't break out of this comfort zone, I may not be happy. Or happier.

What should I really think about? Are these just feelings that come up every now and then when you're older? Am I being irresponsible or selfish?

Any insight would help. Sorry for the long post.

Thank you.
posted by morning_television to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If your goal is to be unselfish, then job one is to answer this question: Do you want to have children?

You don't say.

Do you know?

If you don't know, can you find out before embarking on the project? Having a kid or three to avoid breaking up a relationship because breaking up might feel bad would be pretty destructively selfish. Yet people do it all the time!
posted by Don Pepino at 11:43 AM on August 19, 2017

In my experience, being in a situation that feels oppressive and frustrating can lead us to see even the good parts in that situation as being part of the oppressiveness.

I'm not entirely clear as to whether your relationship is actually unfulfilling or if it only feels that way because your life feels oppressive. Not having things in common is not actually that important if you adore each other and want to cover one another's faces with kisses whenever you enter the same room. Maybe you could try to connect with your partner on an emotional level rather than discussing art or movies. If you can't, because there is a distance between you that is unbridgeable, then she may not be the partner for you. (But think about this with caution. You don't want to throw away a good thing.)

Moving away is not usually an effective way to turn one's life around. We carry whatever made us feel unfulfilled with us, generally. Can you try to find meaning within yourself, by spending time thinking and exploring what is meaningful to you? I have found that what gives me meaning is within, not without.

Lastly, guilt usually is not a good place from which to make decisions. Try to think clearly without letting guilt guide your thoughts. Responsibility and unselfishness is one thing, guilt is another. Guilt is not very fruitful, in my opinion.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 11:54 AM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I do work on my art but I get easily distracted. I sometimes fantasize about moving out of state and starting fresh somewhere.

You aren't describing anything external that makes it impossible to do your art, which makes me very suspicious of a fantasy about moving. It would still be you, in another geographical state, in the same mental state, distracted.

As a middle path, how about a year of "NJ is boring but I have people I love and the beginnings of work here, I will love them back and work for money and take advantage of boring by throwing myself into my art instead of being distracted"?
posted by clew at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

I would like to have kids someday.

A change of scenery, new environments and new routine would definitely inspire me. As opposed to being in the same place for the last 20+ years. I can understand it would not last long but it's desirable.

Sorry, I won't thread sit.
posted by morning_television at 1:07 PM on August 19, 2017

I'm with Tom Drury on this whole question of people's supposedly not being able to run away from problems. If your problem is pancreatitis or astigmatism, true. But if your problem is that you don't like the state of New Jersey, then you absolutely can run away from that. I think you should GTFO of New Jersey and spend some time in other places and see if you fit better somewhere else. You've been there 20 years and you don't like it and nothing's keeping you there. Not a job: you can work temp anywhere. Not your relationship, because leaving doesn't have to end your relationship. You can spend a year or two apart with visits and calls and letters. You may find a new place that's better for you both--and if she comes to visit you a lot and for long periods, it's a safe way to try out living together and see if it works well. She could even come with you on the move to feel part of the adventure. Maybe you'll both love it and thrive and grow and eventually settle in the new place, or maybe the ennui you're blaming on New Jersey will turn out to be The Human Condition, or maybe you'll love it and she won't and you'll break up, or maybe she'll love it and you won't and you'll break up. You're not stuck, is the point, and you're right: you'd better spend some time now finding out where you want to be and with whom you want to be before you do get stuck. That's not selfish. That's the opposite of selfish.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:59 PM on August 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh for sure, break up and get out of there. The reason being that even though it will kind of be garbage for your partner, it'll be way better for her in the long run to have an enthusiastic partner and co-parent. People get married with the whole "sickness and health" thing in mind and to me you just can't force it. Then again take my answer as biased because I've never been in this situation. But yeah, I think if there is any possibility that someday down the line -say in 10 years when this woman has given a lot of her life to you - the words "I regret getting married and staying so long with you, this wasn't my first choice" could come out of your mouth, you should just do it now.

I am not an advocate of dumping people for selfish "you only live once" reasons so to me it is clear that you can keep being in her life and be supportive - like please don't be a dick about it - but yeah you should break up ASAP. What are you doing? Get your things and go!
posted by benadryl at 2:20 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I live in an area that people tend to move to from states like New Jersey. I've seen several families sort of move here piecemeal. An individual or couple in their 30s is typically the first to move, then when they start having kids, the grandparents move here, and maybe a sibling and their family. This is a pattern I've seen a lot. So if being close to her mom is the only thing holding your partner back, maybe see if the mom is up for a change of scenery as well, and could move to the same city/neighborhood.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 3:35 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound like you are really happy in the relationship and are definitely unhappy with your environment. You have no compelling reason not to go out and find yourself. Do it now, while you don't have kids or ailing parents. What's the worst that could happen? What's the best?
posted by Knowyournuts at 3:42 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

She left her job of seven years because she was unhappy and she's currently pursuing activities and opportunities she didn't have time for when she was at her old job.


The past few months I've been relying on ways to escape these feelings of anxiety and unhappiness. Through drinking, sex (faithful!), social media and pointless entertainment. I do work on my art but I get easily distracted.

this seems like the trigger or the crux or the whatever you call it. Are you envious not just of your old friends but of her, because she had the same ennui as you, and did something about it, not only fucked off and quit but is now finding fulfillment as a result? and since you need work at the moment, the only table you can flip is the relationship and maybe the hometown, not employment.

it's not a bad idea, quitting something is a fantastic feeling. If you're ever going to leave this person, do it before you get so frustrated and trapped you tell her out loud that you're bored with her, because a breakup would be easier to forgive than that. just be sure you can handle a couple years of loneliness in a tiny basement studio and no money, if you do decide to run off to live somewhere exciting with no real plans. 31 is not too old to do that but it's old enough to have panic attacks over feeling too old to do it. be prepared for none of this to help you with your art; make sure the adventure and new experiences and so on are still attractive to you even if they don't give you any more inspiration than you already have.

anyway, don't ask her to come with you when you go, since she wants to be with her family and you're not committed anyway. If you can't make up your mind about her, move on your own and try to make it work long-distance until you both know one way or the other whether partner or lifestyle wins.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:30 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I feel excessive shame and guilt over not seeing a possible future with my current partner. I feel like since I'm in a loving relationship, I should want to marry and have kids. But I'm doubting whether certain needs of mine are being met. Which I feel is completely selfish.

It sounds like maybe you are asking permission to break up? If so, I think this is a good idea, with one caveat.

It's a good idea because: you're supposed to be selfish as part of being in a loving relationship. You should feel like you are better and happier with this person than without them. I mean, to second benadryl: there's the whole "in sickness and in health" thing, and obviously horrible things may happen, and that's an exception. But all the more reason not to go further with someone you're seeing as an obstacle to, rather than a means for, your happiness.

Caveat: is it possible you're depressed? I mean, anxiety and unhappiness and seeing no joy in life and wanting to escape ... those can be reasonable responses to your objective life circumstances, but they can also be symptoms of depression. A friend of mine with serious depressive episodes talked a lot, in her last one, about becoming an visual artist. I'm not saying that that your increased artistic ambition is a symptom of depression! But it kind of ... can be a thing that people reach for more strongly, when other things seem hollow. Which isn't a bad thing! Motivation is motivation, wherever it comes from.

So the caveat is just: you might want to see someone, briefly, just to do your due diligence, get your motor inspected before that road trip. Check to what extent your unhappy perception is a symptom of depression vs. your unhappiness is a symptom of your unhappy situation. (Which doesn't mean it can't be both! A diagnosis of depression does not necessarily mean you should stay in New Jersey!) Even if it turns out depression is not relevant, that check-up will probably still be worthwhile in helping you feel clearer and less guilty about your decision.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:49 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

NJ (and places like it) can be super tough for people just starting out, even if they're from there. Relatively high cost of living coupled with (in many parts of the state) pretty limited accessibility to major cities. So leave. Missing from your question is where you would go. Do you have a plan at this point? Where can you afford to move, if you had to do it alone? Where you could you find work? Do the research, make the plans. Go on a road trip to the new area. I'm hearing "anywhere but here" but if this is going to be anything but an escape fantasy, you do have to pick somewhere. I think just taking those first small steps forward towards your goal can really be helpful in improving your outlook and give you some insights into what you are really looking for.

Regarding your relationship, I think if you are really not happy after 3 years, you shouldn't be stringing her along in a relationship that has no future. I would be so hurt if someone did that to me. But. I also think you are maybe asking a little too much of the relationship and projecting all your general unhappiness onto it. You're bored and she doesn't like the same things you like. But lots of people are in happy, long-term relationships where they don't share every interest. If you had other outlets for your interests and felt good about life in general, would you still be unhappy with your relationship?
posted by eeek at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2017

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