Sabotaged by my younger self - how to begin life at 40?
February 22, 2018 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Help me stay positive about my career and romantic prospects later in life. Details below.

I'm a 41 year old woman who spent the years of 13 through 32 being intensely social phobic and with few friends or job prospects. In the last ten years I've worked hard and now have a full-time job that I don't hate, a handful of close friends, a roommate that I enjoy living with and have managed to gain a bit of romantic / sexual experience.

In spite of this, I still feel like I can never really "catch up" to where I imagine I might be without the years of isolation. I haven't found a career I really enjoy. I haven't had a serious loving relationship.

I have a few ideas to explore career-wise but I can't afford to go back to school. I'm interested in Scientific Illustration and making money through my art which I know may never pay for retirement.

The relationship thing has me stumped. I feel like my social skills have plateaued and I'm not sure how to gain whatever skills it takes to be in an intimate relationship. I'm worried that I don't know how to interact at a more intimate, vulnerable and expressive level than is normal in a friendship and I don't even know what that really looks like or how to get there. I'm ok being single at the moment but the thought that I might never get to experience a loving romantic relationship makes me deeply sad.

I've started taking improv classes thinking that might help me improve more socially. And I'm trying to start dating again in spite of feeling discouraged. I'm also seeing a therapist. But I feel like as I get older things are just going to get harder both career-wise and in dating. I'm already getting MUCH fewer messages and responses than I did even at 39 on OKCupid. I know it's harder to start a career in mid-life.

How can I be more ok with having sabotaged myself when I was younger? And what can I do to get more on track with where I would like to be?
posted by seraph9 to Human Relations (11 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How can I be more ok with having sabotaged myself when I was younger?

I do not want to negate your current feelings but my thoughts are:

It doesn't sound to me like you sabotaged yourself. It sounds to me like you had the tenacity to overcome some significant challenges. Be careful being too hard on your younger self here.

Also, "catch up" with whom? There are a metric ton of people out there who do not achieve what you have.

And what can I do to get more on track with where I would like to be?

Honestly it sounds like keep doing what you are doing, improv and therapy and starting dating sound exactly right. The OK Cupid stupidity around the age-number is definitely a thing, but think of it as sorting out the idiots for you early.

For your goal I wonder if building a portfolio online of sample illustrations would help? I have seen some classes offered along those lines (botanical) here on a weekend/part time basis.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:18 AM on February 22, 2018 [24 favorites]

Best answer: I know many people who got married young or paired up but still didn't really ever experience complete intimacy. They got divorced in their 40s and started dating again, feeling very new at it. It's important not to see yourself as damaged because you haven't yet had a romantic relationship. Even people who seem to have "experience" are trying to develop their capacity to connect. Remember that people's outsides don't always match with their insides.
As for careers: ditto! Now more than ever, people in mid life are forced to change careers because of various factors, sometimes starting from scratch.\
It is a challenge - yes. But please don't feel alone, because even people who you might think have invested in their middle age often find they need to start fresh, and feel as if they're starting from square one.
posted by velveeta underground at 8:22 AM on February 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: "But I feel like as I get older things are just going to get harder both career-wise and in dating."

Everybody's different, but my experience was just the opposite: there's a developmental stage from 40 to 50 where you just kind of accept who you are, where you are (and it sounds to me like you've got yourself to a darned good place) and with that self acceptance, life and love actually get easier. Then, the 50s are the best - you have so much to look forward to.
posted by Gnella at 8:34 AM on February 22, 2018 [20 favorites]

Best answer: I really want to echo what Warriorqueen said. What you are describing sounds like a life of bravery, and tenacity, and a great deal of hard won learning. And when I was single that is exactly what I looked for and found attractive in partners. I am pretty darn certain I am not the only one for whom that is the case.

On the romance front-- you don't have to be everyone's cup of tea and not everyone will be yours. The people you love will value the path that you've followed. It's not a magic bullet for the real challenges of dating that you've described but it might be a helpful re-framing to hold on to. Best of luck to you! You sound wonderful.
posted by jeszac at 9:28 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: my 2 cents: you can only do your best NOW and in taking your next, best, step down the path that calls you.

Blaming/ reflecting on past decisions/scenarious... and worrying about how things might get "harder" as you grow older... is only wasted energy... energy, attention, focus that's better spent on what's happening NOW, your next goal and pursuing your art ideas.

I would think that keeping your job you don't fate and spending more energy/ focus on your art ideas will naturally open up opportunities for you to meet people - very likely people you naturally enjoy and enjoy you and could even be romantic with.

But you don't want to force any of this right? Just keep focused.. write down your best next steps and list how much you really have going for you. Read those lists everyday. Keep building!

Navigating (Occasionally Crippling) Self-Doubt and Uncertainty
posted by mrmarley at 9:45 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think it would help to reframe your thinking. You didn't spend all those years sabotaging yourself. You spent those years overcoming a chronic illness that had a significant impact on your life. And you successfully got to a place where you are no longer isolated, you have friends, and you have a full-time job. As someone who's the same age as you and has dealt with a lot of the same issues (I could have written most of your post) I feel like you have a lot to be proud of. And if you've come that far, you definitely have the capabilities to get to where you want to be.
posted by ilovewinter at 10:13 AM on February 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: To be honest, I expected you to be much worse off when I clicked "more inside". Not to invalidate your feelings, but your situation isn't all that bad. You've got a nice job and a stable home life, and you seem reasonably happy and well-adjusted. That's not nothing! In fact, it's better than a lot of people who didn't have to overcome the obstacles that you did. Give yourself some credit here.

"How can I be more ok with having sabotaged myself when I was younger?"

You can realize that the youthful self-sabotage is spurious. That's not the real issue here; the real issue is anxiety. If you didn't have your years of isolation to obsess over, you'd probably obsess over something else instead. I do it all the time myself. I dropped out of law school after one year, and I constantly wonder where I'd be if I either stayed in school, or just never went in the first place. More recently, I moved to a different state, and literally every day I think about what I could have been doing back in Ohio. Neither of these were particularly traumatic decisions like the kinds of things you went through, but I'm the kind of person who looks backwards and wonders. It sounds like you are, too. I think most people are. You probably know someone who regrets quitting a sports team, or going to the "wrong" college, or staying in a bad relationship. Regret is part of life. But if you're not able to move forward, that's not regret's fault. That's something to talk about with your therapist.

In the meantime, the key concepts to work on by yourself are gratitude and self-acceptance. There's a lot of stuff on the internet about both, and people here can tell you more. But just practice being grateful for what you do have, and being happy with who you are. Focus on the future more than the past.

As for scientific illustration/science-inspired art, that sounds like the thing that would kill it on Etsy.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:27 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Doing a search for "late in life success stories" and reading up about some folks whose big breaks came after 40 might be a nice way to get your spirits up, if that sounds like something that would be an inspiration to you rather than a downer.

Not to dunk on online dating, because I've certainly known some success stories, but I think the dynamic of online dating can sometimes end up putting a lot of pressure on both people. If online dating is bumming you out too badly, pausing until [arbitrary date you've decided] and just focusing on reaching your goals and doing awesome stuff that nourishes you like improv, therapy, working on your art and building up your portfolio, etc. might help you feel more stable and at ease with yourself and your path in life before dipping a toe back into the dating pool.

And yeah, nthing the above: you've been on a difficult journey, overcoming loads of obstacles, and growing into the person you were meant to be. Some people never get to that place, but you've worked hard on it, and it's starting to show. How powerful and persistent you've been to make it this far! And how many possibilities you have to explore now!

I have no idea the origin of this quote, but I've always liked it for whenever I get stuck in a regretting-younger-me's-decision-not-to-learn-a-language/instrument/etc. mood: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:36 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The past is past; you're doing great!

In fact, you have a huge leg up. If you're a regular reader of this or any other forum where relationships are discussed, you'll have been exposed to just how terrifying, fragile, and baggage-filled many of us are. You've managed to reach middle age unscathed by abusive husbands, workplace monsters, or the kind of horrible roommate we learned about on the blue the other day.

You have a job that you don't hate, which is better than at least half the people in this country and probably most people in the world. You have friends!

A great reason not to compare yourself to other people is that none of us really has any way to do so, or perspective on what other people's lives are actually like for them, rather than as a collection of their attributes you can see from outside.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:39 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you noticed a big dropoff in responses from age 39 to to 41 on OKC, you have the permission of This One Internet Stranger to change your age back to 39 and just go on some practice dates to get comfortable.

Tell the person your real age on the first date if it makes you feel better.

But listen- the age-40 cutoff is a function of patriarchal prejudice, and it is unfair bullshit that disproportionally penalizes women for the crime of, gasp, continuing to exist.... so a lil white lie (say, an adjustment of up to about 10% of your actual age) is fair game in my books.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:58 PM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone.

I realized I was being really hard on myself. I'm going to just figure out some small steps that I can take that will make me feel like I'm making progress and try to be more positive and appreciative of where I am now.

Thanks again for the supportive and kind words!
posted by seraph9 at 2:57 PM on March 20, 2018

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