My life feels stuck and I don’t know how to move forward
November 2, 2019 12:48 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to help myself feel better about my life and about feeling stuck, when it seems like almost everyone around is in a different life stage/situation?

I’ve been struggling recently with feeling stuck and out of sync with the people around me that I love or want to connect with, and I’m trying to figure out how to help myself feel better.

A brief history: I got into a very long-term relationship relatively young (at 25), had a stillborn baby when I was 30, and then through the next few years struggled to keep the relationship together. Eventually when I was 35, we divorced.

In my early 30s, however, I also moved countries and started a PhD programme. I’ve made wonderful friends inside and outside my grad programme—my 30s have been fantastic for friendship and finding platonic connection. And older friendships from my home country have flourished alongside, as we’ve been able to communicate and keep things supportive.

All of this said, I’m increasingly feeling isolated. Almost all the dear friends I have are five to seven years younger than me (I’m now 37). At this stage, they’re all starting to shift into long-term monogamy, having kids, etc. I love seeing them grow and be happy and do new things, but it’s also difficult sensing that the community I’ve worked and put care, kindness and love into, is drifting off as these do. The newer people I meet also tend to be in this age bracket and life stage, or very much younger.

I know I’d like to find a loving, nurturing relationship with someone but the dating world is difficult. Not feeling like I could be sure of finding that, I’ve relied on friendship for intimacy, especially over the last three or four years. But it’s odd feeling like I’m on a totally different trajectory and in a different stage of life than most of those I have physically near and emotionally close.

I do have warm friends closer in age to me or older, but either their lives are deeply caught up with children/family/partners or with their careers. Or they live in another country and timezone.

I go to therapy and am deeply grateful for being able to afford it (insurance). And it’s good to have that space in which I feel safe and heard/seen. But I don’t want to restrict vulnerability only to the therapist’s office and I’m not even sure that’s healthy for me.

To top things off, I have been dealing for a few months with the very sudden death of a dear friend from back home, who was in exactly my life situation (single in late 30s after an early marriage and divorce). Feeling some of the same out of sync-ness, we shared an understanding that I’m now missing very much, quite apart from other aspects of loss.

I would like to feel less stuck and less out of sync. And part of me knows this is in my own mind to let go of. But what can I do better or how can I help myself to wait it out through my efforts at moving forward? I seem to be stuck in dreading/hoping for outcomes and the process is fraught with too much anxiety.

Thank you for any advice or anything you share. I’ve been reading this forum for years but only recently signed up and this is my first question.
posted by underthelilacs to Human Relations (8 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Hi. I'm so very sorry for the loss of your friend. It's so good that you're in therapy. Having that space for yourself is so necessary. You have survived so much.

I see a lot of myself in what you wrote and I am right there with ya, sister. I'm (almost) 36, educated, have a great, stable career, wonderful friends near and far, supportive family, my health, a nice place to live, no kids. I stay busy and travel and have lots of interests. I am also divorced (at 33) and single. I have so much freedom. I am very privileged to have the life I have.

I have also never felt so unmoored, so stuck, so lost.

Immediately after my divorce, I went into hardcore survival mode for awhile (gonna travel and date everyone and focus 1000% more on my career and move to a new city NEW ME NEW EVERYTHING WOOHOO) and when the dust finally settled I was left with all the feelings of loss and emptiness I couldn't let myself fully sit with when I was busy surviving. Now I see my dear friends shift their focuses toward partnerships and parenthood (as they should) and it's beautiful to witness but also a reminder of how different our lives are becoming, and that feels sad. I date and see people casually and very much want a serious partner but OOF do I feel you on the dating thing - it is very hard to feel hopeful.

I wish I had advice. I'm just trying to be kinder and gentler with myself, trying to cultivate gratitude, trying to stay in the moment rather than future tripping. I keep doing things I like to do, things that make me feel connected and alive - even if it means doing them alone. I work on my friendships, even if it means putting in more of the effort, even it means setting phone dates or making dinner plans a month in advance. I remind myself that not having a partner doesn't mean I'm not moving forward - a thing I would tell my best friend but for some reason struggle to internalize myself. Just trying to be my own friend. It's not always easy, but I'm trying. Sometimes that is all we can do.

Just wanted to say I am also ~in it~ and it sucks and you are so not alone.

I recently saw this Twitter thread and it felt validating and made me feel a tiny bit less alone and I hope it does the same for you:

The grand upheav!

Hugs to you.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 2:44 PM on November 2, 2019 [15 favorites]

What a load you've gone through. So far. You've been strong, based on your account. Good that you're in therapy and can afford it with health insurance. The only advice I have---and it's not enough---is don't compare your situation with those of your friends. Everyone makes up their own story, at their own pace, and "comparisons are odious" as Shakespeare had Dogberry say in "Much Ado About Nothing," a character who was notable for his malaprops. But we all know what he really meant. My guess: "comparisons are onerous."
posted by tmdonahue at 4:42 PM on November 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’m really sorry for your loss, that just stinks.

I’m in a similar position (45, single, no kids) and for me location has played a big part. I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in a smallish city that seems to be reasonably full of other interesting, active, single women, and I have my tribe. Plus a sprinkling of family types as I can manage - I’m still friends with my pals with kids but I see less of them and more of my single friends. It’s also a place with plenty of activities/hobbies on offer and it’s through trying those and giving them time that I’ve found my friends. So mostly, I feel like my way of life is - if not ubiquitous - at least one of a selection of reasonably common ways of life, rather than feeling like I’m odd.

I know that’s only useful advice if you’re in a position to move, but I think it underpins everything. If you live somewhere that you’re statistically much more of an outlier, I can’t imagine how hard it must be, and you have my sympathy - if moving is an option, it’s really worth it. Based on my experience, a small to medium sized city with good arts and outdoors scenes is the bomb.

I’ve also been shameless about befriending the single friends of my friends-with-kids. There’s been a real “OK, you guys are off to have families, me and your other single-woman pal over here are going to go to the theatre/pub/running/whatevs every week, because we can.”

FWIW, I think this will get a bit easier for you with time. You’re at a stage when your parent friends have mostly smallish kids, and that’s all-consuming. As the kids get older and become easier to leave, your parent friends start to reappear and to want to talk about things that don’t involve their kids.

And finally... this may not be relevant but just in case - if grieving the fact that you may not yourself be a mother is part of what’s going on for you (or even if not grieving, just feeling less-than-great about it), you might get a lot out of Living the Life Unexpected, which is particularly good on helping you come “unstuck” and managing to build a fulfilling life for yourself without children.

One of my single buddies said that once she’d decided she obviously wasn’t going to have a family, she felt younger than she had in years, because it was like being in her 20s again, with all those years of possibility stretching ahead. Any woman who has thought she might want kids but who doesn't have them, has probably lived for years with a sense of time running out and possibilities closing down, and it takes time and effort to really push through to the other side of that stage and start to open up the possibilities that your life now lays at your feet, in terms of freedom, opportunity, time, money, mental space and energy. (I’m not quite there, but I’m working on it!).

Best of luck - it’s a tough, brave road, but it brings lots of lie-ins and doing whatever-the-fuck-you-want among its rewards.
posted by penguin pie at 5:03 PM on November 2, 2019 [20 favorites]

I was in a very similar position around your age. Things are very, very different now and it's only a few years later (I'm 41). In my case, this mini-crisis - of feeling like I didn't know where my place/community was - propelled me to some deep inner work, which led me to an identity shift (I came out as queer), which led to a community in which I just feel a lot more in sync, not to mention just feeling more at home in myself. I'm not saying your path is the same, BUT I think feeling unmoored in that way did give me the space and freedom to make this huge change in my self-concept, which paved the way for everything else.

This isn't necessarily advice, though. Nobody could have told me to take all these steps when I was 35. I didn't do it to find community. But just to say - sometimes feeling a bit adrift and unsure what your place is can actually give you the freedom you need to develop in ways you never would have imagined.
posted by lunasol at 8:14 PM on November 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

I felt profoundly stuck, out of sync and disconnected for decades... and I think the answer on how to move forward can be found within yourself. Let me explain: take some time (ideally in silence, maybe even over the course of weeks etc.) and decide what is REALLY important to you (what MUST you do before you die? what do YOU find interesting, exciting? write it down, and review it everyday) - then start DOING that, no matter how impossible it might seem. For me it was art. I bought paper, pens. Next, I doodled. Next, I researched. Next I set up an Instagram, went to art shows.. etc. etc. I just built and built - every day no matter how small... just slowly growing a personal mandala so to speak... I met obstacles/challenges with creativity... not frustration... because hey... it's ALL good and I'm doing what I love. You WILL be on YOUR OWN path.. which is the best right!? Who wants to be on somebody else's path? Let everybody else be on their path... younger, older whatever - you will be doing your thing and people are drawn to that.

I'm certain that by spending more energy/ focus on your projects - your world will change.. .and you will naturally open up and discover opportunities to meet people, and connect with... very likely people you naturally enjoy, and ENJOY YOU, even mentors... mentees, and others you could possibly be romantic with (or their friends etc.)

The key is the shift from the death-spiral of ruminating about your situation... and directing your nervous system and all of that mental energy towards your projects. I'm confident the rest will fall into place and it will feel like Home.
posted by mrmarley at 7:27 AM on November 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I found Pema Chodron and her books so, so important (and re-orienting) when I feel like this.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 8:52 AM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I can relate, great question. Enrolled myself in a free* online class, via Coursera, on how to be happier: “The Science of Well-Being” given to Yale University students by Professor Laurie Santos. It has been resonating with me.

(*or one can opt to pay ~$49 for a certificate)
posted by edithkeeler at 1:03 PM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for all of these kind, compassionate responses.

There is so much to work through but I think I’m already much better than I was two years ago, for instance. And it’s good to know I’m not alone in some of what I’m feeling.
posted by underthelilacs at 2:23 PM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

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