Are my reasoning and life decisions flawed? How can I change that?
February 22, 2021 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I am a woman in her mid-thirties. Single. No children. I do want to have children with a committed partner but things have gotten in the way and I have made many bad decisions. On the last years, I have been living in a foreign country. I went to that country because I found a job there. I come from a small place and it’s hard to find jobs there so after a period of unemployment, I moved there without thinking much about how life would be there. Throughout the years, I figured out that this country was not the best match for me. The city where I was living is a beautiful city but I didn’t like the weather so much, communicating with locals was hard because of the language barrier. I also found it hard to make friends and thus spent a lot of time alone at home (huge mistake).

Another problem was dating. Since I was so socially isolated I mainly dated men that I would meet online. Many of the men I met rejected me after a couple of dates. I also rejected some men, because I didn’t find that we were compatible. Some of these men did date me for some months but I found out that they were only playing with me. A few of these dates did progress into serious relationships and I had a coupe of serious relationships there, but none of these relationships really worked for me. I found these men to be cold and emotionally distant. I am not saying that all men from this country are like that, but I guess many of them are (other women share my opinion). After spending some weeks on holidays in another country, I realized that I felt very different there. People were much more open, warmer, easier to talk to and that they would actually see me as a person and not as a weird foreign woman (even though I was also a foreigner there). Anyway, this, along with other things, made me realize that there were places where I could feel better and that there was no need for me to stay there and put up with all the challenges I was dealing with. A wiser person would have seen this much earlier but I didn’t. Friends were also kind of putting pressure for me to stay there. Most of my friends there were also foreigners that made the choice to stay there. I guess that they wanted to convince me that their life choice was also a good one for me. It thus took me years to leave this country and this has been one of the biggest mistakes I have made in my life.

I am now trying to re-build my life but it’s very hard and I feel that I am lost and that I’m falling in a spiral of mistakes again. I am now in another foreign country. I came here because it was easy to reach this place due to the pandemic restrictions. It was a first step to detach myself from my previous life. I have a few friends/acquaintances here but I do not have a job here or any stable attachment. So far, I have met some guys here (online dating again). I like some of them, but I don’t really know if these relationships could/should go anywhere. I am applying for jobs also (here and elsewhere). But again, I feel that I am falling in a spiral of mistakes again and that my logics and reasoning are again flawed. This place is nice but it’s also a foreign country to me. I also don’t have any particular reason to be here other than me not being where I was before. It feels a bit more familiar than where I used to live but it’s still a foreign country and I don’t know if I can/should stay here. I know that my main priority should be to settle down somewhere. I am waiting to see if these job applications will work out. But I feel confused. Being so far from my roots for such a long time has changed the way I feel in the world. I feel uprooted and I feel that being in a limbo has become my “home” now. I enjoy “exploring”. I am not a conventional person, I am very open and intellectually curious and that has led me to live the way I have lived. But it is also a lonely life and kind of empty. On the one hand, I think that I I should just move back to my country and forget about these adventures of working and dating in foreign countries. I miss my family and I feel that my country offers me what I need now: stability and a sense of belonging. But my country also has many shortcomings that I am very aware of: it’s a conservative country, with multiple social problems and with few job opportunities for me. People also tend to marry younger there so I wonder if I can find someone suitable there or if going back there will mean that I will be alone. On the other hand, I know that I need a job so I have made many jobs applications in different countries. I make these job applications without knowing if I really want to go to the places where these jobs are. I know that I would like some of these places, but others I am not sure, I still make the applications just “to see”.

Amongst this confusion, I have concluded that I will stay here for a few months, see how it goes with these job applications, have some dates and if nothing works out, I will just move back to my country and forget about this whole living abroad adventure. But I sense that my logic and reasoning behind this decision are wrong. I feel that this country is still alien to me. I like “warmer” countries and this is not a warm country. The only thing making it easier for me here is the language, because I do speak the local language fluently, but other than that it is still a foreign country. I also do not have a job here and I have no idea whether I can find one. Staying here without a job will simply be impossible in the long term, although, if I build a relationship with a man here and he would help me, I could potentially build an independent life here after some years. But I feel that I am crazy and immature for thinking the way I think. I want to stop this nonsense life soon. People my age have jobs, stable living situations, families. I am wandering the world with no purpose. I feel that the men I date here see this in me and maybe they don’t take me seriously. But maybe some of them are so desperate to find a partner that I guess that they are willing to overlook the fact that I have this strange, complicated life arrangement.

As you can see, I am having an extremely hard time to make important life decisions. Living abroad has expanded my horizons in a way that no other thing has. It has helped me grow and learn so much but it is time for me to stop exploring and learning. It’s my time to settle down and grow roots. But I feel that I need some advice to do this. Could you help me see things that I don’t see? Maybe tell me something about your own lives and how you made decisions in confusing moments. Do you think I am crazy? Where do you see that my reasoning is wrong and how do you think I could rectify that? Maybe some of you have experiences living abroad, could you give some insights into how you navigate these confusing feelings of up-rootedness, longing for the past and excitement for new things, places and relationships? Maybe you can also tell me about some podcasts or books that will help me. Thanks a lot for reading.
posted by Fromthesouth to Human Relations (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, I don't have a simple answer for you but I do know one thing: you reasoning and life decisions are not flawed. From what you wrote you are thinking about your life in a very reasonable way (more than most people) and are generally making good decisions. It just turns out that sometimes life gets really complicated and there are no "right" answers.

For me, the way I get through complicated decisions like this is to first work out what my current priorities in life are (they will probably change later which is fine) and the critical things I need to reach those goals. Then I try to make a very short list of "must haves" or "definitely nots" related to other parts of my life. Actually working out the lists is important because they may be different than what you initially thought. As an example, you mention that are nonconventional, but also want to stop living a nonsense life and settle down. This could mean a lot of different things: Is it a priority that your family approves of your choices? Or that you have practical stability for later in life? Or do you want some sort of structure now so your life feels less confused? Or something else? Those are just examples.

Using that method I can usually get down to 2 or 3 totally valid life paths that I am mostly happy with. The list of absolute yes/nos is important here because it helps exclude options that seem "reasonable" but would actually make me really unhappy or harm others. Choosing between the list of valid options is still extremely difficult for me, so I usually go with whichever is closest to my current situation and gives me the most flexibility in the future. But, maybe someone else has good advice for that part!
posted by JZig at 9:34 AM on February 22, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I think you're being too hard on yourself. There is no reason to equate living in a different country with not having a purpose or your life being complicated. Its understandable that you miss your family and home country, but that doesn't mean you've made a poor decision by not moving back. Feeling rootless is a common effect of moving far away from home. It sounds like you were pretty unsatisfied with your life prospects back there anyway, so I'd say you've made a good choice to see what your other options might be.

And you've only just moved! Give yourself some time to settle in and find a job before you start dating. Make some friends first and just focus on that. You do not have to rush into meeting a man. And I *strongly* caution you against becoming financially dependent on someone youre dating in a foreign country.

You seem to be very focused on 'shoulds'. Yes, society tells us that all adults have a home, a life partner, and a stable job etc. But a) that's not the case and b) not having those things doesnt make you immature or a bad person. You are currently choosing a different path, but that doesnt mean that path is meaningless or wrong. Not having them now also doesnt mean that you'll never have them.

I spent all of my 30s traveling to different places around the world. I also didnt have a stable job, a family, or a home. But I really valued the freedom that not having those things gave me. Now I've settled down a bit, and i do have a job and a partner and i only go back and forth between a couple places. I am not less of an adult than my 40 something friends with 2 kids and a mortgage, but I do have a lot more disposable income.

Even though according to some people, my life must be empty without children and a family etc etc, I find my life to be deeply meaningful. Meaning doesnt exist independently out in the universe. Life, and anything else, only has the meaning we ascribe to it. And I'm the only person who gets to decide what that meaning is for me.

Try to see the good in what you have created for yourself. Let go of what society thinks and just focus on what feels right for you right now. Maybe later you'll feel differently about things and decide to take a different life path. Or not. And that's ok too.
posted by ananci at 9:50 AM on February 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't have any obvious answers for you, and my guess is no one else here will either. You've done some unconventional things so far in life, and it's always harder to forge your own path, you know? That doesn't mean you've done anything wrong, or that your reasoning is flawed -- it just means you haven't chosen the path of least resistance.

it is time for me to stop exploring and learning
Reframe this! It's never time to stop exploring and learning. It's just that now you're at sort of a crossroads -- do you want to continue exploring and learning about other countries and cultures and languages, or do you want to start exploring and learning about [a more stable career, your home country, raising children]? Or do you want to find a way to do several of those things at once? Getting older doesn't have to be a choice between "exploring and learning" versus "settling down"; there are loads of people who raise children while continuing to travel the world, for instance. Or maybe you find a more settled job closer to family, but one that has time off so you can keep exploring. Maybe you take a job back home that makes good use of your language skills and encourages you to learn more.

One other thing I would take into account: I think it is really hard -- and particularly hard for women -- to deal with the possibility that maybe you don't want the things you're supposed to want. I am not saying that's necessarily your situation! But if I were you, I'd take these next few months (while you're waiting for job applications to come through) as a time to really think about what you want your future to look like, outside of what's expected of you.

I read the advice somewhere (maybe here) to try on different futures. Spend a week having "decided" that you're going to move back home to find someone to marry and have kids with. Do you feel excited, calm, settled, trapped, uncertain, nervous? What would you look forward to in that life, and what might you regret? Then try the same thing with other possible futures (moving to Country C, or starting a new career, or staying single, or...) This isn't going to give you like, perfect clarity. But it might help you sort out what feels right.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:01 AM on February 22, 2021 [15 favorites]

I don't think your life decisions are flawed at all, they seem well-reasoned and rewarding!

I spend so much of my life worrying about what future!me will think of present!me's choices and whether they're the right ones and whether I'll have regrets. All that has gotten me is anxiety and regrets. Live in the moment.

Live where you want to live. Have a baby if you want to have a baby. Look for jobs that you would enjoy. If you want to go home, you can go home -- and then back abroad again. Do what you think will give you joy RIGHT NOW.

If you were an impulsive person, I wouldn't be saying that. But you're clearly not. And in fact I think a little more focus on your own feelings and less on what you're "supposed" to do will let you build a life that's more enjoyable and rewarding.

You're already doing what you're "supposed" to do. My advice, based on my own life (also mid-30s woman) is not to worry so much about being a "good" woman or doing the right things and worry more about being a happy woman and doing what you WANT to do.
posted by rue72 at 10:03 AM on February 22, 2021 [8 favorites]

Respectfully, you've asked a version of this question several times over four years. It seems pretty obvious that you are not happy being away from your home country. I totally get that; I'm dealing with something similar myself. My problem is that I don't have the ability to move at this point, but you do! Take advantage of it! My advice is to move back to your home country and... just see how it feels. The way I see it, there are two possible outcomes: First, it's as wonderful as you remember and you settle down and make a home there. This is a good outcome. Second, it's not all that great. The thing is, this is also a good outcome. It seems to me that you've been holding onto the idea of your home as a grass-is-greener option, and that's always going to prevent you from settling down, either in your current country or your old one. If you see that the grass isn't actually greener at home, you could move back to your current country (or your old one, or another new one) and not be weighed down anymore. You'll know that where you live going forward is the right choice, because home was the wrong choice. It's a win-win to me.

I do want to push back on the notion of moving home as giving up on intellectual pursuits. Immanuel Kant never travelled more than ten miles from the house he was born in, and he did OK intellectually.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:49 AM on February 22, 2021 [26 favorites]

You can always come up with good points and bad points about any situation or decision.

Two things I hear:
you don't love your current home
you'd like to partner and raise a child.

I think it makes sense for you to move home country. See if you can make a life there, at least for a year or two. Traveling and living abroad is great, you can do more of it again if you really want to...

I also think you are too self-critical, you have lived it as best you can, regret is useless.
Good luck
posted by rhonzo at 1:23 PM on February 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: On the one hand, I think that I I should just move back to my country and forget about these adventures of working and dating in foreign countries

First, I'd push back on the idea that moving back to your country means forgetting all about your adventures. You'll always be the person who spent all those years having adventures, that part of you will never leave. If you move home, you won't suddenly turn into a Stepford Wife who's never left the neighbourhood, your adventures and the richness of your life to date will come with you and always be part of who you are.

Second, stop living in places you don't want to live! I know it's easier said than done, but if you have no reason to be in the country you're in, get out. Or you're going to be back here asking this question again in another two years.

Third, Going Home is not a one-way ticket, a final, irreversible surrendering. You can go home and then leave again in a year or two if you want to. Yep, sure, you might meet someone and have kids and decide to stay - but that will be a decision, one that you'll make at that time, because that's what you want to do and the prospect of having kids with this person appeals more than moving back abroad. Or you might spend time at home, long enough to let the dust settle emotionally and actually find somewhere abroad that you actively do want to go and live.

I get the feeling you're trapped in a bit of a sunk cost fallacy - you feel like you've already invested so many years of your life in being The Person Who Lives Abroad and Has Adventures that you feel like you can't possibly give it up now, even if you're not enjoying it, because that would somehow feel like admitting failure and renouncing all those years you spent roaming. That's not the case. You can be the person who roamed for a decade or two, and then came home to explore what home means to them in their 30s (and then either returned to roaming or didn't...).

I roamed quite a bit, lived in various places, was pretty settled overseas, but reached a point when I was about 33 that I thought "Huh. If I stay much longer I'm going to be here forever by default, whether I actually want to or not. Maybe I'll head home for a year, just to see how it feels and test whether or not I really want to be here."

As it turned out, I went home, pined for the overseas place something rotten for a couple of years, finally got handed on a plate the opportunity to go back - and when I went to visit prior to a permanent move, realised I didn't want to live there again. I was done, and wanted to be at home. Now I'm happy to be home, and very happy I lived in all the places I did. Everywhere that I've lived is still an active part of my current life, via the friends I still have overseas who post about their lives on facebook, and the languages that I study, and the overseas media that I consume very happily from my sofa at home.
posted by penguin pie at 1:44 PM on February 22, 2021 [8 favorites]

I don’t really have any advice for you but just know that you’re not being unreasonable at all. I’m a little paralyzed in a very similar situation.

It’s so hard to think through each choice and the risks associated with them. All I’d say is that it’s worth going home if you can come back. For me, I’d lose a pretty great shot at permanent residency in this country so I’m reluctant to leave even though I want to. But if you don’t have anything like that then not much to lose by going home.
posted by shahzebasif at 3:18 PM on February 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly it sounds like you’re moving to different countries that you don’t particularly love in the hope that you’ll meet a man who will help you and give you roots. I mean, yes that might happen but it’s dangerous too. You could very easily find yourself trapped in a country you don’t even like with a man. If he supports you financially and if you have a family (I don’t know if this is a priority for you) if it doesn’t work out you’re trapped even more. You’re reliant on him in a foreign country away from your own support system.

If it were me, I’d figure out where I really want to live first. If you did have a relationship and a career, ideally where would that be? Somewhere warm? Maybe in your home country near your own family? Or something else? Figure out where your ideal country is. Then look for a job there so you can support yourself. Once you have a job and you’ve moved, start making friends and building your community and support network.

Then start dating. If you do meet a man, you’re then with him because you like him, rather than because you need him. You can support yourself, you have a community and friends. This guy will add to your life rather than you relying on him to provide your life for you. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone.

So yeah, build your life and he will come. But you need to picture what and where your life looks like first.
posted by Jubey at 3:36 PM on February 22, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'm confused about what happened to this country:

After spending some weeks on holidays in another country, I realized that I felt very different there. People were much more open, warmer, easier to talk to and that they would actually see me as a person and not as a weird foreign woman (even though I was also a foreigner there)

Why not move there?
posted by shadygrove at 5:58 PM on February 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

You are looking for someone else to save you, which is understandable but not super realistic or very wise. The cool news is that you can save yourself by changing your life. Your plans for moving home sound good, and at the very least, the first of many steps towards a happier life. You got lots of great feedback above, as you have in the past: the only thing to do now is make your choice. It's hard but you can do it!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:33 PM on February 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that you are in a cycle of anxiety and self-blame, quite apart from anything that may be going on? Admittedly it's hard to separate actual pressures from anxiety, but once anxiety becomes a thing, you may need to address it as such.

I've accepted anxiety is just going to be part of my life, but at some point it seemed excessive and I brought it up with a doctor and got some help. I take a very small amount of medication now and have learned to say, "Oh, that's just the anxiety again," when appropriate.

Please ignore this if it doesn't apply. For what it's worth, I don't think your logic sounds flawed. You are juggling sometimes competing priorities and that's hard.
posted by BibiRose at 5:19 AM on February 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

So, you’ve asked the same question now multiple times a year for the last FIVE YEARS. And people have given you different variations of the same answer, which is you need to be motivated and change your living circumstances and be the agent of your own destiny. You don’t take any action, yet keep posting that you’re in the same rut. Year after year.

If you don’t do anything about your situation, how is it that you think we can help exactly? The best advice in the world is worth nothing if you don’t take it. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always brave. You can do this.
posted by Jubey at 12:45 AM on February 25, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers, advice and time!! I really appreciate it.

It's obvious that I need to make decisions but when I navigate my thoughts, things get confusing. Talking about this with friends or family is hard because each of them wants me to play a certain role in their life and their advice is not always objective. That is why I wanted to discuss some of these thoughts with people who do not know me.

@JZig: Thanks for your advice on the list of absolute yes/nos. I will definitely do that exercise. It will help me organize my priorities.
@Goodbywaffles: I will definitely do this exercise of thinking of different futures as well. It will help to visualize what each of these futures could look like.
@Penguinpie: I think you're very right about your observation of the sunk cost fallacy and bringing it up has helped me see the kind of loop I am trapped in.
@Shadygrove: I don't go to that country because I don't have a job there and it's far away now... I would definitely consider it if I could find a way to support myself there.

Thank you all again for your advice!
posted by Fromthesouth at 2:19 AM on February 25, 2021

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