Over the past few years, I’ve watched six out of seven of my closest girlfriends get married and start their families. I’ve been single most of this time, with three less-than-6 month relationships under my belt, and various dating situations and hook-ups in between. Everyone around me seems to be settling down, if not necessarily getting married, then transitioning into long-term relationships and getting their lives in order. While it may seem the same for me: buying a house so young, holding a steady job for a number of years, etc., I have felt lately like I’m floundering. I feel like I have no direction and I constantly wonder what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and where it all leads. Any attempts at success, relationship-wise, have so far ended in failure and I’ve come to question if I will always be single. I’ve never had a strong sense that I would definitely get married and have kids one day, but I also never thought that those things wouldn’t happen for me, if that makes sense. Like, maybe my not wanting marriage and kids enough since I was younger has set me up to be in this spot of not having those things, and not on my way to them.
I know that in life I’ll never feel like I have it all figured out. But is there anything I can do to feel more purposeful? I’m not even sure if that’s the exact question I want to ask, but I’m hoping you and this wonderful community can give me some words of encouragement, or stories where someone felt the same and came out on the other side. I know I still have so much of this life to live, but lately I haven’t been enjoying it the way I feel like I should. — Lacking Purpose
What you’re describing is so normal, it’s practically a rite of passage. I think everyone I’ve ever known well has felt this way at some point or another in his or her life. I know I have. Multiple times. I still do, occasionally, though far less frequently than in my 20s. And I’d bet you anything that those friends of yours who are partnering up and settling down feel restless or angsty or like their lives lack direction or purpose sometimes, too. This isn’t a symptom of being single. This is a symptom of being human — at least, a certain kind of human at a certain period of time. I’d wager that can be a symptom or effect of being somewhat privileged. I don’t mean to imply that you’re wealthy or that you aren’t deserving of all the great things in your life. But I do think that sometimes a lack of external struggle can create a sense of ennui.
The thing is, external struggles, as you’ve experienced before, can keep us on our toes. They can be great motivators. They push us to solve problems, which sharpens skills that help us to not only survive but to thrive. Have you solved many problems lately? Have you thought about how you might help solve — or ease — other people’s burdens and problems? If not, I’d start there. Find a cause to get behind. Find an organization you can invest time and energy into. Volunteer at a nursing home. Talk to old people. Ask them their stories. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or an animal shelter or program that builds confidence in young women at risk.
Get a pet. Really. When I was 22 and beside myself with ennui or maybe even depression, I adopted Simone, my now 14-year-old Tabby. Having something other than myself to care for helped me in ways I couldn’t predict. And then, about six years later when I was experiencing relationship fatigue, I volunteered in an animal shelter for a couple years where I found Miles, who helped heal my heart when another relationship ended and I had a major case of “I’m never going to find anyone.” [Edit: I realize on closer reading that the LW already has a cat, but I will leave in this paragraph in case it is helpful to others.]
I found someone. I got married. I became a mother. And guess what? All that is wonderful, of course, and I wouldn’t trade it at all. But I still have issues. My life isn’t perfect. I still feel down in the dumps sometimes. I still have moments of, “What the hell am I doing with my life?” And when those moments hit, I go to a little file I keep full of emails from people who have told me that I’ve made a difference in their lives. I call my friends. I do something that breaks me out of my routine and shakes things up a bit, even something as simple as taking a train to a new neighborhood and walking around letting myself feel lost.
Because the thing about being lost is you do find your way eventually, and sometimes along the path of finding your way you also find cool stuff you wouldn’t have found if you’d never veered off-course: a cafe that serves amazing pumpkin soup, or a bookstore than sells $1 paperbacks, a cool jacket for sale in some no-name boutique, a pet who becomes a member of your family, a friend who changes the course of your life.
And besides that, at 27 you are far too young to think you’re going to end up alone. I was 29 when I met my now-husband. I have friends who didn’t find their mates until their late 30s and friends who got married at 25 only to get divorced a few years later. Maybe you’ll end up with a life mate and maybe you won’t. Or maybe you’ll have multiple mates or one great love who already has kids and you’ll love them like your own. There isn’t just one path to ultimate fulfillment and happiness. There are many paths and you should give yourself permission to see where different ones might lead you. You never know where you might end up.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].