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.
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Addie Pray October 30, 2013, 9:18 am
Wow great response, Wendy. LW, I feel like this could’ve been written by me at your age – or now at 34. Basically 35. I still feel I lack purpose. I sometimes don’t know how to shake that. I’ll read and reread this a few more times.
Fabelle October 30, 2013, 9:21 am
I love Wendy’s response, I don’t know what to even add. I’m wondering if we know this LW, though!
Addie Pray October 30, 2013, 10:08 am
She’s me, 7 years ago! Sorry, LW, if the thought that you may *still* 7 years later feel that way from time to time is more depressing. We could get wine and be purposeless together. That sounds like fun!
TECH October 30, 2013, 10:13 am
Maybe it just gets easier the older you get because you’re used to being purposeless? You might go through a quarter life crisis when you’re 25, then when you turn 35 you might feel equally directionless but you say to yourself “Hmm, well, I got through it when I was 25, I’ll get through it now!”
Fabelle October 30, 2013, 11:45 am
Welp I thought I’d have more to add after gathering my thoughts, but I don’t. I’m another who could’ve written this, with some details changed. So I feel ya, LW. Everyone else has great suggestions, & I might take some of them myself (like, ACTUALLY. Not “if I were you…” , I mean I might literally take their suggestions.) Hang in there!
bagge72 October 30, 2013, 9:21 am
Yeah you definitely are not a lone on this one, I think that unless you are one of those people that are always in a relationship, this pretty much happens to everyone. Especially if you are one of your last friends to get married. What you need to realize is that you aren’t old, and there is a ton of time for you I was 29 when I started dating my wife, and I was the second one out of my group of friends to get married, the rest starting dating their wifes when they were 30 (though they all did date a lot more then me). Just keep doing what you are doing and it will definitely happen.
TECH October 30, 2013, 9:23 am
Wow, I feel like I could have written this letter. I am also single, 27 years old, and bought my house at age 25. Although I have a steady job and a great family and friends, I feel lost and anxious too. Most of my anxiety doesn’t really center around not finding a relationship — because I figure at some point in my life I’ll find someone.
But I do have a tremendous amount of anxiety about owning property by myself, and financial concerns. I’m thinking about going back to school (again, that lost and directionless feeling) and I don’t know if that’s the right choice for me. Plus I have no idea how I’ll pay for it all.
If I’m not worried about money I’m worried about my health or I’m worried about finding a new job — it’s always something. I don’t know when I’ll ever figure it out or if I’ll have peace.
Any way, LW, I feel you! I think we’re twins!
Lyra October 30, 2013, 10:20 am
I actually thought you were the LW, TECH. 🙂
Copa October 30, 2013, 11:43 am
I did, too! But I do love cases of DW parallel universe twins and always feel relieved to know that someone somewhere is going through something similar to what I’m going through or have been through… 🙂
FWIW, I could’ve written this letter, too, with a few alterations.
TECH October 30, 2013, 12:17 pm
Haha I don’t know how to feel about the fact that 2 (probably more) people thought I was the directionless and purposeless letter writer! 😉
Copa October 30, 2013, 12:34 pm
It’s okay. A few times I’ve wondered if I wrote to Wendy in my sleep when letters are very “just swap X for Y, and that’s ME” 😉
MsMisery October 30, 2013, 12:29 pm
I could have written this, too, except for the owning-a-house part. I feel like I am just wearing an adult suit. Faking it. People around me are getting married and having kids (which is fine, because I don’t want either of those things), but it does make me feel like I am missing some sort of life trail-marker. I finished school…. now I’m just waiting to die? That can’t be right.
Banana October 30, 2013, 4:16 pm
This is a weird instance where I think school sets us up to be unhappy. (No, I don’t think that means we should stop going to school, just an observation.) Those of us lucky enough to go to a four-year university, especially. Because we basically make it all the way to age 22 in a bubble where goals are immediately attainable, processes have endpoints, time is neatly sliced up into predictable seasons for us, and grading gives us a neat sense of accomplishment. Life is absolutely nothing like that. The semester never ends. There is no graduation. There are no grades. You just have to…live. And that can be scary after living for 22 years fully enclosed in the school bubble.
rachel October 30, 2013, 4:52 pm
I got my PhD at 28, and THEN left the bubble. This real life shit is hard.
katie October 30, 2013, 9:23 am
aw, wendy, i love that.
i love especially that you touched on the fact that feeling “lost” is a lot of times a privileged thing. i think maybe that puts things into perspective for a lot of people who may be taking for granted the things they do have.
LW, what does it all mean? well, nothing and everything, all at the same time. it always will. honestly, if i compare your life to mine *I* would probably be the lost one! haha.
there is no key, there is no magical combination, there is nothing that your friends are doing that are leading them somewhere happier then you are. there just isnt. there is just being happy and content in your day to day life, and if that gets boring, you change something. a relationship wont create happiness for you, they dont do that, and they arent supposed to. they bring love to the already happy and content and loved- the successful relationships, anyway.
as for feeling lost- i mean, we are all lost, right? if you really think about it? all of us are just bumbling around, trying to figure out life, fucking it up to varying degrees in the process and hopefully at some point we can look back and see happiness. your just another person with the same struggles and issues. and i hope that sounds more comforting then it does depressing!
bethany October 30, 2013, 9:26 am
I haven’t read Wendy’s reply yet, but I went through almost the exact same thing around 25 or so. I felt like for the first time in my life I wasn’t really working towards anything, I had no goals. Growing up, you look forward to turning 16, graduating high school, going to college, turning 21, graduating college and getting a job. Then once you’ve done all that, it’s like “well, what do I do now?”. It’s 100% normal to feel that way. Many of my friends did, too. Making broad long term goals helped me feel a little more secure and invested in my life while I was floundering.
As for the relationship stuff- I went through that too. I remember having this moment where I had the realization that the life I had always pictured for myself (marriage, family, house) might not happen. And I can’t tell you how or why, but I was ok with it. I just accepted that those things don’t happen for everyone, and life can be great and fulfilling, no matter what happens. I think once I let go of that idea, that I didn’t need to live out the life I imagined I’d have, I was happier, and felt a sense of freedom that I could do whatever the fuck I wanted with my life, and I’d be ok. I hope you can understand that, and find that freedom for yourself!
katie October 30, 2013, 9:30 am
ha, yea, what does everyone say? on your 21st, its like, “well, this is the last good birthday, theres nothing to look forward to after this, enjoy it!”
also, i agree that all the “milestones” in the teen/very early twenties kind of screws up expectations for life. there are so many of them, so quickly… its kind of dumb.
kerrycontrary October 30, 2013, 9:39 am
I think it just depends on your perspective and how much stress you put on those milestones. And there’s a lot of milestones that can be met in your 30s,40s,and 50s like competing in a triathelon or buying that dream home or retiring early or going on that awesome vacation you never thought you could afford. So people just need to look forward to more stuff!
GatorGirl October 30, 2013, 9:46 am
Yup. I totally agree with your Kerry. I have an aunt who is a great example of someone over 40 who is still constantly making goals for herself and attaining them. She wanted her law school debt paid by 35, her house paid off by 45 (which was about 10 years early), to be able to retire by 55, vacation in France, etc etc. She just keeps making goal (a lot are financial but that’s her thing) and having something to work towards/look forward too.
kerrycontrary October 30, 2013, 9:49 am
Yeh I just like looking forward to things. My thing is going on weekend trips/visiting people so I’m always excited about one thing or another.
TECH October 30, 2013, 10:15 am
I’m wondering if this LW’s concerns are more existential than related to goal setting. I mean, I agree, goal setting can be really helpful and provide things to look forward to, but will learning how to sew (for example) give her purpose, direction, or meaning?
GatorGirl October 30, 2013, 10:55 am
I agree learning how to sew won’t neseccarily give LW a sense of purpose. But for the short term setting some of these smaller, obtainable goals could help her figure out her purpose/direction/meaning and the new skills could possibly lead to the bigger goal. For example, learning how to sew could lead to quilting for the families of fallen troops, or learning to speak Spanish could lead to volunteering to help teach immigrants English, or running a marathon to raise money for just about anything. I don’t think you can set a goal of “finding your purpose” but you can set little goals that could help you find your purpose.
katie October 30, 2013, 11:19 am
absolutely- and this is often what life is about anyway. taking seemingly small steps/risks/whatever and one thing leads to another, and boom, now you have created something fantastic.
bunnycsp October 30, 2013, 11:16 am
Yes, I believe this is rut busting. when you look at the day to day and say “Is this all there is?” the fastest way out is to get moving and shake things up.
katie October 30, 2013, 11:27 am
well, those things you mention are things that people seek out and do themselves. the “milestones” that happen in the teens/early twenties, and really just life in general in that time (semester life, something always to look forward to/plan for, ect) really just happens TO people, its not something that they seek out.
i agree- i dont think that people should put so much stock into those “milestones” and i think a ton MORE stock should be put into personal goals/milestones, like the ones you referenced. also, just like we say when talking about marriage and kids, there is much more to life that is just as or potentially more important and should be valued and celebrated much more.
theattack October 30, 2013, 1:28 pm
Maybe it does happen TO you, but it’s still largely what you make of it.
bunnycsp October 30, 2013, 9:28 am
LW, everyone feels this way. But I will tell you what helped me get out of my funk. I literally put a white board up on the wall in an extra room and made a list of what I wanted to accomplish during the year. Some were things I wanted to get done around the house like paint the hallway and others were like Go to a professional soccer game and go on vacation over 300 miles away. The whole list had 23 things on it and it helped me feel proud of what I accomplished outside of work and this year. Other things I tried was made a list to be more of a tourist in my hometown and made a list of new restaurants that I wanted to try. this helped shake up the humdrum same old same old.
Moneypenny October 30, 2013, 12:35 pm
This is a great idea! I might try this myself. 🙂
thewriteway October 30, 2013, 2:20 pm
I may have to try this too!
Bunnycsp October 30, 2013, 2:25 pm
LW, there is a place that I call “God’s waiting room.” You stop there over and over again in your life at times that you don’t expect. It feels like you can’t move forward until xyz happens. It is up to you to make the best of these times. Sometimes it is harder than others. Right now, my husband and I have been trying to have kids for almost two years. Everyone has kids and we are just waiting. Other times, it will happen when you are waiting for a sick relative to pass or waiting for a divorce to be final or waiting unemployed for the right job to come along. These events can last years and you need to take charge of the parts of your life that you can control and make them amazing. Last year, I broke down right around this time, and cried to my husband saying that 2012 couldn’t be the year that all we had to show for it was not getting pregnant. There had to be other accomplishments instead of the entire year being about this one failure. That is when I came up with the list of resolutions. It was making the decision to shake up my life and make the best of the time we had waiting for the next part of my life to begin. IT had to be tangible accomplishments that I could check of a list and say “I did that.” This year went much better than last year because of this.
kerrycontrary October 30, 2013, 9:30 am
WWS. I think the LW needs to challenge herself. Whether it’s at work, through a new hobby, or volunteering. It seems like the LW isn’t missing happiness in her life, but is missing meaningfulness. And meaningfulness comes from helping others and giving to others, rather than giving to yourself or doing things to make yourself “happy”.
I do think that volunteering can really feel like you’ve “made a difference” on a daily basis. When you make enough meals to feed 250 kids who would’ve otherwise went hungry that weekend? Woah. That feeling is amazing. Or when you find out that you helped make enough sandwiches so that no one in the entire city had to go hungry that night? Equally amazing.
kerrycontrary October 30, 2013, 9:34 am
Also, I love that Wendy touched upon this sense of ennui. I love the word ennui, and if you speak french, it encompasses so much more than boredom. So it was a great word choice.
bunnycsp October 30, 2013, 9:36 am
Yea, like train for a 5k or half marathon.
kerrycontrary October 30, 2013, 9:40 am
I agree. I think short and long-term goals are really important in our lives. There are a lot of exercise-based goals that are great. Or learning a new sport like curling or syncronized swimming. Why not?
GatorGirl October 30, 2013, 9:48 am
I like skill based goals- like learn how to sew, or decorate cakes, or speak a new language.
kerrycontrary October 30, 2013, 9:50 am
Yeh exactly! This is why old people rock–because they’ve had so many years to learn how to do all.the.things.
katie October 30, 2013, 11:16 am
yea, i started volunteering because i was feeling bored too much. its now usually the highlight of my week! and, i only spend 4 hours a saturday at the animal shelter, after doing one volunteer orientation. its honestly a very small commitment compared to what i feel like i get out of it.
Lucy October 30, 2013, 9:31 am
FYI, she has a pet. Says so right in the letter.
honeybeenicki October 30, 2013, 10:37 am
Maybe she needs another 🙂 There’s already room for more.
sarolabelle October 30, 2013, 11:50 am
She needs a dog too
Addie Pray October 30, 2013, 7:01 pm
Replace “too” with “instead” and I agree. Mwahahaha.
Bittergaymark October 30, 2013, 12:09 pm
Damn! Bah! I thought I was the only one that caught this!! 😉
Wendy October 30, 2013, 12:21 pm
You’re right. Duh! That’s what I get for trying to squeeze in a column during jackson’s brief nap.
ioana October 30, 2013, 9:32 am
Wendy, she has a pet already:”and then bought a house when I was 25, where I now live alone with my cat. ” 🙂 But that does not mean that she couldn’t adopt one more.
MsMisery October 30, 2013, 12:31 pm
Or volunteer at a shelter! Of course, that may mean she’ll end up with 30 more cats because who can just not come home with all those purr machines?!?!
ktfran October 30, 2013, 9:39 am
Life mate. I love that term. I use to say I wanted a partner. I’m switching it to life mate.
Laura Hope October 30, 2013, 10:03 am
I’ve been there. The day I decided dating was a waste of time because I was never going to find the right person , I went through my old phone book and called an old friend to see an exhibit at the Guggenheim. 2 and a half years later, we got married. The beautiful thing about life is that you never know what’s around the next corner.
AliceInDairyland October 30, 2013, 10:06 am
So, a lot of people have given great advice here. I am only 23 (jeeeez) and on the outside looking in I look like I should be deliriously happy all the time. Got myself some cats, a life-mate, professional school, etc. And don’t get me wrong, I am happy for some of the time but I definitely struggle immensely with the same feelings you have. What in the hell am I doing? Am I doing the right things? Should I be doing something else? Here are some things that have helped me, and may help you.
Get really in-tune with yourself as weird as that sounds. I am big into the Meyers-Briggs although I don’t think it is the answer to everything. Whenever I feel lost I go read about my personality type on the internet or in a book (INFJ!). I remind myself that I have certain strengths and certain weaknesses, and that I need to guide my life in a direction that makes the most sense for what makes me tick and not be swayed but what I *think* I *should* be doing. For example, I know I am insightful and creative, but also sensitive and a perfectionist. So if I am faced with a choice or decision or thinking about a life change I ask myself if I think the change will align better with my strengths or my weaknesses. I think I end up being happier that way instead of constantly trying to struggle to be/act a way that doesn’t match up with me.
People mentioned setting goals, but I think you should tread very carefully with that if you have a personality like mine. I tend to burn out easily, but I am very driven as well. Therefore I often end up setting goals and need to follow through with them and burn myself up in the process. If you are like me, try to see the value in what you already do. Or set very fluid goals, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach them. I wanted to get into running again and got a little cray-cray with guilting myself for not running as much as I should. So I tried to take a step back and value everything that I already do.
Try articulating why you have made the choices you have, or choices that you are planning on making. Lots of times my anxiety comes out of not being sure why I am doing what I am doing. So I make a point of talking to my co-sinner about WHY I am in veterinary school and WHY I am planning on going into private practice instead of something more “elite.” It fits my personality better, gives me a lifestyle I desire, fulfills me more. Write it down in a journal if you don’t feel comfortable talking to people about it. Your reasons/choices may change later, but writing it down can help solidify that your outer life matches up with your inner desires (not sure if that will resonate with you).
KKZ October 30, 2013, 2:01 pm
I’m like you, Alice! Reading some of the goal-setting stuff above, like making a list of things I want to accomplish in a year, started giving me anxiety already! Once I set a goal for myself I have a hard time accepting that I might not meet that goal. I suddenly feel RESPONSIBLE for it, and if that vacation or hobby or activity or whatever doesn’t work out, then I feel responsible for that too.
(I can’t remember my M-B type, it seems to change every time I take the test, I think I’m on the cusp of some of the qualities.)
(Oh and obvs. I’m not the LW, I re-read my response and it sounded like I could have been saying “Yes that’s Me!”)
Banana October 30, 2013, 4:29 pm
I’m with you and KKZ. Different things work for different folks, so I’m not saying goal-setting is never the answer. It works for some personalities. For me, it causes a lot of anxiety, and can even be the source of that hopeless, lost feeling. I make goals very naturally – I don’t have to remind myself to do it, I do it all the time, and I set very ambitious goals. But then I get burned out and stressed out, and THAT’S when I start asking myself what the point of it all is, what’s the real meaning and purpose in my life, why do I do this to myself, the wheel is spinning but it’s not going anywhere, etc. I put myself in a hamster wheel.
So what gives me comfort is what I wrote below: my release, my chance to reconnect with the meaningfulness of life, is to allow myself to be spontaneous. To abandon my goals for a totally quixotic business venture. To blow a chunk of my savings on a trip to Asia (hi, period of depression in 2011!). To keep writing my novels even though I haven’t sold a manuscript since the first one in 2009, despite having a very good agent actively pitching them THAT WHOLE TIME. I’ve written three unpublished books since then. I didn’t write them because I had another sale under my belt to encourage me. I wrote them because something in my brain screamed FUCK THE RULES, I’M GOING TO WASTE MY TIME DOING THINGS I LOVE. It would be easy to mistake that for goal-oriented behavior. But a pragmatically goal-oriented person would have shifted focus to richer fields at this point (I have a very nice professional career too, and I could be spending a lot more time and energy on that). Writing, for me, has little to do with goals and everything to do with chucking all my other goals in favor of the freedom to follow my heart.
KKZ October 30, 2013, 5:36 pm
“But then I get burned out and stressed out, and THAT’S when I start asking myself what the point of it all is, what’s the real meaning and purpose in my life, why do I do this to myself, the wheel is spinning but it’s not going anywhere, etc. I put myself in a hamster wheel.”
YES. Yes yes yes. That is me.
And yes to spontaneity. When I do something spontaneous it’s like putting myself in a state of free-fall. A little scary (“but but but there are IMPORTANT THINGS you’re neglecting!”) but it’s usually just the dose of medicine I need to get out of that damn hamster wheel.
KKZ October 30, 2013, 5:37 pm
And yay! Another DWer who’s a novelist! Are you doing NaNo?
Banana October 30, 2013, 6:49 pm
You write too? Super cool! I’m sort-of doing Nano. I’m working on an 80k novel now, and I’m about a quarter of the way through it already. I want to push myself to finish it by the end of November, so I’ll be writing roughly a Nano schedule word count!
KKZ October 31, 2013, 11:33 am
Sweet! I’m actually teaching a class around NaNo, and while I only got 2 students signed up this year (after something like 8 last year – my fault for choosing “church hours” for the lass), I’m really pumped to get going with it. I’ll be starting the second draft of the novel I began working on last year. And TaraRose said she might do NaNo too!
Good luck! Maybe I’ll start a thread in the forums for us NaNoers?
AliceInDairyland October 30, 2013, 6:04 pm
We 3 are cut from similar cloth. 🙂 I just have to make sure I don’t completely say “fuck it” before I get myself that doctorate in a year and a half….
I need to do more spontaneous things though, less of this goal oriented crap. Thanks for getting the wheels turning KKZ and Banana.
Fyrebyrd2 October 30, 2013, 10:22 am
I’m mostly a lurker here on DW. If I’ve commented twice it’s a lot LOL. But this LW really struck a cord with me. I just wanted to share the following “you are NOT alone.” I’m 32, nine years invested in a stable, government job, a co-op owner for three years, and have close, supportive family and friends. But for the past couple of years, I’ve had many of the same doubts about my future that you seem to be experiencing. I felt like I was stuck. I felt unhappy and then guilty for feeling unhappy when I knew other people that had it so much worse than I.
The crux of these feelings was my growing doubt that I would find someone to share my life with, to marry, to have children. At my age, it’s a looming fear that just kept getting larger. When I was younger, I just assumed I’d be married and have kids in my early 30s. But the realities of dating were like ice water on those fantasies. I’d go through highs and lows…but the general feeling was of resignation. Maybe this was it. I would be alone and that wasn’t so bad. I didn’t give up on dating (although I took several breaks when it all became too depressing. Some of the guys out there were just horrible LOL). But I made a conscious effort to focus on myself. I looked for experiences on Living Social, like paintball, singing classes, pole dancing fitness classes. ;D I signed up for Zumba and fancy cooking classes with my local high school’s adult ed program. I bought a fish. 🙂 It didn’t magically take away my doubts or fears, but a good wallow now and then was all I needed. I was too busy to dwell. Then in July I met a wonderful man thru OkCupid. Just when I was about to take another break from dating. So far it’s been wonderful and so different from my other experiences.
But, despite finding someone with so much potential, I realized I still want more. I still had doubts and lows. I think that’s normal. Never being 100% satified. I feel that if you’re not working towards a goal or striving to better yourself in some way you’re not really living. Living is never being wholly satisfied but that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy with what you already have and what you’ve already acheived. Something I find hard to do is to appreciate the moment. I always dwell on past failures and worry about the the future. Meanwhile, all the great things happening in the present are glossed over.
I guess what I’m trying to say (in a very longwinded manner lol) is that I think we can all relate to how you feel. We’ve all felt the same at some point in our lives and see the grass as greener all around us. But at the end of the day, your own grass is just as green you just need to see it. Life is a cycle. Fall and Winter always come by and your grass will turn brown and patchy and maybe even die out. But spring and summer are always on the horizon. You never know what’s coming so you need to keep caring for yourself even during the brown, patchy times. This way when spring and summer comes you’re fertile ground for all that new growth. Growth that might not take the shape or form you expected but that makes it no less wonderful or fulfilling.
OK…off my soapbox 😀
eljay October 30, 2013, 11:02 am
This is lovely. Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂
Fyrebyrd2 October 30, 2013, 11:13 am
Thank you…I’m glad it made sense. It’s hard to put certain feeling into words. But I really empathized with the LW. So I tried my best to share my experience and what I’ve discovered about myself so far. Hopefully, it helps her feel better. 🙂
sophronisba October 30, 2013, 10:23 am
A line from the cheesy movie I watched last week: “Fall in love with as many things as possible.”
LW, you’ve followed a good, if expected, trajectory and established yourself wonderfully by all the measures society teaches us are valuable. But it sounds a little dry, kind of like you’ve checked all the boxes and so, now what? This would be a great time to fall in love with as many things as possible and find what your passions are. Go to events you wouldn’t ordinarily go to, take on an ambitious project (2014 1st Annual Halloween Critter Costume Ball to benefit a local animal shelter?), learn how to spin wool and make your own cloth, have a Vedic body analysis and do a cleansing Panchakarma, put up a “menstrual hut” teepee in your back yard for monthly “moon” gatherings, etc. The list is endless but the point is to expose yourself to new ideas, new challenges, new experiences that will help you know yourself better, find even more things that make life meaningful, meet different kinds of people, and discover the passions that can enlighten and enliven your days. It is the journey, not the arrival, that brings meaning.
AliceInDairyland October 30, 2013, 10:33 am
Love that quote. There are so many amazing people/things/ideas to fall in love with.
Lyra October 30, 2013, 10:35 am
This could have been me writing this letter too — sometimes I feel that “where the hell is my life leading?” feeling.
I got my kitty Opal last Saturday and I’m definitely with Wendy — she has helped me so much. It’s been great to be able to take care of her and to earn her trust — which definitely didn’t come very easily in the first couple days.
The other day, I decided to just go drive around neighboring towns that I hadn’t been to yet to do some exploring. I didn’t have any purpose really, I just wanted to look around a little bit. It was so much fun. I stopped at a couple new stores and I wrote down some restaurants that I wanted to try. It reminded me of the quote “not all who wander are lost”. As a single 20-something, I can do that type of thing at any time. I can go out when I want to. I can stay in if I want to. I can eat cookies for breakfast (like I did this morning) if I want to. I can eat dinner at 9 pm if I want to. Due to money and time constraints I haven’t been able to go out and experience everything that I want to, but I’ve definitely found a lot of happiness in the acceptance of the life I have right now, in this moment.
From one “lost” 20-something to another, you’re not alone.
mandalee October 30, 2013, 10:49 am
LW, Wendy is definitely right when she says it’s definitely a common feeling to have. I think sometimes looking around and realizing our problems aren’t as unique as we think can be comforting. If everyone is going through it, or went through it, in some way, it’s just something ride out rather than something profoundly wrong in our particular situation.
This kind of lack of direction and purpose can manifest itself in so many ways at so many life stages, that even as someone who is already married and “settled”, I found myself relating to your letter. I’m envious of people who have their career figured out and are happy in their social circle, because I floundered and changed career directions so much and moved around with my husband that my career and social life always feel like they are either going nowhere or are careening off a cliff.
So, I think what I’m trying to say is we all experience it and it just differs in where/how it manifests itself in your own life path. Some people may have an easier time in one area, while others struggle in another and it’s perfectly normal. At 27, you still have plenty of time to find someone and have children if that’s what you want, change careers, volunteer, travel the world, change your mind a million times, that I promise the future doesn’t seem as bleak or directionless as it seems now.
Callifax October 30, 2013, 11:10 am
I’m 28, engaged, have a great job that I love, and still feel like I’m lagging behind sometimes, or like I’m not doing enough with my life. I worry a lot about my age, and the time that I have left, and if I’m making the most of it, or if I’m making enough of a lasting impression that’ll survive me when I’m gone. One piece of advice I can give is to avoid social media. As cliche as it is, I found that, for me personally, spending a lot of time on Facebook and what not was making me depressed – seeing other people’s polished versions of their lives made me question where I was with my own. So try to focus on the people in your life you can interact with in person or on the phone or through email, with whom your interactions have more depth, rather than the acquaintances you catch glimpses of online.
mandalee October 30, 2013, 11:55 am
Yes to staying off social media. My friends and I refer to “Facebook Jealous Syndrome” where you get super depressed when your friends “perfect” lives are on display all the time- fancy trips, significant others that they love so much they write about it all day long, 1000 pictures of their “perfect baby”, the perfect Pinterest craft that would take you 10 hours and they finished it in minutes , etc. I feel like I’m looking at a Photoshopped scrapbook version of people’s lives rather than how they actually are day to day. Not healthy and no one’s life is that perfect!
TECH October 30, 2013, 11:21 am
One thing I’ve found to be extremely helpful in my own life is cultivating an attitude of both empathy and gratitude. To me empathy means “I’ve been there and I know how it feels.” LW, everyone has been in your situation at various points in their life (or maybe continuously). I just think knowing you are not alone is so incredibly helpful.
Also, gratitude. I think gratitude has almost become cliche. But lately, even though my relationships haven’t worked out, I feel incredibly grateful to have experienced them. And even though I’m alone right now, I feel grateful that I have my health (both physical and emotional) and that I’m not in a dysfunctional relationship.
gatecrashergirl October 30, 2013, 11:25 am
Like seemingly everyone else on here, I too have and do feel the same way quite a bit. As the last of my friends to marry and settle down it sometimes makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong or aren’t desirable. I’ve found that continuing to join those social sport leagues, go on vacations, run marathons. . .whatever floats your boat. . . does help with that nagging feeling of misdirection . . .and what’s funny is that I’ve heard from my friends that did the get married young and settle down thing, that they all envy my lifestyle. So I guess it’s one of those, grass is always greener situations.
tangerbean October 30, 2013, 11:32 am
Yup, exactly me too. One thing I’ve tried to become more comfortable with is going places by myself. An art gallery, coffee shop, wherever I feel like I want to go. I noticed that if none of my friends were available, I’d just stay home instead of going out and experiencing things. I’d feel like I was missing out on something. Plus it’s a lot easier to strike up a conversation with someone new (or they might be more willing to approach you!) when you’re not hanging out with a friend.
Bittergaymark October 30, 2013, 11:59 am
Psssssst! Wendy! She ALREADY owns a cat!!
Eh, LW, I’d feel more for you if you DIDN’T also already own a house. (At 27!!) 😉 Okay. Fasten your seatbelt! This will sound cynical — even for me — but, sure, your friends seem to have it all — right now. But in a few short years some WILL be going through messy divorces — just wait! Others will feel trapped and underappreciated by their spouses and kids — just wait! And the rest will love it all — but still be exhausted and overwhelmed…
So just hang in there, LW. You’ll either eventually find the man of your dreams… OR your carefree, single lifestyle will be the envy of ALL your married, direction-laden friends. It’s a win / win! Trust me. Bittergaymark my words.
Stonegypsy October 30, 2013, 12:41 pm
Cynical? Maybe. True? Pretty definitely
Imsostartled October 30, 2013, 4:22 pm
Aww sometimes you can be really sweet Mark! 😀
Sara October 30, 2013, 11:59 am
Thanks, Wendy, for pointing out the connection between ennui and the lack of external conflicts that we have some agency over. I am not in a moment of ennui; I am in a moment of external conflicts. But, now I am able to see that external conflicts are not all bad and that maybe I shouldn’t be looking (wishing) for a life without external conflicts.
And I love the idea of helping others as a way to create some moments for problem-solving. I think that feeling needed has taken away ennui for me in the past.
Banana October 30, 2013, 12:00 pm
I told this to a friend once who half-jokingly said “I have to meet someone, or I’m afraid I’ll die aloneeeeeeeee!”
I said that fear never goes away. Being in a relationship doesn’t fix it. People die tragically young, they get sick or in an accident and become a vegetable or lose huge swathes of their personality and intellect, people change and fall out of love and leave you, people reevaluate their sexuality and realize they bat for the other team, etc. There’s no reassurance that you won’t die alone, except to create a rich and full life that involves many different kinds of love — romantic, familial, friendly, even the anonymous love that flickers to life in the brief moment you do something nice for a stranger on the street. In other words, you can’t live life seeking the One Answer to your fear (which people usually assume is a romantic relationship) expecting all your fears and doubts to go away once you get it. The answer, really, is to live life despite the fear. To embrace the fear as a part of life, then get on with it. To live vigorously, follow your heart, screw convention, listen to your instincts, love other people, cultivate kindness, and say YES to life.
Even that won’t make the doubt go away. But it will make the doubt your friend. It will use the doubt to fuel your life. You’ll take the hand of your single biggest predator and say, “Okay then, let’s do this together.”
starpattern October 30, 2013, 4:53 pm
This is depressing and comforting at the same time. Haha.
But seriously, the “dying alone” thing is such a common thing, but the fact is it’s not the point. And I think what you said illustrated that perfectly. My grandparents had one of those old, great loves that people tend to idealize – married nearly 60 years and still loved each other immensely when my grandmother passed. My grandfather lived another 18 years after that, but spent the last 5 in an assisted living home because he developed Alzheimer’s. I think watching that as I grew up taught me that lesson about “forever loves”… it’s not about not dying alone. It’s about being as happy and enriched as you can while you’re here – and I think your comment says that very well.
SasLinna October 30, 2013, 12:20 pm
This may be one my favorite answers from Wendy ever. Like many others, I’ve also gone through ennui phase. What helps me when I feel this way is to think that my life is NOW. So whatever the future may hold, I can always make my life as good as possible in my current circumstances. In the end, life is just a succession of different phases, and while there may be phases that feel happier or more productive or more like milestone-y, in the end what makes up most of your life is the day-to-day normal stuff like talking to friends, taking care of a pet, working, helping someone out, enjoying nature, eating well etc. That’s where happiness lies for me.
Stonegypsy October 30, 2013, 12:29 pm
LW I related so much to your letter, except that I have so much less figured out. I’m still renting and kind of living paycheck to paycheck. I’m married and it’s a good relationship, but I have no idea what kind of career I want, and every time I think “Maybe I should go back to school” or something like that, I flounder in doubt about what’s right for me. My social circle is constantly changing as my friends start getting busier and busier, and sometimes I feel like my life is mostly meaningless. In the past, my reaction to this has always been to move. To a new place or a new city. I fall into a rut and start thinking that a new environment would fix it, but that lost feeling just follows once I get settled in. But as you’ve read in other comments, and in Wendy’s (beautiful and wise) response, it’s just something that everyone goes through at one time or another. And finding new things to do that give you meaning and purpose is an excellent idea, but I think this is just a feeling that is always going to happen sometimes.
findingtheearth October 30, 2013, 12:30 pm
My little heart needed to read this today. Thank you, Wendy.
Being a single parent has provided in me a great ability to weather hardship alone, but I still flounder and feel at loss. Great steps and great advice.
iwannatalktosampson October 30, 2013, 12:38 pm
This is probably my favorite letter and answer from Wendy. EVERYONE goes through this. I don’t know a single human being that hasn’t had a moment, (most people have many moments) where you just feel directionless and think “what is the meaning of life?”
I love that Wendy pointed out that it really isn’t about being single. When I was (happily) married I had many days where I would think what is this all for? Am I on the right path? What does it all mean? Am I the happiest I can be? Is this what life is all about? Am I doing it wrong? It’s just a cyclical part of life. You will go through periods of contentment and periods of unease. I don’t think the periods of unease are a bad thing. They will push you to be present and seek happiness. Happiness doesn’t just arrive on your doorstep, you have to look for it.
Moneypenny October 30, 2013, 12:48 pm
What a great response from Wendy and great comments! I’m 29 and have had feelings the lw is experiencing throughout my 20’s, and I’m going through a rut right now, actually. I’ve had the same job for 6 years, lived in the same apartment for 5, and lived in the same city for 11. I’ve got a dude in a city 350 miles away, and everyday I wonder what the heck I am doing. Some days I’m satisfied, some days I’m not. It makes me wish I was a kid again sometimes and my mom would just make everything better. I think I’m going to bookmark this because I’m sure I’ll want to re-read it, probably often!
KKZ October 30, 2013, 2:11 pm
Slow clap for Wendy.
I’ve definitely had this feeling before, and I do think it relates some to what was mentioned above re: life milestones. Up until a certain point, life is somewhat mapped out for many of us, but it’s like the trail ends in this big hazy field called Adulthood, with thousands of little hidden paths to choose from. And it’s like What? Now *I* have to navigate?
At this moment I find myself on the other side of this hurdle. I’ve found a purpose, and I’m pointing myself in that direction and have already taken several steps along that path. But it seems every other day I’m having near-panic attacks over the direction I’ve chosen. “What are you THINKING? You can’t handle running your own business! You can barely even handle *thinking* about it!” You’ll never have enough clients to keep it afloat! What if you never even get off the ground? What if you crash and burn? And say goodbye to your social life and hobbies…Are you SURE you really want this?”
So, depressing as it may be, finding purpose unfortunately does not solve one’s problems. It just creates a whole new set of problems to navigate. C’est la vie…
thewriteway October 30, 2013, 2:31 pm
I am 28 and feel the same way. A bunch of people on my work team are married and/or have kids and/or own houses. When I saw on Facebook that one of my colleagues got engaged this weekend while I remain single, I was just wondering if it’d ever happen for me. They talk about things at work like what it’s like to be a homeowner or how they can’t work certain days because their husband’s family is coming in…and I am expected to work for said coworker who is taking off the next two weekends b/c of family things. It sucks. I even look at my manager, who is younger than me and is you know..a manager (and has a live-in girlfriend, but that’s not really my business)! and feel weird that he is in a higher position at a younger age. I, meanwhile, have yet to see that level in my career and am starting grad school in January, and I can look forward to interning again at the age of 28/29 with others who are 20/21, etc. I mean, I get along with younger people, but I feel like it’s looked down upon and a step back even though I’m in a competitive field where doing your intern time is basically a requirement to even get considered for an “entry level” job.
I’m also really struggling in my social life, as my work hours are crazy and it’s hard for me to commit to anything to meet new people, much less see the friends I have. As a result, they all get closer and never seem to invite me anywhere. When I try to initiate the invite, they say oh yeah we’ll do something soon! And then it never happens. I feel trapped in my life at times and feel like everyone has it all and is so much more together than me.
Skyblossom October 30, 2013, 3:30 pm
I find this an interesting question and while reading the answers realized that I see my life through a different sort of lens. Marking things off a list doesn’t give me satisfaction, I’m just not a list type of person, and I have lots of milestones but have never really thought of them that way. About a month ago someone asked me what my life goals were and I had to think about what to say. I find life to be the most meaningful and happiest when I am the best person that I can be. That means volunteering in the community and helping friends and holding doors for people and answering questions at work if someone needs help. It means helping my daughter with homework and helping my husband pick up limbs in the yard. It means saying goodnight to each of my kids every evening and making chocolate custard for my husband. I find happiness, not in things, but in being the best person I can be. I don’t mean being selfless and burning myself out with giving, I mean being the best me in the moment. I also find happiness in the small moments in life, like a beautiful sunset, children in Halloween costumes, or watching the cows and horses in the pasture across the road from our house. It makes me happy to experience the little pleasures of life and to enjoy them and to feel lucky to experience them.
AliceInDairyland October 30, 2013, 6:09 pm
Skyblossom!! I love everything you say, you are my grown-up-role-model!!! !!!
mylaray October 30, 2013, 4:17 pm
I love what everyone has been saying so far. I struggle with this too. An example of this is my fiance and I recently bought a condo in a high rise, with a gorgeous view; it’s always been our dream for both of us to have a place like that. I’ve moved around so much, have lived in over 25 apartments/houses, that I’ve always craved stability. I knew I wanted to own property so I didn’t have to continuing moving all the time, so I could have something that really was my home. Yet, I find myself trolling real estate listings, looking at homes with yards, or other condos, because I’m still not quite satisfied. I keep getting this itching feeling that this can’t be it, it can’t be all, that I need to get up and keep moving now that I’ve reached my goal. And I realize how privileged it makes me sound and of course I should be grateful for what I have. It’s made me realize that I need to stop focusing on goals and milestones so much.
And it’s so easy to compare among my friends and want what I don’t have and they do have (and vice versa). And I love what Wendy said about discovering things when you’re lost. I met one of my best friends on the street, literally, during a time when so many bad things were happening, and I would just spend a lot of time walking outside, with no direction set. He’s so different than me (and was equally lost at the time), and I would never have run into him otherwise if I didn’t open myself up to all possibilities. He’s one of those people that really shaped my perspective on life and helped me find direction in a time when I needed it most. Even though it sucked to go through a soul crushing period, it really helped me recognize what is important in life, and I don’t regret going through all the uncertain times and wandering around aimlessly.
Skyblossom October 30, 2013, 4:38 pm
I think because this country is fairly materialistic we’re taught by the pop culture that things will make us happy but they don’t. A college degree can provide stability (I have a BS and MS and my husband has a BS and a PhD) but it can’t make you happy. A house gives you a place to live, and stability for yourself and your children but it also can’t make you happy although you can enjoy living in it. Your spouse can’t make you happy and neither can your marriage but you’re happiness can help to make a marriage good. Children can’t make you happy either although you love them in a selfless way and I’ve tried to provide mine with a happy childhood and hope they have happy memories and feel unconditionally loved and wanted. We’ve traveled in this country and abroad and we’ve had fun doing it and have 1000s of pictures and happy memories but travel didn’t create our happiness either. I think our happiness is within us, in the way we view the world and live our lives and in the way we interact with people. Happiness comes from our attitude and gratitude.
jLo October 30, 2013, 6:34 pm
Travel! For me, travel has always been the thing when these phases bit. I know it’s not always practical to just up and leave a stable life – but there are ways. Find a house sitter and volunteer abroad for a few months. Save all your pennies and go on as long a trip as you can afford. There’s something about the state of mind I get into when I travel that hits that ‘problem solving’ urge Wendy referred to: I have to be entirely self reliant, get myself from place to place, find somewhere to sleep, screw up the courage to meet people. There’s nothing quite like the rush I get from knowing that I can DO all that – I’ve never felt more alive.
These days I have a husband and baby (didn’t meet husband until my 30s, just for the record) so my ramblings have changed shape – more structured, less aimless, but still the rush of experience is what I love best.
Cassie B October 30, 2013, 10:38 pm
LW, I definitely know where you’re coming from. I’ve felt that way, as have (I think) most people. Here’s some ideas that have helped me, and maybe some will help you:
-Volunteer, especially in an area where you feel you are having a direct impact on something important to you. For example, mentoring a high school student.
– Write in a thankfulness journal a few sentences each day about something you’re thankful for.
– If you are religious, get involved in your faith community and more involved in your faith. Focusing on something higher than myself (God) definitely helped me.
– Set goals for yourself to accomplish, or things you want to do. For example, I want to live overseas for a couple of years so I’m trying to pay off student loan debts so I can achieve that dream. Also, I want to learn another language so I’m starting to study independently and watch shows to help me learn.
– Get your vitamin D levels checked and, if they’re low, take vitamin D3 supplements. Seriously, this stuff is like pure gold.
Lindsay October 31, 2013, 2:24 am
I can somewhat relate. My friends are all settling down, and I’m not. Though I get most of my purpose from my job (which is in a helping field), and it sounds like you’re referring to purpose related to relationships.
I think two things are important for you to think about. One is that there’s a difference between “having a purpose” and being in a relationship. You may value a lot of other things in life, but I think it can be dangerous to hear yourself talk about having a purpose meaning having a partner. It gets you too used to basing your worth on whether you are involved with someone romantically.
The other thing is what Wendy touched on, but you need to get out of the mindset that your life has to be tied up neatly with a bow by age 27. As cliche as it may sound, life is a journey. Society may have determined that people “should” be partnered up in their 20s and may portray that in movies, but that’s not how actual life works. I mean, back in the day (and in some countries), if you turned 24 without being married, you were considered all dried up. It’s all constructed by society, so why convince yourself that you’re lacking simply because society arbitrarily decided that your 20s are when you couple up?
(P.S. I understand WANTING a partner, but basing your worth or purpose on it doesn’t make sense.)