All my friends from high school are getting engaged and having kids. I can’t help but feel bad about it even though I KNOW that’s not what I want. How can I keep from feeling down about it?
Hello, friend. I was writing a response to your question and I couldn’t stop! I wrote you a letter way longer than I’d expect anyone to read in one siting, so I’m going to break it up into two parts. Today I offer you Part One!
What really stands out to me about your situation is that you don’t want to be engaged or have kids, yet you’re still feeling like shit when you see 500 baby pictures on social media when a friend gives birth or get a wedding invitation in the mail. I’m going to make the leap and assume that, while those aren’t the specific life events or lifestyles you want, you really want to experience the feelings that you imagine are associated with those particular milestones. Let’s break them down:
- a feeling that you are loved and cared for
- a feeling that you are needed
- a feeling that that you are moving forward in life and building something
- an outpouring of love built into your day-to-day life
- a feeling that your life really means something
- a feeling that you have people you belong to and who belong to you
- a feeling that you have people that give a shit if you get out of bed in the morning
In the best-case scenario, those things all seem to be part of the package that is marriage and/or parenthood. And because those two particular milestones are given such importance and heft in our culture, you can be absolutely positive that they are not things you want for yourself AND still crave them in spite of yourself, or at least what you imagine accompanies them. It’s so confusing! And you may also be experiencing that more general, crappy feeling that can happen while perusing various media, where you see what you think are insights into people’s perfect lives, so different from your own. But those are really just snapshots of a small and possibly aesthetically pleasing moment in a life that is no doubt as messy and full of pain and confusion as yours! You are, without a doubt, not alone in this. So, where does this leave you poor, pathetic souls? (I’m listening to Johanne Bach as I write this shit, so I’m puh-reeeety confident about my place in this world and don’t consider myself affected by this particular issue! (I am joshing you so hard. Not about the Bach though. Don’t be intimidated! I’m just your average classical music-loving genius (I put on Bach by accident)))
To answer your question directly, I don’t know how you can stop from feeling down about it. But I think I can offer some hope that you can carve out a small place on this earth where you feel loved, appreciated, and less alone. I can think of two concrete things you can and should do.
The first thing I want you to do can be done in mere moments, or it can take all day or the rest of your life. Make a list, make it right now or after you finish reading this. In your notes app, in your journal, on a piece of scratch paper, a pizza rolls bag, whatever. It can be huge, It can be tiny, It can be medium. Make a list of all the good shit in your life that transcends the crushing weight of this shitty feeling. Just absolutely every moment and every thing you can think of, big and small, that makes your specific life worth living. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL!! You have to do this, and you have to repeat as often as necessary. We can get pretty stuck in the mudslide of going to a job every day where we don’t feel appreciated, of the big or small dramas of our various relationships,of all the little hurts and insecurities swirling around in our absolutely precious and sacred hearts and minds all the goddamn day long, of a scarcity mindset we can’t seem to shake, in which we never have enough – enough money or love or friends or anything. This list is to act as a metaphorical… stack of sandbags (???) that will help stop that flow of negative feelings about your own life, just like a real-life stack of sandbags stops a real-life mudslide! Is that how you stop a mudslide? I’ll offer up a few items from my list:
- My inexperience with serious, life-threatening natural disasters. Mudslides, for example.
- I recently got to see Joanna Newsom live, who occupies a position in my life I can only liken to a pastor or other spiritual leader. Not exaggerating. My sensitive little heart was burst wide open. I smiled and I cried, an hour and a half went by in ten minutes, and I saw everything in this world exactly as it really is.
- I watched Good Will Hunting the other night, in my bed on my laptop. I’ve seen that movie three times and I just love it for some reason. It’s cheesy at times, but it moves me. And yeah, I cried at that part where a young and skeletal-looking Ben Affleck is all, “Every day I come to pick you up I hope you’re not there! You owe it to me to work for the NSA or whatever!” to a baby-faced Matt Damon. I cry at that shit every time! As Matt Damon drives down the highway in the shitty car his friends built him and the credits start to roll, I took a screenshot to remember that evening by. A few days later, I went to a Paige Powell exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. Paige Powell is a photographer from Portland who worked for Interview magazine in New York and became friends with Keith haring and Basquiat and all those other New York artist-types. The exhibit was a re-creation of a 1984 exhibit of her photographs from that time. It was held in this little enclave and I walked in and walked straight up to a picture of a baby-faced Matt Damon! I don’t know! I don’t really give a crap about Matt Damon, but it was a special moment, if minuscule and meaningless to everyone in the world but me, so it’s on the list.
- Last weekend I was at my best friend’s house and I walked home at 2AM. I stopped at a late-night pizza place on the way and got a slice of pizza. It was full of people emptying out of a dance night next door. It was really weird to be alone at 2AM, very close to my house, a little drunk, not know anyone around me, and order a piece of pizza. But it was kind of exciting too! It made me feel young and anonymous and alive. I walked the rest of the way home and ate the pizza listening to Joanna Newsom. It was really hot and burned my tongue. I didn’t care.
- A few months ago, I started to tell all my friends that I was going to start a blog called Mommy and it was going to be an advice blog. I would be so excited about it every day, but then in the dark hours of the night I’d start to feel stupid and silly. “Who the hell am I to even think that I could offer advice to random people on the internet? Who the hell am I to even think that I could call myself a writer? Everything I write is crap! I am crap!” There were moments where I almost let nighttime-me win and told everyone I changed my mind and stopped doing the thing. But I persevered and wrote in tiny bits and then in larger chunks until I had my first post, and here I am writing my second post to you and feeling so proud and alive and joyful. Because I’m doing the thing.
My list could go on and on and on, and what’s intentionally missing from it is all the moments in between where I am lost and confused and crying in public, and I assure you those moments are MANY (many many many). But I find that I spend lots of time focusing on those crappy moments, and this list helps bring my focus to the fun, sweet, and fulfilling aspects of my life. This list also helps me in a way that is related to your problem. It makes me feel like my own wife! Some things that are really appealing to me about having a relationship are having someone to share those small special or funny moments of life with, the feeling of being known really intimately by someone, and having someone to love. When I look at the list above I realize that I am sharing all those moments with myself, I know myself more intimately than anyone ever could, and that I have someone to love! She just happens to have the same body as me and also…be me. I am in a relationship with myself! I am not saying that I feel like this all the time but, as I’m making the lists and reading them, I’m reminded. Make a list whenever you need to be reminded that you are your most important relationship.
I also want to acknowledge that your relationship with yourself is likely extremely complicated in ways no one else will understand. I have a hard time loving myself almost all of the time, so please don’t think I’m advocating this as a quick and easy road to self-love. I don’t want to make it seem easy, because you and I both know it’s not and there are many other things you need to do to get right with your own heart and brain. I understand that through trauma, other people’s actions, systematic oppression, and media you consume by choice or not, we can be poisoned against ourselves and that it takes so, so much work to get that poison out. I say all this because I sometimes read an article or comment on the internet that’s like “Just love yourself! Stop feeling bad about [thing you feel bad about]!” and I’m like, “Fuck you! You have no idea what it would take for me to love me!” I want to be clear that this list is a tiny thing toward that step, but that tiny things can also turn out to be very worthwhile.
Stay tuned for Part Two next week, in which I illuminate my second piece of advice!