You Need Help: How Will I Know When My “Real Life” Has Started?


Dear Autostraddle team,

My question is quite broad and maybe not really a question, I guess? I am starting my midlife crises as I am approaching 40. After I spent most of my 20s and beginning of my early 30s working too much, I now have a stable job and more time and I could settle down in the big European city I am living in. But now I feel myself viscerally drawn to living in nature and having a garden.

Even though I meet interesting people and have friends, it is always tiring to meet up with them as they live in other parts of the city and more are getting busy with family life. I am happy for them! Meanwhile, I feel like I am still living like a recent college graduate (in a sub-rented room at a friend’s place, owning very little things like no furniture, and leaving my work for at least a year in a month, and I am not in a relationship and I don’t mind, but sometimes I am wondering why I haven’t been in a relationship for 10 years).

Also, I feel like I would like to live in a community and I might want to have a child (and given my age I would need to take steps soon but I don’t feel ready concerning my life conditions). Also I don’t know if I would feel happy in a place in the countryside because I would miss open-minded people and I guess I would even feel more different (at least this was the case in the village I grew up), so it feels like what I am looking for is difficult to find especially in a society where the focus is on serial two partner relationships/families with friends as occasional support.

I always felt like the odd person and never really wanted a traditional life (I thought it is because I am queer but it doesn’t seem the only reason as lot of my queer friends enjoy a traditional life) and I still do feel odd as everyone seems to settle in in their lives and at the same time I seem to want a life that is very contrary to the current societal norms.

I feel in general happy and stable as never before (but more from the inside despite the conditions and because I worked on some difficulties I had because of my childhood) and I am not expecting perfect conditions, but I also feel like still in a transitory phase (even though the whole life is transitory) and if my real life is still preparation and at the same time like running out of and wasting my time.

Thank you for reading my quite long question and I would be very happy to have your thoughts about my situation. Thank you for all your work.


Hello friend,

I wanted to answer this question not because I actually have a real answer for you — there’s no way I could, without knowing you personally, really tell you what you should do with the next chapter of your life — but because I want to let you know that I’m right there with you.

I’m turning 35, so I’m a bit younger than you, but for the last twenty years I’ve felt that “visceral tug” toward the countryside. It’s gotten especially strong over the last five years. If it was financially plausible, I would be a small, organic farmer. I hate the city, the noise, cars, pollution, and crowds. The setting of Hayley Kiyoko’s music video for “Chance” is essentially my dream life!

Now, the city was very important to me when I was younger and had just come out. My early 20s were when I actually blossomed — lots of sex, drinking, dancing, partying, and making mistakes occurred during those years, and the city was the place for them. It was also the place to live in an often squalid post-college roommate situation, scrabbling together enough money to eat and pay rent and buy drinks. But now that I’m older, have a stable, salaried job with health benefits, and don’t really drink or go out, there really isn’t much in the city for me.

Something important you mentioned, however, is community. During those years, I first connected with my little circle of best friends, and now I no longer need community. I am an introvert and a homebody. I have three best friends and a girlfriend. None of the friends live near each other anymore — we’re spread all across the U.S. But we make sure to video chat twice a month to catch up on each others’ lives, and we have a group text thread. We meet up if we happen to be in the same town. If I were the kind of person who really needed in-person community, or was still looking to make friends, I might want to stay in a queer-friendly city.

But also, building deep, intimate friendships that can work long-distance is possible — I wrote a series about how you might go about building them. If you had really loving, close friends you could stay connected to, then the cultural pressure you’ve described could possibly lessen? I think we’d all benefit from relying more on our friends for emotional support and less on our romantic partners. There’s also the possibility of you being surprised by how nice and loving and cool some of your rural neighbors could be!

Another important element you mentioned, though, is safety. I’m a trans woman of color, and my partner is a brown-skinned cis woman, so we do worry about safety if we were to move to the “countryside.” That being said, I think while comfort is harder to come by in rural areas — like you said, there are likely to be fewer “like-minded” people, and you would likely stick out and be “different” — safety might actually be easier to come by.

I really don’t think rural, small town, countryside people are likely to do more than stare and click their teeth at people like us. If you had a house and a fence and a yard, you’d have privacy and only have to be visible when you want to be. City life often requires public transit, walking down busy streets, and being around tons of people — I do think queer people are still getting bashed or otherwise harassed in major cities by drunk cis men coming out of bars late at night. So if you’re able to brush off benign disrespect by small-minded neighbors, then I think a rural life could actually be nicer in that regard.

All that being said, you seem pretty conflicted. The real work you have to do is figuring out what you really want. It’s totally fine to desire a “traditional” life. It’s also totally fine to eschew tradition and live like a “recent college graduate” for as long as you’d like to. Why not stay single, own just a few possessions, and save money by subleasing your apartment? You have so much freedom that way. If you really want a child, you’ll have to settle down somewhat, but not completely. I think you can happily and successfully raise a child alone, with a partner, in a city, in the country, however you want to.

I think the expectation that we have our lives “figured out,” or that we achieve certain life milestones, by a certain age is really oppressive. Human beings are so varied. There are so many ways to live a life, and comparing how you choose to do so with how others are choosing to do so is usually futile. They have such different circumstances from you, but also they’re different people with different desires who made different choices! The only person you’re accountable to about how you live your life is yourself.

You said you’re happy — if that’s true, then embrace it! You aren’t running out of time; you have your entire life, and it’s the perfect amount of time, and if you’re happy then that’s all that matters. Some people have “perfect,” “traditional” lives and do everything “right” and “on time” and they are miserable. You don’t want to be like them. Similarly, I don’t think it’s a problem that you’re single and have been for a while. If you want to date or have a partner, go for it, but I personally feel like dating and romance are overrated. The pressure to find your “true love” and have a “happily ever after” is also oppressive in my opinion. I think romantic love is not necessary for a happy life.

One thing that’s true is that it’s hard to know exactly what you like until you try it. I wasn’t sure exactly what you meant about your job situation, but if you have or can get a remote job, maybe you can try moving to the outskirts or a smaller village for a while and see how it feels? Maybe you’ll feel lonely. Maybe you’ll feel liberated. You might love it or hate it. It’s hard to know without giving it a shot. Many rural folks dream of life in the big city, and many city folks romanticize country life. The truth is probably like everything — somewhere in the middle.

What I ended up doing is, my partner and I just moved from a big city to a smaller city. Our little apartment/house has a small yard and a nice kitchen, and it’s very quiet — I woke up this morning to the sound of birds. But it’s close enough to coffee shops and restaurants and it’s not too far from downtown if we want to go to concerts or something. It’s a compromise! It’s cheaper, so we can save up to buy a house in a year. If we do, it’ll likely be on the outskirts of town somewhere, so we can still have a little bit of the amenities of the city (my partner really values that) and we can also feel a little bit safer (because the city is liberal/progressive) but we can also have more privacy and space and I can grow a nice vegetable garden.

However you end up deciding to live your life is up to you — spend some time exploring, reading, and maybe even practicing different lifestyles and see what feels right. As long as you create your own path toward happiness and fulfillment, none of the other stuff matters! Good Luck!

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Abeni Jones

Abeni Jones is a trans woman of color artist, educator, writer, and designer living in the Bay Area, CA.

Abeni has written 91 articles for us.

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