You Need Help: What To Do With This Meaningless, Single Life?

Q:

Dear lovely insightful people,

I am struggling with time passing and me continuing to be far away from the life I would like to live: I miss tangible sustainable community, and I long for being “equal partners in a very fun and exciting and safe relationship” (from a NYT article) with someone, and a family.

While my job is ok-ish, as is my health (i.e. some permanent conditions that I do address, nothing acute) — the big life sections are gaping holes: No significant other. No offspring.

And it doesn’t look like this will change anytime soon or at all.

Of course I might find a healthy relationship eventually; it is not impossibly impossible even when you’re 80. But the thing with continuing my family, breaking the cycle, and being able to pass on love and connection and values and valuables and so on, will not happen anymore (and I do not have siblings, it was all on me and I’m 41 now).

It looks like I am deemed to live a single life, where I do stuff and am socially active, but ultimately alone. Lonely. Meaningless.

It cannot be life to just keep going.

Like it’s nice to enjoy a coffee and watch the birds on the platform while you are waiting at the station, but when you are there to catch a train, and learn the train is delayed and then delayed some more and so on, the coffee and the birds are nice but not what you came for. And they do not get you to the place you were to go.

And no, I do not want to get comfortable on the windy platform of a train station.

If this is the life the universe or whoever decided for me — I do not consent!

Maybe you have clues how to deal with this?

Thank you!

A:

I want to start by saying that there have been so many times in my life — most of it, in fact — that I have felt a lot of what you’re feeling. Your metaphor of waiting on the train platform and being able to see the bits of beauty and comfort that exist there but still wanting, so badly, for the train to arrive so you can get to where you want to go resonated really strongly with me. So first of all, I want you to know you’re absolutely not alone.

And yet, in this particular moment, as I write a reply to your letter, I find myself in a different emotional place. A novel one for me, in fact. It’s not that my life has changed dramatically in that time: I’m not in a relationship; most of my closest friends continue to live far away from me, and I haven’t been able to see many of them for years now because of the pandemic; and I continue to question why I expend so much time and energy on my day job when there are many other things I’d rather be doing. Yet, something has shifted, which I’ll get to presently, but I want to acknowledge that some of what I say below may not feel applicable or relevant to you. Regardless, I want to try to hold space here for both: for your (and my, really) pain and for the possibility that you may not feel this way forever.

So, let’s start with your letter. I really am sorry. It is so incredibly disappointing and heartbreaking to have something you want so badly, something that, in your value system, feels like the ultimate “point of it all” and for that to be just out of your grasp. There is a lot of very real grief in that.

One of my favorite advice pieces is an article on ambiguous grief by Lori Gottlieb from The Atlantic. As Gottlieb writes, “Ambiguous grief isn’t more or less painful than other types of grief — it’s just different. But one thing that does make it additionally challenging is that it tends to go unacknowledged.” In my own experience, acknowledging that grief both privately to myself and, eventually, more publicly has been incredibly valuable and important.

Recognizing, naming, and speaking the feelings won’t change the reality of your circumstances, of course. But what I read in your letter (and forgive me if I’m just projecting myself here) is a lot of frustration. Perhaps taking the time and space to acknowledge your pain, both with yourself, and with close friends and family, may help you let go of some of the frustration.

In my own experience, as I started talking to my friends and sisters about my feelings of sorrow and loneliness as a result of being chronically single, a few things happened.

First, I realized that while many of my friends are in partnered, long-term relationships, there are also several who aren’t. Hearing their experiences helped me feel less alone, knowing that they not only shared in my struggle but also felt the same types of loneliness and hopelessness that I did.

Second, I also found that many of my friends in committed relationships, and even those with families, struggled with that same loneliness and hopelessness. And, as I’ve been able to internalize that second one, I think that has — albeit slowly — allowed me to shift my perspective a bit. A loving, long-term relationship won’t save me from loneliness or my ever-present existential crisis about the point of my life. I have known this for a long, long time, but there is something about seeing friends in the kinds of healthy, long-term relationships that I have always dreamed of expressing the same things I have felt for so, so long. Really being there for, and also deeply empathizing with some of my closest friends has been incredibly powerful in terms of driving that message home.

At the same time, I do understand why you say that a single life feels meaningless. There was a time in my life where my professional pursuits consumed me, and I very quickly realized how empty those pursuits were. Racism and sexism were always going to hold me back, and increasingly I questioned (and continue to question, in the present) the ultimate purpose of any of the work that I do. And so, sometime around seven or so years ago, I started believing that the only thing that matters in life is the relationships we have.

For so long, I had wanted a romantic, partnered relationship, and the shift in my values made that desire even more intense. Alongside that, I watched so many of my closest friends and sisters make difficult decisions and, because of the way society is structured, ultimately prioritize romantic relationships and family over friendship. From all this, it followed, that the only real meaning in my life would be achieved by having a romantic relationship of my own. That might not be exactly how you landed at this conclusion yourself, but I share all of that to say: Please believe me when I say that for most of my adult life, I have also felt that a single life is lonely and meaningless.

But as one year after another goes by, and I remain single, and the prospects of that changing don’t look so great, my perspective on this has started to shift. If I had told myself that a year ago, I would’ve rolled my eyes and said that that’s just a trick of the mind. Yet here I am, and maybe it is a lie I’m telling myself, but the truth is, I am so much more at peace and, frankly, happier when I can really hold things from this place.

It’s true that the structure of society makes it hard to hold friendships as close as partnered relationships. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to build deep, long-lasting connections with friends, even if you can’t speak with or see each other regularly. It might not be what you or I really want, but it’s also not nothing. A life full of rich and varied relationships also isn’t empty, even if it’s not the richness that you’re seeking. To quote from one of my favorite books, Ancillary Sword: “It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t what I wanted, not really, wasn’t what I knew I would always reach for. But it would have to be enough.”

And maybe that’s not really encouraging. Maybe that is just resignation, which is where I lived for years. But as I continue to ask myself the question, “Can this be enough?” that resignation has started to shift into an acceptance, which on occasion is even joyful. As many have written before me, there are some serious perks of being single. I live my life on my terms, filling up my days however I want and doing the mundane things in life according to my own particular habits.

Finally, I want to address this part of your letter, which I think is the hardest: “continuing my family, breaking the cycle, and being able to pass on love and connection and values and valuables and so on, will not happen.” Again, I really am sorry. We have gotten a letter previously in the A+ Advice Box from someone who wanted children but cannot have them, and again, that grief and pain is just so, so real. I can only imagine how that’s magnified by not having siblings and feeling like “it was all on me.”

I have never wanted to have children, especially biological children, so I can’t speak from a place of empathy, but when you mention “breaking the cycle” that implies to me a complicated family history. I, too, come from a complicated family, with an enduring history of abuse, and so I think a lot about “breaking the cycle.” I wonder if it would be useful to you to consider that in terms of the love you give yourself, rather than just what you impart on the next generation.

As for passing on “love and connection and values and valuables,” as I have gotten older I’ve started to think about this, even though I have no desire for children. But several of my close friends do have kids, and it’s important to me to spend time with them, building loving connections and sharing my values and, someday, valuables as well. In the same way that I suggested earlier to think more expansively about which relationships bring meaning to life, it might be helpful to think about generational connections and legacy more expansively as well.

Ultimately, I hope something in what I’ve written resonates for you, even though we seem to be in different parts of our journeys of making peace with this struggle. I really do feel your pain, and, honestly, I really am sorry for both of us. I don’t know why life is so fickle in this way. I want to leave you with something I have written previously for the A+ Advice Box in response to a related question:

“It is so, so incredibly painful to have something you want with all your heart and, as you said, you know that you don’t control whether or not you will ever achieve it. But somehow, we manage to build ourselves up from those places, even if we’re always living with a little bit of sadness. (Re-appropriating Eleanor Shellstrop there.) Trust that this is true for you, as well.”


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


Before you go! It costs money to make indie queer media, and frankly, we need more members to survive 2023As thanks for LITERALLY keeping us alive, A+ members get access to bonus content, extra Saturday puzzles, and more! Will you join? Cancel anytime.

Join A+!

himani

Himani is a dabbler of a writer. Her work includes reviews of media centering Asian stories, news and politics, advice and the occasional personal essay. Find her on Instagram.

Himani has written 47 articles for us.

62 Comments

  1. Both the letter and the response really resonated with me, and this is the season when being single feels even harder. But I wanted to speak to part of the letter about feeling meaningless and not being able to pass along love and connection. Maybe you could find a volunteer opportunity or advocacy group that would help you find meaning. Perhaps find a group that works with queer teens or something that will allow you to connect with a younger generation and support them. Helping other people can be a really powerful form of self care.

    • Thanks so much for reading @bgsal. Totally agree about volunteering, especially opportunities that involve building meaningful connections with others — younger generation and otherwise. As you said, it’s a really powerful form of self-care and also helps fill some of the emptiness of the questions around “purpose” and “meaning” in life. Thanks so much for sharing this great suggestion!

    • Thanks to both the letter-writer and himani for the beautiful writing! Big +1 to @bgsal on volunteering, I think there’s a lot of connection to be made there. I’m a CASA (court-appointed special advocate for foster youth) and have been appointed to my youth for a couple years now and it’s been awesome to see them grow. I took them climbing recently for the first time and they just texted me yesterday that they’ve gone two more times in the last week on their own because they like it so much! And if you’re interested in the parenting experience specifically, fostering could be an option. From what I’ve seen it’s a difficult role for sure but foster kids really benefit from extra love and patience if you have some to give. And if you don’t want to be involved with the foster care system, there are a lot of other great opportunities out there :)

      • Thanks so much for reading, for your kind comment and for sharing your experiences, @canadianpep! I once looked into volunteering with the CASA program as well, though I felt I couldn’t properly commit to it, especially since I don’t have a car, but I really appreciate your sharing your experience with the program. And your absolutely right that foster care might be something to look into AND that there are opportunities (such as mentorship) that wouldn’t involve interfacing with that the foster system at all as well.

        Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and your experience!

    • Unfortunately I hear this a lot, from people everywhere. I know many have heard this but it’s the internet that stands between us. All of it. Sure there are those that are not deep divers but most are. I’m old and remember going out, you had to talk, engage at some point because you couldn’t whip out a phone and surf the web to pass time. Once the phone comes out it’s hard and awkward to break into someone’s space to say hi, start up a conversation cause the phone will demand attention with text, calls, alerts and notifications that hold varying degrees of importance to the person your trying to talk. Then there are those that believe the internet is right, whatever part, and if you don’t agree your out before getting a chance. Crowded places full of small clicks, people on their phones and a few souls wondering when does the socializing start. People’s expectations are wild to, so set in stone ” I dislike you on site for blank reason”. Best I can say is make yourself available by spending as little time on your devices in public and when you see someone that seems to be doing what your doing be brave and say hi. It don’t have to go beyond that. Un fortunately it’s a long method, building up a group of people that you can talk to without the internet between you. I feel for you all, I truly do. I’m at an age where after some really awesome relationships and some not so awesome, I’m pleasantly surprised I’m happy single, I have a great small circle of friends so I feel lucky. Keep trying and reaching out though.

      • Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your experiences Groon! Yea, I think the internet definitely makes things hard. I find it so daunting to go to a group or setting where I don’t know anyone and then need to work up the courage to talk to strangers cold. Finding groups and social events around common interests helps, though! Personally, I think the internet is helpful for making initial connections but it needs to get deeper in order to really feel fulfilling — like personal one-on-one conversations and, when possible, IRL meet ups, to really get to know people and build friendships over time. It’s definitely hard, though. All we can all do is just keep trying and reaching out, as you say.

    • Thanks so much for reading @truegrit and for the really kind words! If you like sci-fi, I HIGHLY recommend reading the Imperial Radch Trilogy (Ancillary Sword is the second book in the series). There’s just so much there I found inspiration from and things that helped me reflect on my own life and relationships.

  2. Beautiful letter and advice. I am also single and I share the mindset that deep personal connection and relationships (romantic, platonic, and familial) are the most important components of a full life for me, personally.

    In this current period of being single, I have learned so much about myself and the world. So many people never have that gift, that opportunity (chosen or not), to be fully alone for a time beyond young adulthood. It is hard to be patient sometimes, sitting with the birds on the platform, but we are not really alone here. Eventually a train will come, even if it’s not the one we imagined.

  3. Letter writer, your train platform metaphor is astonishingly accurate and relatable.

    Himani, I’m always struck by how deeply you consider your answers to these questions and how vulnerable you are in sharing your experiences. Thank you.

    To both of you, I’m waiting on the platform with you.

  4. This question resonated with me so hard. The thing I’ve found really tough is that every aspect of this hypothetical life feels so closely interconnected.
    My job isn’t inherently validating, but normally that’s okay because at least it funds going out or cute dates.
    Dating would be nice, but not having a social circle is a huge red flag for a lot of folks and puts extra pressure on a relationship.
    Making friends is a constant, exhausting, scary effort, but usually being there with a partner makes it easier to be brave.
    And family… well there’s no way I will have the patience to deal with them without everything else in life set up to give me a healthy space to recover.

    I’m trying, I’m really trying so hard, but when there’s nothing in your life but your own company and any chance at self-love has been beaten out of you… it gets harder to wait for that train as the tracks look more and more tempting.

    • @asalkeld, I know you are talking in metaphors, but speaking from my own experience I do know that there are very, very fine lines between this endless feeling of meaningless in all aspects of life and questioning the point of it all, between depression and, to take your words, “the tracks looking more and more tempting.”

      So first, I’m going to just kindly drop these resources here, not just for you but for anyone else who is reading this and may need it:

      The Trevor Project provides chat, phone and text-based crisis support for young LGBTQ+ people 24/7.
      – In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24/7 by phone by dialing 988. They also have an online chat and offer services in Spanish and accessible services. You can find this information on their website.
      Crisis Services Canada can be reached by phone 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566 and they can be reached for text support between 4pm and midnight Eastern Time by texting 45645.
      – In the U.K., The Samaritans can be reached by phone at 116 123. Also, here is a list of hotlines available in the U.K., including some that can be reached by text or chat and serve specific populations.
      Lifeline Australia can be reached at 13 11 14. And here is a list of hotlines that can be reached by phone or chat.
      – And more generally, here are three compiled lists of services available by country: Open Counseling, Find a Helpline, and Wikipedia.

      I really, really relate to what you’re saying about how it all feels so intertwined and cyclic. I’ve written this before, but dating feels particularly fraught right now. I feel like everyone talks so definitively about “red flags” and they shut people down and all that without really giving anyone chance and people are ghosting left and right. It can be really quite depressing and it can also further foster a sense of “oh well, I’m just not good enough, no one will ever love me” and so on. And I don’t want to get on a digression here, but I just want to acknowledge that to a point some of the discussions around being clear and upfront about non-negotiables when it comes to dating has a value, but when it comes to like “have your mental health issues fully resolved” — that’s actually an incredibly frustrating and condescending thing to say and also… let’s just be honest about the fact that no one has their “mental health issues fully resolved” — like we’re all working on it and some people are more honest about that fact than others.

      In any case, I really hear you about how having a partner makes other challenges in life feel more approachable. I felt that way for a long time. For a long time, I also felt that “any chance of self-love has been beaten out of you.” And these are all things I continue to struggle with. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t.

      Sometimes, I find it helpful to just focus on the smallest thing that’s in front of me right now. A song I like. A book that made me happy or really captured my feelings or experiences. A nice meal. Just start small, start with the small things that are yours, that are only yours, that sure could be nicer if you have someone to share them with but are nice in and of themselves. When I’m feeling really down, that can be a useful and also subtly powerful exercise in reminding myself that I do create my own reality, even if I don’t control it fully (because who does except for the disgustingly wealthy), and that even in my lowest points there are small pieces of beauty that make it worthwhile to get up and take the first step and then the next and then the next.

      At least in my experience, after years of doing that — and also after years of therapy — I’ve found that there are enough small things that keep me wanting to wait on this strange platform or maybe even walk its length or possibly even start walking alongside the tracks (keeping off of them, of course). And maybe it’s not what I really want or what I really hope for, but as I said in my response above, can it be enough? Can I let it be enough?

      This isn’t totally related to the issues you are raising, but I do want to point you to an advice piece I wrote earlier this year related to struggling with mental health and the pandemic, as some of the frame works and ideas I’ve written about there might be useful to you more generally.

      And as I closed that piece, I just want you to hold: “Even though the world is kind of terrible, your life is precious and valuable, and you are loved.”

      Sending you so much love and wishing you all the best.

      -h

  5. wow i actually was crying so hard last night about my recent-ish breakup from a relationship that seemed like it was going to be destined for forever and feeling down abt being single that it makes me wonder if i wrote this letter lol. anyways i’ve been feeling this struggle so hard. i am feeling so lonely and having also a job that i’m trying to leave so this letter really resonates with me. yet at my darkest hour when i feel the most like life is pointless, i keep thinking about how much pity i feel for people who’s my age now (40ish) and have been in a relationship with their partner since they were in high school. granted this is not the kind of scenario that happens as much w/ queer folks but it does happen. i feel like in those situations, no matter how happy and in love and beautiful the relationship is, i just think it feels like there’s no room for self exploration, and no matter how much i hate my current single life is (and believe me when i say i hate it!), i still would not trade the kind of life experiences i’ve had as a single person for that life of being with someone since a very young age. and honestly i’ve learned SO much from all of the relationships i’ve had even tho all of them had ended. i’m a much better person for it and i sure hope i can be a good person for whoever comes next, because i have faith that love can still happen. in the meanwhile, i do agree w/ the previous commenter that volunteering and contributing to one’s communities is a way to heal some of this pain. sending love to all of us loveless folks <3

    • Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your experiences @behindcheshiresmile! So sorry to hear about your recent breakup and wishing you all your creature comforts as you get through this difficult time of heartbreak and reorganizing your life, and all of that.

      Yea, I totally agree with what you’re saying about — even if my largely single life isn’t what I want or wanted, I also wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. I wouldn’t think as deeply and thoughtfully about some of the questions you all raise around dating and meaning and purpose and loneliness, and I wouldn’t have done the kind of self-work I’ve been forced to do over the last 5+ years as I continue to work through all of that.

      Sending love back your way! <3

  6. Wanting relationship and family, especially as a woman, feels so taboo to acknowledge. Like it’s too big a want or somehow embarrassing. But also, it’s mandatory, especially if you’re young. What a strange and confining duality that is. The only acceptable path seems to be ‘not want it until you stumble into it, then be effortlessly happy’.

    But it’s ok to want those things! And it’s ok to want them and not have them and to grapple with that. I so appreciate your writing Himani. You don’t shy away, it’s amazing to read.

    • Oof @manzanita what you said is SOOOOO true… It took me sooooo long to admit that I wanted love and a relationship and I kept secretly hoping I would, as you say “just stumble into it and be effortlessly happy.” And there is something that feels especially painful about that — about feeling like “Oh, once I finally admitted to myself and to the world that I want this thing, once I actively started pursuing it…. it’s still denied to me?” There’s so much depth and complexity and so many layers of pain to what you’re saying.

      Thank you so much for reading and your very kind words and also for this really thoughtful insight that I’m going to think about for a while, for sure.

  7. I’m also right there on that train platform, waiting with y’all. But reading the letter, Himani’s kind and generous response, and the other comments has made me feel better, knowing that I’m not there alone <3

  8. The letter and answer both, wow. Needed.

    My anchor partner and I split after many years (ouch) and most of my given family either don’t need $ or are actively making the world worse with their votes and actions (also ouch). So I have made several female friends my beneficiaries, leaving the largest chunk to a QPOC as reparations.

    • Thanks so much for reading @zephr! That’s really tough about your breakup and wishing you all your comforts in a difficult time. But also, thanks for sharing how you’re thinking about what you leave on and to whom. So valuable and definitely something I think about as well!

  9. ive thought about that idea of what does it mean to ‘break the cycle’ when i wont have children. i think there’s a beautiful truth that makes sense to me now… that if I do the work to build my own self respect, hold boundaries, practice self compassion, regulate my nervous system, honor my limitations and needs, heal from my traumas, etc all the work to break the cycle, that will impact ALL of my relationships. It can positively effect my friends and clients and colleagues. It will ripple outward from me, whether I have children or not.

  10. Dear LW, you are not alone on the platform (beautiful metaphor, by the way). As someone else said, the platform is rather crowded. I was with you all on that very platform for so many years of my adult life, and then my train arrived, which makes me happy. To the same time, I am aware that I, as well as any other person who is currently on that train, can be back on the platform in no time.

    Similar to Manzanita, I felt it was embarrassing to want something that I did not have. I felt shy to talk about wanting to be in a relationship, especially in a world that often measures a woman’s worth according to her relationship (especially with a man). Being queer did not change my perception that something was wrong with me if I wasn’t in a relationship. Feeling that something was wrong with me due to being single was not just my own insecurity, but was also strongly enforced by others in direct and subtle ways. Former friends asking me whether I had met someone; treating this topic with more interest and care than anything else that was going on in my life; family members inquiring about having a partner or advising me to find myself a nice partner etc.
    I wanted to show that I was strong and didn’t need to be in a relationship because many of my female friends and my mother measured their own worth by whether men were interested in them. I felt the urge to demonstrate that as a strong feminist, I did not need a partner. So being lonely felt even lonelier because with that people in that part of my life, I needed to distance myself from the message that my worth was bound to a relationship status. And despite all of questioning norms, the queer couple normative ideas were also prevalent in the queer circles I was in.
    Back then, I really liked the text “On Being A Woman Alone” by Karen Durbin from 1976. I wanted to link it here, but cannot find it, I only have it on paper. It is from the book “The Village Voice Anthology (1956-1980)”. The text is very binary, about men and women and straight relationships, I haven’t read it in years and cannot promise that it is perfect, but it really did something for me in a time when I did not have that kind of support from actual people close to me.
    Something in me changed when I surrounded myself with friends who did not ask about whether there was someone in my life, who respected that I was single and treated me equally.

    I agree with Himani that people in relationships can also feel lonely. A friend of mine has been in a queer relationship for many years and they have a child, and a part of her wants to be single again, child free, and do online dating.

    Further, I don’t have children, don’t want to and never will (insch’allah). And I agree with commenter H here: breaking the circle is possible in other ways. I am leaving traces in other ways. Children are not the only ways in which one can pass something on. For some people, it is what they write; for others, it is the music they write; for some the students they teach; the counselling or therapy they offer; the political work that they do; or also how hey interact with others in their every-day-life, to bring kindness and compassion into this world that reflects in the life of others. Yes, I won’t pass on some great things to kids of my own, but I also won’t pass on the things I don’t want to/that I am not proud of. In this way, I am breaking a circle as well.
    Finally, I was very touched by the movie “Cloud Atlas” (2012) – not because I consider it a great film, but because of the message that people leave traces long after they are gone and we can never know how we might impact the lives of the ones who come after us.

    All the best to you, LW, and to all other people on the platform. May something shift in you and may spending time on that platform feel more soft to you.

    And of course: beautiful response, Himani. Very nuanced, thoughtful and complex. I loved how you held space for the pain while acknowledging that LW might not always feel this way.

    • Thank you so much for this incredibly thoughtful and touching response, for sharing so many of your experiences and your thoughts and the things that have moved you along the way of your own journey. There are so many touching and relatable things in what you wrote, I can’t possibly quote them all but a few that particularly stayed with me:
      – “So being lonely felt even lonelier because with that people in that part of my life, I needed to distance myself from the message that my worth was bound to a relationship status.”
      – “Yes, I won’t pass on some great things to kids of my own, but I also won’t pass on the things I don’t want to/that I am not proud of. In this way, I am breaking a circle as well.”
      – “people leave traces long after they are gone and we can never know how we might impact the lives of the ones who come after us”

      So much here to think about in what you’ve said. Thanks for reading and thanks so much for sharing your life with us here on the platform as well.

  11. Thank you for the kind response Himani; it is heartwarming.
    I think about continuing and breaking the cycle a lot. Witnessing the amount of trauma that is being passed on in my family of origin from one generation to the next, and seeing some of my siblings continuing this cycle of abuse and addiction within their own families now, I am aware that they are passing on some of the hurtful things that we grew up in to their partners and kids.
    For me, breaking the cycle is NOT having children and to NOT passing on trauma that makes up my family of origin. Yes I was in therapy and counselling for many years and unlearned important things, changed a lot – and yet, it would be just impossible for me to not pass anything on to a child because these are my experiences, my life, and I cannot start at zero hour.
    Sometimes I am sad because I think “I really like this about me and would like to pass it on to a kid” but way more often, I am incredibly relieved, happy, proud and triumphant that I won’t pass on anything bad that was inflicted to me by my parents. My parents’ traces won’t continue in kids of my own.

    Traces we leave in others can be hurtful and can harm generations to come, and they can be an act of love and empowerment.
    Wonderful people have left traces in me who will never know how much they changed my life. For instance, discovering a feminist book from the 1970s in a library that I went to in because I did not want to spent time at home as a teenager. The book’s author is dead now and won’t ever know that this particular book of hers opened up a world to me, 23 years later after writing it. This is what I liked about “Cloud Atlas”: the lives of people in different times and places are interwoven by what they did and created in their lives, and the persons don’t know how much they inspired others, what they helped to shape with their music, art, music etc. – including uprisings.
    I have been told by a number of people over the years in which I transformed their lives for the better which showed me that it matters whether I exist or not (like in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, 1946). (I don’t mean this in a suicidal way, it just felt like: do I make a change at all?) And I believe that more often, people do not learn about the positive ripple effects that they have on others (same or later generations); the traces that they leave in other beings.

    On that note:
    Himani, your writing also causes ripples and I feel seen and connected when reading your thoughts; I can only imagine that I am not the only one who might feel this way, but I can tell you for sure that you are leaving traces in my mind and heart. You are a truly amazing and skilled writer <3. In fact, you are one of my favorite writers here on Autostraddle. Sometimes I search for articles by you and try to read as many as possible because they are just so deep, beautiful, complex, enriching and warm. One day, I want to have read them all. Had Autostraddle existed when I was younger, this would have been a game-changer, and I am happy for all people who are younger and older than me and who have it now.
    Thank you Himani for sharing your thoughts and experiences, and for showing up with a vulnerability that is truly touching and inspiring <3

    • PS: This response was meant as a reply to Himani
      PPS: I intended to write: “…the persons don’t know how much they inspired others, what they helped to shape with their music, art, *movies* etc. – including uprisings”

      • <3 Thanks so much for that incredibly kind note. I think everyone makes their own decisions around what "breaking the cycle" means for them, but I'm with you that for me, breaking the cycle is actively not passing forward some of my own traumas and also, expending the energy and money that one needs to raise children to just take care of myself in the way I hadn't been as a child.

        You have no idea how much it means to me when people share that they value my writing. Sometimes, it feels like I'm writing into the void, and sometimes, bc I tend to write on heavy topics often without a "resolution," it feels like maybe it's too much. But as you and others share how much you all get out of my writing, it gives me more strength and resolve to keep doing it. Ultimately, I started writing to say things that I wasn't seeing being said and inextricably tied in that was a need to work through some of my own shit. Writing has been so valuable for me personally, and to know that it ripples outward and leaves traces among readers is just so incredibly moving. Thank you again.

        • Himani, I love your writing specifically because you tend to write on heavy topics *without* offering solutions. Solutions often fall short and cannot do justice to said heavy stuff. When people bring up solutions, especially with difficult themes, I often think those are not complex enough and that it is too complicated to follow a, b and c and then everything will be wonderful.
          What I love about your writing is that you hold space for pain and sadness with empathy, care and kindness, that you ask questions and broaden the scope of what is being asked/the topic at hand. To many people, this is more difficult than giving advice or instructions. Your style of writing acknowledges the pain and makes me feel understood better than when people present answers and solutions. I wish more people offered connection instead.

          I had to think of this video (4 minutes) by grief expert Megan Devine in which she speaks about the way to make someone feel better is to let them be in pain (with big and small things). She says that it is a radical act to let things hurt, that it is going against everything many of us have been taught. Also a great quote from the video: “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed, exactly as it is” (Parker Palmer)

          And was reminded of this video by Brené Brown (10 minutes) in which she speaks about pity and control being the “near enemy” – how people feel more lonely than before when they receive pity and/or control (“do this” as form of control); and how hard it is to really be there for someone, build a connection and not jump to saying what the person should do:

          So yes, please please continue your writing, it means so much and is not lost in the void, on the contrary – it causes ripples.

  12. i am deeply grateful. thank you:
    just after having had a work related coaching session with the conclusion that i need to show more of myself, voice my needs and wants (scary!), and be more vulnerable as to be more approachable — i found this piece with my letter and Himani’s great rich, nuanced, kind, respectfully resonating reply, and everything evolving meaningfully in the comments with equally beautiful contributions.
    let’s all gather on the platform, near the front end in the direction of travel, enjoy our company in the presence and hold space for what was, is and can be.
    <3

    • Thank you so much for writing in this letter. I know it took me a while to write this response, but clearly what you shared is something so many of us are going through and I really value the rich conversation this has sparked here. Wishing you all the best! -h

      • Thank *you*! it’s all good and i couldn’t even have expected to find it answered. it moved me muchly how your valuable reply and everything merged into sth.

        i didn’t reply to anyone oder address a thing (it overwhelmed me to try to do justice to all the voices and thoughts), but what you and commenter “On Being a Person Alone” mentioned in the reply above: i value your writing a lot, i feel like you “get” what things are about and i am glad you address those. like when it’s more about subtle feelings or sth underneath (not only in my case but in other Q&As, too), because i think often it really is more about empowerment and validation than about advice. if there were an easy solution, a person would in most cases already have tried it, but they sit with the inner turmoil. and i agree holding is far more difficult and can feel like not offering enough because not fixing sth – but it is more effective and can reduce the already shameful feeling of “being s.o. with a problem”.

  13. Somehow I’ve been lucky enough to know some very hot and very cool people in my life, and am also very comfortable being alone, so I haven’t felt what you’ve felt in terms of romance.

    But I feel exactly what you’re feeling, letter writer, when it comes to work. And it’s not so distant, because part of wanting a “very fun and exciting and safe” career is wanting to be able to provide for my family (which in my case is a network of queer friends).

    I just feel so lost but also pathetic but also kinda resentful but also kinda confused but also hopeful but also hopeless. It’s hard not to take it personally. Like you, I’m getting older and it seems that ship might have sailed.

    I hope we can find some sort of peace, through whatever random method ends up working.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences, Wambenger. I think about this when it comes to work as well, though I have also sort of accepted that I’ll never really feel fully satisfied with work — though there’s a certain amount of avoidance on my part that leads me to that place. (Easier not to engage with the pain rather than be honest about it, I suppose…)

      But it is really hard, because work is not only a way to provide for the people we love, but it’s also such a huge part of how we spend our time on this Earth. (For better or for worse, though I think mostly for worse…) And, there is also a lot of ageism around work, both in terms of discrimination during hiring and also generally the cult of prodigy that our culture is obsessed with.

      This is a topic I think about a lot, and I know other AS writers do as well, so if you feel comfortable submitting your specific experiences or thoughts as a YNH question, definitely please do and I or someone else will come around to answering it (most likely). Beyond that, I’ve written a little bit about my thoughts around grappling with this in the context of work in a couple of other advice posts (the first is a YNH but the other was from the A+ Advicebox and is behind the paywall).

      There’s a lot I can say on this topic, but I think it does overlap with a lot of what I wrote above. Basically, I would say allow yourself to feel whatever pain or grief you feel about it (bc there really can be a lot of pain around wanting a particular career and feeling like you won’t make it or can’t have it) and also give yourself the grace to step away from that pursuit (temporarily or otherwise) when it feels like it’s harming you more than helping. For all that we are raised to believe that career trajectories should be linear, they really, really are not.

      Wishing you all the best, -h

  14. One thing that I find extremely frustrating as a person who is single, is that all the stories we’re ever told end with romance. She’s looking for someone, and then right person shows up but they both have some stuff to figure out and then they do and they live happily ever after. Or she decides actually she’s fine on her own and builds a life, but obviously she’s wrong and here is that person arriving in her town to show her how much more full her life would be if she gave in to love and then she does and they live happily ever after. Or she got married and is now divorced and why would she want to do that again, except here is this new person to show her she can open herself up again and THEY live happily ever after. I have never seen a movie or read a book where she really is happy and really does build a fulfilling life with meaningful connections without being romantically involved with someone.

    For me, I’ve come to a place where I really wonder if I have every actually wanted romance, or if I just want to be someone’s favorite person, and that possibility has only ever been presented in the form of a romantic relationship. For me, I think it’s not actually romance I crave, but the act of being emotionally intimate, of seeing and being seen and truly being there for each other no matter what. And — for me –that doesn’t have to be connected to romance or sex.

    So I guess I just wish — for all of us, whether we are on the platform or went and built a log cabin in the woods nearby — that there were more examples of a happy, fulfilled life that didn’t end with a romantic kiss.

    • Oh @lezbrarian, I think about this SOOOO MUCH. There are two pieces of media that distinctly came to mind where I had much the same reaction as what you described above, where it felt like the ending was a forced reconciliation between a woman lead and a partner just so that she could have a partnered happily ever after. And it felt especially like a betrayal because in both cases, the larger point in both of both Bridesmaids and Parks&Rec (the two things I was thinking of) was the richness of friendship and other relationships. Like I love that movie and that show so much, but I was so angry at the end of both when both Kristin Wiig and Rashida Jones’s characters end up coupled off after all. In both cases, I felt strongly that it would’ve been such a powerful story and important representation if they had stuck with their guns and ended with their two characters building their lives around larger communities in unpartnered ways.

      Clearly, I still think about this a lot, and it bothers me a lot. (At this point, I haven’t watched Parks&Rec or Bridesmaids in at least 5+ years…) So you’re definitely not alone in wishing for, as you say, “more examples of a happy, fulfilled life that didn’t end with a romantic kiss.”

    • @seastar, thanks so much for reading! I actually like your analogy of the moon a lot as well! Something beautiful, distant, and seemingly unreachable. I love looking at the night sky and seeing the moon through it’s many phases and in another life I’m like “ahh maybe I would [try to] be an astronaut so I can see the stars up close” … all this to say, I think there’s a lot of ways in which your analogy works really well, too!

      • Thank you for replying. One metaphor mismatch is that the moon is inaccessible to nearly everybody on Earth, whereas many people experience romance and/or sex. My metaphor du jour is of sex as a mysterious, mystical treasure deep in a dead-end-filled labyrinth of subtle communications, improbable compatibilities, and relationship negotiations, in which I’ve never even taken the first step of mutual attraction. Sex without this long, slow process is more like the moon — it clearly exists, but I see no path to it, just a big blank space that some people can jump across by means I don’t understand. Romantic love and romantic relationships are harder to define and concretely conceptualize, but less mysterious in a way — unlike sex, I unambivalently know I want them. So maybe the train platform metaphor better captures my feelings about them.

  15. I love this big picture answer. On a smaller/practical tip note – Now that I’m dating in my mid-30s, I’m meeting a lot of single parents in their 30s and 40s – one of the many possibilities for building family. :)

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!