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Q. I have an all-consuming need for advice re: starting over again in your 30s. It’s been five years and a mortgage since my last break up, and I don’t know how to survive this one as a person who mostly feels vaguely adult-ish. I’m moving back into a share house and buying IKEA furniture so, while I kind of feel like I’m unwillingly living like a college kid again, drinking too much and sleeping around doesn’t seem like it’ll make me feel any better this time (totes did last break up when I was 23, no judgement!) So instead I’m just wandering around lost and weepy and hoping it really does get better. How do I get from this to happy, functioning human being when I just want to be back in my veggie garden with my partner drinking tea and talking about politics?
It gets better. Really, it does.
If you feel like binge drinking and sleeping around won’t be the secret to bouncing back quickly, I think go ahead and trust your gut on that. You’re probably right.
If there was advice that I wish I’d received two years ago when my relationship with my long-term live-in partner began dissolving and I eventually became homeless, cat-less, best friend-less, broke, and the mortified new owner of a single bed crammed into my 76-year-old great aunt’s home study, it would be to give myself plenty of time and space to mourn before charging ahead into the future. Even though in my case, losing it all was voluntary; it was The Right Thing To Do and The Best For All Involved. You can still grieve something that you don’t want back.
So you might be lost and weepy for some time yet, and I think it’s fine. Be sad about losing the best parts of what you had because they meant something, they helped shape who you are right now. But also give yourself a deadline. Pick a date in the not-so-distant future where you’ll make every effort to stop grieving what you’ve lost and start focusing on everything you have to gain. Which is so much! There’s a whole new world waiting for you and it’s filled with rad people and adventures. It’s exciting, trust me.
In the meantime, see if you can find a balance between sadness and survival mode. Meeting your basic human needs should be a priority, obviously. Keep building those IKEA flat-packs until you’ve built a new home. But remember your emotional needs, too; pushing them aside isn’t the secret to finding your feet in an adult-like fashion. Starting over is one of the loneliest, scariest things. If you keep a brave face then people may not think to ask whether you’re okay, and getting through this alone is tough.
As for fulfilling alternatives to binge drinking and sleeping around, here are suggestions based on what worked for me. They may or may not work for you but hopefully they’ll at least inspire some new ideas.
- Try to let go of the idea that this is starting over. It’s not. I mean, sure, you’re back to Square One romantically and residentially and even agriculturally. But you’re still you! You had a good thing going before your partner came onto the scene. This is a swell time to reconnect with what/who that is, exactly. Right now you probably have a fuckton of ‘You Time’, or at least more than you did when you were part of a cohabiting couple. You’re free to make your own decisions and plan your own day without factoring in another human’s needs or preferences. If you can get past the fact that this isn’t what you wanted, you’ll see that you’ve got some perfect conditions for some soul-searching. Take advantage of the extra headspace and explore what independent thirtysomething you is all about.
- Don’t fight your reality. The sooner you embrace your current life situation, the quicker you’ll able to spot the silver lining. Your IKEA furniture? It comes with 99c cinnamon buns. Your share house? It (hopefully) comes with interesting stories and new friends. Feel free to keep yearning for tea and politics in the veggie garden but start working on accepting that soon, it’s gonna be with someone else.
- Start doing the things that you were unable and/or unmotivated to do when living with your ex. Binge the TV show they hated. Accept every social invitation. Learn to cook the foods they were allergic to. Do some part-time schooling. Save up to visit destinations they weren’t interested in. Reconnect with exes. Quit smoking, join a gym, block their ignorant co-workers on social media. Start projects, see what challenges and inspires you. Spend your Sundays discovering new hobbies instead of grocery shopping.
Also, remember that adulthood isn’t about having a relationship and a mortgage. It can mean lots of different things to different people but I think it’s mostly about taking control and responsibility for your life — no matter what that life looks like. Having a failed relationship and building furniture with Allen keys has no correlation to your maturity and ability to be good at life. You’re doing the best with what you have, and I hope it’s not long before you can start to feel proud of it.
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