I want to say I hope you are well, but I know it’s a shit time so I hope you are surviving and healthy and finding joy.
I’m turning 30, I’m single, and I’m freezing my eggs because of a below-average egg count for my age. I know this is a very lucky position to be in, but it’s brought up a lot of rage and I feel a chasm growing even wider between myself and my friends. I feel like I’ve been “waiting” for my life to start, and thinking my friends who are coupled, who are creating families of their own, have lives and are continuing to progress while I’m stuck. Of course I think single women and women who choose not to have children have lives, but I feel continually thwarted by my own expectations. I want to lose the fantasy of an American nuclear family and be ready for whatever happens, but I have desires, too. How do I live without expectations, but honor what I want? How do I even distinguish between what I actually want and what I’ve been convinced I want?
I do enjoy my independence a lot, and I know I’ve created a rich life for myself, but why do I think I’m not living if someone isn’t sharing it with me? I am tired of celebrating other people’s milestones. I am tired of looking at people and thinking I should be doing what they’re doing. I am tired of looking at friends I love and thinking Who the fuck are you? as they talk at me with no self-awareness of what they take for granted.
What the Fuck Do I Want?
Figuring out what you want from your life in your early 30s is extremely difficult. Throw in your low egg count and impeding procedure, and you’ve got a recipe for anxiety and dread. It sounds like you’re being forced to grapple with these questions before you’re ready.
That said, your rage at what other people take for granted, you irritation at their “progress,” even your view that their choices represent progress while your choices (building a rich life, freezing your eggs, celebrating other people’s milestones) somehow represent stagnancy, all point to a worldview that’s under extreme pressure. This is a big crisis moment for you. You’re questioning your long-held assumptions and defense mechanisms. You’re reevaluating your vision of what your life should look like. And on top of that, you’re feeling anxious, vulnerable, and unnerved.
As hard as it is to give a direct answer to any of your complex questions, one part of this picture is simple: You’re angry. And paradoxically, rage, blame, irritation, and alienation are usually manifestations of a desire for more contact, more community, more interaction, more love.
So I want you to take a minute and, instead of looking at this moment in your life through one of your more complicated lenses (society’s vision for you versus what you want, living without expectations vs. honoring your desires), dare to sit with the fragile core of it: You’re craving human connection.
You long for love and friendship that feels rich and rewarding. You want to meet on common ground and feel good there. You need more of that experience in your life. That also means that you don’t want to feel so dissatisfied by the interactions you’re having. You’re tired of talking to friends and feeling even lonelier afterward, in part because they seem clueless about how lucky they are. But there’s something else there, too: You’re tired of comparing yourself to them and feeling bad about it. You’re tired of wanting what they have. You don’t even know what it is about what they have that you want. You suspect that you want what they want because that’s what our culture says people should want. And you’re uncomfortable with envy. You think you should be above that.
You don’t really know what you want. That part is obvious. But in this moment, it’s also clear that what you’re craving the most is to feel differently about yourself and your relationships. You want to feel more connected to your friends. You want more love in your life.
Here’s the solution to that problem: Stop blaming your friends for how they make you feel, and FEEL WHAT YOU FEEL INSTEAD. Because the more humbly you approach this crisis and the more you translate your anger into your real desire for connection, the more you’ll inch toward understanding what you truly want from your life.
Right now you feel vulnerable and that feels shitty. You don’t like being humbled. You think of yourself as someone who’s on top of her game. This year feels different for you. And even though you’re trying to get back in control of this — freezing your eggs — the anger isn’t letting up. It’s upsetting to be here and feel like these things might be harder for you than they are for other people. Life is hard enough already, for fuck’s sake! And your friends don’t even realize how good they have it!
I want you to watch how, whenever you consider your feelings, you move away from them. You start telling stories about other people instead. Whenever you feel insecure or sad, you go back to criticizing other people as a kind of refuge. You try to let yourself be humbled by where you are and what you feel, but then you grab the wheel and take a sharp mental turn that lets you feel like you’re in control again. You start telling negative stories in order to feel more in control.
Control isn’t the answer. You just got knocked down by a wave. Now you have to sit down on the sand and feel where you are. You can’t leap back up and try to swim in random directions, to fix what just happened, to erase it. You have to sit with your ass on the sand and feel this.
Your letter to me is you swimming in circles. You’re trying to solve a problem of grief and terror and need with intellectualizing about what’s wrong with other people. You’re trying to exit your own sadness by making it about blame. Your anger and intense need to FIND A SOLUTION and GET BACK IN CONTROL and BE A WINNER AGAIN is making you confused.
I know exactly how that is. Getting on top of things has always been my first impulse when things get ugly or sad. One thing I’ve noticed lately, though, is that a lot of my fixes for disappointment are weird intellectual puzzles that block my path to other people. I give myself really difficult homework assignments, just so I can start swimming and feeling strong again. Or I tell a story about how things are that feels victorious somehow. Or I try to decode some arbitrary mystery, usually by chasing my own tail online for hours.
Over the past few months, I’ve started to realize how many of my impulses are just warped forms of looking for human connection. I reach out for something like a fix, a substitute, a symbol of something that means I matter instead of REACHING OUT FOR ACTUAL PEOPLE.
I do this even when I’m in the company of other people. I get lost. I am very good at feeling faintly restless and lonely in a wide range of situations and I am (sometimes) very bad at staying still and connecting with people and ADMITTING that they matter to me a lot.
One of the reasons life can suck a lot in your early 30s is that, as people pair up and settle down, it’s exceedingly hard to continue to admit that they matter to you. If you’re already pretty independent and self-protective, it’s obscenely difficult to acknowledge that you need something from friends who are building tribes of their own. It makes you feel like a real loser to want things from people who are preoccupied with building something that’s just for themselves. Most friends don’t help much on that front. The second you openly express your need to touch base or spend some time together, they’re right there telling you that things are too crazy with the wedding, with the new baby, blah blah blah.
But the truth is that almost everyone feels isolated, starting in their 30s, in different ways and for different reasons. This morning I said to my husband, “We’ve been so domesticated and so annoyingly suburban for a decade now. I want to be social again.” I’d been snooping around the Instagram pages of long-lost friends and thinking how much busier and more interesting my social life used to be when I was younger. But I’ve also been thinking so much about friendships and connections and who matters to me this year, and I realize that lately, I’ve been taking these emotional impulses and this need for richer connections, and I’ve been burning them off on social media or transmuting them into new solitary projects. Is that what I’m really craving, though? More hours of scrolling and more hard work?
I don’t think so. I think what I really want is connection. I want to say something and see another person hear it and feel it, and vice versa. I want to slow the clock down and actually experience my connection to friends who matter to me. I don’t want to chat with the neighbors. I want to see one of my favorite people and have a real, true connection with their sublime, unique mind.
Now, in the old days, I would’ve called a friend and blurted something like, ‘I FEEL LIKE YOU’VE BEEN TOTALLY OUT OF TOUCH AND IT SUCKS.” And then we’d mutually report on how busy we are and I’d get off the phone feeling bad, so I’d tell myself a story about how that person doesn’t really need me and doesn’t care that much and is also totally distracted by their dumb high-maintenance kids.
I’m trying not to do that right now. I’m calling people and having long, patient conversations. I’m trying to stay more present to whatever the energy of the conversation is and try to serve it and let it go wherever it wants to go.
But most of all, I just try to notice how much I crave connection in ways that I haven’t let myself acknowledge in the past. I don’t move into storytelling when people frustrate me. I think about what they want and what I want and how we can connect in spite of miscommunications or frustrations between us. I also try to check in with people more often.
I think that’s what you need right now. You need to call your friends and say, “I feel humbled and sad lately and I just want to hear your voice and talk about it.” I think you need to show up and, instead of feeling alienated and impatient, make some space for other people’s desperation and sadness or even joy instead. It’s clear you know how to do that if you try. I mean look at how you started your letter: “I want to say I hope you’re well but I know it’s a shit time.” You made room for whatever was going on with me.
Do that for your friends and for yourself. Make room for whatever you’re working with, without judgment. Show other people how you feel. Ask for what you want. Tell them you’re confused right now. Admit that you want more connection, more love, more talking, more exchanging ideas, more comparing feelings, more communion. Say these things to your old friends and to your new friends.
It’s going to be a long winter. Let’s make it the winter we dared to reinvent our understanding of ourselves, socially, and reached out to other people with reckless abandon. Let’s make it the year we figured out how much we crave love, and how much we deserve it. Let’s stop making every decision and every moment so complicated, and simply learn to reach out to other people and say: I care about you. I want to hear your voice.
I know you feel confused about the big picture, but you can’t solve what comes next until you reconnect with other people. You want more love in your life. You want to feel like people can see you and hear you again. You’re angry and you need help from your friends to get through this. Don’t give up and shut yourself off. Don’t turn a feeling into an impossible puzzle. Reach out, feel the love that’s there, and let it in.
Ask Polly appears here the first three Wednesdays of every month. Additional columns and discussion threads are available on the Ask Polly newsletter, so sign up here. Polly’s evil twin Molly’s newsletter is here. Order Heather Havrilesky’s new book, What If This Were Enough?, here.
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