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Dear Carolyn: I am a 35-year-old single man who is struggling with a life transition. All of my very close friends have gotten married, purchased homes and now have or are starting to have children.
This has caused a real dilemma for me because, while I am happy for them, I feel very stagnated in comparison. It has become more apparent at the few get-togethers I attend during the year — and I've begun to attend less and less. They discuss new life events and their children and homeownership and other commonalities, while I sit back, not able to relate. How do I accept this new normal and move on?
— Growing Distant in Texas
Growing Distant in Texas: Acceptance has almost magic properties.
But it doesn’t seem right here. Not for you, not now, not yet.
What life milestones your friends reach has no real bearing on who you are, truly. Yet your reaction to them can tell you a lot about who you want to be, and how far from that you feel.
If you are indeed stagnating, by your own standards and relative to your own goals, then acceptance would be premature. And actually kind of defeatist.
Instead, use this unwelcome feeling as a call for self-scrutiny.
Do you wish you were buying a home? You can work toward that.
Do you wish you had kids? You can work toward that. It’s harder for single guys, but not impossible. You can also redirect your career or free time toward teaching, mentoring, caregiving, coaching.
Do you wish you were married? I’ve churned out 20 years of advice against treating love as a goal, and I’m sticking to it. But these goals all have inherent value and are yours to control: circulating more socially, joining groups with a common purpose, trying new things, striking up more conversations, extending more invitations, sharing more of yourself, getting out of your comfort zones and creating some new ones.
Are you ultimately neutral on all these milestones — homeownership/marriage/kids — but letting the “shoulds” get to you? Is that because you’re unfulfilled in other ways? Then, okay. It’s healthy occasionally to break the bigger elements of our lives and routines into small pieces, to see what no longer works.
Do you just miss these friends? You can work harder to stay in touch, see them more often, even become part of the kids’ lives. Being on their journey with them is a form of commonality, too; you don’t have to be on the same one yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t feel this way — kids are tough — but the friend who sees the kids as fun, who reads to them and makes up silly traditions and takes them to the zoo, can be their parents’ closest friend of all. While you feel the loneliness of the unattached, they might feel the (often intense) loneliness of marriage and parenthood, which has built-in limits on ways to ease it.
All of which is to say, before you resign yourself to drifting from these friends, put your struggle to good use. See if a change in perspective, effort, presence or self-awareness would do your whole self some good.