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I Settled For a Life That Doesn't Make Me Happy. What Do I Do?

I Settled For a Life That Doesn't Make Me Happy. Help!

Welcome to ¡Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at holapapiletters@gmail.com.

¡Hola Papi!

I'm 25 and living in a fairly small city in a fairly small state. I have a good enough job that keeps the lights on, a stable partnership, and... that's it! 

I often find myself settling for things that are Not Bad™. My job is Not Bad™ and neither is my partner, which I know because I have had bad partners and bad jobs. I would love to be able to pursue good (or, dare to dream, great) things, like a job where I feel like I'm making use of my talents, or a partner who is interested in what I have to say. 

Recently I realized how abysmally lonely I feel all the time, so much that I’ve become numb to it. I don't know how to build a good life for myself in this state, but I don't know how to leave it either. It hurts to be here, where I don't have friends, a community, a career, or people who appreciate and respect me, but it's at least a pain that I know.

How do I convince myself that I'm allowed to do things to improve my situation? How do I learn to permit myself to take risks? Or, Papi, should I just admit that I’ve officially “settled?”

Yours in perpetuity,

Unsettlingly Settled

 

Oof, US. This one hit me hard.

I’m also from a small place in a small state, and I too wanted “better” for myself. “Better” wasn’t a very fleshed out concept. It was more of a guiding principle, a North Star that I would look to in times when I felt particularly burdened by my average life. I spent a lot of time back then managing my imagination: How much should I dare to want? 

I made a lot of concessions. I went to a state college instead of bankrupting my family tree to go to one of the fancy universities on the coasts that I got into. I dated some guys I don’t think I really liked that much. I knew there was a parallel universe that was “better,” one where I had more interesting friends and a steamier sex life and I wasn’t in a state that was quite so flat. 

That’s a pretty torturous way to look at the facts of your life, US. It can make you feel like a failure, or like you’re not the pilot of your own journey. Are all the decisions being made for me? If I put myself out there more, if I took more risks, would I be happier? Or am I doomed to the purgatory I settled for?

As someone who chased that anxiety down to its natural conclusion, I can tell you this much. On the other end of the “settling” spectrum is insatiability. That’s when nothing is good enough. You can move into a nice apartment, but there’s one with bigger windows and closer to work. You can date a nice person, but there’s always someone better looking or funnier. Committing to anything is out of the question, because then how would you be free to move on to the newer, shinier thing when it comes along?

But here’s the thing, US. Contentment is not the same thing as giving up. If the people and opportunities in your life aren’t bringing you happiness, you aren’t settling. You are surrendering. 

Let’s look at the facts of your experience. You say you’re very lonely. You say it hurts to be where you are. You imply your partner isn’t interested in what you have to say. None of these are problems necessarily brought on by “settling,” and they wouldn’t necessarily be solved by “taking risks.” It is not a risk to break up with someone who isn’t listening to you. It can be painful. You can dread it. But that doesn’t make it a risk. It is a corrective measure.

I want you to break out of this binary, US! It’s not “risk it all for a better life” or “do nothing.” You can set goals and work toward them wherever you’re at. What’s important is that we don’t punish ourselves for our situation, and we don’t throw our hands up and accept that things won’t get better. Neither are healthy. Neither tell the truth.

So before we start throwing your things into trunks and plan our big move to Los Angeles, let’s look at your immediate community. Are there any groups or clubs you could join? Are there acquaintances you could reach out to? How can you foster the talents that make you feel good? Are we sure about this partner? Could you work on the relationship, or are you merely tolerating it because you’re worried about being lonely?

These are questions that can lead to actionable items to materially improve your life. If and when you do “settle,” it should be because you mostly like something, not because you don’t believe in yourself enough. Dream big! Work toward something! Abolish the electoral college! Demand universal healthcare! Punch God in the face!

Or try joining a D&D group. I’ve heard a lot of queers do that and they seem to have a good time.

Con mucho amor,

Papi

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