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I used to have a rewarding life, but now I feel stuck | Relationships


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The question I seem to have lost all momentum in my life and I don’t know what to do. Until a couple of years ago, I had a stressful but rewarding life working abroad and travelling. I had a long-distance relationship and friends around the world. Then my relationship broke up, my father died and Covid happened. Because of the pandemic my company limited my job to a desk-only role, and they are happy with that despite me doing almost nothing. My family struggled at first without my dad, so I spent time supporting them, but now they’re in a good place, so I’m not needed.

A lot of my friends settled during this time. They’ve now got dogs, marriages and kids and, although I’m happy for them, it means they are less available. Covid stopped my dating life, except online where the women all seem to be looking for someone to settle down with.

Friends see that I’m doing very well from the outside – I’m still getting matches on dating apps, I live in a nice place and earn more than I spend and don’t really see how I could have a problem, but it feels like I’m just stagnating while everyone else is moving on. I need a reset, but can’t get a new job, relationship or the sense of achievement I once had.

Philippa’s answer Bloody pandemic. You had a great life, stressful, but you seemed to thrive on the adrenaline. You scooted around the world having fleeting contact with a great number of friends and had a long-distance relationship. That has all changed and the change was outside your control. You have suffered three significant losses: the death of your father, the end of your relationship and a curtailing of your previous lifestyle. You are allowed to grieve, feel these losses and give yourself time to get over the shock of them and time to adapt to a different life. I’m not surprised you feel less than great. Sure, you are neither broke, friendless nor homeless, but that doesn’t mean you are not suffering.

How you relate with people has also altered. Pre-pandemic the norm for your social life seems to have been lots of brief contact, but now everyone around you is getting into deeper connections. And perhaps a long-distance relationship suited you, too. More excitement when you infrequently got together, rather than taking time to know each other on a more meaningful level?

You have lost your father. Your family mourned and began to move on, but what about you? Did you mourn or did you just comfort the mourners? You are allowed to be vulnerable and sad, too. Your family, you say, doesn’t need you any more. That doesn’t mean that you are not allowed to need them. You don’t always have to play the role of the strong one. I wonder whether you tell yourself it isn’t appropriate for you to have needs as well?

At work everyone is happy with you when you are doing almost nothing. I’d go further, I’d bet your family is happy with you when you do absolutely nothing. You belong; you don’t have to justify your existence by flying around the world problem-solving. You are good enough to just be. But do you value yourself beyond your achievements and actions? You are used to the fast lane, but now life has slowed. Perhaps you equate stillness and stagnation with unworthiness. Or maybe without adrenaline you do not feel fully alive. Adrenaline junkies often feel flat when they can’t do their thing, but when they learn to notice how it feels to breathe, how it feels to touch, how it feels to taste and smell, they slowly realise they don’t have to be living on the edge in order to live. To feel alive you can just connect to your breath.

I wonder if part of the problem is about a difficulty in connecting at a deeper level. When you were always on the go, you did not have space for a profound connection. The change in circumstances means there is room for that now. It’s whether you dare to let it happen.

The main modes of human existence are doing, feeling, thinking and being. You are great at the doing, but you may be less familiar with the feeling, thinking and being states. When you are equally comfortable in these states, life might make more sense for you.

You’ve lost your momentum. Your old form of being in the world has been disorganised; you are in that scary place of not knowing how to be. I think of this stage as having got off one bus, waiting for the next one and not knowing if it will arrive or where it will be going. But have faith: you will be able to adapt to a new rhythm to live your life to and, I’m pretty certain, it will incorporate more feeling, thinking and being as well as the doing mode you are so good at. Maybe it will mean you will no longer avoid your human need for deeper connection, too.

Or, tomorrow a new jet-setting job will turn up, a new long-distance relationship will materialise and you won’t feel the need to develop other modes of being besides being in a “doing” state. But I don’t think you’ll be able to put it off for ever.

If you have a question, send a brief email to askphilippa@observer.co.uk


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