Developmental milestones

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This adulthood thing is giving me fits. I can’t seem to get the hang of it.

I had a promising start. While I was not voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school (that honor went to my best friend who, as far as I know, is busy succeeding), I was voted Most Intelligent, which seems like a bright enough portent.

Then I went to college, and did really well there, and then I went to grad school and did really well there, and then I started a career and was doing really well.

ImageNow I am thirty-two. I can’t find a job. I’m living below the poverty line. I have no health insurance. In its place I have a constant, persistent worry about money and the future.

I am thirty-two and single. Healthy, satisfying romantic relationships are things that happen to other people.

I am thirty-two and childless. This is the only developmental milestone I am unequivocally happy about missing. No complaints there.

I am thirty-two and socially maladjusted. My interaction with my peers is limited to commenting on their facebook posts. I hang out with my parents, my cats, and my roommate. My desire for social interaction is abnormally low. I’m not actually upset by this, but I’m pretty sure I should be.

An employee at the homeless shelter had to stay at home for a few weeks due to a sports injury. He was going crazy after a few days.

I would have relished it. Cabin fever is not a condition that affects people like me. I don’t normally need or even want stimulation from people or movies or television. Lock me in a room with books for a month, and I’ll come up for air at the end of four weeks — but only to make sure the world hasn’t yet been consumed by fire, not because I’m restless.

I wonder sometimes if I have a mental illness or abnormality regarding my social interactions — apart from just being really introverted, I mean. I’m definitely not on the autistic spectrum. I’m definitely not a sociopath. I have astonishingly low social needs, but I enjoy close friendships when they happen. Popping into the grocery store for bananas is a stressful experience filled with strangers, a.k.a. enemies, but I regularly volunteer with several hundred chronically homeless people and I’m pretty decent at that.

My people issues are sufficiently complicated that I’d love to have a hotshot psychologist examine me, which maybe I’ll do if I ever get health insurance again. Ha.

Part of me thinks it would be neat to have Hannibal Lecter for a doctor, which perhaps underscores my point about having people issues.

Of the people I went to school with, and of the extended family members who are more or less my age, almost everyone seems to have latched on to the adulthood milestones of relationships and career. Many of them also have kids, which I don’t want, and a house, which would be neat. I’m probably just being myopic, but I feel like I’m lagging further and further behind.

I did not expect to have found the cure for cancer by this point. Science was never my forte.

Poverty, though: couldn’t I have cured that by now? I always enjoyed social science. Or couldn’t I have written a novel by now? Though I have to say that writing for pleasure — or doing much of anything for pleasure — is difficult when you’re out of work. Time spent reading or writing or killing video game zombies is time not spent applying for jobs or writing for pay.

ImagePossibly some unemployed people don’t grapple with that dilemma, but I do. I had exactly the same problem when was writing my reference book and struggling to meet deadlines. I felt overwhelming guilt when I stopped to read.

Even more than wanting money or security or the satisfaction of solving world poverty, I want a job so that I can have free time that isn’t laced with guilt.

George Orwell described the predicament better than I’m doing, though he was George Orwell so I suppose that’s okay. I’m currently reading, guiltily, his nonfiction book The Road to Wigan Pier, a work of social criticism about class in England that would have made Dickens proud, though without the precocious and lovable children you get with Dickens novels. At any rate, Orwell had this to say about writing while unemployed:

Once or twice it has happened to me to meet unemployed men of genuine literary ability; there are others whom I haven’t met but whose work I occasionally see in the magazines. Now and again, at long intervals, these men will produce an article or a short story which is quite obviously better than most of the stuff that gets whooped up by the blurb-reviewers. Why, then, do they make so little use of their talents? They have all the leisure in the world; why don’t they sit down and write books? Because to write books you need not only comfort and solitude—and solitude is never easy to attain in a working-class home—you also need peace of mind. You can’t settle to anything, you can’t command the spirit of hope in which anything has got to be created, with that dull evil cloud of unemployment hanging over you.

Preach it, George.

Now I hope that no one, no matter how well-intentioned, chirps up to tell me that I’ll find a job or a house or a healthy relationship soon. Nobody knows the future, and more importantly, I don’t like to be patronized.

Nor am I fishing for compliments about how I’m doing a fine job of being an adult. Let’s all be honest here: just at the moment, I’m sort of a loser. Probably won’t be permanent, and anyway I know it could be worse: I could be a criminal, or I could be a substance abuser, or I could be watching reality shows all day long. Plenty of worse schmucks out there than me.

I’m just ready to start being a grownup again.

11 responses »

  1. You know, someone once told me that just because something COULD be worse doesn’t mean that it isn’t bad. I’m sorry you’re going through this, it sucks and you deserve better from the universe.

    • Sarah: I don’t think the universe sweats over the small stuff. And while I think karma is a thing, probably, I suspect it’s too subtle for me to be able to declare that I deserve better. Cosmically I have to disagree with you. Not that I’d say no to good fortune, mind you.

  2. Jess,
    Prior to tossing out any of the positive thoughts or generally encouraging comments that immediately leap into mind having perused the well-written assessment/sitrep you’ve posted for our edification on this April Sunday afternoon, this friend(taking the liberty of designating himself as such) is going to grab a second cup of coffee and contemplate a genuinely serious answer to some of the points you’ve brought up.. There’s a long and most likely road to better things awaiting your involvement in future. The stats you quoted on passing the FSOT are not as dreadful as you might have seen them. More to come prior to day’s end.Hang in there for the nonce. fond regards from the Tidewater….

  3. Life can really suck, and it’s worse when it’s raining, like it is today. You fall in a pit and wonder if you’ll ever get out of it, because you can’t imagine anything or anyone who could change it. Hopelessness follows you like a bedraggled puppy, and bed is the happiest place to be. Without books you would die. You know you’re smart, but you feel incompetent. This isn’t what you expected at all, but take it from me, 32 is young. Very young. As you get older, you will gather wisdom that will be worth more than riches, though, I admit, that doesn’t pay the rent. Life is full of surprises, and you never know what lies around the corner (some cliches are true). It’s as hard to find a best friend as it is to find a lover, but that’s what you need. Time will bring that too. I know you don’t believe me now, but you will get the hang of adulthood eventually. If you have a capacity for happiness, you will find it. You seem to have found a place for yourself working with the homeless. This is a “talent” few people have. Perhaps social work will turn out to be your calling. Nothing makes a person feel better than helping someone else, which I’m sure you already know. Hang in there.

    • Pam: I’m trying to be stoic about it, with the belief that this too shall pass. It is statistically very unlikely that I will remain unemployed for the rest of my life. Paying rent in the interim is the catch.

      I’m reluctant to spend money on another master’s degree. And I suspect that working with the homeless is more satisfying as a volunteer position than as a career. It’s a hard job for forty hours a week. It’s less stressful and emotional for short stretches.

      • Part of your difficulty is the crappy economy. Lots of educated, capable people are out of work, through no fault of their own. This isn’t your fault, and you are not alone, though that’s cold comfort, I know. I really don’t know what I’d do if I were in your shoes. You’re in a scary place. Maybe you’ll get a book out of it eventually.

  4. I feel your feels. It is not comfortable or easy existing in a world that f’rinstance, values you more dead than alive (as in, were I to suddenly croak, my family wouldn’t have to pay back the quarter million I owe in student loans). Like you, I’m highly educated and intelligent. I’d like to think I’m not socially awkward, but I’m honestly getting more so as I age. And I, like you, cannot find a job for love nor money. It gets difficult to get up in the mornings knowing you have a sea of nothing planned for the day. Its difficult to go to sleep at night worrying about what you’ll do if you do manage to wake the next day. Worry, stress, and the toxins your body creates in dealing with those emotions wear you down. SAD and crappy weather don’t help. I wish I had answers for you Jessica but I don’t, not for myself either. I have a feeling that at some point a life of worry and stress will result in a heart attack or stroke and I’ll have some ridiculous insight about being happy and not give a f!ck about this stuff anymore, but I ain’t seeing it from here.

    Karma, FWIW, is a bitch to use as a situational assuagement since it works on the scale of a lfetime, not on an immediate scale.

    I hope you get some good news re: FSE.

  5. I got here via Citizen Reader, and I have nothing of use to add but lots of sympathy. And yes, Orwell writes unfairly better than anyone.


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