What do I do with my sadness?

I've made big strides, but now I'm alone

Published July 16, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

My life has changed dramatically in the last year. I recently got a way better job that pays nearly double what I was making just a few months ago, which has allowed me to rent a bigger, better, safer, nicer apartment. Today, I went to see a financial planner to figure out a way to start saving money for retirement, building an emergency fund, and paying off my student loans. That felt pretty good. I have made so many life improvements. I have a plan now, and I believe I can stick to it. The problem is, it's just for me. The plan doesn't factor in the possibility of another person. And I understand that. I get that I should be self-sufficient. But somehow it makes me sad.

I got a divorce about a year ago -- not because anything "happened," but because things just weren't right. I didn't feel right. We both felt we could do better. And my ex-husband has already moved on and found someone great. All but one of my closest friends have found their partners or gotten married or pregnant in the past year or so, all while I was sleeping on an air mattress in an empty dorm-style apartment working two jobs. I did things the opposite way. Got married young and got a divorce when everyone else was settling down. I'm bordering on being in my mid-30s, and I'm still rebuilding.

Some days, maybe twice a week, being single feels pretty great. But the rest of the time, I'm either ambivalent or sad. It's more than feeling left out. It's that I want some of the things that my friends and peers have, even though I'm not exactly sure what they are. Obviously, I can identify the physical and social aspects of their lives that I admire, but the feelings they get to experience, through being in love or loving someone or having kids or stability or a plan to share with someone -- I want that, even though I am unsure what that might feel like. How can it be that I want this thing that I can't even understand?

What if I don't find what I'm looking for? What if I never get the relationship I want? Will I stop wanting it? Will I resign at some point? Am I too picky? There are a few men lingering about. But I don't want them. They don't have the things I want. I don't have feelings for them. I didn't get out of the marriage I was in to settle for something less. And if it's the case that I'm supposed to be patient, what do I do with this sadness in the meantime?

Up in the Air

Dear Up in the Air,

It sounds like you cleared some space for new things to happen, and they began to happen. Your new job is one of those new things. Your new apartment is another. You made space for new things and they are happening. They can't all happen at the same time.

What do you do with the sadness in the meantime? You feel it. It is normal.

It's natural to be sad. You lost a marriage. You lost a loved one. You're lonely. That's plenty to be sad about. You should be sad. It's also normal to be a little sad if you are lonely. You've started a new job. It makes sense that you would be lonely.

The realm these feelings attach themselves to is something else. That is, as you look around and compare your situation with your friends, you add a layer. But the root thing is your sadness.

So go with the sadness. Deal with it in the moment. If you are sad and lonely, reach out to your friends.

There is only one thing to do with feelings, and that's to feel them. Perhaps that sounds simplistic, but try thinking of it this way: Food is for eating. Air is for breathing. Sadness is for feeling.

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Divorce Since You Asked