Allison Keating answers your queries about life & relationships
Question: I am writing about an issue that has been slowly growing inside me for the last year or two. I am a 33-year-old man living in Dublin with my fiancée. We both have good jobs and are in a fortunate enough position to have been able to buy a house in Dublin last year. Our relationship is amazing and we have a great group of friends and family. However, I feel unfulfilled.
My partner and I are very busy with work and I feel all our spare time is taken up with weddings and social events. I feel obligated to go to them and some are enjoyable but more often than not, I’d rather be doing something else. I sometimes reminisce about a time in my mid 20s when I had about €60 in my bank account and lived out of an old van, working job to job around North America. I always knew I had a job and family to come home to in Ireland, but life was so carefree and enjoyable then — no social norm to follow, do what makes you happy and all that.
Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of my life I really love and I know how selfish this reads as I am an extremely lucky person, but I have a burning in my soul for something more, some excitement. My fiancée always tells me how happy she is with her life. We have a small wedding planned for later this year and I don’t want to upset her by telling her I feel like I am missing something.
I’ve never been in the one place for longer than a few years and having lived in Dublin for three years now, I feel I want something new.
Allison replies: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” is a well-known quote by Henry David Thoreau in his book Walden, after he set himself an experiment to live in a cabin in the woods to live a life in nature away from societal norms and expectations. The quote was a call against living a life of misplaced values such as enduring unfulfilling work, the loss of time off and as you mentioned, doing what makes you happy. A burning soul is one that is in quiet pain, please pay kind attention to it.
One issue in relationships is the fear of allowing the other person in, to see the doubts, fears, and emotions present. This is what intimacy is and it does ask for the fee of vulnerability to be paid. The cost of caring and not wanting to hurt your fiancée’s feelings is a double-edge sword because if you keep this to yourself, these feelings may grow and be directed at her if you feel this is her dream. Resentment left unexpressed shows up in other ways that aren’t in line with a healthy relationship.
Before you have this incredibly important conversation with her, there are lots of things that you are happy with, and this is good. If you weren’t, it may incur a different outcome. From what you have said, you love your fiancée and have great friends and family but there is a sense of something missing. That feeling of being unfulfilled or a void is one you need to not only notice, but do something about. This is where you do inner work that doesn’t require you to live in the woods, but it does need you to become aware and conscious to the emotions that are present and have been building.
Notice when these thoughts or feelings come up for you. Look at what is within your control and what can make your life more authentic for you. I hear an inner battle and conflict between knowing that you ‘should’ go to all the weddings and yet feeling trapped by those social expectations.
Self-betrayal may be the niggling cue you are picking up on. Simple question, what belief is informing your behaviour and decision to go to all the weddings? Without letting your fiancée down, the internal struggle you are having, I am in no doubt, that you saying you don’t want to go will cause issues. The weddings are one of the presenting issues, what you need to delve further into is, what do you feel the cost is to you? Is it feeling trapped by knowing when you must go, that you can’t leave, the lack of spontaneity, the loss of freedom, choice, and personal autonomy? Have you considered any alternative solutions?
What is it about suburban life that isn’t appealing to you? Ask all these questions of yourself neutrally and with an open curiosity. If you find yourself judging your own questions, see that it isn’t helpful and will only keep you stuck. When you disallow yourself to feel how you feel because you think you shouldn’t feel that way, nothing will change except the unfulfilling feelings will continue to build. When you hear yourself saying ‘this is selfish’ or ‘I’m an extremely lucky person’, ask if this inner critic is your voice or have you been told this before?
How do you find expressing your needs? As a child, what happened when you said you didn’t want to do something or go somewhere? Were you met with disapproval, disappointment, anger, silence, or something else? If you said how you really felt, were your emotions or reality denied? Reflect on this, because if that did occur, the consequences may still be present. How do you find getting your needs met? How do you find creating healthy boundaries over your time and energy rather than fulfilling and choosing other people’s needs first over yours?
An existential crisis genuinely is an opportunity in disguise, albeit a painful one for you right now to figure out what your purpose in life is and how you derive meaning. Having a professional holding space for you as you explore this would be so helpful. Bring compassion to your burning soul that perhaps feels deflated, especially when coated with ‘you should be happy-isms’. A deadened soul can bring feelings of desperation.
Recognise that staying in one place by location and or perhaps in a marriage may be adding to this sense of future angst. It is interesting that your soul is starving for a real connection. I think that inner journey needs to start with you and learning about how your attachment style may be contributing to a sense of dread and ability to stay present. Have you noticed avoidance showing up before?
It is OK to have fears and doubts but keeping them locked inside is a lonely place to be. I would recommend sharing this with your fiancee. Finding what brings you joy and seeing how you can bring this into your life can bring perhaps the life richness you desire.
Allison regrets that she cannot enter into correspondence. If you have a query you would like addressed in this column, email email@example.com