1. Do I really want a relationship, or am I just afraid of being alone?
As we get older, people around us start pairing off — and never is the progression from “Let’s all see how many Jager shots we can do in a row, single buddies!” to “We are thinking about renting a place on the beach for a week or so this summer” more pronounced than in your 20s. It’s hard not to look around and feel like you’re suddenly the odd man out, the one who’s getting picked last for kickball, the third wheel everyone has to feel sorry for and take on their pseudo-dates. And if you’re female, take whatever societal pressure there is to pair up from your peers doing it, and put it to the power of 10. We have the media, more or less since birth, telling us that our manifest destiny in life is to find some rich guy on a (preferably white) horse who will come and rescue us from our stifling jobs as secretaries and take us off to some beautiful four-bedroom in Connecticut.
But is this what we really want? Sure, for some people, finding someone to spend your whole life with is easily in the top three life goals, but it can’t be that way for everybody. And even if it is your goal to find a soulmate, is your ultimate expression of that love going to be in the same cookie-cutter wedding that all of your friends and acquaintances are having? Do you even want to get married? It’s the kind of pressure that is so deeply embedded in us that even when we have someone, even when we’re at our happiest, we can’t help but look over our shoulder and wonder — just briefly — if these are the kinds of decisions we’re making to please all our overbearing relatives, and not actually us.
2. Is this job right for me, and is it what I’m really good at?
In an economy like this, we’re glad just to have a job. We work unpaid internships, temp positions, and anything else that can get us month-to-month, hoping to find a light at the end of a tunnel in the form of a package that includes decent vacation time and health insurance. So it’s no wonder that once we actually land a job — hell, even one only tangentially related to what we actually want to do in life — that we kind of sink into a dangerous complacency of “Whatever, I can afford takeout Thai, this is as good as life is going to get.” We’re encouraged not just to give up on non-career-related goes for our life (such as travel, continued education, or even a new hobby), but we’re also paralyzed by the sense that, should we look elsewhere, we’re going to fall into a bottomless pit of unemployment.
Many of us don’t even really know what we’re good at. We all go through jobs and courses and internships to briefly test the waters, giving an impression of trying to find ourselves, but we end up taking the first thing that sticks because we need it. It’s easy to convince yourself that everyone is meant to hate their job, and that you’re not good enough to be doing anything else, but it’s certainly not any kind of shortcut to happiness.
3. Do I want children, or do I just think I should have them?
Few things are more terrifying than seeing your friends start to have children, and realizing that not only is this time frame in your respective lives acceptable to spawn, but that you are now expected to participate in the lobotomized cooing that is required of everyone to come in contact with a newborn and its proud parents. This is a part of your life that requires baby showers, registries, gifts, play dates, babysitting, and listening to endless talk about the contents of diapers. It’s obviously a momentous event for the couple involved, and understandable that parents like to get together and talk about the one enormous thing they all have in common, but it certainly does make you feel as though this is a club that, one day or another, you will be expected to join. There is a fear that you will have less and less to discuss with your friends, fewer points on which to relate, and an overall sentiment that you are the immature one who has no responsibilities in the form of children, and is therefore not as fully an adult. How many children have been born out of a sense of keeping up with expectations, and doing the “right” thing?
4. Do I need new friends?
One of the easiest quicksands in life to fall into is that of a familiar social circle. You have your group, and your local hangouts, and your usual Friday night plans, and the same hookups and breakups and gossip and exasperation. It feels like when we’re not hanging out with the same group of people, we’re complaining about how we need to get out, and start meeting new friends, and going places that can at least give us new decor to stare at while drinking. But leaving a group — even for a night every other week — is often a very delicate thing to do. Friends can become so complacent with each other, so unwilling to put forth effort, that monotony becomes preferable to even the tiniest bit of risk.
Even when friends are actively dragging you down in some way, they can be impossible to break free from, impossible to see outside of. We feel like we owe exclusivity to these people, and even improving ourselves by trying new things every now and again can be some kind of betrayal. The unfortunate truth is that sometimes people just grow out of each other, and that’s no one’s fault — and yet we can spend years convincing ourselves that we need to keep seeing the same people because, well, that’s what we always do. But making new friends is often the gateway to feeling so much better about the city you might have just months ago felt fed up with — if only we can make the first step.
5. Am I actually happy with my life?
In quiet moments, by yourself, sitting in the home you have created, there is a quiet intimacy to which we are rarely privy. Our phone is always beeping, our news feeds always refreshing, there is someplace to go and people who want to talk to us. We can easily fill our lives, and every last minute of our days, with chatter and distractions that will satiate us and give us the impression that things are happening. But in those quiet moments, when everything is still and no one is reaching out — when we are left with our own company to reflect on the life we’ve built, the people in it, and the place we call home — are we happy?
Of course, none of us are really sure what that means, but it’s probably fair to start by acknowledging how much of it you would change if you could. Do you run down a laundry list of things that could be better, more honest, more fulfilling? And is that desire for more, for better, out of belief that you can achieve, or a desire to impress? At the end of the day, who are we doing this for? Because our boss, our friends, our parents — hell, even our significant others — they aren’t the ones who have to live our lives. We are. And few things can be louder than having to sit in the silence of your own company and think about it.