How do we move forward with uncertainty?
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about modern spirituality and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. To get more content about how to infuse your life with thoughtfulness, reflection, and meaning, subscribe here.
A bad thing happened to me recently: my work computer had new security stuff installed on it, but in the process, something went off and everything was wiped. I didn’t lose any important files, but I did lose all of my settings… including the awesome Facebook newsfeed blocker I have had installed for a couple of years now. And of course, I immediately found myself back trawling the evil newsfeed, where I was immediately presented with a link from Oprah.com on how Get X women are in a midlife crisis.
I’m not here to or interested in discussing if we actually are (this article defined me as Gen X, though I was born in 1980 and have been told I’m a millennial; ah, the fog of generational confusion), but I did latch on to a fascinating term used in the article that I had never heard of before: ambiguous losses.
This is how the piece talks about them:
According to Gallup, 16 percent of Gen Xers are single or never married, compared to 10 percent of boomers and 4 percent of our grandparents’ generation. Most of these people say they still want to get married but just haven’t found the right person. Many are experiencing what psychologists call ambiguous loss. “Ambiguous losses are a particular type of loss that lack a definition and lack closure,” says Kelly Maxwell Haer, PhD, of the Boone Center for the Family at Pepperdine University, in California. “The ambiguous loss of singleness is particularly challenging to navigate. The person could be found in five minutes. Or never. You’re not going to get an email from God that says you’re never going to have a partner. That hope lingers on, and it’s really hard to live in hope that is not met, but there’s no end. Humans don’t do uncertainty well.”
Ambiguous loss. Huh.
That one hit me hard, and I’d never thought about some things that have never happened yet — but might still, you just don’t know when, or, you know, they may never happen — as a loss. But I am particularly interested in that framing. And I think lots of things can be ambiguous losses, not just being single. The end of a relationship that you didn’t really understand. That elusive perfect career or the city you should have maybe moved to. A loved one that’s gone missing, but there’s no resolution. A person you know changing, through dementia or another disease, or just, because, you know, people change and we don’t know why.
All these things happen and we’re not given the answer. We have no “why.” And humans do NOT function well without the why, or as the article mentions, we don’t really “do” uncertainty.
Outside of a traumatic ambiguous loss, perhaps involving a loved one gone missing with no closure, which I am DEFINITELY not qualified to advise on, how can we become better with the inevitable uncertainty that comes with being a human, whether it’s about if we’ll ever find a partner, or if we’ll get that job, or just like… about why we’re all even here?
This week’s podcast is all about how to retake control in a time of chaos, and it may help some. [Watch here or listen in your browser here.] But honestly… I just don’t know. This is something I struggle with as much as anybody. Sure, meditation helps. But what are the other answers?
I don’t have them. But maybe you do? If you have tips or concepts that help with being a human living in an uncertain world, reply to this email and let me know — I’ll anonymously share them in an upcoming issue with the rest of the Sunday Soother community.
For now, just know, we’re all in this uncertainty together. And that’s one thing we can be certain about.