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Our relationships counsellor answers your problems: My son feels directionless and lost

I am very worried about my 22-year-old son who graduated a year ago. He had a hard time at university during the pandemic, struggling with loneliness and depression when everything closed down. He managed to get a good degree but still can’t find a decent job. 

He gets work in cafés and pubs, but despite dozens of applications for vacancies fitting his degree, he rarely even makes it to interview stage. He now feels directionless and lost, and it’s really affecting his self-esteem. 

I think having a girlfriend would help. He’s had one or two short relationships but they fizzled out. I know he would like something longer term but says he can’t get a girlfriend because he has nothing to offer. 

An anonymous woman has revealed that she is concerned about her 22-year-old son who graduated a year ago. She told Caroline West-Meads that he was struggling to get a job and girl friend and has becoming increasingly lonely and depressed

Things were much easier for his two elder brothers who, while not living perfect lives, are relatively OK. My husband assumed that our youngest would be the same, following them – and him – into ‘solid’ careers in finance. 

He can’t find a decent job and it’s affecting his self-esteem

I think one of the main problems is that our son doesn’t really know what he wants to do. We are quite close and he does talk to me, but how do I get him out of this rut? 

A I’m so sorry to hear this. I think the pandemic was particularly hard for university students, who found themselves living away from home for the first time – with all that it entails – but not being able to engage in a normal college life. 

They lost the chance to make friends, join societies or potentially meet partners – things that help the transition from teenager to adult. When your son says that he would have ‘nothing to offer’ a girlfriend, it indicates that his depression might well still be there. 

He may or may not have had counselling and/or medication already but either way, I would recommend he sees his GP initially. He could also access counselling via relate.org.uk or themix.org.uk. Career-wise, it sounds as if he may simply have gone along with the rest of the family because that is what he felt was expected of him. 

It is not too late to change or do further training

From what you say, his brothers and father appear to share a different personality type – and careers in finance are only ‘solid’ if that’s what you want to do. It’s a mistake to assume that an apparently glamorous or well-paid job must be a good one. 

There is a world of alternative professions and career paths, and the best job is the one most suited to him. A good degree is never wasted, so it is not too late to change or do further training. 

Perhaps he could explore more suitable options by starting with a personality test such as at 16personalities.com or, if you can help with the cost, life coaching. Volunteering would also help raise his self-esteem and employability. You are doing a wonderful job by listening to him and that will help him, too. 

HIS FITNESS REGIME IS MAKING HIM ILL 

Q My husband has run almost every day for decades. Now in his late 50s, he is still pushing himself hard and I think it’s having an impact on his health. He has a problem with one of his knees and is always exhausted. 

I try suggesting that he needs to change now that he is older, but he won’t listen. It doesn’t help that our couple friends are really impressed by his fitness and tell him that he’s amazing. 

Plus, these days he’s always too tired for sex. It almost feels as if he’s avoiding it. I’m fed up and miserable. 

Your husband’s exercising is verging on addiction, probably driven by an underlying anxiety. Do you know if he started exercising all those decades ago as a way of dealing with difficult or painful emotions? Or did one of his parents die young, making him overcompensate with what he (mistakenly) thinks are healthy habits? 

I’m not surprised that you are fed up about the lack of a sex life. However, there may be other reasons why he is avoiding it. For instance, it is not uncommon for men to suffer periods of erectile dysfunction at some point; if so, he may be too embarrassed to say anything, blaming tiredness instead. 

Although it’s difficult to discuss any of this with him, if you don’t things will not get better. So be supportive but assertive, and insist that he talks to you about the situation and the impact it is having on you – including the lack of sex. He should certainly see his GP about the exhaustion. 

You might also want to insist on going to counselling together. A quiet word with your friends to discourage their admiration might help, too – tell them you are worried he is overexercising and it’s affecting his health.

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