Our desire to connect and participate in deep relationships is instinctual. We have an innate drive to bond with others and form attachments. We crave security, belonging, nurturance, love, and connection. As children and adolescents, we seek bonding experiences from our primary caregivers. While our reliance on our families changes in adulthood, we never outgrow our need for healthy attachments. As adults, we bring meaning to our lives through our relationships with friends, family, co-workers, and our romantic partners. These relationships are essential to our mental health and well-being. Yet I often hear my single clients giving themselves a hard time for wanting a partner, as if something is wrong with them for having this desire.
What makes it so challenging to admit that you want love? Maybe it’s the vulnerability, expectations, and potential for disappointment that come with it. If you are used to being single or are struggling with dating, it’s only natural that you would attempt to protect yourself from getting your hopes up around love. This might entail shutting down or putting your guard up. Or if admitting to yourself how badly you want a partner feels too vulnerable, you are probably going to try to push away this desire. Basically, to minimize the potential for hurt and ensure you don’t end up feeling let down, you may be denying yourself of what you really want.
These methods of protection may not be completely conscious or intentional. Maybe you put all of your energy into your career, so you can tell yourself “I’m too busy to date or have a relationship.” Or maybe you make up excuses for not dating and buy into negative beliefs about yourself or others, such as, “there is no one good left,” “no one I like likes me back so why bother meeting other singles?” or “I am destined to end up alone.” These beliefs are incredibly powerful—they may cause you to run away from dating and avoid it altogether. If you are not mindful of your beliefs, they can easily shut you down from being emotionally available. The ways you think and feel about dating hugely impact the process. This is unavoidable and important to remember.
Here’s the thing, if you want love, you have to believe it is possible for you. This is the opposite of shutting down, making up excuses, or trying to lessen the pain of not having what you ultimately want. Admitting what you want and owning it are major aspects of being vulnerable. Connection and vulnerability go hand-in-hand. The downside of protecting yourself is that the very walls (and negative beliefs) you use for protection may actually be pushing others away or making it nearly impossible for a connection to develop. For example, if you deny yourself of your desire for a romantic partnership, you are going to be closed, even if you do agree to go on dates. You may try to play it cool, pretending you don’t want anything serious when in fact you do. You may keep potential partners at a distance to avoid heartbreak. You may be acting picky and overly-judgmental as another means of protection.
If you are clear about wanting a relationship, you can take guided, deliberate action. If you deny yourself of your true desire, you will make choices that may be repelling a relationship or leaving little likelihood of attaining one. It’s essential to acknowledge any discomfort attached to your true desires while staying open to love and being honest with yourself about what you want.
You can start by reminding yourself that it’s natural to crave companionship and belonging. It’s okay to want love and there is absolutely nothing weak or abnormal about it. It’s okay to want a relationship, just as it’s okay to genuinely want to be single. Your relationship status should not define you and you can have an amazing life without a partner. However, being truly open and available for love means acknowledging it is important to you (if it is).
Yes, it may feel vulnerable and scary, but it is a natural human need. If you view it as a personal flaw or weakness (aka judging yourself as pathetic or desperate as many of my clients initially did), you are only going to feel worse and create more unnecessary walls.
Also, it’s okay if intimacy feels terrifying. You can be ready for love and also acknowledge that the vulnerable aspect of it is uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking. You can learn to persevere through the unpleasant emotions and stay open. You can be gentle with yourself while pushing to break down any walls that are in the way.