Is being alone really worth it?
October 27, 2011 11:31 PM   Subscribe

Do you really have to be a very highly confident, self-sufficient, charismatic, successful person before you can have a healthy relationship?

Is it really true that in order to have a healthy romantic relationship, you cannot be looking for a person to complete you and you can't be desperate and lonely or have any major issues that might drive someone away? It's conventional wisdom, but is it true? Have any of you out there in internetland gotten together with a partner when you were feeling really down on yourself and didn't believe you were lovable, and when you craved a lover and were desperately lonely...and had it work out fine anyway?

Conversely, has anyone become that successful, fascinating, independent person and had no one notice or be attracted to them?

If a period of solitude is really crucial for emotional health and functional relationships, how can I psych myself into this when the only reason I'm trying to "be alone" is to become a more attractive partner and just white-knuckling through the solitude? I know it can't be fake, but long-term solitude for its own sake holds little appeal for me.
posted by sucky_poppet to Human Relations (36 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes. No. It's what you make of it.

The factor is that being in a relationship takes time that can potentially be spent from building yourself up. However, being in a relationship also fills you with energy and inspires you to do better.

It's all a compound mess of relative facets. Also known as a playing field.

However there is one immovable constant: Becoming more mature and gaining strength and independence never ever goes unnoticed. (But fortunately there is no unattainable final goal, just an endless graduation of more power and more fun. If you work it, it works.)
posted by krilli at 11:42 PM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think people need each other, and it's not so shameful and not at all abnormal to be a hell of a lot less happy single than in a relationship.

That said, a relationship that starts out when one someone is desperate is far more likely to involve incompatibilities that are ignored for the sake of companionship. Everyone's a far more appealing partner when they're in a state that's not desperate or depressed.

But again, I'm tired of single people being shamed for not loving being single. If that's where you are, that's just fine.
posted by namesarehard at 11:53 PM on October 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


90% of dating and love is a crapshoot. Random timing and circumstance account for a vast chunk of it, superficialities like looks and certain social mores account for another large portion.

It is true, however, that you teach people how to treat you, and that many dynamics of a relationship are set in place, quite possibly irrevocably, by first impressions and premilinary boundary navigations.

My thought is that getting yourself in order doesn't actually affect your chances of meeting people much at all, apart from possibly just getting out and about more and having more friends. But it does prevent relationships from quickly imploding, to a much greater degree.
posted by Nixy at 12:10 AM on October 28, 2011 [23 favorites]


If I read the last paragraph correctly, you sound as if you are terrified of being alone.

I think that a hiatus from a romantic relationship can help some people figure out who they are, what they like and even examine their own faults. It's not punishment.

I think it is interesting how you phrase the question. What is going on that makes you think you need to cut yourself off romantically from others?

And the person that you describe in your opening sentence, is an ideal. Most people fall a bit short of that goal.

When I feel bad about myself I make bad choices. When I feel good about myself I have a better chance to make good choices.

Feeling you have to settle for someone and have someone else settle for you is no way to live. Being with someone, just anyone, so you are't alone doesn't work for long. A person is never so alone as when they are in a bad relationship.

But slowing down, getting comfortable with yourself can help a lot.
posted by moonlily at 12:15 AM on October 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think being "alone" just to become a stronger person is as problematic as always slipping into relationships because you don't want to be alone. The world just doesn't work that way.

I've had the most serially monogamous friends slip into a relationship with someone who turned out to be amazing for them, people they ended up marrying, starting a family with, and still seem genuinely loving and happy as a couple. In these relationships, I saw my friends gain something -- confidence, maybe-- that allowed them to grow up and have a healthy relationship, but that occurred while they were seriously involved.

In my own case, I took time off from relationships for awhile in my mid-20s after I realized I could make ANY initial relationship work (with ANY type of guy). But after 6 months, I would find myself involved in an emotionally traumatic breakup with all of my friends telling me it was bound to end, they always knew that guy was awful for me. I tried dating lots of different guys, finding out what I really wanted from a companion and partner for the long term, and making lots of great friendships... I still look fondly back on that time as being a lot of fun and really useful in figuring out where I wanted my life to go.--Who I wanted to be when I grew up. It was work I needed to do, and I wouldn't have been able to make those decisions had I been in a relationship. (I've never been able to be truly selfish when I am seriously involved with someone, but I don't think that's a bad thing.)

And it's really great to know that when you are alone, you're not necessarily lonely. Those resources are priceless.
posted by Kronur at 12:21 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


To re-state what I'm trying to say another way: I guess my philosophy is "be ready" - I see circumstance as the chief agent in throwing together any two people who are compatible and available. Even before anyone comes onto anyone. Therefore, you may as well use your time to become the best person you can be, because, why not? It's sort of a "be ready when it comes so you don't screw it up" principle.

But I see that maybe you're really asking, should you go out and try to find anyone you possibly can to get into a relationship with, just to avoid being alone? (Settle, basically) To that I would say, no, for a lot of reasons. It's a difficult question but basically: You probably actually want friendship, and that can be achieved more or less the same way, with less at stake and less ups and downs and people leaving you. It's not a good idea to use someone as an object for affection if you don't really like them-it puts you in a vulnerable position with someone who quite possibly could hurt you. Relationships aren't really the be-all end-all of life- you'll still be yourself during the relationship and after it, and you'll still have to work on yourself.

But on the other hand, maybe you're asking, if you meet someone perfect, should you get into a relationship with them even if you're not ready? That's a tough one. First of all, anyone "perfect" would likely not attempt to begin things with someone in a very bad place. But if you're just sort of moderately not ready- I'd say, maybe yes-and hope for the best and try to learn from it. A good relationship should allow you to improve yourself. It should not take away from your ability to do that. And maybe you'll both change and outgrow each other- that's possible. It shouldn't HURT too much if you're doing it right.

To answer your questions more specifically:

Conversely, has anyone become that successful, fascinating, independent person and had no one notice or be attracted to them?

Entirely possible, yes, due to chance. You can up your chances, but I doubt you can ever get to 100%.

Do you really have to be a very highly confident, self-sufficient, charismatic, successful person before you can have a healthy relationship?

Basically, yes. In a healthy relationship you are becoming the best person you can be, and being the best person you can be feeds a healthy relationship. Either way you still have to do the work.

Is it really true that in order to have a healthy romantic relationship, you cannot be looking for a person to complete you and you can't be desperate and lonely or have any major issues that might drive someone away?

Well, think about what you're saying here- do you have to not have any issues that would drive people away in order to avoid driving people away? Well, yes- duh!

I hope this isn't a depressing answer. It can actually feel liberating if you get in the right mindset. I think, anyway.
posted by Nixy at 12:57 AM on October 28, 2011


Throw out conventional wisdom. Especially! Especially when it comes to relationships. It's usually incorrect.


After that, just keep on going with your life.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:33 AM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Trust me, you don't need to be perfect. I'd be in deep trouble if you did.

That said, if you're super desperate and needy right off the bat, that'd be a red flag, yeah.
posted by tau_ceti at 1:38 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you just have to not be desperate and needy. Someone can complete you but you can also be self-sufficient and confident as an individual. But if you're putting out there 'I am prepared to be with anyone, anyone at all, I don't care who it is, just anyone' then that's not the most attractive or healthy thing in the world. If you think you might be putting that out there then that's what the personal time out is all about - centering yourself.
posted by mleigh at 2:14 AM on October 28, 2011


You're misreading the conventional wisdom. It has nothing to do with making yourself over into some vision of excellence. It's not about being charismatic or successful. It's not that you have to achieve some monkish enlightenment and be free from cravings and loneliness.

What it is about is being able to stand on your own two feet in the world without desperately scanning the horizon for partners to stuff into the bottomless pit of your not-okayness. If you lack that baseline level of emotional integrity then any romantic relationships you get yourself into at this point are unlikely to be healthy or happy for very long. But none of that means that you're supposed to white knuckle your way along in teeth-grinding loneliness until somehow you emerge from a chrysalis. You really do need something - a goal or project to apply yourself to, friends to meet and talk with, therapy, etc.

Desperate loneliness has a polarizing effect that makes it seem as if the only thing that matters is whether you're part of a couple. That's the illusion to try and see through, because there is more out there that matters. Engage with the wider world.
posted by jon1270 at 2:48 AM on October 28, 2011 [36 favorites]


I think it's important to be able to see what you have to offer as being bigger than what's lacking in your character. Being lonely doesn't have to make you desperate- if you can honestly say "I love my life and all these things that I'm into but my goodness! It would be so much better if I had someone to do these cool things with." Then you are golden.

And really, you can end up in a relationship even if you are a royal mess. Crackheads have girlfriends/boyfriends sometimes. But we are talking about Healthy Relationships. If you Are looking for someone to fix you ("complete" you) it ain't gonna be healthy.

Conversely, has anyone become that successful, fascinating, independent person and had no one notice or be attracted to them?
...Sure? I'm sure that has happened in the long stretch of history- but I suspect it also came with a severe case of inflated ego or some other very serious problem.

People's natural state is to look for companionship, so the more good things you've got in your tool belt, the more minimum-dating standards you'll fill. Think about it like this. You might date someone who is a little overweight, who doesn't have a degree and who has a bit of a temper, but maybe you wouldn't date someone who has many missing teeth and doesn't wear falsies. You're not an asshole for having standards.

What sort of standards would a person have to have if they were willing to date someone who is a complete needy, desperate, sad mess?
posted by Blisterlips at 2:58 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The best way to be in a position to find someone to be with is to be happy if you never find someone to be with.

Weird but true.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:09 AM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I actually think the causation chain here is a bit more convoluted than it's made out to be. Contemporary Americans have this thing about autonomy, so they bandy about the idea that people can't fix each other, your SO shouldn't be psychologically supporting you - but actually, it is normal and healthy for people in relationships to depend on each other quite a lot, and most healthy relationships work because of this, not despite it. A good partner is also a really, really good friend, and good friends help each other out and give each other a lot of support. At the same time, you will probably retain many of the same problems that you go into a relationship with, and you will have to sort them out at some time or another. A partner can help you to feel strong enough to sort them out, and also give you a bit of an outsider's perspective, again as a good friend would. Some people are not prepared to do this, and some are psychologically unable to, which is a shame if you are otherwise good for each other, and can lead to a lot of regret on both sides.

All this is based on the premise that you have a basically good relationship. The real risk is if you have a bad relationship, because if you are in a mess going into a bad relationship, you will probably find it difficult to get out of it when you should, and you will definitely find it difficult to get out of it unscathed. Relationships are inherently dangerous and emotionally taxing, and just as it's a good idea to be as fit as you can before you go on a round-the-world sailing trip, so it is a good idea to be emotionally fit going into a relationship. That way, if things get hairy, there is less risk that you will put up with abuse, or lose your mind, or hurt your partner unintentionally. At the same time, if everyone waited until they were psychologically perfect before they got into relationships, there would be no relationships. There is an element of risk and faith in all love.

Bear in mind, too, that it can also suck to be with someone who wants to be in a relationship more than they want to be with you per se. People know when this is the case, and it doesn't make them feel good about themselves. Relationships should make people feel good about themselves. So don't do that.
posted by Acheman at 3:19 AM on October 28, 2011 [15 favorites]


Do you really have to be a very highly confident, self-sufficient, charismatic, successful person before you can have a healthy relationship?
Well, no. I was somewhat confident and basically none of the others when I started what has turned out to be a very healthy relationship. I became self-sufficient and successful during the relationship, but I'm still not what I would consider charismatic. We are works in progress and you don't have to perfect to find love.
you cannot be looking for a person to complete you and you can't be desperate and lonely or have any major issues that might drive someone away?
Well, now you are moving the bar a bit. Lonely isn't a bar to a healthy relationship, but desperate probably is. "Major issues" are probably going to be a problem and the very notion that someone will "complete you" is a dangerous way to look at things. In hindsight, I guess I would agree that my wife could be said to have "completed" what is now my conception of myself, but the things she added to my personality weren't things I even knew I was missing at the time.
If a period of solitude is really crucial for emotional health and functional relationships, how can I psych myself into this when the only reason I'm trying to "be alone" is to become a more attractive partner and just white-knuckling through the solitude?
I think you are setting up a false dichotomy here. The only options aren't a relationship or solitude. Build friendships and a support network -- not only will they help you not feel lonely, but they will make you more attractive to a prospective partner (unless you have obnoxious friends like me, then it could be a barrier that your partner will have to learn to deal with).
posted by Lame_username at 4:02 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do you really have to be a very highly confident, self-sufficient, charismatic, successful person before you can have a healthy relationship? Is it really true that in order to have a healthy romantic relationship, you cannot be looking for a person to complete you and you can't be desperate and lonely or have any major issues that might drive someone away?

This question is deeply flawed because you are grouping things as one Yes/No package that do not group into the Yes/No answer you seek. Yes, in order to have a healthy romantic relationship, you need to not be looking for someone to "complete" you, and you cannot be desperate. But you can still be lonely and no, you do not need to be highly confident, self-sufficient, charismatic, and successful.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:01 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think being with my husband actually helped me become self sufficient and selfconfident. I was neither of those, but being with someone who knew I had it in me and expected me to act like it and hugged me loads when it wasn't working out made 100 % difference. I couldn't have done it on my own (despite therapy, twice).
posted by Omnomnom at 5:32 AM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think this conventional wisdom so to speak basically started with the premise that desperation and other negative traits aren't very attractive. However, the "love yourself" and be independent, outgoing, highly successful in everything and then your prince will appear (but if you actually still want a relationship at this point, return to Go do not collect $200, you still don't love yourself enough or something) magical thinking trope has now been pushed to an extreme.

I think at the end of the day the take away for me is people largely date people, at least in the beginning because they want to be happy and have fun. Desperation and loneliness not very fun. And people who seek out the desperate and lonely to date are often not so good people. While sometimes people do hit it off during a bad point in their life, it's less likely because health people want healthy people, but you shouldn't confuse that with perfect.

Also, despite a lot of the self help noise, being single isn't some symptom of an emotional or spiritual defect that must be fixed. Sure we all know couple people who are pretty messed up and we can pretty easily deduce thats why they are single. But really for most people it's luck and circumstance.

It's funny how it almost seems unAmerican to attribute anything to luck and circumstance, but really so much is. Our control and influence is limited and while how you react and what you do with your life is important, a large part of it will always be out of your control and you just have to embrace the not knowing and see where it takes you.
posted by whoaali at 6:01 AM on October 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think the truth to the "be alone" advice is not so much that you must perfect your character before anyone will love you, but that you should learn that you really can be basically ok alone. If you know you will be ok alone, then you have less chance of getting stuck in a bad relationship. you don't have to love being alone, but you shouldn't hate and fear it so much.
posted by yarly at 6:04 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Have any of you .... gotten together with a partner when you were feeling really down on yourself and didn't believe you were lovable, and when you craved a lover and were desperately lonely...

Yes!

and had it work out fine anyway?

No!

There is some truth behind this piece of conventional wisdom. But it's not about being alone until you're "perfect" -- it's about loving yourself.

If you don't love yourself, then you're not going to have the kinds of boundaries and expectations that will attract someone who truly loves you. Instead, you'll attract the kind of people who want you for your fragile state because you're more likely to love them despite the horrible ways they'll treat you.

It is not about being "perfect" or "successful" or "charismatic" -- it's about learning to respect yourself and take care of yourself so well that you'd prefer your own company to the company of someone who treats you like crap.

It does sound like you are very lonely, but there are ways to get through this without it being a white knuckle ride. Join some groups to make friends -- crafting, hiking, reading, whatever. Friends are an invaluable resource for helping you love yourself. You don't have to be lonely while being alone.
posted by motsque at 6:16 AM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Do you really have to be a very highly confident, self-sufficient, charismatic, successful person before you can have a healthy relationship?"

I'm sure self-doubting, timid nebbishes get into healthy relationships all the time. The set of "healthy" people is not restricted to movie star billionaires with preternatural confidence.

"Is it really true that in order to have a healthy romantic relationship, you cannot be looking for a person to complete you"

It depends what you mean by "complete you". I think that for most people, celibacy is an inherently unsatisfying state, so if you are asking whether in order to have a healthy romantic relationship you must neither want nor need one, and the only people who can possibly have healthy relationships are those who by definition can't actually benefit from them - the answer is no.

However, if by "complete you" you mean "carry certain personality functions for you and supply needs that you ultimately can only supply for yourself", then no. That's an inherently unhealthy quest.

"and you can't be desperate"

Everyone is or feels desperate at times. However, if you are prepared to do absolutely anything to alleviate that desperation, then you won't get a healthy relationship. For example, you could be desperate for money and supply and become a dealer yourself, but that would not make it a healthy career choice. In that particular case, the healthy choice would be to say "there are some choices I'm never going to make, no matter how desperate I get, and this is one of them."

"and lonely"

Everyone gets lonely.

"or have any major issues that might drive someone away?"

Issues major enough to drive someone away are, by definition, likely to drive someone away.

"It's conventional wisdom, but is it true?"

I think it's true, but I also think you aren't really understanding it.

"Have any of you out there in internetland gotten together with a partner when you were feeling really down on yourself and didn't believe you were loveable, and when you craved a lover and were desperately lonely..."

No, but I've had to push pursuers away when I was in that condition because it was so attractive to people who were obviously predatory.

"and had it work out fine anyway?"

So far, I only have experience of refusing people when I was desperate on the grounds that they were predatory, and having it work out fine. If any credible, non-predatory mates were to come bounding across the veldt when I was in that state, I might have accepted them and had it work out fine, but I can't say for sure as I personally have no experience of that outcome.

"Conversely, has anyone become that successful, fascinating, independent person"

Well, I don't like to boast.

"and had no one notice or be attracted to them?"

People are attracted to me at about the same rate as they were when I was less confident. Even then, though, it got back to me through good authority that a womaniser of my acquaintance had been highly attracted to me and had ruled me out on the grounds that I would inevitably see through him. So, whatever good health and confidence I was portraying then was actually having the effect of screening some people out, rather than increasing the number of people who approached me.

"If a period of solitude is really crucial for emotional health and functional relationships, how can I psych myself into this when the only reason I'm trying to "be alone" is to become a more attractive partner"

Are you saying that you are going to give up a happy relationship for the sole purpose of upgrading yourself so you can deserve a better one?

If you're psyching yourself up to give up an unhappy relationship, then what you're saying is that the reason you're entering a period of solitude is in order to earn a better relationship, rather than to remove a source of unhappiness in your life? There is no guarantee that you will get a happy relationship as a result of being on your own for a while, even if, by the standards you have envisaged, you would have "earned" it.

If you are unable to conceive of solitude as being better than a bad relationship, then by definition that isn't healthy and you will never be able to have a healthy relationship because you will never be able to set boundaries of how you want to be treated. Your only condition will be "treat me however you want, just don't leave me" and that is always how one gets exploited. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who isn't predatory but your attitude is still "treat me however you want, just don't leave me", then despite their not wanting to do you harm, what will happen is that you will put up with things until you can't stand them any more, and that inevitably creates conflict even when nobody has bad intentions. In a word: unhealthy.

"and just white-knuckling through the solitude? I know it can't be fake, but long-term solitude for its own sake holds little appeal for me."

Fake? I'd rather be in a relationship, but if someone turns out to be gross I don't want to keep them around no matter how promising they might have looked at first and no matter how much my primal fears want to keep them around. This doesn't mean I haven't suffered serious heartbreak and pain, it only means I set a limit when it turned out that my choice was to do it either the hard way, or the fatal way.

I don't want to paint the wrong picture here as I am extremely happy with my life as it is now. My point is that being happy and single does not mean I never experience disappointment, loneliness, or temptation, because I do. It's normal and human to crave love and companionship.

Plenty of women dated Ted Bundy and plenty more women would have given half a chance. He had no shortage of groupies. But I have standards, and I make it a rule never to date necrophiliacs no matter what the temptation, as reason tells me that the outcome would most likely be very damaging to me.
posted by tel3path at 6:17 AM on October 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


There's no magic bullet to make you well-adjusted and confident, and there's no law that says that being so is necessary or sufficient to having a happy relationship. Serendipity is the most powerful driving force in most people's love lives, and as such agonizing too much about it does not generally get the results you're looking for. Also, self-imposed isolation doesn't make a lot of sense: if you want to learn to play the piano, you don't purposely avoid pianos.
posted by cirgue at 6:46 AM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


If a period of solitude is really crucial for emotional health and functional relationships, how can I psych myself into this when the only reason I'm trying to "be alone" is to become a more attractive partner and just white-knuckling through the solitude? I know it can't be fake, but long-term solitude for its own sake holds little appeal for me.

I think part of it is that being single should not automatically result in things like solitude and loneliness. There are plenty of ways to feel connectedness with people other than your significant other. The point of the advice that you should learn to live independently before being in a relationship is that if a relationship is the only thing that keeps you from being miserable, then you are basically using it as a crutch to get through life rather than facing the underlying issues that make you unhappy outside of a relationship. And from a potential partner's perspective, it can be very emotionally draining to be in a relationship with someone that depends entirely upon you for emotional support and couldn't handle life without you. I don't think anyone should purposely avoid relationships to somehow earn their ability to be in a good relationship, but I do think that if you can go through a period of being single and still be a happy and emotionally fulfilled person then you have a better chance of being happy in life in general, regardless of your eventual relationship status.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:50 AM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Do you really have to be a very highly confident, self-sufficient, charismatic, successful person before you can have a healthy relationship?

Relationships build while you're still you're still learning about yourself within them. If you've got a good foundation from the get-go, there's less clean-up involved later on. Wouldn't you want to be your best self for the person you want as your significant other?

Is it really true that in order to have a healthy romantic relationship, you cannot be looking for a person to complete you and you can't be desperate and lonely or have any major issues that might drive someone away? It's conventional wisdom, but is it true?


You don't have to be all that - but you should strive to be okay with yourself, so that you're not deriving so much of your self-worth from the other person. It's easy to make mistakes like that when you're vulnerable. While your question is hopefully hyperbolic, you can be looking for someone to complement you, not complete you; and you can be longing, but not desperate; and alone but not lonely. Major issues are there for many of us, but having them and dealing with them is perhaps more attractive than having them and waiting for someone to swoop in and make them all better.

If you have let time pass, in order to leave most of your baggage behind - old disappointments and old expectations - and have had time to deal with any personal issues you might be aware of, you are less likely to fall into old patterns and make relationship choices based on rebounding or reactions to the previous one, or transferring issues around. Trying to enjoy the fun and wonder of a new relationship while still in the dregs of the old one really taints it. Giving it space to air the stink out does wonders, really.


Have any of you out there in internetland gotten together with a partner when you were feeling really down on yourself and didn't believe you were lovable, and when you craved a lover and were desperately lonely...and had it work out fine anyway?


In my experience, this attracted "rescuers", whose needs I no longer fulfilled as I grew stronger in each relationship. And by "rescuers", in the first case it was the guy who liked popping cherries; in one case it was someone who turned out to be abusive; and in the last case, it was someone who needed to feel like someone needed more fixing than he did.

If a period of solitude is really crucial for emotional health and functional relationships, how can I psych myself into this when the only reason I'm trying to "be alone" is to become a more attractive partner and just white-knuckling through the solitude? I know it can't be fake, but long-term solitude for its own sake holds little appeal for me.


It's not solitude that's suggested - it's taking a break to get your shit together a bit. You still have friends, and family, and a social life and activities and the whole world. You're not supposed to feel punished by it, and it's not for its own sake. It's encouraged to have a break so you've got some relieve from emotional strains, you're clear-headed, and have time to process things.

It means that you have time to build a solid friendship with someone first, spelunking rather than cliff-diving into romance. If you are hoping that your next relationship is more sustainable, you of course want romance and attraction and sexy stuff - but fun times do not sustain a long-term commitment.

It gives you time to learn about yourself, and deal with things that affect a relationship when you bring them into it - factors that are often contentious later in relationships , like finances, sex, parent issues, etc. The mindset is sometimes "We'll deal with this later" only to find out after you're invested that they're critical.

It gives you time to communicate, and practice respectful conflict resolution instead of DRAMA. It gives you time to assess your long-term goals, and if you meet someone, to compare.

It's a good thing.
posted by peagood at 7:24 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, here's how it works:

(a) You do not have to be a perfect person to get to have a relationship.
(b) Once you are a perfect person, you will not be handed a relationship from the gods for finally hitting the bonus level of perfection. It ain't a guaranteed prize.
(c) Likewise, if you finally get to the point in your life where you don't want a relationship, you still won't be handed a relationship from the gods.

However:
(d) you probably won't be able to have a relationship last, should you stumble across one, unless you aren't desperate and clingy.

Look, my mom, who is one of the neediest and clingiest people on the planet, after not having been in love since high school, found love this year! Hurray! Except then the guy figured out that oh, she's crazy, and backed the hell away. This is what people are talking about. Needy and clingy people love someone so much (or need someone so much) that they are inadvertently suffocating them. It takes a lot for those people to even notice what they are doing in the throes of cling (hint: if your boyfriend calls you "Limpet," TAKE THE FUCKING HINT. That's a life lesson from me to you.) and back the hell off and let their SO go out by themselves for a night once in a while.

We have this cultural myth that we won't find love unless we're perfect or stop wanting it (let me tell you that the last one has not worked for me), because it makes us think we can DO something about speeding up the process of finding love. We can't. You can become perfect and non-clingy and then spend the next 50 years not finding something. It's all fucking luck that we can't do anything about. (I recommend reading "The Curse Of The Singles Table" as a great example of how massive trying does not hurry love.)

What you CAN do while you wait is figure out how you're going to live life with no SO love in it for the foreseeable future, and no sign of that ending any time soon. How will you cope? How will you deal with your time? And hey, therapy for dealing with the clingy. Working on yourself is always a good thing, in hopes that when the person shows up in a year, or fifty years, you'll be sane enough to (a) choose well, and (b) not drown them in clingy in three months. And if love never comes, you'll have at least found a way to live with yourself happily. And that's not bad.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:32 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


If this were true, the population of the Earth would be a lot less.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:59 AM on October 28, 2011


Ironmouth, unhealthy people reproduce all the time. I think the OP is looking for a healthy relationship.
posted by tel3path at 8:13 AM on October 28, 2011


well, if you put it like that, then no. No one is that amazing. But, each party having their shit together (for the most part), does help a lot in healthy relationships, yes.
posted by Neekee at 8:36 AM on October 28, 2011


Here's the thing. You bring you into a relationship. You are essentially the same person before, during and after (if you break up) a relationship. Yes, you can change during a relationship, but only you can make those changes, and do them for yourself/your relationship; don't do it to make your partner love you more/prevent them from leaving, etc. That's unhealthy and a form of manipulation. You cannot rely on a partner or relationship to make you more confident, self-sufficient, charismatic, successful (and though you don't mention these), intelligent, a better cook, more extroverted, more artistic, more well-spoken, on and on. The relationship or partner may be the reasons why you change, or create conditions for change, but no one can change their partner; there are a billion ask mefi responses that espouse this.

Your question sounds like you are asking, "am I good enough to be in a relationship right now? Will someone like me as I am?" Well, what do you think? Do you like you as you are?

If you want to be in a healthy relationship, then you have to be emotionally available for a relationship, and you have to do things to keep the relationship healthy. You also have to be able to choose a person who is emotionally available and healthy. So many people say they want a relationship, but aren't emotionally available which makes them choose unhealthy people and they have unhealthy relationships. If you want a healthy relationship, then no, you can't look for a person to complete you, because that is unhealthy thinking.

Conversely, has anyone become that successful, fascinating, independent person and had no one notice or be attracted to them?
Being capable of having a healthy relationship has more to do with where you are emotionally than it has to do with your characteristics. Plenty of brilliant, fascinating, successful, independent people cause their friends to wonder "Why hasn't he/she found a partner yet? They are so brilliant, etc." You can be fascinating and successful but that doesn't mean you have any clue about how to have a healthy relationship. Also, just because you're successul and fascinating doesn't mean you're attractive. You can be successful and fascinating and a total jerk - not attractive. (Though unhealthy people can find jerks attractive!)

the only reason I'm trying to "be alone" is to become a more attractive partner and just white-knuckling through the solitude?
Well the good thing here is you're honest about not being honest. :D If you want to be in a healthy relationship, you gotta work on yourself. That doesn't mean try to be more fascinating and successful. It does mean increasing your confidence in yourself, accepting yourself, working through your issues, transforming any unhealthy beliefs about relationships (e.g. "I need a relationship to complete me"), believing in yourself, learning to love yourself, learning how to be alone (not the same as learning to like being lonely; alone and lonely are different things) and learning about what healthy relationships look like. Sound like a lot of work? It is. But it's worth it.

Like Dan Savage says, you don't have to be perfect to be in a relationship. But get yourself in good working order first.
posted by foxjacket at 8:56 AM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'd always heard it as "you have to be cool with yourself before you can be cool with someone else". That's very different from "very highly confident", etc. Your phrasing is setting up false dichotomies that make it sound like you don't want to spend another second alone with low self esteem.

Others have made the point already. No, nobody is perfect before entering a relationship, because perfection isn't a humanly achievable goal. You just have to know that you deserve an Awesome relationship instead of any crap that will fill the void. If it seems Impossible that you deserve that awesomeness, I'll add that therapy worked for me. Also, I did start my current relationship before any of that fell into place, but having therapy Anyway helped me have an awesome relationship.
posted by ldthomps at 8:56 AM on October 28, 2011


I haven't read all of the above answers, but just wanted to pop in to say that there are a few things going on here:

1. You are trying to be perfect ("charismatic", "successful", etc.) in order to find love. This is not going to be happen. The kind of love you seek by trying to be perfect enough for it does not exist. Being perfect will not help you find the love that will redeem you. This is because there is no love that will redeem you.

I've tried to find this kind of love myself for a long time. I'm finally realizing that the other people involved are just that... people. They cannot give me perfect love, no matter how perfect I am. It doesn't matter if they accept me or not.

2. There are a lot of rewards associated with being charismatic and successful, and if those are what you want, then they will make your life better. You will have more opportunities, do more interesting things, grow. People will be superficially attracted to you. Good things will happen.

3. Finding love is about being open to emotional intimacy. But love is not only found in a stereotypical monogamous, lifelong, happily-ever-after type of relationship. That combination is about emotional openness + sexual compatibility + status-seeking. Some of which are in conflict with each other (i.e., emotional openness can sometimes make sex less hot; seeking status through the other person can make it hard to be emotionally open).

In order to address these contradictions, I would suggest a few things:

1. You will never be perfect enough to find love that removes all loneliness and pain. This is because the person who loves you will be a person just like you. It will be great to hang out with them, and you will like them a lot, but they don't have magical powers.

2. Be awesome. Being awesome is great. Do it because you want to make the most of your time on earth. To make your mark. Not because it might bring you love that will redeem you or give you social status or even, necessarily, look like traditional monogamy.

3. Look for love in unusual packages. Be open to emotional intimacy with others... as friends, as lovers, as mentors, whatever. Get the benefits of emotional closeness without the pressures of fulfilling the terms of a particular socially privileged type of relationship (marriage).
posted by 3491again at 9:56 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


3. Finding love is about being open to emotional intimacy

Bingo! And intimacy depends on autonomy. Plus what everyone said about how you are looking at/asking your questions about the convetional wisdom.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:23 AM on October 28, 2011


I agree with some of the answers above, and disagree with some of them too.

Underlying your question is the idea that you're trying to figure out the "conventional wisdom".

Here's another take: it's really a "bait and switch" (though probably not usually intentional).

There are things that will make it more likely for you to find a partner, and some of them you can control and some of them you can't. The part you can control may or may not be the problem, but advice is usually focused on the things you can control.

So if your problem is something you can control, and then you change it, then you win, and the advice is validated. If it never happens for you either:

- you're not doing X, Y, Z right/enough
- the problem is actually something you can't control

Either way, the conventional wisdom is that you are in fact not doing it right/enough. In this sense, it's like a religion: it can never be proved wrong.

If you do end up happy, complete, confident, etc. and are STILL alone, the cruel punch line is "see? you never needed a relationship to be happy in the first place!"
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:51 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


If a period of solitude is really crucial for emotional health and functional relationships, how can I psych myself into this when the only reason I'm trying to "be alone" is to become a more attractive partner and just white-knuckling through the solitude?

I've found every time that after a period of white-knuckling, I come to love being alone and entertaining myself. There's definitely a period of hating it and feeling like I'm just doing it so that I can get into a relationship. After that period passes, I am just straight up happy to be by myself and in command of my life. Freedom feels overwhelming at first, but once you get used to it, there's nothing like it. When you reach this point, you don't want to settle for anything less than the kind of intimacy and spark you want. This goes for both platonic and non-platonic relationships. When I was desperately needy and lonely, I spent time with people who didn't share my interests, opinions, or passions. It was fine, and I appreciated their time. But now that I'm hanging out with people who inspire me, challenge me, and share my hopes and dreams, life is much better. I know that if I date someone I meet through them, I will be dating someone who makes me as happy as my friends do.

White-knuckling it is worth it. Coming to believe that you don't have to settle is priceless.

I don't think that it's necessary to have all your shit together to have a healthy relationship. Everyone's lonely, despairing, and needy at different times. However, relationships are stressful. They change your habits and responsibilities. They make you learn how to communicate and coordinate with another person. They're time consuming and sometimes take up emotional resources you don't have. Relationships tend to amplify whatever you have going on in your life at the time. If the rest of your life is going well, you're going to be overwhelmingly happy for a while. You'll have patience and time to deal with whatever issues come up. You will be able to be truly supportive. If your life is going poorly, you could easily end up obsessing over little issues, dropping commitments, and bickering. Think of a period of solitude as an opportunity to take care of your life and make sure it runs smoothly, so that you can be an excellent partner if you get the chance. Finding the right person takes luck, but being prepared for them when you meet them is something you can control. Think of it this way: you're going to be waiting for the right person either way. Might as well do something productive instead of worrying about whether or not they'll show up.
posted by millions of peaches at 12:18 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is it really true that you cannot be looking for a person to complete you and you can't be desperate and lonely or have any major issues that might drive someone away?

IME, a healthy relationship can grow between people who are committed to listening to each other and learning from each other, regardless of what baggage they're bringing into the relationship.

Unless one of them is in denial about his/her issues. Denial obstructs the ability to execute whatever lessons they may sincerely believe they've learned. Eg, the first guy I talked marriage with, I'll call him Tom, was insecure. I wasn't. He threw his entire conscious mind into trying to be his idea of "perfect nice guy" for me. He didn't know how to communicate "I'm angry with something you did/said," so he shoved his anger down before it even had a chance to surface. Eventually it bubbled up in involuntary flash-visions of hurting and killing me. By the time he told me this was happening, he'd been having these involuntary visions for months. I couldn't trust that he wasn't a danger to me. I ended it. His denial had been so automatic that he hadn't been conscious of shoving his anger down. He just did it, even though he'd told me early on, "I smash chairs to deal with anger. Maybe that's less constructive than I thought. I'll look into anger management." I can't see how any healthy relationship can grow out of that degree of self-UNawareness. Hopefully he's since learned more about keeping in touch with the stuff he doesn't like about himself.

The other thing I took away from that relationship, and the one that led to my now-stable marriage (with "Dick"): a secure partner with a very insecure partner can equal a power imbalance. I'd already wrestled with my major demons. I was used to contemplating "Why'd I do/say that? Habit? Some insecurity I'm not conscious of yet? A reaction to some childhood trauma? OK I guess it was irrational of me to do/say that and I hurt people unnecessarily with it, so I'll change my words/behaviour because changing helps me become more like the person I want to be." Tom and Dick were just beginning to become conscious of what their major demons were.

Result: I could tell when their hurtful words/behaviour came out of, most likely, habit/irrationality/insecurity. They couldn't, at first. I had to point it out to them. I did it gently, without heat, during non-charged times, I rationed my pointings-out because doing it the majority of the time would have been obnoxious. But I had to point it out sometimes because, man, when it hurts, you want it to stop, and if we don't get to the root of why it's happening it won't ever stop. For the first few months they were grateful. Then, they resented me. I can't blame them. As Dick put it: "You're always teaching me, and I'm always the student. This doesn't feel equal."

It wasn't equal. Inequality was built into how much work we had each done on getting acquainted and dealing with our baggage. I'd had enough practice re-orienting and reducing my baggage that it didn't often jam the relationship carousel. They were too busy discovering the weight, colour, and odd lumps of theirs to even realize that theirs regularly jammed the carousel ("What? Isn't it normal for the carousel to make that shrieking noise?"). Not to mention, contained enough explosives to blow the baggage claim area sky-high. Dick and I got through it because I learned more about communicating about touchy subjects than I'd thought possible, and he eventually taught himself (with the help of a therapist) how to recognize and come to terms with his own demons. Our marriage would have been happier and more stable earlier if he'd acquired that knowledge before we met, but we survived.

How this relates to your question is, no, solitude isn't necessary. Self-knowledge is what matters. That can be acquired in solitude and in relationships. I personally found that all those damned years when no one wanted me actually gave me space to get familiar with not only my baggage but my needs, my boundaries, my "Hell No!" dealbreaker issues. These things can get blurry under the strain of a relationship. I think that's why many advocate for alone time. One partner's weak sense of self can crack a relationship apart, like Tom's did; and it can trap people into relationships with toxic partners, who undermine it even further.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:17 PM on October 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


Andrea Dorfman's video "How to be Alone" doesn't directly answer your question. It does provide suggestions you may find useful to be more comfortable with yourself. I am a better, more interesting person in others' eyes when I accept what I am and can become.
posted by thatdawnperson at 6:37 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would actually disagree with all of the requirements you laid out: highly confident, self-sufficient, charismatic, successful. You need not be highly confident; instead you merely need to be able to derive some self-worth from your own self rather than others. You need not be self-sufficient; it is enough to be what I'd call sufficiently sufficient. Few people want to date someone who is obviously a sinkhole, financially, emotionally, or otherwise. But most are willing to date people who don't entirely have their act together. Charisma is needed only in the literal sense that in order to get into a relationship you technically do need to be able to attract others (or, at least, one other). However charisma as it is generally understood -- being able to attract or inspire a number of people all at once -- is totally unnecessary. This is the benefit of only needing to really attract one person to start a relationship. Successful is again partly true in that few want to date an out-and-out failure. If you are a disheveled homeless person who has not managed to keep track of all of your fingers or toes, you are obviously at a disadvantage. However, I would say that success, as something to be measured, is so subjective that again it's more about who you make a great match with. For example, I am "successful" in the sense that I have a decent job, but I am also "successful" in the sense that I was able to reproduce, that I am fairly well-traveled, that I have a degree, that I can play chords on the guitar, etc. Each of these successes will endear me to different potential relationships.

I found it really hard to not be in a relationship when that first started. For the next couple of years, I was along and all I wanted to be was in a relationship. However, over time that -- wanting a relationship -- became less and less what I was about, until it was just an aspect of me rather than an overpowering quality. It was pretty much at the point that I had let go of getting into relationships with others that I sort of stumbled on a chain of relationships/dating events all in a row that, after another shorter period of "isolation", resulted in meeting my current wife.

I think a lot of relationships can start out with two people being lonely and have it develop into something stronger. Often, being lonely can be the catalyst to a great long term relationship. The key is, loneliness should only be the trigger to going out and looking for someone (or even saying, "What the heck, might as well" when a dating opportunity comes a long). It shouldn't be the reason you go out on a second date or continue dating the person.

I think that if you have been inclined to one relationship right after the other, it can be incredibly powerful and useful to give yourself a break to figure out who you are again so that you can bring your real self to your next relationship. Otherwise, it's likely you'll just be bringing your reactive self into the new relationship -- you'll bring the-you-who-was-dating-A into your relationship with B. Like, let's say that A was a loud talker, and you always had to talk over them to be heard. In your next relationship, you may become a loud-talker out of habit when actually your nature is to be more quiet-spoken. Pretty much everyone I know who has dated person-after-person without pause finds themselves in somewhat messed-up relationships. In one extreme case, a friend of mine got involved in a rebound relationsihp -- both she and he had just gotten over a breakup. Within just a couple of months of dating they were engaged, but they then continued to be engaged for years and years and years, finally breaking up.

I would strongly recommend, if this is not something already happening in your life, to look at three possible avenues of self-improvement that will take your mind off of being alone, make you more potentially attractive, and help build up a sense of self: some kind of martial art, volunteering in a field or form you care about, or traveling.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:18 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


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