Do we "need" love?
September 4, 2012 5:41 PM   Subscribe

Do we really "need" romantic love in our lives? Is there a magical point of self-love where one just attracts love from others?

After having the book "Feeling Good" by Dr. David Burns recommended to me many times, I read it and found it helpful in some ways. (I know it's a popular recommendation here).

I have had clinical depression for over 22 years (I'm 35 now), and was treated successfully with medication at age 19. Over the past year I noticed that the medication was losing its potency and that the depression had returned. I am now seeing a psychiatrist regularly; the depression is not as severe as it had been in my past, so CBT-related approaches are working quite well for me.

However, I am struggling with Dr. Burns' statement "Oxygen is a need, but love is a want. I repeat: LOVE IS NOT AN ADULT HUMAN NEED!" (Author's caps). It's perversely true for me, almost in a defeatist way. I know that the message is that self-love is a priority (the concept that one has to love oneself first; romantic love is secondary to this.)

Part of me really wants to believe that I really don't need love from a romantic partner; that the support from my friends & family are sufficient. My psychiatrist tells me that in fact, romantic love and companionship are basic human needs. This has become very frustrating for me; all I want to do is shut off the part of my brain that wants to date and have a boyfriend. To me, romantic love is basically a matter of luck, and at this point seems about as achievable to me as winning the lottery.

All I want is just to be happy with my life in this moment, being single. I get a lot of advice from people saying that once you stop looking and truly love yourself, you will simply attract love into your life. Unfortunately this has not happened to me, and any attempts to "put myself out there" have made me some great friends, but absolutely no romantic interest.

Do we really need romantic love/partnership in our lives? Am I just not trying hard enough to get better and love myself more? How can I shut off the part of my brain that wants a partner, and just be happy alone? I feel like if I "put myself out there", I'll seem too desperate and needy, but not approaching anyone and just "being approachable" doesn't work for me at all.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
This has become very frustrating for me; all I want to do is shut off the part of my brain that wants to date and have a boyfriend.

That's not what Burns means. He's saying you can want love, but there is no point in raising it to the level of a need--or you will push yourself into self-abusive beliefs that you aren't getting what you need.

It is perfectly fine to want a boyfriend. It is wrong to say you must have it.

Have you read Burns' Intimate Connections? It is excellent.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:02 PM on September 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

I feel like if I "put myself out there", I'll seem too desperate and needy

This is so familiar to me, and in my case it was the depression and low self-esteem talking. I thought, well, if I act like I need this then everyone will think I'm desperate! But that didn't make sense, of course, because I saw other people approaching people they liked all the time, and I didn't judge THOSE people for being desperate... because I thought that they DESERVED love, and I didn't. I wasn't good enough, and of course other people would see that. But it wasn't true for me and it isn't true for you.

It's hard. It's really hard. But I can tell you that for me- a person who was so pathologically afraid of rejection that I couldn't even work up the nerve to send a message on an online dating site- CBT eventually got me to a place where I am very successful romantically, AND happy when I'm single! It's amazing. Stick with it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:03 PM on September 4, 2012

This answer is short, but not intended to be sarcastic or flippant or anything: some people need it, some don't.
posted by box at 6:03 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know several people who are happy without romantic love. What all of them have in common is a tight knit community, based in family, friendship, or religion: people they interact with every single day, who are witnesses to their lives. Perhaps there is a need, but it can be meet by multiple types of connection.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:22 PM on September 4, 2012 [13 favorites]

Another reading suggestion.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:27 PM on September 4, 2012

Well... do you long for a partner or do you want to be single? Either way, it's okay. I myself prefer a partner. But I don't begrudge those who do not. Don't listen to your shrink so much as listen to yourself. If you want a partner, pursue it. If not, then don't. There's not law saying you have to live up to some ideal.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:50 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, I am speaking French inside my head. There is no law dictating how you should feel, mon ami. Stop worrying so much about what others tell you! Be yourself! It's perfectly okay to be yourself.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:00 PM on September 4, 2012

Oh I think we need love. I am SO MUCH HAPPIER now that I consider love from others a need. Here's something that might help you. Instead of noticing you want more than your friends or family have to offer, figure out what the needs are. What do you want to DO with a romantic partner you can'tdo with your family? Sometimes your family isn't connecting with you in ways you need, that you mightbeable to find other ways.Do you want more physical contact? Do you want to be validated and heard? Do have deep inner passions and and inner self you long to connect with a kindred spirit offer? See these things as NEEDS, they are totally valid, but don't assume you have to find a romantic partner to fill them.

Do you want people to laugh with more, who have a similar silly way of being? Or who are serious and can resonate with deeper contemplations? I guess what I mean is pick the things you're wanting from intimacy and seek them out. You can pay for massage to have more physical contact, find friends that are more huggy if you want huggy friends. Do you want someone to live with you so you share a living space? That can be a great experience and some of us like being social in our homes. Do you want romantic dinners? Ask your friends to go out for dinner places with pretty lighting. Go learn to salsa dance. DO the romantic things you want to be doing and create a space where you're already living things you want to be sharing with someone else. Along the way, it's likely you'll meet someone who wants to do those things too, that you can relate with.

It's likely you have some real needs for external support and validation and you don't feel secure because you don't have that connection (or trust that connection) right now. Find out what you feel you are needing that makes it feel like a NEED and embrace having that in your life. I dislike people who claim love isn't a need. I think they are silly and become guru's because people feel tough following them. (Well and also because any way you can kick dependence to abusive support is usually worth it even if you have to tell yourself a half truth).

I think we need love! Especially those of us who ....well especially feel like our most favoritest thing ever is love. Do loving kindness meditation, connect with other people who love love, celebrate the fact that many people need love and believe others need love. I haven't found a romantic partner sincedeciding that love is a need, but I have in fact found much more genuine connection with others who also believe love is a need. The point is to see love as a need, not a specific person as a need. That way you can give and recieve care for the people you're withwithout focus on the someday dream and focus on the fact that maybe you are needing intimacy you can have right now with people already in your life if you see that they can really be part of your support system and you theirs. While celebrating that as soon as you find the right mutually beneficial romantic partner you (and everyone who wants that!) definately should have a romantic partner!

It's hard to describe because I see love as a need the way an enriching diet is a need. You can GET BY on potatoes and eggs and water for a long time but eventually you're going to need some real sustentance. Different people are more or less affected by nutrient deficiencies or types of food quality. Some need more or less of different things. Acknowledging love is a "need" in this sense makes it easier to deal with not having it because I feel I need extra pampering in other ways to help myself through not having something important to me. And if gives me more permission to validate the depths of feelings I have for feeling like my emotions are ultimately more fulfilled when I havemeaningful intimacy with others. And it's just not going to be filled by just myself telling it to be feeled. Nor should it have to be. I feel more able to nurture and support myself with what I feel when I can acknowledge I feel it.

I too was told that I needed to agree with the mantra that love is not a need. I am so happy I threw that idea in the garbage. Some adults don't need love. Those people are not me. And I like to interact with people who believe we all need love and like to be part of giving and recieving that for each other in the ways we feel able and comfortable. (I.e manipulated or pressured love is really not fun, nor real. People need space to decide what they feel able and comfortable with giving and that is why the "I don't need love" mantra can be helpful because it helps you step back enough to respect others rather than demanding or begging or "needing" in a way that makes the interactiong overwhelming and overbearing for others. You can need love but putting all that need on one specific person is overwhelming!)
posted by xarnop at 7:01 PM on September 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

I think we all need love, and I am referring to love from family and friends. Surrounding yourself in a supportive community is probably the most important thing. I got out of a 4 year relationship and felt like a wreck, but I found that after being around people that supported me, and learning to improve myself and love myself, I managed to build on much deeper relationships with my loved ones and also develop stronger connections with others outside my circle.

What it comes down to is that as you learn to love yourself, you also understand your needs and etc. Therefore by then you can also become a much more self-efficient person who finds someone you can share your happiness with, and not rely your happiness on.
posted by Trinergy at 7:19 PM on September 4, 2012

I think giving love is the need.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:30 PM on September 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think we do need love. Love can appear in lots of forms, though - through friends, family and romance.

It's true that we can't go for more than a few days without food and water, and we can survive years or a lifetime without a romantic partner. However, I think that if we go for too long without some warmth and caring - romantic or not - it starts to warp us. And when I feel loved and loving, everything else in my life feels better.

All I want is just to be happy with my life in this moment, being single. Well... are you? And if not, what is keeping you from being happy? You can hope for love, and look for it, and still be happy with your single life.

I get a lot of advice from people saying that once you stop looking and truly love yourself, you will simply attract love into your life. Yeah .. I dunno. Most of the people I know who met someone, especially around our age, were openly looking for a partner and met one through their efforts. I don't think there's a formula.

I feel like if I "put myself out there", I'll seem too desperate and needy, but not approaching anyone and just "being approachable" doesn't work for me at all. There are a lot of other options. You could put yourself out there in a way that is honest and aware. There's nothing wrong with looking for love. We're wired to look for love - why not accept that?

I think maybe you do want to date, and you aren't sure how to go about it in a way that feels healthy and right for you. Your therapist might be able to help you look at your old patterns and find a new way forward.

I'm reading "If the Buddha Dated." Parts of it are a bit frou-frou, but it has some good stuff about being self-aware and thoughtful in your approach to romance. You might like it.
posted by bunderful at 7:37 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, your psychiatrist is obviously wrong in the sense that many people have lived long lives and certainly claimed to be happy, without having a romantic companion. So a 'need' like water? Clearly not.

However, what else have these people done? Look for examples - some of them dedicate themselves to a vocation (nuns, priests, teaching, nursing, etc). They may have close-knit platonic communities (nuns are a good example here again). They may have some other source of love, like God if they're religious. Do you have something you can dedicate yourself to like this?

Then there are a few people can be happy without any close relationships because they just aren't that interested in people - possibly a lot of overlap with my first group. They do exist, but you probably shouldn't consider yourself one of them without strong evidence. You don't sound like one of them, in that you are looking for ways to find romantic love.

I suspect that your psychiatrist is reacting to this - he is saying that you are a person who wants romantic love and companionship, you're not someone who wants to be alone, and you're not someone who has an over-riding dedication to something. So the position I am projecting onto him is that yes, you should admit to yourself that your desire for a partner is a basic, unchangeable one. You are almost definitely unable to turn off the desire to meet someone and live happily ever after.

However, I suspect he is not saying that you should give up on being happy without a partner. He's saying that you should give up on the 'forever alone, I should stop even wishing for this' part. You can be happy without having something that you really want, even if you don't stop wishing for it.
posted by jacalata at 8:07 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

However, I am struggling with Dr. Burns' statement "Oxygen is a need, but love is a want. I repeat: LOVE IS NOT AN ADULT HUMAN NEED!" (Author's caps).

that's one of the reasons why i can't take that book seriously.

your question is, essentially, "is that quote true?" but the statement is nonsense, without a lot of explaining what the terms mean, which he doesn't do. it's like he's saying "the number five is blue". is that true or not? it really depends on what you're talking about. without a lot more context, without defining "need" "want" "love" "adult" anyone can be right in some sense yet no one can agree.

so, my advice to you is to not worry about if "love" is a need or a want, or even if those are mutually exclusive categories. figure out what you like, then figure out a good way to get it.

my own best guess regarding the statement: he compares love to oxygen, but maybe it's more like a vitamin. you can survive a long time with vitamin deficiencies, so hey, i guess no one "needs" vitamins. but, in the long term it does have a serious impact on your quality of life and in some ways can kill you, just like being deprived of oxygen can kill you, so therefor it's a kind of need.

(if you read that statement carefully, you can see how burns engages in all or nothing thinking, over generalization, minimization, and labeling; all "cognitive distortions" according to him.)
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:20 PM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm in my 40s and have never seen a good marriage, I'm not kidding. I would never trade places with any of the married people I know. For example, this one couple I know that are in their 60s, have been married about 35 years, talk like they are still madly in love but when you see how they interact with each other it's nothing but hostility, resentment and competition. I can't stand it. People like to believe they are special and have special relationships but I have yet to see it for myself. My five siblings and parents have astonishingly dysfunctional and stressful relationships with their spouses, some downright abusive and most pyschotic, while I am single and can do whatever I please whenever I please. Sure, people think subjective love is a goal but I cannot stand it--it's a big fat lie. So many people say one thing to the world and live a different life. So called love is a drug at the beginning, and people get all preachy about how grand it it; well these are the people who end up lying to the world that they are so happy whilst their spouse is completely ignoring them and wishing they were dead. I really do not believe in love as it is written and sung about, it's a myth with a bunch of kool aid drinkers who are desperate to not live in their own skin but absorb someone else's identity, a false sense of security, a story.
Don't get caught up in the love myth other than to love your own life and be grateful you don't have to fake it. If it turns out you want to spend you life with someone, be prepared for a lot of work and pain.
posted by waving at 8:21 PM on September 4, 2012 [11 favorites]

I get a lot of advice from people saying that once you stop looking and truly love yourself, you will simply attract love into your life.
That is hogwash. Trying to say "Oh, well hey, I'll just stop looking then, and it'll come to me." is crazy-making, because then you blame yourself if/when somebody doesn't show up, thinking "Ah, shit, I just haven't really quit looking, clearly I'm not doing it right, if I *really* had stopped looking, Lance Romance would have shown up by now." and blah blah blah blah. Don't buy into this jive.

Do we really need romantic love/partnership in our lives?
No. Most of us want it, it seems burned into most people pretty deeply to long for it, but it's not a need. And not all of us get to have it, or we have it and then it drifts off again, or for some it's a serial thing, where a person loves to be partnered but can't stay with any one person when the fit hits the shan, like changing partners in a dance, tap someone else on the back and off they go.

Quite frankly, having watched lots of marriages up-close, and having an inside line to what happens behind many closed doors, I've not wanted what most have settled for, and wouldn't have it on a bet, and haven't. I just can't believe what people settle for, to keep from being alone on holidays, it's amazing. I have seen good marriages, when the people have really been committed to them, to doing the work to keep things on track. But it is work, it's not at all effortless, and most aren't doing that work.

So I've not wanted what I've seen others settle in with, and not been able to find what I'd want, and it damn sure hasn't found me. Quite a price -- lots of birthdays alone, lots of holidays, etc and etc. I've become pretty much inured to it anymore but I'm gonna tell you true here, it took long years, it burned like a fire in me; it really hurt bad. It wasn't enough for a long time but that fire has burned through now.

As pointed out upthread, romantic love isn't the only love; without any kind of love I'd be in trouble, for sure. I have tons of other outlets in my life, places and ways to give and receive love, not romantic love but solid love nonetheless, people I depend upon and people who depend upon me. I give of my time, and of what wisdom I've gained in my time staggering around here, my heart and my arms and my phone and my life are open to people in their time of need and I damn sure have people I can turn to in my times also. I'd not have made it through learning to be alone without the love of family and friends.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:46 PM on September 4, 2012 [20 favorites]

My psychiatrist tells me that in fact, romantic love and companionship are basic human needs. Have you asked what they mean about this? Are they saying people need both at the same time or either one? The latter I can agree with, the former no way. (That would mean basically all children are not getting what they need, right? And also if you didn't have a romantic relationship at all times, you're unhappy.)

I get a lot of advice from people saying that once you stop looking and truly love yourself, you will simply attract love into your life. This isn't real advice, it's a platitude. Thank them for trying to be positive and make you feel better, but ignore the sentiment. Don't take it literally and feel like you're failing because the made-up law of attraction isn't panning out.
posted by sfkiddo at 8:53 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Despite what 20th century western psychology would have us believe, humans are actually animals. Mammals, specifically, with various physical needs that persist despite our denial of them. One of these is physical and emotional intimacy. Sorry, just a fact.

See A General Theory of Love.
posted by zachawry at 8:57 PM on September 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

Mammals don't universally need "emotional intimacy." Tigers, for instance, are largely solitary.

I do think most people find love important (to get away from the "want vs. need" dichotomy, which I think is silly). Not always romantic or sexual love, though. The Shaker elders seem very fulfilled in the love department without sex or romance, for example. I have a friend who is one of the happiest people I know; she doesn't have a partner, but has tremendous love from and for her parents, sisters, niece and nephew, and many close friends, as well as the students she teaches and mentors.

The real question isn't what other people want or need in the love arena, though---it's what you want and need.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:16 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I get a lot of advice from people saying that once you stop looking and truly love yourself, you will simply attract love into your life.

I wonder how many of those people fell in love when they were younger, college say, when being reasonably self-assured meant there were a lot of people to date and potentially find love with. I remember dating being really easy back then, because we were all constantly around hundreds of people, interacting daily with classmates, roommates, friends roommates, (stoner who drummed at 3am, but I digress). Everything I've heard about dating in your 30's is, it's much harder. You have to work at it. So yeah, find a way to be happy, but also go on dates, whether online dating, meet-ups, friends setting you up, or taking up lots of social hobbies. How can you find love if you don't meet anyone? Good luck.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:12 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

All I want is just to be happy with my life in this moment, being single. I get a lot of advice from people saying that once you stop looking and truly love yourself, you will simply attract love into your life. Unfortunately this has not happened to me...

It hasn't for me either, and I agree with the previous poster that age plays a role there (though some people do cross wonderful mates later in life!), especially if you're a woman. That shouldn't be taken as doom-and-gloom, again, plenty of women do meet wonderful partners later in life – I know quite a few myself, I imagine you do too – it's more help towards realizing that it's not all on you. There are external factors playing into things as well.

...and any attempts to "put myself out there" have made me some great friends, but absolutely no romantic interest.

Focus on your great friends. This is what I've been doing lately, after years trying to date and just getting tired of "putting myself out there". There was a great article on Salon not long ago: <
posted by fraula at 11:43 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

ahem, sorry about that. In defense of single people, where the author discusses how our society is "couples-obsessed" and how that hurts everyone, couples included.

Being single, accepting singlehood, is just as fine as anything else that's consenting and respectful. I'm at a point where I figure, I want to spend my life with love, not wanting love when it's already around me (just in non-romantic forms), so why focus on something not present (being in a couple) when I could accept things as they are and make the most of them as is?

We do all need love; babies quite literally die without affection. As adults we're not so dependent on it any longer, but it is indeed still a need. It's how we go about sharing it and desiring it that matter. You've already got love – you have great friends. Focus on that, nurture those relationships. Romantic love may or may not come, but there will be love in any case.
posted by fraula at 11:49 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

No. And you don't need syrup on your pancakes.
No. And you can use screws sometimes instead of nails.
No. And sometimes, your cat bites you but you still feed it.
No. And the ground supports you even though you aren't constantly aware of it.
No. But life is not TV. Its interactive.

Adults won't die from missing it, alone. They may not thrive.

You may live any life you want. Dr. Burns is just as capable of being wrong about you as you are. "Dr." is an honorific bestowed with a checklist, not a herald signifying omniscience. The ONLY criteria for you is waking up again tomorrow. How you manage your lifeboat is your prerogative.
posted by FauxScot at 12:53 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ahh, there are always more books to read about relationships, there's always more advice, more philosophising. Reading about love can start to feel like a good substitute for it.

I don't know the context of "Love is not a human need," but to my mind any extreme positions regarding love, held for any great length of time, are unhealthy.

Once you stop looking and truly love yourself, you will simply attract love into your life is indeed hogwash. Have your solitary time and keep putting yourself out there. We all need to connect.

And here's a quote from Rumi - “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
posted by inkypinky at 2:01 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Short answer: No.

Long answer: I know I don't need any of that (nor do I want it either), but I know people who are fundamentally unhappy without love, romance or the prospect to have it sooner or later. So it depends on who you are.
posted by MinusCelsius at 2:37 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Humans need love. They need to give love. However, it does not need to be romantic love. Our modern western society holds romantic love above all other types of love, saying it will be what makes us happy, etc. when in fact, romantic love is the most selfish type of love and "doesn't aim at happiness" (CS Lewis; people will stay in miserable relationships if their needs are still being met.) Ancient Greeks viewed friendship as the highest form of love, religious ppl of many faiths view charity as the most important love and there are cultures where love and loyalty to family is the highest duty. It's OK to prioritize romantic love last. It's probably good in some ways.

More confusion comes in when we confuse basic human social needs with love. People are apes and apes are troop animals. We NEED to belong to something; family, friends, church, community. Somehow we've conflated being in love as belonging to something (someone). A romantic partner does not fulfill or replace that need. That is the cause of a lot of relationship problems; expecting romantic love to take the place of all the other types of love.

I reccommend Lewis' "The Four Loves". Of course, it's religious, but I am agnostic and found it enlightening.
posted by peacrow at 6:45 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not to be curt, but at the end of the day, why does the answer to the question matter? Perhaps the better question would be "Do I desire to have romantic love in my life?". If so, then putting yourself out there and opening your heart to the possibility of meeting new people is a good thing. If not, then it's a moot point.

But telling yourself that you don't need something that you really desire in order to distract yourself from the frustration and sadness that can accompany finding it is a mindfuck, IMHO.

Don't be so hard on yourself for wanting romantic love in your life. Most people do. Whether they need it or not.
posted by strelitzia at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Romantic love is important to many, and you should not feel wrong for wanting it. But it has its own character, is incomplete and unsatisfying in its own ways (relative to other experiences, and other kinds of love, and merely the enjoyment of solitude). It will not on its own make your life complete or perfect. It's one experience of many. Pursue it, sure; if it's part of the path you wish to follow there's not necessarily harm in following where that takes you. But try not to suffer a craving for it: such craving is a matter between your own mind and the dissatisfying nature of existence. Romantic partners won't make that cease.
posted by ead at 9:02 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

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