Overwhelming need for intimacy.
November 4, 2013 4:04 PM   Subscribe

I've been really lonely the past year or two, and it's been very overwhelming how much I've missed being with someone. I romanticize women I come across and it always leads to disappointment. How do I stop doing this?

I'm 27. I'm a fairly good looking guy, I exercise, I have hobbies but for the past year or two - I've been missing human contact. Thoughts of being intimate with someone fill my head almost everyday. I've started exercising a few months ago and I've been pretty proud of how long I've been going. I'm striving to become a cartoonist and I work a pretty decent day job on the side. I like doing things I enjoy by myself. But still, I feel like the need for someone distracts me. I always experience a great movie, or book or thought - and feel let down that I don't have anyone to share it with. I haven't been in a serious relationship in almost 5 years. Nor have I been physically intimate with another human being since.

I know I should appreciate being single but I really miss meeting people and sharing conversation over a cup of coffee. All of my friends are either in serious relationships or they're married so I'm the only person interested in meeting new people. I've searched for meetups around the area but I still live in NJ - there are no interesting groups to check out that meet in my area. Nobody around my age, for that matter.

I've stopped drinking and pretty much stopped going to bars. I feel like I won't meet any people I'd connect with there anyway. And I'm not one to just show up at a bar, not drink and just sit around hoping to meet someone.

One particular problem I've been having is that I romanticize every attractive woman I come across. Recently, my job hired a co-worker that I fairly interact with on a daily basis. I immediately thought she was pretty cute and we've been talking and joking around a fair amount lately. Of course, I go ahead and romanticize our interactions and I honestly convinced myself that she was flirting with me. I try to flirt back (in the most innocent way since we work together) but it doesn't go anywhere. I think she was just being a nice co-worker. I'm pretty sure she's not interested at all. I then feel embarrassed and ashamed because she knows that I'm interested in her now. I feel like if I wasn't so desperate, I wouldn't have cared to flirt.

I just want to learn how to handle these feelings. It's pretty painful sometimes. I like myself, I think I'm a pretty good guy. I want to stop acting so desperate. Will these feelings subside eventually?

I apologize if this question seems unclear..
posted by morning_television to Human Relations (18 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Ok, so... online dating is probably not the solution to all your problems, in the sense that it's never resulted in a long term relationship for me. But, what it DID do for me was to make me less scared of dating and less likely to put man and dating up on this crazy pedestal.

I had a really hard time meeting men in real life, and when I did, I felt too needy and inexperienced to make a good impression. So I tried online dating just to see if I could, and on my first date I was so freaked out. But, it went fine, and then I went on another one, and another one, and you know what, I never did meet a boyfriend on there... but after that, when potential boyfriends popped up in my life, I wasn't desperate or afraid, because I'd been on plenty of dates and it was no big deal.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:25 PM on November 4, 2013 [12 favorites]

2nding online dating, definitely. There ARE single people your age around - but you're not just going to run into them! Go get out there, set up 1 or 2 dates a week, and find a girlfriend! Wanting to be in a relationship is totally normal and healthy.
posted by amaire at 4:42 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think one of the worst things about being single when you don't want to be is that we shame people for expressing loneliness. Being lonely isn't the only reasonable response to being alone, but it's certainly a common and legitimate one. One part of keeping loneliness bearable is to keep it in perspective. A core part of that perspective is eliminating needless shame, guilt, and embarrassment.

Things that are legitimately shameful: trying to coerce someone into a romantic position; assuming that women exist to please and complete men. That's about it.

Things that aren't shameful: wanting companionship; wanting loving sex; feeling or being socially isolated; hoping that a person to whom you're attracted is attracted to you; feeling sad because you're alone; feeling like you are the only lonely person in a sea of couples.

Doing things that are unhealthy or damaging for you (only for you), in your efforts to forestall loneliness: painful and counterproductive, possibly perversely satisfying, but not worthy of shame or guilt.

Try to notice when you're feeling embarrassed or ashamed, and talk to yourself rationally about it. Soothe yourself a little, if you can. You will probably feel and act less desperate if you feel less awful. Loneliness is easier to live with if you can accept your emotional response to it.

(When my husband and I got together, we both freely admitted that we were about just about dead from loneliness, and so very relieved to find each other. It wasn't anything we'd done, either, despite what smug couples always seem to suggest to lonely singles. We just lucked out. Do not listen to anyone who suggests that "if you just let your desire go/learn to love yourself/appreciate loneliness, you'll find someone!" because that's complete blame-y bullshit.)
posted by gingerest at 4:52 PM on November 4, 2013 [34 favorites]

Look, you're wrong. You shouldn't learn to not want intimacy. You have needs, and you have a fulfilling life, but that doesn't negate your need for intimacy. Meet it.

Go date. Get on okcupid or whatever. Tell your friends you're looking. But you don't mention that you're doing this at all, and you should.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:56 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it's great to work on yourself, distract yourself, grow as an individual, be good company to yourself, etc, but there is no replacement for intimacy with another human. I remember when I was single for a long time I would occasionally get these actual physical shutters of loneliness when I glanced at a stranger's leg, or imagined connecting with someone I thought was interesting and exciting.

All you can do is just keep trying to connect. Online dating, join groups that you're interested in (to meet people with similar interests). I don't believe you that there are NO groups in the area. Take a class, join a gym, go to the classes there, volunteer, join a hiking group, join a gaming group, take up a martial art, study a language, etc, etc.

It hurts, it's hard, it's lonely, but if you stick with it, you will eventually meet someone, and this time by yourself will in fact make you a stronger, more self-sufficient person, and that will serve you well when you are in a relationship.

Good luck.
posted by latkes at 5:04 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Drive-by advice.... bang, bang, bang! No time for a detailed answer... Random shots off the cuff... maybe one will hit?

Screw women. You need a friend, regardless of genitals. Find an adult human male and go to a goddamned movie. Companionship does not have to involve potential penetration. Boys drink coffee and read books, too.

If you need to meet a pile of socially inept, terminal nerds who are smart, widespread and desperate too, call a goddamned metafilter meetup. NJ is teeming with such critters. Membership here is a red flag for smart people, seeking decent solutions to life's problems. You'll soon have to figure out how to get rid of them. Meetup.com? Something's out there you can crash or call. (Just kidding about the Mefi folks.., I love metafilter. All the meetups I have attended have had great peeps, many with stellar nerd creds. )

Do something that is not isolating. If you are doing exercise ALONE, you will meet no one. Just go ahead and get a treadmill for the apartment and you'll never have to go out! Or, you could exercise by say.... ballroom dancing. do you know how many women dance with other women at ballroom, salsa, jitterbug, swing classes? Almost all of them, because apparently penises are allergic to rhythm? Boy shortages at ALL dance classes, amigo. Plus YOU GET TO TOUCH THEM!!! Non-sexually, of course, but still.... you are a rarity if you are willing.

You are 27. Can you find a place that teaches drawing and help other people learn while you learn, too? Cute girls sometimes like pencils and stuff.

Older ladies... up your target age from 15 to say, 40-45 and you've got a wider audience of generally experienced women who need companionship, too. Age is no barrier to interesting. And you may learn something good from your elders.

Get a wingman. Maybe that woman at your job is willing to help you? Good excuse to get her out on a pretense AND maybe also get actual wingman services. Promise to buy her a boat or a small airplane.

Hang around people who know people who also are lonely. Like, for instance, most of those temporarily coupled dingbats you mentioned. Do you know how many people tried to fix me up with how many women when my first wife died? All of them. Because... there are other lonely people. You ain't special because you are lonely, nor are you going to get over it with a bunch of sundowner excuses. No one (nature especially) gives a flying fuck if you are happy. If you don't get out there and grasp for the ring of friendship, you have no one to blame but you. Your former friends now coupled (most will eventually fall out of that state) are good wing-folks. They gotta know you are looking. Ask for help. They were your friends once before they got all owned and all.

Book groups, drumming circles, hiking clubs, choirs, sewing classes. Where do men and women go? Go there. Advertise your availability. Get a t-shirt made that says "Lonely cartoonist. Need hugs."

FWIW, you sound kind of interesting. If you lived closer to Vermont, I'd invite you over. You have nothing to fear, friend, except that calendar. Every day, a page goes away. Soon, you will be dead. After you die, you will stay dead. Why live dead?

Get.The.Fuck.Out.There. Now. No excuses. This is your assignment.
posted by FauxScot at 5:04 PM on November 4, 2013 [55 favorites]

One of the most annoying things about being human is the need for companionship. And it is a NEED not merely a desire. Humans are social creatures and our brains are wired towards and therefore dependent on companionship with others. People who stay in solitary confinement all alone for long periods of time literally go crazy. Their brains deteriorate.

And that's the rub. The other things needed for survival are food, water, shelter- all things you can control on your own and you can depend on yourself for. But companionship is not something you can control because whether you get it or not depends on someone else. If you are desperately lonely you feel your very health and sanity is at the mercy of other people. If you are an independent individual like myself, this fact can be hard to swallow.

So don't beat yourself up about feeling this way. It's just a part of being human. Just get out more and meet new people. But DON'T assume that every person you meet is going to be your new friend or girlfriend. Remember that companionship just means spending time with someeone else and it doesn't even matter if you have a conversation and never see that person again. What I'm saying is that if you go in there with the assumption that someone is your future girlfriend then you set yourself up for disappointment. Set your bar lower. Instead of trying to find friends or a girlfriend, just make the goal meeting people and saying hi. Then whatever happens after that is just a bonus and not something that can disappoint you.
posted by manderin at 5:46 PM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know I should appreciate being single

No you shouldn't. I mean, if you did, that's cool, but there's no reason you should have to enjoy being alone. Wanting to be intimate with another person and then seeking that out is a normal human feeling. I don't think there's anything particularly healthy or admirable about trying to suppress it if that is what you really want. In my early 20s I was generally happy being single, but eventually I got really tired of that.

I've stopped drinking and pretty much stopped going to bars. I feel like I won't meet any people I'd connect with there anyway.

That's probably true. Maybe try online dating. Many people on there are just as lonely as you are, and many are decent people. You may or may not find what you're looking for, but at least you'd get out there in a way that might lead to something, and at least you'd know that the women you're talking to are available and interested in dating in general. If you miss meeting people and sharing conversation over a cup of coffee, this would be the perfect time to do that.
posted by wondermouse at 5:46 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you're a cartoonist, why aren't you hanging out with other cartoonists? I don't know where in NJ you are, but I know a few NJ cartoonists. You are not the only one there. I am 100% biased, but cartoonists are good people.

So that clearly gives you an outlet and it's a good one! Find nearby comic-related events and go to them! Volunteer if you can! The goal is just to meet people. Don't worry about being awkward! Cartoonists have a high tolerance for awkward people (and are possibly awkward themselves!). Cartoonists are, thankfully, pretty welcoming and accepting too (yeah, not everyone, but enough of them). You may not make a bunch of friends, but you'll make some -- male and female -- and you probably already have something in common.

If you feel online dating isn't for you, that's cool, but also consider being more social online. Join Twitter and Tumblr if you haven't. Post your own stuff, respond to other people's stuff. I've absolutely made friends in my area via Twitter and Tumblr.

I totally understand the loneliness and how overwhelming that can be. But sometimes just interacting with people in big or little ways helps.

Good luck to you.
posted by darksong at 5:52 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Online dating, for the experience, as others have said. Please also go for women who are older than you. Women get really awesome after 35. Heck, I have some 40+ year old girlfriends who would love to date a self-aware, caring younger guy like you who exercises and loves comics.

Some very general signs a woman might give you that she might be interested in you: she touches you, she asks you any questions about your family (not in response to you bringing them up - she brings them up), eye contact, smiling, giggles, touching her hair a lot in your presence, cocking her head slightly to show you her neck. If you're attracted to her and she gives you 3 or more of those, ask her out. (I'd avoid dating a coworker, but YMMV).
posted by hush at 5:56 PM on November 4, 2013

Online dating can be tough, so be forewarned!

What kind of exercise are you doing? There are a TON of rock climbing, mountain biking, road cycling and hiking clubs in NJ, especially northern NJ and the Del Water Gap area - maybe try getting active in your local chapter? If not, what about a run club? Or sign up for some martial arts classes? Anything with other people, with the focus on some other thing (bonus for exercise!) to be with others. You WILL meet people this way, regardless of whether they turn into friends or more. This worked for me! I was no longer lonely, got to know some pretty awesome people and am even seriously dating one now. Keep an open mind.

What also worked for me was getting my awesome rescue dog. Sure, he's a dog, but he listens to me, is there for me, and gives me an extra excuse to get outside and do stuff. There's nothing like coming home after work to someone happy to see you and ready to go on a walk. And he doesn't get all judgey on me about what I'm watching on TV.
posted by floweredfish at 6:00 PM on November 4, 2013

Put yourself out there, and eventually something will happen. Online dating was great for me because of what showbiz_liz said, but also because it put me in situations where single women were.

Once I went out to an event, and the plan was to meet up with a girl from Okcupid who I had seen before. She ended up bailing; I followed through with the event anyway, and ended up meeting a woman there who I dated.

Fake it until you make it. If you start hanging out with people who reciprocate the respect you give them, you may find your insecurities dissolve away.
posted by victory_laser at 6:04 PM on November 4, 2013

My single guy friend swears by organized kickball. The teams are coed so you'll interact with women, but its also a good way make some guy friends. The guys who join kickball are mostly single and easygoing (kickball is a very easy and non-aggressive sport, so its most likely that guys who join are doing it for the social aspect, not the sport) so its a good way to meet guys like you! The drawback is that after games its routine to go to a bar, but you can order a soda, yeah? check it out

Anyway, looks theres a league in Hoboken and also Philly (if thats closer to you)

Also, I say try to become better friends with the co-worker (dating would be a bad idea). I'm sure eventually she'll ask if you have a girlfriend, and you can respond with "No but I'm looking. Have any girl friends you'd like to introduce me to?" Its worth a shot!
posted by hellameangirl at 7:13 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

To the specific point of how to stop romanticizing relationships: go to a bookstore. Stand in the self-help section in front of the shelves with all the relationship books on them - not the ones on dating, the ones geared towards unhappy couples. I'm dead serious, browsing through titles on divorce, infidelity, abusive relationships, "can we save this marriage?" etc. has helped me more than once to keep perspective that merely being in a relationship is not a safeguard against unhappiness.
posted by aspen1984 at 8:30 PM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Read Intimate Connections by Dr. Davis Burns. Do an experiment. Try what it suggests for six months.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:34 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, you need to meet more people so that you don't expend so much "what-if" and wishfulness and wistfulness on the friendly / cool people who just happen to wander into your intimacy-starved zone. So the woman you met at work who feels like someone you can connect with might have ended up being a good friend who might introduce you to another cool friend in the general course of things, who might introduce you to someone else, who might just be your heart's true love. It happened to me.

And now a digression, plus *Warning!* possible old-person suggestion to follow, I just don't know. So, most people say that they don't want to go bars/clubs, and I sort of understand that, but sort of not. I wouldn't want to go to a loud pick-up kind of venue, but aren't there local cozier pub-like places? Or, like jazz, blues or indie clubs, for example, that are sort of intimate and friendly? Usually, yeah, going to a place like that every now and then, you may just sort of feel alone and unknown, but if there's a place that feels good, and you show up more often, you get to know the regulars, the staff, etc., and become a part of the regular folks, which means meeting more people, and meeting their friends, and being invited to things where you meet yet more people, and etc. Substitute sweet coffee shop, cool cafe, or whatever... wine bar? but places that have a good vibe where you might show up for a couple of hours after work, or drop in and chat a bit with regulars on weekends. In the right sort of place, you could probably sit and make a few sketches and people would be striking up conversations about that, and friendships would ensue.

Here's the trajectory (very whittled down) of meeting my husband: Moved to a city > got a job > made a friend at that job > friend moved to a cooler/better job and recommended me for an open position > took that job > made more friends at that job > would meet those friends at friendly pubs and friendly music venues > met the ex-neighbor of one work friend at the pub > made friends with friend's ex-neighbor at the pub > hung out with friend's ex-neighbor and his friends > met the friend's ex-neighbor's new neighbor at the pub [T I M E   P A S S E S] ... Now have been with the friend's ex-neighbor's new neighbor for more than 20 years (living together, then married). And I met tons of people and made many, many new friends by hanging out at a few good spots, and had several places I could go where "everybody knew my name" to borrow from a now-ancient sit com.

As an adult you basically meet people via work, family or friends, hobbies or sports, organizations (church, civic, volunteer, etc.), online-related (meet-ups or e-dating), or, potentially, any spot that you visit regularly enough to become somewhat "known." Nice pubs, cafes or music places are where people go to be relaxed and friendly (if it's the right kind of place)... so it doesn't seem like something to rule out, if there's no substance abuse issue? At any rate, outside of school or work, I've met most real-life friends (and both long-term romance/marriages) that way.
posted by taz at 10:25 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might know this, but just to re-emphasize ... flirting is fun. Or should be. It can just be ... an end in and of itself. You don't have to feel guilty or embarrassed for flirting with someone and having it go no where other than the moment you were both in! It is also a talent that is amazingly adaptive to practice! Flirt with whomever you feel like flirting with, all the time, respectfully (and know when to stop!). But flirt, please! It's one of the lovely little unacknowledged pleasures of our days. At some point, flirt and flirtee may ignite, you never know, but it's ok if that doesn't happen.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:44 PM on November 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you live in NJ, you are an hour's drive from either NYC or Philadelphia. You can get coffee with a woman who lives there, by getting yourself on okcupid. Huge okcupid sites in both NYC and Philadelphia.

And don't flirt with your coworker. As a female, it annoys the fuck out of me when men think they can make my workplace into a flirtation zone just because I am female and pretty. I am there to work. I'm not a sex object when I'm in one place in the world -- work. Respect that. In the rare case she wants you so bad that she's willing to flirt in her workplace to get you... I'm sure she'll make that known.
posted by htid at 12:13 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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