How do I not want a relationship?
November 4, 2015 1:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I become satisfied enough by non-relationship pursuits that a relationship no longer feels necessary? Using "relationship" to mean a romantic relationship, here.

In some paradox of today's world, it seems the common advice on how to get into a successful relationship is to not want one. Be happy and fulfilled on your own, and you will attract others. In addition, being happy and fulfilled on your own will be inherently helpful in dealing with the reality that relationships aren't possible for everyone, or don't always work out.

I understand this. However, I am not satisfied by it. I feel like I need to be in a relationship to be happy. I feel like hobbies, friends, art, etc. are great, but they don't fulfill that deeper void. I would even venture to say that I love myself, but I don't want to love myself in a vacuum. I don't really want to live inside a vacuum. For some reason it feels very important to me that I am capable of being loved by someone else, instead of just myself, and considered worthy of romance.

And I'm not just imagining this, I say this from experience. From my limited experiences being in relationships, I was happy. It's not like all my problems went away, but just having that experience of love and partnership met a deeper need that I had and continue to have. And I should have worked harder to make them last and solve the issues that came up. With someone who was even more well-suited for me, I'm sure I would be even happier.

It feels like something I need. But the problem is, I can't just make it happen, and who knows when or if I'll ever to be able to. Even now I'm trying to meet people and there's a particular person I'm pining after, and I just don't want to hinge all of my happiness on whether this person ends up reciprocating my interest. So, how do I learn to not want a relationship? I know I'm supposed to be satisfied by other things I have more control over, but how I can get to the point where those things are actually satisfying at that deeper void-fulfilling level, and not just satisfying as distractions while the void still lingers? I hope this makes sense, thanks for your answers!
posted by cosmicbeast to Human Relations (20 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Alright, I should have said "fill" the void, not "fulfill" it. Carry on.
posted by cosmicbeast at 1:56 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're doing just fine. The advice isn't to not *want* a relationship, but to be self-fulfilled without one. Which it sounds like you're doing. That general contentment allows you to keep a clear head when a relationship or special person does come along so you don't go running headlong into it, ignoring red flags & smothering the other person with need.

there's a particular person I'm pining after, and I just don't want to hinge all of my happiness on whether this person ends up reciprocating my interest. So, how do I learn to not want a relationship?

Stop pining & rip off the bandaid. If you are interested in someone, let them know, ask them out, express yourself, and let the chips fall where they may. You don't have to not *want* a relationship, but it's best to find out early whether a person you like has potential. Especially if you're a pedestal type.
posted by headnsouth at 1:58 PM on November 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

I mean, I don't know that there's a way for you to not want a relationship. Maybe you will never be as satisfied out of a relationship as you would be in a relationship. Some people find being single more fun than others; doesn't sound like you are super-into it.

As an exercise, imagine that you will never, ever be in a relationship again. How would you like your life to be? What can you do to make your life awesome that doesn't require a partner? Just start building that life. I don't even think you have to stop pursuing romance while you do that.

I am a little worried though by how you talk about being considered "worthy" of romance. Of course you're worthy. You're going to be right for some people and wrong for others (and likewise some people will be right for you and some won't), but "worthiness" is bullshit. If you can become more awesome, you will expand the circle of people who will be interested in you. But looking at other people's interest in you/attraction to you as a reflection of your worth... try to avoid that.
posted by mskyle at 2:02 PM on November 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

The only way I found in my life to not want a relationship was a nasty divorce. I don't recommend it. Nothing wrong with wanting a relationship.

I think the point is more to not need a relationship. It was quite empowering for me to realise I didn't need one and it frankly makes me a better partner. It means I'm not as clingy or reactive, and I don't react with terror in every relationship crisis. Good stuff.

The only way you get there is being confident in your own ability to take care of yourself, and to be your own good parent. There are a lot of roads to that point-- therapy, good friends, meditation, mindfulness. Spend some time exploring instead of pining and you may find what works for you.
posted by frumiousb at 2:09 PM on November 4, 2015 [16 favorites]

You can decide not to hinge your happiness on having a relationship while acknowledging that a relationship is something you'd like to have. I'd like to have a pony and there's nothing wrong with that but I'm not going to fall apart without one. There's nothing wrong with being honest that you'd like a relationship. They are nice and fun. There's also nothing wrong with not being one if the right person hasn't shown up yet. Both things can be true at the same time.
posted by bleep at 2:13 PM on November 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

We can't change how we feel about things. It is what we do with those feelings that matters.

I struggle with some of the same things you mention. When I feel these things, I try to do something kind for someone else. To send some love into the world. I make gifts for friends, I volunteer for a cause that matters to me, I email or call a friend or message someone here to tell them I appreciate them, I pay attention to my cat who lived in a shelter for far too long and therefore needs as much cuddling as I can give her (and will always take more!) Sending love outwards does not change the fact that no one loves me - and I say this because no one has said those words to me honestly in many years - but it makes me feel a little better about that fact.

Feel whatever you feel and then do something good with that feeling. Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 2:29 PM on November 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

2nd frumiousb :/ Not at all advised but having a really horrible relationship is a surefire way to not want (and be entirely happy without) another for a loooooooong time. If you're not naturally in that kind of place, I think you should probably just date, because you don't actually want to be alone.

You can't control whether/when you meet the right person, but you can also make it your second job to try to find them. (A friend of mine up and decided she wanted to be married. After a solid year of dating like a trooper - a new guy every weekend, and some during the week - and then 6 months of being with the one that worked, she was. (I don't know what kind of compromises she made, if any, in the pursuit of that goal, but she says she's happy, and I have no reason not to believe her.)

(Meanwhile, I am, four years after that horrible relationship ended, only now thinking I'd maybe like to consider possibly starting making initial motions towards completing my OKCupid profile in case something kind-of serious might happen. And I've been totally fine in all that time. Obviously, it's not the kind of thing anyone would want to force. Point is, if you want to date, date.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:44 PM on November 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

Even now I'm trying to meet people and there's a particular person I'm pining after, and I just don't want to hinge all of my happiness on whether this person ends up reciprocating my interest. So, how do I learn to not want a relationship?

You're asking how to not feel, or need, or attach hope to the connections your heart wants. That's asking not to be human. Yeah, you can try to deaden or detach yourself a little (do not recommend), or find other outlets for connection (very good advice above), but I think some kind of suffering is just part of the deal.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:53 PM on November 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

The book Intimate Connections by David Burns is about forming relationships, but it give significant time to being happy with yourself first. It's been a long time since I read it but that portion about being happy with yourself first stuck with me, so it might help you.

Dr. Burns' book Feeling Good might also help, but Intimate Connections more directly addresses your question.
posted by Tehhund at 3:09 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

So I never understood how people really, truly could be happy without a relationship. I mean, I understood acceptance, contentment, living each day to the fullest, etc., but I secretly thought, oh, those people really want to be with someone.

THEN I ended (amicably) a ten-year relationship. NOW I understand how it is possible to be happy without a relationship. Yes, I do hope that I'll meet someone else, and it'll probably happen, but I am fundamentally OK with being single in a way I never could have imagined.

Of course you can't just have this experience of mine. But have you ever advised a friend who can't imagine asking someone out, can't imagine having sex, etc.? You might tell them, listen, you WILL go out on a date, it WILL happen, you're just on the other side of that event right now. So too do I say to you: fulfillment IS possible, you're just on the other side of the coin right now. Hang in there.
posted by 8603 at 4:03 PM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

A lot of good things have been said here.

Wanting to be in a great relationship is not necessarily a barrier to finding that kind of relationship.

The problem may be that you are trying to make relationships great that don't have the potential to be great. That is a lot of pressure and can make you act weird, unlike yourself, or desperate. Instead, you need to be a little bit skeptical, in my opinion. You are looking for the right person, not developing them. That frees you up to be yourself.

Good advice I've heard is to keep your eyes wide open all the way up to marriage and then learn to close them a bit, meaning: look for deal-breakers before you've committed to someone, and then once you have, stop finding faults and be accepting.

One thing that helped me was going a bit too far with a couple of girlfriends, telling them that I loved them when I really didn't love them (I thought I did at the time, though). Eventually, when I realized I really shouldn't be married to them, I broke up with them. It was hard, extremely hard, as in one of the most emotionally difficult things I've done. That taught me a lesson. From that point on, I dated some girls that were really cute and nice but I resisted kissing them or leading them on because I didn't want to get into that situation all over again. (One girl had such a type-A personality that she invited me to a group get-together that turned out to be a one-on-one date and then at the end kept trying to kiss me even though we still barely knew each other. If I hadn't been through those difficult experiences, I never could have resisted her.)

And you know what happened? I went out with this one girl who I just couldn't help but kiss. And it wasn't even a physical thing, I just felt so good being with her that I had to kiss her. Things with her weren't always smooth or anything, but I eventually discovered that I loved her and we are married today.

Mistakes can help you stop trying to make every relationship a great one and start looking for a great relationship.
posted by thorough at 4:35 PM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

It is Stoic Week again this week.... Stoics would say the best approach is to worry about personal virtue by focusing on the things you can control; either pursue preferred things like romantic relationships only once you've established those priorities or don't pursue them but accept if they come to you; and enjoy them with reservation while you have them.
posted by vsync at 5:13 PM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

For the record I totally understand this question. I really "got it" when I read it and agree and feel much the same way.

(Good) relationships DO make your "baseline" level of happiness higher than being single, IMO. But that said, and I don't mean to be morbid- consider these points:

We all die alone. No one can ever really know another person. The natural human state is to be alone. No one is born paired to their significant other- we spend our childhoods alone, not understanding sexual attraction. We spend much of our young adulthood alone. We spend the last years of our life alone, should our friends, family, or significant other die before us. Reationships tend to go through rough or boring patches, even when the people are very well matched. There are times when there's just "too much togetherness" and times when sexual attraction wanes after many years of being together. You WILL end up compromising some of your sense of "self" and independence in any relationship (all reationships involve compromises) and you will never be as "truly you" as if you stay single for a long period.

Pondering all these things helps me. Consider that it may also be that part of you just wants the "milestones" and the "accomplishments" and the "good moments" rather than the true, daily grind of talking and compromising and health problems and in-laws etc. that inevitably occur.
posted by quincunx at 5:22 PM on November 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Human beings are social creatures and the idea that you can be fulfilled without *any* relationships is self-help nonsense. Yes, you can be happy without a romantic relationship,
but most people *are* happier in them and the more high quality social connections you have
(depending on your own particular needs; some need more, others less), the happier you typically are.

So stop trying to pretend you aren't human and don't have normal human relational needs!! The idea that you will find a relationship only after you "learn to love yourself" or be fulfilled without one is wrong: people don't learn to love themselves if they aren't loved, you can't "practice" being in a relationship by not being in a relationship. This is just pop psychology that has no basis in actual evidence.

Embrace wanting a relationship and date: just don't accept crumbs because you think that's all you are worth. And make sure your friendship network is as big as possible for you. And get lots of massages: people are often starved for physical affection and that makes them feel desperate. Also: cats. Or dogs. Or something else furry and warm that you like.

For a long time, I thought I would never be able to have a lasting relationship; then I had one. And I got married at 49 and am sometimes sad that I believed a bunch of self-hating nonsense about the impossibility of it when younger. But I am amazed at how happy I am now.
posted by Maias at 6:54 PM on November 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

I don't think you can stop wanting a relationship. I went through a long lonely period where I tried to tell myself I was giving up on romance or other wishful untruths. Never worked.

However, you do have some control over how your structure your behavior and habits. Sitting around doing nothing and feeling lonely is bad. Try to fill up those times with other things instead. Commit more energy and intensity to your favorite hobby, spend more time hanging out with your friends, work more hours at work. Stay busier.

>Even now I'm trying to meet people and there's a particular person I'm pining after, and I just don't want to hinge all of my happiness on whether this person ends up reciprocating my interest.

Good idea. Don't pine after people! Don't spend weeks (or months, or years) quietly longing for a relationship that isn't happening. This is a recipe for feeling unfulfilled. If you're interested in someone, make a move and maybe get rejected, but find out one way or the other. Don't sit on the sidelines of your own life.
posted by mattu at 8:33 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to thank you for these answers so far. Inspired from the very first one...I decided to take the initiative and ask the person I was referring to if they want to meet at an event this weekend, and they do. Which is awesome. But the level of relief I feel from stuff like that is ridiculous.

I guess it's been a while since I've had such strong feelings. And I'm trying to avoid the pain that comes with them...but maybe that can't be done. I appreciate the truth being spelled out here. I'm certainly not going to pretend that I don't want a relationship, but I was curious to see if anyone thought that was achievable.

The reality is I know I would be okay if things didn't work out with this person, but I'm tired of just being "okay." So I hope something works out with someone, in any case...and I will keep trying, I don't feel like I have a choice in the matter. If anyone has more advice I'll be glad to hear it.
posted by cosmicbeast at 9:25 PM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

"You're asking how to not feel, or need, or attach hope to the connections your heart wants. That's asking not to be human. Yeah, you can try to deaden or detach yourself a little (do not recommend), or find other outlets for connection (very good advice above), but I think some kind of suffering is just part of the deal."

Who says cosmicbeast wants to be human? Fuck that. You can live without it if you have to, it's just that some of us have a lot harder time getting there. (Though yeah, relationship ending can sure help kickstart it.)

Well, having been there and done this, I can mention the following:

(a) keep yourself super occupied. Distractions are awesome. Come up with super occupying projects. Get a demanding job. Be so busy you don't have time to pine and whine until your head hits the pillow.
(b) Get a pet. I don't do this one because I'm too occupied to be home, but my shrink recommends it for actual affection.
(c) I can definitely say from experience that if you go hungry long enough wanting this and not being able to get it out of another human, the urge will eventually die off and go away. However, that probably only comes from not dating (and it took me like, what, most of ten years or something of that and being utterly hopeless in general), and clearly you're not going to do that one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:54 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

So yeah...I've been thinking a bit more. It hit me that I am already at the point of giving up. I still plan to meet the person but I don't expect anything will come of it. I don't think relationships are honestly in the cards for me, and it's time for me to just accept that. It's hard, but I do strongly feel that it will get easier with time.

I'll go ahead and mark this as resolved.
posted by cosmicbeast at 5:18 PM on November 7, 2015

I don't think relationships are honestly in the cards for me, and it's time for me to just accept that. It's hard, but I do strongly feel that it will get easier with time.

What? Why? What is it you're thinking? And, really, how do you know? (Well, you might kind of know, if you create a self-fulfilling prophecy by hiding away and not trying to meet anyone at all. Or if you tell yourself it won't or shouldn't happen and stay closed off to anyone who comes into your life serendipitously. But that would be too sad, if you want company, don't do that :/)

I still plan to meet the person but I don't expect anything will come of it.

Well, it's good to not walk in with a particular engagement ring in mind, but could you try to be open to whatever happens? Just talk to them, try to have a pleasant evening, see how it goes?

I'm sorry you're feeling this way, wish I could be more helpful :/
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:02 PM on November 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's alright. I actually had a change of heart about that later but I couldn't delete/edit and I didn't want to keep throwing further updates in here, haha. Thanks for checking in.

I didn't end up meeting the person this weekend after all (it's complicated), but it might still happen soon. I'm trying to be more strategic and be assertive without coming on too strong.

I've decided to focus more on self-care though, and it's helped decrease a lot of the anxiety and intensity that comes with having a crush, and it's helping me be more open to whatever happens. So, nothing to worry about. :)
posted by cosmicbeast at 8:25 PM on November 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

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