All I need is love?
December 6, 2020 8:35 PM   Subscribe

I have a lot of love, and it wants to get out into the world. When I'm in a romantic relationship, my partner is by far my biggest source and destination for love. It feels wonderful, yet fragile, because so much happiness is dependent on one relationship. When I'm single, nothing comes close to relieving the pressure from the love that gets bottled up in me, or filling the void left by the absence of romantic reciprocation. Can you suggest some approaches I might not have tried?

I'm doing much better on the self-love front - I'm giving myself more down time to recharge, I'm exercising regularly & eating well, I'm not being stingy about buying things that help me stay happy and healthy, and I'm not hesitating to reach out to my therapist when depression and anxiety start taking over.

I find meaning in my work, and in my community. The local (currently virtual) Unitarian Universalist church is my community anchor right now, and there's normally a variety of neat things happening in my area.

My relationship with my parents is good (though my younger sibling who lives with them doesn't interact much). I can talk about most anything with them. We always say our "I love you"s when we sign off our weekly video chat.

For once in my life, I have good friends that I see on a regular basis (as often as I do laundry). I met them though a former girlfriend but started hanging out with them on my own this year as a consequence of avoiding the crowded laundromat. They're a newly-engaged couple, about 10 years older than me.

I've been in four romantic relationships, all post-high school. I fall in love (limerance) hard & fast. In three of those relationships, the other person was good at setting boundaries and putting on the breaks when things started moving too fast for their taste. In one of them, we both moved a little faster than we should have (no harm done though). I've initiated a breakup because of an incompatibility that came up after one year. I've been on the receiving end of a breakup after two years, not understanding why it wasn't working for them but accepting it all the same. I eventually get over break ups and put the person at a healthy distance, though I've never had a reason on my end to stop appreciating them as friends.

I have a tiny bit of experience with polyamory. I like the idea of multiple connections adding resilience, though it can be exhausting for this introvert. It would be hard to maintain more than one serious relationship, but maybe not impossible.

Most recently, after some encouragement from a mutual work friend, I asked out a new colleague. She accepted and we talked for a couple weeks while keeping things professional at work. At one point I asked her if it would be okay for me to say "I love you". It's a phrase I like to use pretty freely, for all different kinds and depths of love. I asked because I know a lot of people take those words very seriously. She was taken aback because we barely know each other and she was not prepared to hear that phrase. We talked it out and wound up on the same page, I thought - agreeing to take the relationship slow. A couple days later, she said she'd like to stop pursuing romance and remain friends, and I thanked her for making that clear.

When I'm in a relationship, I feel overly-dependent on my attachment to my partner. The physical attachment is very intense as well. Even before the pandemic, my forays into swing dance and contra dance did nothing to relieve my touch starvation. The only thing that came close was a Cuddle Party, but those were rare in my area.

I come on strong because I feel very lonely when I'm single. All that love gets bottled up inside me, and it's hard to let it out slowly while getting to know someone in a romantic context. I guess I'm searching for a release valve. I envy the close emotional friendships that seem to come naturally to a lot of women - that seems like the closest thing. My desire to show and tell my friends I care about them is as intense as my desire to have those words and actions reciprocated. But like so many men, I haven't quite figured out how to transition a surface-level friendship to a deeper platonic connection. I'm finally starting to get there with my laundry friends, but I never would have spent enough time with them for that to happen, had it not been for the weekly laundry excuse for inviting myself over. Historically I don't get invited to things because I don't have close friends to begin with - instead I seek out organized events and hope to connect with someone there. I'm getting a little better at reaching out and setting things up, but I feel bad when I'm the one initiating not just the first hangout but also the second and third.

I'm 25, demimale (he/they), heterosexual, and hetero-romantic.
posted by gray17 to Human Relations (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds weird but my first thought was maybe get a dog? You need something to pour some of your excess love into that will love you back without all the complexities of human relationships. I can also recommend parakeet or cockatiels as pets that reward your attention.
posted by metahawk at 8:44 PM on December 6, 2020 [11 favorites]

Get a lap cat. Go to the shelter and ask for the neediest cuddlebug they have. If you haven’t had pets before you may think you can’t really love them that much, but listen. Someday that cat is going to be strolling along easy as you please, and then you’re gonna say her name and she’s going to pick up her pace to run over to you and you’re gonna start crying cause you love her so much.

May also work with a dog, bird, or other animal, but I haven’t tested those myself personally.
posted by brook horse at 9:18 PM on December 6, 2020 [23 favorites]

I was just coming to say "how about a pet" and yeah, if you can even stand animals, maybe at least try fostering a cat or dog? Or pet-sitting? I didn't realize how much I needed a dog until I had one around for a while (pet sitting) and went "I have GOT to get me one of these"
posted by The otter lady at 9:22 PM on December 6, 2020

Like definitely keep working on the human relationships aspect—not saying you don’t still need that human reciprocation—but a pet can take a lot of the edge off while you do that.
posted by brook horse at 9:22 PM on December 6, 2020

Right yes-- I am very, er, I think demisexual is the word? Takes me a lot of connection and romance with very firm preferances before I start to twang sexually?-- but I have so much chaste love and cuddles and friendship that needs to be given, and dogs and cats are excellent targets for this.
posted by The otter lady at 9:27 PM on December 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am someone who craves connection and has a lot of love to give, too, and it can be a tough way to be in the world. Polyamory does work well for me, even as an introvert. Pre-pandemic, cuddle parties and, uh, parties of a more intimate nature also helped--I wasn't usually forming lasting connections there (though sometimes I did!), but they took the edge off, so to speak. Oxytocin and endorphins and just having a good time with people in the moment, and all that.

But honestly what's helped most is spending some serious time introspecting (sometimes with the help of a therapist) about what that love and connection means for me, what I think I'm getting out of it, what I think I want when I want to "give my love". Sometimes that leads to me realizing I can get that in another way (community volunteering, exercise I enjoy, connection with the few members of my family I still feel connected to), other times it's led to me realizing I don't actually need it at all (because my brain is telling me I need connection and/or touch to prove to myself that I'm lovable or hot or whatever).

Your brain my vary, of course, but I really do recommend taking some time to think about it. Because that over-dependence on attachment? It doesn't make for long-lasting healthy relationships. I think you can still revel in being someone with a lot of love who thrives on connection while not also needing to depend on attachment to a partner for your overall happiness and wellbeing. Not saying it's easy, but for me it's been so worth it.

All that said, I absolutely have friends who are similarly full of love and crave connection and who found great success getting a pet. Pets are not for me for many reasons, but I occasionally see how happy my friends' cats make them and wonder if I should change my mind about them.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:45 PM on December 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

The previous answers are correct. A pet needs love and you never run the risk of overstepping, and loving "too much." It is easier to find someone to love, if one focuses on others, rather than oneself. A quick count in your post shows 70+ uses of a personal pronoun (I, me, mine). Think outside that box. You are a smart, expressive person. Use your skills to focus on others and their needs for love rather than your own. I do mean this kindly.
posted by woman at 10:09 PM on December 6, 2020 [5 favorites]

What about working with a kid? This could range anywhere from a tutoring gig to becoming a CASA (court appointed special advocate) if they have them in your area to taking in a foster kid to adopting to having your own kid with a partner or via a donor egg and a surrogate.

You absolutely should not have a kid or even work with a kid for the sake of filling a hole in your own life, BUT if you’re interested for any other reasons, I think you would find it incredibly rewarding. Most kids are love magnets, whether through physical touch (if appropriate given your role) or praise or even just simply paying attention to them. And there are so many kids in the foster system or in difficult home situations who can’t get the love they crave - here would be a way to care deeply about someone and help them while you’re getting some love and connection back.

Obviously, COVID complicates this, but I don’t think it’s impossible, especially with Zoom tutoring/mentoring, etc. Having an adult (or yet another one) they know cares deeply for them and is willing to advocate them is a huge gift to give a child - and a huge honor to receive as an adult.

Feel free to email me if you’d like help finding an organization to work with - I volunteered with, tutored, and taught a wide age range of kids before becoming a mom, so I’m somewhat plugged in to the type of options out there, if not the specifics in your area.

And if you’re not a kid person, that’s fine too! As others mentioned, pets are great love magnets too, and if you rescue an animal you get the same feeling of contributing to society/helping someone as well as forming a bond that helps make you happy.
posted by bananacabana at 10:16 PM on December 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think you're wise to reflect on your current relationship with the concept of love. It sounds like you're a very good person but also that you love love more than actually love specific people. To the point that it's about seeking validation and seeming codependent in various ways. It can unintentionally attract people who aren't healthy and scare away those who are, so that's something to be mindful of. It would scare me away tbh, which is too bad because you're clearly a good person. Now in my thirties, I sometimes I get this from men also in their 30s and 40s who seem to be looking for a relationship with me... or actually just anyone who is "adequate." Which can mean they are open-minded -- good! -- or that they have a blandness and desperation -- and lack of interest in the real me -- which always makes me reject these otherwise lovely people. At 25, you are far away from this and doing the work now: you will definitely have a good sense of it all by then, regardless of whether you're single or in a relationship/s. But right now I hear you saying you want a relationship but I also don't hear any specifics about what or who you want. My therapist once encouraged me to make a list of things I want in a partner/date and stick to it because I can get very distracted and like everyone. Which is fine but not leading me in the direction I want. What do you want in your romantic relationships, like what does "love" actually mean to you? I'd pick it apart; there's no right or wrong answer.

I don't mean to criticize you all that, just say I get an intense vibe that's kinda off-putting, which surely isn't your intention as you seem super sweet. There's no judgment and I don't want you to feel ashamed or embarrassed but I felt I needed to say it out of respect for your feedback request. I am a very intense person, too, and I've looked to relationships as a sort of panacea for other things in my life that were missing. My experience taught me that therapy was needed for fully understanding my needs and wants. As you know, therapy can be incredibly beneficial even if it turns out you've got a healthy perspective on all of this.

Just to comment on previous suggestions, which are all lovely: I love my pet but pets are not right for everyone. I think volunteering is awesome but would recommend you not take on any responsibility for individual kids until you've self-reflected more and established better boundaries. It's really important that we don't take on their stuff as a way to avoid our own or fulfill our own needs to give. I think polyamory is a great thing to keep exploring as you've had good experiences and it seems like a good match. It's cool that your church is such a great source of fulfillment for you. There was an interesting Washington Post article on how some men are finding they want and need deeper friendships due to COVID limitations; I think this applies to many people these days.

For me, friendships have been extra important. I need more intense friendships than many people do, even as an ambivert, and it feels good to give and receive that platonic love. I have learned to prioritize friendships over dating and that's made me a lot happier. Good dating matches are amazing but most people simply aren't and we can't base our lives about an uncertainity. And even if you're happily in relationship or relationships, you still want to make sure your relationship with yourself is strong. Good luck with your reflections and efforts! With your mindset of growth and openness, I think you will find the answers you are looking and connections you want!
posted by smorgasbord at 11:10 PM on December 6, 2020 [13 favorites]

Coincidentally I just this morning read a quote from Buddhism that might be somewhat relevant here:

"to love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love"

I thought of this when I read your paragraph about how it went with your latest encounter.

Before I go on, I want to offer the disclaimer that I really chime with how you feel. Sometimes I feel so full of love for people I could explode, and when I was younger, I used to try and release some of that energy in ways which weren't great for me or, sometimes, other people.

Another problem is that the word "love" covers so much in the english language. Have you heard the song "Alone Again, Or" by Love? I think that I could be in love with almost everyone, I think that people are the greatest fun - does that chime with you? It does with me! But that feeling is different to the deep, rock solid respect, appreciation, and reciprocal safety and acceptance that I feel with a long-term partner. Love is so complicated and many-faceted we need 100 words for it, one is nowhere near enough. With that in mind, we have to be kind of careful about how we use the word, and how it is understood, and how it makes people feel. Action is separate from intent.

ANYWAY. Here are the actual points I wanted to make.

If you want to love people for them and not just for you, you must take the time to learn how to do it, or you will wound them. (as per the Buddhist quote above). By this I mean, taking much more time to learn about them, to understand them. If you frightened off a potential paramour by having a conversation that might have been fairly intense (it would have felt that way to me) relatively early on, I do not think you are putting the effort in that you need to, to learn about people - you are just blasting them with your love the only way you know how. Stop - listen, learn, gently test the water, stay true to yourself but temper it with time and patience.

Having a handful of close friends is hugely helpful when trying to have a monogamous relationship - you can do it without, but it's harder. Expecting one person to fulfil all your needs is generally not realistic - that person is highly unlikely to exist. Meeting someone who you can love deeply is so wonderful and precious, don't heap burdens on top of them like needing to enjoy this, or wanting them to make time for that. Find as much as you can of what you need in your friends and communities, and keep a nice open space for love to grow in when you find it, to let that person show you who they are without feeling they need to be everything you want them to be. You say you're getting better at meeting new people and forming new friendships - just keep at it, keep working at it. You're at a disadvantage being male, you might not have been socialised with as many of the tools as woman have. And it's hard - it takes time, years sometimes, to build those connections. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth it!

Good luck. I hope this massive tome was somewhat helpful to you. Memail if you'd like to chat more about it!
posted by greenish at 2:27 AM on December 7, 2020 [14 favorites]

Take up a hobby that does not include women or their opinion of you. Throw away all your sentimentally kept past times. Change the position of your bed. I am just seeing you be a creature of old habits that rarely change your outcome. You want someone to need you and you havent found a need in yourself yet. (Just an opinion ) Get close to a Male relative or father figure. Get them to show you your inner loner
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 2:51 AM on December 7, 2020

Something to think about is when you say "the love builds up in me," that makes me think if you were "in love" with me, it wouldn't be about me at all. For me, that's not actually romantic love of the reciprocal sort.

I mention this because I think if you addressed this situation and those feelings as need, or fear, or ego, you might find alternative solutions. The story you're telling yourself about what's going on may not be serving your long-term goals.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:50 AM on December 7, 2020 [18 favorites]

Also, something to consider: friendship is as much about what you do in the time apart as it is the time you spend together. Do you text your laundry friends during the week, like a “hi, thinking of you” or send a picture or meme they may like? Do you ask them about themselves & then check up, like you ask them how their big work presentation went that evening, after they had mentioned it a few days before or wish them luck that morning? Due to COVID, social outings are limited but you can invite them to go on a walk or the like! All the love and kindness you put towards romantic partners can be put towards friends. Obviously the physical element is usually different but there are a lot of other parallels. Also, there’s an edition of the Five Love Languages for single people. It talks about how we can best express and receive love with family and friends so I found it a worthy read!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:15 AM on December 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

I really think volunteering could be helpful for you—cuddling shelter animals if your area allows it, maybe? I deliver food weekly to a senior citizen through a food bank program and while some weeks she doesn’t need a delivery, i think she always appreciates the human contact when I call her to check in. It sounds like something like that, or bananacabana’s suggestion, could help meet your needs for connection and wanting to give of yourself emotionally. And working through your own issues and thoughts around “love” as smorgasbord sums up.

I think having lots of love to give us wonderful, but I also think I’d be put off if I were the target of your limerence before I felt like you even really knew me.
posted by music for skeletons at 8:52 AM on December 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think you (like many people) would benefit from reading the books, "How to be an Adult in Relationships" and/or "How to be an Adult in Love" by David Richo (you can also take a course or just preview it to get started). Learning and practicing how to give and receive healthy, adult love will set you up to have the love you want.
posted by acridrabbit at 12:40 PM on December 7, 2020

I am worried you are putting a lot of pressure on the people in your life to help you manage your emotions and to meet your needs. You said in three of your four longer-term relationships, your partner set boundaries and put the brakes on. And you also mentioned you started talking outside of work with a colleague for just a few weeks when you asked if you could say "I love you," and it sounds like that scared her off a bit. It seems like maybe you like pushing things a bit, and having the person push back. I think it might be good to reflect on why you are waiting for others to set these boundaries. I wonder why you raised that issue with your coworker for example. If you know that "I love you" is a big deal to folks, then I wonder if you might find a way to use other words to communicate your feelings: "I really like you," "I'm glad we're connecting," "This is feeling great," or "I'm really glad we are spending time together." There are lots of ways to express positive emotions towards people that might not feel so overwhelming to them.

I know you said you are demimale, but I think you're probably familiar with the stereotypical situation where men expect a lot of emotional support and from their women partners. I know a lot of women who spend a lot of energy basically helping their male partners regulate their emotions. Of course sometimes it's healthy and mutual, but I worry a bit you are telling yourself a story (that you have so much love) to sort of justify putting all this pressure on your partner.

You said you didn't think you could maintain more than one serious relationship. Do you think you could maintain one serious or semi-serious relationship and one or two more casual relationships? If you can date more casually (in Covid safe ways etc), maybe that would be a good way to approach this. Non-monogamy doesn't necessarily mean dating more than one person seriously; it just means you might not be on a typical relationship escalator with everyone you date.

A friend of mine reminds me a bit of you. He put so much pressure on his girlfriend to be his everything -- and it was overwhelming and exhausting for her. She asked in so many ways for a tiny bit more space, to not have to be his sounding board for everything. He ended up driving her away with all his needs. It would be good to think about managing your emotions a bit more, continuing to development strong, authentic relationships with men, and perhaps dating a bit more casually.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:02 PM on December 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

You absolutely should not have a kid or even work with a kid for the sake of filling a hole in your own life, BUT if you’re interested for any other reasons, I think you would find it incredibly rewarding. Most kids are love magnets, whether through physical touch (if appropriate given your role) or praise or even just simply paying attention to them. And there are so many kids in the foster system or in difficult home situations who can’t get the love they crave - here would be a way to care deeply about someone and help them while you’re getting some love and connection back.

I strongly push back on this. Kids who need a CASA or are in the foster system need someone who is kind and caring but is willing and able to set firm emotional boundaries and is very, very sensitive of where the kid is at emotionally. They do not need someone who is simply looking to pour love onto someone else. You can't take a kid who may have serious attachment issues (whether over or under-attachment) and parents/parental figures who may be very, very wary of possible challenges to them and then go and tell them you love them after a few weeks of knowing them. OP, right now it seems like you have some shit to sort out with respect to yourself and your expectations of others in relationships. That is not what a child in the foster/court system needs.

It is totally OK to be a loving, caring person, but it sounds like you are focusing on your needs and not the needs of others. I think that most people understand that it is largely inappropriate to tell someone "I love you" after only a few weeks of just talking to them because that puts a lot of pressure on the other person to reciprocate way, waaaaaay before they are ready to. That is not a loving act. It is a selfish one.

I encourage you to keep reaching out to people and keep trying to form platonic friendships. Not going to lie, it is really, really hard as an adult. It can take a lot of false starts before something can get going, and the age of Covid makes it even harder. Have you tried meeting people through the people in your congregation? Through your new friends? Sometimes it is easier to get friend-of-a-friend relationships going than starting from scratch with a stranger.
posted by schroedinger at 4:54 PM on December 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yeah n-thing many times over what schroedinger said. A child is NOT AN APPROPRIATE VESSEL FOR YOUR FEELINGS AT ALL given the level of emotion you feel and described. Just, no.

Pets! Pets! Pets! Low risk, depending on the pet, highly receptive to constant stimuli from caretakers. I'm close with a family and their puppy adores me and it absolutely blows my mind how much the dang puppy loves loves loves LOVES and doesn't get tired of being pet, cuddled, played with, etc. It might also help to invest some of your energy into other hobbies and projects to develop your sense of self outside of your interactions with other people. It's really good to know how to be legitimately peaceful alone, on your own.
posted by erattacorrige at 6:51 PM on December 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

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