Unlinking my day-to-day happiness from romantic partnership
June 20, 2021 10:03 PM   Subscribe

The standard recommendation for chronically single people is to learn how to be happy alone, and to not wait for a partner to do things you want to do. But I already do the things I want to do, and never enjoy myself nearly as much as when I’m doing those things with a partner. In fact, when I’m single, the frequency/magnitude of my day-to-day life enjoyment is dramatically lower than when I’m partnered. So what do I need to do to have an enjoyable life?

I have what I consider to be a full life and a range of hobbies, some of which are solitary and some of which involve others. I “date myself.” I go out to eat alone, go to events I want to go to alone, go sightseeing in new cities alone, etc. I’m usually fine being by myself, even for the stretches that I was alone during COVID. I don’t usually get self conscious about doing things alone, and it’s not that I dislike being alone or am lamenting the fact that I’m alone when I am. But these solo activities usually feel like a fine way to pass the time at best- if I rated my enjoyment and anticipation of these activities, it’d be about 2-3/10. I almost never look forward to them.

Part of the problem is, what I like about the activities I like isn’t the activity itself. Instead, what I enjoy is being part of a running commentary/banter with others about the thing, and getting to share the experience and memory of that thing with someone I care about as part of a lasting relationship I have with that person. Because of this, I find that I experience a pretty heavy ceiling on my happiness when I’m doing something alone because I’m missing the main thing I enjoy about doing things.

Significantly compounding this problem, this need for companionship and connection is only somewhat met by doing these activities with friends, and not at all by dating casually. I usually enjoy day-to-day activities maybe 4-6/10 with friends, vs 6-10/10 with partners, even in a multi-year LTR. I’ve reflected a bit on why I enjoy myself so much more with partners than friends, and I think it’s because I’m giving and receiving romantic affection while doing the thing. In addition, unlike with friends, where we usually spend a few hours together and then we’re done, with a partner, I know that I get to go home and spend more time with them doing other things I enjoy (such as having sex, or just existing in the same space together quietly with someone I love). There is also just less dedicated, focused mutual investment in enjoying our time together with friends, I find. As a result of all this, spending time with a romantic partner recharges me like almost nothing else does.

While I think it’s okay that I value romantic companionship tremendously and it’s also okay to have needs around that, I don’t think it’s healthy for my life satisfaction to be so dependent on having a partner. I don’t want to have a feeling of waiting for a partner for my life to begin. I also don’t want my life enjoyment and fulfillment to go off a cliff when I break up with someone, which is what tends to happen, even once I’m over the grief of the breakup. In addition, I know a relationship isn’t a guarantee of meeting these needs. I know that feeling like your need for romantic connection isn’t being met while in a relationship is sometimes even more crushing, and having a relationship doesn’t guarantee that you get to have positive experiences even sometimes, let alone frequently. I also know that enjoyment often goes down over time in a relationship. So it’s a priority for me to figure out how to lessen the intensity of this need, reduce the negative impact of the lack of this need being met on my life, and/or find some way to meet this need independently.

The options I’ve thought of so far are:
*Somehow find a way to change my experience of being alone and/or with friends, although I’m sincerely already in the moment and doing my best to mindfully focus on appreciating the experience, rather than comparing it to how I’d feel with a partner or lamenting my singleness.
*Keep doing what I’m doing, appreciate my life for what it is (it is an objectively good life!), and accept that I may not have the magnitude or frequency of happiness that I had hoped to have in my life. I realize that not getting everything you want is a fact of life. I imagine the way I feel might be similar in some ways to really feeling a strong need to have biological children to have a satisfying life, but having a very hard time conceiving.

I’m working on this in therapy but I wanted suggestions from people who have worked on this for themselves, too. Input would be much appreciated!
posted by deus ex machina to Human Relations (37 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think you should feel bad or defective for enjoying activities more with company than not. It's just a matter of personal preference. This did strike me a bit, though, when it comes to activities with partners vs. activities with friends:

I’ve reflected a bit on why I enjoy myself so much more with partners than friends, and I think it’s because I’m giving and receiving romantic affection while doing the thing. In addition, unlike with friends, where we usually spend a few hours together and then we’re done, with a partner, I know that I get to go home and spend more time with them doing other things I enjoy (such as having sex, or just existing in the same space together quietly with someone I love)

I don't think I'm being supremely cynical in saying that this sounds more like the early stages of a relationship than the average experience in a long-term relationship. Even if you're lucky enough to find a steady and enduring affection, man, sometimes you're just running tedious errands with the kid wailing at you from the backseat or the shopping cart, or one of you has the runs and would give anything not to be there but they know you won't find the right widget at Home Depot on your own, or whatever. Life, even the happiest married life, just isn't a nonstop date. How many genuinely long-term relationships did you have where you felt this all or even most of the time?

The desire to feel like you're on a nonstop date--that's what I'd be interrogating. Because you can prioritize being partnered more--that is, be willing to sacrifice more for it than you have been. But you'd want to be confident that you could get what you wanted out of a reasonably successful partnership. Setting aside flirtation, is it security and a sense of permanence ("just existing in the same space together quietly with someone I love") you want? Do you have steady relationships of mutual care outside the romantic sphere? I don't have a partner right now, but I can enjoy being cozily domestic with close long-term friends, or with immediate family members. Those relationships also require that you invest in and value them, though, and it sounds right now that you have them slotted in your head as merely second-best ("There is also just less dedicated, focused mutual investment in enjoying our time together with friends").
posted by praemunire at 11:38 PM on June 20, 2021 [24 favorites]


Would it help if you get better... "quality" instead of "quantity"?
posted by kschang at 12:53 AM on June 21, 2021


Going out to eat, going to events, going sightseeing are all great activites, but do you have hobbies? A hobby can be incredibly fulfilling in itself--by yourself-- and can often open up doors for further socializing. If you like knitting, take a class at a local yarn shop or join a knitting or crafting group. Like to cook or watching cooking shows, look for classes or a cooking club. Are you a reader or want to be more of one? Book club -- public libraries often have open groups. Try cultivating a hobby or two and see where that brings you.
posted by carrioncomfort at 5:03 AM on June 21, 2021 [4 favorites]


Those relationships also require that you invest in and value them, though, and it sounds right now that you have them slotted in your head as merely second-best

100% agree. The people I know who are the happiest in their single lives are the ones who have made a lot of investment in their friendships: they go on holidays with their friends, they go dog-walking with their friend every day, they spend Christmas with their friends, they help their friends move or fit a kitchen (true story), they host dinners, and they are always texting or calling their friends.
posted by moiraine at 5:11 AM on June 21, 2021 [10 favorites]


Part of the problem is, what I like about the activities I like isn’t the activity itself. Instead, what I enjoy is being part of a running commentary/banter with others about the thing, and getting to share the experience and memory of that thing with someone I care about as part of a lasting relationship I have with that person. Because of this, I find that I experience a pretty heavy ceiling on my happiness when I’m doing something alone because I’m missing the main thing I enjoy about doing things.

I've been alone for more than 20 years now. In the past, I went to many events alone. After a concert or movie or reading, etc., anything where I would want that banter or the after-discussion, no matter how much I might enjoy the event itself, I was always unhappy and a bit depressed on the drive home alone. So, I don't do that any more. I invite a friend or friends who I think will enjoy the event. I don't get to go to everything I'd like, but I enjoy the events I do go to with friends.
posted by Dolley at 6:39 AM on June 21, 2021 [5 favorites]


It sounds to me in a way like you are craving limerence, or in its milder form, New Relationship Energy (NRE - see polyamorous communities for the concept) so that might be something to explore.

The thing about limerence is that it's a very big, intense feeling that (IMO) has a nice role in pair-bonding, but it's not necessarily a great foundation for a secure, low-drama lifestyle or, I dare say, long-term happiness in some ways, especially if you mistake your brain on limerence for "how life in a relationship will be all the time."

I thought I remembered some past questions that you had about relationships so I looked back and I found that you have tended to move reasonably quickly (like talking about moving in together around 4 months in, etc.) and talked about having an anxious attachment style, and to me that does point to you being a person who probably does experience a high degree of limerence.

Anyways, the thing about limerence is that for me anyway, it's a bit of a drug. Expecting my life to feel like it does when I'm experiencing it would be like being unhappy in my career because it doesn't always feel like the excitement of a holiday. Seeing that feeling as a once-in-a-while party feeling rather than The Way Things Should Be has freed me to really connect with things in a different way that at this point in my life is more solid and brings more deep joy. Just some thoughts for you as you explore.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:41 AM on June 21, 2021 [11 favorites]


I have a partner who can't do the things I would like to do, like going to the cinema. Previously I was also single for many years. I agree with you that there is a huge amount of enjoyment in sharing experiences with another person, and that this is multiplied if they are someone we have a strong relationship with. Doing things by myself means that I only get the enjoyment of the experience itself, not the conversations about it, nor the nostalgic revisiting later, nor the relationship building.

Some things I will go to things with a friend. This is better than going with a group of friends. For longer things, like vacations, I've deliberately started choosing group experiences even with people I've never met before as they give me a different emotional response. Some things I choose not to do alone, or only if the pleasure I will get from doing the activity by myself is higher than the pleasure I'd get from eg sitting at home and reading a book.

The people I know who are happiest while single, are those who cultivate very strong and deep relationships with close friends and/or family. I think it makes the sum of those relationships at least equal to the bond you can get with a partner.
posted by plonkee at 6:51 AM on June 21, 2021 [3 favorites]


what I enjoy is being part of a running commentary/banter with others about the thing

Long time friends are great but sometimes what makes a friend wonderful is their consistency, not their ability to contribute witty banter. No shade on your current friends, but maybe consider expanding your current network to include those that have a similar sense of humor?

It’s harder to make friends as an adult so this may not be an easy task.
posted by mundo at 6:54 AM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]


Have you considered adopting (or, for starters, borrowing) a dog? A dog provides a reason to go out and do things, and also comes home with you at the end of the day.
posted by eraserbones at 7:10 AM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]


Tussling with this too, after divorce + pandemic lockdown.

Something that's helped me is doing different, sometimes new, activities by myself than I did when I was married. It means I don't have that invidious comparison always in the back of my mind. The activity is what it is!

Now, I definitely also do things that I also did while married, to be sure. (Not giving up my favorite theatre company! Not no way, not nohow! Anyway, he never liked it as much as I did.) But the admixture of new things to do takes some of the sting out of the old ones, I find.
posted by humbug at 7:41 AM on June 21, 2021 [2 favorites]


First, you've done a lot of work on this, and I commend you on that. I think you're at the point where you've considered everything n number of times. Most of the responses you get may not be new ideas for you. But sometimes it just takes one new story or analogy to help me grasp something I intellectually know but haven't yet internalized. So I hope these help.

So, hi, you're an extrovert. That's (more than) okay! The only downside for you is you need a romantic partner in order to be happy. While this isn't objectively a good or bad thing, is it helping you now, in your life? I think not. I basically have 3 pieces of advice that I encourage you to do essentially all at once.

1. To nurture self-sufficiency, find a hobby you care about. Activities and hobbies fall into different categories depending on how socially-conducive they are. (1) Must be done solo- for e.g. reading, journaling, swimming laps, going for a fast run, photography, drawing. (2) Can be equally enjoyable solo or with a partner/friend - a group class, going to the gym, walking, hiking, shopping, watching a movie at home, attending a friend's party or wedding, traveling. (3) Typically more often done with someone, rather than solo- eating out, watching a movie at the theater, going to a concert, etc.

It really stood out to me that you don't enjoy the activity for itself, but more for the parallel activity of talking about it with someone. Well, that's your problem right there! You haven't yet come across an activity in Category (1) or (2) that you enjoy -- or care about -- so much you're not thinking about anything else. What's happening when you're solo is you're doing the thing and thinking of other things ("This would be more fun with someone else"). You need something that takes you out of your head. You want something you're focusing on because you want to do it right, or you're enjoying it so much you're not thinking about anything else (or both). Try more activities from category 1 & 2, and try to find things you genuinely truly, love doing, and don't wish to be disturbed while you're doing them..! Explore. Get adventurous. Do something new you'll be proud of. Try a challenging class in something you've always wanted to learn -- fencing, surfing, cooking, dancing.

2. To tend to your extrovertedness, do more group activities (uh, global pandemics permitting). Do more things for which you don't need to depend on friends and which don't require much emotional investment on your part. Pilates, yoga, meetup.com, workshops, classes, volunteering. People typically go to these things alone and maybe that will help you feel okay going solo. Also, the people at these activities are generally chatty and friendly, and you'll have fun!

3. Accept that human beings are inherently alone. Okay, this got dark. Hear me out. We come into this world alone and we leave this world alone. In the meantime, we fall in love, and start relationships and friendships. Even in the best of relationships, at the end of the day you only have yourself. That's not a bad thing. It just is. I want you to appreciate yourself more. You can do hard things, and you can build a life you love. Not merely an objectively good life, but one that is for you and that you LOVE.
posted by Taro at 8:29 AM on June 21, 2021 [14 favorites]


If you're already in therapy I would second having a look at attachment styles. Also, Schema Therapy is something I have found very useful in terms of identifying patterns and exploring the underlying causes. I used to blow off this type of stuff in favour of a more present-focused approach (mindfulness, CBT etc) but I have actually found the identifying schemas and thinking about the fears/reasons driving them has been more effective and long-lasting.
posted by cultureclash82 at 8:32 AM on June 21, 2021 [4 favorites]


How many genuinely long-term relationships did you have where you felt this all or even most of the time?

How many non-abusive relationships does anybody have where they don't?

they gave an unflowery, unpoeticized, unpassionate, determinedly de-romanticized and de-sentimentalized bare-bones description of what it's like to be with someone you love who loves you back. Interrogation & undermining of such a humble and realistic desire doesn't really work, there's nothing in it to debunk or to make ridiculous. It doesn't ring true to pretend away normal lasting adult love, such as many of us have been in, as an adolescent fantasy or a non-stop unrealistic dating life or whatever.

you can get this with a best friend, including the living-together quiet at home parts, but I don't think it's any easier to find a serious friend like that than to find a serious romantic partner. but there are usually more people available to try it out with.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:40 AM on June 21, 2021 [22 favorites]


"Instead, what I enjoy is being part of a running commentary/banter with others about the thing, and getting to share the experience and memory of that thing with someone I care about as part of a lasting relationship I have with that person."

As an interim step, you can do these solo activities and share them to social media. That's a vehicle to opening up your solo experiences to indirectly-shared ones. You'd be soliciting the commentary and banter that you wish for, and who knows where that might lead to for an actual shared experience.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:46 AM on June 21, 2021 [3 favorites]


As a total loner, I just wanted to tell you that your desire for romantic companionship is completely normal and you should honor it.

I know dating is absolutely hellish and scary, but have you tried any methods other then apps? If having a romantic partner is something that really makes your life worthwhile, there's no shame in going for it the same way someone else might go for their dream career or for a child. (If you've tried EVERYTHING, forgive my yenta tendencies...)
posted by kingdead at 8:54 AM on June 21, 2021 [2 favorites]


I relate to this question a lot, and while I agree with some of the answers (“the qualities you’re looking for are limerence/NRE—unsustainable”), I also think they’re also a bit too cynical. If you partner up with a person you love to talk to, they will (hopefully) remain a person you love to talk to for decades! Not every day, month, or year will be good and easy, but there’s always potential for good times.

After a few years of being single (mid 30s), my yearning for this has diminished somewhat. I live in a large shared house with multiple couples. The shared house part means that I end up cleaning up after other people (something that’s very common in partnered relationships) and I look forward to a time where I only have to take care of my own messes. (Though there is the flip side of wishing that on my bad mental health days, someone else could help me create meals). Living with multiple couples means that occasionally I witness/overhear emotional conflict or friction. That means there are days when I’m definitely happy that I’m single and not “responsible” for anyone else’s wellbeing.

I’ve grown my life around this yearning for a relationship in a way that may not make the desire smaller overall, but definitely smaller relative to my life as a whole. Some of that is time passing, some is circumstance, but I think there’s also an element of actively choosing things without considering how it would impact a hypothetical partner. Ie: I’m planning to move to the mountains and buy a house-one that would be too small for two people, and too far from a metro area for me to easily date. But I believe I would find that life enjoyable, so I’m pursuing it even though it might complicate an LTR… that doesn’t exist yet.

Through a few years of having dating be 100% off the table, I’ve gotten to a point where dating (a necessary precursor to a relationship) would cost me too much of the life I’ve built for myself. Relationships take so much time! And right now I’m glad I don’t *have to* share mine with anyone else. Unless I really want to.
posted by itesser at 8:56 AM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Two points of clarification about things that have come up a few times.

One, as I said in the post, I have a lot of hobbies- I actually deleted a whole paragraph where I described all them because it felt like more information than was needed. I do some either alone or with friends (reading, art, baking, climbing) and some in group classes (dance/acrobatics/flexibility).

Two, I really adore my friends, and they meet a lot of these needs for banter and relationship building. They’re hilarious and deeply loving and we joke about all moving onto a commune together. However, I think it’s realistic to observe that there are companionship needs that are uniquely met in romantic relationships. Otherwise, aside from procreation, why do any of us enter into romantic partnerships, when we could just have friends? Those are the needs that I’m settling with not being able to meet on my own.
posted by deus ex machina at 9:02 AM on June 21, 2021 [6 favorites]


The happiest I ever was as a single person was right after ending a 10-year relationship. I felt that I had seen what couplehood had to offer and was ready to try something else. Have you ever felt that feeling after a breakup? Can you tap into it?
posted by 8603 at 9:33 AM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]


Yeah, what you're describing about the experience of a long-term relationship - observing and bantering together, being affectionate, going home together, existing comfortably in a shared space, and having sex - does not at all read as limerence to me. On the contrary, it seems like you're drawn to the depth, coziness, and intimacy of a more advanced romantic relationship.

I remember your past questions as well, because they have struck me with their clarity of self-insight. You've done a lot of great work on yourself and it shows. I think you're well positioned to begin a lasting relationship - the only issue is that you can't get there alone. You have to find someone who is ready in the way you're ready, and that takes time, trial, and error. It can be a painful process when you're longing for real love. But I don't think you need to fight that longing.

Once I was telling a therapist that I was struggling really hard to "accept" the circumstances of my life. I was trying to feel at peace with the way things were, even though I lacked some things I deeply wanted. She asked if instead I could accept that I couldn't accept my life at that time. Can you be at peace with the fact that you're not at peace? Can you be patient with your impatience? Can you honor your yearning and the signals it gives you about what you value in life? In time releasing some of this pressure to enjoy yourself might give you more space to enjoy yourself. Or it will just help you bide your time until you get what you really want. But right now I think you're struggling against yourself to be as happy alone as you are partnered, which is just adding to your net struggle.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 9:53 AM on June 21, 2021 [28 favorites]


Interrogation & undermining of such a humble and realistic desire doesn't really work, there's nothing in it to debunk or to make ridiculous. It doesn't ring true to pretend away normal lasting adult love, s

Normal lasting adult love, in my experience and what I've observed of friends/family, involves a significant period of time when you are working together on tedious or unpleasant practical matters as a team, without flirting or having sex or soaking in each other's existence nearby. It also involves getting through periods where you may not (for any number of reasons) be feeling all that great about your partner or the nature of your relationship with them, but there you are, still doing things with them. Getting through that without the heady hormonal stuff that, at best, comes and goes once the relationship is no longer brand-new shows real commitment and connection. I don't know a long-term couple (into whose relationship I have any visibility, of course) who hasn't had to do it.

OP explained what they want in a relationship that friends can't give them. In my opinion, and if I understood OP correctly (sorry OP, if not) you can't expect a partner to provide those particular experiences most of the time, over a long period of time, especially when the people involved are younger, less mature, and still changing at a fair rate of speed. You get it sometimes; hopefully more often than not. I'm not sure where you got the idea that I was arguing that it never happens or they could never have it. Since they're not happy with their current approach and soliciting suggestions, my suggestion is simply that they recognize this, and look to expand the number/type of connections from which they could get what they're looking for. Our society often pushes us not to recognize the broader possibilities of human connection outside a monogamous romantic coupling.
posted by praemunire at 10:02 AM on June 21, 2021 [5 favorites]


OP - "One, as I said in the post, I have a lot of hobbies- I actually deleted a whole paragraph where I described all them because it felt like more information than was needed. I do some either alone or with friends (reading, art, baking, climbing) and some in group classes (dance/acrobatics/flexibility)."

To be clear, my suggestion wasn't to get more hobbies, it was to find a hobby or hobbies that engrosses you to the point where you get intrinsic enjoyment from it and look forward to doing it and making progress in it (whatever "progress" means for you in that thing). A hobby that is 7 or 8/10 on the enjoyment scale without any ongoing banter. The way you described it, "these solo activities usually feel like a fine way to pass the time at best- if I rated my enjoyment and anticipation of these activities, it’d be about 2-3/10. I almost never look forward to them."

To me, that's not a hobby, it's a chore. Like doing the dishes or grocery shopping. Of course, it's more fun with a friend, or even better -- with your lover! The problem with this, as I see it, is not you -- it's that you haven't found things you love doing and could do for hours on end. (Now, if you say that normally fun things have lately felt like chores, then that's a whole other thing to explore). Even the most extreme extroverts I know (and several of them are single) have one or two things they love doing simply for the sake of it -- art, working out, developing their career, volunteering, etc.

Finding hobby or hobbies you care about will not change your life dramatically and solve all your problems (and most likely, neither will finding a relationship..), but it will make your daily life more fun and decouple your happiness from the state of being partnered -- whether you remain single or partner up in the future.
posted by Taro at 10:05 AM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Alright, I think the piece around whether what I’m wanting is limerence needs clarification too, and then I’ll stop chiming in.

I’ve been in LTRs with tedium and problems and no NRE, and still, they met my need for day-to-day romantic connection- even when we were just doing chores or running errands together. For example, I have a fond memory of fixing a household item with a partner where we were both grumpy and it kept going wrong but we were working together on it, and that made it special for me. Also, these LTRs involved physical affection (even just hand holding and cuddling while watching a movie) for their duration, which meets a need for me that’s harder to get by hugging friends- which I do a lot! Unless I’m just deluding myself here, I really don’t think I want or need a never ending date. The new relationship hormones are nice, but I actually want the stability and deeper connection that comes after that’s over even more.
posted by deus ex machina at 10:16 AM on June 21, 2021 [5 favorites]


I totally understand how you feel because I've been there! So no judgment for feeling it but I'll also offer some tough love because I needed to realize it myself. Of course, everyone is different and everyone is on their own time schedule...

You are imaging an idealized relationship with an idealized partner who is perfectly or at least almost perfectly matched to you. I know you don't think you are but what about when the person wants a different amount of cuddling, time together, etc.? You seem to have had overall good relationships in your past, which is great but not easy to find. They apparently weren't quite right either so that's also something to consider. No one is perfect and no relationship is perfect. You are outsourcing your happiness based on an imaginary scenario: yes, it's good to have hopes and dreams but not when they get in the way of enjoying your here and now. Of course, that's why you're writing: because you want to enjoy the here and now, and I laud you for that.

To me, the answer was simply putting in the work: asking myself what I wanted and then doing it. Balancing being hopeful and being real. Talking to friends and family who understand, who support me but also ground me. Going to therapy to understand those yearnings and what was behind them. Again, none of this is bad to want -- it's super natural and understandable -- but you have so much power over your attitude and perspective. And right now it sounds a little even like codependency. A happily engaged friend gave me some good perspective recently: the idea of stability and support in a romantic relationship is real but it's also imagined or at least not guaranteed. Even happy relationships eventually end in death! So we need to work on being happy by ourselves and for ourselves. You can grow deeper connections with friends and family. You can have the daily stability and predictability with a pet. You can find a job that gives you a lot of fulfillment. Unfortunately, we cannot always find a relationship, especially not a great one. I think you're asking yourself good questions and well on your path.

Maybe the solution is acknowledging that you want what you want but you will work to find happiness alone in different ways. And that journey of finding true happiness alone is as awesome and valuable as is the journey to search for a partner! Because you probably eventually will be partnered again and how nice to be able to look back upon this great stage in your life as something you enjoyed and grew from!
posted by smorgasbord at 10:24 AM on June 21, 2021 [5 favorites]


I don’t think it’s healthy for my life satisfaction to be so dependent on having a partner. I don’t want to have a feeling of waiting for a partner for my life to begin. I also don’t want my life enjoyment and fulfillment to go off a cliff when I break up with someone, which is what tends to happen, even once I’m over the grief of the breakup.

Well, I'm sorry that I misinterpreted your question, which I didn't take as "please tell me that all I need is the right partner." I do think it's just fine to want a partner. But your question was, I think "why does doing the same things without a partner not feel as good."

For me, when I'm in a new relationship or my relationship is at particular places, it does enhance my daily experiences. Like I'm cooking chili and I'm thinking about my partner tasting the chili and I'm remembering the Ribfest we went to and I'm texting pictures of the chili and we're having a mock argument about whether True Chili has beans and we're talking about the Campbells' Tomato Soup chili we ate as ignorant children.

It is like an amped-up experience of chili making. And it's great.

But I would never make chili again if I could only enjoy chili when it comes with those feelings.

For me it's helpful to see that as not a lack in the chili-making, but an enhancement when it's there. But again, if that doesn't speak to you, then that's fine - it's your process.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:25 AM on June 21, 2021 [7 favorites]


I just want to say that I really identify deeply with your question, and I don't think it has anything to do with being extroverted, nor do I think it's related to limerence. For me, I crave this kind of relationship for two reasons: one, because humans are social animals and we like having a buddy to share our life and space with. Wanting this is normal and does not speak to some kind of problem or deficit. There is nothing wrong with me for wanting this. The other reason I crave this is because I was seriously neglected as a child, and I have a lot of childhood trauma related to attachment and emotional intimacy with other people. Again, this does not mean that there is something wrong with me, but it means that the pain of not having a family is greatly magnified. (I equate having a life partner to having a family.)

The first thing is not in my control, but the second thing absolutely is. Attachment-based therapy with a trauma therapist who specializes in cptsd has really helped me a lot. I still would love to have a buddy to share my life with, but as result of trauma therapy and learning to parent my inner child I am growing more content. Having a life partner may just not be in the cards for me, and while that is a bummer, I am no longer actively grieving it. But I absolutely did have to go through the process of actively grieving this loss, which is much bigger than some nebulous future loss of "maybe I will be alone forever." For me the grief also included mourning all of the neglect and unhealthy attachments I experienced in the past. This may or may not resonate with you or be relevant, but that was my experience when I went through this same concern.
posted by twelve cent archie at 11:06 AM on June 21, 2021 [11 favorites]


I spent most of my adult life thus far, about 15+ years, living alone. Even when in LTRs, of which I would say I had a normal amount (maybe half that time was coupled on and off in 2 year-ish increments?) I maintained a lot of time alone/independence in my day to day. The spread of my time was heavily weighted toward doing things by myself or with friends, who I was deeply connected to (and at times enmeshed with), but I also always wanted a real and lasting romantic relationship. Then, a little over 2 years ago, I met my dude and moved in with him a few months later (right before lock down HA). I'm now navigating my first sustained experience in a truly deep, interdependent cohabitating partnership.

Looking back from the "other side," I spent way too much energy questioning and judging my perception of my own happiness and/or dissatisfaction, vacillating between worrying that I was messed up for not wanting a relationship more, or enough to have settled for someone by that point, or alternatively for wanting it "too much" because clearly since I wasn't effervescently happy all the time single I was dysfunctional somehow. I also often forced myself to do activities I didn't really enjoy doing unpartnered because of this, like I needed to figure out how to do everything available on earth alone and feel the same amount of enjoyment to be a "healthy" person.

If I could do it over knowing what I know now, I would just...chill and do more of what I enjoyed doing single, and less of what I didn't enjoy doing alone. This is especially true because now that I live full time with someone, I have less time and space to do some of those things that are so delicious and luxuriously enjoyable when done in private. Don't get me wrong, I love my partner so so much, but there are pros and cons to both scenarios, and one of the cons is, no matter how much you try to negotiate for personal space and expression in a partnership for both people, you'll always be compromising on some stuff, even if its as dumb as a tv show or the color of the couch. Given that, I personally think the "hack" for the single life isn't to do the things you wish a partner would do for you and with you alone, but to maximize the best of being unpartnered - the freedom of attending to your own whims and tastes without adjusting even a little for another person.

And if you really want to be partnered, chase it without shame. The western narrative that we are all supposed to be really cool with long term autonomous living is legit psychotic, and has been weaponized against all of us (I don't know your gender identification but women are especially gaslit by it). I started to feel much happier generally and had a more fruitful and less painful dating life when I embraced both my idiosyncrasies regardless of what partners would think while also being uncompromising and honest about my desire for a monogamous committed relationship and marriage, full stop.
posted by amycup at 11:10 AM on June 21, 2021 [14 favorites]


Guys, can we take OP at their word that they aren’t looking for limerence, and that they get these needs met in LTRs, even with doing tedious things and with the ups and downs that are part of the package? It seems condescending to tell them that they are imagining an idealized relationship, even though they are telling us that they have experienced it, or that life can be tedious with a partner too! Parts of life are tedious whether you are single or not - romantic relationships still provide something, hence why so many people are in them or want to be. OPs description of what they are looking for strikes me as very normal in a relationship. Yeah, maybe my partner doesn’t want to snuggle as much as me, but I still get a lot more snuggling in my relationship than I do when I’m single.
posted by sillysally at 11:29 AM on June 21, 2021 [9 favorites]


Remember Barbra Streisand singing, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world."
posted by ragtimepiano at 12:20 PM on June 21, 2021


To address the good point that a poster makes about it seeming condescending for some of us to suggest the OP is idealizing relationships: I was one of the people suggesting that. I am speaking out of compassion based on my own experience and perspectives, just as you are. No one is suggesting it's wrong to want what they want but rather that it's more complicated. I have coupled friends who are idealizing single life in the same way. The grass tends to be greener on the other side! Nothing wrong with wanting that but it's good to keep in mind that nothing is perfect.

This question isn't about me but I can relate to so much of it. I'm a late-30s woman who has been single for 3.5 years; these past two years, I've been on dates with about 100 people in the two major cities I lived in in two countries. I am still single. I am happily single but disappointed that I tried so hard and still have no prospects. I still would like to have a good relationship but I also know not to settle. I have younger friends who are dealing with the same challenges. And we have had to learn to enjoy our single lives out of choice and/or necessity. For me this has involved some hard realizations and painful honesty.

For those of you who are happily coupled, I am so glad that you found this joy together and can give hope to those of us who are single and are looking for a relationship. But you are not in the trenches right now: please have compassion for those of us who are, just like the OP, and have strategies and perspectives different than your own. The cool thing about Metafilter is that there are so many different opinions and experiences for people to take or leave. This definitely applies to this question!
posted by smorgasbord at 12:23 PM on June 21, 2021 [5 favorites]


I guess one thing that hasn't really been targeted is that you sound honestly kind of anhedonic, and that's only relieved when you're in a relationship.

Figuring out why you can't get beyond a 3/10 alone, or a 6/10 in company, might help you. That level of flattening, across all your activities, would be concerning to me, especially because it definitely reflects how I thought when I was a) outside a relationship and b) depressed.
posted by sagc at 1:03 PM on June 21, 2021 [10 favorites]


Well for what it's worth, I don't think you're over-idealizing relationships. You're just identifying the thing you like about them, and trying to get to the bottom of why that thing is so critical to you basically getting any enjoyment out of anything.

I definitely used to feel the way you feel about relationships, and even to some extent more strongly so--the last time I was single for a prolonged (many year) period I became severely depressed, and every activity or event made me actively sad, especially when I had to watch other people experience the event with a beloved or whatnot.

Unfortunately the way I got out of it seems to have largely been biochemical. I have written on here before that in my early 30s it was like a switch flipped, and that desperate need to be coupled just faded away. What happened in my early 30s? Not much, except I started taking anti-depressants and got older. So that might not be all that applicable to you if you aren't in fact actually depressed, and you can't "make" the switch flip.

But to the other side of your issue, the not-wanting-to-do-things part...maybe I do have some ideas. I'm no longer someone who needs a partner to enjoy things but I'm still someone who doesn't get into "hobbies" for their own sake--I either want the end result of the hobby (exercise, baking) or it's just something I put up with in order to hang out with people (lord save me from fucking board game nights). But I used to be reluctant to give up activities and hobbies because 1) I wanted people to think I was interesting and 2) I didn't think anyone would just hang out with me.

As such I kind of agree with those on the thread who think maybe your inability to enjoy these things unpartnered just means you don't like the things very much. Are you sticking with these hobbies because you feel obligated? Because you want to be the kind of person who does acrobat work (or whatnot)? Because a person gotta do SOMETHING with their time?

Maybe give this a try: Ditch everything that isn't a 6 out of 10 unpartnered. 6 out of 10 is, to my mind, somewhat better than "chore" if worse than "fun." You'll just be in a better frame of mind overall if you're not always slogging through some 3 out of 10 nonsense. Focus on making those 6 out of 10 things a bigger part of your life so that more of your brain is having a decent time than not.

And last, cliche though it is, get a dog. Talk to it, really savor dog-personship, make it an instagram. Then you are literally always hanging out with someone you love.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:34 PM on June 21, 2021 [9 favorites]


Adding....I included the bits about the imperfections of partnered relationships as a grounding reminder vs an implication that you (poster) wouldn't understand that on some level already. I bring it up because legitimately I would sort of forget those universal truths at times when I was single and hurting because it's so very hard to be single sometimes, especially in some of the contexts the you mention - being out in crowds, restaurants, holidays...all the instances where you see coupled people and feel that absence. Also hard - cleaning my whole house alone, going to bed alone after a sad day or life event, being sick and having no one to nurture me...those moments are very real, and the only way I was ever able to balance that was to embrace the pros of singlehood wholeheartedly, work to view them as pros in my mindset, and keep conscious awareness that these were special things I would end up not having in the context of a partnership.

I also think there is wisdom in keeping these realities top of mind because, while I'd take partnered over unpartnered any day of the week, the hard truth (similar to what Taro mentioned) is, even those who have partners now will all lose our partners eventually one way or another, and I find that knowledge to be a little easier to endure when I maintain some connection to the joys of living solo.
posted by amycup at 1:38 PM on June 21, 2021 [3 favorites]


I feel like the big thing here is that you Need People, but the problem with life is that you can't have people with you all the time. Even if you were happily life partnered, you'd probably have to spend at least some time apart from that person. People may solve all your problems, but you can't go around handcuffed to anyone 24-7 for banter and conversation.

"accept that I may not have the magnitude or frequency of happiness that I had hoped to have in my life. I realize that not getting everything you want is a fact of life.

Yeah, pretty much. You may not hit the highest levels of happiness ever. Not to get all Putin about it, but we can't be happy all the time or sometimes even most of the time or be 100% satisfied with the relationships we're getting when the other people don't necessarily want as much of it as we do. It's a combination of self-soothing as best you can and accepting that you most likely can't or won't have what you want in life in the end.

I'm not gonna be all "hobbies!" because it sounds like you already know that nothing can be done and nothing can satisfy you but other people in the end. But other people aren't always going to be able to be there for you as you want them to be, even if you had a life partner. Taking what you can get from others and trying to be partially happy with that may be as good as it gets for you. If this is an absolute need you can't satisfy on your own and others absolutely must do it for you, then sometimes you're just going to go hungry in the soul. That's how life goes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:36 PM on June 21, 2021 [3 favorites]


This isn’t something you can “work on” in this way, because attachment needs are a basic part of being human. You’re essentially asking how not to have a very primal need that nearly all nonsociopathic people have. Humans are wired to bond with a specific other person in order to feel safe and thrive in the world. When you’re a baby it’s a parent and then when you’re older you transfer that attachment to a (usually romantic) partner.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:17 PM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]


There is also just less dedicated, focused mutual investment in enjoying our time together with friends, I find.

This seems like the most likely thing you can change here. You can change how you go about interacting with friends, and you can try to make new friends.

It also sounds like you would enjoy living with someone, if you can find someone(s) you connect with very well to live with and share space with that sounds like something you would enjoy. You might look into the concept of "intentional community" -- I have sometimes heard this described as "more than roommates" but there are plenty of people who describe themselves as roommates and have never heard of intentional community who have these types of closer relationships with people they live with.

In the big picture, "learn how to be happy alone" is more of a platitude. Sure it makes sense to avoid waiting for a partner to do things you want to do, if you want to travel or buy a house it's' a good idea to work on these goals as an individual instead of thinking you need a partner first. But if being in a relationship didn't, on average or at least in at least a significant minority of cases, make people more happy than being alone, people would not be very interested in being in relationships, and one can easily observe that is not the case. I think you might find more peace in accepting that this is just something people say to sound encouraging and not be too focused on trying to change yourself to fit the platitude.
posted by yohko at 12:38 PM on June 22, 2021 [2 favorites]


Hadn't seen your update before I answered.

I really adore my friends, and they meet a lot of these needs for banter and relationship building. They’re hilarious and deeply loving and we joke about all moving onto a commune together.

Seriously, this is how a lot of intentional communities start. Maybe some of your friend group would like to make this more than a joke.

However, I think it’s realistic to observe that there are companionship needs that are uniquely met in romantic relationships. Otherwise, aside from procreation, why do any of us enter into romantic partnerships, when we could just have friends? Those are the needs that I’m settling with not being able to meet on my own.

Yes, that is indeed realistic. It is true that there are companionship needs that are uniquely met in romantic relationships, and this does indeed act as a motivator to enter into romantic partnership. That is all very very accurate.

Yes, you are settling with not being able to meet these needs on your own. It is difficult to cope with feeling that this is what you need to do. I hope your therapist is able to help you with this, instead of offering mere platitudes about being happy on your own. It is OK to look for a new therapist if this one does not appreciate the magnitude of what you are trying to accept not having in your life.
posted by yohko at 1:11 PM on June 22, 2021 [4 favorites]


I think that all the acceptywepty garbage works a lot better when it’s grounded in reality - there are many of us in this utter disgrace of a society that can’t achieve partnerships, largely due to rank bigotry. There is much to be said for a deep understanding of ones disadvantaged position and how it makes attaining certain kinds of happiness harder, such an understanding can make room for other kinds of happiness. The problem is modern discourse doesn’t allow for much social acknowledgment that some folks have barriers to accessing partnership, career attainment, and other things and so it overemphasises individual solutions. Two things are true at the same time. You can improve things around the edges and find coping mechanisms without trying to reprogram a basic human wish for companionship. Whoever told you to try to change your basic human need for companionship deserves a sprained tongue, at the very least.
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 4:59 AM on June 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


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