Love is an ongoing, evolving experience, not something that can be won or lost. If you’re single this Valentine’s Day, explore a new perspective on the desire for love.
When we are young, many of us are concerned with dating, finding the right person, and settling down. Not all of us end up doing those things, and as we get older, we find we’re still looking for a partner while others around us have found theirs. Or, perhaps, we've settled down just fine, but then our relationship ends and we find ourselves single once again. Single life can involve a lot of “It’s fine, it’s fine, I don’t need anyone!” Which may well be true. But that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to want someone.
It is, of course, totally valid to have no interest in relationships. Some people love being single and are not interested in anything else. But we can sometimes feel, perhaps especially if we’re older, that if we’re single, we have to be okay staying that way. What if we’re not? What if we do want love?
The Desire for Love
The desire for love is valid (and possible) at any age, no matter one’s previous experiences with relationships. There are single people in every generation, and plenty of those people are still interested in some kind of intimacy. There’s no reason to feel embarrassed or try to hide the desire for love. Love is one of the most human things we can want.
Of course, many of us also fear intimacy, often unconsciously. If we’ve been hurt or rejected before, whether by lovers, friends, or family, we may fear the devastating pain of having an attachment taken away. This can prevent us from putting ourselves out into the world in both conscious and unconscious ways.
Attachment Styles and Love
Humans are wired for attachment, sometimes to the point of detriment. Children will almost always choose to blame themselves for any mistreatment they’ve gotten from a parent because that attachment is so important for their survival. If a parent yells or threatens rejection or abandonment, the child may be angry in the moment, but especially if that treatment is chronic, the child will come to believe well into their adult years that they are destined to be rejected or abandoned. They may feel that there’s something about them that will always lead to that experience. Adults with these experiences might look at dating and wonder why they should try at all.
As we get older, we enter a world of attachments outside of our first caregivers. We attach to friends, lovers, and communities. We all need to feel we belong somewhere. We all have a fundamental desire to be seen, heard, and loved for who we are, whether we got that from our first caregivers or not. For many of us, finding romantic love is about finding that attachment that we’ve always needed and wanted.
Our culture tends to prioritize monogamous heterosexual pairings when it comes to romantic love. Some may argue that we’re fundamentally polyamorous beings or that romantic love is a cultural invention. And those may be true, but ultimately, having a person (or people) to come home to is a huge part of our human sense of safety and security. Not everyone needs that in a romantic sense, but some of us do. And it’s okay to want that.
Redefining Relationship Success
In my counseling work, relationships are a major theme for many people. Some people have never had the relationship they want. Many of us hold the idea that if we’ve gotten married, that we’ve “won” relationships in some way. But the secret that no one tells is that very few of us feel that we’ve “won” with whatever it is we’ve got.
When we try to define success in terms of relationships, we can get stuck. Were you in a series of short relationships but are single now? In a long relationship but just broke up? In a relationship but not 100 percent happy? In a relationship and happy but it’s new or has baggage or is happening after a divorce? Very few of us would define ourselves as having “won” at romantic love. It’s an ongoing, evolving experience, not something that can be won or lost.
So, if you are single and don’t want to be, embrace that. Choose to work on the parts of yourself that may be avoiding intimacy because it feels so scary. Drop the judgment on yourself about whether or not you’ve “succeeded” in relationships. Find a counselor to work with and figure out ways to put yourself out there that could work for you. Go ahead and work on finding love. It’s worth working on, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting it.