DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Thanks for all the work you do! I have a question I’ve been pondering for a while now, and it is how on earth I figure out what I want. Because I can’t. And I have been trying very, very hard.
Professionally I’m all set (in my very early 30s, got all the opportunities anyone could ever ask for), my family is amazing and supportive and drama free (mostly very far away, but that’s about the only complaint I have) and my friends are beyond awesome. My life is already as close to perfect as it gets in this world, and sometimes I wonder how on earth I could possibly get even more lucky and find the perfect relationship to top it all off. Because that would seem like having my cake and eating it. And I can’t help but suspect that nobody really gets to do that.
Thing is, I don’t even know if I want a relationship. I’m content and I have a lot of challenging things to work towards. I have all the emotional support I want, mostly thanks to your awesome writing on developing emotional intimacy with people that I have no interest in seeing romantically. Seriously, it’s like someone gave you a cheat code for life. So I see very little benefit in relationships.
Whenever I am seeing someone romantically, it takes about a month before I crave being on my own again because I get to do whatever I like, whenever it pleases me. This was a bit more pertinent before that thing everybody is talking about because I would travel a lot, privately and professionally. That’s off the cards for now, but the feeling is the same even when there are no real opportunities I am missing out on. Somehow, whenever I am dating someone, time to myself becomes incredibly valuable and time spent with them bores me. So I end things. And I hurt people doing that, which I hate. But staying with them would be terribly unfair to them because I’d be faking it.
Then I am relieved and single again and content. And then I start to wonder if maybe I am missing out on something and start dating again and so the cycle goes. But I never have the connections with people I date that I have with my friends, and so I leave. Again. And then I start to wonder. Again.
Hell, I even went to see a psychologist about this (among other things) and they said some stuff about avoidant attachment that sounded sort of true but also a bit generic, kind of like a horoscope.
Is What You Want What You Need?
DEAR IS WHAT YOU WANT WHAT YOU NEED?: What you have, IWYWWYN, is a classic case of “asking the wrong question”. What you have isn’t exactly a problem so much as that you’re coming at this from the wrong angle. So let’s adjust things a little bit and see if that doesn’t help.
Now to start with, you’re actually in a great position all around. One of the things I regularly people is that you don’t want a relationship that “completes” you. I see this all the time: someone who thinks that they need a relationship in order to be “complete” or to be fulfilled. They essentially see themselves as having this hole in their life marked “girlfriend” or “partner” and want to find someone — anyone — to fill it. But the problem with this approach is that they’re relying on someone else to fulfill their lives. Not only is this a huge amount of pressure to put on another person that can risk damaging the relationship, but it also ultimately outsources your happiness and well-being to another person. You’re no longer in control of your own life; you’re dependent on someone else to make you happy, and that’s an inherently unstable situation. Relationships end, partners leave or pass away, and suddenly you’ve got that massive hole in your life again.
You, on the other hand, are in the place that I tell people is ideal: live a great life full of things that satisfy you and bring you joy. Have strong and emotionally fulfilling relationships with friends and family, have things that feed your soul and give you reason to get up in the morning. When you look around and think “hey, this is pretty good! Having someone to share it with would be great too!”, then you’re in an excellent position to find a partner; you aren’t relying on them for your happiness or emotional needs AND you have a great life to share with someone. That means you’re coming to any relationship from a position of collaboration — “here’s what I bring to the table, here’s what you bring to the table, let’s put them together and see what happens”. And as an added bonus, it helps bolster an abundance mentality when it comes to dating. Because you aren’t coming to a date or potential relationship from a position of neediness or desperation, you’re better able to weigh issues like compatibility and interest. If someone’s not right for you… well, it’s a damn shame, but hey, that just means that this single person isn’t right for you, and now you’re free to find someone who is. And there’re millions of folks out there who are your potential match.
I think the problem you’re having is that you’re dating people who aren’t necessarily right for you. One of the things people often get wrong about relationships is that they think that being in a relationship with someone means that you need to be joined at the hip. That you need to spend as much time with them as you possibly can. That’s simply not true. While that style of relationship and connection works for some people, that doesn’t work for everyone, nor should it. Some people are dogs, who need their pack. Some folks are cats; they want their clowder, but they don’t necessarily need them all the time. They like getting together when it suits them and doing their own thing when it suits them.
(Yes, I realize that there are very clingy, cuddly and sociable cats. I have one. Roll with the metaphor here)
You seem like somebody who values their alone time. That’s valid. It just means you want to date someone who understands that and — preferably — likes their alone time too. And trust me: those folks exist. In fact, they tend to have the same struggles you do: finding someone who doesn’t want to be up on them 24/7/52.
The issue is that is sounds like either you’re not dating those people, or you’re not establishing that you like having your solo time as well as being in a relationship. Now you don’t mention this in your letter, so I can’t tell if it’s that you’re dating people who aren’t compatible with you or if you feel that you’re supposed to spend more time with them than you would prefer. But either way, it comes down to that you’ve had relationships that don’t work because you aren’t making that a priority for you — something that should ideally come up when you and your partner have the Defining The Relationship talk.
The other issue you bring up is about how you don’t have the connections with the people you date that equal what you have with your friends. This, I suspect, is a matter of time, rather than anything inherent to romantic relationships. From the sounds of it, you’re only seeing people for about a month or so at a time before you get twitchy and decide you need your space. That’s not really enough time to build a strong and lasting emotional connection, especially compared to the one you have with friends you’ve known for years. And considering that you seem to be dating people you’re not a good match with, I can see why you might not be motivated to work on building that connection.
Now it’s certainly possible that you fall somewhere on the asexual/aromantic spectrum and so the idea of a relationship is more interesting to you than the reality. But honestly, it sounds a little more like “wrong person, wrong relationship” to me.
So my first suggestion is that you prioritize finding a person whose relationship style matches yours — someone who like the companionship and romance of a relationship, but also likes their own space and own time. If you’re using dating apps, then I’d suggest making that clear in your profile. It’s much easier to start off with someone who’s on the same page than it is to pivot to this when you have the DTR conversation… especially if they went into this expecting something different.
One thing that might help — assuming that monogamy isn’t something you absolutely need in the long term — is to look for people who want a casual relationship, rather than something serious or a friends-with-benefits arrangement. One of the things that can often trip people up is the label, rather than the relationship itself. Many couples have found that they have a great relationship… as long as they don’t call each other “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”. “Relationship”, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” all come with cultural baggage and assumptions built into them that can trip people up. However, when you remove the label — and attendant expectations — then suddenly the issues people have often clear up. If you and a potential partner have a casual relationship or an FWB relationship, it may make it easier to have that time apart you need without feeling like you’re being tied down.
In these cases, just remember that it took time to build the sort of emotional intimacy you have with your friends; you’re going to need time and effort to build that with the people you date.
Another possibility — if you want to explore it, that is — is to simply embrace the short-term relationship. Relationships don’t need to end with somebody dying in the saddle in order to be successful. Relationships that only last a few months are just as real and valid as ones that span decades. While this means that you’re less likely to build the kind of emotional connection you have with your platonic friends, it’s a relationship style that may be more fitting for your needs. Just make sure that, if you go this route, that the people you date know this is what to expect; letting people believe that this relationship has long-term potential when it doesn’t is not cool.
Or it could well be that you’re just not that into dating and romance. And hey, if that’s the case, then more power to you. If it ain’t broke, then there’s nothing that needs “fixing”. If you think that’s you, then it might be worth checking out some of the FAQs and forums at asexuality.org; they can help give you the vocabulary and resources that might help clarify things for you in the future. Plus, if you decide that maybe you would like to give this “dating” thing another shot, there’s nothing saying that you can’t. Just keep those guidelines I mentioned in mind.
Like I said, IWYWWYN, you’re in a good place over all and especially when it comes to dating. All you really need is a perspective shift, and I think things will shake out for you, one way or another.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org