In this episode, we’re going to take apart one of the most toxic dating myths of all–the belief that your longing for love is something to be ashamed of; that it's needy or codependent. In fact, it's one of your greatest gifts!

I’ll tell you why that myth is unhelpful and untrue—and back it up with research. In fact, I’ll explain why your longing is one of your absolute greatest gifts, and I’ll teach you how to use it as rocket fuel in your search for healthy love.

Longing for love transcript

The toxic myth of longing for love as a weakness

In my decades of work as a psychotherapist, I’ve become convinced that one of the biggest reasons why more people don't find healthy love is the toxic myths that we've been taught; about what love is and who we are. About how we find love.

One of the most toxic myths is the belief that our longing for love is a kind of weakness, that we should just be really okay on our own, and if we find a relationship, well, that’s great. But that we should be confident anyway, we should be just fine. And that deep and painful longing for love is kind of a codependency and a kind of weakness. And I think it's actually one of our greatest strengths.

Wisdom, not weakness

And I just want to share something that I wrote in my book Deeper Dating.

"In my opinion, longing for love is not weakness, it’s wisdom.

Numbing our loneliness is a path to a despair that plagues our culture. We are not meant to be alone and self-sufficient. Without lives filled with love, we wither inside. Intimacy is oxygen. We don't need to transcend our hunger for love; we need to learn to honor it. "{

And of course there's so much science to back this up. Eli Finkel, a very well-respected researcher in the field of relationships and attraction, says that the quality of your intimate relationship affects your happiness about twice as much as your career, your friendships, or even your health. There are so many studies that show things like, for example, just holding a loved one's hand lowers your blood pressure and reduces pain. We are meant to be connected. And in fact, it's the people who care the most about connection and often who feel the most longing for it when it's missing, who are the healthiest people of all, and the people most likely to actually find love.

Why is this myth so harmful?

So, this myth that tells us that it's a weakness to need love like that; why is it so harmful, why does it cause such damage? Well, one reason is, it teaches us to be ashamed of our vulnerability. And shame around our vulnerability is the death knell to healthy love. We need to be able to bear and tolerate and express and handle our vulnerability if we’re ever going to really be able to have love. Another reason is that when we suppress our need for love, it turns into neediness.

Need suppressed turns into neediness–and then we become manipulative. It's like you can only hold your stomach in but for so long, you can only hold a beach ball underwater for so long. Ultimately, shamed need comes up and it comes up sideways and it comes up in ways that aren't good.

A common result is attraction to the wrong people

Here's another way that this belief that our deep longing for love is a weakness is harmful: to the degree, (And this is an amazing thing and it sounds kind of woo woo, and if I hadn't seen it so much in my decades of work with really thousands of people, I wouldn't believe it.) And here it’s what it is:

The degree to which you shame yourself for this all too human quality of longing for love, to that degree, you’re going to end up sexually and romantically attracted to people who cannot treasure that quality in you.

Why that's true? I don't fully know, but I have a lot of thoughts about why that is, we’ll talk about in a future podcast, but I have seen it to be true, literally countless times. But the corollary is true, as well. To the degree that you dignify your longing for love, that you dignify it and honor it and learn to cherish it and treasure it and respect it, to that degree, your attractions will actually begin to shift and you will become more sexually and romantically attracted to people that honor and treasure and take care of that part of you.

Our greatest gift

Now, there's another reason as well, a deeply important reason why this phenomenon, this kind of shaming of our longing for love matters so essentially. Here's why: that shame hides what may be our absolute greatest gift in the realm of intimacy.

In fact, maybe our greatest gift altogether in life—longing for deeper love, for more love, for richer love.

Our longing for love comes from the deepest roots of our being. It is a part of who we are, it is essential to who we are and what I've come to discover is those people who care the most about love, about having love and finding love, are the people most likely to have and find love.

Quoting Barbra Streisand

You know, but here's a gay man quoting Barbra Streisand but, what can I do, that song that says

“People who need people are the luckiest people…”

I used to wonder about that, why people who need people as opposed to people who have people and what I came to realize is it's about the wise people who know that they need people, who do the work to find people, to build a life that's rich with love because they know it matters that much.

The importance of connection

And they are people who really feel the importance of connection in a deep way. There are those of us–and I would imagine that many of you listening fit into this category–who hurt when connections are broken, when connections aren’t right, when they just don't feel right. But who also feel a lot of joy when there is a good and healthy connection. Some of us just register that with deeper passion and deeper sensitivity. And those people are those of us who long most deeply for healthy and lasting love, with our families, with our relations, our romantic relationship, with the world.

So, this quality of longing for love, of caring that deeply, is one of the greatest qualities that we own. If you are someone who cares like this, I just want you to acknowledge that you are not one of those people who has spent your life numbing yourself to love, to your need for love because of your fear of pain. You are not someone who has settled for a relationship where there's not enough love and completely resigned yourself to that. You still care, that feeling of passion still burns in you.

Who are the people most likely to find love?

In my opinion, it's people who feel that, who are really in many ways, the most precious people of all. They are for me as a coach and a psychotherapist, the people most likely to be able to find love. And another reason for that is because it's those people who care that deeply who are willing to do the hard work of change.

When we let ourselves feel our longing for love it burns, it hurts, it's a hard thing. But then, that longing becomes a kind of rocket fuel that gets us out of the gravity zone of our complacency, our fear of getting out there, and our kind of marriage to anti-intimacy patterns that we've lived with for a long time.

The pain of not having connection is one of the only things that can burn deep enough to make us get out of our own way in finding love.

So what happens, what happens then, when we make this change?

Letting go of the myth

What happens when we begin to let go of this myth that our longing for love is a weakness and we begin to think of it as wisdom?

Well, one thing that happens is, and you know we need to be real about this, the feeling of longing is not an easy feeling. There’s a reason we run away from it. Loneliness is one of the hardest things that we can experience. So what do we do, what we do with that pain when we experience it?

Well the first step when we experience longing, and this is something that I would like you to try the next time you're at a wedding and you're not with a partner, the next time you go to sleep alone, whatever it is that makes you feel that pang of missing this kind of a relationship.

I want you to try this exercise:

I want you to see this longing as part of the beating heart of your humanity.

I'd like you to think: I'm starting to see it as a gift, as a gift of deep and profound caring, and I going to cherish this, and I’m going to honor it, and I'm going to recognize that if I let myself feel it, it's going to burn through old patterns of distance and avoidance that have kind of made things difficult for me in the past.

Another thing is that a way to bear the pain, is to share it with someone you love and trust, someone who's not going to shame you for it, but who's going to honor it and kind of validate it and just be that kind of friend who makes space for it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, who is one of my great heroes, is a Buddhist monk who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King. I heard him speak about kind of the bitterness of pain and what to do with it, and he used an image of a vial of ink and he said, “Imagine you have a vial of ink and you empty it into a glass of water. That water is going to become pitch black from that ink. Sometimes our container can't bear the pain that life brings us, it's just too great. And, now imagine taking that vial pouring it into a river. Well, it would dissipate so much that you would barely even see it. “

And there is a magic that happens when we share our pain with people we love and trust. So that's one thing we do is share that.

Doing what it takes to find the love you're longing for

The other thing that I would ask you to do is work with the rocket fuel of your longing to say, "All right, this hurts, so I am going to make changes. I am going to do what it takes to find the love that I'm longing for. I am going to dignify this pain by saying it's here for a reason and it's teaching me something." And to use it as a way to get out there and try new things. But I want to say something about that too. It’s usually not enough. It's great to say I'm going to get out there and join a website. It's great to say I am going to join a dating service. All those things are great, I am all for them. I'm also really all for doing in-person things, in environments with people who share your values.

But I want to say something else too because there's another piece to this, and that is I want to encourage all of you to think, you know when we get out there again, it's kind of like, there's the hope for a new beginning, but there's a fear of a replay of what happened before. And if you've had patterns that have ultimately not worked; the kind of attractions that you've had, the people you've ended up with, the situations you've ended up with, if there are patterns that have happened to you again and again, I want to encourage you to do more than just get out there. I want to encourage you to learn. Because your intimacy journey is one of the greatest journeys and the most important journeys of your adult life and we need to learn, we need to learn new skills.

The deeper lessons of finding love

The heart and soul of my book Deeper Dating is–it's a course in a book–teaching people the deeper lessons of finding love. There are wonderful, amazing teachers out there who teach it as well.

But you don't want to look for a teacher that tells you that you need to become “irresistible.” You don't want to look for a teacher who tells you all the things you're doing wrong and that's why you're not finding love. You don't want a teacher who's going to make it all about how to “fix yourself” to make you more attractive to the right person, because this is a path of depth and meaning, and the deepest lessons of intimacy are the deepest lessons of dating and, healthy dating, successful dating, depends on not game playing but the deepest laws of intimacy. So you want to look for a teaching that empowers you and supports you and really feels like it has wisdom.

So I'd like you to take a minute and just think back in your life. I like you to think about kind of, when you were child, any memories you have of your longing for love, and see if you could remember them now, not with self-condemnation but with the sense of, "That was a gift of mine. I was right. I was right to care that much about love that wasn't there, that I needed." Maybe think to your teen years or your young 20s. And longing that you felt then.

Think of the wisdom in that longing

How was it true that healthy love was missing for you, even if you didn't know how to look for it at the time? Now–think about right now and think about the longing for love and intimacy that you have, that for example led you to listen to this podcast, and see if you can honor it and cherish it and just kind of give up those messages that tell you it's a weakness. It is a gift. Your sensitivity and your passion around this issue is a gift, and it's in fact, one of the best parts of you.

So the next time you feel that longing, try this process.

Try this practice of beginning by honoring it and thinking, "I don't have to run away from this pain, I don't have to denigrate this pain. I can actually see it is one of the most precious and important parts of me and if I do that I will begin to get whispers of what I need to change and what I need to do differently. And I will listen because I will be recognizing how much this matters."

This path of honoring your longing changes your future. It is essential that we do that because every time there is that pang of longing, it’s your deepest insides telling you something's missing, something’s needed, something's not right. And when you learn to honor that, you will dignify your being in profound ways and you will be on a path that's going to really enrich your life with love.

Then why we are not taught this? I don't know. Maybe because we're not taught to honor our vulnerability. But as you learn to do this you will see changes that I think you'll really love and I think a path toward deeper love and intimacy in your life will become more clear to you.

End your longing for love with Ken's book "Deeper Dating"
Find lasting love with Ken's book "Deeper Dating"

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