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  • Writer's pictureTyler Andrus

Is it time to give up on love?

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

"I'm really not sure there are any good one's left out there."

"I don't think there is anyone that would want me."

"I've already cycled through everyone on the dating apps, and I'm so discouraged by what I am seeing and how selfish people seem."

These are the sentiments of so many in the dating pool these days. Many are sure that it is time to give up on the notion that there is love out there for them. Again and again, as has long been the case, people seek therapy to deal with the sorrow of nagging loneliness, the stress of an ongoing unfulfilling relationship, or the fallout of a recent breakup or divorce.

It has become a weekly, if not daily occurrence for me to sit with a client as they begin to explain why they are thinking of giving up a lifelong dream of love, romance, marriage or having a family with someone. Often a past breakup or divorce seems too painful and/or the process of finding a new partner is far too discouraging. Work with these clients usually finds its way to me pointing out that they seem to be working very hard to convince me, and perhaps themselves, that giving up is the safest most logical thing to do at this point in their lives. And I really can't blame them for feeling this way, especially as I begin to understand the pain they have been going through. You, the reader, may know what I am talking about.

Perhaps you too are trying very hard to convince yourself, or others, that letting go of your dreams for love would be for the best. Perhaps it is, and perhaps you feel content and settled in this decision. But again, if you feel you are having to put any amount of energy into convincing yourself or others that it's time to move on, this tells us that you are still wrestling with a dilemma.

To me, therapy is about seeking support in wrestling with dilemmas that seem too big to handle. The dilemma that shows up so often in my office is "I think I am ready to swear off dating, but I still yearn somewhere inside for a fulfilling life with a loving and supportive partner. I am just not sure I can handle the pain and discouragement of getting my hopes up, so it feels safer to assume that love isn't out there for me. But thinking this way is making me so depressed. I can't deny that I still want it."

If you are feeling stuck in the thick of this dilemma, I encourage you to consider working through the following 4 steps. These steps don't necessarily need to be faced in this order, but are usually worked on concurrently.

  1. Be at peace with and enjoy being single

  2. Take hope that there are kind, compassionate single people out there that share many of your values

  3. Clarify your needs, values and wants in a partner

  4. Heal from emotional wounds left by previous unfulfilling and/or traumatic romantic and familial relationships

Be At Peace With and Enjoy Being Single

Being at peace with and enjoying being single may sound contradictory to the following step of taking hope in potentially finding a good partner, but every dilemma that has ever brought someone to therapy has a paradox as its solution. Let me explain. Whether you are going to be single for 5 more minutes or 5 more decades, you might as well enjoy that stage of your life. The time is going to pass anyways. You can both enjoy being single and still desire and hope for love to find its way into your life. Too much desire for love leads to desperation and may cloud your judgment and land you with someone willing to exploit that desperation. Pretending that you don't desire to be in a relationship and saying that single life is the end all be all for you when you truly do desire love ignores your true feelings. Walking a middle ground is the key to resolving such a paradox.

So what can you do to be at peace with being single? Well, simply put, I think the best thing to do is to be the partner to yourself that you want to eventually be to someone else and that you want that partner to be to you. Being a devoted partner involves being interested in your partner, and helping to facilitate their interests. You've likely already done this with a friend, family member, work partner, past romantic partner etc. by saying "Hey, what do you want to do this weekend?" or "What are your hopes for this project?" or "What are your goals? How can I support you?" Each of these questions can be posed to yourself, by yourself. If you listen to the answers you give yourself, you will have a wealth of ideas to keep you busy and doing things that are fulfilling to you.

As I have encouraged clients to ask themselves these types of questions I have witnessed people suddenly find the motivation to go back to graduate school, join an exercise class, or take themselves out on a date to a restaurant they have long wanted to go to. As I said, time is passing anyways, why not be more devoted to yourself and do things that are fun and meaningful. Finally, not that this should be your primary motivation, but staying busy while doing fulfilling things is more likely to be an attractive quality to others in the dating pool, so that can't hurt either. It will likely help you identify others that are doing the same types of things in their lives.

Take hope that there are kind, compassionate single people out there that share many of your values

I can't count the number of times a client has lamented that "all the good ones are taken." Whenever I hear this I almost always reply by saying "you are the third person this week to sit on that couch and say that." The fact is, my caseload for years has been full of honest, kind and compassionate single people who have so much to give to a relationship. Part of the trouble, for some, is they have become so accustomed to relationships being one sided, that they are not sure what to do with a partner who wants to give so much to the relationship. Unless I have a monopoly on being the therapist for "all the good ones" that are still single, if a few are making it into my office, something tells me there are thousands more out there.

After I explain all of this, the next question typically becomes, "well where are they all hiding?" That certainly is the question. What I tell clients is, "I am not sure where they are hiding exactly, but they are probably feeling discouraged like you are, and are not sure they want to put themselves out there in the dating pool again." If you can buy into the idea that there are likely at least a few "good ones" out there, the next steps becomes finding courage and putting yourself out there. If you do, more than likely you will end up helping other people come out of their shells as well. It is a beautiful thing to see people come out of their respective shells together.

Clarify your needs, values and wants in a partner

It can be painful to think about past relationships and relive what went wrong. If you can just sit with the pain and grief, hidden in there are priceless nuggets that clarify what you value. This gives clarity to what you need and want in a partner. Again, putting aside any doubt as to whether all the "good ones" are taken, I encourage you to put to paper some specifics about what it is you are seeking. In a journal or notepad start by writing the following 4 headings and then over time fill in whatever comes to mind:

  1. Must haves in a partner- What must your partner value or who must they be. Note that these are things that they have valued or have been years before they met you. Far too often in dating one partner will share what is important to them and the partner will promise to do or be that thing, only to fail to sustain it because it wasn't really who they were.

  2. Prefer to have in a partner- These are things that are nice, but not crucial. Having this category here helps distinguish what is really crucial from what is not. These are the things that are safe to ask a partner to grow into, but won't be devastating if that partner won't/can't or takes 50 years to grow into.

  3. Prefer not to have in a partner- Again these are things that would make life a bit easier to not have to deal with, but won't be devastating to the relationship. Every healthy relationship will have plenty of these things, but in no way outweigh the good that is there. (Note: be sure not to dwell on these things with a partner, but bring them up as they become relevant, or just accept them and let them go).

  4. Must not haves in a partner- Far too often people I work with have expressed guilt for being upset in any way with what really is a deal breaker in a relationship. Don't let patience and looking past a partner's flaws be license for that partner to commit abuse and harm to you.

Being the right partner is perhaps just as important as finding the right partner. Once you have captured your ideas about what you need and want, turn your focus on who you want to be to a partner. Grab more paper and start another list with the following headings:

  1. What you need your partner to appreciate about you/encourage you to be- What are the things that are so important to you that you would need a partner to very quickly admire about you and encourage you to foster. For example is being a nurse have such profound meaning to you that it would be devastating if your partner hardly noticed or worse, looked down on you for your career choice?

  2. What you prefer your partner to appreciate about you/encourage you to be- What are important things to you, but you are ok if it takes some time for your partner to appreciate. Or if needs be you can give yourself all the support and encouragement you need to sustain that thing, even if your partner doesn't?

  3. What you prefer your partner to not ask you to do/be- These are things that you likely wouldn't try to do or be on your own, but you are ultimately willing to try as they don't diminish or take too much time and energy away from any crucial values of yours.

  4. What you need your partner to never ask you to do/be- Again these are absolute boundaries. You might be saying, or a partner might make you think "If I loved them I would be willing to do that for them." At the same time, if your partner loved you they wouldn't ask you to do something so outside of your boundaries.

Heal from emotional wounds left by previous unfulfilling and/or traumatic romantic and familial relationships

For better or for worse, we often define ourselves and learn much of who we are by and through our relationships. Whether in our family of origin, platonic friendships, employment, or romantic relationships, we are put into roles that are usually not of our choosing and often don't honor us and what we truly value. We start to believe we are the things that others want us to believe we are. We might come to believe that we are not good enough, undeserving or selfish for having feelings and opinions. Unfortunately the fear and shame baked into these beliefs are not easy to let go of, even after a relationship is over. In my opinion, some of the hardest work done in therapy is in letting yourself feel this kind of shame, facing it, and then letting it go. In therapy this is done in a variety of ways as well as in other methods of healing, but it is rarely done overnight. Each of the steps outlined above can be immensely helpful in moving you forward, but the most thorough healing usually comes in ultimately grieving the things that you needed, but never received from these relationships. Again, there are many ways to grieve and get support in your grieving. If you are not sure where to start, reach out and we'll walk through it together.

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