ask polly

‘I Can’t Stop Obsessing About Finding Love!’

Get Ask Polly delivered weekly.

By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Dear Polly,

Most of the people who know me well would probably call me a “serial monogamist.” For most of my high school and ALL of my college years, I was in committed relationships, including two two-year relationships during college. My last breakup was extremely hard on me. We were going to move in with each other post-graduation, but shortly before the move-in date, he ended the relationship. One year and an East Coast move later, I’m totally over him and have been single this entire time, but I still find myself obsessing over the prospect of finding someone new to connect with. And not in the “oh, what if” kind of way, more in a way that sends me into bouts of extreme lows and negative thoughts due to a poor dating life and feeling all-around hopeless about it. I feel myself constantly thinking about when and where I will meet the next guy and hoping for some flirtatious action at every event or outing I attend. I’m aware that I’m doing this and I hate it — but I can’t freaking stop.

Dating in New York is absolute trash for everyone, but I feel like I exacerbate the generally shitty situation because I tend to get overly hopeful when I meet someone new (despite my better judgment) and then get frustrated with myself when things inevitably fall apart in a bad way. I know I’m not the only one who’s dealing with a long run of missed swings and bad dates, so why do I feel like I’ve been striking out in a major way? There is a disconnect between my logical brain that knows I’m creating the issue by obsessing over meeting someone and my emotional brain that starts busting at the seams as soon as I start getting flirty with a new boy. I would very much like to find a sense of peace where my desire for something great doesn’t come with intense sadness and disappointment for the lack of said great thing. I have no idea where to start, though. How do I become a truly content single woman who don’t need no man?

Sincerely,

Wants to Stop Caring

Dear Wants to Stop Caring,

You care about love because you’ve had it, you’ve felt it, and it brought you happiness for a long time. But maybe caring about love is also a part of who you are. Maybe you believe in love. Maybe this belief isn’t just some casual, incidental part of you, just an accident of birth and cultural influence, a pastiche of bad rom-coms, daydreams, and that common notion that your life doesn’t begin until someone embraces you for who you are. Maybe it goes deeper than that.

It’s easy to treat your belief in love like it’s some flaw or personal failure these days, particularly when you live in New York. Everyone wants to tell you that there are very few available straight men there, and the ones who are available are masters of the universe who care more about their grand ascendance to monetary or creative achievement than they care about simple human connection. Or they tell you that there are no hot guys and even the moderately okay ones only date supermodels. New York is a place where people are at once completely open and ready to engage and full of love for humanity and also somewhat hasty and transactional and ready to reduce every human to a series of positive and negative traits, financial potential, raw talent, and social capital. And people in NYC value social skills to an almost paralyzing extent. If you’re a little awkward, that’s cute, but if you say too much and second-guess yourself and go overboard in one way or another, you’re quickly treated as some kind of a strange human carnival ride that’s not worth taking seriously.

So when you talk about love in New York, you might as well be talking about magic or witchcraft or lighting your hair on fire to make the stars align correctly. You’re a fool fixating on something that you can’t control.
“It’s out of your hands,” they tell you. “You’re fucked, we’re all fucked. Accept it.”

But I’m going to guess that you do have a real, abiding belief in love that you’re passionate about. And if you try to distance yourself from that belief, if you try to act like that’s not you, if you try to let go of your idealism and accept your fate as just another human who will be chopped up into various good and bad traits and reduced to the sum of your values as seen through the eyes of these cold emotional accountants, you will only become a kind of malfunctioning, jittery mess who finds herself saying she’s tough and doesn’t need a boyfriend but then begs for scraps of love everywhere she goes. You’ll be jittery not because you’re weak and needy and pathetic. You’ll be that way because you’re disavowing something that matters to you. Love matters to you.

We get obsessed when we try to convince ourselves not to care about something that we truly, deeply care about. The more you punish yourself for caring about love, the more of a wreck you’ll be. You’ll come across as desperate. You’ll come across as neurotic and needy. And I don’t think that a belief in love should be equated with desperation or neuroticism or neediness the way it so often is in our culture. That’s one of the most challenging aspects of being a woman who loves love and believes in it: People treat your deeply felt embrace of human connection as some kind of virulent infection that they might catch. That couldn’t be less true. Your belief in love is a reflection of something pure and strong and hopeful inside of you.

It’s easy not to think so when most guys seem hell-bent on letting you know that your intensity makes you weak and unattractive. But you have to learn how to stop fighting who you are. You want to share your life with someone else. You know this because you’ve done it. And now that you’re alone, you shouldn’t aim to become the kind of woman who says “Don’t need no man and never will!” over and over (I love and admire that lady so much, but that’s not you). You should try to become the kind of woman who says “I believe in love so much that I won’t settle for less than the real fucking thing.”

That doesn’t mean you won’t settle for less than the perfect man, of course. Because believing in love as a mature adult who’s been in love and made a real commitment before means believing in two imperfect people looking at each other and — in spite of all of the inevitable disappointments and misunderstandings and failures — believing in each other anyway. You know from experience that you can work with someone who has flaws. You’re not worried about that. What you need to know is that you won’t accept less than you deserve, just for the sake of having love in your life. That’s the trap that a lot of us who are passionate about love fall into. And part of being that jittery mess begging for scraps lies in not really trusting that you won’t just settle for anything you can get. (And to be fair, that’s part of what makes men wary, the feeling that a woman wants to sign onto them before she even knows them well. Because a woman who doesn’t care who the hell you are at the start will eventually blame you for not being the guy she imagined you were when she met you.)

So you have to welcome your feelings of loneliness instead of taking them as a sign that you’re weak and pathetic. It’s normal to feel lonely! I live in the middle of a three-ring circus of humans, and I still feel lonely sometimes. You have to recognize that all people have REGULAR moments of sadness and anger and desperation, and that’s just part of being an animal, full stop. The only difference between you and the other animals is that you beat yourself up for having those feelings, and then you soothe yourself by telling a story about how someone is going to save you from ever feeling that way again.

If you want to believe in love and not have it destroy you, you have to resolve not to take other people’s words and your own private longing and mix them together to form a big ugly philosophy of yourself as a beggar who has something deeply wrong with her. You have to lay out why you believe in love so much and why you deserve to own your passion for love instead of always trying to hide it. You have to feel comfortable with the depth of your need and your longing, recognizing it as the energy that keeps artists and writers and philosophers bringing more beauty into the world. You have to see that feeling things as passionately as you do is a strength, not a weakness. Not feeling anything is the real weakness, but somehow people still get rewarded for it. Fuck that weak sauce and the weak-sauce chickenshit chefs who serve it up to us and pretend that it’s tasty.

Instead, I want you to imagine that you’ve just met a guy who loves watching old reruns of The Love Boat. Imagine that he doesn’t tell you this straight out of the gate, and when you find an eight-volume collection of digitally remastered episodes of The Love Boat in his apartment, he gets all weird and defensive. Then, the next day, he writes you a two-page-long email about how it’s actually a totally good show and anyone who doesn’t think so doesn’t fucking know anything and is only advertising their own ignorance. At the end of his letter he says something like, “Look, it’s not like I sit around watching The Love Boat every single night, I don’t care about it that much, I just happen to sometimes watch like eight or nine episodes in a row and if you think that makes me gross I don’t even know what to say. I guess we can talk about it sometime. Or not. Whatever. But let’s talk soon regardless, okay?” Then he texts you five minutes later: “Did you get the thing about Love Boat? Feeling super weird about it. When can we talk??!!!”

So obviously by then you’d be deleting his number from your phone.
But imagine this alternative scenario: You meet a guy who loves watching old reruns of The Love Boat, and a part of you is like “Gross, what’s your damage that you like hackneyed ’80s-era morality plays that were custom-designed to lure middle-class people into a sentimental stupor that only prevented them from waking up to the brutal racist realities of life under their tough but lovable cowboy-daddy, Ronald Reagan?” But you don’t immediately leave. And the guy smiles at you because he can see that you think he’s a fucking freak, but for some reason he’s not worried about it.

Then he pulls out a digitally remastered episode and shows you how fascinating it is — Captain Stubing is like this gentle but slightly archaic patriarch, lording his power over the cheerful population of leering alcoholics and disembodied plump round asses in tiny bikini bottoms, eternally circling the pool. And even though this one couple is having a marriage crisis and this other lady hasn’t told her fiancé yet that she’s dying because she wants to just ghost him and spare him the pain instead (such an ’80s-appropriate tale of pathological liars as morally superior patriots!), it’s crazy because bartender Isaac just keeps mixing drinks! Cruise director Julie is still organized and cheerful with her little clipboard pressed to her chest! Stubing’s slow-witted daughter Vicki just keeps saying naïve shit like the world isn’t about to crush her like a bug! The plump and juicy butts without heads attached keep bouncing by! And this Love Boat–loving dude tells you that there’s just something soothing about that kind of tenacity, that level of stick-to-it-ive escapism, that amazing ability to suspend your disbelief indefinitely. Isn’t that what a cruise ship is all about? A giant skyscraper-size suspension of disbelief, in which some benign but all-seeing patriarch controls reality? I mean, what a great metaphor for our current moronic racist authoritarian quagmire, amirite?

So. You would maybe think twice before fucking this man immediately, which is rational and good. But as you were walking back to your apartment, the people on the street would seem much more interesting and full of promise to you. You’d smile at the cab driver yelling at the bicyclist not to hit his fucking cab and the bicyclist apologizing and then the cab driver mumbling “No big deal, take care.” You would feel empathy and excitement and acceptance in every cell of your body, almost like being really turned on. That interaction between the cabbie and the cyclist wouldn’t look like just another clash of wills so much as a kind of sweetly imperfect human exchange featuring mutual forgiveness.

And the next day, you might not be able to get that Love Boat–loving freak out of your head.

So this is what I want you to do. I want you to be just like that Stubing-digging son of a son of a sailorman. IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING, OWN IT.
Owning it gives you strength. It gives you power. It gives you choices. Because even if you love something bad — like booze, lots of it, until you fall down on your face — you won’t really face who you are and why you still deserve to exist and feel love and be free until you face just how much you love what you love. As much as you might admire women who don’t want or need men, you shouldn’t want to become them, because becoming them would mean cutting yourself off from that feeling of being free and alive and turned on by the whole goddamn world. That’s the feeling you get when you honor yourself, and trust yourself, and give yourself room to be where you are.

Defining for yourself why you believe in love and writing it down and saying it out loud (all the while knowing that lots of people will probably misunderstand and even run away in fear!) will help you a lot. Sure, the first few times you say that you believe in love, you’ll apologize for it and backpedal and ask if it’s okay. (Just imagine the first few women who found those Love Boat episodes and then ran for their lives. Rejection isn’t personal, though. Some people hate it when you care about ANYTHING AT ALL.) But by the sixth or seventh time you state your beliefs and own what you love out loud, you won’t need as many words and you won’t take up a lot of time explaining and you won’t apologize for anything. You might be a tiny bit defensive for a while, but eventually your true focus will be to inspire other people to own their passions as much as you’ve learned to own yours.

You will make New York a better place to live. I’m not even exaggerating.

So be like that freaky dude whose eyes say to yours, “Come aboard, we’re expecting you!” Be an open smile on a friendly shore, goddamn it! And if you find that guy, maybe you’ll give him a chance. Maybe you’ll go from ignoring his texts to answering them because you can’t stop thinking about him and you’re not sure why but you want to find out. And when you go to his place and he hands you a fruity drink with an umbrella stuck in it, you’ll feel a little self-conscious and you’ll wonder if he’s really cool enough for you. But you’ll also say to yourself, “My god, this guy might just be onto something!”

You’ll take the fruity drink, and suddenly you’ll feel invested, and that will make you feel scared and worried and a little sick. But you won’t feel ashamed, and you won’t lose yourself. You’ll remember that the part of you that cares too much is the best part of all.

Polly

Order the Ask Polly book, How to Be a Person in the World, here. Got a question for Polly? Email askpolly@nymag.com. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

Get Ask Polly delivered weekly.

By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

All letters to askpolly@nymag.com become the property of Ask Polly and New York Media LLC and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

‘I Can’t Stop Obsessing About Finding Love!’