Got love?

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Do you have any tips on accepting a life long disappointment? I have never had a romantic or sexual relationship although I have always wanted one. My parents had a close and happy marriage, so I had good role models. I’ve been blessed with a good education, many travel experiences and have many interests. Also I have volunteered in at least one community project, sometimes more than one since I was thirteen. Friends tell me I am certainly attractive enough to attract men and also that I have much to offer. However men have never shown an interest in me – I have had only a few dates in my life.

For years I felt this was my fault and really tried to be more interesting, better dressed, etc but nothing worked. Finally in my early forties I decided “he just isn’t into you” and to enjoy the areas of my life that are good. That worked until 3 years ago when I became very depressed. For 6 months I barely functioned and had to quit a wonderful job. With meds, CBT, and taking the Mindfulness Based Stress reduction course my mood improved and I got a new job. However, my pain over the lack of a relationship came back. Lately (for 5 months or so) as I look back over my life failure is all I see. The fact that I never experienced one of the most significant facets of life is heartbreaking. I have not attempted suicide because of the pain it would cause my family and friends, however it is harder and harder to stay alive. It is embarassing to be so self centered. Do you have any suggestions on dealing with this crushing disappointment? The therapist I see tells me to try Internet dating, which I have without success. Thanks for whatever you can suggest.

A; I can fully understand the struggle, the disappointment, and the wanting. It sounds like you have been trying to attract a date and a relationship for a long time, and are coming up empty and fatigued. As depression can come from learned helplessness, the sense we cannot change our situation, it makes sense to me that you feel the way you do. When it seems nothing we do can change we feel helpless, and then depressed.

The emotional prototype, the part of us that seeks a bond or attachment with others (your inner GPS unit for a relationship) has been set to wanting AND not having. You have now had so many experiences of wanting and not having that as you move forward you use this way of relating to others. In other words, helpless. This is how we are built as human beings; we use prototypes because they are familiar. As you move forward into the new ventures every “wanting” is in the same envelope as “not having.”

There are many ways to change our sense of helplessness and emotional, or attachment prototypes, but I believe the most direct and powerful way is to shift the intention. In other words, don’t begin by wanting someone to give to you, something you don’t have control over–begin by giving, something you DO have control over. I think it was insightful for you to note “It is embarassing to be so self centered. “ Along these lines, perhaps the shift toward giving may open the door to receiving.

I read that you did help out in a community project. This is good, and I am suggesting as part of this to give to people directly. Help out in a soup kitchen, volunteer for the USO, or teach an adult to read. If the focus is on how can you help or give to others it immediately shifts your thoughts and intentions. You won’t feel helpless about your interactions, and you’ll feel better because you are directly helping someone else. By giving to others you open your heart directly, which can allow love in. Sound too hokey? There is research that by simply giving someone a smile it can change their receptivity toward you, but more importantly it can make you feel better instantly.

There is research and information on how we can bring a more positive and less helpless feeling into our lives. You may want to look at some of this information here. And a link to a summary of information on what is now called positive psychology.

I am glad you are working with a therapist and agree that online dating can be a good way to meet people, but ultimately it will still boil down to changing the “wanting and not having” dynamic. When you are happier and feeling less helpless and more pleased with yourself, that is when others are likely to want to join you.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Mar 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Got love?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/03/26/got-love/