Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places? How to Break the Broken Heart Habit

By Sean Grover, LCSW

Last summer, I attended a concert by a famed singer-song writer. When he took command of the stage, you knew you were in the hands of an old pro; someone who had spent a lifetime in the spotlight.

But as the concert unfolded, I started to feel distracted; his many bows and endless ovations started to irritate me. He spent too much time looking out into the audience, waving and mugging; the audience responded with polite applause. By the time he finished the first half, I felt exhausted. He was seriously getting on my nerves.

An unknown singer/song writer opened the second half of the show; a small unassuming young man with slouched shoulders and gentle manner. But the moment he sat down at the piano, he was transformed – and so was the audience. He played and sang with captivating sincerity and staggering originality. When he finished, the audience jumped to their feet. The young man politely smiled and bowed, leaving us enchanted.

When old singer came back, so did my irritation. The audience was once again polite but this time antsy. We wanted more of the young man. I could imagine us all chanting, “Bring him back! Bring him back!”

Weeks later, I was still thinking about that moment and the difference between the two performers. Both were talented and skilled – but one left the audience indifferent, while the other set the audience on fire. What provoked such wildly different responses?

Then it struck me: the old singer wanted to be loved, and we responded respectfully. The younger singer was doing what he loved — and we gave him our heart.

Looking for Love

Who doesn’t want to be loved by others? We all need a measure of acceptance; a psychic high-five of approval always feels good. But when our overarching objective is to be loved, we become burdens. Like the old singer, our hunger for love and approval saddles others with our needs. Rather than feel energized by contact with us, they feel drained and disinterested.

When you put too much energy into getting others to love you and not enough energy into loving yourself, your vision becomes impaired. Hunger for love distorts and blinds you to your own value. You may become a caretaker, a performer for attention or appear needless to others; all manipulative efforts to purchase affection. The greed for love always saps authenticity. Under such conditions, no matter how much love you gather, it has a short shelf life; haunting feelings of disappointment and loneliness resurface.

Childhood Scars

If you have a hunger to be loved, chances are that you’re trying to get from others, what you failed to get from your parents. In every adult relationship, we bring all our unmet emotional needs from our childhood and secretly hope that others will fulfill them. When they don’t, we may blame others, our unlucky destiny, or ourselves. Perhaps we move our unmet needs to our next relationship, and compulsively repeat the same old pattern: great hope followed by great hurt.

The rude truth is that once you’re an adult, no one is going to meet your needs. You have to do it yourself. If you enter into a relationship seeking to get your needs met, prepare to be disappointed. Seeking love from others while denying it for yourself is a losing game.

You won’t be valued, until you value yourself; you won’t be loved until you love yourself. Relationships reflect your innermost feelings. That is why so many folks who are desperate for love always complain of feeling lost and misunderstood. Without self-love, there is no self.

The Short Cut to Finding True Love

Let’s return to the young singer who brought the audience to their feet with one song. He was equally as talented as the older singer. What made him so much more attractive? He pursued what he loved without hunger for approval; the audiences’ affection for him was a byproduct of his own delight. It’s much easier to love someone who loves himself or herself than someone who lives in fear that they are unlovable and surreptitiously hopes that your love will cure them.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about people who successfully found loving relationships:

Finding true love begins with developing self-love. That means putting more energy into developing yourself, pursuing your passions, growing and challenging yourself. Such people are naturally attractive. You’ll be more fun to be around; you’ll be energizing. You’ll be a hoot. As Shakespeare wrote, “Self love…is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.” When you neglect yourself, you’ll attract people who neglect you. When you love yourself, you’ll attract people who reflect that love back to you.

Meeting your own needs opens the door to mature love. Relationships are complicated; intimacy triggers all kinds of emotional reactions. But the clarity that comes from taking better care of yourself and meeting your own needs enables you to see others more clearly. Your visual isn’t clouded by hunger or yearning for approval. You are more present, more in the moment and more alive.

Love is brought to a relationship not dependent on it. For years, I’ve held onto a copy of a letter Tolstoy wrote to his daughter, Tatiana, on the eve of her marriage. In it, he pens a sobering but timeless message:

“What I think is this: a marriage entered into for the sake of a more enjoyable life is doomed to failure…to make marriage [i.e., love] itself your only or supreme aim is a great mistake…If your lives had no other purpose before you were married, it is difficult, if not impossible, for you to find one afterwards….If two people who have the same aim meet together on the way and say to one another, ‘Let’s go forward together,’ then will their marriage [i.e., love] bring them happiness.” (The Dairies of Tatiana Tolstoy, P91)

The Gift of Love

Love nourishes, strengthens and fortifies us. It brings us deeper meaning, connectedness and greater joy. But to secure lasting love, you must start from the inside. In the end, love is a gift you can’t receive until you give it to yourself. www.seangrover.com

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Filed under Couples Therapy, Depression, Perspectives, Psychotherapy