It’s a common nugget of advice that the coupled among us like to pass on to the singles: you’ll find love when you stop looking for it. But it’s neither helpful nor appreciated.
“The message is that you’re doing all the wrong things,” says Natasha Sharma, therapist and author of The Kindness Journal. “It’s very misguided.”
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While the advice likely comes from a good place, experts say the subtext is counterproductive, especially to people who are focused and proactive in every other aspect of their lives. It stands to reason that if you want a job, you need to pound the proverbial pavement. So, why wouldn’t you look for love if your goal is to find a partner?
“If you get into the mentality that you need to stop looking for love, it can be very disappointing, because most of the time in life, we tend to get what we expect,” Sharma says. “If you’re going to pretend that you don’t want someone, but you really do, you’ll end up unhappy.”
It’s a scenario that’s all too familiar to Maria Del Russo who wrote an essay about her search for love and her disdain for the “stop looking” advice she keeps getting.
“When people first told me to stop looking, I listened,” she wrote on Refinery29. “I deleted my dating apps and went out with friends for ‘girls’ nights’ in which I’d declare that I wasn’t looking for a man. But it was pure performance — even though I said I wasn’t looking, my eyes would still scan the room.”
She writes that when she’d spot a guy, she would hold off from approaching him and then be left wondering, “what if.”
There’s a tendency to direct this kind of advice to (heterosexual) women in particular, since actively pursuing a man is still perceived as desperate. But the experts say to commit to your search, no matter what others tell you.
“Finding an amazing relationship takes work and you need to be goal-oriented,” says relationship psychologist Nicole McCance. “Too many people are sitting at home and expecting someone to magically show up. That’s not how it’s going to happen.”
It comes down to this old chestnut that continues to ring true, no matter how many people tell you to “stop looking”: put yourself out there.
“If you want to be in a relationship, get out there,” says Carlen Costa, a relationship psychotherapist. “Do the apps, go on dates, ask your friends to fix you up — that’s the only way you’re going to meet people.”
Of course, if finding love is your sole purpose in life, you may want to rethink your focus — and not because of the hackneyed stereotypes that are attached to it. Rather, placing a disproportionate amount of energy on finding love is an indication that what’s lacking isn’t the love of another, but self-love.
“You need to figure out why you think you need it so much. We all have a natural drive and craving to have another human being in our lives. It’s not a bad thing,” Sharma says. “But the trick is to figure out what’s at the root of that craving. Are you afraid of being alone? Do you subscribe to a belief system that equates being alone with being miserable? Because that’s just not true.”
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It also inherently works against you to place the responsibility and expectation of happiness on another person, not to mention it inevitably sets them up for failure. After all, no one person can be solely responsible for your happiness.
“We tend to attract people who treat us the same way as we treat ourselves,” McCance says. “If you treat yourself poorly, you’ll attract that.”
Work on loving your life and dating yourself, the experts say, then you’ll be ready (and more receptive) to finding the right person.
“You don’t have to be perfect or have it all, but when you feel good about yourself and you don’t have someone in your life, that’s a good time to look for love,” Sharma says. “That’s when you’ll choose to want a partner, and that makes all the difference.”