It was a nice young man at a conference—many, many years ago—who taught me the danger of feeling unappreciated.
When work decided to send me to this conference, I felt an unaccustomed thrill. I hadn’t done something on my own for so long.
I would be footloose and fancy free for an entire day in the city. I put on one of my nicest dresses. I couldn’t wait to talk to people.
At the time, my home life was suffocating. I rarely went anywhere. My then-partner was creating his own life without me. He’d go out on his own, leaving me at home. The unspoken reason was that he no longer enjoyed my company.
I was so starved for companionship that I felt a high just from talking with other women in the checkout line. I felt seen. Then I would return home and become invisible again.
At the conference, I took a seat across from a nice young man. We chatted for a bit, exchanging the usual information about what we did and what we were hoping to learn.
A smile split my cheeks. I was so happy. I remember thinking to myself how strange this feeling was… and how dangerous.
Was I flirting? Or just having a nice conversation with a nice man?
He looked at me with kindness in his eyes, then turned to face the front as the conference started.
Luckily, that was the end of our interaction. We all split up into different groups and went to different rooms for the presentations.
But I was troubled.
Why did I respond to him that way?
Like a tight rosebud feeling the sun’s warmth on its petals?
Then I remembered where I’d had that feeling before…
That was how I used to feel long ago, back when I’d believed in myself and my desirability.
That moment at the conference was a wake-up call.
I understood that I wasn’t getting something vital from my relationship, something I needed.
What was it?
What was this thing that I needed so desperately?
Today, I think it was as simple as this:
I missed feeling seen by my partner.
The Danger of Feeling Unseen
In long-term relationships, we get worn down.
We become resigned to things we wouldn’t have tolerated before.
Our partner treats us like an inconvenience rather than a blessing.
We become the obstacle to his happiness, rather than the source of it.
So we harden our shell. We no longer allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
His irritation bounces off our walls instead of piercing us in the heart.
Then it happens…
We come across a random person who sees us as a fun, interesting, desirable woman…
And we melt.
It’s been so long since anyone treated us that way.
A Happy Ending
That’s not the end of the story.
We can take that yearning back to our relationships.
We can tell our partner how much we miss him, how much we miss that connection we used to share.
We don’t want someone else to water the dry places of our soul.
We want him to do that.
The question is:
Some men will.
When you tell him, “I love it when you look at me with desire in your eyes. I’d love to go out with you and dress up like old times,” he sees the opportunity to be your hero.
But other men won’t.
Other men will hear an attack you didn’t intend.
“I’m Not Responsible For Your Feelings”
I wish I could have told my then-partner about the insight I had that day.
That I’d come to feel old, dried up, and uninteresting, even to him.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t even consider it.
It wasn’t his responsibility to make me feel desirable. If I felt old and dried up, I needed to fix that myself.
That was our relationship. He’d made it clear many times that he was not responsible for my feelings. It was “emotional blackmail” if I shared my feelings about something he’d done.
My hands were tied. Even the most carefully crafted “I” statement—“I felt X when you did Y”—was emotional blackmail in his world.
Not The Ending You’d Have Chosen For Yourself, But…
Today, I wonder how I might have responded differently if I’d known then what I know now about love avoidance.
It’s normal to want intimacy in your relationship. It’s normal to want to be seen, valued, and appreciated.
But sometimes our partners deliberately withhold those things.
They don’t want to see us. They don’t value us. And they feel affronted if we ask them for more.
If you feel lonely in your relationship AND your partner has a pattern of pushing you away, don’t let it continue. No one should feel lonely when they’re with the person they love most.
Sometimes therapy can help. Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a type of therapy specifically designed to help couples feel close again.
But sometimes there’s no way to talk to your partner.
He believes that your feelings are your problem. He’s not responsible for you.
In that case, you have a decision to make.
You can find a way to live in this emotional desert by cultivating rich friendships outside your relationship…
Walking is not the end of the world. It’s only the end of one world.