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True or False: ‘Before You Can Be Happy with Someone Else, You Have to Be Happy by Yourself.’

Have you ever been told you haven’t found love because you need it too much? That you have to be happy by yourself first? Or have you said these things to yourself?

These myths sound so plausible. It’s actually true that we can’t love others more than we love ourselves, and we need to love ourselves so we can absorb someone else’s love for us.

But the belief that you have to be happy alone to be happy with someone else is not the same idea. You can love yourself and still need people—including one life partner. In fact, it is human to do so.

As a species, we developed in context with other human beings. People did not evolve in isolation. There may have been some folks in ancient times who plunked their babies down on the ground, then wandered off, but it’s likely those kids didn’t become our ancestors. They became lunch!

The very dependence of human babies may be the reason two adults need one another so much. Our children are born so undeveloped, they take years to reach self-sufficiency. Many scientists say the sexual bond between parents needs to last not only long enough to create life—but to sustain it. No wonder reliance on friends, family, and community is not enough to create lasting happiness for most people most of the time; we’re wired up to find intimacy in partnership.

Today, the world is populated by people who need people.

I remember when my daughter, then six, came running in the door, breathless to tell me what she’d learned in school that day: “Mom, did you realize people *need* love? They don’t just want it. They *need* it. Like air!”

Yes. Being alone isn’t good for us. For most, singlehood is actually a noteworthy danger to mental health and life itself. Men who stay single or divorce, for instance, have about six times greater odds of death from all causes compared to married men. Even if you consider other factors, like money and gender and whether folks were married before, singletons have many struggles that marriage appears to ease.

Yesterday, I was out walking when a neighbor, a man in his late 90s, drove up. He held out a shaking hand to grasp mine as he told me his beloved wife had died the day before. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I know she’s the love of your life,” I said. He nodded, big tears rolling down his face: “We were very much in love. I miss her so.”

Other people’s opinion and treatment of us never stops mattering. Connection never becomes irrelevant. A need for intimacy is a genuine need, and when people meet that need, it improves our lives. It is not only against scientific finding, but flat-out weird to think that we ever stop needing others, including needing one special person.  

Indeed, you get closer to truth when you reverse the “happy alone” myth: In order to be happy with yourself, it helps to connect with another. Instead of shaming others who admit to wanting love, we should support them in their search.

Script to confront this harmful myth:

“I am a person, and people are wired to need other people. It’s perfectly natural and even healthy to want one special love in my life. I deserve to give and receive love~with pride, not shame.”

LoveFactually-Final-CoverAs one Wise Reader put it, “I always knew in my heart that my true happiness required not being alone. I always knew I wanted and needed to love and be loved. My problem was how to find it.”

He had it right. You can learn to find love. First, though, give yourself permission, sans shame.

Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, coming in January, 2015.  She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities.  Get a free chapter of Love Factually!