Philosophy Riffing | Attachment and Buddhist Approaches to Partnership

I was having a conversation with a friend this morning about Buddhism and attachment/clinging regarding partnership. This was in reply to comments I had made about heartbreak and possibly falling into despair. I ramble a bit in the first response, but I thought I raised a few good questions without any solid answers. Hopefully it will be interesting to others as well. NOTE: there’s a little blip in the first recording where I edited a brief mention of something out, but it didn’t affect the overall content.

Heartbreak | Change and “Healing”

I return to the heartbreak topic one more time to just speak through some personal experiences regarding change and “healing” (I put healing in quotes to point to some difficulties in the concept which I will talk about below). I bring these topics up out of some frustration and insight in my own process and discussing with others. I can only hope that sharing these words here will make some others feel seen, understood, and accompanied on their own path.

Even before I was fully cut off from the person behind my heartbreak, I spoke to her and others about how dating others held little interest for me and how I knew it would be really difficult to find someone else who is what I want for a long-term committed partnership. She and most everyone else have challenged me, but when I really present my perspective, there’s not really any counterarguments to be made.

Here’s the thing. I have a couple decades of long-term relationships and dating women as experience. Furthermore, I have a background in psychology and data analysis, meaning I’m used to thinking of problems like “who is in the dating pool?” in terms of metrics and demographics. Over the last couple years, I’ve thought about what I would like in a future long-term partner, and for me, that means a high degree of compatibility. I have a solid list of what kinds of interests and personality traits I see working well with me in a way that I would feel excited to commit to, especially in ways that I see as being easier to work with than the problems I’ve had with previous partners. That being said, many of them are more like “open to my way of doing x”, not so much – “you have to do x too”, so they aren’t fully rigid, and I’m big on being a compromising and supportive partner as well.

It’s quite clear to me that a few of my marks for compatibility dramatically reduce the number of good matches to something like less than 10% of heterosexual/bisexual women in general out of the gate, and that’s not even factoring in aspects like age, location, availability, etc., and yet, people just tell me to do things like “cast my nets”, as though randomly trying with others will make them compatible or in complete ignorance/dismissal of what I know from my heart and a couple decades of experience is what I want for myself moving forward.

The funny thing in that is that in challenging a particular friend with a very logical, data-driven breakdown, she couldn’t argue, as she’s quite data-minded as well, but she replied that although she agreed, she found it incredibly sad because it’s a perspective where I likely don’t get a happy end.

However, that’s the thing. We’re told time and again that we will. That there’s “our person” out there, etc. That’s a very long-standing desire. It’s almost fundamental as an existential counterpoint to feeling your identity as a person in the world with the needs for connection, sex, understanding, and companionship. There are colorful versions of that deep in mythology across cultures, not to mention Aristophanes’ poetic depiction of it in Plato’s Symposium.

Here’s the other thing. That’s an existential security blanket. There’s no guarantee that there is such a person out there. There’s not even a guarantee there’s a great match out there. Furthermore, even if there is, there’s no guarantee they’re nearby, a good match in terms of age, or that they’re currently looking for a partner too. It’s tough to hear, but there’s no guarantee of a happy end for any of us. Truly, if you speak to many about their lives, it becomes clear that life is complicated with a variety of ups and downs and unforeseen circumstances in relationships. If anything, the guaranteed happy ending is a fairytale, just like we know that term really implies.

This mental shift for me – focusing on what I want, pushing myself to avoid stepping into a relationship where I just begin compromising so greatly out of the gate where I immediately end up sacrificing my wants to someone else’s, and enforcing boundaries to uphold this idea that “single > settling” is a big move for me, and it’s one I’m committed to. I’ve even tried to challenge my hypothesis by looking through hundreds and hundreds of dating profiles for my area online. Absolutely none of them have changed my perspective regarding how much of a needle in a haystack such a match would be – my sense of demographics and what I want is even probably more accurate than I initially realized.

Here’s my point, ultimately, with this post. This is a big change for me, and it’s one I intend to further, even if for the rest of my life. I’m trying hard to think of myself in a new light, a new role for my future. I’m trying to reimagine what I might end up having and how I can sit with it in the years ahead. I keep my heart and mind open to being surprised along the way, but I’m not going to run towards anything just out of the desire to not be alone. Even though that’s really hard for me and this is the most depressingly lonely time of my life (and seems to look out on a wide horizon of more of the same), I would much rather that than being in a relationship where I feel alone and unvalued with a person sitting right next to me.

Now, in relation to “healing”, I’ve received some critiques that my position will soften over time or that I will find the right person when I heal and go back to the old me. Honestly, I hope not – for one, because then all this insight and one of the only two big, meaningful experiences I’ve pulled from this time (perhaps I’ll write about the other sometime soon) feel empty, dramatic, and histrionic. That’s not my jam. Personal and spiritual processing for me has impact, it builds, and I ingrain such changes into my life. They’re not passing seasons. Maybe aspects of them lessen or wax and wane, but something remains to grow or be challenged moving forward. Ditching these insights for my old paradigm seems both against my more general approach to life and a step backwards into really unhealthy patterns. If anything, others should be hoping along with me that I don’t move back into that.

The problem with “healing” as a concept is that it’s often used in just that sense: some recovery of function that returns to the old. Sayings like “time heals all wounds” illustrate that idea. However, wounds can heal improperly. Function can return, but not the same as before. For instance, I sprained my ankle at 19, and it still bothers me from time to time. That ankle works well enough for the day to day, but it is not and will never be the same as before. Other physical injuries I’ve had are the same. If anything, healing over time isn’t a return to form, it’s an adapting to changes of the system to keep going on well enough. Granted, some wounds do heal by fully disappearing, like a scab on the skin, and an indication that there’s still an issue there shows a problem that hasn’t healed. The wound is still there, festering. This applies to not getting over animosity and hate or an inability to build trust again with someone who makes every effort to build it in clear good faith. I say such things with no judgment. Some psychological wounds are the absolute hardest to truly “heal”, and the best that can be hoped for is a moving on that works around the pain somehow.

In any case, a change into a different worldview about love and relationships and what I want from them doesn’t indicate that I have some sort of temporary bleeding wound that will scab over and disappear. There’s something to be said, valued, and appreciated about this kind of change and how it’s actually a healthy move forward, not the opposite.


May these words make others feel accompanied and understood in their own developing heartways.

Gassho!