I Dare You to Love Me…(On Being a Sensation Seeking HSP in Love)

I’ve always been suspicious of the idea of a “soulmate.” I mean…seriously? One person who will meet all your needs forever? And if you don’t find said person, you are doomed to loneliness and the feeling of being incomplete? Hmmmm…

But I’ve come around. It turns out, I do have a soulmate. It’s solitude.

That doesn’t mean that I will always be single. As it happens, I’m not single right now. But what it does mean is that I am prepared never to feel satisfied with anyone in the same way that I feel at home in my own skin.

Because…let’s be real, here…loving me isn’t something you do on a dime. It’s something you do on a dare.

I am a highly sensitive person. I process the world around me with infuriating scrutiny. Every experience becomes a line of inquiry. Every book is a possible new journey. Every conversation is an opportunity to change my mind. My sensitivity allows me to easily access empathy. It also allows me to adapt. I do not need loud flashy gadgets in my life to keep me entertained. A flipping tree can keep me entertained. In fact, put too many flashy, loud, time-sucking elements into my life, and I get crotchety, grouchy, resentful.

That shouldn’t really be terribly problematic. To keep myself happy, all I should need is a quiet space, a safe relationship, and some stability in my life.

But…because you knew there was going to be a but…I am also high sensation seeking. This complicates everything. 

To be high-sensation seeking does not mean that I am a thrill chaser. Well…not in the stereotypical sense. It just means that I love novelty. I love people who are unpredictable. I am drawn to intense experiences that leave me breathless. I want music that cuts me to the bone. I want conversation that excites me into being fully awake.

You can imagine how well this serves me.

  • I hate airplanes, but I love traveling to new places and exploring new terrain.
  • I hate loud banging noises, but somehow I am just fine with running to the beat of an intense (and loud) song.
  • I detest violence, but I thrive in a conflict.
  • And in a relationship…I easily become disinterested in people who play games. I want transparency. I want a person who is grounded. But if you’re too grounded, and too settled, there is no friction, and therefore no room for growth. So I get bored.

Are you seeing the problem?

In nearly every romantic relationship, my poor partners have had to find a way to balance between these two opposing needs buried deep beneath my skin. I want warmth and safety and intimacy….but I also want passion, pain, and growth.

For whatever reasons (I make no claim to have any idea what they might have been) each partner I have been with found it worth their while to stick it out a number of years. Each relationship died a graceful death (or at least…that was my experience of it). Each relationship was lovely.

But also…each relationship left me feeling, at least on some level, ashamed.

The men in my life didn’t make me feel that way. Not exactly. It’s more that their exhaustion with me left me, and continues to leave me feeling that way. My insistence on always asking “yes but are you sure?” about things most people would happily file away as a given leaves them feeling as though, with me, there is never any solid ground to stand on. My need for intensity makes them feel like they can’t sit still. My need for tranquility makes them feel on edge. At least…that’s the feedback I keep getting.

I love relationships. I love being in love. I love when the “in love” part fades into partnership. I even love (in some twisted masochistic way) the death of a relationship. It all teaches me so much. It’s like a perpetual mirror that shows me angles of myself I never would have otherwise seen.

But I don’t love how hard it is to love me. I don’t love the knowing of that truth.

In my life, I am perpetually negotiating between two impulses. One impulse demands that I burrow inward. It demands that I quiet my life down and root myself to the ground so that I have some measure of where I stand. That part of me is frightened by how exposed I feel. That part of myself wants protection from life’s assaults. The other impulse demands that I do the opposite. It demands that I rip apart every shield that might dull the pain of rejection, failure or heartbreak….because in compensation that part of me knows that I will leave myself open to joy, love, and exhilaration.

Can you imagine being in a relationship with such a creature?

  • Do you take her out to a new restaurant with new possibilities? Or is this a night for the familiar?
  • Does she want passionate sex tonight? Or just functional sex?
  • Does she want me to push her on this? Or does she need me to comfort her?
  • Is she withdrawing into her room because she just needs some time to recharge? Or is she running away from something you would do better to chase her down and explore?
  • Does she want to build a home? Or does she want to carry it in a backpack and run for the hills?

No lover has ever really known. Because half of the time I’m not always sure what I want.

There is the source of all the shame and pain. It’s in the fact that my very nature appears to aggravate the very people I most want to shower with affection. It’s in knowing that while I am lovable and deserving of love, I am frequently not likable. No matter how well intentioned, I am infuriating.

There is only one person in my life that I can say, without question, is capable of loving me unconditionally. And that’s me.

I love the fact that part of me is slumbering under a sleeping willow while another part of me is howling at the moon. I love the fact that I experience life with one foot on the gas and the other ready to brake. I may apologize for it in my relationships – for I understand why it would be challenging to tolerate…but the truth is that I am entirely unapologetic about it in the privacy of my own mind and heart.

For this reason, I no longer fear whether or not I will find an elusive “ONE” to be with me forever. I already found her. She’s in me. In fact, in looking at the evidence, I think it is entirely likely that I will end up without a partner by my side. All relationships end (if not from a break-up, then they still end with the death of one of the two individuals committed to one another).

Perhaps this is the curse and the blessing that comes with being both intensely sensitive to and curious about life. I may be cursed with a string of lovers who have and will continue to walk away winded, unhappy and exhausted.  But I have yet to exhaust myself. 

I have committed myself to myself. And I have absolutely no fear that I have chosen poorly.

 

What is your experience of relationships with romantic partners?

What is your experience of yourself? 

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dani says:

    Oh my… This is me without a doubt! Standing on that same crossroad now… (for the who-knows-how-many-time-again).

    Being in a perfect relationship at the moment, a relationship that so many people would envy, and all I can think is; “Is this really all there is? Is this really “it”?”

    Seriously, what’s wrong with me?!!! Why can’t I just be simply happy? How do you deal with it?

    1. leahburkhart says:

      Hi Dani!
      Ohhh I know exactly what you are talking about. And in answer to your question “why can’t I just simply be happy?” – my personal theory is that…being human…we want both love/intimacy/connection and friction/growth/passion. And it’s really challenging to find the sweet spot where we have both. As for how I deal with it – the only way I have ever managed is by speaking up. When I feel like I’m in a rut, I say it. “Hey! I feel like we’re roommates, here. Not lovers. We’ve gotta do something…” Or if it’s gone the other way “Hey I appreciate that you are willing to challenge me and allow me to think about things in new ways. But I really just need support right now. Can you help me out?”

      I also find it’s helpful to diversify. I haven’t had much success with getting all my needs met with one person. I have strong connections with other people in my life. When I want expansion and growth….I speak with Friend A. When I want a debate, I call person B. When I want affection…. and so on.

      I don’t know if that’s sustainable in the long term. I just know it seems to be helping me navigate those conflicting needs for now.

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