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? 


8 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.

  2. eva186 says:

    Thank you for posting this. Everything you wrote is so familiar. I’m just finding out about HSS and HSP. Have been reading a lot of articles lately and recognizing myself in your words is very comforting.

    I still tend to feel guilty about making it so difficult for others to love me. But like you, when on my own, I find it not so hard to love myself.

    I also do what you call diversify. All my friendships are one on one relationships. None of these people know each other. And each one fulfills a different one of my needs.
    For such a long time I thought this was abnormal or even wrong, while at the same time I strongly feel that I wouldn’t want to change it.

    I’m not a group person. Mostly because I feel that in groups conversations lose depth and I lose interest. And also, all the people make me feel too many feelings at once.

    How to be in a relationship is still a big question for me. I try to explain my combatting needs and urges, and the man in love assures me that he understands and that he can handle it. And in the end he doesn’t and he can’t.

    I so often feel that after a while they start expecting things that I have promised I would never have to offer. And yet, I am left ashamed.

    Another thing that happens is when I try to warn people about the complexity of me, they seem to discard that warning as if my words merely suggest that I have low self-esteem.

    Maybe now, knowing that HSS/HSP is a thing, I’ll be able to set clearer boundaries without feeling so selfish. Maybe reading more about it will help me explain myself in a way that it’ll be taken more seriously.

    1. leahburkhart says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your insights! So much of what you wrote reminded me of thoughts I have had (almost word for word) in my own mind. I can especially relate to what you said about “when I try to warn people about the complexity of me, they seem to discard that warning as if my words merely suggest that I have low self-esteem).

      Isn’t that interesting? That being self-aware can come across as self-deprecating? I feel like it would be similar to telling the warning label on most blow dryers (the ones that say “do not take this in the bath with you”) that it’s not REALLY a problem. It’s all in the blow dryer’s head. It just needs to learn to get comfortable with water. Huh?

      I do find that having a language around HSS/HSP is helpful. And knowing other people experience the same dichotomy of impulses is all the more so. And hey…if we can love ourselves when we are BY ourselves…that’s not such a terrible trade-off. People might not get us…but maybe they don’t have to. I totally get me. And it sounds like you absolutely understand yourself. As far as I’m concerned – that’s a victory all on its own.

  3. Sandra says:

    This resonates with me too. I have recently come to realize that the only way to have healthy, long-term relationships for me is to learn to be aware of my needs, fluctuating as they are, and to express them without judgement to the people in my life.

    1. leahburkhart says:

      That’s beautifully said, Sandra. Thank you! It seems like something that would be simple. But it can sometimes be surprisingly difficult to execute.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Thank you so much for your post! Recently learned that I’m a classic HSS HSP male and what you’ve written hits me deeply. Recently left a relationship with an amazing sensitive woman which unfortunately became stifling. Ashamed is definitely the feeling for the aftermath. Have you ever had a relationship with another sensitive/sensation seeking partner? I’m wondering if i should try to seek that out or if it would just multiply the difficulties.

    1. leahburkhart says:

      I’m so glad the post resonated for you. And I’m selfishly delighted to know I’m not the only classic HSS/HSP. We might not be the most common group. But you have to admit, we keep things interesting. To your point…I know what it is like to walk away from a relationship with an amazing person. And it can certainly conjure up feelings of shame. In my case, I had to grapple with the confusion of knowing the person was absolutely wonderful, while ALSO contending with the fact that it simply was not the right fit. But here is something that is worth remembering during those especially brutal criticisms that come from inside of ourselves. A person can be wonderful as an individual, and still not be the right person for us. This woman truly does sound amazing. I’m sure you’re right about that. My hunch is that you are amazing as well. Vanilla ice cream is amazing. Ghost peppers are amazing. But I would not, personally, choose to put those two things together. No matter how much I appreciate each one on its own. It sounds to me like you were honest (with her and with yourself). And that’s the best any of us can do. By doing that, you leave her open to find someone who will see what she offers as just the right fit for them. You leave yourself open to connection, as well. As for whether you should try to seek out a fellow sensitive/sensation seeker? Perhaps. I would, instead, invite you to consider this…maybe don’t worry about what to seek. Maybe, instead, just continue to be clear about who you are and what makes you come alive. By doing that, rather than having to seek, you may end up being found.

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