Neediness and Dating: What's Healthy?

A common concern among heterosexual women I work with who desire to find a long-term partner is a fear of being needy. These women are usually bright, independent, and socially competent but are frustrated with dating because experiences with potential partners often seem to go nowhere.

Neediness is a trait society tends to associate with women, and many single women quickly absorb the idea that men fear and despise this trait. Women who have not experienced healthy attachment with early male figures are especially likely to buy into the notion that they must be ultra independent and “low maintenance” to attract and keep a man. In an attempt to display these characteristics, these women reject their own longing to be important, to be a priority in someone’s life, and for their normal and healthy emotional needs to be met and cared about by a partner. 

Attracting Unavailable Men

The problem is that this woman seems to attract men who want exactly that from her--to not be needed. She starts to feel like a magnet for men who are emotionally unavailable and uninterested in a committed relationship or in making her a real priority. She often feels frustrated when the man doesn’t plan ahead for dates, allows too much time to go by between texts or phone calls, and sometimes doesn’t follow through with what he says he’ll do. However, when the two do spend time together, there is often a lot of fun and chemistry, and this leads to her feeling confused and hurt when he doesn’t become more attentive and pursue her further. In fact, when she starts to let some of her needs show, he runs.

Certainly, some people expect a partner to fulfill parts of themselves another individual just can’t fill, and it’s important that this is addressed. But most of the women I work with express needs that are normal and healthy. Unfortunately, these very healthy needs likely weren’t positively mirrored or attended to sufficiently when growing up. Even if the woman had a great childhood and a great family, there may have been missing pieces that left her emotional needs partially unmet. So, there’s actually a mysterious familiarity and excitement she feels with potential partners who will ultimately turn out to repeat this same pattern (leaving her needs unmet). Ironically, she may find herself feeling uncomfortable and repelled by men who are capable of being close and who would like to meet her emotional needs.

The Good News

The good news is that women can explore this dynamic in their lives and shift their attraction toward men who are a better match. It takes a lot of hard work and it doesn’t happen overnight, but I’ve seen women do it.  

One thing I work on with a client who has this experience is to help her learn about her needs and to begin to understand them as healthy. It’s also important to build confidence in expressing herself and her needs to others and believing that her expectations in relationships are reasonable. This often requires being vulnerable in new ways, including facing rejection from the unavailable men she hopes will love her. This new vulnerability and confidence can help prepare her for real intimacy with a great guy who shows up and with whom she is attracted. 

We Need Connection

It is okay to need and desire companionship and a committed romantic partner. I don’t mean that someone can’t have a fulfilling single life. There are many singles who are happier than their married counterparts. But we do need community. We need connection. 

Men desire connection too.

The ones who do and who are looking for and able to participate fully in a relationship may not be drawn to you if you’re pretending you’re the “cool girl” who doesn’t need anyone. Many men who want a relationship also want to be needed.

If you think your needs truly are overwhelming to others and unreasonable, this can also be explored in therapy and brought into greater balance as you increase your ability to care for yourself.

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About Melissa King

I am a licensed mental health counselor in New York City with a psychotherapy office in the neighborhood of Murray Hill in Manhattan. Find out more about me here. I'd love to hear from you. Email me if there's a topic you'd like to read about here.