Starving on the Crumbs of Love

Image by Tafilah Yusof from Pixaby

If there was an anorexia of romantic relationships, I would be in recovery. For my romantic life, I have largely subsisted on the crumbs of love. I have settled for little bites of affection or the occasional buffet of over the top romance, immediately followed by a strict diet of tiny morsels of like or love.

I see it all around and I’m not the only one with a romantic consumption dis-order, either. I’m surrounded by strong, powerful, beautiful and successful women, yet I consistently see so many of us walking around running on the fumes of love, because we are pecking around for crumbs left by the ones we expect to keep us full and nourished.

So what is the phenomena? Back in the day we used to call it settling, but now I see that I was starving myself of what I needed and deserved, because I didn’t choose a better path. It has been a slow trajectory and early on my journey, I didn’t even realize it was my issue. I always blamed the men I dated. “This one is crazy,” “this one’s a jerk,” or my favorite, “he is emotionally unavailable.” I always seemed to find myself in the same types of relationships, even if the men were different. It doesn’t mean they weren’t jerks or emotionally unavailable, but what I didn’t understand before, was that I was attracting these types and welcoming them into my life with open arms. My very first boyfriend was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. I was smart enough to kick his ass to the curb (and press charges) the first time he laid hands on me, but it didn’t mean I wouldn’t continue to repeat the pattern in more subtle ways, with future relationships. The next ex was controlling and belittling. Exactly what a fresh and ambitious 20-something woman needs, right? The list goes on and after unsuccessful relationships, I finally understood what was happening. While I improved my choice in partners and I continued to get more and more of what I wanted and needed, it still wasn’t enough of a steady diet to maintain my desired “love weight,” but about four years ago, things started to dramatically change for me. I would love to say I found a magic bullet, but it was only after years of therapy and late nights on the phone with my best friend, I realized what was happening. It took me putting it into the context of food to really understand it. I’m not sure where the term love crumbs originated, but it couldn’t be more accurate.

If you are reading this, it’s probably because you have struggled with similar challenges. We’ve all been there. We meet someone and things start great. They are available, affectionate and after the “test drive,” ends, we stop getting what we need. We get a little less communication, we get a few less dates or they become less romantic. Maybe we receive less affection and maybe the sex dwindles down or goes away, but we “connect,” with them so deeply (or at least that is what we tell ourselves), we accept less and less until we are barely subsisting. Why do we do this? For me, deep down it was because I believed I was asking for too much. At the time, I didn’t feel I deserved to take up that much space in someone’s life, or didn’t want to be a burden by asking for too much of anything, even if it was hugs.

So what can you do about it and how can you change the dynamic in your current or future relationships? I’m no therapist, but I believe we learn so much in shared experience and here are a few things I have learned along the way.

Go Inward

The first thing I did was to sit down and do some deep work. I spent a lot of time journaling about what I really wanted and desired. I didn’t edit myself as I wrote, but rather listing everything I wanted, no matter how small, wild or demanding. After I allowed myself to freely express my desires, something really interesting appeared. I wasn’t asking for that much at all. In fact, my “demands,” were very reasonable and I wasn’t even asking more of my partner than I expected of myself. That leads me to the next point.

“I’m not asking for too much…I’m asking the wrong Mother Fucker “ — Alina Baraz

Don’t Ask For More Than You’re Willing to Give

This is a common trap I see so many people fall into. They have these expectations of their partners, sometimes unreasonable, but they don’t subscribe to them. For example, I knew a man who freely went to happy hour (pre-covid) with single female coworkers and would stay out late. He didn’t get into any shenanigans (that I knew of), but he didn’t “approve” of his wife doing the same thing. He would get very jealous and say she wasn’t “allowed,” the same behavior for whatever nonsense reason. Needless to say, that’s not cool. Another example is interacting with old lovers or even following thirst traps on Instagram, but losing your mind when your partner does it. It’s not OK and it isn’t fair, and fairness is important in creating equitable and healthy relationships. The best part is that you and your partner get to decide what fairness looks like for the two of you.

Be Clear on Your Boundaries

This is one of the main reasons I struggled in past romantic relationships. I used to believe boundaries were a bad thing and that if I had boundaries, it was a demonstration that I didn’t love someone, but that’s not the case. The truth is that it’s only when you have boundaries to protect yourself, you can be present for another. It’s an old cliche, but still every bit as true and when you are on a plane, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others. Think of boundaries like your oxygen mask. I like to think of boundaries as my “deal-breaker,” list. For example, your boundary could be that you will not be romantically involved with anyone if they aren’t willing to be monogamous. Another boundary could be talking to each other everyday in order to feel safe and secure in relationship. Boundaries look different for everyone, but it’s critical you know what your boundaries are and you communicate them early and often. Back in my 20s, I had an ex-boyfriend who loved roller coasters, even though I hated them. I didn’t just hate them. I was terrified, despite loving them as a kid. He bought us tickets to an amusement park and thought he would convince me to ride them once we got there, because he spent all this money on our date. I told him repeatedly that I was scared of roller coasters and didn’t want to go, but he kept pressing me until I finally gave in. I think part of me felt guilty he spent all this money on our date and what good is an amusement park if you don’t ride the rides, right? Needless to say, it didn’t end well. I passed out on the ride and flopped around while he sat in a panic next to me hoping I didn’t die. We finally got off the ride, I was furious and he felt terrible. Had I been firm in my boundaries about not riding roller coasters, everything would have been fine, but at the time, I felt more guilty about him spending money, than protecting myself. It’s easy to see how this easily snowballs into a very toxic and dangerous dynamic, left unchecked.

“At first you will probably feel guilty, selfish or embarrassed when you set a boundary. Do it anyway and tell yourself you have a right to self-care. Setting boundaries takes practice and self-determination. Don’t let anxiety or low self-esteem prevent you from taking care of yourself.” — Terri Cole

Stand Firm In Your Boundaries

This may seem obvious, but it’s so important, it bears repeating. Once you have clear boundaries, you have to keep them. Will there be exceptions? Sure, but if you aren’t careful, the exception becomes the rule and you will quickly find yourself repeating old habits and starving on the same stale crumbs. This is you actively putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others. I was recently involved with someone and I mentioned healthy boundaries. He immediately jumped in to tell me that he had no boundaries, as if it was a good thing. He literally said it with such confidence, as if he had a magic badge that made him a better partner. Unfortunately for him, it only served as a giant red flag and the relationship quickly burned out. I immediately recognized the same toxic dynamic of past relationships, under what he presented as his own emotional maturity.

“I was addicted to filling a void within myself with things other than my own love.” — Yung Pueblo

Repeat After Me…

I am worthy of love. I deserve love. I am a whole person that does not need to be completed and is capable of giving and receiving great love.

How did that feel? Good, right? OK, maybe a little silly at first, but it works. Try again. Go ahead, I will wait. Also, can we just take a moment to say “fuck you, Jerry McGuire.” You don’t need anyone to complete you and thanks for creating the story that we need anyone to complete us. This is a codependent disaster waiting to happen.

Often times, the reason we find ourselves starving on love is because we don’t think we are worthy or perhaps we worry we won’t find someone else. We may struggle with low self esteem, preventing us from telling our partner “I need more kissing,” or “I need you to text me when you are coming home from work,” when those are the things we need to feel secure in relationship. We settle for Netflix and take out when we really need “date night” to feel connected, eventually building up resentment, for needs we never expressed. You get to choose your adventure and if you love yourself enough to express what you want and need, to be a healthy partner.

“You are worthy of fully committed love that is rooted in trust, respect, friendship and functionality. Stop settling.” — Alex Elle

Be Honest

Always be up front with your partner. Maybe you haven’t always told your partner what you wanted and needed, but it’s not too late to start. If they are the right person for you, they will want to learn and grow with you; ideally in the same direction. In reflecting on fairness, it isn’t fair to expect someone to perform a certain way but never telling them what you expect. It’s kinda like asking someone to play a game but you declare yourself the winner at the end, without ever disclosing the rules. That’s a passive aggressive trap and everyone loses that game. You may not be able to recover from that game, so you be honest and up front about what’s important to you in a relationship. Otherwise, you could resent your partner for still feeling so hungry.

“If you’re keeping score in your relationship, you won’t have one for long. Everyone contributes in different ways and your partner deserves more than you passively aggressively loading your [magazine].” — Preston Smiles

Can You Summarize That For Me?

The great news is that these are all simple things. The bad news? These are all super tough and require many of us to undo a lifetime of patterned and conditioned behavior. The best news is that you’re worth it and you no longer have to starve on crumbs. You can step into your power and create the love within yourself that will shine so brightly, others will have no choice but to seek your light. What’s next, you ask? Take the time to figure out what you really want and need to feel safe and secure in relationship. Set some boundaries and communicate them to your partner, but don’t forget to stick to them and don’t expect anything of your partner you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. Does it mean that people will leave and relationships will end? Absolutely, but whenever you have doubts remember the words of Alina Baraz…“[you’re just] asking the wrong mother fucker.”

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Cathy Kading

Cathy Kading

Healer, Leadership & Wellness Coach, & Future Herbalist