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Why Do You Miss Someone?

The science and psychology behind the phenomenon of missing.

“But nothing makes a room feel emptier than wanting someone in it.” ~Calla Quinn

Have you ever been in a situation where someone says they miss you but you don’t reciprocate their feelings? Have you ever feigned to be missing someone? Have you ever really missed someone? What makes it different from wanting them at your side because you need them? What is the distinction between becoming accustomed to someone’s presence and missing someone because you love them?

I frequently hear individuals, particularly young couples, discussing how much they miss one another. Many people believe that they can’t live apart after only a few months of dating. Some of you may squirm at this vacuity, while others may revere strong relationships made in a short period of time. Let’s put the dynamics of love and time aside for now.

Today, what I want to talk about is: What exactly does missing someone mean? Can you miss someone you don’t love? Can you love someone but not miss them? How long can you miss someone—Days? Months? Years? Can you miss someone you have known for a week and not miss someone you have known for years?

Let’s find out.

What does science say about the phenomenon of Missing?

I consider the phenomenon of missing a loved one more complex than love itself. Oxytocin is the attachment hormone. It is produced in the hypothalamus and released during sex, childbirth, and lactation to aid reproductive functions. You can also call it a bonding hormone. The research has shown that the levels of Oxytocin increase during sexual intercourse. It should be noted, however, that the increase in oxytocin levels is not due to feelings of desire or attraction, but rather to feelings of protection for the loved one. This also explains why casual sex or one-night stands can sometimes feel empty and worthless. Both partners don’t feel protective of each other since, in such a scenario, they are equally disposable.

Because it takes time for oxytocin and other hormones to return to their former levels, you miss someone instantly after they leave your side. For example- Leaving your child off to school or dropping your partner to his/her home.

If you don’t see the person you have been hanging out with for months, you feel a burning sensation in your chest. It happens because your hormone release was almost cyclical. And a break in the cycle leaves you with a void, which we term ‘missing’. For eg- not seeing your best friend for a day, not seeing your boyfriend or girlfriend at the time you usually meet.

If you are obsessed with someone or if you are attached to someone and they suddenly leave you, you tend to miss them. Longing sensations might be so intense that you disassociate from your surroundings and act irresponsibly. This is caused by an oxytocin overdose. While appropriate amounts of oxytocin help us bond with our companions and feel warm towards them, high levels of oxytocin can also feed jealousy and irrational behaviour.

So, can you miss someone you don’t love?

Yes. You might be missing someone you don’t love or even like. Oxytocin is more about affinity than love. You could be emotionally linked to someone or something you don’t love or enjoy. For example, a former classmate or coworker, a fictitious character, and so on.

Can you love someone but not miss them?

Yes. Longing, ironically, is a fleeting emotion. You usually miss someone for a few days, and then the longing fades with time. That doesn’t mean you don’t love them; rather, it means your body and brain are progressively conquering your urge for emotional dependence on them. When you leave your parent's house, the number of phone calls decreases with time, but love does not. Similarly, following a breakup, your urge to see your ex-partner declines with time, and this is referred to as ‘moving on.’

How long can you miss someone — Days? Months? Years?

Yes and No. I don’t believe you can miss someone continuously for weeks on end. However, if stimulated, you can miss someone even after years. For example, looking at images of your grandparents makes you miss them. When we are emotionally weak, we are frequently reminded of the person who was the best support to us, even if that person has been gone for years. You may have dozens of others who can help you, yet you still miss the person who hasn’t been there for years due to the close link you shared.

Can you miss someone you have known for a week and not miss someone you have known for years?

“Admiring is easy, but affinity, that does take some time.” ~Mary Oliver

Though Mary Oliver would disagree, sometimes bonds can be independent of time.

What exactly does ‘missing someone’ mean?

It simply means you share or have shared a special or at least a human affinity with "someone" in the past. Love, friendship, companionship, or a mere human-to-human connection.


Katherine Wu, “Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship”, February 14, 2017

Markus MacGill, “What is the link between love and oxytocin?”, September 4, 2017

Richard Gray, “New fathers may undergo hormonal, neural and behavioural changes”, August 20, 2018

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