Burnout Isn't Just A Work Problem
It can impact your love life too
We often associated burnout with workplace stress. Burnout is a psychological and physical state caused by prolonged and excessive stress brought on by the not being able to meet expectations put on you either from others or yourself.
You’re overwhelmed with pressure to perform without the mental and emotional resources to get things done. Because of all this pressure, your mind starts to cope by distancing itself from the source of your stress. Emotions become stagnant, your energy is depleted, and you’re in a negative funk.
Simply put, you just don’t have enough juice in your engine.
I centered my entire senior’s thesis about occupational burnout and spent hundreds of hours researching and writing about this topic. Burnout, to me, is a fascinating subject. Especially as it becomes an ever-increasingly relevant health crisis for workers around the world.
So, imagine my surprise when I figured out that you can also be burnt out from love. Color me shocked.
Allow me to elaborate further.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been recovering from the breakup of a serious relationship. I’ve spent the last twenty-one months healing my heart, getting to know the real me, and exploring what life has to offer. But for some reason, I had it stuck in my head that you can’t truly be healed until you build something with somebody new. This probably stems from the fact that I’ve always been a serial dater and monogamist.
With thirteen years of relationship experience under my belt, it’s safe to say that being alone wasn’t really my thing. I bounced from partner to partner like it was my job.
This period of singledom is the longest I’ve been on my own since I was fourteen years old. Let’s let that sink in for a second. The last time I was single like this was before the iPhone was invented. Toxic by Britney Spears was new to the Billboard chart. George W. Bush was in his first term as president.
So naturally, when my ex and I split, I naively thought that it would be like the other breakups I’ve been through. I had my routine down. There’s the wallowing, the tears, the pints of Ben & Jerry’s, and then boom, a new partner to bounce back with. Only, it hasn’t exactly worked out like that.
Since my breakup, I’ve been on dates with great guys who have a lot to offer as a potential partner. On a recent date, this one guy and I spent the entire evening joking and laughing over dinner and drinks. We laughed so hard that our cheeks hurt by the end of the evening. I walked home from our date with a weight of confusion. On the one hand, I had a great time with a great guy. On the other hand, I felt absolutely nothing towards him.
I was angry at myself and ashamed. I couldn’t help but ask myself questions like:
What’s wrong with me?
Am I broken?
Is it normal to feel like that?
I felt that if I couldn’t feel anything for this man who on paper was perfect, then maybe my heart wasn’t as open as I thought. I climbed into bed and let some tears roll down my face.
Days passed, and I couldn’t shake the feeling of confusion at not being able to feel anything after my date. Thoughts spun round and round in my head, and the pressure inside of me built until I felt plain ol’ burned out.
That was the answer to my woes. There wasn’t anything wrong with me. I was just burned out when it came to love.
Love burnout is when you do not have the emotional capacity to meet anyone else’s needs but your own. You feel drained, and dating feels like a chore. Attraction towards potential partners is all but non-existent. The thought of having to share yourself and your time with another person makes your skin itch.
And guess what? It’s perfectly normal when you’ve experienced any sort of heartbreak or sense of loss. It doesn’t mean you aren’t over your ex, and it doesn’t mean you are broken beyond repair. It only means you need a break, as your heart has been through a lot. For some people, it may take a shorter amount of time to recover. For others, it may take longer. But, it most likely won’t last forever. Not if you take the right steps.
1. Accept what you’re feeling (or not feeling)
Part of the reason we experience love burnout is that we have a hard time accepting what we’re feeling. The perfect example of this is when I tried to shame myself for not feeling anything towards my date after a night of laughter and fun. Shame was the opposite of what I needed, and I would’ve done better with a little acceptance instead of resistance. My heart broke in a major way, and it’s going to take some time to be able to experience romantic feelings again.
Sometimes, life hands us lemons. Whether if it’s in the form of a relationship not working as you envisioned, friendships being outgrown, losing a job, and a multitude of other sour situations.
But, there is power in acceptance. We take away the burden of burnout by surrendering and admitting: “Yeah, this sucks, and I don’t want to feel this way, but I do.” In that way, you remove the pressure from yourself to feel any differently than you currently do. And once you remove the pressure, it won’t be long before you experience relief.
2. Put yourself first
As I mentioned before, burnout is virtually an imbalance of not being able to meet expectations placed on you by others or yourself. In the process of fighting against burnout, your needs take the backseat.
You have to make yourself number one. It’s just like the airline safety demonstration before take-off, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping your seatmate. What do you need to fill up your emotional engine again? Is it hitting up the gym and getting your sweat on? Binge-watching a comedy series on Netflix and cry laughing? Journaling until your fingers ache? I can’t tell you what your needs are, but you’ll feel a hundred times better when you figure it out for yourself and tend to them.
3. Time and space
As with the regular kind of burnout, time and space help brings peace of mind and healing. And when we have a chance to breathe, it’s easy to reflect on what got you here in the first place.
Sometimes, even if it’s a bit painful, we have to look back in order to move forward. What are some lessons you can learn from previous romantic relationships? What was lacking, and what do you want to look for in the future? Which wounds need to be healed?
Time and space is something that I’ve been excelling at lately as I take my winter hibernation in front of my living room fireplace. Before, I was scared to take too much time. I thought I would be missing out on potential partners, even the one. Now though, I realize that it’s ok for me to take a breather to gather myself up and heal what needs to be healed. What’s meant for me will always find its way to my life.
4. Embrace singledom
If you’re like me and are a self-admitted serial monogamist, then maybe it’s time to explore what it means to be unattached. Something that I’ve learned lately is to consider singledom as a privileged freedom instead of a loss.
Now is the perfect time to invest in yourself and your life without being tied down to another person. Explore new interests, hobbies, and places. Work hard at advancing yourself in your career, education, or side gig.
Revel in the fact that you can eat ice cream straight from the tub in your underwear sans judgment. Revel in the fact that you belong to you and you alone. Once you get around to enjoying singledom, you’ll find that standing on your own isn’t all that bad.
5. Avoid dating (for the time being)
It should go without saying that being love burnt out means that you are technically emotionally unavailable. Emotionally unavailability is a sure way to hurt other people when you are dating without intention.
Dating should be avoided until you are 100% certain you are ready to meet other people where they’re at and meet their needs — and letting them meet yours. Not only are you not wasting other people’s time if you date when you aren’t ready, but you’re also wasting your own. Another human being should never be used as a prop to help you get through heartache or burnout. It just isn’t the kind thing to do.
I won’t claim to have all the answers. I routinely receive messages from heartbroken people who have read my work and expect me to have the answers on how to heal their hearts. I’m just a person who has been through what you are going through.
And to be honest, some days, I’m still going through it. Whenever I try to hurry through the process of healing from love burnout, I remind myself that it’s going to take some time and effort. But it won’t last forever. This season of life serves a purpose too. It causes us to slow down and take a breather after less-than experiences in love. It’s a unique time to reflect on what we’ve experienced, learn how to meet our own needs, and dive down to a deeper level of who we are at our core. It’ll prepare us for the future when we are more emotionally available and ready to make things work with the right person.
When the time is right, the burnout will disappear. So hang tight, take care of yourself in the meantime, and know that you too will heal.