In a Relationship, I Just Want to Be Seen – And That’s Not Something You Can Teach or Randomly Fetch on a Dating App
BY MICHELE THEIL
When I was 20, I met my first love. Our relationship was by no means perfect – in fact, there were so many red flags, but I could barely see them. I stayed for longer than I should have because there was one thing about us that I couldn’t shake, and which I continued to miss for a long time after we broke up: I felt seen.
At times, he really saw me, and by that, I mean the ‘real’ me. His communication skills were lacking to say the least, and he wasn’t great at giving me the affection I desired, but he did know exactly what to say when I was sad or anxious. He cracked the right joke at the right time, the one that would make me laugh and forget all my worries.
Less than a year before we started dating, my dad had died. I had a complicated relationship with my mum, and I was still dealing with all the regular anxieties of a third-year university student, like what I would do after graduation and how I could ever afford to live in London. That person was able to say something random and pull me out of my dark thoughts, and though he never said “it would all be okay,” I always felt that was because he knew me well enough to understand that wasn’t what I needed at the time.
After that relationship ended, I tried dating on and off. Of course, the pandemic majorly complicated things, yet I have fallen in love again. When I was single, I had certain 'standards' like location, politics and morals that I - and probably many others - would seek in a potential partner. Those are all still important to me: I would never enter into a relationship with someone who didn’t share my fundamental beliefs and morals, especially as a queer woman of colour; because my identity in and of itself is political. Others find that hair colour, IQ, or even a mutual love of the gym to be what they want out of a relationship. For me though, one of the things I want is to feel seen in a meaningful and sometimes existential way by the person sleeping in my bed.
This feeling is intangible and ineffable. It is feeling like the person you're with knows you inside and out without you having to say a word. It's them knowing exactly who you are without having to ever be vulnerable, but if you did want to be vulnerable, they would never judge you or criticise you. They would just be there for you. Most people don't find this kind of connection in their late teens or early twenties, and they certainly don't find it on dating apps, because swiping right on a photo and three lines of personality in a bio makes it difficult to produce that effect.
When my ex and I broke up, I tried to ‘get over by getting under’, and was continually disappointed when I couldn’t recreate that feeling. My ex had many flaws, yet held a certain bar up high. I was terrified I would never find someone who would ‘see’ me again.
I went on with what I could only describe as ‘my ho phase’, trying not to think about it, numbing both the pain and expectations. I felt like maybe I didn’t deserve the love I needed, or didn’t deserve being ‘seen’ at all. It did cross my mind to just settle for someone who ticked other boxes than this one, even if that meant feeling invisible.
Luckily, I met my current partner last year, completely by accident. I didn’t intend to meet anyone but once I realised that this would be more than a brief fling, I decided I wouldn’t settle for less than what I needed or wanted. They are kind, communicative, and a good person who shares my values. We argue over the laundry or who is the best driver, but I feel seen for who I am and not who I’m trying to be – even more so than in my previous relationship.
It’s hard to describe what it means to feel ‘seen’. It’s even harder to share it with a partner. To me, it’s about feeling I can be myself, warts and all. It’s about knowing I won’t be judged, and that my partner will know what I need when I’m sick, when I’m excited, or when I’m sad.
I am a big believer that you can teach someone how to love you, but there also needs to be an innate instinct of recognition, and a thread-like connection. The kind of feeling that goes beyond words. I hope I get to experience it with my partner for a very long time.
This is the kind of feeling you can only truly understand once you’ve experienced it. Before that, you may not know it even exists. It’s the kind that is worth searching for, being patient for, and most importantly holding onto. Because when you finally do find it, it’s like seeing the sun for the first time – you wonder how your world could ever exist without it.