What is the Feeling of Truly Missing Someone?
What is it to miss someone?
And how often do we truly miss people?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what “missing” is, and of my favorite comedians, Chris D’Elia, indirectly pushed me to want to tackle this topic with his half-hilarious-half-poignant words. So, here I am.
To rewind a little: I’ve spent the last 18 weeks listening to Congratulations, a hilarious weekly podcast that Chris D’Elia started recently in which he basically just talks and jokes around for an hour or so. While the podcast never ceases to make me laugh so hard I accidentally burn my knuckles with my curling iron (yes, that actually happens), it also never ceases to make me ponder important life questions and topics. And that, to me, is a sign of great comedy. In episode 15 (beautifully titled “Gay Barnacles”), D’Elia talks about having a friend he hadn’t seen in a while reach out and say, “I miss you,” to which D’Elia reflexively responded with, “I miss you back.” He goes on to question what it is to miss someone and if he ever truly misses anyone. (It starts at 9:19 of the episode.)
“Do I miss my dad?”
“When does that ‘miss’ start kicking in? And what [even is] that? Is it a feeling? It’s like a feeling of you missing someone? I don’t know what that is. Man, this is why I started to think I was a fucking sociopath.”
“Do I like hanging out with my friends? Yeah. I like hanging out with people that I love. But when I’m not with them I don’t know if I feel like I miss them. I wonder if people identify with this.”
“I don’t miss my buddy, but I like hanging out with him.”
To answer the I wonder if people identify with this query: Yes. Yes. Yes. I so identify with this. And as someone who considers herself very empathetic, I have to assume other people identify with this also.
I’ve been thinking so deeply about this over the last few months, and hearing someone else question the idea of “missing” and what it actually is got my mind racing so fast I took all these notes on my phone that I want to put out into the world. I relate so much to everything D’Elia talked about, and I know I can’t be the only one.
Missing Family & Friends vs. Missing a Romantic Partner
When it comes to friends and family that I haven’t seen in a while, there’s this general, kind of subtle “missing you” feeling that shows up here and there, but it never hits a physical pain level for me. It's almost like background noise. More specifically, I can live my life and go to work and grab a drink with friends without feeling overwhelmed by how much I miss a friend or family member that’s in another city or state.
But when I think about the romantic relationships I’ve been in, I’m reminded of how painful it is to miss your partner when they’re gone—whether away on a trip or because the relationship has ended. I remember back to when I was 16… At the beginning of my very first relationship, my boyfriend, who was a senior a couple towns over, had left for spring break in the Bahamas for five days. I was at a diner with my mom late at night having mother/daughter time, and for the first time in my life I felt what it was to miss someone to the point of physical pain. This wasn't background noise, but the banging of drums inside my chest. I could feel the I miss you so much holy shit in my body and my bones. That’s when I knew I was falling in love for the first time. Or, falling into whatever kind of romantic love you’re capable of feeling at 16.
I felt that intense “missing you” pain for the first time at 16, and then I felt it again for someone new at 21 when I started seeing the guy that would become my second (and currently latest) boyfriend. I went from spending almost every day with this guy I was newly seeing in Los Angeles to leaving on a 14-day trip to New York to visit my family. Two weeks felt like forever. Once again, I felt the I miss you so much holy shit in my body and my bones. When I returned to L.A. and we were officially in a relationship, even one day apart from him caused me to feel that deep “missing you” feeling. It’s hard to admit this publicly, but I still feel it now, eight months after the breakup, even though I’m the one who ended it. I felt the deep “missing you” long after my first relationship ended also, but it eventually went away. It doesn’t live inside me anymore for my first boyfriend. But I still feel it for my latest boyfriend, and I’m not sure how and when it will go away—whether it will disappear before or after I’ve met the next person who I develop that “miss” for.
It’s weird to know that although I love my mom and dad and brother I’ll never miss them as deeply as I’ve missed, and will miss, a romantic partner when that partner isn’t physically with me. I love my parents and brother, and my love for them is forever, but I’ve never been tortured over missing them, or how much I've missed them. But if any of them were to pass away (knock on wood), the way I miss them would transform. I would miss them in a way I've, luckily, never been forced to miss anyone thus far, because I'd know I'd never get to see or talk to them again. I know that’s getting kind of morbid, but I think we just miss different people in different ways, and the ways we miss people can transform based on how much we see them, how much we value their presence in our lives, and whether they’re alive or no longer with us.
I think I’ll always miss my exes in a sense, because they’ve shaped so much of who I am, and because I shared my dreams and tears and secrets and body with them. I shared a bed with each of them, and I wanted to share my future with each of them at different times. But now that they’re more a part of my past than my present or future, the “missing you” feelings I have for them kind of lie in the past, in my nostalgia. I miss certain feelings and memories and firsts that I experienced with them and because of them, but my deepest “missing you” feelings will likely come to me based on whatever relationship I’m currently in. That just seems to be how it goes.
Breakups & Exes
Then there’s breakups… I want to dive into this, and I encourage you to bear with me, because I have a lot of thoughts that might need to be reread for clarification. Here I go:
Breakups. Breaking up with someone is, more or less, making the decision to stop spending time—or, at least to stop spending romantic time—with a person you loved, and likely still do love to an extent, because one or both of you have decided something is missing in the relationship. It’s like, yesterday we were a couple and today we’re not. When you’re in a relationship and have to be away from your significant other for a period of time, you text and call them and video chat with them, and you can feel this "missing you" deep in your heart. So what happens when you break up with someone? It’s not like that disappears overnight. You basically have to force yourself to be someone who doesn't yearn for this other person anymore. It’s like one of you is still on a trip, but it’s no longer acceptable to say “I miss you” and “I love you”…even if all you want in the whole wide world is to say “I miss you” and “I love you,” because you’re feeling that I miss you so much holy shit feeling but have to keep it inside all of a sudden. It’s like trying to stop smoking cigarettes cold turkey. Possible but difficult as hell. But once you call it quits, the less you talk. And the less you talk, the easier it is to move on. And all moving on really is is us trying to shake the I miss you feeling until it no longer has us tossing and turning in the middle of the night and second-guessing the dates we go on with other people. At least that’s how it usually goes. We hurt until we hurt a little less until we don't hurt over that same thing anymore.
But what does it mean if you keep missing an ex-lover, even though time is moving forward? What if the “missing you” feeling doesn't seem to lessen over time? Does that mean that maybe what you had was deep love you simply weren’t yet ready for when you were with that person? Should you try to make things work again? Or, could the “miss” that you’re experiencing be a false feeling that just means you have to work harder at surrounding yourself with new people and things that help you stop missing the people of your past? There’s so much to ponder.
Thinking about all this makes me wonder… What if we were to just cut off communication with any person? An ex. A parent. A friend. A coworker. Would we eventually get over the person we cut off and stop caring about them? Would we forget about them? Or are there some people we would think about and miss forever no matter what? Does missing someone come from how much time you spend with them? As in, the more you spend time with someone the more you miss them when they're gone? Or is it more of who they are to you and how much you love them, regardless of how much you see them? Maybe it depends, like a lot of things in life.
As I think about all this, I realize that I don't really miss people often. At least not deeply. I’m a loving, warm, sensitive person, but it’s rare that I truly miss someone. There are countless people I want to see and enjoy spending time with, but I've only ever deeply missed the people I've been in relationships with. I wonder how I'll feel when I have kids. I already feel so much love in my heart for my future kids, so I'm curious to know what my "missing you" capacity will be for them and how it will be different or similar to a romantic partner or parents or friends.
I guess all I can do is keep discovering more as I go through life and work on relationships new and old. If nothing else, this I know for sure: Next time a good friend or family member tells me they miss me… I’ll say it right back. I don’t have to feel physical pain to know I want to spend time with someone who’s important to me. And making the effort to connect face to face says a lot in this day and age.