Every human on the Earth has a hungry heart—we all feel a longing for deeper, more meaningful connection with others. The problem isn’t that we have a hungry heart – it’s that we walk around every day thinking we are the only ones, that there’s something wrong with us, and that everyone else has a fully nourished heart at all times.
We are bombarded with endless self-help articles and gurus that tell us we should feel content and complete in & of ourselves, but the truth is, a hunger for intimacy is a natural & normal part of the human condition. It’s neither a personal failing, nor something that needs to be fixed; rather, it is up to us to learn what nourishes our heart and create ways to feel satiated regularly.
Your heart is just like your stomach
The idea that somehow you are the only one with a hungry heart is absolutely untrue. Your heart hungers in a unique way, but everyone has that longing, that need for human touch, and that desire for intellectual and intimate connection. This is the way humans are made.
There is a biological understanding that our physical hunger is neither a problem nor a personal failing, and our hearts function similarly. We cannot always satiate the emotional hunger within us. First of all, there’s a cycle, or a rhythm, to when we need to become emotionally satiated. We would never ask ourselves, “what’s wrong with me that I feel hungry again? I ate 5 hours ago! What did I do wrong such that I feel hungry again? Why am I not constantly full?”
In the same way, we shouldn’t ask this of our hearts. We will feel hunger in our heart in a rhythmic way, following a pattern. This hunger can be felt in the form of longing, or desire, or a feeling of being drawn to another person or community. This is not just true in a romantic or sexual way, either; we have hungry hearts for friendship, and for human connections of all kinds.
As humans, we need intellectual relationships, friendships with our colleagues, intimate relationships, and silly friendships. We are created to need each other.
We have to stop pretending that we don’t feel hunger
Often, relationships are based on two untruths. The first is that a hungry heart itself is a problem. We are told that we are lacking in some way, and that we need to fix it.
It’s also untrue that this hunger can be fixed by one person. We cannot blame our need for human connection on our wounds or past traumas. We will always experience this hunger from our heart rising in cycles, just like our belly. So to approach another human pretending that we don’t have hungry hearts leads to us craving nourishment while simultaneously pretending that craving isn’t there.
When we don’t acknowledge that we need nourishment, we don’t explicitly have conversations with our friends & partners where we talk about what we need from each other. We don’t ask ourselves, how can we both be fed here? And how does that need change day-to-day? Or over the years?
These are important questions to ask because, just like our stomachs, we don’t need the same nourishment at all times. For example, I like oatmeal, but I don’t necessarily want to eat it 3 times a day – forever. This is such a normal idea when it relates to our stomachs, but since we don’t relate to our hearts in the same way we relate to our stomachs, we don’t realize our hearts need that variety as well.
Most people are deeply undernourished in their relationships without knowing it
If we go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, we end up buying things we don’t need. We grab items off the shelf at random, listening to the voice inside us speaking impulsively, telling us we need all kinds of junk food. We buy things we don’t even really want because we are so undernourished that we don’t have the rational capacity to slow down and think about what we actually need.
This same pattern can be seen in our relationships. When our hearts are undernourished, we start pulling from the relational grocery store shelves at random, trying to find something to fill our cravings without asking ourselves, what will nourish me in this moment? What do I actually need? What will allow me to feel satiated in a deep(er) way? We try to find comfort in bad relationships, or force ourselves to hang out with friends we don’t feel that happy with. When we don’t continuously check in with our heart and nourish it properly, then we start engaging in unsatisfying relationships because we are craving nourishment of any kind, and we aren’t picky about what we actually end up with.
No relationship will nourish your heart perfectly at all times
We get stuck in this pattern of trying to find the right relationship, or the right group of friends, that will nourish us “properly” so that we don’t feel this way anymore. But this is impossible. We start hiding parts of ourselves, thinking that we will be able to find someone to love us in such a way that we won’t feel hungry anymore. But we can’t go out to an incredibly fancy meal at a beautiful restaurant, eat a five course meal complete with dessert, and then expect that we will never be hungry again, just because we fed ourselves exactly what we wanted at that moment. That’s just not how our stomachs work. In the same way, there is no relationship or friendship you can have such that you will never experience a hungry heart again.
Reevaluate your needs
If we are able to feed our stomach appropriately with what actually nourishes us, we will go through healthy cycles of hunger and satiation. However, if we just eat a bunch of junk food all day, we may not feel hunger in the same way as we would by eating nothing, but there will still be a sense of feeling ill, or undernourished, just the same, because we aren’t feeding ourselves with what we actually need.
This is the problem you can fix. You can pause, set aside what you’re eating, and reevaluate what you need. You always have the option of turning towards something that might actually fill your belly for a longer period of time, until you get to the next natural point in the cycle when you will need to feed yourself again.
I don’t see this happening enough in romantic relationships. People don’t reevaluate their heart’s needs, and instead they keep feeding it relational junk food in the hopes that one day their heart will feel satisfied. This leads to chronic loneliness, and to people leaving relationships too early, or alternatively, staying too long. It also leads people to discard certain friendships, because the person doesn’t “meet their needs”, when they don’t actually realize what their needs are.
Different hearts are not incompatible hearts
Your capacity to love another person depends on your ability to understand what their heart needs, what your heart needs, and how they are different.
In a relationship, both partners need to work together to understand each other’s hungry hearts. Ask each other what you need to feel nourished, loved, and connected with each other. This is an ongoing process, as your needs change with time. Being able to articulate your needs to your partner is key: look at your own heart and realize what you need. How do you need to be touched, heard, or listened to?
This is a vulnerable place to put yourself in, and it can be difficult to express yourself properly. It’s easy to say “I just want to be met,” but that is too broad. Being “met” is a deeply personal thing that cannot be applied in a blanket way to everyone.
Until you can understand your own heart and articulate that to another person, you cannot nourish yourself properly. This is the life-long work that we must do as humans with hungry hearts.
For a more in-depth discussion, and examples of how to implement this into your relationships, check out the video below.
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Thanks Kendra, I just needed to read this. I feel confused when it comes to relationships. Whenever I express a need or yearning, whether to therapists, close friends or family members, I’m always told “you should be happy by yourself, without what you yearn for”.
Everywhere I go there’s the saying “once you’re happy by yourself (and meet all your needs on your own) then the love of your life will appear”. Honestly, I’ve become so uber independent that the only men that have “appeared” are those who need to be taken care of and are far far away to be whom I actually need.
I don’t know if I’ve gotten the message wrong, or if there’s something seriously wrong with our society. I feel like one side demands for me to be tough and independent, while the other side asks me to be this feminine being who’s receptive and vulnerable to love. It’s hard to deal with that ambiguity, because the subtext of my question has always been : Who do I need to become in order to feel happy in my relationships?
What do I need to do to suffer less, because my heart is so undernourished and have felt so chronically lonely I can’t keep going anymore?
Thank you for writing this, Kendra. I’ve been feeling the hunger of my heart a lot more over the last several months as I moved back to living on my own as a single person, after previously having lived with my parents for a few months and having been in a committed romantic partnership for over a year. (My heart still felt hungry in various ways during those periods – and they each came with their own challenges, some immense – but I think certain needs were being met in a consistent and effortless way in a way they have not been now). It was so helpful to read this, and your analogy of heart to stomach seems to me a fruitful one. Curious to see what comes up for me as I spend more time with that.
Karen, I don’t think I know you (and don’t know if the comment system here is set up to ping you when other folks comment!), but wanted to say that I felt care for you reading your comment (not as someone who has things more figured out than you, but as a fellow hungry-hearted human). And what came to mind for me is: perhaps the strong, tough, independent side and feminine, receptive, vulnerable sides are both sides that are important to cultivate as we navigate the world and come into relationship, and the art is discovering how to bring those to bear in various situations in order to meet our needs and help others meet theirs. I do a style of partner dancing where people often switch between lead and follow roles (sometimes within one dance with a given person). For me there is joy in both leading and following, and there is a feeling into what feels right for our partnership in a given moment.