Dear Katherine,
I tend to obsess over the people I’m dating when I haven’t heard from them. How can I fully detach from the expectation of frequent contact with the person I’m seeing?

–Too Attached

Dearest Attached,

Distance is where the erotic lives, isn’t it? And there’s no getting around it. Whether it’s psychological, physical or digital it is in the space between two things that arousal emerges. Anne Caron, lauded Canadian essayist and classicist, wrote a book called Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay. She knows something about distance. She famously tells her husband when he’s traveling, “I miss you, but I’m having a great time.”

In one of my favorite passages on the eroticism of distance and desire Carson writes “The lover wants what he does not have. It is by definition impossible for him to have what he wants if, as soon as it is had, it is no longer wanting.” Suffice it to say, my dearest “Attached,” that your feelings of obsession are as old as time. Your thirst for communication from your lover will never be entirely sated, and if it is then you’ll develop another more voracious craving right quick.

That being said, there are ways to observe and manage your attachment and your desire for contact in creative ways. Carson has explicated the dilemma for us. I will attempt to solve it.

Really revel in your fantasy of what the other is doing. Are you picturing them sleeping with other people? Doing illicit drugs? Writing the great American novel? Indulge the fantasy because it’s never as great as the truth.

Calculate how much time you’re spending thinking about when they’ll text you. Get a piece of paper and a sharpie. Put it on a wall. Make a tally mark for every time it crosses your mind. Once you hit 40 you have to do 20 push-ups.

Now, make a second column on the same piece of paper and make a tally mark for every time you think something awesome about yourself. Once you hit five you get an ice cream. Did you notice a major discrepancy in your two columns? If so, it may be worth asking yourself how much your need for contact is actually about them and how much it’s about your own need to feel desired.

People have markedly different proclivities in this area. I have a friend, for example, who is one of the largest extroverts I’ve ever met. She loves being in constant touch, and I’d be worried if I didn’t hear from her for six hours. Another friend I hear from once a week, and if I hear more I get concerned he’s slipping into some sort of manic episode. What are your needs in terms of general human contact? How are they being met or not met outside of your romantic partnerships? Articulate your needs to your partner in a way that isn’t a personal attack.

There’s a happy middle ground when it comes to contact where you get to spend enough time apart that you actively choose to see each other again but not so much time without contact that you feel out at sea. Don’t think about the spaces between contact as “detachment” but rather as opportunities to allow yourself to extend yourself to another person free from a sense of obligation. Let that slow burn turn into a smolder.

Make Plans for Next time when you’re together. It’s pretty simple, but it takes the logistical pressure off of texting, emailing and calling.

Some people only reply to email every other Tuesday while others are contact texters. I’ve encountered a fair number of people who seem to use passenger pigeons or telepathy as their preferred mode of communication. As it turns out they tend to be the ones to NOT be a relationship with, by the way. Inquire about your lover’s tech approach and respond in kind.

Eventually if somebody’s never responding to you in a way that feels good, it gets old. You’re not their priority, and they should be yours. Time to fall out of touch.

My dearest, to desire is by nature to be attached. There is no solving that. However, I do hope that you can find better and navigate the murky waters of your needs. Best of Luck.