In the not too distant past, a male friend remarked that I am ‘emotionally cold.’ Another said “You are a self-contained package, needing nothing, from all appearances.” Am I, I wondered?
It isn’t the first time that I’ve heard those words; they echo a sentiment my late husband once struck me with during a heartfelt outpouring between the two of us. “You don’t need me.” I’ve pondered that phrase, that apparent desire to be needed, from just about all angles over the last ten years since I first heard it. Do we, as humans, need to be needed by another? What is need, honestly? Perhaps the pragmatic, analytical me comes to the fore when I hear the term need. It is always wrestling with the romantic me. It is my perspective that we as a collective group, are confusing needs and wants, and in far more arenas than the interpersonal relationship.
I’ve spent time thinking about what I need as opposed to what I want. William Blake wrote in The Proverbs of Hell: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.”
Think about that for a moment. Frame it around any subject you can contemplate – food, exercise, sex (okay, maybe not THAT one), money, living space, books, and on and on. Our entire culture is upheld by, and runs on, an ever-increasing model of excess. This surfeit of things, be it homes, vehicles, furnishings, lovers, is the oil running underneath that drives our social and financial economies. Its code name is ‘progress’.
I have been striving to embrace simplicity, weeding through ‘things’ that I have, trying to determine if I need them. I’ve consciously kept a small living space in order to better define what it is that I need for a satisfying life, for me. I’ve analyzed my shopping habits, consumption habits, and keep a running emotional barometer on the things that I do, how they make me feel. I have had more than enough, several times throughout my life. Now I seek that fulcrum point of just what is enough.
So let’s circle that back around to people and relationships, and the concept of need. We are a species that defines one’s emotional success by being partnered. We tend to frown upon people who have too many partners, even if monogamously successive. We get bombarded by movies, songs, books, displaying need for another as the sub-context. Is that really truth? Maybe, because I have been through the death of my spouse, my perspective is different.
Here is where I know I would be ‘needed’ if I died. My employer would need someone to fill the job slot that I perform.
That’s it for need. Kind of sobering, isn’t it?
Everyone else, my children, my sibling, my parents, my friends, would not need to fill the space that I left. They would all have emotional wants related to me, this is true. My children, perhaps, would suffer the loss the most, lacking the confidant, the emotional support, which only a life-long relationship potentially offers. They are adults, so they no longer require a mother to care for them day-to-day. And we have seen that a father can step into that role after the loss of a spouse quite well, if from a different perspective.
A wise friend of mine once said “I want to be needed, but I need to be wanted.” That sums up my perspective as well, although I was not able to articulate it so beautifully and succinctly. Most of us have the desire, the need, to be wanted. In my world the ultimate compliment, the statement of importance from me, or for me to hear, is “I want to be with you.” Not, “I need to be with you.” All of life is a choice, what a profound honor for someone to choose to be with you.
“Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone.”
― Octavio Paz, Labyrinth of Solitude
Emotionally cold? Perhaps, in our cultural context of romanticizing what relationships are supposed to be. And, I am okay with that.
What are your true needs? Can you simplify your life, leaving time to invest in the things that bring real joy? Are you putting the burden of need on another, and possibly not letting your want show for them, allowing the true depth of your feelings to flow towards them? Do you disagree, and if so, why?
Be well. Live authentically. Examine. I wish for you, enough.