Knowing needs

"I really like that you don't need anything from me," he said. I smile and nod politely, the needless, ask-for-nothing type. The truth is, that I do need something, but instead I pretend I don't.I pretend I am capable of giving and giving and giving without needing anything in return--not love, nor attention, nor money, nor food. And I want them all, but I'm so afraid he can't give them that I don't even ask.

This has often been my experience of being a woman (for some men as well, of course). I'm consistently praised (three times this week in fact) for not asking for anything, for being "simple" and without needs.

It makes me a phony as I prefer someone else's happiness and satisfaction than my own. What lurks behind is a desperation of ignored needs that will someday erupt. I see this is mothers, wives, and women everywhere. Our difficulty receiving attention and deflecting into caregiver mode isn't really so great. Truth is, it is easier to give to others than to ask for what we want. Needs become weaknesses and as a modern woman I don't "need" to be taken care of. Yet, sometimes, when I walk home from the grocery store with arms full of groceries, I yearn for someone to help me. On cold nights when my heater has been broken for days (like now), I long to ask for someone to warm me. And yet, I'm afraid to ask, to reach out, and ultimately to need.

So instead, I shiver in my cold apartment and curse the "un-neediness" praise. I wonder if I will hate my children someday for "needing" too much from me because I'm so afraid of my own needs. Afraid of how to have all my needs met, afraid to ask someone to meet them, and behind all of that afraid to need others.

Interestingly enough (or interesting to me and possibly other nerds), the word "need" comes from an old Proto-Indo-European word meaning "death, to be exhausted." This etymology makes a lot of sense to me as a need is in some way an “ego” death and an exhaustion of going at life/the world alone. The ego wants to remain intact and a need is a vulnerability that dismantles its core sense of self.

While I recognize not all my needs can be met by one person, I have the simple wish for myself to know my needs and express them with anyone. In particular this skill seems quite useful for romantic partnerships as the most vulnerable we are in this society is usually within this relationship. In Undefended Love, the authors discuss the evolution of needs.

"Relaxing the Need to have our Needs Met"

Most of us measure the success of a relationship by its ability to "meet our needs." The chapter on "Relaxing the Need To Have Our Needs Met," reveals that intimacy happens when we stop trying to compulsively have our needs met and instead know our needs and allow them to go through different phases. Early on in our lives we were dependent upon someone else as a way of surviving. We still have very reflexive reactions when it feels our needs are being met. Below is a continuum of needs from the book. While I'm not able to explain them in detail in this book (and I don't feel I understand quite enough as I'm in the process myself), the  maturity process involves the evolution of our needs as well.

Needs -> Wants -> Desire -> Preference -> No Preference

A basic understanding of this continuum helps us understand and know our needs without them ruling our lives or dictating our intimate relationships. Once we begin honoring that we have needs the process of moving through the different phases can begin. We can make requests and have wants, but without an expectation of our partner to fulfill them constantly. The wanting of something is usually tied to attachment of getting it, while a desire has less attachment to an outcome. It doesn't have the urge to control or manipulate as a want does. Over time our preferences dissolve as we become more and more in touch with our essential self and we develop to function without preferences. However, this is different than apathy as it contains freedom and joy without attachment.

I can't pretend to fully understand needs, how in relationship needs get met mutually, or how to have them and have them become only preferences. That confuses me and I can sense it is a spiritual practice in and of itself. What I do understand now is that I have them and am allowed to ask for things, and to accept that it may always be uncomfortable to do so. However, I can't keep nodding and smiling politely in the face of unmet needs and the fear of my own vulnerability.