“I Want You” vs. “I Need You”
There’s nothing sexy about being needed.
I feel it after a long day at work after hundreds of children have made their demands, becoming more task-monitor and cognition-manager than woman. Mothers describe feeling like little more than a milk-generating machine during those months when breastfeeding may be a constant. Bread-winners may start to feel more like a money-making automaton than a living, breathing creature. Caretakers often begin to resent their charge, love clouded by a fog of endless need.
Those on the other side often chafe at their sense of dependency. They need, but they don’t want to need. They desire independence, yet may be unable (or unwilling) to strive for it.
There’s nothing sexy about being needed.
Yet, so often, “need” is exactly the energy that begins to permeate our relationships after the initial, heady rush of burgeoning love. As “I want you” is slowly replaced by “I need you.”
You hear this from people who bemoan that their spouse is essentially another child who is absolutely clueless at handling the day-to-day on their own. They begin to see their partner as dependent and incapable, neither of which are particularly attractive traits. Others may become overly needed on an emotional level. Often called emotional labor, this feeling of always being “on” and taking care of the family’s relationship, communication and emotional needs is as tiring as physical labor (if not more so). Those that are fearful of being alone may overly cling to their partner. And feeling suffocated by somebody’s anxieties is a sure way to dull any attraction.
And in all of these cases, the needed one speaks to seeing their spouse as more like a friend or a roommate than a romantic partner. The more needy partner can begin to take offense at their position and may begin to act out. Furthermore, the unhealthy dynamic can lead to an increase in irritations and frustrations on both sides.
Here’s the unbridled truth – if you are both adults, neither one of you truly needs the other (no matter what it feels like).
In fact, I think this is possibly the most important lesson I learned from the end of my first marriage. I sure believed that I needed my first husband. After all, I had never navigated adulthood without him. He would handle making retail returns and spending hours debating with the gas company on the phone, both tasks with which I struggled. He knew just how to soothe me after a stressful day and he would laugh at all of our inside jokes. He (sometimes) brought in needed income and used his impressive carpentry and handy-man skills to upgrade and maintain our home on the cheap. He was always willing to talk (even in the middle of the night) and so I rarely felt alone or ignored.
I thought I needed him.
But it turned out I was wrong. Somehow, with a few changes and some missteps along the way, I was able to survive (actually thrive) without the person I thought I couldn’t live without.
Being needed can feel good. It gives you purpose. Shores up your confidence and helps to mitigate any fears about being alone (after all, if someone needs you, they’re unlikely to leave you). Yet, taken too far or applied too liberally and being needed can begin to feel like an inescapable prison.
On the other hand, we all like to feel to wanted.
It’s a compliment, an acceptance. It makes us feel both desirable and powerful. It speaks to being chosen. Appreciated and valued.
“I want you” vs. “I need you”
I need you says that you are responsible for my happiness.
I want you declares that I’m happier when you’re around.
I need you implies that neither one of you are free agents and that you’re trapped.
I want you suggests that there are other options and you are the chosen one.
I need you sets the stage for an imbalance of power as one gives and the other takes.
I want you acknowledges the power within both of you and allows for an equal exchange.
I need you speaks to what you can do for the other person; it focuses on the tasks you perform.
I want you expresses a desire for the person; it focuses on who you are.
There’s nothing sexy about being needed and there’s nothing sexier than hearing someone you care about say,
“I want you.”