Whoa! Aoife over at Consider the Tea Cozy somehow dredged up a copy of one of the earliest things I ever published online! (Outside of novella-length forum comments and angsty LiveJournal entries, that is.) I don’t even know when it was first posted, because the reposted version doesn’t link an original source, just that it was sometime before Dec, 2007. (If memory serves, I wrote this in Ireland, so it would’ve been more like 2002.)
I originally wrote this little essay rejecting the notion of “plug ‘n’ play” intimacy for a friend’s e-zine. It oversimplifies the concept of mutual interdependence somewhat (and it’s omgsocutesy), but I’m still pretty on board with the general idea. My friend’s site eventually went down, we’d fallen out of touch, and I didn’t have a local copy saved, so I thought it was lost forever. I’m so glad that someone else copied it and posted it on their own blog!
The Sweetest Thing
Some girls, they’re all about the candy hearts and flowers. Others like long walks on the beach, or private holidays in Spain. If your partner is the creative type, she might melt your heart by writing you a song. Or perhaps the sweetest thing you can imagine is your boyfriend giving you his original Boba Fett action figure. Maybe good old fashioned candle wax and a little light bondage is your thing.
I’ve certainly got a list of things that make me go all warm and smooshy inside. But in my mind, the most romantic thing of all is just hearing that one little phrase:
“I don’t need you.”
So much of our romantic mythology revolves around finding That Special Someone. Someone who will ‘be your other half’, complete you, fill your empty spaces. Someone who will make all your problems disappear, or at least keep them from being the most important thing in your life. Someone who will love you. Support you. Make you happy. Someone who will be there for you when you’re old and wrinkled, who will stave off the loneliness and warm your feet up in bed. And I’m all for that. Having warm feet is important, and most of that other stuff is pretty good too. It’s the “someone” part that bothers me.
I don’t want to be “someone”. I don’t want to be with a person because he has a position open for That Special Someone and, conveniently, I happen to fit the bill. When I’m in an intimate relationship, I want to be an end in myself, not just a means to some other purpose. Because if I’m just ‘someone’, that makes me interchangeable with someone else. And if my partner is with me because she needs someone – even if that person happens to be me – then there’s no reason for her not to trade me in on ‘someone’ who fulfils her needs better, if she chances to meet one.
Likewise, I don’t want to be with a person because he can get stuck lids off of jars, or reach things on the top shelf, make me laugh and feel good about myself, or comfort me like no other. These are all qualities I value in a partner but they’re not reasons to be in a relationship. Granted, getting benefits out of your relationship is not tantamount to using your partner. If you weren’t getting anything positive from it, that would probably be cause for concern. But those benefits – no matter how great – shouldn’t be the point. They should be a bonus, a perk-style side-effect to the real reason: The person you’re with.
When I’m with someone, I want to be with her not because of what she does for me or how she makes me feel, but because I like her, love her, desire her, and want her to be a part of my life – in whatever capacity we’ve agreed on – because of something that has to do with her, specifically. Who she is. Because who you are is not interchangeable. If your partner is with you because he needs you, then he might always find someone who’s better at fulfilling his needs. If he doesn’t need you and is with you only because he loves you, he’ll never meet someone who’s better at being you than you are.
Most social interactions are founded on a basis of exchange: You get something from me and I get something, hopefully of equal value, back from you. This is easy, it helps society run smoothly, and it describes the majority of interpersonal interactions I’ll have over the course of my life. That’s fine. It’s how society functions on a mass scale. But when it comes to the most significant and intimate, personal relationships in my life, I don’t want them to be based on expediency. I want to form them around true, complete, three-dimensional connection between individuals – derived from an active love for and desire to be with one another specifically. Regardless of what additional benefits we get out of it. Even if that might be a little bit harder and take a little more work.
‘Cause don’t get me wrong, here. “I don’t need you” is a scary thing to hear. I’d been telling myself for years that I didn’t need my partner and wanted him not to need me – and the first time he told me he didn’t, it still scared the hell out of me. Standard patterns of intimacy often teach us to navigate our relationships by way of a thousand tiny acts of emotional blackmail. So if someone doesn’t need anything you have to give, then you no longer have any leverage over the choices they make with their life. Including the choice to have a relationship with you or not. And what if your partner wakes up one morning and doesn’t love you anymore? Then she’ll have no reason left to be there, and you’ll have no way to make her stay. The most you can do is have faith that your love for each other will last. Which is a very scary place to be, if you’ve yet to build that kind of confidence and trust in your relationship.
But the thing is, although it’s seductively dependable to start with, the power of coercion wears out with repeated use. Meanwhile, given time and practice, mutual trust only grows stronger. If I want to build a relationship that might last a lifetime, which material am I better off building with? Co-dependence is a powerful force, but only so long as everyone involved is equally dependent. As soon as one person because strong and self-sufficient enough not to need the other, the relationship breaks down. If a relationship is based on shared and mutual independence instead, then strength and self-sufficiency aren’t detrimental to it. This leaves the people involved free to encourage each others’ personal growth and development, without fear that it might harm the relationship. And what better goal for any relationship than to support and encourage the people in it to become their best selves?
Also, by being as strong, independent and self-sufficient as possible, I’m better able to be there for my partner in a crisis, and vice-versa – in the hardest moments of life, when we really will need somebody. You see, just because I don’t need my partner doesn’t mean I never have needs – and it doesn’t mean my partner can’t be the one to meet them. I just want to know that I could be getting all my needs – emotional, physical, material, social, sexual, intellectual, and even keeping my feet warm in bed – met by other means, maybe even met better than my partner could ever meet them, and that even then, I’d still want my partner in my life. Not because of what he does for me, but because of who he is.
That’s what “I don’t need you,” means to me. It means, “Despite the fact that I’d be okay without you, I still want to be with you – for no other reason than because I like you, care about you, want you, and love you completely for the person you are.” I like rose petals and ice cubes as much as the next girl, sure – but being truly loved without being needed, what could be more romantic than that?