As well as having opinions, expressed in no particular order in these electronic pages, on the death penalty, societal isolation, bad grammar, transphobia, procrastination, self-deluding acts of charity, and job application forms (I’m vehemently against all of them), I also have views on love and romance — and, being uninspired to write about anything current affairs-y today, I’m going to tell you what those views are. Eventually. After some preamble.
I have a friend who, after a couple of husbands and numerous abortive relationships, finds herself single. This friend — I’ll call her Angela (because it begins with A; the next one I mention, I’ll dub Brian in a hurricane-naming kind of way) — sighs into her glass of wine and says ‘I just want to feel needed.’
Brian, meanwhile, is in a stable relationship with Chiara. They don’t live together but they see each other regularly. On Fridays, however, Chiara goes out with her rugby-playing chums, because, she tells him ‘I need a girls’ night out to blow off some steam.’ Brian’s plaint is ‘she needs them; she never says she needs me, only that she wants me…’
But surely this is good? Being needed is a bad thing. Being wanted is an entirely different matter. Needing is a sign of weakness; wanting is a sign of strength. Needing restricts, confines, controls; wanting expands, liberates, empowers.
When I was at university, I had a friend who had very severe multiple sclerosis. This horrible condition affected his sight and his co-ordination. He had two full-time carers who washed, dressed, and fed him, and a reader who was paid to read the course material to him. (Whether this support team was privately or publicly funded, and whether the severely disabled should or should not be entitled to higher education if it costs the tax-payer more than it does for an able-bodied student are matters that I may discuss elsewhere at some point; but not here, not now.) This young man, Danny, needed his carers — only slightly more than he resented them. He acknowledged that he couldn’t cope without them, that they were necessary for his everyday existence, but in his mind he was as fit and capable as any other twenty-something and the constant reminder, as embodied by those three sweet women, of his differentness irked and rankled.
Because I am bossy and bolshie and alpha-female-y, I have always attracted needy men — and women — who rely (or want to rely) upon me to organize their lives. They flock to me, seeing me — the least maternal woman in the universe — as a surrogate mother who’ll make sure they’ve washed behind the ears and remembered their dinner money. They may be nice people, all told, and I may be fond of them; but that’s it. I’m strong enough to carry myself, but my shoulders aren’t broad enough for a passenger.
The individuals I’ve always gone for have been the ones who’ve wanted me, not needed me — whether as a lover or as just a friend. I want us to be able to admire each other’s strengths and, yes, empathize with each other’s weaknesses — but it has to be a two-way street. When — all those millennia ago — I got married, I chose a man who wanted me but had absolutely no need of me. He was self-sufficient and could pair his own socks and even stitch buttons on his shirts when they fell off. Were I ever to repeat the experiment, I would make sure that Spouse #2 were equally un-needy.
Amongst my wide and varied acquaintance is Eddie. Eddie is a drug addict. He went to a good school, got a good degree, and for years held down a good job, and was engaged to be married. Then someone introduced him to cocaine, and the rest, as they say, is history. The good job vanished somewhere along the way, as did the fiancée. Eddie, however, still needs his fix, although he wishes he didn’t — it’s not something he wants. He needs to spend every penny of his savings, and steal from his friends, and lie and cheat to get that fix; he definitely doesn’t want to do any of these things. They don’t make him happy. They are his weakness. Were he to be able to free himself of it, Eddie could do all the things he dreams of — find another job, make up with his fiancée, go on holiday, have a nice house — all the things he had and still wants but can’t have because his need gets in the way.
And then there’s the case of Gina and Fiona. Fiona has been trying to leave Gina for years, but every time she does, Gina threatens suicide and wails ‘but I need you, Fee; I can’t live without you.’ Fee stays. She knows she is being emotionally blackmailed and that Gina would probably survive and rebuild a Fiona-free life if she were to go, but there’s just enough doubt in her mind to make her stay. And it’s driving her mad. No longer the happy-go-lucky girl I knew in our twenties, she’s become depressed and morose — her happiness is being held hostage to Gina’s need.
Need, then, is an invidious, enfeebling destructive, psychological (and sometimes physical) dependence. Want is desire — pure, simple, and strong.
“I want you; I need you; but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you./Now don’t be sad ‘cause two out of three ain’t bad,’ sang Meatloaf. He’s right — two out of three ain’t bad. Just not those two.
[Photo, as ever, pinched from Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/emertz76/ 8272571528/sizes/o/in/photostream).]