On the Need to Be Needed
I’ve been listening to Kate Nash again lately—a sure sign of emotional turmoil and the building need to make a radical change.
Recently I have identified a quality in myself that I have been struggling to find a name for: the need to be needed. My mom says that this is a normal thing, but it makes me feel clammy and gross, like when you’ve been riding water rides and now you have to walk back to your car in your wet clothes.
I think it would be fine if this need only applied to and could only be satisfied by, say, kittens. That’s where it starts—with little sweet things who need rescuing and feeding and love, and you know that they purely love you back because they curl up in the crook of your arm and purr.
But eventually, inevitably, you happen upon a needy person. And when I say “needy,” I’m not referring to those who are obnoxious and text you every five seconds about trivial shit expecting you to respond with genuine interest. When I say “needy,” I mean damaged. I mean deep-seated, mommy/daddy-issued, I-talk-this-loudly-to-distract-people-from-my-insecurities, crisscrossed emotional wiring, BROKEN. For someone who needs to be needed, this is the Holy Grail.
For a while.
For a finite period of time, a relationship with this kind of person is like heroin for someone who needs to be needed. You feel special because you’ve gotten closer to them than anyone else ever has. They offer you their crumpled up pieces of hurt and you collect them like pebbles, wading deeper and deeper into their mess. They tell you how wonderful you are and how much you mean to them and how no one understands them like you do.
And all of this is true, but that comes with consequences. You become their emotional garbage collector. But it’s not even that you’re collecting their emotional garbage—collecting implies doing it of your own volition—it’s that they hurl their garbage at you. In mass quantities. And then they want to know why there’s a foul smell hanging in the air. So you get your feelings hurt and you get angry and you tell them to fuck off because you’re fed up, but they suck you back in because they need you. And you resist a little, but ultimately you relent, because they didn’t mean it and probably you were overreacting and why would they make such a fuss about making up with you if they didn’t care, right?
So you go around and around like this, each “argument” becoming more and more heated, more and more like a “fight.” You each make a point of saying hurtful things to the other, because by this point you’ve accumulated enough pebbles of intimate information that you can inflict some pretty serious pain if you throw them in just the right way. And it all happens back over again. They pull you in so tight that they would smother you, only to jab a dagger in your gut.
You know you have finally reached your breaking point because a certain kind of silence falls over your mind. Maybe this is apathy. Maybe this is a need for air, because you are in way over your head and you are about to drown. Whatever it is, it is quiet and it is exhausted. It rubs at an invisible ache between its eyes with its thumb and index finger. It sighs and flops face down on the couch. It cannot stand any more.
But they demand more of you. Even if they sucked you completely dry, they would stand over you and cry for more because it’s never enough it’s never enough it’s never enough. And at this point, you have to admit that it won’t ever be. You don’t have the tools to fix them; you must save yourself. And that’s going to be like removing your own tumor with a kitchen knife and no anesthesia.