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On “neediness” and dating “rules”

“Needy” … it’s a word that gets bandied around a lot. But what does it mean? Can anyone really agree on a definition?

I’m dedicating this blog entry to deconstructing and demystifying this word, which is yet another label that IMO creates a lot of unnecessary pain and drama in relationships.

So there’s a guy who’s relatively new to my life. We are in the same social circle, have a lot of mutual friends, have been on some dates and been physically intimate, and we are currently having some email exchanges that are not all warm and fuzzy. Which is ok. We are communicating, and that is what is important. People get triggered. The way we heal and return to happy times is to communicate. I’d even go so far as to say, if you’re in a relationship and NOT getting triggered, then you’re not challenging yourself enough. Anyway …

The Difference Between the Jackal View and the NVC View of Communication

A few weeks ago, I was unsure what was going on with him, and I sent him some text messages in an attempt to reconnect.

The first one was “Whatcha up to?” He did not respond.

The next day I sent another one about something important to me and again no response.

By later in the day, I was a little bit frustrated and made a sarcastic remark, though I was still trying to keep it friendly.

He did finally call me, but we didn’t have a particularly productive conversation because by then I was fairly annoyed.

Well … fast forward a few weeks and we get a better sense through our conversations of what was really happening.

(And btw whenever I talk about stuff like this, I am fully cognizant that it takes two to tango, so don’t think for a second that I am placing any fault on him. Bygones are bygones. I’m writing this blog entry in an effort to improve FUTURE communication, with him or anyone else.)

So it turns out that when he went silent on me, he was on a date with another woman. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. We had both told each other that we were dating other people, and he reads my blog so he knows I have a lot of men in my life.

So I’m writing this only because I care about him, and I want to share what would have helped me to stay a lot calmer in the situation and probably would have met his needs better too.

“Whatcha up to?”

Well, I’ll be honest with you, in terms of reaching out to a guy, that seems about as innocuous as it gets. But he later told me that he thought this was “needy.”

So this is where I’d like to deconstruct the word “needy” because I think it only gets people in trouble. Usually when guys use it, there’s a whole lot more going on, along these lines:

Girl has just said or done x. That must mean that she wants or needs something right now that I am not giving her. Therefore, I now feel some guilt, especially because I’m on a date or about to go on a date with another woman, and that turns into anger at her for asking this of me. Look how needy she is. Etc. etc. I don’t know how to meet her needs right now so I’m not going to respond at all.

Mind you, I’m guessing about this and might be wrong about his thought process, but I’ve talked to enough guys to know this is a typical thought process. In non-violent communication terms, it is a “jackal” thought process, criticizing oneself and the other person, with accompanying guilt and anger.

Now let’s take the same text message that I sent and look at it in a different light:

“Whatcha up to?”

Now if we remove the temptation to rush to judgment of self or the girl, if we resist the temptation to apply the term “needy,” then we can get to a completely different interpretation:

Huh. I’m guessing she is feeling a little vulnerable because we were physically intimate, and she is curious why she hasn’t heard from me. I did tell her that I’m dating other women, and she seems to be fine with that, so she probably wouldn’t mind if I’m honest now. What can I say to her that will reassure her that I care about her and that we are still connected?

That is an NVC thought process, and it might result in a response to my text message more like this:

“Baby, I’m occupied right now and can’t text with you. But I’m going to free up tomorrow around 5 pm and I’ll buzz you then.”

or with even more radical honesty:

“Baby, I’m actually going on a date right now, and I won’t free up until tomorrow evening. Is it something really important or can it wait until then?” [which would show caring about what is going on with me]

People aren’t used to be this honest. But I promise you, as ACIM says, “Communication is salvation.”

As proof of just how much honesty I can handle, I offer you what Mark Manson does. Sometimes when he tells me that he needs to go, I know or can assume he’s going to have sex with another woman. (He is, after all, one of the top dating coaches in the country.) It doesn’t phase me at all because he always says something like “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He always makes it clear to me how important our connection is to him, and that he is going to reconnect with me very soon. I don’t have to guess, so I don’t get nearly so scared. And our communication is very smooth.

Needs are never conflicting. When we say that, we are only saying that at the moment we aren’t seeing how both needs can be met. That leaves an opening. When you think in the way I’m suggesting, you’ll often find a way to get most needs met simultaneously.” — Marshall B. Rosenberg

“Neediness” and Dating “Rules”

So back to this guy I was originally talking about, who is also generally very good with women. While still obviously triggered himself by the whole incident, he also said:

“There are things that a woman needs to do in order to interest and keep a man, just like there are things that a man needs to do in order to interest and keep a woman. If you were hanging out on a woman’s forum, these would be the types of behaviors they would actively be encouraging you _not_ to do, but since you seem to enjoy hanging out on a men’s forum, I encourage you to post these texts and see what experience they have to share.”

Raw stuff, huh? :-) But you all know I don’t shy away from the scary stuff on this blog.

Well, I would like to speak to this very directly. You can be assured that I have read and digested nearly every dating book that exists on the market, for both men and women. I have been on women’s forums as well as men’s. I have come to some quite different conclusions than he is expressing, and regardless of what happens in this particular situation, I don’t know any woman who has more abundance or solid long-lasting connections with men in her dating life than I do.

There are a lot of women’s dating books and coaches out there telling women to be silent in the situation I described above. There are a lot of books and coaches prescribing rules for women to follow. To me, all of that is just part of the chode/jackal system of enslavement. It means people will be in silences where they are making assumptions about each other rather than seeing what is in each other’s hearts. They will miss all the precious opportunities to communicate and get through the negative emotions to the gold and the deeper connection that is on the other side.

As Marshall Rosenberg has said,

“We have been educated, for a long time, to fit within domination structures: to do what authority says. When you want people to be nice, dead people and do what authority says, the last thing you want them to be conscious of is the life within them. You cannot make a good slave out of somebody who is fully alive. The last thing you want to teach people, if you want a domination structure, is for them to be in touch with their needs. You ought to teach them that the highest value is not a need to express their needs. ‘Needs’ means you are needy, selfish, dependent, egotistical. Loving women have no needs; they suppress their needs, for their family. Brave men have no needs; they are willing to lose their lives for the king. That is why we do not know what our needs are. I went to schools for twenty-one years. Not only was I never asked what I was feeling; I certainly was never asked what my needs were!”

Guess what, dating “domination structures” such as The Rules book and any other dating advice that tells us what we “should” do are just as pernicious and deadening as any other domination structure.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, I don’t follow rules. I follow my heart. I know what happens when a woman is silent when she really wants to reach out to someone. The scared or angry feelings she is having don’t go away, they get bigger, and the next time she sees that man, they will have turned into resentment and negativity.

So I communicate. Sometimes the men in my life get annoyed at first because they are not accustomed to women speaking up, sometimes they initially resort to judgments of me, sometimes we have some roughness before we get to good times again. But my perseverance in communication has succeeded time and time again. Because at bottom I am interested in BOTH of our needs getting met. And I know that won’t happen if I am silent and trying to be a “good” dating girl.

Do I appreciate extra emotional support after physical intimacy? You bet I do. A woman has a hormonal response that is quite overwhelming in some cases. If I don’t get it from the man I was intimate with, I’ll get that support from someone else. But I will not suppress my needs. And I don’t want anyone else to suppress their needs either. Because I, like so many others, was a “nice dead person,” following rules and worried about what other people thought of me, for far too long.

And it was being a nice dead person that took my joy away and deprived the world of everything that is in my heart to offer.

So in this pre-holiday season, here’s a toast to A Letter for Liberating Relationships, to radical honesty, and to faith that if we communicate openly and honestly, everyone’s needs will be met.

Wow, it felt intense but ultimately very cathartic to write this one.

Love you all :-)

************************

“Compassionate Communication changes our consciousness so that the habits of the past are replaced by the passion of the present.”

– Pan Vera, Trainer, Mediator and relationship coach.

About the Author:

Erika Awakening is a Harvard Law School graduate and former practicing attorney. She left the rat race to become a location-independent entrepreneur, holistic life coach, blogger, speaker, healer, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT tapping) expert. Erika Awakening is one of the world's foremost experts on eradicating limiting beliefs and lifestyle design on your own terms. Learn more about Erika Awakening

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Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Try giving and requesting in the same text. One of my best friends will txt me with things like “hey silly monkey! whatcha up to?” It’s really satisfying. Requesting right when you’re starting off like that can feel … like … interrogation.

  2. Erika says:

    hi GoneSavage,

    Welcome to the blog, hope to see you back here again.

    I’m not sure I agree with you about phone though. I find phone to be very disembodied and just tends to encourage people to babble, whereas text is much more focused. Also, I can “feel” people remotely, so I don’t need to hear their voice to pick up a lot of the subtleties you are describing. Recently I’ve had some connections move very nicely from being developed on text/email to in person.

    So anyway, just another perspective.

    Would love for you to comment on some of the more recent posts because you’d likely get some audience engagement with your insightful comments.

    cheers,
    Erika

  3. GoneSavage says:

    Through the most serendipitous cyber chain-of-events, I just found your blog today. I’ve been reading some of your posts and find your viewpoint to be both refreshing and constructive. The topic of “neediness” caught my attention. I work with students that are so hyper-aware that they “don’t want to come across as needy” that they often inhibit genuine connection. I thought this post was going in that direction, but seems to have ended up more a critique on texting and the assumption of intention that goes along with it. So, I have a quick comment.

    I’m not a fan of texting. It just prevents us from really bonding and understanding… gone is the subtlety, nuance, tone, and texture of vocal communication. The more we become electronically connected the more we become emotionally disconnected. Texting is indirect, prone to misinterpretation, and often just cowardly. All stages of seduction are voice-operated.

    I used to encourage flirting through text messaging and have even published some really enticing texts. But I’m valuing the importance of hearing an actual voice now more than ever. It’s not so much a rule, but a preference. Especially after a physical intimacy, I would really expect and insist on phone calls, not texts. It’s about mutual respect, reciprocity, and seeing each other as peers; equals that have now shared something incredible.

    So receiving “Whatcha up to?” after being physical would be merely cute at best and slightly insulting at worst. There is no content or context to this message. It is just all around poor communication. I can assure you, I wouldn’t have a “girl must feel vulnerable and needs reassurance” thought process. And I definitely wouldn’t go through the “girl needs something right now, leading to guilt, leading to anger” thought process either. I don’t think these speculations are typical.

    What I would think is this, “Cool, she wants to invite me out. If it requires my immediate attention, she’ll call with details.” And then back to the present matter. If you send me a second text, then I may call you to see what’s up. Or, if my attention is required elsewhere, I’ll fire off this intentionally incongruous text: “Texting is for kids and people having illicit affairs. Let’s not be either. Just call me.”

    I agree, “Communication is salvation.” Texting is just a very weak and oblique form of communication. Texting is vexing. I give more and expect more from those that I chose to share intimacy. Give me a call. Even if I let it go to voice mail, I’m going to be reminded of your warmth and passion when I listen to your message. I will genuinely want to call you back and my heart will look forward to that moment.

    If you insist on texting, and if you strongly suspect I am with another girl, then send a text so detailed and juicy that it’s sure to make my whole body blush.

    GoneSavage

  4. Erika says:

    John,

    Thanks for telling me that. Yeah, part of what I’m saying is that relatively minor changes in the way people communicate with each other can open up entire new horizons of possibility in relationships. For example, people can practice polyamory and still also have a very secure emotional connection.

    - Erika

  5. John says:

    Erika, this gave me a lot to think about in my communications / relations with women. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Gary says:

    Having a think about how I use labels unconsciously, it is very liberating to bring them to conscious awareness and realize that they are nothing but ego constructions, useless bits of data that lead to judgement. Having this awareness brings so much compassion, firstly to myself and to others. I judge myself as needy, and then seek to fix that problem. I judge others as needy, and as such want to avoid them.

    I am thinking, where judgment is triggered, what is behind the judgment? So much fear and avoidance hide behind judgments and labels. These things offer great opportunities for investigation into the nature of ego, awareness of its patterns and behaviour.

    I guess another way to look at the whole situation is open-hearted vs. close-hearted. The open heart seeks to retain the glow of love in all relationships, whereas the closed heart merely serves self-interests, desires, and ultimately fear.

  7. Erika says:

    So … this post was a particularly emotional and vulnerable one for me, and whereas my comments section is usually pretty much a free-for-all, I am going to meet my need for self-care by delaying publishing a lot of the comments and my responses to them.

    How it feels right now is that venturing out in this direction confirmed what I already suspected, which is that I don’t want to be physically intimate with a man unless I know our connection is so solid that he will be there for me emotionally before, during, and after. And that we will be in a deep space of non-judgment and empathy with each other. Which for me may very well mean waiting until I’m in a permanently committed relationship. Call me old-fashioned ;-)

  8. Halffull says:

    In the past, texts like “Watcha Up To” have quickly escalated into crazy stalker girls who want to know what you’re up to every minute of the day. I’m sure connection guy has experienced it, and this may have been what he was reacting to.

    There were definitely some hasty conclusions jumped to in this one, and I’m glad you guys worked this out.

    I’d love to see an anonymous response from him.

  9. Entropy4 says:

    I think his reaction to his text says more about him than about you. I used to have the “she’s so needy” reaction a lot. But I look back, and it was just a projection of my own fear of intimacy.

    I agree with everything else you wrote… but you knew that already. :)

  10. Infinity says:

    “Neediness” is something that does get lost in discussion a lot. There are times when neediness is a natural and emotional thing and that’s acceptable – like the post-intimacy example you gave. There is nothing wrong with that.

    At the same time, when I get a text message asking, “whatcha up to?” as a standalone text (and not hearing from that person in a while), I do see it as “looking for something.” But that has to do with how it was said. If you to text me, “Hey. What’s up?” or “Hey. What’s new with you?” I wouldn’t see it as such.

    Rules are meant to be broken anyway. If there were rules in dating that we HAD to follow, no relationship would be unique and they’d be all be the same.

    I don’t know about other people but that’s not what I want.

    Very meaningful post here, Erika. I like what you said a lot.

  11. Anonymous says:

    you state in another post you date guys with abundance issues, but this guy sounds like he certainly has his….emotional abundance isses. maybe if he was free to give, he wouldn't project on everyone else as being needy???

    he writes, "there are things that a man needs to do in order to interest and keep a woman." he does seem to be keeping your interest? if you want more & he doesn't have more to offer, then game over, right??

  12. John~ says:

    Neediness implies an imbalance, that something external has to come along and correct some error within you.

    It’s about a shift (usually a big one) in perspective. Something relatively new (some person, some object) experience has happened, and because that experience was good, you want it again….and the shift in perspective happens to make that “want” feel more extreme.

    You get laid, you need sex again.
    You eat cake, you need another cake.

    To get rid of “neediness” in social terms means to not let your perspective go to pieces in the face of new relationships or new experiences.

    Neediness is fueled by overthinking, and by doing the thinking for other people.

    You cannot assume he’s going out and getting laid when he’s not texting you immediately. He might be in the shower, or at the gym, or watching the Discovery Channel.

    Nor should you view his answer as anything BUT his answer. Do not project your own emotions and desires into a text message, because even with few adjectives, messages are unclear through just typed letters.

    Yes, honesty would be nice, you’d know clearly where you stand with other people, and there would be very little confusion and potential for hurt. And this is not said to promote a lack of honesty, but there comes a point when honesty is not the critical vehicle (unless you’ve made a habit of being surrounded in lies), and other things need focus and attention.

    The only thing you can control is yourself, which is good, because the neediness comes from the self. Try to retain that perspective, rather than embrace this new experience and over-value it.

    It was surprising when I realized women can be needy too. After realizing that, and seeing it here…well, focus your perspective.

  13. Doug F. says:

    Tons of blog posts about how the guy should do this, the guy should do that, the guy should mind read what you mean by a text. But you think the girl should have no rules. WTF? You are mad that it takes a guy a day to reply to your text? NEEDY! He was probably playing you to see what you would do. A high value guy is going to move on quick.

    peace out
    doug

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