It’s undeniable that women in long-term relationships (or even short-term flirtations) are often given labels to define their behavior that put most, if not all, of the onus of the problems on her. If there is too much fighting, too much yelling, too much jealousy — she is “crazy.” If there is too much emotion, too many questions, even (God forbid) too much love — she’s “needy.” She’s the kind of girl who wants to include you in things, who would like to meet your parents or find out more about you. She might want to live a life that is entirely a part of yours, and not just a separate entity on the periphery of the things you actually enjoy doing. For these crimes, and possibly others, she is crowned as “needy,” and easily dismissed.
I’m not saying, of course, that a woman can’t exhibit behavior that’s unhealthy in a relationship to earn said titles, but the indiscretions that are sufficient for such name-calling — especially, it seems, with “needy” — can often tread into the absurdly benign. Sure, if someone calls you 10 times in one night to find out where you are after repeatedly being told that you were at a birthday party for a friend, that’s unhealthy. But if someone, upon being told that there is such a party, asks if you are planning to bring them along — that just seems like a normal question. And yet both acts seem worthy of an unflattering title (we’ve all seen some of the lesser crimes be roundly decried amongst friends). The idea, it seems, is that the girlfriend is trying too hard to insert herself into a part of her partner’s life to which she is not invited. And while it’s true that everyone needs to maintain a degree of personal space while in a relationship, it shouldn’t mean that entire sections of your life are cordoned off from ever being experienced as two.
I have seen the title “needy” be applied to so many different women for so many different reasons (including myself, at more than one point), that it has begun to seem the punishment given for the crime of wanting to be loved. Any display of emotion or desire for inclusion that treads past the point of being perfectly casual is dangerous, and must be nipped in the bud. “Don’t be so needy,” you’ll tell her, “it’s annoying.” With that, she’s supposed to berate herself in private for having tried too hard to be a part of your life and stop whatever behavior was so offensive — and she usually does. I have found myself many times wondering what I could do to seem less involved, less in love, less desirous of spending time with someone I adored, how best to tone down my emotions. It was effective, and resulted in relationships that were almost perfectly devoid of honest communication, in which I was living perpetually in fear of offending or being “too much” for my partner. Though it may have been the kind of easy-going indifference that they were looking for at the time, it certainly sucked much of the passion out of things for me.
There is no reason why it has to be this way for so many couples, why so many women should have to feel as though they are being offensive or ugly with their sentiments. Saying “I love you” in public, spending time with each other’s friends, learning about the other, eventually meeting the respective parents — these should all be parts of a normal relationship, not something you want to squirrel away and compartmentalize so as not to seem “pussy whipped.” Because it simply isn’t fair to punish someone for wanting to have a full relationship, unless the premise stated up-front was that things were only going to be casual. And even if one does transgress the boundaries of what you two initially agreed on, it should be addressed up-front, not waved away with a catch-all term like “needy.” If someone is being unreasonably jealous, demanding more of your time than you can concede, or acting in ways that make you feel uncomfortable — confront it! Tell them what they are doing wrong, and why you don’t like it. Don’t humiliate them by slapping a label on them to laugh about with your friends, all while staying with them, ostensibly so you can collect the benefits of having someone in your life without committing to the emotional investment that would imply. Calling names is the coward’s way out.
When I look back on the relationships in which I have been called “needy,” I feel embarrassed. And not for me. I can say with time and reflection that, though I made mistakes — as we all do — my most prominent crime was wanting too much to love and be loved, wanting to be a part of someone else’s life. I feel embarrassed for the people who, whether because they weren’t ready for a relationship when they entered into one or because they simply didn’t want it with me, had to reduce their communication about our problems to childish name-calling with their friends. They would say nasty things behind my back, only to stay with me when we were in person and it was convenient. Their attempts at shaming me for having too much emotion may have worked at the moment, but have ultimately only taught me to find someone who also wants to live in full color, not restricted by a sense of propriety about what it means to be too involved.
If we’re defining “needy” as “loving someone deeply and wanting to show it” — and we often do — then I am proud to be needy. I want to have a relationship in which life is made richer and more beautiful by seeing things through another set of eyes, where our love colors every other part of our world, where we learn to integrate our new partnership into what we had once navigated alone. Sure, we will still be two separate people with private lives, but we won’t be excluding each other from things that we want to be a part of. And, if there should come a moment where one person feels treaded on or made uncomfortable by the other, we will deal with it as adults, with care to the other’s feelings and a clear explanation of what needs to be fixed. We will not just call each other nasty things and laugh off the root of the problem by mocking the symptom.
I do need. I need because, without such open love and reciprocity, there would be no point in the great personal investment in a relationship. I am not interested in being a couple that is characterized by keeping one’s mouth shut and not seeming like too much of an actual human being — and if you are, I hear that love dolls are getting pretty life-like these days.