The Terrible Burden of Getting What You Want
"What do you want?" He demanded.
His face stern across the screen of my phone, brow low, words terse as they broke the seal of his lips.
F*ck. I thought. I’m trapped.
What I wanted was shameful, considering the absolute tissy-fit I’d just thrown upon him, verbally kicking and blaming him for my own desperation. My only choice now was to: double down, continue the blame's direction. For that he’d not answered when I called. For that he never answered when I called. For that he’d been too focused on other things, or forgotten me, or not put enough effort into feeding the relationship we’d planted and grown between us, (a small house plant in the corner he’d forgotten to tend). And for that I’d not seen him in two weeks, as if two weeks was some kind of definitively unacceptable amount of time apart. He’s avoidant, I’m anxious. But people must be allowed their space, and intimacy must branch from root in its own unique direction, able to grow in whatever way the limb deems, to droop or reach or crawl as they tell their own stories.
So I could keep kicking. And certainly go down swinging. Or I could tell the truth.
This, ironically, was just such a moment for new intimacy to break ground. A moment for me to release from the soil of my soul a request, and allow my partner to water it. Yet the words stood stifled just below the surface; I felt them clawing to reach open air but my mouth wouldn’t blossom.
“What, Rachael. What is it. You’re being a brat. And I can’t read your mind.”
Still my tongue abated even as my stomach churned to release. The silence after his questions hung pregnant in the air of the 5am morning light. He’d not be on the phone much longer, and we’d just agreed to go our separate ways anyway, considering our utter frustration of each other. But… maybe the catalyst was just enough exhaustion. Just enough fed-up-ness (with myself) and just enough daylight to empower me to try something new: to spit it out.
“I need... a hug.”
I’ve heard the most stoic and independent of both men and women say these words with ease. But not me. Not a girl who associates asking for love as an invitation to be rejected. For the times that I had reached out as an affectionate little being, wanting to be held and made to belong. I can remember the stabbings of ridicule. The moments a boy at school, his face blurred but his words still crystalized and clear as day in my mind, took my ask and destroyed it in front of me, and my inherent worthiness with it. These moments are not unique to me. But I had taken them far too deeply into my bones, soaking them in and stitching them around my organs until they held me together. Until my entire reality was based on a dichotomous unreality: That I am affectionate, tactile, and in need of love. Of warm hands on cold skin. Of lips behind my ears and the feel of another heartbeat to co-regulate my own. But the very worst, most despicable and pathetic thing I could do would be to ask for it. Because I know the pain that follows it, when told that no: you are not wanted, you will not receive that, and the very idea of getting close to you repulses the person you ask. And in a flash, to realize the obvious truth only I couldn't see: people draw close who they want to be near. If they’d wanted to, they would have. And women of worth never have to ask. To ask would be to blow my own cover as none such wanted woman. As if to beg. It’s not that I’d never been loved; it’s that I’d been shunned by just enough people in bids for love of varying kinds - to be seen, chosen, protected - in just enough formative moments. Yet now he knew. I couldn’t swallow the request back down.
As he sat silently on the other end of the phone, my mind flashed back to a conversation with a friend just after she’d entered a new relationship.
“He’s always telling me how pretty I am and looking at me, even when we’re just watching TV on the couch. Every time he stares at my eyes and tells me ‘you’re so beautiful’ I just cringe. My whole body just feels so uncomfortable and I get so awkward. I just try to wiggle out of the moment so it’ll end.”
“Have you tried to tell him that when he says that, it makes you uncomfortable and you don’t want him to do that?” I asked her.
“No - that’s the thing. It’s all I want. It’s what I’ve always wanted. It’s just so hard to accept and take in now. I've always wanted that and yet it's actually hard to hear the words.”
Waiting for him to say something - anything - back as I watched the dawn paint itself across the brick building next door, I finally understood what she meant. This is what it means to want something so terribly and deeply that it makes you quake, only to find that receiving it is far harder than longing for it. Longing had become such a faithful companion. More than affection itself, I longed to be able to tell the truth; I longed for the power to ask for what I needed. To say the words without repulsing myself, or feeling pathetic and disgusting and needy, infusing them with doubt and desperation. To say them with confidence.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.” he said, hanging up the phone.
Ten minutes later on the dot, he stood outside the large metal door next to my apartment, his brow still low and his mouth unflinching. I opened the door nervously, allowing him to enter, hearing him pull a deep, disappointed, and frustrated breath into the broadness of his lungs, staring down at me as if at a wryly puppy.
But rather than … (and my mind ran through a myriad of possibilities all leading to my inevitable humiliation) … he pulled his arms up and around my shoulders, burying my face into his neck. I shyly wrapped as much of myself as I could around his waist and closed my eyes.
“You just needed to be touched, huh baby?” he asked. “Are you doing ok?”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. It was enough to have gotten the words of the truth out. All I could do was feel his spine on my fingertips and hear him breathing into my ear, lulled by the “hmm?” he asked with again, knowing I’d be silent still in this respite of receiving. It wasn’t just the touch: it was the grander experience of receiving. The euphoric release of allowing an ask to fall from my lips, words that revealed a truth of my darkest, most desperate and fearful egoic shadow, no longer shackled by shame and fear of rejection. The release of this truth: that I too am free to ask. I do not know the formula for every response, nor does my past. The jar open and the words set free from my soul, out for the first time in decades to see the light of a dawn morning for to be: accepted, or rejected, or invited, or ridiculed, and so many endless possibilities in between. But no longer the possibility of it being starved, stifled, trapped deep within like a dark, dark secret.
He took my hand and walked me back to my apartment, where we crawled under covers and I wrapped my every limb around his. But just as I closed my eyes to sleep, finally, the clock now striking 6am, I saw what had gotten into bed with us:
“Now that I have it,”
I thought, “what will I do when it's taken away?”