“You don’t need anybody.”

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“You don’t need anybody,” he said as we were driving to dinner in a heated conversation. It was a lashing of words that stung particularly hard. Thinking, thinking, I don’t need anyone…… I took a deep breath and retorted, “that could not be further from the truth.” It came out awkward and high pitched as I was fighting back tears.  Was I that person? Had I protected myself so much that I had turned into an island?  I’ve rolled this phrase over and over, contemplating if maybe I didn’t need someone and that I was fooling myself to protest. I have come to realize it isn’t that I don’t need anyone, perhaps I just may not need someone the same way they want to be needed. To hurt me, he made this profound declaration. However, how we need people and how we explore what people can give us and what we can give them in return, is a journey.  Need is wrapped up in circumstances, in other people’s emotional requirements and, ultimately, in our own responses.

Needing someone: needing friends, needing relatives, needing lovers. Need is such a multi-dimensional word and a multi -dimensional emotion. Often, friends fulfill their desire to be needed, as long as it fits into their prescription. Let us explore the needs of a person who has experienced loss. Dealing with loss has the classic stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  It is difficult for people to interpret where you are on the spectrum of stages and difficult for those close to interpret your need for need. However, it is also important to understand that those that are “there for you” are sometimes fulfilling something that is important for their well- being, too. Whether it is their grief or their pain as well, it can be a transactional relationship. Classically, there is a recipe for the social treatment of a widow(er). The beginning is so difficult and it is often easy to show care and thoughtfulness.  But as the individual becomes more independent and self- assured, they may be perceived as no longer needing support and care. That is the furthest thing from the truth. Yes, how they need friends may be different, but no matter how strong, how happy, how well adjusted they appear, the desire for care, warmth and cocooning still exists. Strip down the façade, and you will find a person that is still very much in want of your attention and thoughtfulness as a friend and confidant.

A foremost definition of the word need speaks of a necessary duty or obligation. To me, this is the furthest thing from the truth. But scroll down in the definitions and need can be defined as a situation or time of difficulty. Alas, there are several pertinent definitions of the word.  With that conclusion, there are several different ways to show care and to express need.  Appreciating the friend that hears your tone in a text and reacts, a tone that can often be sad or dark and responds with intuitive warmth. The friend that knows you are “fine” but checks in, ever so often to make sure you have someone to talk to or an ear to just listen. The person that asks the right questions, even though you don’t express the desire to talk, or the one that pops into your life to just help, to unleash some of the burden of doing it all yourself.

I know that my situation has made me further examine how I relate to friends and what I give them in return. Not knowing many people in my demographic of loss, I have soul searched as to how I will respond to someone else experiencing my loss. I am confident that I will be intuitive.  I will conjure those deep moments of loneliness and doubt, darkness and fear. They fade in time, but never disappear. I want to be the person that anticipates a friend’s needs and never forgets the difficult path and the work that it takes to reach contentment. The dreams of lost loved ones still sneak into my consciousness and anniversaries, birthdays and holidays will forever appear on the calendar. I want to be the friend that is quietly there, who relieves the pain with a kind word and support, who supplies a gesture or touch of the hand in acknowledgement. An acknowledgement that says, “ I understand, I haven’t forgotten either.”

Overall, people have been exceptional. There are disappointments, and they hit hard and heavy. But, life has disappointments.  When someone steps up or steps down it has to be a learning experience. Learning how to open up and let new people in, learning not to chase affection but let it happen organically, is fundamental. If you withdraw your energy from a friendship, will it deflate? If it does, then you need to rethink the parameters of that relationship and put it in its proper perspective. Rethinking and adjustment can come with a price and it can come with some pain. However, that perspective will probably give you personal growth and peace in the long run. Dwelling on negativity is such a massive waste of energy.

Managing expectations is also important.  Not everyone can be the same friend you are. Friendships can be circumstantial in regard to where someone is in their life.  Be understanding- understand a friend’s place in the moment. Just because someone can’t give exactly what you need is not reason to diminish the friendship or their level of care. Cutting a person out of your life because they don’t measure up to your bar of expectation is probably a mistake.  It is important to take people for their limitations and understand that your expectations may not be fair.  Consider what your friend is capable of and hold on to that. There shouldn’t be a one size fits all in friendship and fulfilment as people are ever changing and complicated in their own experiences and emotions.

So, truth be told, did he mean to hurt me? Do friends that disappoint mean to be hurtful?  I don’t believe so. I think that his goal was provocation. He wanted to hear that I needed him and maybe that I not only needed him, but loved him. He wanted a response.


  • Susan Warner

    I am an educator, wife and mother. My journey is a perfect example of life’s contradictions. A storybook marriage of 38 years and two magnificent children, I existed in the comfort of an extraordinary cocoon of family and friends. Enter the devastating suicide of my 32-year-old son and then the subsequent death of my husband 6 months later of a virulent cancer in an eight-week diagnosis to death, my story is of acceptance, pushing on and not being defined by social emotional norms. I am living my best life, making choices that define my “right turn” after my catastrophic loss, and characterizing a journey to self-actualization and a commitment to help others who have experienced loss. Rediscovering who I am, what lies ahead and the adventure at hand.

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