Please Don’t Need Me
“I need to see you!” the text from a friend read.
I almost dropped my phone, like I’d burned my hand.
I get triggered when people say they need me. I twitch when someone gets too close inside my personal space. I start looking for a way out when someone comes in for a hug. How long will this last? I think.
You see, I am a cat person.
When I make this admission, I’m both admitting the obvious—that I gravitate more toward cats than dogs (though I love and own both).
I’m also admitting I’m a cat kind of person.
Like a cat, I think I am independent. I make my own decisions and navigate my own life. I seek out spots of sunshine and stretch out in them. I don’t want to be touched or hugged by surprise. If you come near me, proceed carefully, as I’ve taught you. If you want to play, I’ll let you know if it’s a convenient time, and when I get distracted, I’ll get up and leave with no warning.
Don’t sneak up on me. Don’t do anything weird to my food. And please, don’t tell me you need to see me. Because while I like you well enough, I don’t need you.
There is an often-repeated story from years ago when my husband and I were both at a local golf course — he was there playing golf with friends; I was hanging by the pool in the sunshine with a book, letting the lifeguards (somewhat) take over keeping our young girls safe in the water.
My phone rang. I picked it up, saw my husband’s name, set the phone back down, and picked my book back up.
What I didn’t know was that he was calling from the green that overlooked the pool, and that his friends had suggested he call me so they could all wave hello. Instead, they caught me red-handed, deliberately not taking my husband’s call. It made for some laughter on the golf course that day and good-natured ribbing over the years, too.
But all I wanted was to enjoy my precious time alone — which was infrequent those days with young children. I figured if he really needed something, he’d leave a voice message. It wasn’t personal.
I don’t like being needed. Mostly, because I don’t think I need anyone. I’m self-sufficient, I can self-soothe, I take care of my own damn emotions.
At least, this is the article I was going to write. It was going to be called, “Please Don’t Need Me.”
While talking this anticipated article over with a single female friend, she gently pointed out that this belief of not needing anyone is a belief stemming from privilege.
She reminded me that unlike her, every day I have someone who either is home or will be home soon. That I have no idea what it’s like to really be alone, or to have to be independent in every way, every single day.
My friend is a self-described “lone” parent. She differentiates a lone parent from a single parent by explaining that when one is a lone parent, there is no one else in the picture with whom she can discuss ideas and worries, or to whom she can send her young boy to stay for a while. Everything that must be done in her life is her responsibility alone.
About differentiating lone parenting from other kinds of parenting agreements, she writes:
“Some of you think that’s your life too, but I almost assure you that you have someone in your life to pick up a hammer and put a picture up on the wall, and not be paid for it. Someone to make a meal, or occasionally do a school pickup or clean a counter top without trading your time or your money for the “help.”
It takes a lot of energy to do it on your own. 24. F*cking. 7.”
In this, too, I am privileged in that I’ve had an equal partner in parenting and housework. For the whole of my adult life.
Over the course of my conversation with my friend, I realized how right she was. And how privileged I truly am to think I don’t need anybody.
I’ve never actually had to be alone for long stretches of time, so what makes me think I could be? I have never in my life had to go weeks or months without someone knowing where I am, or what I’m up to, or when we’ll see each other next, so how would I fare if this weren’t true?
I’ve always had someone who can check out a noise in the middle of the night, or take a turn at the dishes, or run to the store to get some needed medicine when I’m sick.
I cannot imagine a different kind of life. I cannot picture a life not knowing when my next opportunity for real, authentic human connection might be. Nor can I envision not having someone to walk through my day with each evening, to sort through issues with throughout the day, to grow alongside over the years.
I once told my husband that whether it was good news or bad news, events in my life didn’t feel real or have meaning until I shared the news with him. He said this was true for him as well—that the first thought in his head after getting news is, “I have to tell Keri.” I would call this a kind of “neediness” between us, a connection in which we ground each other’s lives in reality and validity.
The classic riddle, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?” could also ask us, “If we get good news and no one is around to help us celebrate, did it really happen?”
There are certain friends of mine that “get” a certain side of me that no one else does, and there are times when I absolutely “need” their feedback and point of view on the matter. These friends meet my needs by mirroring back to me other perspectives that I can’t always see by myself.
I have seen the same spiritual guide for the last eight years, about three weeks apart, almost without fail. One time, I wrote down the incorrect date for our appointment, and so when I showed up, bursting with neediness, there was no one to meet me there. I can still remember the difficulty of swallowing back down the emotions and stories that I had loosened in preparation for my body’s release.
And I definitely remember that by day 18 of a 23-day solo pilgrimage to Myanmar, I got a case of homesickness that was so visceral, so truly physically painful, that if it hadn’t cost so much to go home early, I just might have. It had been a trip marked by courage and independence—a true cat kind of trip. But when I saw my husband at baggage claim, I (nearly) ran to be inside his arms again.
Saying I don’t need anyone is a great big lie—bolstered and secured by the privilege of always having had someone close by.
And perhaps, too, it’s a mantra of protection for the wounded part of me that sees dependence on others as a weakness of character.
I grew up in a Midwestern family where we did not express love verbally or even, really, through physical touch. Love was known and understood through actions and demonstrations of love, but not through touch or words of love. I suppose this is why my love language is “acts of service.”
I come from a lineage of independent, stoic, mostly Scandanavian farmers. Think of the painting “American Gothic” by Grant Wood, and that’s pretty much my heritage.
Growing up, uncontrollable emotions got me sent to my room until I could “behave better.” Asking for help, or dear god, telling someone I “needed” them would’ve been a show of vulnerability so extraordinary as to be dangerous.
But even though my emotional needs were not met, my physical and tribal needs were. Though the words “I love you” were rarely spoken, I knew I was loved. That I was safe and protected. That I had witnesses to my life who saw my successes, my failures, and listened to my news—even if it was only on an intellectual level.
So good, bad, or neutral—I learned to manage my unmet emotional needs by swallowing them down or pushing them aside. Learning to self-soothe or in some other way move past my emotions was a survival mechanism in which I told myself over and over that I didn’t need anyone. I repeated it like a mantra. To satisfy my human need for belonging in the family tribe, I sacrificed my need for emotional release.
I still see my spiritual guide every three weeks because, to some extent, I’m making up for lost time. I’m still seizing on this incredible opportunity to live a life that includes having someone present to witness my emotions so I don’t have to do it all myself.
It’s clear to me now that my “independence” was and remains false.
I’ve never really had to be or go it alone. And this is an incredible privilege in a world of so much loneliness.
In the United States, roughly a third of the adult population says they are lonely often, always, or some of the time. In other countries, this is even higher, ranging all the way up to 50% in Brazil.
While loneliness was an issue long before the COVID pandemic, it exposed it for what it really is—a pandemic in and of itself. COVID revealed how interdependent we really are, something we couldn’t see so easily when we were so busy moving from one activity to the next in our daily lives. Take this quote from a study in “Harvard Magazine”:
“The one thing that the pandemic does is it really emphasizes our interconnectedness, right?” he says. “The virus doesn’t know tribes, it doesn’t know boundaries, it just doesn’t know….And that, in some ways, is a dramatic reminder of how connected we are.”
How many of us didn’t realize before the pandemic how much we needed and depended on our interactions each day—from the small ones to the deeper ones? How many of us thought we didn’t need anyone, precisely because we always had people around?
The only reason I can say that I don’t need anyone is that I’ve always had people close by. I can choose my aloneness knowing I can always un-choose it. I can go on solo trips halfway around the world because I have a family to return home to. Perhaps I haven’t always seen how much I need others because I’ve always had people caring for my needs—spoken and unspoken.
Until now, I have never truly appreciated what a privilege this is.
I am lucky to have people who need me and to need them in return. I am not the solo-adventurer I think myself to be. I am interdependent. I need others, and I need to be needed.
“Love is about needing someone, about feeling as if the day is not quite right if they’re not there. It’s about knowing that, no matter how bad a day you’ve had, the moment you see them again or hear their voice, the world is back in its place.”
This understanding has softened a side of me I never imagined could be softened. I know now that this exterior, this front of “Please don’t need me” is not really who I am or what I believe. Not down deeper, not once you move past my protections and boundaries. This “not needing” once felt like the safe way to go through life, but now, I see it only as a barrier to forging deeper connections with people. An internal barricade preventing me from taking my friendships to the next level.
Just like my cat, Lizzy, who thinks of herself as independent but comes purring or meowing when she wants to cuddle or play, I go to my people when I need support.
Lizzy might not realize her independence is an act she can play because she has people looking out for her needs. But I now know that mine is nothing but a mask, a veneer, a painted-on stoicism that has no place in the life I want to live—a life that includes needing all kinds of people in it.
If you want to learn more about lone parenting, click here.
Award-Winning Author & Wholeness Advocate
Author: Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness — A Memoir of New Beginnings, winner of the 2020 IPA for Body, Mind and Spirit