All I Want

“All I want in a relationship is for my partner to be able to tell me what she needs, and for it to be okay for me to say no sometimes.”

She looked at me. Like I’d just asked if she’d heard about the guy who was going to swim to the moon. “That’s all?”

“Well,” I said, “I also want to be able to ask for what I need, and know that she is able to say no.”

When did this become such a strange idea? That it is reasonable to expect each of us to ask for what we need. That we are able to respond honestly to any such request.

Asking for what we need might feel scary, embarrassing or selfish. Being asked to do something for someone can make us resentful, worried or anxious. Yet helping others is also a source of joy and can deepen our connection with the people around us.

Saying yes might mean weighing our needs for space or freedom against our desire to show affection or provide safety. Saying no may also involve weighing needs but also requires the courage to risk their frustration or pain. Hearing yes means trusting that the other person is agreeing to help us out of pleasure rather than fear. Hearing no requires the willingness to try and understand their needs and to explore alternatives.

All of which equals my sisters droll “is that all?”

Yet I can’t escape the sense that we’ve taken something simple and made it complicated. We all have the same needs; belonging, safety, joy, growth, beauty. Through our actions, however fumbling, each of us are each trying to find ways to meet those needs.

As we learn to look inward and see clearly what we need. As we gain skill with both speaking and hearing no. As we learn to trust the other people in our lives. As we gain confidence in our sense of self. We begin to come alive in each passing moment.

Laid out in front of me I see a path. A way that I hope will lead to a life of deeper and richer relationships. The beauty of this journey is that I don’t have to be skilled to begin. Each fumbling attempt carries me forward.

Two People Walked

Two people walked. A couple. The woman went ahead. Down to the water, and back up the beach. Many times she went, back and forth. With her, two dogs. One small, one larger. The dogs constantly running, yet always coming back. Jumping up, then sprinting away. The man walked carefully. Slowing periodically. Scuffing the ground, kicking a rock. The whole way he kept slowing to kick a rock.

Today I kicked a rock about a kilometre down the beach. My rules were simple. It had to be the same rock and I had to always go forward. It's funny what you can learn kicking a rock down the beach. The pattern a tumbling rock makes in the sand. How much to scrunch my toes. What my rock looked like from every angle. To recognise my rock in the middle of hundreds of other similar rocks. Even the time I took my eye off the rock as it tumbled across the scree. How often it ended in seemingly improbable positions. Hanging from an invisible string.

These rules allow only two sensible strategies. Kick carefully or decide you don't care that the games ends. How many times did I kick the rock? Dozens. Hundreds? Each time I was able to make sure that it was carried forward far enough to kick again. It's a simple thing to kick a rock, but isn't everything simple?

I wasn't surprised that the rock changed. I was more surprised that I changed. Kicking a rock, thinking about care. About this world. About me. About the power of decisions. It's not hard to take care. To be careful. To carry something forward. To make sure something isn't left behind.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet

For a long while I have believed – this is perhaps my version of Sir Darius Xerxes Cama’s belief in a fourth function of outsideness – that in every generation there are a few souls, call them lucky or cursed, who are simply born not belonging, who come into the world semi-detached, if you like, without strong affiliation to family or location or nation or race; that there may even be millions, billions of such souls, as many non-belongers as belongers, perhaps; that, in sum, the phenomenon may be as “natural” a manifestation of human nature as its opposite, but one that has been mostly frustrated, throughout human history, by lack of opportunity.

And not only by that: for those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainly, change, have erected a powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel, we hide our secret identities beneath the false skins of those identities which bear the belongers’ seal of approval.

But the truth leaks out in our dreams; alone in our beds (because we are all alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves), we soar, we fly, we flee. And in the waking dreams our societies permit, in our myths, our arts, our songs, we celebrate the non-belongers, the different ones, the outlaws, the freaks.

What we forbid ourselves we pay good money to watch, in a playhouse or a movie theatre, or to read about between the secret covers of a book. Our libraries, our palaces of entertainment tell the truth. The tramp, the assassin, the rebel, the thief, the mutant, the outcast, the delinquent, the devil, the sinner, the traveller, the gangster, the runner, the mask: if we did not recognize in them our least-fulfilled needs, we would not invent them over and over again, in every place, in every language, in every time.

— Salman Rushdie, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet

… and then it was upon us

… and then it was upon us. Somehow sensing the shadows above, she turned and as her eyes made contact, screamed.

Not a piercing squeal of horror like you sometimes hear in the movies, but a primal howl of despair. Yet before the first echo sounded she had been plucked from the cliff and was being carried away.

We were left, struck dumb by our surprise and terror. As comprehension dawned a matching sense of relief welled up within us. Though we had failed, our duty was complete. We would return in shame, but we would now be allowed to return to our families and rest.

Kinda Hoping I Had

I peered into my email, surprised at the notification that somebody had commented on my blog.

Nobody ever comments on my blog.

In fact, I wasn't even sure why I had comments enabled, the whole idea makes me anxious. There's a safety in being invisible, in knowing that I am not yet skilled enough to warrant a response from the remorseless hivemind of the internet.

My curiosity transitioned almost immediately into distress. It was her. She was the inspiration for much of my writing. In particular the slightly ironic love story she'd just commented on.

We travelled in overlapping circles. Had friends in common. We'd had drinks together, the occasional meal, but never found that connection which inextricably draws new couples together. In the mean time our lives carried on their parallel paths, each largely oblivious to the reality of the other.

Except that I wrote about her nearly every day. Seated alone in front of my screen, I transfigured text into veiled stories of hope and love.

[she] Lovely story! I don't suppose I know the person you're writing to …

I can't think, but I have to respond. Fumbling for words.

[me] Ahh … yes. Yes, I think you probably do.

She was still online, her reply came almost immediately.

I always struggle with this. On the one hand directness pays, I know this, but it's not in my nature. Directness works 80% of the time, the rest of the time it ruins friendships or makes you “that jerk”. I get trapped thinking about how unwelcome my interest might be. Recall all the stories I've been told by women about how this guy just wouldn't get the hint. My pride rebells at the very thought and I lapse into the self-sufficiency of silence.

But now her reply is staring at me. I have to say something. If I back away from this, I have no one to blame but myself.

[she] are you trying to tell me something?

And suddenly, I relax. I smile as the words flow from my fingertips.

[me] I was kinda hoping that I just had.

Commitment has never been my strong point. I'm adaptable and opportunistic, not determined or strong. Being brave rarely comes easily or without doubt and self-recrimination when it goes wrong.

[like] 1 person has liked your comment.

But, it's all going to be okay.

A Simple Misunderstanding

It was literally a miscommunication. We didn't even know that they'd arrived, let alone that they had come on a humanitarian mission to help us. How could we possibly understand that?

For a hundred years we'd been broadcasting still born beings into the cosmos. For a hundred years we'd been trying to say hello, while they had been trying to understand what was killing us. Trying to understand why these lifeless husks kept arriving on their doorstep? They understood that we were trying to initiate contact. What they couldn't understand was that our messages weren't us. That we were back on a planet trapped inside the arrogance of our carbon based bodies.

Inspired by a frenzied rereading of Enders Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Ender's Shadow. A reverse twist on the Buggers killing us off without thought because to them individuals weren't important.

See also: They're Made Out of Meat?


2014 by adam shand. sharing is an act of love, please share.