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The double-edged sword of being needed
when you resent the thing you also crave
Wild Letters is a weekly newsletter about self-exploration and building a right-fit life. Thank you for being here with me!
About a month ago Mona went through a phase where she would bang on the walls of her crate in the middle of the night whenever she needed to pee.
Ma’am, I seethed, startled out of a deep sleep. It is two the fuck a.m.
In the weeks prior to this cage banging development Gent and I kept lamenting to each other throughout the day that we wished she would be less subtle about letting us know when she needs to go out. Training her to use a bell seemed like a potential future nightmare, so instead we worked on training her to be more vocal, to make sounds that a human can actually hear instead of just whimpering for a nearly silent millisecond before squatting down to pee on her fluffy dog bed.
And so, because we knew the end game was getting her to make audible vocal sounds whenever she needed to go out, I decided not to acknowledge the crate banging. She can bang and bang, I told myself, rattle rattle clang clang, but I had learned that eventually she’d stop the banging and would vocalize her need instead, after which I’d swiftly get out of bed and bring her into the yard to do her nocturnal business.
Eventually she caught on, and after about a week the crate banging stopped. That one week though, oh my god. It was maddening—sometimes more than 40 minutes would pass from her first tentative bang of the crate to when she and I finally came back inside from the yard. And throughout those 40 minutes I would just… lay there. In the dark. Raging. Stuck in a silent standoff with this tiny terror who I had (for some currently unknowable reason??) chosen to invite into my life.
She is just a little baby dog, I would repeat to myself again and again. A little baby dog. With a little baby dog bladder. She isn’t middle-of-the-night-needing-to-pee at me. She needs me. She needs me to let her out and take her to the yard. She is doing the best she can.
I love the way it feels to be helpful.
No wait, that’s not the truth. Let me try again.
I love the way it feels to be helpful when I am in the mood to be helpful.
I love being needed when I want to be needed. Being needed can feel incredible, purposeful, joyful. It can even, sometimes, soothe my scared parts by tricking me into thinking that being needed means that I am irreplaceable, and that being irreplaceable means I will never get rejected, never get left behind.
Indispensability as self-protection. Proving our worth to others through our performance of usefulness in their times of need.
When I am focused on Mona, when it is a time period I have set aside in which to be with her, I can meet her needs with ease and pleasure. She needs to pee, great, let’s go. She is bored and restless and in need of stimulation, okay, no problem, let’s play!
But when I am busy — when I am trying to write or work or cook or nap or read or have a tea date on zoom with a long-distance friend, when I am doing any of those things and she needs me, I hate it. My first impulse is to feel resentful, so goddamn resentful. Doesn’t she know that I am writing? She just peed! I know she doesn’t need to pee again! Stop whimpering at the door, baby dog! You only want me to take you out so you can chew on sticks and sniff your own poop!
“Remember when I could do whatever I wanted at pretty much any moment?” I ask Gent, despairing. “Remember when I spent years and years building my entire life to be that way and then I got a dog? Remember autonomy? I fucking miss autonomy.”
And it’s true, I do. I love this dog and I miss my autonomy. I am genuinely delighted and grateful that we adopted Mona, and also sometimes her very existence in my home makes me want to scream, makes me want to jump out the window, makes me want to start running and running and never come back.
I wish more people talked about this, about the both/and of being needed. How good it feels. How claustrophobic it feels. How in love you can be (with your partner, your dog, your family, whomever) while simultaneously pulsing with resentment that those beloveds have the audacity to need things from you. How dare they!
Look at her adorable face, I think to myself many times each day. Look at her adorable LIFE RUINING face!
What does it mean to truly be in community? To be an integral part of something? To know in the deep down corners of your soul that people will show up for you, that they will come right over to celebrate when things are wonderful, to care for you through illness, to hold you in all of your joys and your sorrows, your tenderness and your messiest grief.
A lot of the time I feel like I truly do want a life like that, to be part of that kind of interdependent web of love and care. But I do not think that I have ever had it, not really, because there has never been a time when the thought of being that needy (and of being on the receiving end of other people’s needs) hasn’t made me feel, at least a little bit, like I am going to die.
What do you do with that contradiction, the seeming incompatibility of wanting something that you also very much do not want? How do I process the resentment I sometimes feel about my dog’s needs while not being convinced that that’s the same way a friend would feel about my needs? Is this why it’s so frightening to ask for help? Why it almost always feels, in the moment, as if it would just be easier to do everything myself?
I really do not want to be one of those people who starts sentences with, “Something I’ve learned from my dog is…”
And yet, here we are.
Something I’ve learned from my dog is that maybe it is not the end of the world to have needs? And not just needs that one can meet on their own but needs that actually require the involvement and support of another person.
“I need one day a week where I am not even a little bit in charge of the dog,” I said to Gent a few weeks ago. I hadn’t planned to ask for this, I actually felt surprised when the words popped out of mouth. But then I felt the truth of it, the depth of the need, the fact that I hadn’t had an entire day off from dog responsibilities since we brought her home on November 3rd of last year.
Not because Gent isn’t involved with her; he does so much for her, with her. But he works out of the house three days a week while I do not, and on most of the other days he is either doing outdoor house projects that are not conducive to keeping one eye on a puppy or we are doing something together, all three of us as a family or just he and I alone while she stays in her crate. On those days we trade off — he takes her in the morning, maybe, and I then I take her in the afternoon. And for the most part this works. But I wanted more than a few hours to myself. I wanted a whole day. Wednesdays. A day to wake up slowly and read and exercise, a day to write and host my Get Shit Done Club coworking group, perhaps even take myself on a little afternoon bookstore or coffee shop date, all without having to pay attention to the dog. Without having to take the dog out. Feed the dog. Play with the dog. Train the dog. Think about the dog. Free.
I have now enjoyed two consecutive weeks of my Wednesday Reclamation Project, and how but how was I not doing this the entire time? I need it so much. I can feel just how badly I need it based on how at peace I am after getting it. And I know that it is fair for me to get it, to have it. But my god, let me tell you about the absolute tidal wave of guilt I almost drowned in right after I asked for it. Like, am I really allowed to need this? To ask someone else to inconvenience themselves in order for me to have what I want? Is this how I inch closer to healthy interdependence? Is this love? Is this family? How am I almost 38 years old and still fumbling around with these questions?
In the absence of anything that feels like a real answer I am left, for now, in the state of gently holding onto the complexity of my neediness — the way it feels when someone else needs me (simultaneously rewarding, awful, intimate, stifling) and the way it feels when I need someone else (loathsome, hopeful, utterly exposed).
I do not know what to do with these feelings other than continue to hold them, to allow them, to explore the possibility that none of this is a problem to be fixed.