What are relationships for? This is what I wonder when I hear someone say, “This relationship isn’t meeting my needs!” —which is a not-uncommon cry to hear.
I also wonder whether I should be wondering this in public, as a woman of a certain age, that age known as crone. By asking “What exactly are relationships for?” am I revealing myself to be a little underbaked emotionally? And is the purpose of relationships in fact to “meet my needs” whether romantic or friendly? And what are those needs we’re talking about, anyway?
I think about the purpose of relationships much the way I think about life purpose: the scope of the answer depends on how we ask the question. But if relationships do have a “purpose” at all, I don’t think the answer is “They are there to meet our needs.”
Love is the point
I like this better: Relationships are for fun and delight. They help us try new things. They let us experience our glittering world of phenomena through the eyes of another. Relationships draw us into ways of being that we couldn’t come up with on our own. They are why we try soursop ice cream and stay up late to look for comets and see Afrofuturist movies about aliens. It’s … love! Love is the point.
That’s more than enough, of course, although we all like to have help with the rent. Which is the type of need—i.e., utilitarian—that I personally think is better addressed collectively. (A discussion for another day, perhaps.)
Because as often as we hear the plaint “This relationship just isn’t meeting my needs!” we hear the declaration “No one person can meet all our needs.” And that’s true! Since, again, it’s not even the purpose of relationship.
However, three things:
- There are some needs that can only be met by others. Babies perish if they’re fed but not cuddled, for example. Touch! It ain’t the same when you try to hug yourself.
- There are some relationships that not only don’t meet your needs, they create destructive storms of unmet needs you didn’t even have before. Yeah, these are relationships that don’t meet basic needs like stability.
- Finally, there is maybe one person whose job it is to meet many of our needs and you will know who that is, since it is self-care day here at Modern Daily Knitting Ranch: yes, it you.
Love is the purpose. Also, delight.
The 5 A’s
My guru for meeting our own needs while also being in relationship is David Richo, author of the truly helpful self-help book How to Be an Adult in Relationships. His idea—and I’m paraphrasing here, as I do below—is that like babies, we have essential needs and no matter what those bootstrap-loving people say, we don’t grow out of them. They are lifetime love requirements, and they number five:
- Attention. In other words, who we are is someone worth focusing on and prioritizing.
- Acceptance: Who we are is fundamentally okay. Approved!
- Appreciation: In fact, we’re better than okay! Hey, we’re kind of a prize.
- Affection: Who we are is a delight, and we know it because they show it, with kindness and thoughtfulness and physical and emotional gestures.
- Allowing: Who we are requires no squishing or hiding. All the parts of us are welcome.
Richo writes that if we didn’t get these five expressions of love as children, from our caregivers, it will be a harder task to seek, find, give, and receive them as adults. But in his view, this is the task of adulthood, if we want truly loving relationships.
Of course, few people receive these five expressions of love perfectly and at all times. But there is an enough. It is possible to meet these essential needs—not in a perfect way but in a perfectly good enough way, and we can and must do it for ourselves. As must our beloveds! And everyone else.
So this month I am wondering: What do you think of these 5 A’s? Is there one that’s especially tough for you? Are there ones that you give freely to others but could stand to give more of to yourself? What kind of effects would that have on your relationships? And what are the aspects of love where you really, really shine and show up for yourself? Put your thoughts in the comments below.
image CREDIT: Peasant Couple Dancing, Albrecht Dürer, 1514, Cleveland Museum of Art (Gift of Charlotte Trenkamp in memory of Henry Trenkamp, Jr.) Public domain.
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