Are You Emotionally Needy?

Some days I’m convinced divorce has ruined me. Me, the person. Altered me for the worse, leaving me bitter. Other days, I’m certain divorce has changed me for the better, making me a more compassionate, more determined, and more focused individual. And if bitterness visits occasionally, it does not own my heart.

Naturally, my truth lies somewhere in the middle. Any significant life event tests our mettle and changes us. Some change we deem positive – keener judgment, greater independence, appreciation for the essentials – and some we recognize as anything but; perhaps we become excessively self-protective, scared of taking emotional risks, or cynical.

But here is one thing I know for sure: I am not among the emotionally needy. I know this as I observe other adults and compare my habits to theirs, as I examine my past, and also, as I imagine my future.

I realize this by the amount of time I spend alone – of necessity, and to some degree by choice.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have needs.

With parenting duties soon to shift, I begin reconfiguring my schedule and my attitude, taking a close look at my nature, my evolving preferences, my constraints (we all have them), and what I really want out of a relationship.

I need a man, I want a man (I need a woman, I want a woman)

Do you know your wants versus needs? Are you clear on the distinction between wanting and needing a man or woman in your life?

In a strange way, I’ve always needed a good man – and I have no problems saying so. But it isn’t necessarily in the way that a man might think. And that’s part of the dilemma – men and women use the same words, but our intentions are slightly different, as is our understanding. After all, we come at issues and language with the viewpoint of our gender-based nature and experience.

In another way, I’ve always wanted a good man – the pleasure of our varying perspectives, the exuberant exchange of sexual energy, the presence of a partner to count on. 

And if a man were to enter my life and expect me to enter his? What might that look like? How would I have to compromise the routine that has kept me going? Would it be an improvement? A distraction? Detrimental? Would I have enough “self” to give to him?

Or has divorce made me into a loner?

Time and timing

When you’re busy raising children and earning a living, a lack of time to socialize means it’s harder to meet people, and if you do encounter someone of interest, it’s harder to sustain a relationship which, of course, takes time. 

The proverbial Catch-22?

As I get older, I realize that I am quite comfortable being alone – and always have been. I crave a certain sort of “alone time” – a break from juggling single parenting and work. But it’s something more; I don’t need the reassurance of other opinions to validate me, though I value the input of those whom I respect.

Yet when you are alone, there’s no one to help out when you’re feeling ill, when the hot water heater floods the basement, when the tire is flat – and only the kindness of a stranger (or your credit cards, again) can get you out of a jam.

And what about when you’re feeling loving, when you have good news to share, when you want to celebrate the beauty of a spring afternoon? Is picking up the phone to talk to a friend sufficiently satisfying?

Assessing relationship options

As I assess my relationship options – given my age, where I live, the inherent isolation in the way I make my living, the ages of my children – I recognize that I don’t need another person to be content. But I want all the pleasures – and yes, dilemmas – of sharing my world with someone special. 

I consider it a sign of my own mental health that I’ve steered clear of both friends and lovers whose emotions would consume me – those who need constant communication, my full attention, or require my reassurance. These traits would have been incompatible with the realities of my post-divorce life.

I am fine with my own company and counsel; I see this as the way I’ve always been, reinforced by my past 10 years. No doubt, my upbringing is also a factor – an upbringing in which I learned to build protective walls. Yet I would willingly welcome another adult into my world, and hope for the capacity to compromise in order to make it work for both of us.

  • Has divorce changed you?
  • Have other events affected what you want in a romantic relationship?
  • Is your self-esteem dependent on the opinions of others?
  • Is there such a thing as “too” independent?
  • Are you emotionally needy?


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  1. says

    I once read that women like to feel cherished and men like to feel needed. But women tend to cherish men and men tend to need women. What do you think of this?

    I’m not sure if I’m emotionally needy. I’m fairly independent, even in my marriage (possibly too independent?).

    Interesting post.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you for the feedback, Ironic Mom. I hadn’t heard that expression, but in my experience, it fits. Sometimes I think we can be too independent, even in marriage. But it certainly does seem to depend on the individuals involved. I imagine the amount of “healthy interdependence” varies from family to family.

  2. says

    I don’t know if I’m independent, but I’m definitely not needy–in fact, boyfriends in the past have been upset with me because I don’t seem to “need” them. I always used to say, “You’re right. I don’t need you. But I CHOOSE you, and isn’t that better?” They never bought it :)

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I also think “choosing” and “wanting” are better – and needing in that way isn’t such a bad thing.

  3. says

    I didn’t think I would enjoy male companionship from someone other than my now ex-husband. I am thankful for time, a ton of reading and sharing that has brought me to a much better place than I was when the divorce process started. I have met someone who has been a wonderful companion (sounds soo old, huh?). We have a good time, can talk and, of course, the physical part is especially nice. Our lives are busy so it’s hard to ‘need’ each other. We both just want and wait for the time when we can be together which is usually every other weekend. It’s worse than the life of a teen! Anyway, my point is love, or some variation of love, is possible at almost any age. It did take putting myself out there- the dreaded on-line dating! How or where else would I meet anyone? Any fear or uncertainty I felt about doing that has been well worth the outcome of meeting some nice people and one wonderful guy.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I like the way you put this, Michele. It makes sense to me – when two people are very busy (with many obligations). You share a great deal, “some variation of love” as you say, but responsibilities may hold you to schedules and places. You don’t need each other in the traditional sense, yet you fully enjoy each other. Or so I interpret what you’re saying. It sounds like a win-win.

  4. says

    The older I get, the less I feel I know about matters of the heart. I know I’d rather be cherished than needed by a woman. I’d rather cherish her than need her as well. But this takes a lot of personal work, a lot of surrender.

  5. Jen says

    Hmm. I think perhaps I’m needy…. Oh dear! I never thought it would come to this. I’ve never married – despite hoping to. Now 41, and it looks further away than ever. I frequently give up and think I’ll just get old with my cats and be a crazy old lady.

    I think I’ve always been insecure, despite loving parents and a basically OK time at school, including being academic, but not sporty. The notes I’ve found in my old diaries talk about not wanting to get married in my 20s – I felt the need to explore for myself, buy my own house, have some independence before dependence. I had a loose schedule in my head – meet someone at 28, get married at 30, have children at 32 et seq. I’ve kissed a few frogs, which threw me around a lot – much more than it should. I knew I didn’t want to have lots of relationships before I met ‘the one’, but how do you know if they are the one? Well, some of the signs were there but I went ahead anyway.

    So, here I am.

    I read a blog recently by a guy in his 30s who has just become engaged. His fiancee wrote a list of the kind of guy she was looking for. He’s madly in love, so it’s all goo-goo-gaa. I think the list has some problematic elements, and the way they talk, they are loading each other up with far too high expectations. But maybe I only know, or intuit, that now, because I’m older and I’ve given up. And that’s what their lovestruck writing showed me – I no longer think of making a list because I think it’s all over for me. If I’ve had any desires for particular characteristics (integrity, kindness, generosity, intelligence, honesty etc etc), I couldn’t find them when I was 30 and thin and not bad to look at. Now I’m 41, I’ve put on some weight, I no longer think it’s realistic to expect to have children (another grief), what hope do I have?

    Yah. I’m depressed. And very, very sad. My Mum is in the early stages of dementia – currently in respite and so frightened, I can hardly stand to be conscious. My Dad doesn’t enjoy great health. My brother has been kicked in the teeth a few too many times and is hanging on. Life looks very, very bleak at the moment.

    But I’m so glad I found your blog – through Real Delia. You write very well, and I see life here.

    Thank you. Sorry for the glum comment.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I’m so glad you found me, Jen – and that you’ve left this comment. Some very kind and interesting people stop by here. I think you’ll enjoy them.

      Regarding your comment – there’s so much honesty. I cringe when I hear women reveal their plans, their lists, their missed opportunities (or presumed to be missed). You might enjoy popping here for some musing on “the one. I think it’s a troubling concept, and it leads us away from good people, as do our checklists, our competitive friends, the media. I do think that in getting older, we let go of some of the things that really aren’t important, and maybe we begin to embrace what is.

      You’re 41. Please don’t give up. I’ve got more than 10 years on you, Jen – and despite my own bouts of the blues, I haven’t given up. (Peek here, too – about aging, and giving up, and not giving up…)

      Maybe you no longer think of making a list because somewhere inside of you, you realize that people are more than lists, that lists keep things superficial and do us a disservice?

      Might I also suggest you consider reading Barbara Hannah Grufferman – you can find her on Huffington Post or Facebook – and if you’re healthy, she has great tips for taking back control of your life in your 50s – including your fitness and health. And she’s an all-round pragmatist but very positive in real ways.

      It sounds like you have good reason to be depressed (you know what I mean). Life is hard. It’s very hard. When you want someone to love and you haven’t met a person who “fits,” it’s hard to explain how that feels to those who haven’t experienced it. When you’re surrounded by those you love in ill health, that’s another source of sorrow entirely. Talk about it. Write about it. Find someone with real skills who can help – if you can do that. Come here and talk about it. There are good people here who will listen. And you don’t have to “be” anything here. Just yourself.

      I’m glad you’re here.

  6. KT says

    I am emotionally needy, I will be the first to admit. So many important people in my life have told me that they love me and then I never see them again. Including my parents. Who are- as far as I know- still alive, but will not speak with me for going on 6 years now. I am in a failing marriage- he is cold and controlling, and after almost 20 years I’ve had enough. My heart just aches for someone to love me. Someone to cherish me. Someone to hold me at night and just tell me everything is going to be ok. I can do plenty on my own- I am pretty much raising our two special needs children on my own- I just want someone to share my life with. And don’t even get me started on sex…

  7. anon says

    I’m emotionally needy, but not so worried about relationships with men – actually don’t really feel like I need a man – more so in my relationships with everyone. I’m a burden. I try really hard not to be, but I never learned self soothing skills when I was a child and when I get really upset nowadays I tend to really need the people around me. The thing is, that’s totally ok for a few months or so – like after a breakup, I’m totally fine with my friends leaning on me – but I’m that other type that is ‘always upset’. I try to hide it because I don’t want to be a pain, but it always ends up coming out. It’s like I forget not to mention it and I end up talking about it.

    When I’ve been in really bad places in the past – especially when I’ve stopped sleeping altogether and I lose judgement – I’ve been really in need of soothing all the time, and totally unable to make myself feel better, and have leaned too much on friends. I’ve spent years learning as many skills as I can – through therapy and through self-help – but when those tools just don’t seem to work then I feel powerless and end up leaning on others again.

    I’m never unpleasant about it, and rarely demanding (there have been a few occasions where I’ve been demanding when I felt really desperate, but these are very rare), but it does mean that there have been years when both my friends and my family/parents abandoned me because I was too much – I needed so much help all the time. I don’t blame them because I have friends like me too, and I end up avoiding them because it’s so draining and I can’t take any more.

    I’m trying to be happy so that I need less support, but my main block is that being so needy in the past has left me hating myself. I feel like such a failure. Everybody else can cope except me and it seems so unfair after I’ve worked so hard to be able to help myself. I am needy with boyfriends as well – more emotionally needy like I am with friends than clingy, although I’ve been clingy after relationships have broken down and there’s no one to turn to because everyone’s sick of me being unhappy. Fortunately, my unhappiness is my only real flaw, I’m pretty proud of who I am apart from that, so it sort of feels manageable in a way in that if I could just be happy then I’d be an alright person. But I get so unhappy that even those who love me end up hating me because I need them too much.

    I haven’t lost any friends – although some have taken breaks from me – but I feel that the relationship is one-sided and that I tend to be in touch with them to hang out, they never get in touch with me. I think this is because I’m too unhappy, although I always make an effort to ensure we talk as much about them as me and I try to notice if I start self-analysing or talking about therapy or if I say negative things so that I can change it. I just feel that I will never be acceptable to other people if I can’t just be normal. It’s so frustrating, because those who don’t know really like me. I appear very confident, I’m very successful, I’m nice to people and good at buying them gifts etc, and people tell me I’m really interesting. So I feel like I’m so close to being ok, but if I can’t stop making myself unhappy then I’ll end up with no one because everybody hates being around sad people – even if the person is trying to hide it you pick up on it and it brings you down.

    See the vicious loop here? I can’t forgive myself for being unhappy, and that makes me unhappy, but I really can’t forgive myself. If it wasn’t such a big deal, why would everybody – including my parents – hate me for it sometimes?

    • D. A. Wolf says

      Hi Anon. Thank you for reading and sharing so much of what is going on with you. Please note – I am not a therapist of any sort, ok?

      I do see the vicious loop, yes. But you mention you’ve been in therapy. Did you give the therapy a chance to help you make changes, or see openings to make changes? Are you still in therapy?

      I will add that parents, siblings and friends will abandon us for many reasons. We like to think this never happens, or only happens in the most egregious of circumstances. In my own experience, that simply isn’t the case. There may be far more going on here than what you perceive as your actions and their responses. Again, I would ask what the therapist’s view on the larger context is.

      As for happiness vs. unhappiness, we seem to have created a false god of “happiness” in western society these past years. No one can be happy all the time, and pursuing happiness (as a goal), to my mind, is not where we should focus. Curtis said as much in a comment on the “Abundance” musing: Better that we look for purpose and meaning, which ultimately (many of us believe) enables us to feel good about ourselves and our lives while doing good.

      You say you like who you are as a person. Can you consider all those positive aspects of yourself and the ways you apply them meaningfully and with purpose? Does that exercise lead you anywhere?

      One last thought – If you are healthy, you have all kinds of options that await. If you are “young” (however you define it) and healthy, even more so. Many years ago, I couldn’t imagine that I would ever find a solid sense of self, which I associate with feeling good about my place in the world. (Note, I didn’t say “happy.”) When I feel good about my place in the world, I’m easy (and even fun) to be around. It did take me a considerable journey to begin to find those aspects of “good” self, but I got there; I’m always in the process of getting there – with bad days and good days and everything in between.

      It has taken hard work, introspection, and also – cutting myself a break when it comes to not being who and what I thought / hoped I would be.

      Learning to forgive ourselves is a process, not a switch you flip.

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