Exploring Our Needs and Desires
Now let’s move beyond my personal examples for a moment and focus on your own needs and desires. Don’t over-think it. You know yourself better than anyone. Remember, your needs are steadfast. They are non-negotiable, and for the most part, they do not change. They also tend to be more objective and less subjective than desires. Specific needs are tailored to individuals who share certain beliefs about the type of qualities they seek in a romantic partner. But in general, there are basic relationship needs the vast majority of us would require from our romantic partner. Some of these might include:
- Well groomed
- Drug free
- Clean record
- Single and not secretly married
- Even tempered
In these above examples of needs, your partner either uses drugs or not. He or she has either been convicted or not. Pretty basic stuff. On the flip side, if you indulge in a fine cigar now and then, you might prefer a partner who does the same. I’m not judging people’s personal preferences or lifestyle choices. I’m merely trying to convey the importance of discerning between the qualities you need someone to have and those you merely desire.
Now here are some examples of more subjective needs that border more closely toward desires and include qualities and characteristics someone might prefer. Again, the key word is subjective. This list might comprise high priority needs for some of us and not even register for others.
- Nice hair
- Sharp dresser
These last few examples describe subjective needs some of us might qualify as desires. Your personal preferences will vary. And in a similar fashion to defining needs, you should define your own desires, which might include some, all, or none of the following from your romantic partner:
- Sense of humor
- Good listener
- Enjoys an active lifestyle
- Drives a nice car
- Makes lots of money
- Likes to cook
In these examples of desires—which could easily be defined as needs if you feel strongly enough about their importance in your romantic relationship—I’ve cited attributes you might wish your partner to possess. They are negotiable to a certain extent, and they comprise characteristics, values, or material goods you deem important, but not essential, to your romantic relationship. Unlike your list of needs, your list of desires can be highly subjective. You might desire to be with someone who is both attractive and intelligent but settle for someone with more of one quality than the other. A sense of humor might describe someone who likes to laugh but tells bad jokes or someone who brings the house down with their razor sharp wit and perpetual one-liners. You might decide an active lifestyle includes an average partner who enjoys tennis or golf. Or you might decide you need someone who trains seven days a week. The point is, you should allow your desires to be flexible. Some desires will be stronger than others. Good kisser might be high on the top of your priority list while the desire for someone who knows how to cook might not.
Of course there’s always the case where you don’t know what you’re looking for until you’ve found it. That’s why it’s important to date different people before making an exclusive commitment. I’m not condoning promiscuity or promoting poor judgment by acting in a manner of false intentions. I’m simply saying you can learn a lot about your own needs and desires by understanding what works for you and what doesn’t. Eventually, you will come to terms not only with identifying your highest priority needs, but with learning to decide which needs hold greater value for you than others. Think about it. Does your need for companionship outweigh your need to spend more time at work? Does your need for sexual gratification outweigh your need for stimulating conversation? Is your need for personal space greater than your need to spend significant time together? Does your need for someone of strong faith outweigh your need for someone who bestows you with copious amounts of kindness and affection?
Years ago, I met a lovely woman through an online dating site. Her profile indicated she worked as an engineer and shared a variety of common interests with me. After several email exchanges and a few phone calls to one another, we met for coffee. I found her as equally attractive in person as I did on paper. She seemed to meet my basic needs and several of my higher priority desires—as I’d defined both my needs and desires at that time. After talking with her for an hour or so, I found her intellect to be her most attractive feature. Of course I found her physically attractive as well, but more than her pretty smile and soft brown eyes, I found myself drawn to her intelligence. As one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever met, she defined a need I never realized I had—the need to be with someone with a strong intellectual capacity. I don’t mean smart versus dumb. I mean someone who can think at a deep level on a variety of topics. Until that date, I’d never realized the significance of intellectual stimulation. Unknowingly at first, I’d uncovered a high priority need.
Remember, your needs and desires can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. But rather than turn your pursuit of romantic bliss into a dissertation on every physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual need and desire you can think of, start with first defining your highest priority needs and desires and then step away and ponder them for awhile. Maybe dip your toe into the dating pool and make some new friends. Experience what you believe you need and desire as well as what you didn’t realize you need and desire. You might be surprised at what you learn.
A Look at Interpersonal Needs
Some of our highest priority needs have nothing to do with the qualities or characteristics we seek from a potential romantic partner. Instead, these high priority needs come from within. I call these our interpersonal needs. Your list might be slightly different, but I think you’d agree the following interpersonal needs are ones which most of us cannot live well without:
In the words of Mathew Kelly, author of The Seven Levels of Intimacy, “You can survive without intimacy, but you cannot thrive without it.” Kelly’s book goes on to explain the various levels of intimacy and how happiness and intimacy are intertwined. For the most part, I agree with his philosophy. I also agree that intimacy has a much broader definition than sex. In the words of Hara Estroff, Editor at Large for Psychology Today, “Sex is easy, intimacy is difficult. It requires honesty, openness, self-disclosure, confiding concerns, fears, sadness as well as hopes and dreams.”
From my personal viewpoint, intimacy is essential. Like the air we breathe, intimacy helps nurture our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. Intimacy implies closeness, belonging, and trust. It represents a fundamental need we all share, and one our romantic relationships demand.
Without good physical and mental health, we have nothing. Compromise elsewhere in your relationship but don’t sacrifice your health. Make exercise a priority in your life. Quit smoking. Get off the fast food wagon. If you value your life, you should value your health. Don’t sacrifice sufficient rest to please your partner’s desire to stay up all night. Decide for yourself which schedule works best for you to ensure a good night’s sleep. A healthy body helps promote a healthy mind.
Our health can be easy to undervalue and hard to reclaim when it’s diminished. Genetic dispositions aside, we are the masters of our own domain, free to weigh the pros and cons of a healthy lifestyle. The only absolute certainty in life is death. And the longer we can postpone our final days, the longer we have to enjoy the time in between.
Don’t make the mistake of equating physical fitness with arduous workouts, as not everyone enjoys the same activities. If you hate running, then don’t run. Not a swimmer? Then skip the expensive gym with the indoor pool. Walk the neighborhood. Ride a bike. Rollerblade. Play tennis. Shoot hoops. Try Jazzercise, Zumba, Pilates, or any aerobics class set to music. Buy a workout video or try boxing on the Wii. Dance the Tango, the Salsa, or whatever peeks your interest. In other words, make fitness fun. If you don’t, you won’t commit to it.
Need extra motivation? Spend ninety-nine dollars on a Fitbit, an electronic wristband-type device used to help you monitor your daily fitness activities by tracking your movements, literally, in terms of distance walked, stairs climbed, and calories burned—think fancy digital pedometer that actually works, not one of those clunky, inconsistent, belt-worn devices of yesteryear. With the Fitbit, you track your progress by syncing your exercise data to your computer or smartphone. Simple graphics make it easy to view your fitness statistics and show how you’re progressing toward your goals. The Fitbit aside, I use an old-school approach by manually recording time and distance data from my bicycle rides to a logbook that tracks my progress on a weekly, monthly, and yearly scale.
The action of monitoring our progress and recording the results to provide ourselves with instant feedback has been used successfully by amateur and professional athletes for decades. Scientists define this concept as a “feedback loop” comprised of four parts: evidence—defined as progress recorded, relevance—comparing our actual fitness activities to our fitness goals, consequence—from failing to meet our stated fitness goals, and action—facing the cold hard facts about our recorded progress and making the required adjustments to our fitness routine to help us meet our stated goals. It’s more than just a passing fad. Researchers from Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford, and Children’s National Medical Center are melding feedback loops with modern technology to help effect positive change in human behavior.
Who knows? With enough research and cooperation between academia and industry, smartphones might evolve to smart scales, where we step on the plate to check out our weight and find the digital readout replaced with a synthesized voice declaring, “Put the ice cream back!” Either way, make a healthy lifestyle a high priority need in your life.
Time represents the world’s most valuable commodity. You can’t go back, and you can’t fast forward. You can’t beg, barter, or buy more time. Time wasted is time lost, forever. Make time management a high priority need. Learning to manage your time wisely will help you achieve a healthy work-life balance. We all have to budget time to accommodate our jobs, our families, our friends, and of course our romantic relationships. Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to accommodate everything and everyone in our lives. It’s okay to ask your romantic partner, “Do you have time for me?” The answer will depend, in part, on the expectations you both set forth. Some people require lots of time together to be happy in a relationship while others not so much. Some people require lots of time to themselves for personal reflection and their independent pursuit of happiness through interests or activities they prefer to enjoy alone. Best-selling author and world-renowned time management expert, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, claims, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” In other words, decide what’s most important to you in your life and make sure you focus on those priorities first. If you think about it, the time is yours to allocate as you wish. Don’t waste it on meaningless, unfulfilling tasks. Make time for yourself and the necessary chores in life, but make sure you pencil in some time for your romantic relationship as well.
We touched on independence earlier in Chapter I, where I described the concept of core values. In a sense, our core values mirror our interpersonal needs. In this case, the amount of independence required varies from one person to another. Our need for independence is important because it helps us to define who we are as individuals. It keeps us grounded. It empowers us. It also helps us satisfy our biological, physiological, and safety needs as described by Maslow. The capacity to think and act for ourselves provides a powerful tool, and one often overlooked in our romantic relationships, where it’s easy to be swept off our feet by the euphoria of love. I’m not disputing the value of love or the sense of togetherness a romantic relationship can provide. I’m saying it’s important to acknowledge your need for independence, whether minimal or substantial, and make time for yourself to ensure your interpersonal needs are met.
We all need hope in our lives. Hope for sustained good health. Hope for a better future for our children and ourselves. Hope for a cleaner planet. Hope for a healthier economy. And of course, hope for a meaningful and lasting romance. Hope in itself won’t sustain you, but hope combined with a positive attitude and a strong belief in your core values will keep you on the path to success in your personal life and in your romantic relationship.
A few years back I hurt my right shoulder to the point where I could barely lift my arm above my head without significant pain. I found this extremely disconcerting for two reasons: first, I pride myself on health and fitness through regular exercise involving a variety of cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength training routines which help prevent things like silly shoulder injuries; second, I had no idea how I hurt my shoulder in the first place. I literally had no recollection of anything bad happening to cause the injury. All I knew was that I couldn’t wash the roof of my car, swing a tennis racket, or throw a football more than a few feet without enduring a stabbing pain in the vicinity of my rotator cuff. After months of nursing the mysterious injury by avoiding any movement that provoked it, and after several sports massages, special vitamin supplements, inconclusive x-rays, and bouts of physical therapy, I started losing hope. But instead of accepting defeat and the loss of normal use of my right arm, I started incorporating meditation and large doses of positive thinking. Instead of losing hope, I gained hope through my own devices. Then, gradually, and I mean painstakingly slowly, my shoulder finally returned to normal. In reality, my recovery from the mysterious shoulder injury most likely had more to do with a strict regiment of physical therapy routines at home and avoiding unnecessary movements to exacerbate the problem. On the other hand, I believe the power of positive thinking and hope factored into the equation as well.
I also believe this philosophy can work to our detriment if we dwell on the negative side of things. A specific example comes to mind, where a few years back I’d experienced a succession of flat tires on my road bike in the span of less than two weeks. At that time, I’d been frustrated by a number of negative influences in my life, my bum shoulder being one of many. Uncharacteristically, I’d brought my negative emotions along for the ride during my normal bike routine, where I’d pedal twenty miles or so over the same path to avoid unnecessary traffic and minimize the probability of collision with inattentive drivers who cruise through stop signs or fail to share the road. I found myself riding with a lot of anger and frustration, and one day, after almost precisely ten miles into my ride, the rear tire went flat. This happened not twice, but three times within a two-week period, each time with a new inner tube and no indication of any tire damage when I left my house. Had my negative energy and toxic attitude on these rides rung the karma bell and generated my own fallout three times in succession? Perhaps.
As it turned out, the bike shop finally fessed up to the batch of defective inner tubes their supplier had shipped them. The shop described how the faulty valve stems were prone to leaking—a more likely diagnoses of my uncanny flat tire problem than a flood of negative emotions. Nonetheless, a change of attitude was in order, and sure enough, once I abandoned my gloomy attitude for one of positive energy and hope for better days to come, the flat tire problem ceased. Believe what you will. I believe we have a way of shaping our destiny, for better or worse, and only ourselves to blame when we pursue a course of bad intent.