We all want security from a relationship that by its very nature has to contain some level of insecurity. To love completely we have to allow people the freedom to leave, which means that we can't extract promises of forever from them -- and when we do, we understand the fragility of those promises.
This doesn't mean that we can't commit or get married. It certainly doesn't mean that we have to settle for someone who won't promise us more than a day at a time. It does mean that we recognize the value of someone choosing us every day, and we carefully negotiate what that choice means.
Negotiate isn't a very romantic word is it? It doesn't conjure the same kind of magic that we imagine just unfolds when we meet the 'right' person. But to negotiate is romantic. It means that we have such respect for ourselves and our partner that we're willing to be completely transparent about what we need -- and to ask for it.
So, we find security first in figuring out what we need from a relationship and then being brave enough to ask for it.
The most insecure I've ever felt was in the aftermath of a relationship, where I mistakenly believed I could make this person love me. I tried all manner of things to get them to realize that they actually wanted to be with me: I slept with them; I didn't sleep with them, I sent constant messages; I ignored them for a few days, I tried hard to be beautiful around them; I acted like I couldn't care less about my appearance, I was available; I wasn't available.
And through it all, I suffered.
I kept looking for signs that they loved me. Every action of theirs was ascribed a deep meaning, and the meaning I inevitably took was that I just had to wait a little bit longer and then they'd love me.
You know what would have cut my suffering short by months? If I'd just asked them. If I'd just said, "This is what I want from you; are you willing to give it?"
I didn't ask though, because I already knew the answer and I didn't want to know it. I'd have to move on completely if I accepted it, and I wasn't ready for that level of imagined hurt. I decided to ask a new question with my actions instead: "What do you need and how can I best serve you?"
And then I tried to contort myself into whatever tiny little box they wanted me in. I shattered myself into so many tiny pieces that it was hard to know who I was anymore.
We do this, unconsciously, in relationships all the time. Instead of figuring out what it is we need and want and asking our partners what they want, we just fumble through our time with them, anxiously looking for signs. Because we have no clarity, no way to figure out where to place our relationship in the hierarchy of our priorities, we throw way too much of ourselves into the relationship.
Although we are whole people before we ever enter into a relationship, by committing to someone, we also commit to building a new whole. It makes sense that we'd feel a little insecure if it seems like we're carrying all the bricks for a house our partner isn't also building. So, why not have the conversation?
The relief you find afterwards will give you the freedom to direct your energy into other things; things that make you whole. This relief can come because you find that you're both on the same page and you don't have to worry about it anymore, or because you realize that you're never going to get what you need and it's time to move on. That last one is hard, but ultimately freeing.
You find wholeness, confidence, and security when you're ready to be radically honest with yourself and your partner. No compromising on honesty.
This post was in response to a question asked by reader for a new advice column at Awash with Wonder. If you would like some advice, fill out my form or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org