There is a needy, unkind thing inside me.
It’s a terrified and self-protective thing; a bit like a wounded animal, quick to attack when threatened. While it’s always there however, this vicious little thing never comes out with friends or family.
It saves it’s appearances exclusively for my sexual/romantic partner. As such, I haven’t seen it in several years, and was rather hoping I might never see it again. After all, I’ve done so much healing work, and my new love is amazing. Surely we have such a long time before he finds out about the snarling little beast who lives inside me. Maybe he’d never even need to!
Because then there was a global pandemic, and we got trapped across the country from each other, and all my wounds got triggered… and out the little beast came.
The little beast’s main fear is that there isn’t enough physical or emotional intimacy, closeness, or attention to go around, and that therefore in a two-person intimate partnership there are only two options. One is that I simply never get enough attention or intimacy, and emotionally starve to death, and the other is that I treat my partner like the enemy and force them to meet my needs– even if that means they never get their own met, until the whole thing implodes.
In my last relationship, the beast came out constantly, because my partner was volatile, emotionally withholding, stoic, and quick to shut down.
I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect person to face this little beast if I’d wanted to really, since scarcity of intimacy and attention was an actual daily reality with him.
He would regularly withdraw in such a way that I felt like a door had been slammed in my face. One minute we’d be having fun, and the next something would happen and *poof* he’d be gone; I’d suddenly find myself alone, next to the tense and silent shell of his body, with no intimacy, connection, or warmth to be found.
I’m also the second child (of three) and only eighteen months younger than my older brother, so intimacy and attention actually was a bit scarce as a kid. As such, I learned that getting my needs for intimacy and attention met meant I had to be competitive and aggressive.
That was the approach I brought into my intimate relationships as an adult, too. Feeling like a bottomless pit for attention and intimacy from my partner, I would push, force, fight, demand, and advocate for my needs to get met– until I pushed the whole damn thing to pieces.
After my last (horrible) breakup, I made a plan to keep that pattern from repeating itself.
The plan was simple: only date other people who value intimacy the same way I do (and are emotionally available for it), explore polyamory, and stop dating men.
I had barely dipped a toe into this plan when I met my new love, and it all fell apart.
He demonstrated consistent and bold emotional availability. He walked out onto the love-ledge first, in fact, and then patiently waited, encouraging me as I inched out to join him. His unabashed craving and tolerance for intimacy matched my own, and even challenged me to go deeper. He spoiled me with closeness and attention, gazing into my eyes and gushing about his feelings for me for hours.
I thought… well, shit. Ok. Let’s do this.
I was living in the moment, flooded with the intimacy of new-love sex-magic and just barely beginning to look at the future, when we got trapped on opposite sides of the country, sheltered in place with no earthly idea when we would see each other again.
And that’s when the little beast started coming out.
The inability to be physically intimate was devastating. I discovered (to my embarrassment) that I had been relying nearly exclusively on sex, touching, eye gazing, and other physical contact to fill what I call my “intimacy tank,” to feel like our bond was secure.
Suddenly that tank was completely empty every day, and my whole body’s alarm system went off.
This person cannot meet your needs! Nobody can meet your needs! You are too much, and eventually he’ll figure that out! It’s probably best that you get rid of him now!
The little beast was suddenly in charge, and I was just watching myself become anxious, hostile, and mean. I’d be fine for a day or two, and then some small thing would send me into a total fight-or-flight response. Maybe he’d take too long to answer a text, or maybe I’d interpret his muted energy when he was tired as stonewalling.
In those moments, I sped past “needy and insecure” and went straight to “I should break up with him since that’s obviously what he was about to do anyway.” (My little beast doesn’t cower in the corner hoping not to get kicked. It goes in to destroy.)
These were ugly moments, because you wouldn’t know from the outside that what I wanted was more closeness. You would think what I wanted was to push him away, and at times that’s what he thought too. Honestly, I barely succeeded at not burning the whole thing to the ground.
This dynamic sucked for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that my new love is sensitive and kind, and does not deserve my venom.
But more selfishly, this dynamic sucked because I couldn’t keep him from discovering that I am… *gasp*… not perfect. Or more specifically that (like everyone else) I am a whole, full, fucked up and beautiful, amazing and terrifying human person.
Before I left for this trip, he looked at me like “I can’t believe I get to be with her.” I could practically feel the halo over my head, and angels singing. If I’m being completely honest, that halo made me feel safe.
Of course he loves me. He doesn’t know me yet; doesn’t know about the beast inside.
It was excruciating to watch him find out. Utterly terrifying and mortifying for him to see the absolute worst of me, only months after we met, when we should have been having fun, low-pressure dates and mind-blowing sex, and slowly getting to know each other. It felt so unfair.
One night things got bad, and he used the word “indifferent” about talking it out after.
His uncharacteristic use of such a word signaled to me that he had hit his fucking limit. I knew he would never have used such a word if any others had been available to him, and I wept as it sunk in that while he is amazingly patient and kind, he too is a whole, full, human person.
I realized that night that the little beast may soon get it’s wish and destroy us, if I didn’t figure my shit out soon. I also realized that in order to respect and honor this human person I fell in love with, I would need to reach deeper.
Like he does, for me. Like he deserves. Like I deserve. I decided to try something new.
He had asked me before to remember that his feelings about me don’t change moment to moment the way mine seem to, and that his words and actions have always (eventually) confirmed for me that intimacy was abundant and there had never been any danger. He wanted a little credit for that.
So I sent a text that night letting him know that “indifferent” was extremely hurtful to hear, but that I was going to trust there was no danger, that I loved him very much, and that I was going to give us some space for the night.
For the next 24 hours I wrote dozens of texts that I never sent, attempts to either beg him to “come back” and meet my need for closeness, to accuse him of stonewalling, or to lash out. Every time I deleted what I wrote, remembering that respecting someone means trusting them, and he has earned both my respect and my trust.
That was a difficult day; it felt a bit like trying to meditate naked in the middle of a tornado.
But the next evening, I listened for hours on Facetime as he opened up, told me what had hurt, what pushed him to the point of indifference, and what he’d been processing in that time apart.
It felt like I had chosen to offer someone a hug instead of punching them in the face. I’d spent nearly a full day waiting to get sucker punched because I’d let my guard down, but instead I found myself wrapped in a deep and tender hug.
Maybe that wouldn’t have been hard for you; each of our little beasts looks different. But I’ve never reached this deep for anyone before. I’ve never been so unwilling to lose someone that I called upon all my strength to kick the little beast out of the driver’s seat when it took over.
I can’t tell you how many times I was sure this quarantine would ruin us; that the ugliness pouring out of me would poison our new love; that we didn’t have a strong enough foundation to support the challenges we faced.
And yet, I also can’t tell you how many times we got to the part of the fight where he sort of magicked away all my hurts, penetrating my frozen body and panicky mind with a river of tender truthful words.
As it turns out, fighting was one of the few things we could do over distance to feel closer. It wasn’t fun, but there was something about going through a difficult experience together that felt good, and reminded me we were on the same team.
I told him that once, and he encouraged me with a smile to “be a fucking punk” (his words lol) and start as many fights as I wanted. He made my little beast feel welcome, seen, and understood. He made me feel safe without a halo.
This quarantine apart has been painful and horrible, but it has also been very beautiful. Blessings wrapped in land mines. This has been good for us; good for me.
That night we turned a corner, and the ugly thing inside me has been (at least for now) disarmed. For the first time in my life I feel that there is plenty of intimacy, attention, and connection to go around; that I don’t have to force, fight, or beg for it, and that I don’t have to rely exclusively on sex and touching to get my fill.
The little beast is now just an ugly drooly dog, napping in the corner of my mind.
I also know now (in a way I didn’t before) that the man I love is an actual human person whose heart I am honored to be entrusted with, which means I must alwaysreach deeper for the truer, kinder thing.
And lastly, I know that the halo over my head is gone, and can never be retrieved. He knows I’m human now, and I just have to trust that being human is good enough for both of us.