Sunday, August 14, 2011
Is your need my obligation?
August 14, 2011
While sorting old material on my desk (rare event), I came across the note I had written myself several weeks ago about the Bob Merrill’s lyrics in the song “People.” As you know, it required more than Streisand’s great voice to convince me that the need for ‘people’ (i.e., relationships) makes us “lucky." I think this need makes us human and, consequently, makes the discipline of forming mutually productive relationships with others a life-long task.
Part of this task is, of course, identifying what it is that we need, and learning to know how much is enough.
Neither task is easy. Unaware, we are often confused by ideas the culture teaches that at best are extraordinarily silly, and at their worst propose a sure formula for relational disaster.
In “People” Streisand sings a hatful of such ideas with power and passion and artistry. In 2011, archival dust from the culture of the 60’s has begun to settle over Streisand’s work. What is astonishing, however, is the way in which some of these bad ideas are alive and circulating still.
For example, Styne and Merrill’s lyrics deftly define the role we may expect the “other” to play in relationships. Lovers, they insist, are the luckiest people in the world because they have found that very special person who evokes a “feeling deep in your soul [that] says you were half, now you’re whole. . . .”
Really? We’re sure about that?
Now a decade into the 21st century we may assume that we have outgrown that “better half” or “other half” idea, but I’m not so sure.
It is true that the idea is rarely phrased in this form anymore. Nevertheless, there is evidence that we continue to believe that our needs form an obligation for others with whom we enter into relationship to “fill the hole.” We believe further that their failure to do so signals the failure of the relationship, and certainly the right, perhaps even the necessity, for us to leave the relationship.
Last week in my office a young thirty-something reported an impending divorce initiated because the partner “no longer meets my needs.” Last week at a luncheon, a fifty-something individual described a family choice to alter church affiliation because the church they were attending “no longer meets our needs.”
And in a sobering parallel, in a session focused on spiritual growth and maturity, a client said angrily, “How can God expect me to want a relationship with Him when He doesn’t meet my needs?”
Is the measure of a life-nurturing relationship the degree to which it decreases my sense of need? Is becoming “not needing” the purpose for which we form relationships?
Thinking with you of still another paradox: is my willingness and capacity to live with unmet needs one of the skills required for the intimacy in which my deepest needs are met?
See you next week.