I’ve been thinking a lot lately (and I’ve had a lot of time to think, as you can tell by my extended absence) about needing people.

What do people really mean when they say something like, “I need you”, or, better yet, “I can’t live without you”?

These statements have honestly bothered me for a while. They are often said by someone who is quite capable of living without the person they are saying it to. Honestly, what would happen if the other person passed away or decided that what they needed was to step away from the friendship or relationship?  Would you literally perish on the spot? Drop dead after months of agony? Let’s be real here: you’d probably ache for a while, but eventually, time would heal the wounds and you’d go right on living.

As with everything, there are exceptions. There are people with very real, physical needs that require the aid of another person to overcome and continue living. I’m imagining an emergency operating room situation here, patient turning to the doctor, whispering, “I can’t live without you.”

That’s valid. It sounds silly, but it’s valid. I’m not so peeved about that particular kind of need, because it’s not aimed at one specific person. Rather, it’s aimed at a role. “I need a doctor,” or “I need a nurse,” is way different than “I need you.”

I think it was the movie Jumanji where the character who disappeared into the game ten or twenty years ago comes back and finds out that his parents have passed away. The story is, I think, that the mother died first, and the father died within a week out of grief. Couldn’t live without her, that guy.

I’m sure that this happens in real life. I wonder, though, whether it’s really a matter of not being able to live without the other person, or more a matter of not wanting to live without them. I, of course, have no way to tell. I’ve lost people in my life, but clearly, I am still living, as I think they would have wanted me to do, but I feel uncomfortable passing judgement on someone’s possibly psychological cause of death.

I do think that there is a  lot to be said about not wanting to live without someone. There are many people in my life to whom I can say, “I could live without you, but I don’t want to.” To live without them would make my life less exciting or less fulfilled, and I’m a fan of really, really, living life, and these people help me to really live it. I would manage, eventually, without them, if they exited my life somehow, but these friends, lovers, and family members are fast-pass lane vessels to a guaranteed good time, in my eyes, and I like having them around. (Sounds selfish, I know, but I also believe that most of our motivation as people comes from at least a little bit of the selfish need to feel pleased somehow, and who the hell’s gonna blame you for wanting to pursue happiness?!)

What I hope, now, is that when I hear people uttering those phrases to one another, what they mean to say is that they wouldn’t really be living life in that moment without that person. They couldn’t, in the moment, live it up, live in a fulfilled way, without that person there, because in that moment, that person is who is fulfilling them the most.

That’s what I hope. That’s beautiful. And sane. And makes sense. I like things that make sense.

Back to the woods I go – I hope to see you all again sooner rather than later.

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  1. Phrases like “I can’t live without you” can actually trigger a bit of panic in me, as I have been in a sort of hostage situation– wanting to leave a relationship, and my partner threatening to kill herself if I go. I’ve learned, through that experience, that as soon as someone’s language takes a turn in that direction, it’s time for a very frank talk about boundaries and professional help.

    Fortunately, I’ve had my boundaries respected, and language clarified, and lovers have understood that it’s just not a romantic sentiment for me.

    • It’s a little worrisome, when you think about it, how romanticized these phrases (and the ideas they represent) are in movies and songs, when as you point out, they’re very frightening. How many love songs say things like “can’t go on without you,” “can’t live without you,” etc.? And then people wind up using them to express their feelings because it’s easy to take from what we’ve heard before.

      We seriously need to learn to communicate without leaning on songs and movies like crutches. Eek.


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