Maya Angelou said to never make someone a priority in your life if you are only an option in theirs.
That is sound advice as it goes, but I wonder often if we don’t carry it too far in assuming that the goal should be to find someone worthy of being your priority, rather than matching option for option.
Or perhaps the mistake is seeing it as a dichotomy. “Option” and “priority” are not opposites; a person may have any number of options in life to which are assigned different priorities. So perhaps the advice might be stated more accurately (if less pithily) as “never make someone a higher priority than they make you,” or “never treat anyone as a necessity for whom you are only an option.”
For my part, I would rather be someone’s highly-favored option than their bleak necessity.
It’s not just that I am not very good at being needed. I can’t stand it, in a close to literal sense: I can’t stand up under it. I am too weak too frequently to withstand the weight of another human being’s need for long.
It is a terrible thing to be both weak and needed, and a terrifying one to be needed and know that sooner or later the weakness will come.
I would rather be chosen than needed, again and again each day, even if it is not every day and even if it might not be forever.
I would rather know that each time someone comes to me, it is because in that moment they decided it was exactly what they wanted than because they felt they must absolutely do so or die.
You call that true love? I call it the approximate effects of an around-the-clock sniper detail.
Conventional wisdom says that if you want to experience unconditional love, you should get yourself a dog. It does not say why anyone should wish to experience such a thing. What does it even mean if someone is always happy to see you? What does it signify if someone loves you not in spite of your imperfections, not because of them, but in complete and perfect ignorance of them?
Give me a cat instead. When a cat is excited, it means something. When a cat is annoyed that a human is missing or out of place, it is not because the cat needs attention but because the cat would like the option. And while this is no great model for human relationships, it certainly seems more meaningful to me than a dog’s unfailing gratitude.
I don’t want to be the missing piece of your heart returned to you. I want you to be a whole person who enjoys my company. I don’t want to be you entire life. I would much rather be a neat addition to a full life. Let me be a bonus, an unexpected value-add.
Don’t ever try to base a relationship around need in the long term. It may be nice to feel needed, every once in a while, but it’s nothing but a chore to actually be needed. It is exciting at first, but then it wears thin and it wears you down and if you never learn the trick of choosing one another over needing one another… well, then, sooner or later you’ll feel like you’re in a relationship because you have to be more so than because you want to be.
You can’t leave because you need them, and even more so, because you know they need you. But obligation is not love, and obligation breeds resentment.
I know my stance on all this sounds terribly unromantic, and that it runs counter to a lot of the prevailing cultural narratives about love, but just try looking at your partner every day and thinking: this is the choice I make. Affirm to your partner that they are your pick, your choice, that you choose them again and again (and then pause for giggling to subside if either of you are pokeyman fans). Remind yourself that your partner has chosen to be with you. Truth is this is likely more accurate than any melodramatic “need” talk, and when you get right down to it, more flattering.
I think the reason we pull back from thinking about relationships in terms of choices—options—is that a need seems more absolute. If you believe someone chooses you, you have to be aware they could have chosen someone else, or simply chosen to pass. If you feel like someone is choosing each day to spend their life with you, you are also going to realize they could choose otherwise.
But obligation is not love. Love can create obligations, but an obligation cannot engender love. And every day in every state in this country and in every nation on this earth, a relationship ends between two people who swore passionate oaths to each other that they needed each other like a fire needs oxygen, right up until the point that they didn’t.
I don’t wish to feel that kind of need, whether within myself or from another person, and I can’t change that about myself any more than I could turn a cat into a dog.
I cannot make myself any different than I am. The only thing I can do is make myself plain. I am fuel for nobody’s fire. I am the blood in no one’s veins and the breath in no one’s lungs. I am who I am and I am where I choose to be because it is what I want.
That is a passionate declaration, and it’s the purest romance you’re likely to find outside of a story where the lovers die at the end.