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You Can’t Always Get What You Want

When I was in high school, back in the days of the mixed-tape, my friend Garth made me a tape of the Rolling Stone’s album Hot Rocks. He listed one of the songs as, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Alyssa.”  With an actual comma and my name. In pen. (I sometimes fantasize Mick Jagger naming it that, for me, and I get all gooey in a good way, but that’s a serious digression here.)

In the – way too many – years since then, I don’t think I’ve changed all that much. I’m still vocal about what I want, I still want the things that I want passionately, and I still love the friends and situations that remind me that I can’t always have the things I want. Because they remind me to focus on what I need.

Hmmmm, is there a way to explain this? Sure: fast food, sex and intimacy. (After all, it all gets down to relationships, right?)

I think that people have an excessive need to define and confine things – it goes with this expectation and control thing that we all seem to suffer from. We lose sight of what we need partly because we put labels on everything and then expect that those things will deliver us what we think we need, so we WANT those things. But sometimes, the things we want are bad for us, and don’t really meet our needs. Or, we think they meet a need, so we want them, without looking at the bigger picture. That’s where fast food comes in.

I am hungry. (I am hungry because my body needs nutrition in order to fuel my muscles and my brain.) I am really hungry, so I think that food will help. I see a McDonalds and I think, “Oh, food! I’m hungry, I need McDonalds.” So I eat a Big Mac, and got what I wanted. But I did not get the nutrition that my body needed, so now, even though I have a Big Mac, and think I got what I want, my body is still looking for nutrients, AND having to deal with processing all the crap that I just threw in it. Bad choice.

Had I thought through it, and gotten specific with the needs, I probably would have made a different choice. (Same is true when you talk to an addict who just wanted a “fix” to feel better. The “fix” does not ultimately make him feel better, it makes everything worse, but they wanted it. It did not serve the actual need.)

Because I spend so much time talking about sex with people now, for work, I am seeing it happen all the time in sex too. The biggest thing that I hear people say is that they need variety. They assume that in order to get variety they need lots of partners, and therefore eschew the partner they have, without ever really asking them what’s possible. Sure, for some people variety may mean lots of partners, and that’s fine. But it’s just as likely that you can have endless variety with one partner – whether it’s role-play, toys, location, porn, games or bringing in “guest stars” as part of your relationship.  If what you need is variety, but you’ve convinced yourself that what you want is multiple partners, then you may have lost sight of the need. As such, you may wind up having missionary position sex with a different person every night of the week and still not have your needs met.  Oooops.   Didn’t think that one through.

But where it really gets messy is with intimacy. I don’t mean sex intimacy, but relationship intimacy, human intimacy, trust and all that. I’ve written before about the power of crushes and how they are often confused with a precursor to being in love. And when we feel it, we get all excited and think “I want that!” Which is fine, but the problem is that we have become so compartmentalized as people what we assume only our lovers can touch us that way, so anytime anyone touches us intimately, we think it means we are in love.

Why is that a problem? Because by trying to squeeze every intimate connection into a lover-relationship we both cheapen the power of intimacy by confining it that way, and eliminate the possibility of other relationships that might actually give us what we need. Sometimes, a powerful crush is just a Big Mac.

It feels good to be touched, especially in a time of need. That can and should remind us that we need to be open to intimacy in all of its forms, from multiple sources. (When we’re hungry, after all, we need protein, sugars, carbs, liquid….  A full meal deal.) But, sometimes we get so focused on what we think we want that we forget to look at what we need. Especially in relationships.

Get clear, and look at how it serves the whole, not just the immediate need. And ask yourself if the things that feel good can still exist even without I turning into a lover-relationship. Chances are good, they can.

Because relationships, like food, have a cost. When you throw them into the ecosystem of your life, there is a lot of digestion that has to happen. Is the cost worth it?

I’ve had some drop-dead crushes, and more than once they’ve proven very bad for me because I tried to force them into romances. I’ve lost friends, relationships and time to them. What’s worse, I’ve lost the object of my desire altogether because of the drama that resulted in trying to get what I wanted, and not focusing on what I needed.

What most of us need – although we all express it very differently in word and in deed – is to feel understood, valued, connected and turned on to the exciting possibilities in life. When we feel that, it’s incredible. The problem is that I have watched tons of my friends (and done this more than once myself) throw themselves into a relationship that they think is what they want, just because these needs appear easily met at the right time. (If you’re at home, with a kitchen full of good food when you’re starving, you’re unlikely to go to McDonalds. But if you’re starving, on a dark stretch of highway in the middle of the night and you see those Golden Arches, in you go! )

But you have to ask yourself if your needs are really being met, or are you distracted? I can’t tell you what your needs are, only you can, and you have to get real about it. And then plug that want into your life and look at what happens. Does it really fit? Will getting it make the rest of your life better or messier? Will you gain more than you lose? Is there another way to get those needs met that fits better, that has a lower cost? Are those feelings you have conditional, or would they still be there if you were “just friends.” If they’re conditional, they’re not worth a hill of beans anyway.

I am a FIRM advocate for getting your needs met. I’m not, in general, big on compromise. But I think that people often believe they are being true to themselves when they get what they want, even though they’ve never really thought about what they actually need, in their souls.

It’s like David Byrne says, “How Did I Get Here?” The answer is usually that we get “here” by going after what we think we want. But we want it because other people told us we did, because we thought getting it would get our needs met. The best way to avoid that is to forget what you want, and focus on what you need.

I’ve gotten good at this, it’s part of why I am so “Draconian.” I get as distracted as the next person by shiny things that are convenient and look like what I want. But usually, when I step back, I realize they aren’t what I need. Or that they serve A NEED, but not all of them, and are great in that one context. Or that they come at too high a cost to the rest of my world, and are not worth it.  The bonus is that it cuts down the clutter. I can now see lots of wonderful things for what they are, and enjoy the wonder they bring me. But by learning to look for what I need, my vision is a lot clearer.

I love Big Macs, now and then. But ultimately, whether they’re real Big Macs or metaphorical Big Macs, they just reminded me that I want more than that, and probably wont’ do that again. (I love those lessons.) Nope, I want the full meal deal. Even if it’s casual, it needs to be real, and meet my needs, not just distract me.

And not cause indigestion of my soul. And nourish all of me and  the people that matter in my world. And have lots of variety. And good condiments. Condiments are the key to variety.

Sigh, the things you can do with a good hot dog… kraut, relish, onions….


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