So, I don’t know about you, but I was raised to be nice. Which is fine, most of the time; but somewhere along the way I got it into my noggin than being nice meant never asking other people for what I need from them.
I mean, I kind of get where the correlation comes from: if you’re asking people for something you need like a cup of sugar, that’s no problem, but if you’re asking people for their time and attention to your emotional needs, that’s like, investment. That’s asking “a lot.” Only, is it?
A few weeks ago, one of my typically eloquent, mature, emotionally generous friends posted as her Facebook status, “I am bored. Pay attention to me, please.” This woman is around 40 years old, the mother of two children, has a fairly responsible full-time job, and is in every other arbitrary way that our culture has determined adulthood precisely that: an adult. It told me a lot about my social conditioning that I was surprised by her status, and then deeply intrigued to see how other people would respond. Would they laugh at her? Scold or berate her? Would they just give her what she asked for?
And this week, a person for whom I have a great deal of respect and with whom I am working on a big, ongoing group project that requires a lot of input from a lot of people, emailed our entire group to say, Hey, I’m carrying an unfair share of the burdensome load of work here. This is not fair. I like you guys, but please step it up before I crack and drop everything. Again, I knew my feelings on the matter – she was right, I had been slacking or at least not looking for ways to contribute more, and I was so stunned and impressed that she had the balls to ask for what she needed. But I wondered how others would respond.
People’s feelings tend to be prickly, you know? And I wondered if people would feel unjustly criticized by not having anticipated these needs and just automatically filling them. But in both cases, people responded really favorably. My Facebook-requesting friend was inundated with messages of love, jokes, Reddit links, short stories from people’s days, and pictures of baby animals. You got the impression that not only were her friends willing to meet her needs, but they were even grateful for an emotional stage on which to perform. And my friend who shares a project with me immediately got responses from the whole team owning up to their shortcomings and with pledges to specific areas of the project into which they’d devote more effort – and then, sure enough, they did. Immediately.
I think, for whatever reason, I often expect people’s emotional reactions to be nearly opposite to mine. After all, I jump at the chance to meet a friend’s need when it’s something specific, articulated clearly, and something within my capacity to do. I can totally cover your lunch since you forgot your wallet in the office! You really were too good for that ex-boyfriend! You’d look hot in this sweater; let’s trade! And I think maybe I just had this weird, arbitrary line drawn around myself, like I couldn’t ask for what I needed. I was afraid of being called needy, or worse, being ignored and feeling insignificant.
So, I experimented. I was having a shitty, discouraged day – had been dieting and exercising and somehow gained weight and it made me feel bad. (Don’t judge; I know better but it’s still an uphill battle.) Instead of silently fuming to myself, or feeding the frustration with a pack of Old Fashioneds, I got on the old Social Network myself and posted about what was bothering me: that I’d been working hard, expecting results, and was discouraged by the outcome thus far. I asked for support and encouragement, specifically.
No one shamed me about dieting. No one tried to tell me 14 things I’d done wrong along the way. But several friends encouraged me: treat your body well. Don’t stress. Keep doing what you’re doing; you’re doing well, even if the scale doesn’t show it. They pointed out the other benefits of eating healthfully and exercising, which were all the reasons I’d gotten into this in the first place: clothing fitting better, generally elevated mood, stronger immune system. And all of that had been true for me so far! My friends supported their assertions that I was fine and nothing was wrong with scientific data, experiential knowledge, good practical thought. It helped to calm my anxiety, and helped me to get my mind off of unhealthful body hatred and frustrations.
I repeated the experiment later in the week by asking people for jokes. I’d been feeling a little mentally blah, and just wanted to laugh at something dumb. Jokes! People texted them to me, called me with them, posted videos and sent me links, all just to make me laugh. And these are people who KNOW my sense of humor, so I really laughed.
Who knew a grown-up could ask for what she needed from her friends! (Probably most people.) Have you tried asking for what you need lately? What were the results? Hell, what do you need today? Tell us in the comments!