Yes, I’m Needy. But That’s Okay.

When did “needy” become a bad word?

A while back, in the wake of another post-divorce romance gone awry, my best friend came over to cook me dinner and console me.

I remember sobbing into his shirt, snotty and unshowered, while he patted me on the back and alternated between trying to make me laugh with bad jokes, and reassuring me that everything would be okay.

“Stop it,” I told him sternly. “You’re not funny. And it’s not going to be okay. No one is ever going to love me because I’m too needy.”

He looked at me, equally baffled and amused. “What’s wrong with being needy?” he asked.

Clearly, he never read The Rules. Or saw the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme. Being needy is the worst. We girls have that drilled into our heads from a young age. Gillian Flynn captured it perfectly in the infamous “Cool Girl” passage of Gone Girl.

‘Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.’

I tried to explain it to him. “You have to be totally fine by yourself before you can be in a relationship. You can’t look to someone else to make you happy. That’s being needy. It scares men away.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” he said. “Everyone’s needy.”

Maybe it’s because it came from a dude, or maybe it’s because I can’t remember hearing anyone say that before, ever, but I was taken aback.

“You mean you’re needy too?” I asked.

“Of course!” he said, laughing.

You’d think that wouldn’t be a revelation. I’m a grown woman with ten years of marriage under my belt. (Failed marriage, but still.) And yet, it was. Underneath it all, I really thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t want to be alone. I thought everyone else had it all together and was just fine, and I was a weirdo.

I’m an extrovert. I need a lot of contact with others to keep me going. I look to my friends, my partner, my my church community, and the occasional stranger on line at the bodega to fulfill my need for interaction. I’m an over-sharer and a big hugger. I once read that our hunter-gatherer ancestors used to sleep together, for safety, and it made so much sense to me. When you’re alone, you’re vulnerable — susceptible to attack. I still feel that way. I never want to sleep by myself.

I used to think all of that made me a loser — that there was something wrong with me. But guess what? The more I came out about my neediness, the more I found out that other people were needy, too — just like my best friend told me.

Of course, neediness is a tricky thing. There are things a partner can’t, and shouldn’t, do for us. I mean, I can’t think of any right now, but it seems like something a relationship expert would say. And there’s a lot to be said for being strong and healthy and independent before you go into a relationship. If we don’t love ourselves, it’s hard — probably impossible — to love someone else.

But how can we be totally happy and complete, all by ourselves? We can’t. At least, I can’t. And I’m trying to make peace with that.

One thing I do know for sure is that the failure of most of my romantic relationships can be directly traced back to me not being honest about my needs. Mostly, I knew that the person I was with couldn’t give me what I needed, so I pretended not to need it. Seems dumb, right? If I know someone can’t meet my needs, or just doesn’t want to, why would I want to be with him? And yet, I did.

I’ve decided the key is to become comfortable with my neediness. I went into my latest relationship feeling pretty good about myself. On the first date, I told him I didn’t need anyone — and I really believed it. It became kind of a running joke.

I don’t need anyone. Oh right, I remember.

But it’s a lie. I’m not a Cool Girl. I’m needy. And that’s okay.

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