9.28.2006

Inside the Animal Kingdom

Asking for love feels needy, desperate, and embarrassing, especially for someone bonded to self-reliance. But when my dog repeatedly hits me with his dainty little paw begging for a scratch, I think, ‘How sweet. He knows how to ask for what he wants.’ And I think, ‘I could learn from him.’ And when he keeps tapping me, never sated, slapping my hand every time I try to type on my laptop, I end up yelling at him and saying, “I’m working!

A dog can teach you lots of things. Like the fine line between expressing your needs and desires, and becoming a demanding pain in the ass.

Throughout the years, I’ve encountered men who would praise me for being undemanding.

I can take you to a party where you know no one, and you don’t hang all over me,” one short-term boyfriend told me. I took this as a compliment until I realized that I was basically being commended for being invisible.

I’ve decided that I don’t like playing the role of ‘The Girl Who Needs Nothing.’ But transitioning from a lifetime of being low maintenance to actually expressing wants and desires is no easy task. Fear sashays in. Fear of being labeled as needy, and thus undesirable. Fear of the request not being granted. And the favorite of psychologists – fear of getting what you want.

Beyond that, if you’ve buried your needs and desires for longer than you can remember, you lose sight of what they are. You even lose sight of self.

“You don’t know who you are?” a puzzled friend asks.

“Well, I have a hint, but I’ve inhabited so many identities as a means of being adaptable and flexible that I’ve lost connection with the real me,” I reply.

“Huh?”

In order to know what you want, you have to be connected to who you really are. To those who have never been a chameleon, this challenge is hard to comprehend. But when you’ve lived as a chameleon for ages, able to inhabit any persona to function in any situation, eventually you have to ask, which role is the real you? Does the real you even exist anymore? And while adaptability has assured your survival, what part of you – other than the shell – has survived?

As I attempt to write this, my dog stands by the side of my bed barking, determined to recruit me as his playmate. In his wisdom, he knows that every day he must engage in fun to maintain his sanity, to romp with other dogs or to have a mighty tug-o-war with a dishtowel from which he emerges victorious. Okay, maybe he doesn’t know this, but he absolutely requests it. So now I know it.

And in following my dog’s lead, I see that the best way to find my way back to me is to play, to see what constitutes for me uncalculated joy. As I gather this knowledge, I see what I choose for my life rather than what I agree to in order to please others. I find me.

The canine education doesn’t end there. My dog, the king of finding comfort, paces and burrows, rearranges, and eventually lies down. Content. He finds subtle differences in the lay of a blanket or the temperature of the floor. In observing him, I recognize how good he is at taking care of himself, of meeting his own needs, and when he can’t, in asking for help.

I always saw independence as one of the most admirable traits anyone could develop, that the ability to sustain self equaled desirability. But after traveling the relationship road for a couple decades, I see how people enjoy being needed by their mates, how women and men who directly ask for what they want offer a gift to their partners.

So with this in mind, I’m ready to say good-bye to the chameleon. I imagine I’ll remain adaptable, but I’ll strive to hang onto self more powerfully in the process. And hopefully learn to ask for what I want. It’s time to speak up rather than roll around on my own back trying to scratch the itch.

6 comments:

Spill The Beans said...

Searching for self, I am going through the same journey, trying to figure out who I will be now that I don't have to be something for someone else.

jen said...

Well, I have a hint, but I’ve inhabited so many identities as a means of being adaptable and flexible that I’ve lost connection with the real me.

That was probably one of the most intimate, accurate and brillant things I've ever heard revealed. I could jump on my desk and scream out at how much I can second you on that statement alone.

How do we find our way back if we have no idea how we got here?

Cover Your Mouth said...

Well, this difficult journey has at least started with a terrific blog post!

V-Grrrl said...

"Everything I Needed to Know in Life, I Learned from My Chihuahua"

I have not been a chameleon, I haven't gotten "lost" in the process of trying to adapt, but I find it really hard to acknowledge my need for attention. Eye contact. Conversation where the other person isn't multitasking while you're talking. Body contact. The ultimate luxury is to be NOTICED. Now you know why I miss my silky terrier so much. Sure he could be a pain in the ass, but I was always the most important living thing on his radar.

Laurie said...

This piece is simply brilliant. Good-bye, Zelig. Although I think that theoretically being the chameleon can be fine for fun or function, as long as I do it consciously and don't lose myself under the disguise. If only. Thank you for this insightful piece.

Margaret said...

I feel inspired to adapt that personality where I say what I want, only this time say what I actually want rather than what I think is what I my partner wants. Beautiful post.