A few months back, I wrote an article that got a ton of attention — Stop Giving Unsolicited Advice — where I dove into the psychology of why we give advice and what to do instead. There was one sentence in it that was highlighted a bazillion times on Medium (exaggeration added) and it was this: people don’t want to be fixed, they want to be known.
I thought that was one of the least impressive lines in the article. Writing is humbling isn’t it? It shows you how wrong you can be and where the real interest lies. Since then, I’ve spent some time thinking about why that line struck a chord with so many people. It speaks to what we really want out of any relationship.
We want to be known and loved anyways.
What does this actually look like?
1. We Want Our Full Self To Be Accepted.
For so much of our lives, we trade authenticity for attachment. We don’t show up fully ourselves for fear that those in our life will leave. We’d rather have the relationship than take up space in it. Then they leave anyways. We learn from the lesson and choose to live authentically going forward. I will be me — the right people will stay, the wrong people will leave. From that point on we’re searching for those who will embrace all that we are.
We want to be able to dance and not get ridiculed. We want to be messy and goofy and not at all put together, and for it to be celebrated. We want to bear our scars without judgment. We don’t want to be fixed. We want our realselves to be accepted — not the dress up version of ourselves we usually present to the world. This is me. This is really me, no editing. And we want the other person to say yes, it’s marvelous, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
2. We Want A Witness To Our Life.
I’m not a big social media person. I’ve had bouts where I’ll try it for a few months, then deactivate. What’s interesting is what happens right after. Suddenly, I’ll be out and about and something noteworthy happens to me. I instantly want to document it and share it with the world. Then I get share withdrawal — oh wait! I’m not on social media anymore.
Social media is so addictive because it gives the illusion of people bearing witness to our life. We feel like our life is seen, and therefore, validated in some way. But it’s faux validation. In real witnessing, the other person also shares something about their life in response, it’s a give and take. Social media can often be one way. And it’s curated — people only bear witness to what we want them to see.
What we really want out of relationships is a partner for the road. We want someone to walk through this life with us, through the hills and valleys, and to bear witness to the journey. It’s why we make vacations with other people. Experiences are not meaningful unless shared. We want to be seen. Thoroughly seen.
For most of my life I’ve flown below the radar. The shy girl who’s stayed on the margins. The type that grows accustomed to people not noticing. I remember one moment of really putting myself out there, and not receiving much positive response, and it really bothered me. My boyfriend at the time asked me ‘What exactly are you feeling right now?’ I took a moment, thought about it, and said ‘Unseen. I feel ignored and unseen.’ ‘I see you, MaryBeth. I see all of you and it’s perfect.’ That statement made all of the hurt go away. By actually looking at someone, and seeing them in their moment of pain, we have the power to be a master healer. This is what we all really want: someone who is present, focused, grounded, attentive. A witness for the journey.
3. We Want Someone To Grow With Us.
We want to be challenged. We want someone who calls us on our sh*t. Men want a woman who speaks to the king in him. Women want a man who encourages her to step into her flourishing. Mature people want an equal — mentally, emotionally, physically, financially. We don’t want a project, we want a partner. We want someone to inspire us to be the best version of us.
4. We Want To Compose A Symphony.
When two separately incredible people come together it can be magical. We want to build a life with someone, where both people are contributing. And together? It becomes a symphony. I add some notes here, you add the harmony, then there are verses, then the coda. Then we add the strings section, and the crescendo. Our symphony is riveting and unlike anyone else’s. There are comfortable parts, like the chorus, and unique parts like the bridge. But we’ve composed it together, and that’s what makes it beautiful.
5. We Want To Be A Hiding Place.
We want the embrace. We want to be held. When I think about relationships, a song comes to mind — Lay My Head Down by the Indigo Girls.
“I want to lay my head down on you
Because you’re the only solid thing in this room.”
I want to be the recipient of that. All your little disappointments and fears? I want to bottle them up and keep them safe. These precious jars that contain your struggles, your scars, your insecurities — I will handle them with care. I will not traffic them to others, not for any price. I want to be your only solid thing in this room.
And we want it reciprocated. I want you to hold space for me as I spread my wings and flourish, as I learn what it means to surrender. I want you to be my hiding place. I want you to be my only solid thing in this room.
This is what we want. This is what we all want.
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