The other day I was having lunch with my former step-mom, my dad’s second wife (he’s on the third and hopefully his ever-after). She called me up out of the blue some months back after talking about me with her niece– who happens to be married to my ex-wife’s brother. Despite a population of around 1.3 million, the Richmond metropolitan area is still very much a small town. I just love bumping into people who share various connections, and each year I meet more and more– which makes sense of course as you accumulate friends and acquaintances over time. Back when I first started dating my ex, my dad was married to his second wife, and my ex’s brother had married my step-mom’s niece a few years prior, and we used to joke that when we got married we’d be step-cousins-in-law. Unfortunately, by the time we got around to marrying almost 10 years later, my dad and step-mom had split, so we were never able to officially claim that funky tangled relationship status.
Anyway, we were catching up and she was telling me about her daughters, my former step-sisters. One of them is recently going through getting a divorce and my heart goes out to her since I know how rough it is. My step-mom then tells me she’s in a new relationship that’s a bit complicated and I’ve got two reactions.
The first is like, in a new relationship already? It seems incredibly soon and with enough complications in life already, adding more complications seems a bit nuts to me.
But on the other hand, I can understand that loneliness sucks, and when life is shit the urge to have someone to hold and provide physical comfort can be overwhelming. Who are we to judge someone for needing that and seeking it out?
A week or so later I’m having a conversation with the woman I mentioned in An Awesome Wedding. While talking about online dating she brings up an interesting point– even though she’s content with her own company, she feels that there are things in life you can only learn by sharing it with someone. Later, thinking about the conversation, I’m struck by the contrast with the conversation about my former step-sister. For some people, it’s like companionship is a need, something that’s required to fill a hole or paper over pain. For others, like my new friend from the wedding, companionship is a want, something to enhance an already satisfying life.
If we take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, for this thought exercise I’d say the lower down the pyramid things are, the more something is a need rather than a want. That bottom level is pretty basic needs we all require. That next level up are pretty fundamentally important too… and for some people I suppose they look to companionship to provide some or all of those things — security, stability, freedom from fear. For those folks, companionship is pretty close to being a need.
At the top of the pyramid is where companionship becomes much more of a want, a way to enhance life, to increase fulfillment. You’ve already got the physiological needs covered, you’ve got safety covered, you’ve got a sense of belonging from friends and family, and you’ve achieved success and recognition.
It’s pretty clear that, after more than two years since my marriage ended, I must be in the camp where companionship is a want, not a need. Sure, sometimes loneliness gets to me and I’ve got to beat back the sadness, but ultimately I, too, feel content with my own company.
I’m curious if people can be compatible if they’re on different levels on the want/need scale. My hunch is that it can make things precarious if one partner needs the relationship more than wants it, or vice versa. Also, I wonder how the intensity and quality of the relationship is impacted by where you and your partner fall on the spectrum?