Neediness is a subject that comes up fairly often in dating advice, usually as a list of signs and symptoms and how to avoid displaying them at all costs. Still there seems to be a lot of confusion about what neediness is and why it’s so bad in the first place. Let’s begin with some misconceptions about neediness:
Myth 1: Neediness is about making too many phone calls/sending too many text messages/wanting to spend too much time together.
While blowing up someone’s phone and spending every waking and non-waking minute with someone can indeed be a glaring indicator of neediness, approaching the problem of neediness as if it could be solved with limits and quotas misses the point. For a personal example: After I went on one date with this girl, she then proceeded to call me every. single. day. Most of the time she didn’t even have anything to talk about and she just kinda sat there on the phone to listen to me say stuff…or something. Aside from the awkward phone silence, what made this unbearable for me was not the number or frequency of phone calls. (While also definitely relevant, we’ll address the issue of this all happening after one date later in the post.) It was the freakouts she would have when I didn’t pick up right away or had to cut the conversation short.
Therein lies the core issue: Neediness isn’t about going over your time-together limit. It’s about respecting others’ time and realizing that just because they are physically capable of spending time with you doesn’t mean they are obligated to do so. Neediness also isn’t about some magic number or algorithm that makes the difference between normal phone calls and annoying or creepy phone calls. It’s about how you react when the person doesn’t pick up. Doesn’t matter if it’s the first call or the 51st call. You can call somebody three times a day and be fine so long as they’re okay with it and they know you’ll respect those moments when they can’t talk right this minute. You see, when a person sees a ton of missed calls from you, this is behavior expected from people in emergencies or other desperate situations where you need their help or support. (And hopefully, if you’re acquaintances or just in the beginning stages of dating someone, you have other people you can contact in an emergency.) In the absence of any fires, floods, shootings, muggings, grievous injuries, deaths or car breakdowns in horny moose country, those 13 missed calls indicate to them that you treat them not being able to come to the phone at the moment (and your anxiety about it) like an emergency.In the extreme, needy people seem as if EVERYTHING is an emergency and only ONE person is able to fix it. This makes you seem scarily unstable and nobody needs that kind of pressure.
Myth 2: Being needy means you “care too much”.
She only thinks I’m needy and clingy because she’d rather be with assholes who don’t care about her at all.
Lots of guys are fed this line by the pickup artist community that advise feigning cool stony indifference with prospective dates and to keep significant others uncertain about whether or not they are really cared for. Like imaginary limits and quotas for contact and advice like “Make her wait at least 6 hours before responding to a text.” (which is also often given by PUA’s), pretending as if you could take or leave someone you’re hoping to date is only a cosmetic solution. These measures only serve to mask the underlying anxiety instead of alleviating or helping to cope with it. Worse yet, these measures also often serve to inflict the anxiety experienced by needy guys onto the prospective date almost like an indirect act of revenge against women they’ve been anxious over. Yeah, it’s gross.
What this misconception is often based on is that when many of these guys talk about “caring”, what they’re really talking about is investment.
This is why the belief that neediness = too much caring and women HATE caring is often held by Nice Guys and other people who try to force intimacy by spamming good deeds and sacrifices. In spite of their behavior being inappropriate, unwelcome, manipulative and sometimes even scary, in their minds neediness is good apart from the fact that a lot of women apparently just don’t have a taste for it; the poor fools. However, you needn’t be a classic trade-deeds-for-sex Nice Guy to appear overly invested in a relationship or prospective relationship. Relationships of all kinds, intimacy levels and durations are built on some form of reciprocity. Proportional give and take. So in this case, needy behavior often manifests in the form of a person blowing off friends, family, work, school etc. to be with their date or partner all the time.
When we talk about the “need” in neediness, we aren’t just talking about the needy person’s needs (or desperate wants dressed up like needs, really). There’s also the expectation that the other person will ignore or give up what they need to attend to their partner. The rationale is “I gave up all MY time and friends for you…” (even if there were no friends and their time was mostly free to begin with), “You should do it too, else you’re mean and selfish and this relationship is unfair!”
This is why it was so problematic for the girl I mentioned earlier to expect me to be able to drop everything and talk to her on the phone every day. I wasn’t prepared to make that kind of time investment so soon (I had a GoPhone back then too, to make matters worse.) but clearly she was and expected me to do likewise.The implication is that either this person expects an equally large investment in return, or they are so painfully lacking in self-respect that they’re willing to give up any and everything (or feel they have to do so) to secure this relationship which they see as their one shot at happiness. Again with the pressure.
Here “care” is also conflated with what again amounts to anxiety: Anxiety about whether or not your feelings are reciprocated. Anxiety about suddenly not being liked or loved anymore. Anxiety about being likable or lovable in the first place. Anxiety about whether you did something wrong. Anxiety about getting rejected. Anxiety about what it would mean about you as a person if you were to get rejected. Anxiety about never finding anyone again if this doesn’t work out.
Notice how little relevance any of those has to the other person’s well being. Certainly these thoughts can inspire good deeds and they do hinge on the other person’s feelings, but ultimately they’re about how those feelings reflect on the anxious person him/herself. This is not the same as caring. Caring about what kind of person your relationship or lack of it makes you is not the same as caring about the person you’re in it (or not) with.
While we’re at it, forcing someone into the center of your life is also not the same as caring, especially if it comes with the expectation that they’ll have to make you just as central. Conversely, just because someone hasn’t eliminated everything else but you from their life doesn’t mean that they don’t care about you.
Other needy behaviors:
- Sending texts for no reason just to see if they’ll respond
- Constantly asking to hang out during a busy period of theirs (finals week, working lots of overtime, what have you) until you find a day where you can get a ‘yes’ because you just want to make sure “I’m busy that day” didn’t actually mean “I never want to see you again.”
- Seeing something that disrupts your routine as a threat; eg. “We normally hang out on Thursdays but she wants to go to a Contra Dancing event this Thursday. Now I hate Contra Dancing./Maybe she’s looking for a new boyfriend./Maybe it’s just an excuse to get away from me.
- “If you really cared about me you’d….”
“So I’m needy. What do I do?”
Well, the first thing you need to do is get (and keep) a life. By far the thing I’ve seen needy, clingy people have the most in common is not having a life and expecting some other person to come along and give them one. Many needy, clingy people see a significant other as being the answer to all their problems even when their problems are many, varied and complicated. If you’re having trouble supporting yourself, don’t have much of a social life and/or have heaps of unresolved issues best dealt with in therapy, a relationship isn’t going to make all of that go away. If anything, the lack in those areas will probably make you feel insecure and inadequate leading to more desperation and needy behavior. Not to mention that if one person becomes your entire world with nobody and nothing else supporting you, this also heightens the stakes along with the feelings of “OH SHIT! I DON’T WANT TO EVER LOSE THIS PERSON!” In a relationship, you share part of your life with another person. Looking for a relationship when your life is in shambles is like looking for a roommate without considering the fact that the place is a broken down, cockroach infested pig-sty. Or worse, it can be like expecting your roommate to also be your maid, repairman and exterminator and clean it all up for you.
That said, much of the anxiety and awful feelings neediness can cause and create can be eliminated just by having other shit you can do when date plans don’t work out. If you’re sitting there looking at your watch waiting for the next acceptable time to text, sure you might not be bothering the other person with your issue, but it’s still affecting you and how you see things. Many needy people complain that other people have so much “power” in relationships/friendships compared to them. They see someone having a schedule with things and people on it that aren’t them as a means to control and limit their friendship. People don’t just have busy schedules in their minds. People have busy schedules AT them. When someone says “I can’t hang out that day because I’ll be out of town visiting family.” they hear “I’m leaving town to visit family because I don’t want to hang out with you.” (Indeed there’s something to be said about the self-centeredness of thinking that all of a person’s other engagements exist solely as means to avoid you.) While the feeling sucks when you’re just forever sitting at home waiting for your friend to be done with all the other things they have going on, the simple answer to this is “Stop waiting”. This is why I recommend developing a schedule of your own with other friends and hobbies or even alone time (Hell, I schedule that.), and give yourself the ability to say “No, not today”. Not that there’s anything inherently fun about saying that, but once you’ve experienced it, you’ll realize that nobody is actually trying to rub their calendars in your face and you can begin to take random scheduling conflicts at face value.
And for God’s sake, don’t treat a relationship like you died and went to heaven and it’s game completed, roll credits. Your social life and self-improvement aren’t solely for the buildup to when you graduate to getting a girlfriend/boyfriend. You’ll still need friends and hobbies and to present yourself decently in public.
Another thing you’ll need to do is own your anxiety. In the same way needy people often externalize the solution to their problems, they also tend to externalize the causes of said problems and place the control over their anxiety and their self-esteem levels into others’ hands. Now it probably won’t be possible for you to simply decide in the moment to not get anxious next time a call goes to voicemail. However you can decide what you do about it when you do feel that way.
Instead of putting the onus on the other person to stop “making you” feel anxious by calling continuously until they pick up or hurling accusations at them later, recognize and own the feeling as coming from inside you, either from your imagination (speculating, catastrophizing, already mentally preparing for the worst) or your past experiences, neither of which are especially helpful in the immediate present. Just focusing on your feelings in the moment instead of on all the catastrophic things that could be the reason why it’s been 30 minutes and the person hasn’t texted back yet. You could say something to yourself like “I’m feeling anxious right now. These are the events that led up to it just now and why.” Understand and acknowledge that this isn’t an emergency and that if this needs to be dealt with, it can wait til later. Understand how anxiety affects your interactions and if you need professional help, get it. Learning to cope with anxious feelings without crapping them all over people is arguably the absolute most important thing in improving these situations. It, unlike some things mentioned previously, is a relationship investment that’s definitely worth making.