The Need to Be Desired

Remember Cheap Trick, oh, about 1977? You might remember these lines:

I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I’d love you to love me
I’m beggin’ you to beg me

            OK, but now it’s 2020 and you’re going along in your life, minding your own business, making money and hanging out with friends and you’re doing it all pretty comfortably because you also have checked the box of a long time committed relationship with your partner. There’s the occasional wild night out and sometimes a whole crew of supporting castis brought into your epic love life. A good time is had by all. Life is good. Then, imperceptibly at first, you begin to feel, mmm, an undefined something. At first it’s only a vague sense of unease and then, over time, you work hard to avoid acknowledging what is obvious to everyone: Your man is just not that into you.

            If you haven’t yet received any ads for, what shall we call it, “male enhancements,” then you are fortunate and probably young. Enjoy that youth while you can because these pills, potions, salves and, yes, now even lithium powered hand tools are on their way to a bedroom near you. These various snake oil salesmenwho know nothing about love, may nevertheless know something many of us do not. We all need to be desired. Now take a sec and, considering this sexual need, reflect on the ads you’ve seen and you’ll note that many of them are about products that promise a more desirable you. They promise that you will be wanted.

What’s going on here is that we humans do have a universal need to be desired. But often enough our reality, whether we choose to face it or not, is that we simply aren’t desired—at least, not desired enough to meet our needs. We often make a deal with the devil (no, not the one with the bad fake tan, the other one) to settle for merely existing in our relationships. Often we do this without our need to be desired getting met at all. And what would things look like if we were to get our need to be desired met? Well, we’d have a mate who gave us those smoldering looks that say, “I want you.” We’d be able to tell from his touch that he just can’t keep his hands off us. We’d enjoy the security that comes from a clear and consistent message of, “You really do it for me.” We’d have a sex life that reflects and encourages desire—all while simultaneously inspiring a real sense of security in a relationship. This security comes from knowing that, as far as my partner is concerned and, even as the years pile up, as far as they’re concerned, I still (really and truly) got it goin’ on. I do it for him.

Most all of us know when this isn’t the state of our relationships. We feel a bit lonely, disconnected, and we struggle with an increasing sense of insecurity that comes from knowing we’re not desired. The false remedy for many of us is to have more sex with more people under conditions that can only be described as “whatever.” This is not a remedy. This is not a remedy because our need is to be authentically desired. The “whatever” sex, however fun it is in the moment and however satisfying in terms of getting off, is not meeting my deeper sexual needs as a member of a social species. This is true because the need to be desired is the sexually mature version of our need for belonging.

No one doubts that the need for belonging is a part of our species. Maslow placed this need for belonging on his famous pyramid of human needs. “Belonging” is a need that he places just past our need to first be safe and just before our need for self-esteem. As wonderful as Maslow’s efforts were back in 1943, ah, well, we’ve achieved some additional insights. One of them is our insight into the fact that our needs evolve. I may no longer need to belong to my neighborhood because I’ve got the mobility to travel and the insight to comprehend that I want and need the specific type of people I view as my tribe. I want the belonging that comes from my connection to my realtribe, not those barbarians who don’t use lube. Part of our evolution is hitting puberty with a big wet “thwaap.” New development equals new needs. Now I, like the boys in Cheap Trick, need to be needed.

So, try imagining the perfect sex life, perfect in every conceivable way. Now take that sex life and subtract the one element of being desired. All the sex you want but your partner doesn’t desire you. And so we begin to face the unsustainable and so we begin to think about what it would take to find a relationship where we are truly desired. Living in a couple without this, for most of us, is worse than being alone. Thankfully, knowing about the problem is the first step in solving it.