Asking for Love in Unlovable Ways

Woman holding a cactus up in front of her face

Everybody wants love.

And even though such a claim sounds like another one of these silly ass “Love is all you need” or “Love heals all wounds” kinda things, it’s actually empirically true. Babies who don’t receive nurturing touch or attach to their mothers often die of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), suffer from “failure to thrive,” or struggle with any number of developmental arrests.

In fact, I recently heard developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld speak, and he said that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was fundamentally flawed. Abraham Maslow was a brilliant chap and all, but he placed our physiological needs first (food, water, warmth, rest) at the base of the pyramid. At face value, this may appear to be “technically” correct, although it misses the entire essence of what it is to be human. Neufeld posited that connection, togetherness, and belonging are primary and that physical survival is a byproduct of that!

What happens after a gnarly breakup? Can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t breathe — it’s like your physiological needs don’t even matter anymore.

Dr. Neufeld also described attachment as “the greatest human hunger.” I believe this is why shame (the fear of disconnection) is such a powerful force in human affairs and why solitary confinement is ranked among the worst punishments you could ever endure. Also, why Tom Hanks had an intimate relationship with a volleyball in Castaway.

So really, it’s not just that we all want love. Human beings literally need love and connection – they are biological imperatives. But sometimes, we can be remarkably unskilled at getting these needs met.

Two Ways of Asking for Love

Isn’t it interesting that this most fundamental, universal human need is such a delicate and terrifying topic? Asking someone out. Inviting your crush to the dance. Leaning in for that first kiss. Proposing. Why are these moments of vulnerability so brutally uncomfortable? Fear of rejection? Uncertainty? A threat to our pride or self-esteem?

Well, I’m not gonna answer that question today. The intention of this article is to point out two prominent ways of asking for love. One that works and one that mostly backfires. You guess which one is which…

  1. You always work late, and we never get any quality time together. Why can’t you act like you actually love me?
  2. I’ve been feeling a little disconnected lately, and I’d love to spend some quality time with you. Can we plan something fun this weekend?

Both of these messages are essentially, “I’m feeling lonely, and I wanna connect with you.” But the deliveries are worlds apart. One is boundaried, healthy, respectful, and likely to produce the desired outcome. The other one is complete horse shit. Still not clear? Let’s try again…

  1. You never call or visit. It’s like you don’t even love me. Why can’t you make time for your own mother?
  2. I really miss you. Can we chat or get together soon? I would love that very much.

Again, the underlying feelings and needs are identical, but the messages are polar opposites.

Why You-Statements Are Poison

The first obvious difference you may have noticed is that the #1 messages were comprised of you-statements, and the #2 messages used I-statements. Let me illustrate the difference.

If someone randomly walked up to me and put their hands on my face, I would have an immediate, reflexive, protective reaction. Most likely accompanied by some version of “What the fuck is wrong with you, bro?!” This is called a physical boundary violation, and it doesn’t feel good at all.

When people use you-statements, they’re typically telling you their speculative, unsolicited, usually wrong assumptions and interpretations of your feelings, thoughts, needs, and motives. This is an emotional boundary violation that feels quite similar to someone putting their hands on your face.

Pay attention to your physical sensations the next time someone drops a you-statement on you. If you’re tuned in to your body, you may feel some clinching, tightness, or tension. Perhaps puffing up or even shrinking. A strong desire to turn away, leave, or attack. You-statements literally prime the recipient’s nervous system and physiology for an altercation. This is why they are so immeasurably corrosive to any relationship.

If you remember nothing else from this article, let it be this:

You-statements absolutely destroy safe connection.

Also, in both #1 examples above, the speaker has made a flurry of accusations and assumed to be true the exact shit they don’t want to happen. Shooting themselves in the foot and then chambering a round for you. What an awful way to communicate with someone you love.

If You Can’t Ask Nicely, Don’t Ask At All

Trying to pull a loved one closer with you-statements is like trying to pet your cat with a lawnmower. For fuck’s sake, people, please stop doing this to yourselves. It doesn’t work.

Maybe you learned that relationships aren’t safe as a child or that vulnerability was weak. Perhaps you never learned how to skillfully navigate conflict, boundaries, and triggers growing up. Welcome to the club. There are billions of folks in that same boat. But if you wanna stop sabotaging your relationships and inadvertently pushing people away with your bids for connection, you’re gonna have to make with the emotional intelligence sooner or later.

You can binge-read my blog and consume similar content all over the web. You can hire a coach or therapist. Pick up the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. The possibilities are endless. And unfortunately, refusing to learn, heal, change, and grow is also a possibility.

Just not one with a happy ending.


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Published by Adam

Mentor, coach, speaker and educator for over 12 years. I have survived, recovered from and triumphed over many obstacles and afflictions. It brings me tremendous joy to help others overcome similar circumstances so they can live their best lives.

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