I’d like to think that by my age, I have a lot of things figured out. That I know myself pretty well, and that the amount of mistakes I make on a daily basis has taken a steep dive compared to prior years (ha, k maybe not so much on that last one). The truth is I know I have a ways to go, always. And I know 31 isn’t the peak of sage wisdom and knowledge, but to my credit, I do think I’ve learned a thing or two about life and people and love in my life so far. Some from my background in psychology, but mostly through life experiences and from living in close relationship with others.
If someone were to sit me down and ask what the most important things I’ve learned in life so far were, I'd be hard pressed to give a concise answer (quick thinking and brevity are not my strong suits in life). But lately I keep returning to one principal I have learned to take hold of that I can truly say has made all the difference in my life. Not only that, but it’s something that I wish with all my heart and soul I could instill into others when they have a hard time grasping this for themselves.
Learning to ask for what I need in life has probably been hands down one of the most important and helpful things I’ve done for myself over the past several years. And something I wish I had been able to grasp much earlier in life too. This principal has saved me time, stress, heartache and has instilled such a stronger sense of confidence and bravery in me that has honestly been fun to watch grow and develop.
This discipline looks different depending on which situation I’m in, so I’m going to give a few different examples:
In the single/“dating” stages of my life
Dating in this day and age is not easy. I spent the second half of my 20s single and between my experiences with casually dating and hearing my other girlfriends lament the tales of confusing interactions and conversations and text messages, it’s clear that there’s not much that’s clear about those early stages of dating and trying to decipher whether there are feelings being reciprocated on the other end. I have talked before about daydreaming and heart ties that are too strong when you can’t let go, and while there isn’t always a magic “off switch” for those feelings like we all so desperately could use for our brains and hearts, having a “come to Jesus” conversation has had almost miraculous results in every one of those instances for me. When I finally couldn’t take the endless stream of thoughts in my head and the back and forth of wondering where the other person stood, I decided to lay everything on the line and share what I felt, what was feeling confusing for me, and asked the other person to clarify their feelings and intentions as well. Whenever I did this it always seemed to give me exactly what I was looking for. While the answer may not have been the one I wanted to hear at the time, and has even caused some pretty deep pain, it instantly cleared up the muddiness in my brain and when I realized the other person wasn’t on the same page as me, it made moving on so, so, so much easier.
I don’t mean to downplay the fear and vulnerability that comes from initiating a conversation like this – trust me, I get it, it’s hard. But for me, not knowing where I stood with a person was way harder than having this conversation. If you don't know where to start, it can be as simple as saying, "I'd love to know what you're feeling in all this," or "I've noticed I've started feeling this way, where are you at?" It's ok to be honest and say things like "This interaction was confusing for me, do you think you could help clarify what you meant that that?" Again, you might not love the answer you hear, but receiving the truth is so much better than having to live with a false sense of confidence or perhaps even ambivalence of that "I'm cool with whatever" vibe we all so desperately try to convey.
In the seriously dating stages of my life
Really the main thing I’ve learned here when it comes to asking for what you need stems from the truth that people are not mind readers. Shocker! I know. Anytime I would get upset about a lack of texts throughout the day or wishing the other person would initiate more dates or not being there for me emotionally when I needed them, I would later realize that it was so unfair to expect those things without first verbalizing that I would appreciate them. By admitting that it meant a lot to me to get random texts saying they were thinking of me, or that when they made plans ahead of time for a date it really helped me to have that to look forward to if I knew we couldn’t see each other much that week, it clued that person in to what my heart needed and typically those actions always followed. Even when I was scared of coming across as too needy at times, I would straight up say, “I’m feeling really needy right now, I would love to see you or can I at least talk to you for awhile tonight?” If you’re with someone who truly cares about your feelings, they will typically take this kind of honesty to heart and probably be grateful that you’re saying what you need rather than blowing up later over something they had no idea they did wrong.
In friendships and with my family
This is still something I’m learning to grasp at times – how to have boundaries with saying no to plans that sound fun or are good, in order to care for myself. It’s truly a muscle that needs training and discipline, to be able to check in with yourself every day and ask what you need. For me, my first instinct is to say yes to almost everything, especially fun plans out with friends. I’ve had to learn when to say no, so that I can say yes to sleep or alone time, or working on a project I’ve neglected for too long. The opposite is also true. It can be hard to admit when you’re lonely or need someone to come care for you. But being courageous enough to reach out and ask someone to come over or inviting myself over to someone’s place when I need to talk or need to not eat dinner alone always ends up being worth it.
I can think of a specific encounter with my Mom that helped me learn the lesson of asking for what I needed in an emotional sense. I called her in tears about something that she proceeded to give me advice or feedback on, which caused me to be twice as upset as I was before. We both got off the phone feeling confused, frustrated and upset, and it wasn't until later that we were able to process what happened. She pointed out that she wasn't clear on what I was needing in that instance, and I realized all I had wanted in that moment was for her to listen and sympathize with me, even if she had all the wisdom in the world ready to share with me - I just wasn't ready to receive it in that moment. So now, when I call my Mom because I just need to cry and need someone there to listen, I tell her that. When I'm in a place where I'm ready for her feedback, I tell her that as well. Asking for the emotional response I'm needing in a given situation helps alleviate the already present feelings of tension/sadness/anger that much more.
In closing, I want to urge you to have compassion, kindness, and patience with yourself while you learn to listen for what you and your heart need in order to navigate this crazy life. And I want to give you permission to be bold and brave so you can ask for exactly what you need without a shred of fear or guilt attached to that. May you experience grace and peace and freedom today, sweet friends.