I was as hard headed as they come when asking for what I needed. In my case, it was being fed a steady stream of compliments by anyone I dated. It wasn’t enough to receive the same one over and over. No, I wanted a carefully curated mix. “I love you” or “you’re cute” would barely register. I wanted spontaneous poetry. The romantic movies of my youth. Unique. Beautiful.
And I wanted it now… and always, really.
It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, but I can look back now and see how unfair I was.
“No, not like that,” I’d say to their efforts.
“I’m trying,” they’d say back.
“Well, here’s how you can do it…” I’d reply, launching into an explanation of why what they said wasn’t good enough, what I wanted, suggestions on how to improve, to bridge the difference.
My partner would get frustrated. They’d tell me that the whole thing was like a test that no one warned them about and that they don’t know the answers to. That they felt cornered and tricked. And most of all, they felt like they couldn’t do anything right. That no matter what they gave me, I wanted more.
I’d apologize and tell them, “It’s okay.” But while I said that aloud, a pervasive thought would linger in my head: Why can’t you just do the things I need you to do?
When My Best Wasn’t Good Enough
And then I dated her. Someone who had seemed so great at first — but quickly started putting me through those same motions.
“I want you to open up to me, be vulnerable,” she said.
And so I told her things I almost never tell anyone. Showed her the soft spots that I normally hide, the ones I worry will make people think less of me.
Publicly, I wrote her declarations of affection.
Privately, I wrote her spontaneous poetry, comparing her to the most beautiful entities in mythology. I channeled the modernists — Pound, Eliot, Mina Loy. Sometimes these homages were odes, sometimes basically porn, sometimes a mix of both.
Whenever she had doubts, I provided elaborate reassurance on demand. Any words she wanted, any words she asked for, I gave her. I knew where she was coming from, after all, that deep need, that deep longing. I would give her what I’d always wanted from other people: Expansive, elaborate reassurance. Sincere compliments she’d never heard before.
Because I knew how hard it was to go without the things you deeply desired. And I knew that the issue with me wasn’t that I was asking for anything unreasonable — it was that people weren’t giving it to me.
I began to realize as I indulged her that no matter what I said, no matter what I did, it didn’t make a dent in her longing. In her insecurity. In her need.
Something inside me began to scream at her, “Don’t do this! You’re proving everyone else right!” Every person who had ever told me that my desires were unreasonable. Who had ever said that the issue originated from me, that no matter how much they gave me that I’d never be satisfied. That there was a deep dark void inside of me that had no bottom. That it didn’t matter how much kindness they put in there, it would never be enough.
And as I pitched everything I had into her dark depths, she continued to press me for more. Even as I gave her everything I had and stretched to give her a few things I didn’t even know were in me, she frowned, dissatisfied.
“I really want you to open up to me. I want to get close to you.”
No matter how I tried, her reaction was always the same. It was like I’d never said anything to her at all.
Learning to Fill the Pit Myself
But I kept trying. I tried harder and harder until one day she broke up with me.
As I sat there thinking back over the months we’d spent together, the push/pull and whiplash, I felt a familiar mix of excitement and shame wash over me. An epiphany.
I could suddenly see how I must have made people in my life feel.
“You know, I think I’m too hard on my other partners,” I say to a friend as we talk over the breakup. “They’re doing the best that they can. I need to stop judging them unfairly and start appreciating them the way they are.”
“I think there’s a balance,” my friend says. “You can want certain things from other people. In some ways, it’s helpful to tell people what they can do that will benefit your relationship the most. That supernormal stimulus thing you wrote about.”
“You just have to be careful not to be a bottomless pit,” they say.
“I think you’re on to something,” I say. “It’s good to have help, but I think I have some filling of my own to do.”
And ever since that relationship ended, I’ve been filling that bottomless pit up. Not with compliments from other people but with everything I love about my partners. With everything they do right. The way I can count on him when I need something. The way that she and I just get one another. The way they both smile, laugh.
How gorgeous they both are.
Each time I’m with them, I take something else I love about them and fill up that pit a little more.
It’s not full yet, but I think I’m starting to see the bottom rising from the depths to meet me.