I felt his words before he spoke them.
He was hurting, and I knew it from the heaviness of his shoulder and the burden in his step. He walked through my door and into my arms, and we leaned into each other, my head on his chest, his cheek nestled in my hair. We closed our eyes and breathed each other in.
I led him to my bed, where he laid down on his side, his spine curved, his head bowed. I climbed in next to him, leaning my chest against the muscles of his back and my hips against the bend in his. I wrapped him in me, loving him, protecting him, and ran my fingers through his hair.
I don’t always know words that will make him feel better, but I know how to hold him. I know that I can run my fingernails gently down his back and feel his anxiety, pain or anger melt away. I know that I can trace the lines and curves of his face with my hands and watch the furrow in his brow disappear.
There was a time when I would have felt uncomfortable in this role because I was not yet strong enough to let go of the shame that rose from my own imperfection. I thought that being strong meant packing my tears and pains away in a box, locking them away from the outside world.
I no longer think that.
Strength comes from being brave enough to expose our soft parts, and to be trustworthy enough to let others expose theirs. It is allowing ourselves to need another human being, even if just for a few moments, and to let ourselves be needed.
We often talk about being connected, but how connected can we really be when we don’t keep it real about the muck in our lives? How connected can we be when we insist on going it alone when times get tough?
Society often tells us that needing and being needed by others are signs of weakness. For many years, I bought into the fallacy, and I manifested both friendships and romantic relationships in my life that supported this idea.
I found people who sought refuge from pain and anger deep within their own caves, who came out only when the sun was shining so that they could be seen in the best light, and I did the same.
What I didn’t know was that I was keeping myself from the freedom of living as a whole person, warts and all.
I was also holding back what is perhaps the greatest gift any of us can give to each other: the ability to be empathetic and nurturing to those we love through genuine honesty and caring. I didn’t really give it, and I denied others the gift of giving it to me.
Looking back, I stoically walked through life for years without truly connecting with others because I only showed them the parts of me that weren’t cracked or bruised. I didn’t know that it was possible to allow someone else to hold and heal my most damaged parts, and I didn’t believe I was worthy of the kind of love that could accept all of me.
Needing others is different from co-dependency because it’s not about enabling others to make unhealthy choices. Instead, it’s about empowering each other through strength and nurturing. It is love that heals, and love is something that is given and received.
We have to learn to be vulnerable, and we have to learn to be discerning about who we are vulnerable to. If someone does not validate your everyday feelings or experiences, they aren’t ready to hold space for you when the bigger stuff comes up.
When someone comes along who sees you for who you truly are and loves you in spite of yourself, these are the ones to allow inside your soul. These are the ones to trust. These are the ones to need and be needed by.
It takes strength to find people like this, because there will be hard lessons along the journey.
It takes strength to trust another person enough to let them in.
It takes strength to love yourself enough to let yourself accept that you need other people.
I am learning this, and I felt it as he rested his head against my pillow. I took in the scent of his shirt and closed my eyes, and I felt our most damaged pieces fit together and begin to heal.
When waves crash into him, threatening to loose him from his mooring, I am grateful to be his anchor, and I am thankful he is mine, not because we can’t exist without each other—we both know we can—but because there is such a gift in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to need each other.
But then again, isn’t that what being human is really all about?
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Catherine Monkman