There is the infamous saying we accept the love we think we deserve. And with this exists the natural dialectic that we also unknowingly accept the pain, misery, and suffering we think we deserve.
Interpersonal relationships, as short-lived, stressful, or intimate as they may be, are complex and unique, but they are never random. We interact, pass by, and share space with countless people everyday. How many of these nameless faces become a person we decide to associate with? Further than that, who distinguishes the people we want to associate with via small talk to the people we want to form an emotional connection with? And who separates a surface-level emotional connection to an intimate one? In a world of seven billion inhabitants, what is it that makes someone our best friend, our romantic partner, or even the person we want to style our hair?
We are all powerhouses of energy, emitting signals and interpersonal languages to each other. In terms of relational connections, we do not necessarily accept what we want in any given moment, but we are constantly gravitated towards what we need.
Because we are all human and therefore limited in some way or another, we are inherently searching for wholeness and completion. Other people enhance us, and we are driven to be enhanced. We need people to transcend the various stages of life: we need our parents to guide and model the templates of the world for us, our friends to reinforce and validate our existence, and our partners to share intimacy with.
By ourselves, we are inherently limited. Through the collective strength of others, however, our options expand.
This is why we often pursue people different from us: they have something we admire or lack. Either way, they have something we need.
Nobody randomly attracts. People attract to one another because the dynamic is seeking to maximize its resources by maximizing its strengths. This is where we commonly see the famous “opposites attract” enactment. We are drawn to what we do not have. In couples, there is often a “pursuer-distancer” dance between the duo. The pursuing partner, who might be riddled with anxiety and insecurity, feels attracted to someone who exhibits self-assuredness and independence. However, he or she tends to feel neglected when that person does not pay enough attention. The distancing partner, who may long for closeness with others, seeks someone who is loving and attentive, who can bring him or her closer to human connection, but then tends to feel smothered at the first sign of perceived clinginess.
On the surface, while it may appear that we are attracted to something that does not serve us, we are inherently drawn to an energy that promises fulfillment and connection. We are attracted to that person because they seem able to offer something that we seem unable to provide to ourselves.
But what happens when we don’t need that particular trait in someone anymore? What happens when our needs change?
I have a young client who was referred to me for depression and self-injurious behaviors. At the beginning of treatment, her limited social group consisted of likeminded individuals sharing the same nihilistic perspective. As her depression began to lift, she noticed these friends began bothering her. She noticed she no longer related to them as easily. When she stopped cutting herself, she became irritated with the friends who still talked about their suicidal urges. At the same time, she also felt enormously guilty. They were her friends, after all. They were suffering, and they needed her. Why should I get to be the one who recovers? And don’t friends support each other unconditionally?
As we change, the interests in our lives change as well. We all know what it is like to change hairstyles or music preferences or extracurricular hobbies. Yet, rarely do we realize that we can outgrow our relationships. Just like our taste in food may mature, our taste in the people we surround ourselves evolves as well.
This is neither “good” or “bad,” “right” nor “wrong.” It just is. It is the natural progression of life, the internal response we have to the external stimuli occurring to us.
We need connection, and the types of connection and the fibers of connection represent the unique makeup of any relationship. This is what separates an acquaintance from a best friend, a casual encounter from a spouse. There are reasons we are surrounded by the people we associate with. Likewise, there are reasons we are not surrounded by everyone else.
Underneath any conflict in a relationship is an unmet need. The accumulation of unmet needs results in resentment and contempt. This is when we perceive differences as nuances and the quirks as flaws. The healthiest of relationships are not the ones in which two people stay the same. This is virtually impossible to maintain. Instead, the healthiest relationship are the ones in which the needs complement one another and grow at similar rates. Whatever is not enhancing us is stunting us, and the more limiting a relationship feels, the more limited a person feels. And in a world where all of us are doing our best to feel whole, our biggest threat is perceived limitation.