Love itself requires us to be vulnerable. It’s an act of bearing one’s heart to someone else, and it’s a risk. But when do earnestness and soul-bearing cross over into the dark side of unreasonable neediness? Is it just a matter of love languages (some desire more physical touch or words of affirmation than others), or is it rooted in some deep-seated, trauma-induced insecurity? Or…?
Michelle Afont, relationship expert and author of The Dang Factor, her most recent work, is well versed in this comparison. In fact, it’s hardly a comparison at all—vulnerability and neediness just might be worlds apart.
“Being needy versus being vulnerable in a relationship sit on two opposite ends of the relationship spectrum. Neediness tends to suck the energy out of your partner, while being vulnerable pulls your partner into you. Showing your vulnerability to your partner, in essence, lets your wall down, while showing a softer side of you, and that can be quite attractive,” Afont starts. In fact, vulnerability is a strength and shows that we have the courage to take it there. It showcases how serious we take our relationship with that other person.
“Vulnerability in your relationship can be quite liberating and powerful. By letting your partner see another side of you that is very human and real, a deeper level of intimacy develops. By letting your emotions, weaknesses, and feelings be known, an element of trust is established between partners.”
So how do we think about this? “There is an attraction to vulnerability. There is very little attraction to being needy. To be needy is to smother your partner. Neediness demands your partner’s full attention in order to maintain the relationship. Neediness means you need the actions of your partner to make you whole. Conversely, being vulnerable means conducting your life as a fulfilled person while allowing a barrier to come down by sharing weaknesses and emotions.” That’s hot.
“As the relationship progresses, being able to become vulnerable by sharing your deepest feelings and exposing certain weaknesses can have the effect of drawing your partner into you. By contrast, being needy for attention and your partner’s time and affection can have the opposite effect and push them away. Demanding a text every five minutes from your partner is needy. Telling your partner you feel insecure if you don’t hear from him/her all day is being vulnerable—there is a big difference between the two.”
Needing someone is not neediness. We love to feel wanted and needed. Neediness is the extreme, the constant. For Afont personally, she has never heard anyone say that they love how needy their partner is. Quite the opposite. “Instead, I hear, ‘I love how she/he has shown me some vulnerability and trusts me with her/his deepest thoughts.’ A deeper level of trust is achieved by allowing vulnerability into your relationship.”
Afont shares a great rule of thumb when choosing a partner. “Ask yourself, ‘Does this person enhance my life or complicate it?’ Being needy in a relationship puts a burden on your partner that should not be there.” It’s not our responsibility to constantly entertain our partners or fulfill every insecurity. “With a needy partner, we tend to lose ourselves to satisfy their needs. That, of course, leads to animosity and resentment and ultimately, a failed relationship.”
So how do we know if we are being needy, or if our partner is being needy, rather than vulnerable? It’s OK to assess the situation and decipher. Some tough moments might make vulnerability cross over into the neediness zone, and it’s all right to be extra supportive or demand extra support from time to time. It’s crucial to decipher whether or not that vibe is situational, or a significant element of your or your partner’s character. That being said, unreasonable neediness is something learned that we can all heal from, if we are willing to recognize it and do the work.