I Feel Shame For My Desires
Wisdom from my parents on having the courage to pursue what we want
My mother says a lot of wise things. Since my break-up, the list includes: “You and your ex simply weren’t on the same page,” and “It’s important to be clear about what you want: write it down.” She reminded me that there are other people out there who share my desire for a family and a life partner and said: “There’s no shame in wanting those things.”
Yet I do feel shame for my desires.
Author, C J Hauser, writes in The Crane Wife, an essay about breaking off her engagement in her thirties:
I need you to know: I hated that I needed more than this from him. There is nothing more humiliating to me than my own desires. Nothing that makes me hate myself more than being burdensome and less than self-sufficient. I did not want to feel like the kind of nagging woman who might exist in a sit-com.
I had arrived in my thirties believing that to need things from others made you weak. I think this is true for lots of people but I think it is especially true for women. When men desire things they are “passionate” ... But when a woman needs she is needy.
I’ve reflected on how I suppressed my needs in my last relationship and the signs that my ex wasn’t ready to commit were there from day one. On our first date, he told me that he’d been on a date with a woman who said she didn’t want to see him again because she was looking for a relationship. I often think about her and how I’m sure she’s in a relationship now. As dating guru, Matthew Hussey says, it’s hard enough to sell a specific car brand to someone who’s buying a car, never mind how impossible it is to sell a car to someone who doesn’t want a car in the first place. Hussey’s point is to walk away and do it quickly if someone doesn’t want what you want.
‘When men desire things they are “passionate” ... But when a woman needs she is needy.’ C J Hauser
Suppressing our desires out of fear of being needy is embedded in shame. Shame is the feeling of being unworthy of love and belonging. It holds us back from connection because we believe that we aren’t deserving of what we want. We then make choices (albeit unconscious ones) to prove that belief is right. We decide that we are self-sufficient and don’t need anyone and we put up a wall to protect ourselves from harm. That wall sadly also keeps the good people and the love that we crave out.
In 2020, in The Men On Hinge Want Me To Eat Carbs, I wrote that I found men referencing what women they date should eat disturbing. I was frustrated that there’s pressure on women to be effortlessly thin. I quoted the cool girl monologue from Gone Girl and I still think of it often:
[The Cool Girl] jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot...The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much!
Dating feels the same: we must effortlessly find a partner to prove our worth. A lot of us don’t want to work for it and feel resentment that we do (which I get, by the way), but that voice that says: “I shouldn’t have to,” is about our self-worth. It’s our ego talking.
We may also feel the pressure to act cool because we naturally become less cool as we age because we care more. I’m in my mid-thirties and looking for a life partner on the internet. On the dating app Hinge, you can select from a drop-down menu what you’re looking for. There’s a life partner option, but I’ve seen only one man so far who’s selected that. I chose to show that I was looking for a ‘long-term relationship’ instead. Most men I come across on the app have chosen to say that they’re looking for a: ‘long-term relationship, open to short.’
Men in their thirties, I suppose, feel that they have more time to be open to a vague answer such as that. I know that if it’s a long-term relationship I’m looking for, a short-term one will distract me from that goal.
I am writing this for myself more than for anyone else: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to build a life with someone and I risk not getting to do so as long as I feel shame for that desire. Commitment to a person is a beautiful and fulfilling thing. There’s also nothing wrong with people who don’t want what I want, as long as they’re upfront about it. A guy I met the other day said that he would like to meet again, but that he isn’t sure about what he wants right now. I’d already picked up on his ambivalence and said that was cool, let’s leave it for now. When I was last single in 2020, I wrote in Single People Are Like Songs about how relieved I felt when I realised that the aesthetically pleasing Italian man I’d been on some dates with just didn’t have his light on. These short-term interactions have been drama and resentment free. I can’t say that of my ex, who sort of wanted to be with me, but also didn’t, and ultimately caused me a lot of hurt and wasted a lot of my time - two and a half years of my life.
I’ll never truly know why he did that, but I do know that the shame of my desires meant that I allowed it to happen. I should have walked away from him a long time ago. As my dad said: “There are some faults in a person that are ok, and some that are not.” “Anyway,” my dad went on to say: “Forget about him, he’s history now.”
Read next: Why couldn't he commit?