Why ‘I don’t want’ is not the same as ‘I want’
Many women struggle to articulate what they want.
Don’t get me wrong, we know what we don’t want. We don’t want to do all the housework. We know we don’t want to get up at 5:30am when the kids decide it’s morning. We know we don’t want those parallel lines between our brows, a hallmark of the burden of our mental load. But knowing what you don’t want is not the same as knowing what you want.
Herein lies the issue. Often women only know what they want when it’s in reference to what they don’t want. And so, through a tedious process of elimination we eventually arrive at something in the ballpark of what we want. Maybe.
I’ll give you an example, one that I’m sure you know well.
It’s 6:00pm. The winter sun is setting and I’ve recently finished the last of my six coaching sessions for the day. Elbows on the desk and fingers circling my tired eye sockets, I receive a text.
What do you want for dinner?
Immediately I think, how is this my problem again? You said you were getting dinner. Just choose something, no Q & A necessary. Tiredly, I text back:
Whatever you want, I’m easy.
I’ll pick up a steak and salad then.
Umm, no thanks, I don’t feel like steak.
And here we are again at my first question, what do you want for dinner then?
Anything but steak.
Yeah, if we must.
So no Thai?
If that’s what you want.
But you don’t want Thai?
Not really. Sorry.
I could go on, and this did go on. For another half dozen messages until he was so frustrated he stopped responding. We had burritos.
We might even say that gaining clarity on our wants comes with the same frustrations as having a word right on the tip of your tongue. You can sense it. It’s there mucking about on the periphery of your brain like a child’s game of hide and seek but you can’t get your mouth around it.
Why? Because women are socialised for the group. We are taught from a young age to put other people’s wants and needs ahead of our own.
We’re not born people pleasers, care givers, self-sacrificers and we’re sure as hell not born to carry the mental load of every human within a 5 mile radius. Or maybe we are. Regardless, this kind of conditioning is fantastic for the harmony of community and family, but falls well short of ensuring a satisfying, vital life for women.
So what will deliver us from the nightly dinner negotiation?
Owning the wanting.
Let’s set aside the tough decision about whether to have salad or vegetables for a moment, and turn our attention to the bedroom.
My partner and I are out for dinner with some good friends. The restaurant is the product of a Hamptons/New York Industrial love affair; plenty of cane, blue hues, and ocean landscapes with a dash of copper piping and navy leather.
She and I are seated next to each other on the slick leather bench seat, the men opposite on their upmarket cane chairs. We chat about the kids and their recent holiday, toying with the stems of our fancy cocktails.
Somewhere between the main and dessert, the men turn their attention to Australian politics and we turn our attention to the politics of the bedroom.
‘I’ve been researching female desire and was interested to find that many women are numb, disinterested in sex a lot of the time,’ I begin.
‘Oh yeah, between mothering small children and working, I’m bloody exhausted! But there’s a voice in the back of mind that says if I don’t do it he’ll eventually go somewhere else,’ she shares.
‘So we do it from a place a fear?’ I ask.
‘Maybe not fear, I mean, it’s just reality isn’t it? Men have needs and I want him to be happy. Plus, even if I’m not super into it at the start, after awhile I am,’ she says.
Doing something because we are avoiding an outcome is not the same as doing something because we want to. For a short time, setting these kinds of goals for your relationship feels the same, but eventually the motivation fades and you’ve set up camp in the not wanting. You’re open to visiting his wanting camp from time to time — for him — but you’re quite happy in your clean, beautiful, not wanting oasis.
So, where to from here then?
It means we take time to work out what it is we DO want, separate to what it is we don’t. We challenge our beliefs about gender roles, we surrender to imperfection, we wrestle with the guilt and shame that comes from examining our sensuality, we give ourselves permission to stop using productivity as a badge of honour. We stop.
The School Of Life writes that there can hardly be a more important personal goal that discovering and developing what we think, and that writing is ultimately the way to do this. Our thoughts can sometimes be tricky to share with others; they need us to be a certain way. A journal holds the wayward, peculiar yet important parts of our minds.
I believe that journalling is an excellent place to start in owning your wanting. It provides a safe space to spill your desires and frustrations, your joys and hurts. You awaken a little more with each word of truth scribbled onto the page. A journal is a shoulds-and-coulds-free-zone where you can reckon with your own BS.
Allow your mind to empty itself of all that you long for without shame, guilt or judgement. And maybe then you can ask for what you want IRL.
Let’s have risotto and then afterwards you can do that thing to me I like.
How To Figure Out What You Desire was originally published in P.S. I Love You on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.