This week I have been writing about wanting, the stuff of desire, demand, and longing. As I have been thinking about what I want, about what we want, I have observed that many of us show our disappointment when we get what we get instead of what we want. We also show our discouragement about getting what we want, often when it is just out of reach. I believe we are also adept at disguising a very common response to wanting, namely resignation – we just give up on wanting at all.
We also seem to have particular attraction to getting what is available and are drawn to desire what is available, but inaccessible to us. This season’s fashions become affordable in a season or two, so we get them. There are multi-billion dollar industries devoted to this phenomenon. I recall that a few years ago there were numerous TV ads for Latisse, hawked as a treatment for short or insufficient eye lashes. The medication is actually a treatment for glaucoma that has the common side-effect of growing lashes. It can also turn brown eyes blue. This strikes me as bizarre.
Today, I turn to what it is we really want. Is it really thicker lashes? Erections that may require a hospital visit after four hours? Skin that looks like porcelain? The end to nose hair? Breasts that will require back surgery because of how they torque the body?
I think we want to be wanted.
My mom and dad could ill afford another child when I was born. My classmates in public and Catholic elementary schools were rarely wanted by their older siblings or our teachers – not really. We were raised Catholic in the US, meaning we got a particular pernicious form of the stuff transferred from Rome to Germany and Ireland and infused with Puritanism. We were told we were Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God writ large, making martyrdom look good in comparison. Clearly we were deeply loved and unwanted by God.
I have heard only children believing that they were solos because their parents didn’t want them. Neighbors communicated to us as children they we should stay away. Shop keepers? The same. Go to convenience stores near many high schools and you can find hastily written notices on the doors that students are not allowed or are only admitted one at a time. Schools frequently have greater competition for social inclusion than for academic success. No one wants to be the unwanted classmate, so deep is our belief that we are unwanted.
Oppressive systems use our individual and group differences to perpetuate this sense of being unwanted. Racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, classism, gay oppression, and religious discrimination – these all serve to keep us aware of how profoundly unwanted we are. This sense is so prevalent that we even commodify being wanted, posting greeters at the doors of big box retailers.
When Paul and I moved into our home more than 25 years ago, we were greeted by the lady from the Welcome Wagon, a sort of local Chamber of Commerce function, I think. She came with some tea bags, a map, brochures, some coupons for local businesses, and a folder about schools and handy local phone numbers. When she asked what we’d like our neighbors to know about us in a brief letter from her, we said we wanted them to know we were a gay couple. Her discomfort was palpable, but she did we asked and let them know.
We ultimately became very close friends of a few of our neighbors and most of them watched out for us. A couple recently moved away who detested us for the entire time we were here, including when we saved them from their house burning down. The response we have felt over the decades has ranged from rejection and avoidance to tolerance and acceptance. But, for the record, tolerance is not the same as being wanted.
There are so many common social ways we can show each that we are wanted. In my last several jobs, I have been sure to have water coolers for visitors and staff are directed to offer each person a glass. Paul and I were often touched by people who looked out for us when we were in public. They held doors, rushed to our aid when there was an inevitable fall. I make a point to do the same today whenever I travel and see a single parent, usually a mom, with a youngster in tow and more equipment than anyone should have to manage. Almost invariably my offer is initially turned down, but when I persist I am allowed to carry to baggage claim the diaper bag and a collapsible stroller or the car seat.
Years ago our friend Trudy said after her 80th birthday that she was so ready to love again. Paul and I talked about our inability to address her want, but in the end we figured out that including her in our lives more frequently might not be good enough, but it is what we had to offer. Since Paul has died, I have found similar kindness from Christopher, Patrick and Jason, Jay and Josh, Frank and Martha, Rose, Jan, Julie and Gregg, Ray, Ed and Patrick, Harriet and Steve, Pat, David, and many others. These interactions and friendships are as varied as they can be, but they have this in common: they let me know I am wanted.
Everybody look to their left
Everybody look to their right
Can you feel that, yeah
We’re paying with love tonight
It’s not about the money money money
We don’t need your money money money
We just wanna make the world dance
Forget about the price tag
Ain’t about the uh cha-ching cha-ching
Ain’t about the yeah b-bling b-bling
Wanna make the world dance
Forget about the price tag
— Jessie J, Price Tag