Each year on my birthday, I reflect on the year behind and the year ahead, the person I am and the person I aspire to be. I don’t need to write anything down, but I like to. I want to.
This year, I drove two hours north of San Francisco along the coast to spend my day outdoors. Long rides always remind me of how I learned to plan my pees as a child. I was (am) obsessively compulsive about restroom cleanliness, and refused to pee in public restrooms if they did not meet my quality standards. Before we got in the car, my mom would always tell me to go pee.
“But I don’t need to,” I’d say.
“It doesn’t matter. I want you to,” my mom would insist. (She never wanted a repeat of our tour-de-India-hotels in which no restroom could meet my needs.) “I want you to,” my mom would explain, “so you don’t need to later.”
Starting with the days of planned pees, I’ve always struggled with prioritizing wants and needs. As an obedient child (a young adult trapped in a child’s body, really), I was always preoccupied with what I needed to do in a given moment— homework, piano practice, being punctual, getting someone a birthday present—and there was always something. It was rare that I considered what I wanted to do, mostly because there was too much I needed to do, and also because I couldn’t explain wants with any logical rationale.
Things are much more confusing as an adult, because there is less I need to do all the time. Most of my time is characterized by wants. But it’s more nuanced than that. It’s not that needs don’t ever come up. They do, and when they do, they appear as dire needs and I am forced to act more impulsively than I would like.
I hate this feeling.
Most of the time, my needs stem from wants that I’ve previously ignored. This is the adult version of needing to pee in the middle of the countryside because I refused to pee before getting in the car. These days, I pee when I want, and am more preoccupied with philosophical needs and wants. Over the last year, I grappled with three in particular.
1. I want to care for myself when I don’t need to
As a part of a regimented fitness routine, the first nine months of this past year were characterized by my waking up at 5 AM to exercise. Barely even allowing myself to think, I would pop up with my first alarm, change, and literally run out the door. My runs weren’t all the same, however. Some days my body just couldn’t do it. But I forced it. You can rest later, I would insist, pushing myself. I was convinced that missing one day would permanently ruin my groove. Then, three months ago, I suffered the most severe physical injury of my life during a soccer game. Suddenly, running (let alone walking) wasn’t an option. Taking extra care of myself — sleeping in, asking for a seat on the MUNI, eating a feel-good snack, asking for help, slowing down —was a dire need. For the first time, I treated myself the way I would treat someone I love. And despite my physical pain, it was mental bliss. It made me wonder why I don’t more deliberately care for myself more often.
Even after I am fully recovered, I plan to go out of my way to treat myself whenever I want. Why should I reserve this for only the moments of critical need?
2. I want a partner before I need him
I spent twenty percent of the year’s weekends at bachelorette parties or weddings, twenty percent of weeks seeing one partner, and eight percent weeks in dire need of a partner. From dissecting couples games to wedding speeches to conversations with single friends who needed to be married yesterday, I started to consider my views on partnership more profoundly than ever before. Am I single because I love being single or do I love being single because I am single? In those months when I wasn’t, I discovered that despite my abundant single life, I actually wanted to be in a relationship. Then, two months after it ended, when I had my soccer injury and couldn’t walk, I suddenly found myself in dire need of a partner — for basic things like helping me get into my apartment, laborious things like preparing food and running errands, and meaningful things like keeping me company. Of course, there are friends and family, and they were there for me, but there was no one person I could rely on all the time.
No, I am not the person who needs to be in a relationship right now. But I want to be in one with the right person, before the want turns into a dire need when the luxury of finding that person feels cramped. Of course, the impetus for this dire need is subjectively unforeseeable, but may be physical, emotional, intellectual, familial, financial, or medical.
3. I want to reach out when there’s no need
Eighteen months ago, I spent the better part of a day with a close friend. Though we think of each other often, we don’t see each other frequently, nor are we in constant communication. In one another’s presence, it is obvious that our bond runs deeper than these particularities. That day, she and I acknowledged the truth about our friendship. I also told her about the handful of other people in my life that I think of fondly, and often. Reaching out to them was never one of my strengths. Whenever I wanted to, I couldn’t think of a reason I needed to. And so I would just wait until I needed to — like when I needed to tell them something or needed to coordinate a meetup. I spent this past New Year’s Eve with the same friend. That day, I gave her a handwritten letter because I wanted to, even though we’d be seeing each other and spending hours together anyway. Her eyes lit up when I handed it to her. She couldn’t wait to read it. In January, I started sending more “just because” notes to people. Some responded with surprise and delight, others with written responses, and others with silence. I continue to write and send monthly letters to various people in my life, whether they live down the street or across the world.
I never need to say anything in any of these letters. I just want to. It’s nice to feel wanted when you’re not needed.
It’s been a long ride since I learned how to plan my pees (with lots of stops along the way). I still have a long way to go. And so, as I start this journey through twenty-eight, I know one thing: This year needs to be about wants.
Recent birthday reflections
The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap
Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person
Do Your Friends Actually Like You?
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Tiny Beautiful Things
The Single American Woman