How do you feel about needing?
An incredible piece of writing by CJ Hauser called The Crane Wife is making its rounds. I highly recommend you read it if you have about 15 minutes to spare (or less if you’re a fast reader, click the link above).
In it, Hauser recounts her unusual recovery from a broken engagement via a scientific expedition to study the whooping crane on the gulf coast of Texas. The events leading up to the broken engagement are painful and poignant.
“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.’ When they feel they have not received something they need they are ‘deprived,’ or even ’emasculated,’ and given permission for all sorts of behavior. But when a woman needs she is needy. She is meant to contain within her own self everything necessary to be happy.”
She later relates her experience to a story she discovers along her travels.
“‘The Crane Wife’ is a story from Japanese folklore. I found a copy in the reserve’s gift shop among the baseball caps and bumper stickers that said GIVE A WHOOP. In the story, there is a crane who tricks a man into thinking she is a woman so she can marry him. She loves him, but knows that he will not love her if she is a crane so she spends every night plucking out all of her feathers with her beak. She hopes that he will not see what she really is: a bird who must be cared for, a bird capable of flight, a creature, with creature needs. Every morning, the crane-wife is exhausted, but she is a woman again. To keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work. She never sleeps. She plucks out all her feathers, one by one.”
I spoke with a woman today that has created a new company without a traditional hierarchical model because of the negative experiences she had working for a large agency. She told me how she worked for the agency for years passed the point that she knew she should have. She told herself she should feel lucky and grateful to have the opportunity. Even though the company’s ethics were deeply questionable and against her own standards.
Another woman I spoke to recently told me that she still deals with the effect of her burnout from years ago. She worked an extremely lucrative job until the chronic stress broke her down. She started losing her hair. She quietly made an exit strategy and never looked back. But even with a new job and a less stressful pace of life, she still finds herself unconsciously clenching her fists. Her body is still trying to find safety.
I think many of us, especially those of us moving through the world as women, can relate to these stories.
The feeling that we should be grateful even when we’re unhappy. That we should be able to survive on less so as not to be labeled as needy. That we should be able to toughen up. That we should be able to shrink down to a size so small that we don’t offend.
All while suffering under the effects of real, true, unmet needs.
“There are ways to be wounded and ways to survive those wounds, but no one can survive denying their own needs. To be a crane-wife is unsustainable.”
Your. Needs. Matter.
Your desire for love and acknowledgement and support matter. Your need for rest and refueling and time spent doing nothing matter. Your desire for space and your desire for company matter.
These things are not silly or superfluous. They are human. And we all need them in different degrees to be healthy and happy.
The biggest challenge we face is being ok with that. And that’s a process.
Mindy Kaling has a perspective that can give us all a start on that process:
“People’s reaction to me is sometimes ‘Ugh, I just don’t like her. I hate how she thinks she is so great.’ But it’s not that I think I’m so great. I just don’t hate myself. I do idiotic things all the time and I say crazy stuff I regret, but I don’t let everything traumatize me. And the scary thing I have noticed is that some people really feel uncomfortable around women who don’t hate themselves. So that’s why you need to be a little bit brave.”
Be a little bit brave. Keep your feathers. Like yourself a little more. Stand up straighter. Be kind to yourself. Start with small asks. Look people in the eye even when it feels scary. Take up space.
The world needs all of you. The world needs to know there is another way.