Recently, my social media feed was filled with a light-blue line drawing of a woman riding a crane over the ocean, as readers across the globe heaped praise on an essay by novelist CJ Hauser. “I finished reading this and realized I’d had my hand over my heart almost the whole way through,” said one reader. “Everyone told me I would love this, and I did,” said another.
In the piece, Hauser describes taking a scientific expedition to study the whooping crane less than two weeks after canceling her wedding.
She had good reason to end the relationship. Her ex-fiancé was outrageously stingy with his affections. Even when the author asked him point blank to say something sweet to her—for example, that she looked nice in her favorite red dress–he balked. Instead, he said he told her she looked nice in the dress when she bought it the summer before. Why did she need to hear it again? Another time he gave her a birthday card with no writing in it, explaining that he’d then be able to use it again.
If the piece were merely about guy who was jerk to his girlfriend, it wouldn’t have gone viral. It’s Hauser’s response that gets us:
“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 sitcom. … I had arrived in my thirties believing that to need things from others made you weak.”
The piece comes to a beautiful conclusion, but Hauser’s confession and the response to upset me. So many women chimed in to say how much they related to her story, how they had similar experiences, how they too felt that they didn’t have the right to ask their partner for love or affection.
“Are we still doing this?” I thought, “In 2019?”
I’m not judging. I’m one of the zillion people who posted the piece. I’ve never been with anyone who behaved as badly as Hauser’s ex, but I absolutely understand the shame of feeling needy in a relationship, and I remember well the pain of pushing away those needs. I remember playing the cool girl—pretending I didn’t care when some guy didn’t call when he said he would, or when he took me to a party and then immediately disappeared into the crowd.
I played the cool girl because this is what dating culture tells us to do: never let them see you care.
Everyone needs affection and kindness in their life. Asking for it isn’t a sign that you’re weak; it’s a sign that you have the courage to demand the love you deserve.
By revealing how she betrayed herself, Hauser reminds us to stay true to ourselves and all our messy frailties and vulnerabilities. That’s the part that gives me hope. If some people don’t want to be pestered by our human needs, let’s grant them their wish. Let them have their blank birthday cards and hoarded compliments. Let’s turn around. Let’s look at the sky.
Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her questions here.