I’m standing in the kitchen of a friend. We’re in the midst of planning the day. We both want to see one of her old friends whom I have recently been introduced to. She tells me that he had expressed a selfish desire to spend the day with both of us and gave some more details about what he wanted to do. I repeat the words “selfish desire” back to her because they’re slightly odd sounding to me, and I must have said it in the tone of a question because she elaborates with a “I think he means that it is his narcissistic personal desire, if he was the only one deciding what would happen”. At this point my mind begins making mental notes for writing later. What triggers my interest is that he is clearly expressing what he wants, before taking into account what others may desire. He is given my friend the courtesy of being directly honest about his personal desires, exposing them directly to us. Immediately I feel a sense of ease and lightness from knowing what he wants. An ease that arises from knowing that he hasn’t taken my wishes into consideration.
If someone had told me “Express your desires. It will make you happy.” I would likely have agreed with her. It may even have happened to me once or twice, and it has almost surely been mentioned in one of the many psychology and philosophy books I have read over the years. What it took for me to understand its power, was to be subjected to it myself. Experiencing a person clearly and honestly state their desires without no expectation of fulfilment. Throughout the day I kept reminding myself to write notes, and remember this profound act of communication. Only a few days later I had the time to fully write down my experiences and ideas. This turned into a “How to clearly express your desires” guide, and missed the point of my journey completely, it took me a long time to find the motivation to write up a different perspective.
My first question was why I hadn’t done this before. It seemed blatantly obvious. How could I possibly have missed such a useful tool, and how could I have survived without it? I started keeping an eye on my communication regarding my wishes, desires and needs. It quickly became obvious that most of the time I was asking others what they wanted, seeking to see how my desires may overlap with theirs. In many cases, I noticed that they were playing the same game. None of us would truly divulge our innermost clearest desire, and so our wishes to fulfil each others would always be limited by our own holding back. There was a benign and caring intent of respecting the desires of those around us, that eventually ended up blocking out stating our personal desires clearly. I began exchanging my “What do you want to do?” with “I have a desire to see you at 12.00 at the café and spend two and a half hours together, then I have a desire to go home and work”.
My expectation was that people would be offended at this directness. Rarely this was the case, but mostly people responded in the opposite way. Often people felt relieved that they knew exactly what I desired. They felt safe that I would express my desires.
I began making clear distinctions between needs and desires. Needs were different from desires in that they were required, I couldn’t go without them, and I found that I ended up using needs very rarely. Most of what I wanted was desires, in other words they did not need to be fulfilled. I made a promise to myself to always state them. I made this promise to give myself the opportunity to have them fulfilled but also to give others the opportunity to fulfil them.
In the period that followed people became accustomed to my new way of clearly expressing desires. Quickly people learned to say no, and planning time together became less of an insecure probing-the-waters and more of an open and honest sharing of things that would bring us joy. I ended up feeling much better about expressing my introvertness by expressing desires for meetings to be time-bound, and expressing a wish to be alone together. Often I would have a secret desire to just sit together and read or write, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing it. This way of expressing myself in a way where I felt that my communication was clearly only about my selfish desires, helped me to overcome this discomfort. In a surprising number of cases others revealed that they had similar desires to mine.
Now I find myself starting almost all conversations with a statement of desires. I find myself planning by expressing my desires almost all the time, and giving space for others to express their selfish desires. Sometimes I will explain that it is my personal desire, and that I haven’t taken anyone else into account. Often I will ask how that desire sits with them. I have found that the fear of being rejected in terms of sexual or romantic desires have become almost non-existent. This is mainly because I am able to express my desires without accidentally making the others that they should fulfil them. Most rejection hurts because it is accompanied by a push back. This push back, I feel, is often the result of the undercurrent of “and now you should fulfil my desires”. That is the difference between expectations and desires.
My language has become a lot less manipulative. Subtle (not malicious) manipulation has been replaced by the (disturbingly obvious) tool of direct language. I am sure that I have read advice similar to what I am giving here through my story. For it to sink into me I had to experience being on the other side of clear communication of desire. I am hoping that by writing my impressions instead of a “The guide to expressing desire” you will go along with me on that journey in your heart. The first step is as easy as saying: “I have a desire to see you”. Statements of that type have become a recurring theme in my language. Because this is what love feels like to me; a direct desire to see someone. Sometimes I have a desire to be close to a special someone, to touch, to kiss, to play board games and many other things. Stating them seems more like expressions of love and not of personal selfish desire. As I have experienced others adopting my mode of speaking I can tell you that there’s nothing quite like being told: “I have a selfish personal desire to be close to you”.
I have no illusions that you will promptly pick up the mantle and begin expressing your desires to those around you. But I do have a hope that you will feel inspired to let a few of them slip out, and then maybe that trickle will slowly turn into small stream. One day I may pass under the waterfall of your desires and I can be that person who will fulfil them. There are few things that bring more joy than to fulfil the desires of those we love, but the first step for that to happen is to get to know them.