I’m in the throes of a Q&A. In this case the Q is, “I want to try X. How do I ask my partner for that?” But the A? I’m stuck.
I mean, the only appropriate answer is a patient, “Well, what is it that’s preventing you from asking?” to which the inevitable response is some variation on “Fear of rejection and judgment. Ultimately, abandonment and learning that, in confirmation of my worst fears, I really *am* unlovable after all.”
And what do you say to that? “You want X. You’re afraid that, in asking for X, you’ll lose Y. What can you ask for, and how can you ask, in a way that minimizes your fears?” And then you hope you’ve triggered some creative, self-reflective thinking.
I could go on and on, very boringly and tritely, about how our culture makes us hate our bodies in general and our sexualities in particular; I could talk about shame and guilt. I could lecture endlessly about communication skills, self-esteem and self-acceptance, the value of honesty, the importance – indeed the art – of hearing “no” without taking it personally.
But in the end, the answer to, “How do I ask my partner to…?” is “You just suck it up and ask.”
I’ve rarely struggled, myself, with asking for what I need or want – indeed, quite the opposite. I had to learn how to ask gently, starting with the good news, framing the question so that my partner felt like a hero, and asking for things in increments, so they could get used to new ideas.
It was never me who couldn’t ask; but I’ve had partners who wouldn’t. And there’s the rub. I think my frustration and helplessness with this question comes from my own history of having to beg partners please to just fucking tell me what they need, what they want, what they fear, what they expect.
So I was thinking: maybe – maybe – the way to motivate people to ask for what they want is not to help them manage their fear (i.e., reduce the perception of not-so-good consequences related to asking) as described above, but instead to explicate how much their partner suffers when they DON’T ask (i.e., INCREASE the perception of not-so-good consequences related to NOT asking).
Ask for what you want, I could say, because NOT asking for what you want is dishonest, selfish, and emotionally destructive. Ask, because not asking causes your partner constantly to worry about whether or not you’re getting what you need, and that constant worry erodes their patience and their happiness. Is that what you want? You’d rather nurse your fear and fill your partner with frustration and anxiety, than suck up your fear, ask for what you want, and free your partner to love you unencumbered by irrational guilt that they can’t read your mind?
Ask because not asking plants seeds of relational disintegration. Ask because you love them and want them to be happy. Ask, or you will always be alone.