What People Need

I had a post with random Twitter levity planned, but then I saw this tweet:

By the way, it isn’t really a Robin Williams quote, even though he did say the words (see here).

But it connected with several articles and blog posts and some acquaintance-related developments, all of which coalesced to a single theme. People don’t pay attention to other people. People take other people for granted, especially those whom they supposedly care about. Communication doesn’t mean you assume things are fine (read: live in denial) until someone submits a notarized written complaint. If you wait for people to be blunt with you, it’s probably too late. Communication  implies you are aware of the person you care about, that you can sense their distress, their reluctance, their pain. You pay attention to subtle cues.

A person I know IRL was very vocal about the excellent communication in their relationship. Yet, I could name several instances where they appeared totally clueless about how their actions were likely affecting their significant other. I tried to gently hint that they might’ve acted carelessly; as expected, they didn’t appreciate this input, and insisted that their parent would’ve said something. Then they got broken up with, without ever having been given much beyond empty platitudes as the reason. So much for excellent communication.

Many people are finely attuned to the needs of their children. Why can’t they extend the same courtesy to the adults in their lives?

I often get back to this poignant piece of nonfiction, “The Crane Wife” in The Paris Review. It reminds us it’s not that hard to know what other people need.


  1. This is probably why I don’t have many friends these days– It is far too tiring to be needed and I don’t have the energy for it. At least if I don’t have friends, I’m not being shamed for not being a good enough friend.

  2. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make people feel bad or imply anyone is a bad friend. Just that we all sometimes fall asleep on the job of caring for other people, and that people often need things but don’t ask for them explicitly because some things are hard to ask for.

  3. “Why can’t they extend the same courtesy to the adults in their lives?” That’s easy for a neurotypical person to say, but for an introverted person on the autism spectrum, figuring out what an adult wants is often nearly impossible—and asking doesn’t always help.

  4. gasstationwithoutpumps, I get that. This is really more about the people who are able to pick up on the clues but don’t because they are too self-involved and take other people in their lives for granted.

  5. The idea of being as emotionally involved with other people as I am with my children … makes me want to curl up in the back of the closet with a bottle of gin. Yes, it’s possible to be tuned in to other people, but that sh** is exhausting.

    This reminds me that I need to buy more gin for the holidays.

  6. My read of this is more that even with more superficial relationships, it can be important to be tuned into other people because if you’re not you may hurt them unintentionally, and also you may benefit *a lot* if people see you as someone who cares about others. And yes, it can be exhausting to be tuned into what other people need, but it is also important and part of being a decent human being. Also, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

  7. I find the more emotional labor you do, the more you’re asked/expected to do. Again, this is a lot of why I’ve become more of an extreme introvert.

    I was going to say something about this getting worse as I’m a comfortable plump motherly middle-aged person, but in reality, even random strangers have been confiding in me since I was a teenager (I have always been small and cute and non-threatening). I just used to have more bandwidth for it.

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