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The Act of Wanting

I recently read Rainbow Rowell’s Landline, a cute book about a woman who discovers she can talk to her husband in the past via a phone in her mother’s house,  and she uses it to try to repair their marriage.  Midway through the book, her husband comments that he’s bad at wanting things.  In other words, he usually has no clue what he wants, and sort of stumbles through life with only a loose sense of goals.

The main character replies that she is great at wanting things, so they’ll make a good pair.  Wanting things is one of her strengths.  “I’m extra good at wanting things.  I want things until I feel sort of sick about them.  I want enough for two normal people, at least.” (That was on page 147, in case you’re playing at home.)


She then goes on to list all the things she wants in the moment, big and small.  Some of which are completely realistic and within her reach (“I want to write”) and some that may be impossible (“I want to join The Kids in the Hall”) and some which are material (“I want a Crayola Caddy”) and others intangible (“I want to be actively, thoughtfully happy”): a huge assortment of immediate and long term goals.

If we’re dividing up the world into two categories — the wanters and the non-wanters — I am firmly in the category of wanter.  I want things.  I also want things until I feel sort of sick about them, whether they are small, tangible items such as books or larger goals such as owning a beach apartment.  I know what I want and I become consumed by what I want.  Every single time.

Though multiply my normal wanting levels when it comes to family building because there’s also a biological impulse adding fuel to the fire.

I’ve always considered myself a skilled wanter because I actually enjoy it when I get what I want.  There are people who want intensely, but then are disappointed when they get what they want.  Or they say, “this wasn’t what I expected at all.”  And I like to think of myself as skilled as a wanter because I don’t get that unwanted side effect that sometimes comes from intense wanting.  Where the reality can never live up to the fantasy.  Being a wanter, therefore, works for me.  I want, I get, I love it, I’m happy.

But the other side, of course, is I want, I don’t get, I’m sad.

There are times when I can shake off the disappointment that comes from wanting and not getting.  But most of the time, the wanting consumes me until I get tunnel vision trying to reach the goal.  And in some ways, that can be a good thing if it drives me to keep trying and get what I want by staying indefinitely in the game. (Or, in some cases, continuously adjusting towards a new goal so I ultimately can fulfill the original want, just in a different way.)

But what do you do if you’re a wanter and you never get what you’re wanting?

In that case, it seems like the happier road is the zen approach to not-wanting.  In that case, it feels like a proof for the four noble truths in Buddhism.  That getting rid of desire also gets rid of anxiety and disappointment.  If dukkha comes out of a craving, then the answer is to stop craving.  To stop wanting.

The non-wanters win.

I kept teetering back and forth on the subject of wanting as I read this chapter; whether wanting so intensely serves me or holds me back.

I didn’t come to a final answer.

But I sure want one.


1 Nicoleandmaggie { 08.27.14 at 7:44 am }

I’m only a wanter when it comes to my career. And I will never be satisfied, but I’m less happy when I try to be content with what I have.

2 a { 08.27.14 at 9:14 am }

I’m somewhere in between. I don’t spend a lot of time actively wanting things. When I REALLY want something, I pursue it, and, most of the time, I get it. Even if the result/thing wanted does not entirely live up to my expectations, I am still satisfied because I worked to get something and succeeded.

I don’t think non-wanters truly exist – everyone wants something, even if it’s just lunch. 🙂 Or inner peace. Or the desire to rid oneself of anxiety and disappointment. Isn’t that the definition of a goal – something you want to attain?

3 Geochick { 08.27.14 at 11:29 am }

I want. I want everything to happen on my timeline. Boy have I been disappointed. Now I try to want the things that are within reach. It’s difficult.

4 Sharon { 08.27.14 at 12:22 pm }

I, too, am a wanter. However, over the years, I have noticed a pattern in my life. I generally get the things I want–or at least some near-approximation of them–eventually but then find that they don’t bring me the feeling(s) I thought they would.

In light of that realization, wouldn’t I likely be better off simply not wanting?

5 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.27.14 at 3:43 pm }

I want to not want.

6 Heather { 08.27.14 at 7:31 pm }

I’m a wanter. I’m very good at that. I do go after what I want with a passion as well. I don’t think I could be any other way. Good luck getting what you want.

7 Mali { 08.27.14 at 11:34 pm }

I think the fact you’ve highlighted that you enjoy what you wanted when you get it, rather than feeling dissatisfied by it, is why “wanting” isn’t a bad thing.

Wanting what we have too, is another aspect of being a wanter, and one that many of us have to learn to deal with, especially if that means we don’t get what we want. I think I’m pretty good at dealing with not getting what I want, perhaps because I can recognise all the good things I wanted and got. I know how lucky I am. And so sometimes I feel guilty about wanting more.

8 Jess { 08.28.14 at 1:58 am }

I think a lot of apparent non-wanters just don’t dare allow themselves to feel and own their wanting – this doesn’t make it go away, but leaves it festering and not acted on.

9 Amel { 08.28.14 at 3:56 am }

Ohhhhh…what Mali said makes me remember something.

I often say to my hubby, “Honey, I want you!”

And he says, “But you have me already.”

I replied, “Yes, but you can also feel that you don’t want what you have anymore.”

I think we get disappointed when we over-idealize what we want without thinking carefully about what it may entail, though in some cases we can’t possibly know what it will be like. For example: when I moved to Finland. I knew it would be hard, but it was kinda hard to gauge how hard it would be because I had never been here before (been to Finland but not this village), so I had to brace myself to the unknown. But if I had only thought of this in a fairy-tale like of attitude “and they live happily ever after”, then I would have been facing so much disappointment.

I also think sometimes the thing that we think we don’t want may prove to be something that we enjoy. Like this job that I currently have. I applied for this job not really thinking it’d suit me, but because someone else encouraged me to do it. And this was the first place that gave me a job that involved talking to other people (customers) that would help me with my Finnish, so I didn’t want to pass off the opportunity, because there are few options for foreigners to work here.

In the beginning I thought I wouldn’t want to do this job longer than a few years max., but I changed my mind after a year or so. Now I can imagine myself doing this for years because I start seeing the positive sides of doing this kind of job.

I don’t know where I am in the spectrum of wanting, though. I feel that sometimes when I’m pretty content with my life, I don’t necessarily want anything else. I think in the past when I was younger I had many more wants compared to nowadays.

10 Ellen K. { 08.28.14 at 10:35 am }

This was so interesting to read because right now DH and I are struggling with one of our daughters. She is very much a wanter. She wants things passionately and becomes hyperfocused on them, often making herself miserable. I’m more complacent, as is her twin — I look to admire, not really to yearn — and D. is very anti-materialist (believing it to be a character flaw) and worries that she is very materialist. But there is a need for something beneath it. Connection, probably — her personality type seems both Sensing and Feeling. She just started full-day kindergarten and is having a rough time because she wants more than anything to be at home with me. She wants me to fix the problem by giving her the solution she wants (not to go to school at all). Maybe she can channel this intensity into ambition or activism (later). I just worry about her a lot.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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