2120 Hindsight: I Love You, I Want You, There Ain’t No Way I’m Ever Gonna Need You
My girlfriend and I have been getting along really well for a long time now. But every now and then, she still does something that makes me a little nervous about our future together. Like last night. We were just lying around, talking about stuff – just being two people who live together. You know, that sort of communication that comes and goes, in little bits and pieces – like, “I’m hungry” and “I love you” and “Are you thinking with anyone now?” Nothing special.
And then, suddenly, out of the blue, she looks directly at me and says, “I need you.” My mind was going a million miles an hour. She needs me? What the hell is this?
At first, I thought maybe it was some kind of twisted joke. Was she, maybe, pretending to have a mental disorder, just for laughs? But no, she looked serious, and anyway she’s pretty conservative. I quickly decided there was no way she was going to put herself at risk of investigation, not for a cheap laugh.
So, OK, she was serious. Much to think about! And maybe that was a good thing. They say conflict in a relationship keeps your brain sharp. I have to admit that, sometimes, she and I are a little too happy and comfortable with each other. So the next thought that went through my head was a little bit like competition, like a challenge. Like, all right, I’ve had the implants, my logic is impeccable, and I’m ready to put it to work. I’m ready to think my way through this. It was like I was putting a rarely used muscle to work and was discovering, to my pleasure, that it was strong and responsive.
Apparently she did believe she needed me. She felt she could safely say this to me without fear of being reported. As far as I could tell, it was a sincere statement of some sort. But what could it mean?
Ordinarily, of course, needing someone would have all kinds of psychosocial and criminal/political implications. Need implies dependence, dependence implies abuse, and abuse implies relational failure. When someone tells you that they need you, they are basically saying that you are manipulative and/or abusive: you have created, or helped to create, a kind of relationship in which you will enjoy power over the other person. In other words, your friendship is on the rocks. And because the rate of recidivism is so high, people ordinarily assume that a tendency to attract need from others is a lifelong disability. You’re just “that type.” If anyone else endorses that first person’s judgment, you are at risk of finding yourself on the social margin, or worse, very quickly.
But in this case, my girlfriend didn’t seem to intend to insult or accuse me. And her behavior, both before and after that little remark, did not convey any sense that she was afraid of me or was assuming our relationship was over. My next thought, then, was that perhaps she was entertaining some kind of subversive intent – was quietly notifying the world, in her way, that she would not be told when and whether she could need someone. This possibility was irritating; it would imply that she was questioning my loyalty to society. Not reporting her for such a statement would tend to indicate that I shared her subversive intent – unless, perhaps, there was something psychosocially wrong with me too.
Fortunately, of course, the matter was not especially urgent. I would have at least a week before I would have to file a report. So while this interpretation seemed plausible, I had time to think about it. Knowing her as I did, I did not think the subversive interpretation was likely. She wasn’t trying to make a sociopolitical statement.
But what could she possibly intend by saying that? My understanding of the thing was that, when people used to need each other, it was because they were wrapped up in a world of interpersonal needs and expectations. People really didn’t know how to get along with each other, or even how to behave in social or professional situations, until they figured out who needed who, and how much, and why. The whole socioeconomic system was founded on a corrupt ethic of need and exploitation.
I wasn’t sure exactly what that would mean in her case. Had she perhaps encountered a compelling story from some previous century, where it had seemed good that one person needed another – and, if so, was she adopting or experimenting with the sort of scenario that had unfolded in that story? That seemed possible, but it didn’t make a lot of sense. The whole history of need had been sorry indeed.
Need in interpersonal relationships started becoming unfashionable when need in work relationships came under serious scrutiny. Back at the dawn of the Age of Robotics, employers quickly lost their need for employees en masse. And then – we’re talking about Hypocrisy 101 here, what everyone learns in the most basic liberal arts education – within just a few decades, everyone got religion (so to speak). Everyone saw the light. The jobs that nobody liked were gone, so now it was OK to admit that nobody had really wanted them in the first place. People had wanted survival; they had wanted independence and pride in themselves. But now it was the end of the whole artificial scheme by which people tried to get such things through employment. Suddenly it became normal to go directly toward such things: to identify, acknowledge, and resolve threats to survival, independence, and pride immediately, not through some roundabout job-based theology. Needing things meant that you weren’t actually getting them – that your needs were not being anticipated.
Preliminarily, then, I couldn’t see how she could need me, or believe that she needed me, without repudiating the foundation of modern life and wishing to return to a failed, old-fashioned way of thinking about relationships. I didn’t want to be in the immoral position of being a target of her need, real or imagined.
Then, suddenly, I understood. It was seductive to imagine that I had that kind of power over her – that I would be needed. What she was exploring, in this relational thought experiment, was the sexual impact of needing and being needed. That, I had to admit, was interesting. I, too, had little experiential exposure to need.
Consistent with her other behavior to date, then, there could be no credible inference of manipulative or subversive orientation or intent. I was relieved: it appeared that she did not truly need me, after all. Her mental condition tentatively appeared to be as healthy as ever. I would not have to file a report after all, not unless I was completely wrong and the questionable behavior continued longer than seven days. I was quite confident, now, that it would not.
The interaction ended when, understanding my cue, I looked back at her in equal seriousness and said, “I need you too,” and we hugged. It will be interesting to see what learning opportunities emerge from what will be, I expect, several days of experimentation with interpersonal need.
I have recorded these thoughts from the moment of her remark for purposes of documenting a questionable interpersonal encounter. The recording was provided by a ThoughtReconstructor, and was revised with the aid of an Eyecam. The encounter in question occurred at 19:43 on 04/07/20, and was finalized in this document at 08:15 on 04/08/20.
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Tags: 2120 Hindsight, age of robotics, communication, employers, employment, end of work, interpersonal relationships, jobs, need, science fiction