What would Carmen do? Distinguishing ‘want’ and ‘need’


Opening night at LA Opera is probably my favorite night of the year. I’ve been to every opening performance for the last five years and I’ve gone alone to most of them. But this year, like the last, I took my boyfriend Matthew. This season’s premiere was Georges Bizet’s Carmen, an opera that seems to be largely known by the general public. It has remained a main staple in operatic repertoire since its 1875 premiere and is a guilty pleasure of mine.

Besides Bizet’s exuberant Spanish-hued score, the best thing about Carmen is the titular character herself — in short, Carmen (the character) is the baddest b-tch in all of opera. She doesn’t, nor has she ever lived her life according to a man’s liking. Yet, she craves men like sweets and tosses them after she’s taken a bite. Within the first 30 minutes of the show, she’s arrested for slashing an “X” into another woman’s face. She escapes prison by seducing her arrestor, Don José, whom she later pretends to love (Some operaphiles argue that she actually did love him at one point. I, however, remain unconvinced). She, in turn, leaves him for another. Her actions don’t catch up with her until the end, when (spoiler alert) her former suitor Don José stabs and kills her.

Leave it up to a straight man to ruin everything.

Though obviously tragic, there is something romantic about her death. Carmen didn’t conform to what José wanted her to be, and dies having never strayed from her values, no matter how skewed they were. With this in mind, one could say she died with honor. That may be bold to state, but when I reflect on death, or at least what I hope to accomplish in my life, I can think of no greater regret than to falter from my own character.

Of all my quirks and attributes I’ve always prided myself on my independence and ability to thrive in solitude. Even as a child, I learned quickly how to take care of myself. Before I met Matthew, I was content with singledom. True, I did want a boyfriend, but it had nothing to do with filling an empty void. But that’s the healthiest part of our relationship — the mutual understanding between “need” and “want”; I didn’t need a boyfriend and neither did he. And although Carmencita and I agree on many things, casual dating doesn’t make much sense to me. Or at least, at the time I met Matthew, it didn’t. I thought, what’s the point of dating if not to strive for something more serious? Though my thinking at the time may have been judgemental and sophomoric, there is something to be said about fostering meaningful relationships with those I allow into my life. When one “needs” something, the power is immediately out of one’s hands. With wanting, however, one takes control of the situation.

Adversely, “want” can be dangerous, because we always want what we can’t have. For example, while I was single, I strived for a relationship. But I had never been in as serious a relationship as I am now. So now that I’m in a relationship, I crave more alone time. Don’t get me wrong: The solitude I crave doesn’t stem from an unhappiness in the relationship. But as someone who thrives from the time I spend alone, it’s been a challenge to maintain independence without inadvertently ignoring Matthew. I feel the only time I truly have to myself is when Matthew is asleep, and I don’t feel glued to my phone, or feel the need to be present. This can be challenging, because of the tension that builds while ignoring my own needs.

My friends don’t really see my moody side. It’s a precious gem reserved only to those closest to me. Some have never seen it while others bear the brunt of it far too often. Yet even though I cherish my alone time, I do find myself yearning for Matthew after too long. The shift is quick — one minute I’m content and the very next moment I crave his presence. The shift is so quick, like the flick of a light switch after being in the dark for so long.  Your eyes need some time to adjust to the stimuli of bright light. Likewise, I need time to adjust to company. With Matthew, I need no time to adjust. Everything feels exactly where it should be, which is the best thing I could ask for in a relationship.

I’ve had to make sacrifices in my relationship. Everyone does. Matthew, I’m sure, has made equal sacrifices, ones I’m sure he’ll never talk about to me directly. And that’s fine. It’s the secrets we keep from each other that make any relationship work. These secrets make me feel like I’ve retained a bit of myself, the same me before I met Matthew. Like Carmen, my secrets are mine, and I’ll never let a man change me, for better or for worse. I cherish my idiosyncrasies, as well as my privacy. And again, like Carmen, I’d choose death over strict obedience.

Arya Roshanian is a “senior” majoring in music. His column, “From The Top,” runs Tuesdays.