Ladies & Gentlemen, we are all a bunch of users

I am an active observer of human behaviour and relationships. I am extremely curious about people. I ask a lot of questions of everyone I meet and actually listen to their answers. People tell me things. Lots of things. My dates would often be deep into some relationship secret and stop and say “why am I telling you this?”  I frequently have to explain that I’m just curious and they can always tell me they don’t want to answer. I have no agenda other than I’m interested.

As a result, I am a keeper of a lot of people’s secrets.

There are patterns to relationships that are slowly becoming clearer to me.  This realization has been helped by some recent discussions with a few blogging friends, but finally solidified after a recent conversation with my Mom. We talked about me and my ex, me and Johnny, some relationships I’ve been exposed to through this blog, and relationships in general.

I’ve realized people are a bunch of users.

People use each other and form unhealthy relationships.  We all use people at some level but if the balance is too far off you are asking for trouble and a likely failure of the relationship.

At first I saw this as zero sum – but it’s not. It’s a matter of percentages.

A common question I ask people: “What do you get out of this interaction / relationship?”

The answers are fascinating and sometimes disturbing.

On one extreme, people describe the personality or characteristics of the other person – for example: they are wonderful, kind, intelligent, dedicated, family oriented, etc.

On the other extreme, people describe how the other person makes them feel, or the things they do for them – for example: I feel safe when I’m with them, they make me feel desired / beautiful, they are passionately in love with me, they are helpful, they are always there when I need them, they support and encourage me, they do the dishes and leave the toilet seat down, etc.

What would you answer if I asked you that question?

(Take your time…I will wait…)

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Here’s the thing:  if your answers are all in the second category it’s likely you are using that person.

When you are asked about your dentist you probably describe they job they do on your teeth. In that situation you’re both using each other, you’re receiving services in exchange for money. That’s not a relationship, it’s a trade. If you are asked about your relationship and you describe the services they provide, there’s something wrong. He makes me feel good about myself, thus I’m in a relationship with him. That’s not a healthy relationship: you are using them.

If you are getting out of a bad relationship and meet someone who makes you feel great – you should probably ask yourself how much you like their actual personality. Do you actually like the person or just how they make you feel? Do you love the person or just what they do for you?

Relationships built solely on need, where you are using another person, won’t last. Or if they do, they are probably miserable. A healthy relationship is based on feeling loved, absolutely, but it’s also based on loving your partner.  Loving each other, flaws and all, is what will get the relationship through all the trials of life and last the test of time.

Did you know that the incident of second marriage failure is significantly higher than first marriages? And the third, even higher?  Aren’t we supposed to learn something from our experience? The statistics suggest we get worse at picking our mates the second time around. I think it’s because we are using them, in a bad sense of the word. We are building unequal relationships that don’t stand the test of time.

It’s also because we don’t step back to figure out how not to make the mistake the second time around…but that could be a post unto itself.

That said, we all use one another to a degree and it isn’t easy to change.

There have been people I’ve engaged with in the past who I honestly didn’t end up liking all that much. Perhaps it’s the personality that eventually shows through, or the secrets they are keeping. But if it’s a man, and he digs me, and flirts with me, and tells me I’m wonderful… how easy is it to walk away from that?  But to move on to healthier relationships, I had to.

I have seen and heard so many examples of people seeking out a partner to fill an emotional void. In person and online. How likely is it, when driven by that need, they will end up in a relationship where the primary focus is loving that other person for who they are? When all you want is to feel better, that’s all you’ll get. But it doesn’t last. It can’t.

Inevitably, your needs will change. You will eventually feel better about yourself, your void will be filled, and then that person’s benefit to you is diminished. If you don’t really love them for who they are…then you won’t be happy being with them anymore.

Or, let’s say something changes in the relationship, as things do, and they stop doing those things that you liked so much.  Maybe the passion diminishes, or maybe they have a new job and can no longer be so helpful around the house. In that instance, you will resent them.

I will take this back to the conversation I had with my Mom. We talked about the need to make sure you have a healthy balance of liking someone for who they are, AND how they make you feel and what they do for you. Ironically, in the case of my ex-husband, I generally liked who he was (there were vast swaths of his personality I disliked, but overall, there was more I liked than I didn’t). However, how he treated me and made me feel was terrible.

I had never really thought about it that way, but it was true. I justified all the bad behaviour because of the few personality traits he had that I liked.

My gut knows when the balance is off. I’m sure yours does as well…the key is listening to it and being aware of why you are engaging with this other person.

When I think about Johnny, I have to make sure it’s not just the great stuff he does for me (all the time) and how he makes me feel (amazing), but that at the core, I like who he is.

In case you are wondering, I do. Completely.

I really hope you can say the same.

0 thoughts on “Ladies & Gentlemen, we are all a bunch of users

  1. This is great – as I’m emerging from a very long, sexless marriage, I’ve rebounded into a relationship that I’m only in for the sex. It’s very early, but I know that soon I will need to set boundaries & perhaps simply end it. Why? Because it will prevent me from being fully available for the right guy. Thanks for giving me pause to reflect.

    • Well, I certainly did the same thing (sex only “relationships”), as you may know from reading my blog.

      What I see happen a lot with women in your position is they mistake all those great feelings with love… so not to minimize how awesome and necessary feeling fantastic is. I get it. Just have eyes wide open about what the relationship is, and isn’t.

      • My intent is to keep my eyes wide open this time. The challenge for me will be the ending of these sex-only relationships. I tend to be non- confrontational, so that too will be good practice – learning to end relationships in a mature, appropriate way. I love your blog – your candor and openness is refreshing and riveting.

  2. very well written post. It is important to have healthy balanced relationships. Those excessively needy ones tire you out over time and are just not healthy. I’d say the unhealthy ones are emmotionally draining. We need to love and accept each other for who we are. This goes for friendships and relationships.

  3. It’s not that we use each other – it’s how we do it and even why we do it and, true enough, it’s not always with the best intentions. We’ve learned that when we are in a relationship – any kind of relationship – we need each other; we need each other to do things, from washing dishes to taking care of our lusty needs and despite how we care to look at it, it all comes with a price of some kind and a price each of us will eventually pay – the easy way or the hard one – to preserve and maintain the relationship as best we can.

    If you’re gonna ‘use’ someone, is it not better to do it kindly than to make it overly obvious that they’re just a means to an end, to do it with love (or even lust) and not make the other person feel as if they’re just a stepping stone, that they have no other value than to facilitate your agenda?

    And if we’re not going to use each other in a good way, what’s the point in being in a relationship? In the grand scheme of things that is life, we all use each other to some end, for some reason and if someone doesn’t know this, doesn’t like this, or can’t accept that this is how we – humans – behave, well, I don’t know what to say to such a person other than to get with the program and learn how to use your partner (or anyone else for that matter) in the most kindest of ways – and understand that they, too, will be used… and hopefully in that kind, preferable, fashion.

    • Thanks for the long and thoughtful comment.

      I’m not suggesting that people are aware that they are using someone, and do so in a vindictive way. At least with some friends who come to mind, they would absolutely argue that they love their partner, and it’s all sunshine and roses.

      But it’s really about looking deeper and listening to your gut and taking a hard look at why you are with someone. You should understands what you are, and are not, getting out of the relationship. What the real attraction is. And then move forward with full knowledge.

  4. I forgot something. We are all taught that relationships are give and take and that it is bad for us to take without giving something back so part of the SOP for any relationship makes us use each other, doesn’t it? It comes down to how we give and take, whether or not we spend more time taking than giving or giving without taking and while it’s so pie-in-the-sky for this to happen equally, it doesn’t always happen that way – but we learn to accept the inequality when we encounter it; we fight against that inequality when it gets to be too unfair because the bottom line for a lot of us is that if we give, we damned well expect you to give back.

    Knock, knock, Neo: You’re using and being used…

    • I agree about the give-and-take. The subtlety for me is that I believe it’s critical that we like the personality / character of the person, because then, during those times of stress or strain and the “how do they make me feel and what do they do for me” is under pressure…you still fundamentally like who they are.

      • Well, yeah; we have to like/love them in order for the give and take to, in theory, work well. But the relationship dynamic is a stressful one and it will affect give and take, upsetting the balance and, well, it’s not that this balance gets upset – it’s whether or not we are willing and able to restore it.

  5. This is spot on, and scary. The thing is, it’s so hard to tell when you are being used. So hard to tell when you are just a place saver, until you’re deep enough into a commitment that backing out is far more difficult than it would have been in the beginning. I think the reason most second and third marriages fail is that people enter them most often out of a feeling of desperation, not actual love. They don’t want to be failures, don’t want to be alone, and grasp to the first person that they can stomach long enough to marry.

    • Sorry to scare you 🙂

      I’m not sure many people know they are using people in the way I describe. I can think of friends, and bloggers, who just insist over and over again that they are in the relationship for the right reasons. Eventually it shifts / goes stale / goes bad and they are often surprised. As you mention, they are in it all for the wrong reasons.

      Yeah, I guess that is scary. Sorry.

  6. I don’t think that it also about using but more personal gain. If the girl is out of a long term relationship they can latch on to the first good guy. The will use it to gain some balance. Structure that currently was lost with when the relationship ends.
    We all look for personal gain. It is inherent in our nature. Not saying it is right but it is part of us.
    I do love how you explain using in your blog. Myself having the same problem where people tell me things that they normally don’t tell anyone else. Keeps making me wonder if I am in the wrong profession. Would have to agree. Using and personal gain can, no matter what it is, can have consciquences. Just the matter on how truthful you are to yourself on why you are doing it. That is key.

    • I completely agree on the self-awareness…I find there are many people out there who actually aren’t self-aware at all. I see it at work and in dating and in the blogosphere as well. Without introspection and awareness you are bound to repeat mistakes.

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. This is an interesting thought exercise. I don’t like the connotation of the word “use,” though, because it’s very negative. I can think of relationships I’ve been in where we were mutually using each other and it was just ducky. So long as both are honest and aware, and so long as the power dynamic is equal, these relationships are perfectly fine.

    • Well, yes, “use” can be negative. But I chose it purposefully because it’s actually about “utility”. Harsh but sometimes necessary for people to step back and think.

      I couldn’t agree more on those relationships where people are honest and aware. My goodness, I’ve been in those situations and am not judging them at all. FWB where both people understand what’s going on? No problem.

      It’s when you deceive yourself (and the other) that it’s really an issue.

  8. My opinion on why 2nd and 3rd marriages fail more than 1st, and forgive me if someone said it already, is that after being in a shitty relationship once – most of us are less tolerant of being shit on anymore. So, we fall in love, we marry again and number 2 starts being an ass and we think fuck this, I’m not putting up with this crap again…

    Also, I know in my case, I’m sure we all look at our first marriage and think I put up with his shit far, far too long…I regret staying with #1 for 12 years, I should have cut that marriage by year 5 or 6. I did what we all do and tried to fix the unfixable, stayed for “the Children”, and I made a vow, blah, blah, blah…

    We get fucked over and we get smarter.

    • Hmm. Do you think it’s really smarter when we meet someone, fall in love (partially for the wrong reasons), start a new relationship, and then marry them?

      I completely agree that yes, once you have split up once, I can see it’s easier to do it a second time.

      But my perspective is a bit different. When No.2 “starts” acting like an ass…perhaps it’s not that it’s new behaviour…it’s perhaps that we didn’t see it before?

      • I agree with pretty much all you said. Though, I do think there is a time frame (6-10 months) in every new relationship that we hide our true selves from our new person. Putting that best foot forward and all that. So, if we marry too quickly – we wouldn’t see it. I think that most of us discount our own intuition and in a way willfully ignore red flags because we so desperately want to not be alone.

        • Yes, that’s fair. Some people, once they get comfortable that someone won’t leave them, perhaps are more careless with what they say and do.

          But yes, on your second point? Couldn’t agree more!!

  9. My brother is a “fixer”. He always dates women that are looking for someone to fix their lives, relationships, animal preferences… whatever it is. He has been hopeless at keeping a relationship going for all the reasons you say. He is using them because he has a need to be useful and needed. Their only use for him is to make them feel good. When they finally get down to the nitty gritty of a real relationship, they have nothing to talk about.

    I, on the other hand, am available for free toe curling, earth moving sex. Any time, any day. Well… that’s not true. I’m actually pretty busy. And hideous to look at, so we’d be kind of restricted to night time. Or within walking distance of a grocery store that uses brown paper bags. So if you have any friends… you know where to find me. 😉

    • Well if your brother meets someone who wants what he provides, then why doesn’t it work? Because when they are fixed he moves on?

      I highly doubt you are truly hideous. That’s pretty rare. Feel free to email proof and I can validate or debunk for you.

      I do have a friend, actually, in pretty desperate need for a good man AND a good number of orgasms. She needs to be taken care of a little bit too. So is that you or your brother?!

  10. Alas, I am going to tread my own path here. It seems to me you are espousing the need to be absolutely clinical in evaluating a relationship. Your seeming need to absolutely pinpoint “what are you getting out of this?” while perhaps being one way to fulfill the self-awareness you seem to seek, borders on the over the top methinks. I have had people ask me this, and quite frankly, it bothers me .. a lot. . . I have absolutely no intention of beginning a relationship by asking “What’s in it for me? What am I getting out of this?”. It’s tantamount to an emotional dissection from the very outset. And that would destroy the magic, right from the get go, no? And I am a strong believer in the magic. As someone who uses the L-word very sparingly, it’s not like I succumb to pixie dust on a regular basis. I know what I want, and what I’m getting into. How do I know without being a clinician? I feel, Baby, I feel. And experience it. My relationships don’t have to fill a ledger of “I-get-this-from-you” spreadsheet-itis. No, I don’t have a column for every feeling and deep emotion. I leave plenty of room for that magical gray area. So call me fanciful, call me old-fashioned, call me ostrich-like, call me a relic, call me a romantic. Just don’t call me clinical.

    • No, Marty, you have misunderstood me. I am not suggesting being absolutely clinical or resorting to “emotional dissection”, as you put it. Nor do I have any spreadsheets.

      You took my argument to an extreme, which is not fair.

      Good for you if you don’t “succumb to pixie dust on a regular basis”. You state you know what you want. That’s great.

      You are obviously at a different place than the many friends I have, here and in real life, who end up in bad relationships after a breakup because they didn’t take the time to EVER think about what they want, what they need, what might be attractive to them in the long and short term and how not to get fucking destroyed in the process.

      • Misunderstood? No, I don’t think so. “A common question I ask people: “What do you get out of this interaction / relationship?” Your words Ann. My point is there is no need for that question … unless of course the relationship is headed for the shoals. But for you it’s a “common” question.Oh so clinical. More than likely the person you’ve questioned had never felt the need to do those sums. In fact, I’d wager they may have come up with some of those just to appease you. Or have something concrete to say. “make sure you have a healthy balance of liking someone for who they are, AND how they make you feel and what they do for you.” If that isn’t spreadsheet like, then it’s nothing but a motherhood statement I’d say. taken your argument to an extreme? I obviously don’t think so. No, I read your words, and weighed their meaning. I stand by my thoughts

        • Marty, I welcome debate on my blog but there’s no need to make it personal.

          Just because you don’t like that question doesn’t mean it’s not valid. I can ask that question without it being clinical and I don’t ask it of everyone..far from it. Dissecting my argument and use of the word “common” doesn’t diminish my point.

          Just because you don’t need to question doesn’t mean others don’t.

          You are invalidating the need of many many people to understand themselves, their motivations, and why they engage in the relationships they do. That’s all, at the end of the day, this is about. Knowing yourself. Avoiding pain. Avoiding falling in the same hole over and over again.

          If that problem doesn’t apply to you, then good for you.

          • You know, I don’t see it as clinical. I don’t see it as spreadsheets. I see it as honest. I think people who don’t ask this question, at least inwardly, are people who are destined to put people on pedestals and get crushed when they topple off them. God knows I wish I had asked myself this in the past. Even healthy, thriving relationships can be strengthened by realizing where it is that we give, where it is we take, what it is we need and what it is we admire. Having the courage to actually ask it is not clinical – it’s smart. And maybe it will help cut through some of the hormones and new relationship energy that causes the “mystery” that blinds one from relationship killing issues.

          • Ann I regret you feel this was personal. I assure you there was no such intent. Nor do I say the question is not valid. I merely disagree with your application of it. By the same token, though you disagree with me, neither does that invalidate my thinking

    • Marty, man, I’m disappointed in you. Normally, I’m a “praise in public, censure in private” kind of guy, but since you kicked this off, publicly, I don’t feel too guilty. This is not your blog, what you’re doing here is not acceptable.

      Obviously you must feel like Ann’s post is a personal attack on you. Why, I don’t know. But that’s the only reason I can see for how poisonous and petty your comments are. You felt it was directed at you and you lashed back. If you simply disagreed with a point or two, you could have left a couple sentence response and called it a day. That isn’t what you did, you wrote nasty comments full of ignorance, pain, and poison. Your responses go way beyond any sort of rationale and I can’t imagine why you thought they were even remotely appropriate.

      Either you felt attacked or Ann’s post held up a mirror and you didn’t like what you saw.

      Now, if you had logical arguments against Ann’s points and made them in a rational manner, that would be one thing. But as it is, I’m not sure if you even read this post except to grab out a line or two that you could twist. Did you even try to understand what her point was before vomiting all over her comments section? Actually, nevermind. Don’t answer that. Just stop.

      You want to form your own theory, or write a long dispute to something you’ve read somewhere else? Write it on your own blog, or at least make some sense. Because what you’re doing here is totally out of line.

  11. Oh Johnny! Sorry to disappoint you. Yes, indeed this is not my blog, and Ann should be the arbiter of acceptability, not you Sir Knight. She has that ability of course. Not long ago, off blog, she excoriated me for not venturing my opinion on a topic here. Some of her exact words “you don’t like debate? it might have sparked some interesting conversation. ” So today I did and I consider it at her direct invitation. No, I did not take it as a personal attack. Her main theme is something I disagree with (albeit strongly … and I do tend to have strong opinions) so I thought it merited a strong reply. As Ann also said to me about her comment section “it’s not a place to just say “wow you are so beautiful” and “wow nice tits”. Or is it not? (since you deem yourself capable of being arbiter) I have no problem with your disagreeing with me Sir Knight … heck, it happens all the time. But it is you who have wielded the personal attack sword, and that I’m afraid, I am uncomfortable with.

    • Ah, I have made you uncomfortable by pointing out your behavior? If you see that as a personal attack, I’m perfectly fine with being on the right side of it.

      My response had nothing to do with trying to arbitrate comments on Ann’s blog, it had to do with acceptable human behavior. It’s like hearing a guy cuss at a woman on the street and stepping in to say that it isn’t ok. I’m stepping in to say that what you’re doing here isn’t ok.

      You tore up the words she used, rearranged them in a twisted way, misinterpreted her meaning -which she pointed out, and you denied. You chose the absolute most extreme reading and tried to justify it by cherry picking her words. It’s like you read this post looking for something to get angry about.

      It’s one thing to offer an opinion or engage in a logical debate, but that’s not what you’re doing. You’re ranting. Publicly. On her blog.

What do you think?