I want to expand a little on something I wrote in another post. The whole notion of the tacit question that each person asks the other in any relationship.
For years I was involved in some pretty unbalanced relationships. In some cases I was on the short end (i.e., wanted more from the person than s/he could or would give me), but at various other times I’ve been on the other side of that and been the person who was not able or willing to give the person what he or she needed. Being on the short end opened my eyes to what the dynamic really consists of; the mechanism behind the negotiation that goes on inside every relationship. The “need-ee” never has to look at this stuff, because of course that person is getting everything he or she needs from the relationship, even if it’s frightfully little and always at the expense of the “need-er.”
One of these relationships was with a woman with whom I’d been friends for many years. We ended up living pretty close to one another. I was over there a lot, but I have to say that in 8 years she made it over to my place exactly one time, and even then, she brought her laundry. This was symbolic of the many ways in which I did most of the “work” in the relationship. There was some kind of unspoken arrangement we had made that I would do all the physical and emotional legwork, though I’m not sure how we arrived at this. Anyway, at some point I got sick enough of it to tell her I couldn’t deal with it anymore and thought we should rethink the friendship (I wasn’t that civilized about it, but 8 years of water torture sent me right off the deep end).
She ended up really angry at me, and I realized later that I had given her that option by making such a dramatic exit. I mean, she got to focus on how hurt she was by my “ending the friendship” (even though I had tried to talk to her about my difficulties with it many times before). She never really acknowledged how stressful the whole thing had been for me for almost a decade. She told other friends of ours and I got a reputation for being quite the jerk.
But after thinking about it for awhile, I realized what had really happened. That the entire time we had been friends, she had been posing a question. By her very involvement and by being the one who needed less from the relationship than I did, her presence took the form of an enormous question mark that hung in the air during every moment of our friendship. The question was “Can we have this relationship where you do everything and I do nothing?” And for many years, my answer to that question was “Yes.” My continued participation in the friendship was my unspoken answer.
The moment I decided I’d had enough, the moment I decided to end the friendship, my answer to that question that had hung in the air changed to “No.”
That’s it. That’s everything. The person who needs less is asking a question. Whether or not it ever comes out in actual words. This is quite a different way of looking at things: When you have been cast as the “needy” one in the relationship, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the huge demands that have been made upon you by the other person, the one who supposedly needs nothing at all, for what might have been a very long time, & this turns your perception of who has really been the needy one in the relationship on its head. Because that person, the one you thought needed so little? wants to know if s/he can continue to get something for nothing, can get an incredibly good deal that keeps being “your treat,” can get the benefits of friendship and loving support without contributing doodly-squat. As long as you are stupid or addicted enough to keep going along with this (as I was), everything is fine. They keep getting their shoulder, and you keep getting fucked in the ass. When you finally decide to go cold-turkey and change your answer to “no,” you are saying to that person No, you can’t keep getting this great deal. You can’t keep taking from me and not giving anything, and you can’t try to sell me your bill of goods anymore, because I’m not buying it. Don’t try to sell me this car with two wheels by telling me how great it is, because I’d rather walk.
Expect a lot of anger from the need-ee at that point. He or she is going to be jolted out of a cushy little comfort zone and is going to feel “ripped off,” even though of course you are the one who has been getting ripped off emotionally for however long. But the need-ee is going to couch everything in a lot of language that makes you look like a perpetrator because only the events of the last 24 hours are going to be in his or her mind at this point, not the events of the last 5 or 10 or 30 years. You are going to be framed as a thief for taking away what “rightfully belongs” to that person, even though this is akin to having someone steal your newspaper every day for 20 years and then accuse you of stealing when you finally go over and take it back. There is no logic to it, because the person has been in this open-mouthed, infantile state thinking getting burped & patted & fed was the relationship (and s/he was right), and What right do you have to suddenly make me change my own diapers?
There’s nothing you can do about this. It’s possible that the other person is never going to see what has really gone down; that they have been getting something for free, been taking something from you bit by bit for year after year, something you have never really been able to afford. S/he is just going to be focused on the immediate pain of losing his/her security blanket, and you are going to be the Bad Guy. Don’t worry about it. It is what it is. Just be glad you made it out with what’s left of your dignity, even though it might be in shreds.
I’ve been on the other side of this, too; been the “need-ee” myself, and been just as pissed off when my need-er decided to level things. Although since laying all this out to myself, I’ve been able to get out from under the anger by substituting the small amount of understanding I got from being on the short end. By not letting it go on for so long. Seeing that from moment one, as long as I allow that situation to exist, I am a perpetrator of sorts. So I make it crystal clear to the other person early on that you involve yourself with me at your own risk, because whatever you want is not forthcoming and isn’t going to be. If that’s the hit I’m getting. If the person has the sense to walk, great. If it’s someone who wants to be romantically involved but I know it isn’t going to happen and the person says he’s okay with just being friends, I take that with great suspicion. But I don’t suck the other person dry or take advantage of his addiction or devotion or love (can’t really say if there is a difference, even at this late stage) when I know that whatever I have to offer is not even close to what he requires from me. It’s the only decent thing.