Oct 19, 2011

know we don't like to think of them this way, but relationships are contracts. They may not be written (generally) and they may be more implicit than explicit, but relationships: friendships, romances, are agreements to behave a certain way with our actions and generosities implying the terms.

Sometimes it is easy. With a good friend the implicit contract tends to be that you will care for eachother, you will say nice honest encouraging things to eachother, you will DO nice things for eachother only expecting a certain kind of reciprocation. Notice I did not say "you will give your love for free" or "you will work without expectation of reciprocation". Because this is, quite actually, never the case. Right? If you are there for your friend and care for them when they are sick and tell them to buck up when they are down, there is an expectation that they will not completely blow you off when you are in the same situation. There is a presumption that because you went to their wedding, they will come to yours. There is a hope that if you care for their animal or children they will not leave you high and dry if they are able to reciprocate the favor.
But still, the terms are relatively simple and they tend to hinge on a reasonably level of equity.

Sure, sometimes one friend working overtime for gobs of money and the other was just laid off and one might assume the equity of money spent or time available will skew, but usually, in a healthy relationship, innate ways are found to equalize. And while there may be some politics, there are seldom clandestine dealing or double dealings, or attempts to find a loop hole in the contract.

Where it can get ugly, confusing and sometimes a little skeezy, is in situations where the terms are not clear, the contract is misunderstood, and expectations beyond the contract lay in the distance shining. This generally exists more in romantic relationships, where it gets "complicated" and emotions are likely to be more volatile, are apt to grow or change.

And so while it is ugly to evaluate "why" someone is doing something to you, or giving you something, or why you are giving more than you would normally, sometimes it is a good questions to ask.
Why did I just cook a 10 course meal for a man I barely know? Why did I agree to watch his kids all week or reschedule all my plans so I can hang out with him every night? Why do I always pay? Why do they always answer the phone, even in awkward situations and why are they the first person I call.
The answer is generally obvious: we are brokering love. We are brokering a romantic love steeped in obligations and ties difficult to break and all sorts of laws are now question marks.
Best be honest about your intentions.
You do not help a person you barely know move 12 times unless you sort of want to get in their pants.
And they do not accept that offer if they have no intention of laying with you.

Sure. yes. this is in no way a hard and fast rule.
Yes, maybe you really just like to help people move and never found that person attractive. Maybe you have nothing better to do. 12 times.
But still, generally you expect something. A beer afterwards, a sense of gratitude. Maybe, even you just expect them to like you more.
But there is still an expectation, and there is still a contract.

This is why you don't take favors from people you do not want to owe something to. This is why you don't let people do things for you when you just don't like them.
Because they may not want your first born, but they may very reasonably have the right to expect their tit is gonna get a little tat.

Likewise, it is only fair to consider, when the beautiful instinct of generosity hits: what are your expectations? What are the liens you are laying, what are the obligations you are brewing?
And if they aren't explicit, might they atleast be fairly clear in the implicit intent? Can they at least be intuited.

I once heard this story from a friend who had been reunited with an old friend. They had a long talk about the olden days and then decided they should have dinner together. They did. Rinse, lather, repeat. They talked about people they were interested in, they joked and laughed. And he offered to pay each time but they generally went dutch, but sometimes it was like "no no, I have all this money, just let me get it". Then, one day they went on a particular romantic "hang out" and he revealed that each and every time they had hung out he was "investing" time in her with the intent to have sex. Dollars/fuck is, I believe the term of economy he used and he felt, even dutch, he had Floored, she stormed out and I would have too.
But I ask you to consider this: who reneged on the contract? What was the contract. On one hand I sort of figure if the tone is you just want friendly company and wish to walk down friendly company. If efforts are made to make it feel that way the contract you are informally signing is that you will both show up for dinner, have fun, and not make eacother feel uncomfortable or in danger or insulted. And, ya know, I'd say he broke that contract and she had a right to be pissed. But maybe he complimented her, always put her jacket on, talked about women in a way that let her know he was available and paid more than she implied. Maybe he was a guy she really didn't know that well taking her out alot out of the blue and offering to pay even though she had a job and the ability to pay for herself. Maybe he was investing alot of time in a single pretty girl. And you can guess what the implied contract was.
Understand: you never have a right to expect sex from someone who does not want to have sex with you. Even if you bought them the hope diamond and a pony. But maybe if an individual steps out and wants to buy you a pony for no good reason you should ponder: why would a stranger want to buy me this pony. Why did this man give me this diamond? Does he expect something?
Sometimes the devil is in the details and I am absolutely not intending to pain the facets of blame and responsibility unfairly in the story above.

I am more posing this question: when inequity sets in within the confines of a close, but potentially ill confined relationship, it is a good idea to ponder what the terms are of the contract you are building. From both ends: if you are giving more than you get, what are you hoping to receive and do you have a reasonable right to expect that pay off? Does the other party KNOW what your actual expected pay off is? Likewise if you are on the receiving end of an inequitable trade, ponder the expectations said generous sole may have, and where you should keep receiving when you have no intention of fulfilling your end of the contract.

Ponder this when your indignation kicks in and you rage on the results of your boundless generosity and love you gave for free, time you gave for nothing.

Nothing is free, and sometimes time, love and companionship is what we are making.
What was your production quotient? And did you even consider the terms of reneging?

1 comment:

Mischief Maker said...

Very nicely stated. This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately. What motivates me to choose people to relate to, what motivates me to maintain some relationships and not others, etc. Very fascinating stuff.