I am asking this question but I do have an answer to it. But first, I’ll ask it, and give a few examples.
My friend says all friendships and all relationships involve a certain amount of using. I wonder what this person means by “using.” It isn’t a term that has a very clear, universal meaning. I’m sure the meaning varies according to context and even varies between cultures, genders, and age groups.
All of us have been used at some point. I know many nurses who do not mind giving medical advice on the side. Surely most nurses would give first aid to a neighbor such as CPR. But if the family next door called her daily to change diapers and make beds, without paying her, maybe she needs to leave a bill next time.
If you live in a building with ten units and you’re the only one with a TV, then how do you feel if the whole crew comes in and watches your TV, day in and day out? While it might be nice to have instant friends, how do you feel the day your TV breaks down and the entire building complains?
When I had a car it was just like that. My buddies liked me because I had a car. Then, when I made the decision to be car-free, my buddies told me they didn’t find me useful anymore. Hearing that made me feel good, actually. I was relieved that they themselves acknowledged that they’d been using me. I didn’t have to say it aloud. Good riddance.
When I had roommates they used me for my car, all of them. I couldn’t seem to find one that didn’t. I had one for years that seemed to cling to me because of that car. When I ended up leaving temporarily she got so pissed since, in her words, I was bringing the car, and that meant she wouldn’t get to use it. I’ll never forget the day she said that to me over the phone. How to put your foot straight into your mouth.
The next roommates didn’t use me too badly. They were secretive and never spoke to me. I disliked the way they whispered to each other all the time like I didn’t exist. They gave me looks of disdain. Then they moved out, much to my relief.
The next one was a very bad user. She also pushed her religion on me. So it was both, religion-pushing and car-using, also she ran up a huge phone bill and then, took off. After that I put my feet down. No more roommates.
My dad didn’t quite understand, but the truth was that I had been downplaying to my parents just how bad these roommates really were. When my parents asked I’d say the roommates were “great” and leave it at that. Often we simply do not want to trouble our parents.
My dad wanted me to share the expenses. But actually it was more expensive with roommates. They created more expenses! Some made me pay for everything or some insisted “we” buy unnecessary stuff. Some ran up a bill that I paid for, or created messes I paid for, too. Never mind the gas bill.
Is it possible to have friendships that aren’t based on using? Yes! I think so. I have a few decent friends. It’s also possible for friendships to start off okay and then not be so okay after a while. Sometimes they start off rocky and then, end up fine. Often relationships grow after resolving a fight.
It’s also possible to have an excellent relationship with a paid person who works for you, say, the gardener or the housekeeper or the babysitter or the dog-walker. In smaller communities everyone knows everyone else. You might know the postmaster and you might go to dinner with the dentist and your kids might know the doctor’s kids. In a larger community, you could die in the middle of the street and no one would care, except your heirs, who come rushing in to see what they “get.”
I do think real caring relationships are possible. I have not yet given up on humanity. I have faith in us. Well, maybe for a few more years.