I admit it. I can’t help wonder what’s in it for me.

June 25, 2007 at 6:50 am (Uncategorized)

Llew has this (I think very astute) theory that no gift comes unencumbered. That even if the only thing the gift-giver desires in return is the well-being that comes of giving a well-received gift, they are still looking for something back. A thank you. A display of affection. A note, a card, a gift of their own, whatever. And the more I think about it, the more I agree with him.

I currently have one very one-sided relationship in my life. I’d prefer not to tell you with whom I have this relationship, but suffice it to say I don’t get a lot out of it. In fact, I’m not sure I get anything out of it except constant guilt trips and unbroken streams of reproach. I can’t bear it. When I spoke to this person this morning, and copped the usual wounded tone, I honestly wanted to hurl my phone straight into the Pacific. Oh yes, and I wanted to scream “FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARK” down the line first. I could feel myself clenching my fists – my entire body tensed. All I wanted to do was be rid of that voice on the other end of the phone.

I’ve been stewing over the call all day. For a start, this person has a very limited pool of conversation on which to draw. I hear the same thing over and over again every time we speak, and believe me when I say I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the first time. Then, for another thing, this person does not give a D-A-M-N about anything that’s happening in my life. Not one damn. I say anything about my life – anything (and that includes things like “I submitted my PhD thesis,” “I have typhoid,” “We bought a flat,” “We’re getting married,” and any other significant life event you can think of) – and this person responds by resolutely ignoring what I have said. Here’s an example:

“My thesis has been passed. I’m being awarded a doctorate.”
“I bought a new brooch the other day. The man in the shop said it’s always lovely to see me.”

I wish I were kidding/exaggerating/wholly inventing, but I’m not. Sometimes, because I am such a perverse wretch, I actually throw little tests out there to see how far it will go. I haven’t reached the limit yet. And these aren’t conversations – how could they be? I engage with what this person is saying even though I have heard it a hundred times before, and in return anything I say – unless it flatters or relates to her – is almost always completely ignored.

Why do I keep bothering? I am asking myself that very question. I suppose there’s a sense of obligation there, be it self-imposed and/or societal. I feel obligated to keep up this farce of a relationship (if you asked this person whose work I spent 4.5 years analysing, they would not be able to tell you). There is a sense of doing one’s duty that I find very hard to discard. And I tell myself, too, that in such cases it’s just the right thing to do. It’s beyond give and take. It’s an ethical thing, a conscience vote. And it’s true that guilt eats away at me whenever this person comes to mind because I feel that on some level I should be doing more. When I look at the history of the relationship, when I lay it all out rationally and I start to reflect upon the nature of it, I stop feeling so guilty and, in fact, start to feel quite indignant and resentful that I ever felt guilty at all. And the reason I feel indignant and resentful is that it’s just unfair.

And here comes the bit that’s hard to say: I wonder on days like today what’s in it for me. I was so angry when I got off the phone, and I’m still so tense I just don’t want to speak to, let alone see, this person ever again. I know that’s the opposite of the effect they were going for. The efforts of today’s wounded voice were directed toward my being utterly guilt-tripped into rushing my whole life onto a back-burner so that I might better avail myself to the on-going task of ensuring this person’s greater comfort and amusement. To that end, I would say the plan backfired quite spectacularly.

I think Llew’s right. I don’t think any gift is entirely unencumbered. Not even love comes free. Even if the only thing you want is love in return, you still want that, don’t you? I would be able to tolerate this situation much better if I were able to believe this person actually loves me. But I don’t believe that. I don’t believe they know me at all. So it makes it hard to keep up the charade of a conventional relationship. It wears me down. I honestly think that all this person really wants is to keep me in their service until they die. And I’m not doing it. For a start, I am not the help. For another thing, the help at least gets paid. I can’t get this person to express one single word of interest in my life, so yes, I admit it. I’d want at least that in return.

No gift is unencumbered, says Llew, and I agree. The kind of servitude that’s being sought by this person strikes me as a gift of very significant proportions indeed, and it’s not a gift I am of a mind to give. Judge me by all means – I too can see I am no saint – but even charity tends to make its bearer feel pretty damn good, and this relationship just keeps making me feel lousy.

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