Saturday, March 30, 2019

Positive vs. Negative Using

Not much I can really write about this week. I'm two-thirds of the way through the classroom part of my training. It alternates between oh-my-god-I-know-all-this-already and oh-my-god-this-is-a-lot-to-take-in. I'm enjoying it though, and I continue to be amazed at the number of really great people. In a place that size, you expect to find a few people that make you want to walk out of any room they're in, and I haven't found a single person like that.


There is no one, no one at all
Never has been and never will be 
a lover, male or female
Who hasn't an eye on 
In fact they rely on
Tricks they can try on their partner
They're hoping their lover 
Will help them or keep them
Support them, promote them
Don't blame them -- you're the same!
--Tim Rice (Andrew Lloyd-Webber),  "Goodnight and Thank You", Evita
(and while the lyric is semi-neutral, the song it comes from is a very good example of negative using, not to mention being completely ahistorical...Eva Peron never even met Augustin Magaldi, let alone slept with him at 15).


I've been ruminating over this blog for a while, wondering how best to approach it. Here be nuance, folks.

Conventional wisdom has it that relationships must not be transactional. That is,  "giving to get" is a huge no-no in a partnership.  I mean, come on, a massive part of rape culture is the expectation men have that if they provide certain behaviours to women, it will entitle them to sex. To be crystal clear, this is toxic as hell. Expectations generally are, in a relationship, you know: they straight-jacket people, for one thing. For another, what happens when your expectations aren't met?

Expectations: bad. Got it? Good.

And yet...

Conventional wisdom also has it that "opposites attract". Maybe they do, but a bond between opposites is very weak, particularly when those opposites are fundamental to each person's self-definition. A dog person is never going to work in partnership with someone who hates dogs. Spendthrifts don't do so well with scrimpers. You want kids desperately, your wife has zero interest. Good luck with that.

And people who are too similar can also run into issues, no matter the relationship. You wouldn't necessarily expect that, but it's true. My mom and I were a case in point. I loved my mom dearly...and we were at each other's throats entirely too often because we continually reinforced each other's most negative qualities. You put two broody, stubborn and snappy people in the same room and watch the fireworks. The Cathy I mentioned last blog was another case in point. In our early twenties, both of us were high-flying idealists, dreamers, without a practical bone between our two bodies. And so the relationship just kind of bobbed in place, not going anywhere in particular, because dreaming about the future was much easier than working for one.

No, what really attracts -- and tends to stick -- are complements. Again, there is nuance here. All of us are complete in and of ourselves. I can not stress this enough, because it goes against decades of pop sentiment. How often have you heard some variant of "you're my better half" or "you complete me"? This is bullshit. People are not jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces. ALL OF US ARE COMPLETE HUMAN BEINGS.

And yet...

If I'm not the most practical person (I'm still not) and I recognize that isn't my strength, I'm likely to be attracted to moderate practicality...but repelled by people who don't know what abstraction even is. If I am a mercurial person, I'm looking for someone who lets me be who I am while still grounding me as best she can. So long as our visions and values broadly align, those complements will serve us in good stead..

If "using" didn't have such a negative connotation already, you could call this "using"...each other. I believe we naturally seek out people similar enough to us that we can meet each other on common ground, but different enough that we challenge each other to be that next greatest version of the grandest vision we ever had of ourselves.


I have never been...knowingly...accused of using someone. Oddly, people have told me they're using me...which was news to me each time, and which actually sparked this blog. Can you be used without the slightest feeling of being used?

Maybe, if it's positive using.

Everybody knows what negative using is: exploiting and disposing once you've got what you want. In that song above, Evita Peron is "using" a string of lovers to sleep her way to the top, eventually becoming First Lady of Argentina. Incidentally, none of this likely happened. Historians agree her first lover in the play and movie never even met her in real life: There is no record of singer Augustin Magaldi ever visiting Eva Duarte's hometown, and in any event he was always known to tour with his wife and children. If Eva did actually have a string of famous lovers, it's actually more likely she was used: the victim of an entertainment system that allowed men to sexually exploit women. Not much has changed in 75 years.

I have never been used that way. Ever. I'd know it if I was, right?

But I have been used, and used myself: daily, in fact. Whenever I can't understand a situation, I've used Eva's uncanny ability to see all sides of everything. Whenever Eva needs some strength, be it emotional or brawny, she uses me.

"That snippet of lyric from "Goodnight and Thank You" above has one negative element to it: "tricks they can try on their partner". If you're employing some kind of deception for personal gain in your partnership, you are a jerk, and you deserve to be dumped. But the rest of the lyric can be taken positively. Who doesn't hope "their lover will help them or keep them, support them, promote them"? Isn't that what love IS?


  • builds you up
  • is not a source of friction in your relationship
  • leaves you feeling stronger
  • is NEVER one sided
  • does not leave your partner feeling any weaker.
  • tears your partner down
  • denies your partner autonomy
  • is always asymmetrical 
  • leaves you feeling stronger at your partner's expense.
The best portrayal of "positive using" I have yet come across is one I played (badly) after my sermon in July:

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on
--Bill Withers, 'Lean On Me'

I freely invite you to use me....positively. And I will do the same. And that's love...what Robert Heinlein defined as "the condition in which another person's happiness is essential to your own."

No comments: