I’ve been listening to this series of lectures by Igor Ledochowski on lifelong success.
He makes these points about relationships:
Over the long course, the life span of relationships, people will treat you the way that you’ve trained them to treat you.
When you first meet someone you’re kind of testing each other out
constantly to see what they will and won’t accept.
Over time you begin to fall into a pattern which is mutually agreed on but
without you consciously being aware of – just the way you react and
respond to each other.
This fascinates me. He’s absolutely right.
I’ve often wondered why certain people abuse me. It never occurred to me that I trained them to treat me like that.
Less often, I’ve wondered why I abuse certain people.
For instance, I’ve had loving faithful girlfriends who let me treat them badly. Some of them said they were OK with me sleeping around on them, even though they didn’t like it. I think they had fathers who screwed around and so they accepted it.
Over the course of my life, I’ve basically treated people according to the rules they set with me. Those who’ve let me abuse them, I’ve abused (not physically, I’ve never hit anyone).
I’ve had certain girlfriends I felt completely comfortable passing gas in front of them. I’ve often lived in small confined spaces and the vegetarian diet naturally tends towards smelly farts. So I’d just set off a wave of gas attacks — if I felt like it — until the air became foul.
Of course they protested, but they let me get away with it.
Later, after we’d broken up and I’d moved on to someone else, they’d ask me if I set off gas attacks in front of my new girlfriend and I always said no.
Most women I’ve dated, I would never pass gas in front of them. I would never cheat on them. I would never yell at them. I would never cut them down verbally. I would never write about them if they didn’t want to be written about.
Other girlfriends, I did all of the above (well, it wasn’t cheating if they gave me the green light).
I remember this sweet girlfriend I had. Very loving. Faithful. Generous. She did much of the driving and I would often find myself yelling at her. She responded by agreeing with me, thinking that would calm me down. The more I yelled at her, the worse her driving got, until we almost had several accidents. The worse her driving got, the more I yelled at her.
She’s the only girlfriend I’ve had who I’ve yelled at (in the car or outside of it). I guess I yelled at her because I could and she’d only respond by placating me, which led me to treat her worse.
I didn’t like it that she let me get away with yelling at her. I didn’t like myself for yelling at her. I wish she had set limits with me.
On the other hand, I had a girlfriend who would say to me whenever I’d cut her down, “Don’t be a boob.”
That was her signal to me to straighten up and I always did.
She told me not to call her a shiksa. She had Googled the term and saw that it was pejorative. When I told her I meant it as a compliment, she didn’t buy it. She set limits on me and I followed them.
I’ve had bosses who started out straight forward and then became more abusive over time (calling me names, yelling at me, paying me late) and I just put up with it because I didn’t have the skills or the knowledge or the strength to set limits on them.
In August of 1987, I said to one boss, “I don’t think I like being called dick sniff any more.”
He replied, “I guess you’ve got another job.”
I was stunned. He was exactly right. I had waited until I had another job lined up before I stood up for myself.
“You’re so reluctant to set limits with me,” a recent girlfriend, strong-minded and independent, said to me. “But when you do, I’m as obedient as a lamb.”
This girl broke my heart when she slept with another woman a few hours after she’d been with me (a few months into our relationship).
After we had gotten back together a few months later, I asked her if she had done this in the longest relationship of her life. “Oh no,” she said. “He made it very clear early on that this was not on.”
I’ll never forget that. He set a limit and she abided by it. I was afraid to set limits with this girl and so she often treated me shabbily. I was too weak to stand up for myself and this only increased her contempt for me.
I met this beautiful girl once for coffee. We kept talking so I bought us some sandwiches. Then I took her for a drive up to Malibu and we walked on the beach holding hands.
We finally sat on a rock and I kissed her.
Things had progressed nicely. I was on my best behavior.
After I had made out with her, I got a little too cocky, and on the next two dates, I was my usual sarcastic self, just like I am with the guys. She hated it. She called me up and said she didn’t like that side of me and broke up with me.
We eventually got back together and dated on and off for a year. I was sarcastic and cutting with her only to the extent she let me.
I can be a horrible person. Or I can be a mentch. It largely depends on how you train me. I wish I had a stronger inner core so I was righteous with everyone, but I don’t. Instead, I have the most flexible ethics around.
When I started blogging on Jewish life in the fall of 2001, I slowly explored the boundaries of what I could get away with. I’d inch by inch become more adventurous and then wait for feedback and consequences and then keep pushing boundaries, slowly desensitizing my readers until I could pretty much write what I wanted. Eventually the blog became so widely read and powerful, it was hard to shut me down.