Realizing We’ve Been Used

I don’t know if this is the case where you are, but here in Washington, jockeying for a good position in the hierarchy infiltrates into every arena of life—including preschool. Now, while it’s true I don’t have kids, the very idea of three year olds having to compete for a spot where they can learn their letters and numbers gives me the willies. Of course, it’s not the children who are competing, it’s the parents.


With school admissions rituals approximating a pas de deux of the Court of Louis XIV, it’s standard procedure to require letters of reference from other, already admitted families. That age old saying, “it’s not what you know or who you know,” comes to mind. Really? They’re sweet little three year olds, not gladiators.


At any rate, a friend was sharing with me that she was recently invited to a party hosted by one of the “cool moms” in her child’s class. Surprised by the invitation because, usually, cool moms only hang out with other cool moms—you know, the ones who wear white pants and brightly colored tunics—my friend emphatically stated that she was not part of this crowd. She wasn’t sure why she was invited, but decided they were just being friendly. Not so.


A few days later, she received an odd email from an aspiring school mom who said that the hostess had assured her my friend would write a letter of reference. No asking, no hesitant, half embarrassed request, no leaning on the hail fellow, well met strategy. Just a simple declarative that my friend would write this letter. “That was the only reason I was invited,” she explained. When I asked her if she would comply with the pushy request, my friend said that despite barely knowing this person, she felt she had no choice. Being labeled a bitch/pariah by the cool mom’s group is a sure fire route to hell.


It’s awful to feel used, isn’t it? It makes you feel sort of…dirty.


While the scenario I depicted above may not be part of your daily life, we’ve all stumbled into situations where people had secret, ulterior motives in what they wanted from us. Can you think of a time when you felt used? Where the only thing you were “good for” was a service you could render someone else? What did you do?


Despite the fact that Dear Abby & Co. say that no one can use you without your permission, it’s a lot easier said than done. Real world repercussions for not going along with something minor (and by minor I mean clear cut, first world problems such as these) can be heavy and long lasting. However, as a re-booter, I have developed a strategy that, while not fail safe, does help me sidestep a lot of these situations–either that, or nobody wants my help, ever.


I have developed a fairly keen sense of judging who might possibly be someone, uh, prone to sand bagging others for their own, selfish purposes. As you know, I spend inordinate amounts of time observing those around me and watching what they do. As a result, I’ve developed a pretty accurate intuition about some stuff. I know how to linger on the edges and drift quickly away if I sense an agenda I dislike. Because I make myself so inconsequential and uninteresting, they rarely bother to approach me. But that’s just me.


What about you? What strategies have you developed to side step awkward requests—situations where you want to say no, but doing so would be impolitic. How has your ability to handle such scenarios evolved? Can you get away with a flat out no? Do you re-frame the request as part of a giant game that, one way or another, we all join in? Do you keep a running tally of how many people owe you and when you intend to collect?


What do you do?

 French court


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