I think my fear of fake relationships might be stopping me from having real relationships - help?
April 6, 2010 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Why am I so scared that people are trying to trick me/use me? Is this something you really need to be on guard against all the time or is it irrational thinking?

I don't know why, but for as long as I can remember, I've had this fear that people might just be tricking me into thinking they're my friend/they care about me. As a teenager I used to worry that maybe one of my friends would go "pffft I was just kidding... did you seriously think I liked you and was your friend? hahahahhahaha". Like their being nice to me would turn out to be this big prank that everyone would laugh about later. This made me anxious to get close to people. I'm female and I've always had a lot of male friends and when one of them would hit on me, I'd always feel like they'd faked our friendship just to get sex, even as an adult although I've tried to tell myself that maybe they liked my personality AND found me attractive, but it's still made me second guess things. I still find myself worrying that guys just want to f*ck me so they craft these elaborate friendships/fake relationships with me but are really thinking I'm an idiot getting sucked into their scam, and are laughing about it with their male friends behind my back. Even just writing it out, it sounds kind of ridiculous, I mean, it's a lot of trouble to go to just to sleep with someone who's not bad looking but no supermodel, but I do worry. It makes me a bit on edge with my male friends and very distrustful of anyone I become romantically or sexually involved with. I even get put off one night stands when someone starts talking to me cos I don't want them to think they've tricked me into it. And if I actually do have feelings for someone, I shut them off quick smart if they actually become a viable option, cos I don't want to be an idiot. I tend to assume that anyone I'm dating or who fancies me is only interested in sleeping with me and the rest is a scam to make that happen and that they don't like or respect me as a person, and that if they really respected me they'd just say "I want to f*** you and that's it". This seems silly when I consider that I've had friends I've had a crush on and I still wanted to be their friend even if they didn't feel the same. I enjoy sex a lot so it's not something I need to be tricked into but I hate the feeling of someone thinking they're tricking me more than I hate missing out. To make things worse, I once decided to just "let go" and fell in love with someone, but after a year I discovered that he'd cheated on me. Due to my prior beliefs, this confirmed my fears as I chalked it up to "I got tricked and used and he didn't love me or even like me at all, it was all 100% lies and he basically only asked me to live with him for easily accessible sex" - despite the fact that he spent the next year begging me to give him another chance. Rationally I can tell myself I'm not THAT good looking or amazing in bed that people would go to such elaborate lengths to trick me, but I find it hard to trust that people want anything more than that from me, and I flip out at the first "sign" that they don't care. It feels like as soon as someone is physically attracted to me, it must mean they just see me as a piece of meat. I am trying to tell myself that liking someone as a person and liking someone sexually don't have to be mutually exclusive (as they're not for me!), but kind of failing.

To a smaller extent, I sometimes worry that even platonic friendships might be motivated by someone just wanting to get something from me (besides my friendship) and that the person doesn't really care for me.

I also sometimes think maybe everyone is just doing that to eachother and there's something wrong with me that I can't bring myself to use people at all, even people who aren't nice to me.

When people ask me out I immediately think "oh, so THAT'S why they were being nice to me" and then I feel like they probably aren't really my friend, even if they keep hanging out with me (I tell myself this is so they can maybe try again later). This is hard because I've been asked out by a lot of the guys who go to the same activities I go to and it's always nice at the start making new friends but then I get disappointed when I realise they weren't really my friends after all.

Please help me rationally think my way out of this before I ruin all my friendships and future relationships (unless you really need to tell me that most people are just out to scam people for what they can get). I would actually like a relationship with someone who likes me physically and for my personality but I can't get myself to believe it's possible which makes me act cold and disinterested and like *I'm* only after sex when I'm dating - catch 22.

After writing all this down I guess it might be a self-esteem problem?

Throwaway email: thisone6@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

You don't recognize your own value. If you did, you'd see why all these people want to be your friend or your significant other. If you don't get your self-esteem under control, you'll continue to hurt yourself and those people who see what you can't.
posted by *s at 8:47 AM on April 6, 2010

The word is Insecurity. You are not secure in yourself.

you think little of yourself so you distrust anyone who thinks well of you.

This is classic. Everybody feels this way sometimes.

The difference between a feeling and a problem is that a problem takes control and disrupts your life. You're well into problem territory here.

95% of the time, People aren't out to get you. They aren't trying to trick you. The vast majority of people just don't have time/interest to be that duplicitous and malevolent.

Unless you are in middle school, everyone is a lying cheat in middle school.
posted by French Fry at 8:53 AM on April 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have had similar fears in the past. True, this is about self-esteem and insecurity. But it's more than just that. The problem is that once you have these fears, it is very easy to confirm your suspicions:

It feels like as soon as someone is physically attracted to me, it must mean they just see me as a piece of meat.

To a smaller extent, I sometimes worry that even platonic friendships might be motivated by someone just wanting to get something from me (besides my friendship) and that the person doesn't really care for me.

To a certain extent, these statements are both true. Friendship, on a certain level, is based on each person getting something out of the friendship (someone who will listen to you, laugh at your jokes, and say that they understand you or say things that make you feel good). And like it or not, there is an aspect of sex that is about objectification. That's how sex is.

You're right to want more. You're right to expect your friends and potential lovers to truly, actually care about you. What you need to realize is that a friend can care about you, *and* be getting something out of the friendship. Someone asking you out can find you an interesting person who they do (or believe could) care about, *and* a desirable sexual object at the same time.

So you need to relax a bit. Instead of trying to confirm that people are trying to get something from you / seeing you as an object, simply accept that that might be true, and instead try to confirm that they also genuinely care about you as well. That's much more important.
posted by molecicco at 9:13 AM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have felt exactly the same way, and still do on occasion. I was told 'men only want one thing' as a kid, and I came to believe it.

One of the things that has helped me most- although it was terrifying to hear- was this:

So what if a man uses you? What if he lies to you and tricks you and breaks your heart? Will you lie down and die? No. You'll be angry and sad and you'll move on with your life. I was raised to fear being used so much that I never really thought about what it meant. But really... it doesn't mean anything!

The only way to have a satisfying relationship is to open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt. And being hurt isn't the end of the world.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:15 AM on April 6, 2010 [13 favorites]

Therapy could help you with this.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:15 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, here's the thing: part of the reason this belief may be so hard to shake is that, in fact, in some cases it IS true. Back when you first started having these feelings--in school--there were in fact people your age who did play the, "ha ha, we just pretended to like you to be mean" game. If you hang out with people who never grew up as an adult, you might still be exposed to variations on this kind of relational bullying, two faced behavior, etc. As well, there are in fact men out there who will pretend to be your friend just to try to manipulate you into sex, people who will act chummy to try to use you for personal or professional gain, etc. So you can't honestly tell your brain, "that would never happen! I can trust and take everyone at face value!" What will work will be to learning to identify and celebrate all the times you HAVEN'T gotten burned, and continue to develop the skills and boundaries to identify healthy people and relationships and avoid the stinkers.
posted by availablelight at 9:18 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

It would really, really be worth it for you to sit down and work with a professional to change those beliefs. The mental filters you wrote about, and which you have or had been using for a long time are not useful to you now, and would be far less useful if you even tried to use them in the future, so now is the time to put them into the past, and now is the time to imagine how different and better your life will be... once you look back, and see you've put those old, mistaken, tiny beliefs into the distant past.

Did you ever have a dress that you wore when you were a child, that maybe felt comfortable for you and looked right on you, way back when? Fortunately, you now know not even to bother trying to wear that-- it's just not you.

If you were to write about it, the very fact that you can examine it, and write about it, would tell you now that you know it's just not you. If you were to write in an email to a friend, or a diary, that this might not be appropriate for you-- well, the whole concept would strike you as silly, and inside, you'd laugh about it. It's just not you, not anymore.

So sit down with a professional, and have her or him help you recognize the ways in which your old beliefs about your value had been limited and distorted, and how good it feels to really, honestly see all the perspectives from which other people have genuinely seen you as worthwhile... and even really, really, worth knowing. Writing about it all later-- perhaps in an email, perhaps in a note to yourself, perhaps just in your mind-- you'll probably begin to notice how good it can feel to fully enjoy recognizing all the ways people have wanted to show how much they value you... and accepting this, you can feel perfectly comfortable in asking less Who's using whom? than What am I enjoying, right now?

The first question has no answer, and is therefore not a good question to use; the second question only you can answer, and the more you ask it, the more you will find yourself guided to experiencing more and more of what you want to experience.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:23 AM on April 6, 2010

I liked what everyone said above, but I also just wanted to add one more thing. It was pointed out to me in the past, that usually when I suspect people of something its often because I do that very same thing myself. For example, if I suspect people of being dishonest it is because I might have an honesty problem. So in addition to the recommendations of working on self esteem and therapy, perhaps looking at how you do this very same thing in your own relationships and working on that area might offer you some insight.
posted by heatherly at 9:23 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everybody I know has these worries. In fact, realizing that everybody worries about this is comforting in and of itself.

That said, it's a bit silly, for a number of reasons. (Hopefully that's comforting too.)

First: You need to disavow yourself of this social belief that people only ever want one thing. We like to simplify things, we masses, until there's one core intent in every person's heart. But it doesn't work like that. We think of and want fifteen things a second. They're all contradictory and no one thing defines us or our relationships.

I'm a college-age male, and I sometimes feel really worried about the reverse of what you're worried about. I'll talk to a girl and worry if I really like her or if I'm trying to use her. And all these thoughts exist. Guys do think about girls' bodies and about scoring and about flirting. But they also think about their personalities and lives and thoughts and hopes and dreams. And when all these thoughts cram together, we make choices about what we say and what we do, and then sometimes pretend that the things we say are in fact the only things we think. But they're not.

So, in a queer way, you'll find that the more you trust what somebody shows on their surface, the more reliable a judgment you're getting of them. Because for all they think these hundreds of things about you, the things they show you are the things they decide are worth showing. All the other things, they're there; they'll rise up on odd days; if you go probing for any of them you'll probably find them; but them existing is not the same as them being some dark ulterior motive.

Second: You know the whole "that's not a bug, it's a feature" line? That's how I see guy-girl attractions.

It's absolutely true that given a choice between making a new guy friend and making a new girl friend, I lean towards the latter. It's not a huge bias, but certainly it exists, and the reason for that is definitely that I'm physically attracted to girls and not guys.

But that doesn't equate to my being a big sack of lust trying to seduce everything in sight. It's just that I'm capable of entering more types of relationships with a girl than with a guy.

When a guy you're friends with asks you out, don't think of it as the culmination of your friendship. Think of it as a second, overlapping set of feelings. He is friends with you AND (not OR) wants to ask you out. So when somebody does, go, "Oh! That's sweet of him," tell him that, turn him down if you want, and most of the time you'll go on being friends with him. Even though he's not dating you he's still got a friend, so he wins! Feature, not bug.

(It took me a long time to realize this. I felt wracked with guilt over the girls I loved but also asked out, like my asking them out was a violation of our friendships. It wasn't. I kept being friends with them; we both were aware of my attractions but it never dominated or spoiled the friendship. A few times those friendships turned into dates, and when it did it was a pleasant surprise, and when it didn't it mattered not.)

Third: This is going to sound weird, but you have to remember that you're not important enough to be manipulated.

Nobody cares about you enough to spend months and years forming a Machiavellian friendship with you only to twist a dagger in your side. Unless you've murdered somebody's father, nobody's passionate enough about you to keep up a facade.

Possibly that guy you only met today is only into you for your looks. If you're still talking to him after a week, it's less likely. If you're talking to him a month or two from now, chances are he likes you. It's not worth an incredible effort to seduce somebody and break their heart.

Pick-up artists preach this. They say that if you're trying to pick up a girl, you don't hammer at somebody who's clearly not into you. You go until you find somebody where there's a spark and a mutual attraction. And if pick-up artists, who encapsulate the shallowest and slimiest people, aren't spending more than a few minutes building a facade to get into your pants, then chances are nobody else is faking it either.

For what it's worth, I find personally that it's really hard even to fake a basic interest in somebody. Even if the only effort I need is as much as it takes to smile politely and nod for fifteen minutes a week, two months in I'm making every effort to avoid that person and find somebody I'm actively interested in. It's a timesink, and the only people who get involved in such fakery are sociopathic. And if you ever do meet a sociopath, and I've met several, then just remind yourself sharply that you're not a sucker for believing them, but rather that that other person is pathetic and irrational.

Good luck.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:30 AM on April 6, 2010 [12 favorites]

You seem to be very disturbed when guys eventually ask you out after being friends, saying that they were just using you for sex. Well, not really. There are easier ways to get sex. There is a natural progression of romantic relationships here that you seem to mistrust and mischaracterize. If I was hanging out with a guy and he was cool and fun, I'd want to ask him out too. Because I'm a sex fiend who lured him into believing I actually enjoyed his company? No! It was the coolness that made me interested romantically. It's a feature, not a bug.
posted by amicamentis at 10:33 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ahh, and Rory Marinich used the "feature not bug" thing as well.
posted by amicamentis at 10:34 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have people betrayed you in the past? I had to get over this fear and insecurity myself and I was able to mostly overcome it in college where relationships take on a level of maturity, in general, and petty childish meanness is less common. I really link the cause of some of that insecurity to my Dad's alcoholism. He was mostly distant and cold to us and would accuse me of terrible things that I had not done -- these were his fears of things that could happen to his daughter. Think along the lines of "boys only want you for one thing" kind of nonsense. Sometimes he would really start feeling sorry for himself -- sorry that he had alienated his family, sorry that he had a drinking problem, sorry that his own expectations of life were dashed, whatever. And he'd come around and be really sweet and caring and want me to tell him how much I loved him. I'd feel hopeful and then realize he'd been drinking. He just wanted validation. The very next day he'd be right back to his surly, grumpy games and that really felt like a terrible betrayal. It wasn't until I was an adult and he had for the most part overcome this particular demon that I was able to see the true nature of him as a caring and sensitive guy.

I can't say that I connected this behavior with my insecurity until some time later but I know it was a contributing factor. If you can't get over this insecurity yourself then it seems like talking it over with a professional is a good idea. I suspect there are some incidents in your past that contributed to your current state of mind but in any case, it's a terrible affliction and I wish you the best in conquering it. I really like Showbiz_liz's take on addressing it. Try that out and see if it works for you.
posted by amanda at 10:36 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

What particular incidence in your life made you feel this way? Sure we all have insecurity and mistrust but this is pretty impactful and must have stemmed from something because it validated your feelings so profoundly that you carry it to anyone.
posted by stormpooper at 11:24 AM on April 6, 2010

As a teenager I used to worry that maybe one of my friends would go "pffft I was just kidding... did you seriously think I liked you and was your friend? hahahahhahaha". Like their being nice to me would turn out to be this big prank that everyone would laugh about later.

This actually happened to me. And yes, it can screw with your worldview. But don't forget, one event does not prove the rule. For the relatively small crowd of people who actually perpetrated this on me years ago, there have been countless others who did not behave this way towards me.

That's the thing I keep perpetually at the front of my mind, now. One asshole does not define all of humanity.

Another thing to do - turn this around in your head as a thought experiment. Do you approach your relationships with "only one thing in mind"? Of course not. So why assume others do it?
posted by LN at 11:25 AM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sadly, I've found that most people who are immediately friendly (beyond just surface-level niceness) really are usually just out to get something from you. As a woman, I've found that most men who are friendly towards me have sexual ulterior motives, and most women are usually seeking to mooch off me in some way or only being fake-nice to my face but catty bitches behind my back. The world is full of users and fakes.

It was disheartening how many of my male "friends" instantly disappeared when I got married, and how hard it's been to make new male friends as a married woman. Meanwhile, most (95%+) of the men who do still want to be "friends" with a married woman have turned out to be creeps. So while there are a few men out there who genuinely want friendships with women, they seem to be a tiny minority. (A minority that seems to be disproportionately represented on MetaFilter -- hooray for the men of MetaFilter! -- so don't take the inevitable surge of replies from men saying they're not like that as a representative sample of male motivations.)

So, I've become super cautious about not getting emotionally invested in people too quickly. There is hope -- I've formed a couple of work friendships with married male coworkers, and after a year and a half of them not hitting on me (or even giving me the slightest vibe that they were interested) I'm pretty sure that their friendships are genuine. However, it's also clear that the friendships are context-specific and that we probably wouldn't remain friends if either of us stopped working here.

You might have better luck making friends with gay men -- no sexual ulterior motives and no female/female competition dynamic. (Sigh... now I really miss my fabulous gay friends in Seattle.)

That reminds me of another thing -- levels of fakeness/realness seem to vary by region. I'm from Seattle/Bellingham but currently live in Las Vegas. It was much easier making genuine friendships with ethical people in the Seattle/Bellingham area, whereas Las Vegas seems to be full of creeps, losers, users, addicts, con artists, and superficial people. There are some good people in Vegas but they've all been burned so many times themselves that they're generally reticent about making new friends too and thus it's really slow going.

Sorry I don't have any magic solutions, but I wanted to let you know that you're not alone, and that my personal experience suggests that you're justified in feeling this way about people. My advice is be cautious and maintain a high level of skepticism about anyone who is too friendly too soon (do they have an ulterior motive? and what's wrong with them that they have so much free time for a new friend -- why don't they have any old friends?). The people who take longer to warm up to you and fit you into their lives are usually the ones more worth knowing.

Good luck!
posted by Jacqueline at 12:01 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Nobody cares about you enough to spend months and years forming a Machiavellian friendship with you only to twist a dagger in your side. Unless you've murdered somebody's father, nobody's passionate enough about you to keep up a facade."

Or they're a sociopath and they get off on that sort of thing. Given that about 1 in 25 people are sociopaths, we all get burned by one eventually.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:07 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Echoing what heatherly said, you might want to take another look at to what extent you are using this thing as an excuse to get what you want, in a way that prevents you from directly admitting what it is that you really want.

In some ways it sounds like a big it's not you, it's me excuse which has metastasized.

I'm not saying that you don't need a slimeball detector, but you seem to be trying to prove things to yourself about how it can't be this or that. But trust me, brains love to kid themselves. If you want to believe you're a nice person, you'll be nice to person B just to prove that what you did to person B was done out of niceness. Even if being nice to person B is actually a little painful. Hell, especially if it is.

The next time this problem seems to be causing you pain, try to just think clearly about what it is that you really want, and what you want the direct outcome to be.
posted by fleacircus at 12:33 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Er, to prove what was done to person A was done out of niceness.)
posted by fleacircus at 12:34 PM on April 6, 2010

well even if 1 in 25 people actually had a profoundly dysfunctional mental disorder.

96% of the people you know and meet wouldn't.
posted by French Fry at 12:39 PM on April 6, 2010

I don't think it's a self-esteem problem, and I think heatherly is on to something. Maybe for you, other people manipulating you is a displaced, inverted version of you manipulating other people. That doesn't mean you are secretly a ruthless manipulator, but it might mean you are afraid of becoming that. Doesn't it seem like people want to be lied to, that our standard for good interpersonal behavior means shielding others from the truth? It seems like to be ethical (treating other people well) you have to be unethical (manipulate them).

A second possible projection is that your own interest in sex is threatening to you for some reason. Maybe your fear that they are only interested in you for sex is the return of your repressed anxiety that you are (or you are afraid you are) only interested in sex, which may (or may not) be just another version of the fear of manipulating people. Using someone for sex is similar to manipulating someone, in that you are objectifying them and relating to them as something to control, not as another person with feelings, free will, etc. like you, which is maybe another ethical problem for you.

But, your thinking makes a lot of sense to me. Someone who mainly wants sex would conceal that by pretending to care about you and respect you. The person who really cares about you wouldn't play these games, they would respect you by telling you the truth: "I just want to fuck you." At least they aren't condescending to you by manufacturing some fake feelings because they think you need to be fooled, saying between the lines: "I just want sex, but I'll pretend I love you so that you don't have to worry that people might think you are a slut." It seems like what you're saying is, if you want to get a girl in bed, you should lie and tell her you love her; and if you want a relationship, you should do the opposite, tell her that you just want to get her in bed, which signals that you like her and respect her enough to not deceive her, which should be read between the lines as wanting a relationship.

Unfortunately, I agree with Jacqueline that by your standards, most people are manipulators. Except that by cultural standards, they are nice, ethical people, not sociopaths. We think nice people give others want they want, without realizing that this entitles them to take something in return.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:49 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

"well even if 1 in 25 people actually had a profoundly dysfunctional mental disorder.

96% of the people you know and meet wouldn't."

But the 4% who do can and will hurt you bad enough that it's reasonable to be cautious of everyone until they prove themselves trustworthy. Most people won't rob your house either, but you still lock your door.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:56 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

My ex had this problem and was constantly on guard for people using him. He constantly judged his friends and associates as users and bad people because they were participating in what I saw as the normal give and take of friendship.
My response to him and to myself when this form of insecurity rears its ugly head is "What does it matter?"

If you assume you're right and everyone is out to use you, what does it matter? What have you lost if someone is nice to you because they want something? If you give them the something that they want, what have you lost? Some time? Some cash? Maybe a bit of your heart? All of that, while painful to lose, is intangible and can be replaced.

Personally, I look at it this way, so what if they are using me? So what if they want sex or whatever? If I'm willing to give it, then it's mine to give not theirs to take. If I'm not willing to give it, then they don't get it. No loss. In the end, it makes life far more pleasant to not be concerned about getting used and just understand that in most relationships there is a give and take. If you feel like you are giving more than you are getting, it is your right to walk away, but until then you can enjoy a connection with another human that may be more important than you realize.

My ex never got that. That's why he's an ex. I may be too open, I may get burned over and over again but by God I'm not going to let that make me afraid of being nice and friendly to people and being a good friend. But that's just a personal call.
posted by teleri025 at 1:32 PM on April 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

I felt like this for most of my teenage years only to eventually realize no one else had a clue and they all had the same fears and were mostly obsessing about themselves, not trying to trick me. I also finally came to the realization: so what? What if they did?

If they continue to pretend, all is well and I have lots of "fake" friends who seem real. If they suddenly stop, well, that would suck, but I could get over it. If they don't, well, I can't tell the difference and therefore, probably no one else can either so all is good, I have friends as real as anyone for all anyone can tell.

Also, it turns out that if you act as if you believe something for long enough, you start to believe it-- so even if people are faking at first, they will probably eventually actually like you if they keep it up.

There's a saying "Other people's feelings about you are none of your business," and if you can get yourself to believe that, it will solve a lot of this problem. Just treat others as you'd like to be treated and what's "real" and "what's fake" really won't come into it and really isn't determinable anyway.

Also, antidepressants tend to be quite good at shutting off this particular obsession.
posted by Maias at 1:48 PM on April 6, 2010

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