What word or phrase sums up this pattern of human interaction?
June 11, 2013 11:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a word or phrase to sum up the following sentiment:

"You ought to do some task X for me, or to treat me in some manner Y, but you do not, although I believe you know you should. More important to me than your doing X or Y, though, is that you want to do X or Y. If I have to ask you, especially repeatedly, to do X or Y, I conclude that you do not want to, and even if you eventually do X or Y, it's cheapened because of my perception that you are doing it reluctantly."

I observe this pattern in myself and others frequently enough to suspect it's got a name. Failing that, I'm looking for descriptions of the pattern in literature or nonfiction.

I do know about Ask culture vs. Guess culture, and that's somewhere in the neighborhood of what I'm looking for, but not quite there.
posted by bac to Society & Culture (42 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It's the thought that counts.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 11:29 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Passive Aggression?

I'm fairly sure that the final sentence is at the core of "Guess Culture", so maybe also that?
posted by Sara C. at 11:33 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wanting the other person to anticipate your needs?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:38 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thought control
The terrorism of consensus
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:42 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Faking “Fake it till you make it?”
posted by oceanjesse at 11:45 PM on June 11, 2013

posted by blazingunicorn at 11:46 PM on June 11, 2013

Claude Steiner has written about power plays, ways people try to compel people to do things they don't want to do. I haven't gotten around to reading those works though.

If we just think about the imperative case though, we realize we are given commands all day long. "Please wait," is imperitive. "Help." is imperative, more so when shouted from a burning building then when discovering that your shopping bag has split open. We give people instructions all day long in imperative mode, which has an assumption that you should obey my command, kind of anyways but social reality softens it up a bit.

"You ought to do some task X for me, or to treat me in some manner Y, but you do not, although I believe you know you should. More important to me than your doing X or Y, though, is that you want to do X or Y. If I have to ask you, especially repeatedly, to do X or Y, I conclude that you do not want to, and even if you eventually do X or Y, it's cheapened because of my perception that you are doing it reluctantly."

Well, quid pro quo is the phrase often used for I done you one, you need to do me one. Noblesse oblige is a phrase for the concept that one's having been born into privilege obligates one to do good for society or the underprivileged.

I may not have understood the question right. I'll be sober tomorrow morning and might do better.
posted by logonym at 11:53 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I always had the impression that this was used as the reason why an all-powerful god would choose to create beings who had the ability not to believe in him. That he wants us to choose to believe in him and the choice is only meaningful if we make it voluntarily, not if it is compelled.

In another metaphor, this is also the idea behind love potions being a bad thing. Love, if compelled, is not love. This quite possibly leads to perceptions of arranged/forced marriages being similarly bad.

I can't think of a phrase or word that neatly sums it up though, and though I think I've understood what you meant, perhaps not.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:59 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

A couple more:

Naïve realism, specifically 3.2: "the failure of a given individual or group to share my views arises from ... the individual or group in question may be lazy, irrational, or otherwise unable or unwilling to proceed in a normative fashion."

False-consensus bias, in the sense that a belief that others share your view of things is pleasing and increases self-esteem, whereas a challenge to that belief is unpleasant and disturbing.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:10 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Entitlement and projection.
posted by tel3path at 12:39 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

The frustration and dissatisfaction that arises from this can often manifest as passive aggressive behavior, but that's not quite the way to describe the phenomenon you're talking about. I'm not sure there is a succinct way to describe it, other than just a mismatch of expectations and desires.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:53 AM on June 12, 2013

"It has to come from the heart"
posted by anonymisc at 2:09 AM on June 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

"It has to come from the heart"
I was about to say something similar. I think that sums it up perfectly, without dragging in the separate matter of whether the sentiment is right or wrong.
posted by pipeski at 2:24 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

False motivation?
(That's a big, if ironic, thing in the Army.)
posted by Etrigan at 3:36 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think this is an unreasonable/entitled/needy thing to want, in moderate amounts. If someone takes care of you when you have the flu, helps you in other ways, gives you a gift, or just spends time with you, it always feels better when they're doing it because they want you to feel good - as opposed to reluctantly doing it out of a sense of obligation, or not doing anything at all without being asked two or three times. Some people are pretty lousy at voluntarily doing things for other people, and it's understandable to be upset at that.

It gets unreasonable when you expect things that the other person couldn't reasonably anticipate, that require disproportionate amounts of time/money, that you wouldn't do for them if the roles were reversed, or that are simply outside of their comfort zone.

I think the two warring sentiments here are "I want you to be tuned in to my needs" and "You expect me to read your mind."
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:41 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

This could fall under the double bind, paradox way of communication identified by Paul Watzlawick with "be spontaneous" - I.e. do what I ask you to do, but out of your own volition. The first link I found now contains the following description (I didn't read the rest on the page).

Looking more closely at the double bind, Paul Watzlawick has described four variations on the theme. The first and probably the most frequently used is what he calls the "Be spontaneous" paradox. The wife who wants her husband to surprise her with flowers is experiencing this sort of dilemma. She is asking him to do something which by its nature must be spontaneous. "It is one of the shortcomings of human communication that there is no way in which the spontaneous fulfillment of a need can be elicited from another person without creating this kind of self-defeating paradox," says Watzlawick. (12, 15-26)
posted by meijusa at 4:20 AM on June 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

Manipulative behaviour?
posted by carter at 4:43 AM on June 12, 2013

Wanting an undifferentiated perfect parent? Or wanting permanent calm for the screaming id?

As in a person who anticipates and meets your needs without asking or question, always smiling, always loving with no inability to meet needs that comes with being human. And therefore no risk of rejection or of having needs unmet.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 4:55 AM on June 12, 2013

I came here to say "double bind", too.

"Essentially, this game is a demand for spontaneous behavior of certain kinds. Living, loving, being natural or sincere—all these are spontaneous forms of behavior: they happen 'of themselves' like digesting food or growing hair. As soon as they are forced they acquire that unnatural, contrived, and phony atmosphere which everyone deplores—weak and scentless like forced flowers and tasteless like forced fruit. Life and love generate effort, but effort will not generate them." – Alan Watts
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:24 AM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

"It has to come from the heart" is certainly the cliche form of the sentiment. I think in trying to spell it out as you did, if we heard someone literally saying that it would sound passive-aggressive or like they were nagging.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:32 AM on June 12, 2013

Upon reading that, I hear "Why don't you love me?" Sort of plaintive, sort of angry, and more than a little hurt and frustrated.
posted by fikri at 5:47 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Upon further reflection: Mom? Is that you?
posted by fikri at 5:56 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Colossians 3:22 - 23

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God; And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men

(not Xtian)
posted by nathancaswell at 6:03 AM on June 12, 2013

It's like - "you and I can both see the dirty dishes, and you and I both know they need to be done, and I always seem to do them. It would be MORE THAN NICE if you could see the dirty dishes and just take care of it, without me having to remind you because I'm [insert reason - working two jobs, exhausted from taking care of the kids, laid up with the epizoody, whatever]."

THAT is the kind of thing I think of, and to the person who really just want you to do the dishes for once, it feels like you are doing piles of Sisyphean tasks that are invisible to everyone but you. And it's hella frustrating and can fuck up your relationships. So sometimes I think it can be called "Wishing to have an observant partner, who will act on those observations even when the [dirty dishes/laundry/dog hair] do not bother him/her, but when s/he knows it is going to bother his/her partner."
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:09 AM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Passive-aggressive manipulation and guilt-tripping.
posted by rpfields at 7:38 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gosh, there is a fair amount of snark in these answers.

I'm not sure there is a neat, all-encompassing word or phrase because there is more than one thing going on here and it's quite a complex mindframe to unpack (perhaps this is why it's so hard to communicate). Also, because the actions/behaviours/motivations being described are variables, the sentiment will change depending on context.

I don't think that the sentiment being described in the abstract is passive-aggression or nagging. In certain contexts (particularly in disputes between lovers) it could be a form of passive aggression, but not necessarily so. Wanting a person to read your mind is often unreasonable, but wishing a person could be more intuitive and conscientious is a fairly sympathetic state of mind.

I would argue that the closest suggestions are 'it's the thought that counts' and 'it has to come from the heart', because they emphasise the emotion and the motivation over the action or the behaviour. That said, they are both a bit glib for my liking and I wish I had something better to offer.
posted by dumdidumdum at 8:03 AM on June 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like resisting influence and control, or being oppositional or defiant, as a way of feeling more control over your own life.
posted by Dansaman at 8:42 AM on June 12, 2013

The whole idea of people speaking different love languages is also pretty relevant here.

It's rooted in the concept that if person A views X as a way of communicating love, problems may arise if A's partner, person B, thinks that X is a silly or trivial behavior that should have no bearing on the relationship whatsoever (say, doing the dishes, which is an act of service). Instead, B might think that Y (gift giving, for example) is a really lovely gesture that demonstrates love or caring and is how people should communicate that they value a relationship. So if people are speaking different love languages and don't realize this, they may not realize that their partner sincerely values the relationship because the other person isn't getting the point across.
posted by blazingunicorn at 10:06 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

You mean the "Cheap Trick Paradox"
posted by Benjy at 10:14 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Think as I do, feel the way I want you to feel.

If your really loved me I wouldn't have to ask you to do this.

This is a pattern of a certain type of bullying. One person wants to establish or tighten his control over another. It can be employed from a position of weakness, or perceived weakness, where the speaker attempts to use emotional leverage to gain affection or compliance. Or, from a dominant position, where the speaker wants to control not just the actions, but also the emotions of the other.

Anyhow, the speaker is being dismissive of the emotional landscape of the other person, except that he is perceptive enough to know (or guess) at which buttons to push. The operative terms here are guilt and control. In any case, the speaker's needs are more important than the other's. The real topic of such an exchange, of course, is neither love or affection, and the only acceptable response is abject compliance.
posted by mule98J at 11:17 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is nothing about wanting mind reading in the description. It is a mixture of understanding, paying attention, and caring. "Being in tune" thus strikes me as perfect. Also "Cheap Trick Paradox."
posted by dame at 11:37 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also I am a little shocked at the people who think having preferences or wants is bullying. Don't you ever find pleasure in doing something for someone that is tied to the fact that it makes them happy?Is it really so terrible to want someone that feels that way about you? I don't think the focus is on *pretending* to enjoy something or that it came from the heart but being the type of person that really does enjoy it.

For instance, I could take or leave trying new restaurants, but my ex enjoyed it very much. So it was fun to me because it was fun to him. And I would notice new ones or suggest trying new ones because I liked to see him happy. And wanting someone to feel that way about you is what this is describing.
posted by dame at 11:45 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Benjy, dame, could I trouble you for a link to or explanation of "cheap trick paradox"? My googlefu is apparently insufficient to the task.
posted by bac at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2013

Heh, bac, I think they are referring to the Cheap Trick hit "I want you to want me". :)
posted by gorbichov at 12:17 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cheap Trick Paradox
posted by dame at 12:18 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have a name for it, but I'd bet that the 1960s pop-psychology classic Games People Play has a description and a name, seeing as it already has "See What You Made Me Do," "Why Don't You — Yes But," and "Ain't It Awful".
posted by benito.strauss at 4:28 PM on June 12, 2013

It seems very strange to me that so many are automatically jumping to the worst types of interpretations. Sure, reading the description I could see how it would apply to the nagging spouse who always wants their partner to perform X task without being asked, wants them to genuinely notice the dirty dishes or offer sex at any available moment or whatever (yes, I picked insulting stereotypes on purpose).

But I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with wanting someone to genuinely do things, out of sincerity/genuine desire. People wanting sincere love (as opposed to forced intimacy/sex), genuine interest in conversation (instead of just waiting for the other person to shut up so you can talk), engaged and productive work (instead of having to be bullied into it, or just showing up and going through the motions to earn a wage) - there's nothing wrong with any of these things. At least half of the relationship questions on AskMeFi are about people wanting their partner/relative/housemate to be genuine, and at least half of the answers are "DTMFA" if they won't.

I do think the beginning of the scenario defined above, which implies a sense of entitlement for A and obligation for B, isn't terribly healthy, especially as it also seems to go with expectations of mind-reading and lack of actual communication. So perhaps that's the difference and the reason why there's so many negative interpretations.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:56 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

"I don't want you to bring me flowers, I want you to want to bring me flowers" can seem manipulative at first blush, but if you get a little deeper into it, it may well mean "I want to be important enough to you that you spontaneously do things you think I'll like. I want to know that you think of me without being prompted and that my happiness matters to you."
posted by Lexica at 7:27 PM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thanks very much to all. I best-answered the ones that were most helpful in giving me a framework to discuss this pattern, but there were many other useful and insightful answers. Though in the context where I see the pattern I think it's a mostly-positive way of expressing unmet needs, even the comments that interpreted it as manipulative, nagging, or passive-aggressive were helpful in pointing out ways not to frame it.

Benito.strauss, yeah, I was sure I'd find this in Berne but nothing seemed to quite fit.

Any other thoughts, please keep 'em coming!
posted by bac at 8:11 PM on June 12, 2013

Ronald Laing's "Knots" have a very distilled form of many of these kinds of psychological binds:

A son should respect his father
he should not have to be taught to respect his father
It is something that is natural
That’s how I’ve brought up my son anyway.

Of course a father must be worthy of respect
He can’t forfeit a son’s respect
But I hope at least my son will respect me, if
only for leaving him free to respect me or not.

Double bind on Wikipedia

The "correct answer" to me would seem 無 which unasks the question as no answer [action] can exist in the terms provided.
posted by yoHighness at 3:20 AM on June 13, 2013

passive aggressive nagging
posted by lotusmish at 11:20 AM on June 17, 2013

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