Cruel or Incompetent?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

A lot of relationship problems can be solved by determining the motivation of today’s fuckery: Did they mean to do that? Yes, they eviscerated me and fed my liver to the pigeons, but was that an intentional surgery?
Yet there’s a relationship game show that just isn’t worth playing, and that show is:
Cruel Or Incompetent?
Which is to say that in any long-term relationship, there are certain things your partner should know about you. These are your baseline values: I’m not talking about the little niggly stuff like, “I want a call if you’re going to be out late,” but rather the core stuff like, “If you lie to me, I’m leaving.”
If you’re a full-time mother, you shouldn’t have to hold a Powerpoint presentation going, “My kids are going to come first.” If you’re in a monogamous relationship, you shouldn’t have to hold a class that outlines bulletpoints like, “Our monogamous relationship precludes getting hummers from strangers at truck stops.”
These aren’t universal laws. But they are the core aspects that people dating you should, on some level, fundamentally understand. If you value harmonious friendships, then anyone dating you shouldn’t have to be debriefed on the reasons why insulting your buddies at parties is Right Out. If you’re someone who needs up-front communication to be happy, then dating someone who goes “it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” will lead to disaster.
And when those earth-shattering transgressions come, and they go, “Well, I didn’t know!” then you have one of two situations:
1) They’re lying scumbags who did know what you needed, and willingly chose to hurt you.
2) They’re people so oblivious to your inner workings that they’ll waltz past the most mission-critical aspects of your psyche unless you take the time to program them like a computer.
And the answer in either case is that you should get the fuck out now. If they’re liars, then hit the eject button.
And if they’re genuinely that clueless about the quintessence of who you are, then their innocence is not a mitigating factor. They may not be evil people, but if they can’t pass that exam of Youness 101 without a tutor to guide them, then chances are good that there are other really vital parts of you they’re not going to get.
And how much time do you want to spend training someone who doesn’t get you on an instinctive level? I mean, I’ve heard of people who’ve trained cats to fetch their morning paper. It can be done. But one suspects it takes way more effort and frustration, and there are many cats who just won’t do it. And while there’s nothing wrong with getting a cat, if “fetching papers” is your goal you’d probably be better off getting a dog.
But there is something potentially harmful about finding someone who has no real concept of who you are, and spending the next few years trying to instill them with instincts that they probably should have come preinstalled with.
So either they’re a liar – always a possibility – or they require so much work to get them to comprehend Relationships With You 101 that they’re probably not worth the time.
In that case, either one would be enough of a sin to say goodbye. Yes, in one case someone’s acting maliciously, and the other they’re acting innocently. But a hurricane doesn’t need motivation in order to destroy your life. And you can walk away.


  1. ellixis
    Oct 8, 2014

    That process, when it finally occurred to me, was a huge factor in helping me make peace with a past abusive relationship.
    For years, it troubled me that I never quite knew if he’d done it on purpose, or if he really hadn’t meant to hurt me. Then I realized that there were two options: either he’d known what he was doing to me, or he paid so little attention to what I needed and how I functioned that he never noticed that he was hurting me very deeply. Either way, he didn’t care enough about ME not to hurt me. I was the person who happened to be in the SO-shaped space.
    That went a long way toward letting me make peace with myself about it, and years later, explaining it to a friend helped her gain the courage to leave a damaging relationship.

  2. Terri Jones
    Oct 9, 2014

    Apparently I was born with this attitude installed – or maybe Mom uploaded it. I do remember her making sure each of us understood that it was not okay to take shit from anyone, but *particularly* if it was from a lover.
    I do make mistakes, being human. Thus, I have learned to apologize and mean it, and correct my behavior. I understand that others make mistakes, and so they’re given opportunity to do the same. But there is a time limit. That’s a hard boundary. I give no fucks if you find yourself on the other side of it.
    (And hells yes my child is first. That is the least I can do for him. Of all the people in his life, to his mother he should ALWAYS come first. I am his safe space.)


  1. “But If One Person Rejects Me, I’ll Die Alone And Unloved!” | Ferrett Steinmetz - […] I wrote about the game of “Cruel or Incompetent,” where I said that for certain core needs of your…

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