I was all psyched out the other day because I thought I invented a new term. I think my partner Eric’s banking career had something to do with it as I’m constantly hearing expressions and other vocabulary related to finance. I was going about my business when suddenly “transactional friendships” popped into my head along with the meaning. Before running off to tell everyone about my cool new discovery and writing a book about the topic I decided to Google it. Sure enough, the term and the meaning already exist. I was pretty bummed out but I figured I could at least write a blog post about it. A book deal would have to wait.
A transactional friendship occurs when the reason you are friends is because of one or more of you is benefiting in some way from the relationship. This is in contrast to a friendship based on mutual respect, shared interests and a strong bond / love between two people. For example, Waldo might think Joan is his friend and he truly enjoys his time with her. Waldo works at an ice-cream parlor and Joan often comes in for a free scoop of delicious pistachio almond ice-cream, while sharing the latest gossip with Waldo. They sometimes laugh for hours and on occasion, call each other and chat about everything and sometimes nothing really at all. Waldo just really enjoys Joan’s company and values their friendship.
Luck would have it that Waldo one day lost his job at the ice-cream parlor. Being unemployed was extremely scary for Waldo, he had never experienced this sort of loss. But at least he had a great friend in Joan and surely her friendship and advice would get him through this crisis. Unfortunately Waldo’s expectations would be crushed when he discovered Joan was only being his friend for the free ice-cream. She abruptly ended their friendship and the only calls he received from her were butt dials. He was crushed.
It seems in today’s world transactional friendships are all too common. People seem to look for benefits in every aspects of their lives, including relationships. Although someone might say Waldo also benefited in terms of companionship from his relationship with Joan, it was not the basis or foundation of the relationship. Discovering you’re in a transactional relationship can be very painful because you’re often caught off guard, you don’t realize why the relationship is ending because you thought it was unconditional. The idea of having some sort of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” scenario is really the last thing on your mind.
Why do people fall for this sort of arrangement? It’s probably pretty complex, after all I’m not a therapist, however I can theorize it’s made up of so many childhood issues, all of which are your parents fault. Myself, like many, have experienced this one sided, energy draining, unhealthy and well disguised interpersonal theater. I think it may have to do, in part at least, with my pleasure in giving. I really enjoy doing so and I’m not trying to pat myself on the back. I literally get a natural high at times when donating money, time or fulfilling some other need that a friend, co-worker or stranger might have. So perhaps I don’t realize I’m being taken advantage of because I enjoy it so much? Yeah I know, that sounds sort of bad and sadomasochistic.
Regardless of why people believe or do what they do, there’s one truth in all of this. It’s partially your own fault. People often open themselves up to being taken for a ride as you really want to believe there are good people out there with good intentions. A friend of mine once told me that I build friendships in reverse. He said I give them one hundred percent trust immediately, and then allow them to chip away at it, rather then letting them build my trust from absolute zero. He considered it a major flaw in my character, although it still leaves me wondering.
So here’s the final question… are you happy being the way you are, possessing a quality many find admirable and attractive, or would you rather be less trusting, skeptical and completely shielded from yet another transactional friendship? Do you want to be that person? With the hard exterior that no-one can penetrate? No doubt it’s safer, but is life somehow less fulfilling that way?
Let me know your take.