I was talking with a school friend. She was behaving in a way I thought both shoddy and cruel towards a common friend, and I was trying to half-arsedly pull her up on it, or at least work out what was going on. We were completely failing to communicate effectively until she came out with it:
“If someone puts you in a position where you can hurt them, you have a right to do so.”
I understood then why I’d been finding her behaviour so unpredictable and erratic. In my mental landscape, if you accept someone’s vulnerability towards you, it makes you responsible for protecting them. In hers, it gives you the right to use them any way you see fit – the right, not just the ability.
The difference between those who loved her and those who didn’t had nothing to do with emotional connection, responsibilities, loyalty, or love. It was merely a case of enhanced control; the more people loved her, the more control she could exert over them. The more involved people were with her, the more she could use them to improve her life and her environment. Once they had exhausted their purpose, they were discarded with the same compunction we feel flushing away used toilet paper.
I understood her better then (and yes, I stopped hanging out with her). It also made me understand another source of confusion. I was well aware that some people only want you to show them your soft side so they can disembowel you, but I thought there had to be malice behind it. I thought they had to hate you, or despise you, or at least need to vent the negative feelings they felt towards an unreachable third party. But this girl wasn’t motivated by anything personal about the people she was hurting; she was only motivated by her own convenience and whims. She put as much thought into hurting those who loved her as I would into squashing a mosquito. She felt the same amount of guilt afterwards. Throughout it, regardless of what she did, she never looked evil; probably because she never felt it.
Although the experience was intensely creepifying, it was probably one of the most useful conversations of my life. It made me able to predict certain people’s behaviour based on how they saw me – a person or a resource. It kept me safe in sticky situations. It made me less easy to fool.
Because, you see, this girl didn’t have horns and a tail. She was affable and popular; more popular than me, in fact: she haz the social skillz. She didn’t lack the ability to interact with people in a social context; she just happened to saw the entire social landscape as a game in which other people were mere pawns. When she befriended you, she was perfectly plausible. You only saw the other side of her when she chose to display it. But people still couldn’t see it: they were caught in the belief that what they had was an interpersonal relationship, that the problems they were suddenly experiencing had something to do with them. They were unable to accept that, to her, they had never been more than the role they fulfilled.