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Author Topic: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?  (Read 17906 times)

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Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« on: March 02, 2013, 01:32:51 PM »
I am reading a book about toxic family dynamics and the author observed that "users and abusers" (even those not related to you) frequently "test the waters" early in your relationship to determine whether you're open to being manipulated and used. Her example was that an new acquaintance of her husband arrived at funeral where both she and her husband were in attendance.  As soon as he walked in, he handed his coat and umbrella off to the author and suggested that she hold them while he walked around the room the mingled with the other mourners. She rolled her eyes and laid the coat on the back of chair.  As she put it, there was no reason for her to act as his valet, when she should be mingling with the other mourners as well.

A few weeks later, the man showed up at her door during dinnertime, with his whole family in tow.  He said they were bored and decided to take a drive and wouldn't you know it, they ended up in her neighborhood.  It took everything she had to resist her ingrained instinct to be polite and invite them in for dinner.  But she didn't even open the screen door for them, telling them they would have to visit another time. This was not a friend of hers, he wasn't even a friend of her husband's, just a new acquaintance. She heard later that anyone who "gave in" to this guy was constantly tapped for loans, favors and other indignities.

Her point was that people should watch for how new acquaintances treat them.  If they're presuming to ask you for favors that you normally would ask of someone with a much closer relationship, they might be "casing" you as their next mark.  And when I thought about some of the friendships I've had to cut short, I found that this was the case in a lot of them.

The most blatant example was an elderly neighbor lady in our first apartment complex approached us only a day or so after we moved in to ask DH to move some heavy items around her apartment. When she saw me leaving to do errands a few days later, she asked if I was going to the grocery.  I said no, but in the next breath, she asked me to pick her up three or four items. It was like she hadn't even heard me say I wasn't going to the grocery. But of course, DH did the moving and I did the shopping, because we felt sorry for her. And her asking to the grocery didn't seem all that unreasonable, since she reimbursed me for her items.

The next thing we knew, we became her "go to" people.  She kept telling us we were like grandchildren to her and she knew she could count on us - we barely knew her!  She started asking for more and more involved favors, and her requests became less and less polite.  She was waking us early in the morning or really late at night at least once a week to ask us to go fetch her something from the store or come check something in her apartment. We both had high stress jobs with unpredictable hours.  We needed SLEEP. 

But she kept saying she didn't haven't anyone else to help her and we felt bad for her... until one morning, a car with three people in their twenties pulled up in front of her apartment.  Lo and behold it was her grandkids!  We introduced ourselves.  We said it was nice of them travel to visit their grandma.  (Because surely, if neighbor lady had local grandkids, she would call them to ask them to do all of these errands.)  They said, no, they lived just a few miles down the road. 

I have never seen my DH turn so red.  He was fuming by the time we got home and announced that the favor train ended NOW. If she needed someone to go get her cough drops at 10:30 p.m., she should call her able bodied, adjacent grandkids.  And the next time she called us, that's what he told her, "I'm sorry, we can't do that for you.  Maybe you should call your grandkids."  She said she didn't like to bother them with little chores like this.

But apparently, it was totally OK to bother us with them.

We kept saying no and she eventually stopped talking to us all together.

Now, that I think about it, asking DH to move the furniture and asking me to grab the groceries were opening volleys to determine whether we were wiling to help her out.  Her requests got incrementally more demanding, like the frog in the boiling pot, and every time we felt unreasonable and mean for not wanting to help her out.

Has anyone else seen that this is the case?  Do you have stories?  Any theories as to why people do this and why other people fall for it?
« Last Edit: March 02, 2013, 01:37:28 PM by weeblewobble »


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2013, 01:39:25 PM »
Boundary crossing by asking for inappropriate favors is one of the top things that sets off my hinky meter. Also using sympathy as a manipulation tool.


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2013, 04:27:45 PM »
The experiences in that book and the one you had, weeblewobble, rang a series of bells in my head. I've had people do that, but they didn't always take their time. Sometimes the distance or time between the first favor and the more demanding, expected ones was very brief. My one SS sister has been told that I will not pick her up and drive her home, but she asks anyway, sometimes within 15 minutes. But I also remember one woman from a Debtors Anonymous meeting who tackled me after the meeting ended and asked for a ride home. Being rather spineless at the time, I meekly said yes, though I didn't want to do it. She said she lived behind the mission. Okay, out of my way but you help out when you can.

Well, "behind the mission" was a massive understatement. We get behind the mission, turn onto a road that goes into the hills that are so dark--because few homes are here--and we keep going. And going. And going. Twenty minutes of straight driving once we passed the mission we finally arrive at a place where she rents a room. Without a car. Buses don't run out here so I have no idea how she got into town. I was angry, appalled, and relived that it was all over. At least I thought it was until she asked me, while getting out of the car, to pick her up for the meeting the week. Thankfully, I think I found a bit of courage and was able to say no, difficult though that was. I cannot imagine what other favors she might would have begun asking if I hadn't said no. I shudder to think.


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2013, 05:33:34 PM »
I had an acquaintance with a guy who sort of acted this way, but I think for different reasons. He wasn't so much manipulative as pathetically lonely. He seemed pretty desperate to be my friend, but for a variety of reasons I wasn't feeling it. He showed up a lot of the same places I did, which was fine because they were related to the shared hobby that we'd met through in the first place. He also lived near me, which was an unfortunate coincidence that I think explains why he latched onto me rather than another acquaintance.

He kept asking for favors, but I don't think it was to manipulate me much as it was to force a friendship on me. If you'd only do a favor like this for a good friend, and he could get me to do said favor for him, it must mean we were good friends, right? I resisted in various ways for quite awhile, but it was only when I moved to another part of town and stopped running into him so often that he stopped working me so hard. It was creepy, definitely, but more sad than anything else.

The irony, of course, was that I might well have been more open to being friends with him if he hadn't tried to hard sell me so early and often.


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2013, 05:55:01 PM »
Great thread topic.

Yes, users/abusers definitely “test” the waters; especially if they aren’t sure whether the target will go along with their requests.  I had it done to me by a former bf many yrs ago and also a former neighbor.  I went along with both way too long, and when I finally started to say “No” neither took it well at all.  Ending those relationships was quite messy but, what a relief.

OTOH, I know someone who always got into relationships with abusive men who used her for years.  She had various problems/issues, and it was obvious she could be talked into doing anything for anyone – an extreme need to be liked.  There was no need for users/abusers to “test” her, they knew she was vulnerable and they played on that.


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2013, 11:58:36 PM »

This struck a chord with me because my parents are completely spineless and have let people manipulate them to some crazy lengths.  Part of the reason I love E-Hell so much is because it taught me that you can be kind without being a doormat!

Too many stories to tell but a recent one involves new neighbours. 
My Dad introduced himself to them and all of a sudden they considered him their handyman/babysitter/driver/migration official etc.
 At first, perhaps because they had only been in the country a few years, it seemed OK but they started becoming quite demanding (ringing and wanting my dad to stop everything and assist them right then) and using him to do things they were too lazy to do (eg. they would always ring him up before they had a rental inspection to mow lawns and weed the garden.  My Dad obliged the first time because he thought he'd show them what to do but by the 3rd time this happened and they had yet to lift a finger themselves he realised they weren't interested in learning).


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2013, 10:19:20 AM »
Users do push the envelope to see how far they can go.  We frequently had that happen in the library.  A reader who would be working on a project would start with reasonable requests such as an inter-library loan.  Then, things would start to ramp up.  If we let it go on, we would become unpaid research assistants totally devoted to his or her project.   

Nope.  We don't wear shirts with 'Welcome' written on the back. 

These people are a taller version of little kids.  They push boundaries and depend on the politeness of others to take as much advantage as they can. 


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2013, 10:44:01 AM »
I don't know if I've ever run into anyone deliberately "testing the waters" but I have experienced a particular dynamic on several occasions that is similar.

1.  Help someone out in some way.  They are very grateful.
2.  Continue to occasionally help them out in that way.  They begin to expect it.
3.  You find you are constantly helping them out in that way.  It is now your "job".  No more gratitude, they feel entitled to this help.
4.  You are no longer able to or decide to stop helping them out in that way.  Cue storm and drama about how you are letting them down.

I've run into this about babysitting, about picking up mail, about giving lifts, about helping someone move, about picking up extra duties at this time, I cringe whenever someone says the words "I know I can count on you."  No, don't count on me.  I've gotten pretty cagy because of these experiences.


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2013, 08:29:09 PM »
Yes, this was how the moochers who were my neighbors operated.  Their car was broken down and their daughter needed to be picked up from somewhere.  The cab company said it would be $X, but they only had $X-3.  Could they borrow $3?

Most of their requests were small things at first, but those "borrowings" were never repaid.  And really, few people are so uncharitable to go pound on the neighbor's door and say "Where's the $5 and the two eggs you owe me?"

They bumped it from $3-$5 up to $35; the wife needed some medicine.  And because we'd seen the ambulance there the night before, OK, we lent it to them.   They paid us back that time -- with a rubber check.  >:(

The day after that check bounced I was sitting in the carport staining a wooden dresser, rotating from drawer to drawer in order to get the same number of coats on each one.  Mr. Mooch came up and asked me for more money.  No?  Well, could I drive him to the bank to withdraw money from the ATM?    He got "I'm sorry, but that won't be possible."
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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2013, 08:37:08 PM »
The corollary of "testing the waters" is the old saying, "you teach people how to treat you".


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2013, 09:05:17 PM »
This is ringing bells for me too.  My husband has a friend who got a new girlfriend last summer.  I had only met her once when they decided to move in together just down the street from us.  Her daughter would have been zoned to a school she wasn't fond of, so she asked me if they could use my address to get her daughter into the school she wanted and that my son was zoned to.  Um, no! 

Then a few weeks ago, she called me out of the blue to see if I would take her to the doctor.  Not a big deal, but I'd only met her a couple times total at that point.  It would never occur to me that I knew her well enough to ask such a favor of her.  My husband didn't think it was that odd though, so I did it since I wasn't working that day.  After visiting with her to and from the doctor, I kept thinking, "This lady has no boundaries.  "Testing the waters" would be another way to put it too, I think.


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2013, 10:00:36 PM »
Reminds me of a story from about 3 years ago.  BG: Dh was friends with this couple since before he knew me and I didn't like either of them but I had always sworn I wouldn't be one of "those girls" who would make a guy choose between his friends and his woman unless they were law-breakingly horrible or abusive towards either of us.

(mind you this was when I was too naive to spot abuse that was anything but physical)

Well the woman, "R" had a thing for DH but being a smart guy that was just kind of thick when it came to that kind of thing he thought "Oh it's harmless, she doesn't mean it, it's just playful, she doesn't really like me like that." 

Okay so what happened was this. I found out R was going to be sending something to dh because a friend saw her mention it on fbook (she wasn't snooping, rather R had posted a comment to a conversation friend and DH had been having on fbook saying "Hey give me your address again so I can send you that information." I asked DH and he revealed that R was once again plotting a way to leave her husband and her newest brilliant idea was that she was going to get a job and send part of her paycheck up to DH, who would open a savings account in his name for her to save up money in.

Um, yeah. He didn't see what was so fishy about this.   ::) I kept pointing out the holes in this little plan, like he's not going to notice her depositing a check and part of the money disappearing? Well she has her own account.  So why can't she save up $ in her own account? Well he'd find out about it. How? He's apparently just that good and I don't know, has some way of tracking down where she has accounts and how much in each so she had to have money in an account with just DH's name (we don't have a joint account).

I finally talked him out of it, as he saw the flaws and potential problems and he told her no.  She answered with "OH that's okay, I can just use a savings account I have in daughter's name."

He gave her the cut direct shortly afterwards.
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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2013, 09:00:55 AM »
I've found this to be true, but recently I've also found that saying no once is not enough. People like this will keep periodically coming back to test the waters again and see if the mood has changed.


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2013, 09:15:59 AM »
Sometimes.  It often depends on how firm the “No” was and also on whether or not the user/abuser has moved on and found another target.  But users often have multiple victims.


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Re: Users "Testing the waters" - Have you found this to be true?
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2013, 02:42:22 PM »
Oh, absolutely true.

In fact, I once took a workshop for those of us who have to deal with pedophiles and one of the most interesting aspects of the program was the info on how molesters "test" the waters to not only see if the kid is a candidate for keeping the abuse a secret, but if the parents are likely to keep their mouths shut as well. As the presenters explained it, these people are sociopaths and sociopaths excel at telling if someone is vulnerable to their manipulation and later abuse and they usually then test their hypotheses by making small, initial efforts. These attempts have the two-fold advantage of testing the waters in a way that allows easy backtracking and excuses and makes the victim more likely to accept increased boundary breaking as the ice is broken and more of a relationship has been established.  People are far more likely to excuse behaviors in people with whom they have a relationship.

At the end of a session, they brought in some so-called "reforming" criminals who actually told us the same thing and then after conversation, pointed out the people in the group that they could "tell" were likely to be "good marks" and people who would be "bad marks."  It was fascinating, especially since they made it quite clear to us that they were choosing to engage in the behavior, had entire strategies to get what they wanted and knew what people to avoid who might blow their cover. Truly sociopathic behaviors.