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?