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Give and Take

I just want to make clear from that last post about unrequited blog loves that I am speaking strictly about our intentions: why we start reading a blog or comment on a blog.  I think the Buddha had it right when he said that we should abandon expectations in the blogging world… or something like that.  I don’t read you to get you to read me.  I read you because I get something out of your writing.

But the other side of all of this is that blogging can be a community-based activity.  And communities online should operate in a similar manner to communities in the face-to-face world.  You put a little in, you get a little back.  You put a lot in, you should get a lot back.  And yet, we know that it doesn’t work that way online and it also doesn’t work that way in the face-to-face world all the time.  Generally, yes.  But I think we all have a story in our back pocket of a time when we put in a lot of effort and saw very little return.  And still, we hope, as we invest ourselves in our online and offline communities that we will be able to draw from them, because in an ideal world, that is exactly what give and take means.

I think it’s natural, then, to have an emotional reaction when the system breaks down.  Here’s an example we see happen all the time: a person makes dozens of meals for community members in need.  Every time she is asked, she goes above and beyond the average casserole, creating a lovely balanced meal that shows obvious care for the receiver.  And then one day, the person is in need of a meal and the call goes out on the listserv.  And a few people sign up.  Not many.  With a second, guilt-inducing email, a few more people sign up.  And some of the people who sign up don’t even remember to drop off their meal.  The person wonders what the hell went wrong: what was the point in giving so much to community if she was going to receive so little in return?

And you can’t help but take it personally.  Person A receives 20 meals, no problem.  And person B receives 18 meals, no problem.  And then person C — who contributed just as much to the community as persons A and B — gets 4 meals, but it’s like pulling teeth to get people to sign up.  Even when you see the confluence of shitty events that come together to keep people from helping you, you can’t help but take it personally.

Community is based so much on the concept of give and take.  If not for the ability to take when you need it, humans wouldn’t bond together as we do.  We wouldn’t work collectively because it’s to our detriment to work collectively.  If I’m spending time helping you, I’m not spending time taking care of myself.  And yet, we also would lead much sadder, much emptier, much less productive lives without that collectivity.  What world problems are ever solved by one brain working solo?  What great achievements are gained by one person working alone?  People need people.  Even if we get hurt sometimes because of that need.

So I think it makes sense to be hurt when someone doesn’t return the favour of reading your blog.  In the same way that it hurts whenever you give to community and find that you can’t take.  Though ideally, the pressure isn’t on individuals but instead the collective whole.  I may make a meal for person X, and person Y observes that and makes me a meal in my time of need.  And so everyone is taken care of though not necessarily by the person they helped.

I’d like to think we all could live with that ideal; the support may not come directly from the place we originally give it, but it comes.  And yet I also know that it’s next to impossible to set our egos aside, to not feel as if we are owed directly from individuals.  If this weren’t the case, I wouldn’t be struggling with something akin to this scenario (in other words, it’s not exactly a party, but your thoughts will translate easily), and perhaps it would help me in light of this whole discussion to know what you would do:

A friend has a party and doesn’t invite me.  She is discreet about it, not mentioning it in front of me, but since enough mutual friends are invited, I find out about it.  It is not a small party, though every party needs to have a guest list so some people don’t make the cut.  And I didn’t make the cut.  Fast forward a few months to my party.  I have the space to invite her, though in doing so, someone else will obviously not make the guest list.  Am I better off inviting her because I like her and would love for us to be closer?  Or am I better off not inviting her; after all, she made a statement about how close she saw our friendship when she didn’t invite me?  Nothing has changed in our friendship since the time of her party.

It’s the hurt of being part of a community; the inverse of all the times that we’re elated to be part of a community.  I suppose we wouldn’t feel the thankfulness of being part of a community if we also didn’t know how thoughtless people could be.  Lao-Tzu was right about what he said concerning yin and yang in blogging.  Or something like that.


1 Chickenpig { 02.20.12 at 8:06 am }


In the 19th century, not being invited was an incredible snub. If the guest list had to be limited to a few people in ‘your circle’, it was required that you called upon every person who was in your circle and not to be invited personally, so as not to appear to be snubbing them publicly. If you were not invited to an event and told why, then that person wouldn’t be invited to ANYthing, by anyone. Snubbers got snubbed. Not only that, but she was sure to receive a a bunch of flowers or to telling her exactly what was thought of her. The size of the venue, you see, or the size of the guest list isn’t the important thing, it is the purpose of the party. Therefore, the ‘proper’ thing would have been your friend inviting a small group of people to a party, and there being a reason why those ppl were invited, and the rest should have been told why they would not be invited in advance, hopefully with a promise that the next time a party was thrown there would be room for everyone not invited previously, and that they would be on the top of the guest list. In the 19th century world it would be perfectly appropriate to therefore put the person in question at the bottom of your guest list until she made amends. We all have ‘circles’ that we travel in, and it is still a snub to invite some people in that circle but not others. And it is still important to let people know if the venue is too small to invite everyone, that those who aren’t invited are still appreciated before the invitations go out.

And before you ask, I had to spend WAAAAAY too much time as an intern reading ladies magazines from around 1876 as part of my job. You would be surprised how many of the questions put before the magazine are still relevant today.

2 Gail { 02.20.12 at 10:18 am }

I think of all of this a lot like I think of Christmas cards. I have a list of names and addresses. Each year, I add people to the list that we’ve gotten to know over the course of the year. At the same time, I purge the list of other people who have drifted away or lost contact over the course of the year. Therefore, I keep the total count close to 100, but the people on the list change from year to year. If I don’t get a card from someone, their name usually is taken off the list for the following year. If we don’t see or talk with people over the course of the year or they don’t invite us to events, then their names are removed. All of this is done in color-coded highlights in the address list on my computer. Yellow is a maybe for removal. Red is removal completely. Green is for people who have moved or changed addresses and I need to update.

So, I see a lot of this in the blog world. Although I don’t blog, I have blogs that I follow religiously and others that I just check into every once in a while. Other blogs are on the chopping block for possible removal and I’ve already deleted some from my reading list. It isn’t anything personal, I just have a limited amount of time to read blogs and want to only spend my time on the ones that mean the most to me.

3 Cristy { 02.20.12 at 10:47 am }

I love this post! Very timely too.

I think you hit the nail on the head with your observation of blogging being two sides of the same coin: one side focuses on readers having the freedom to peruse various blogs without the obligation of leaving comments, but the other side hits on the fact this blogging creates community and in order to community to work, it’s a give and take process.

I’ll be honest and be the first to admit I’ve dumped people from my life who are leeches, socially, financially, etc. But I also have found that sometimes open communication is the best medicine for healing any perceived rifts. Granted, that’s very hard to do with these community, as many of us have never met in real life, but an email exchange with a fellow blogger saying “hey, I’ve missed seeing you. I hope everything is alright” is enough to open up the lines of communication. Granted, this is a scary hard thing, as mentioned above. But I know that I would want to know if I’d offended anyone who reads my blog, so that I could address the issue (whether I agree or not) and attempt to bridge the gap.

4 Queenie { 02.20.12 at 10:53 am }

Hmmm. . .this is interesting.

When I do things in the community (IRL or online), I do them with zero expectation of ever getting anything back. I think it’s my stoic Yankee upbringing, but I generally plan to be utterly self-reliant, and I plan to be ignored. I do things for other people because I like to, and because it makes me feel good, and for me, that’s the takeaway. Anything that anyone does for me in return is icing on the cake, but I’ve already got my cake, either way. I know you do things because you want to, and not because you want something in return. But it sounds like it would bother you not to get something in return, whereas it wouldn’t bother me, because I don’t expect anything. So maybe where we differ is on expectations, and what we each expect from the communities that we are part of. Or maybe put another way, what we see as the community norms, as it were.

I think this translates into your party situation. When I don’t get invited to things, I try not to take it personally. I’ve certainly been guilty of inadvertently leaving someone off the guest list before, and I also know that sometimes people don’t invite me to things because they know that I can’t or won’t come (ie, right now, the toddler/giant pregnant woman combination). In the end, I don’t think it’s worth overthinking. Maybe she doesn’t like you. Maybe she forgot to invite you. Maybe there was someone there that she thought you wouldn’t like. Maybe she had to cull lots of cool people like yourself to make space to invite her husband’s boorish work colleagues that she hates. You are probably never going to know for sure. But it’s over and done with, and it was just a party.

If you like her and want to get to know her better, invite her to your thing. If she comes, great. If she doesn’t, don’t invest any more time in either pursuing a friendship, or in wondering about her. Sometimes life is just like that, and it’s not worth getting down about, given all of the other great, amazing, fulfilling relationships and experiences that are out there to be had.

5 Liana { 02.20.12 at 11:02 am }

This series of posts is such an interesting conversation. Ultimately, I think it comes down to intentions breeding expectations. If you write your blog to work through your own issues or explore your own creativity or whatever and you happen to pick up regular readers and develop relationships with them, super. But if you write your blog specifically to foster relationships with others in similar circumstances or are trying to make A Thing of it, then yes, reciprocation is going to be very important to you. Of course, neither is the right or wrong way to do things. Just different. Love how thoughtfully everyone has been explaining their positions.

6 Tigger { 02.20.12 at 11:34 am }

I…would probably make sure I had all the people I *wanted* to said party, and if there was room, then still invite said non-inviter. Of course, I would also agonize over the list and who I wanted vs who I HAD to invite – because we all know there are certain people in life that you just aren’t allowed to snub without massive drama.

For example: There is a “friend” who is mutual amongst our whole group, although she’s not besties with anyone in it. She was raised by one friends parents, and dated another friend (if dated can be the right term), and is just friends with the rest for the most part. She was a pretty close friend with us, until a few things came to light and I no longer trusted her. Once I no longer trusted her, her friendship with me took on a different light and I didn’t want her around. FF to my baby shower…and I knew she’d show up. I just COULDN’T tell her not to, since I hadn’t specifically invited her and I didn’t want to cause drama. She showed up – with a friend who KNEW I didn’t want her there – and was her usual “attention grabbing” self.

Now…it was my party. I made the list. I didn’t want her there. I could have told her that my list was short and there wasn’t much room, but it would have been a lie. I could have just told her I didn’t want her there and dealt with the consequences, but I didn’t. If you truly want the person who didn’t invite you to be at your party, then invite them and figure out who else is of less importance. If you are only inviting them because you should, because you should be the better person, then don’t – they probably won’t even notice that you were the better person, and the not noticing can just make the feeling worse.

7 Kristin { 02.20.12 at 2:58 pm }

I am tired and kind of sick so I can’t type out a long thoughtful response like the others have. Just wanted to say I think this is a great post.

8 KH99 { 02.20.12 at 3:25 pm }

Hmm. I think I would make sure you invited whom you wished and if you had extra room, invite the other friend. This discussion is helping me to realize that a modicum of reciprocity is a big deal for me. For example, we had some friends from whom we had become estranged during our IF struggles. I kept trying to reach out and thought I was making progress many times. For D’s 1st bday party, I invited this couple and their children. They came and seemed to have a great time and like we were all ready to let bygones be bygones. Fast forward to October for their second child’s first birthday party…no invitation. I was a little hurt by it because I felt like they were saying that we weren’t good enough to come to their party. And I know they had a party because they posted pics on FB. They had the right to invite anyone they wanted to their party; I guess I assumed more to the relationship than there was.

9 It Is What It Is { 02.20.12 at 4:54 pm }

I think, that with most things, you need to stay true to your authentic self. And, while real life relationships are a give and take, often times one person has to make a bit more of an effort (especially in new found adult friendships) to help the relationship evolve.

So, you hit the nail on the head when you wrote of this scenario “I like her and would love for us to be closer.” If that is the truly the case, then, yes, invite her. But, even beyond that, and in order to create some depth to the fledgling friendship, perhaps finding the right time to ask her why she wasn’t able to include you might help give you some needed perspective.

I think that too often, when we are hurt by some one, we assume or presume why the other person behaved in the way they did while never asking them directly. So much can be known by just asking.

10 Sarah { 02.20.12 at 5:01 pm }

Oh I would invite her, but I am seriously the most “glass is half full” person you know. I would assume there were reasons I wasnt invited, assume they are good ones, and never think of it again. I actually have this odd selective memory that tends to forget things that hurt my feelings. Nice, right? So chances are I will totally have FORGOTTEN about the first party, since I wasn’t there to make any actual memories of it.

The only flaw with this gift is I sometimes have found myself in a situation where I am “friends” with a user. I do all the giving, they do all the taking. And for a rather long time I seem to lose track and never notice. That’s when Nick speaks up and reminds me of all the parties I wasn’t invited to and at some point those people get cut from our guest list.

11 a { 02.20.12 at 8:36 pm }

I don’t know, I guess I just have problems with the whole reciprocity idea. I give because I want to give, not because I expect to get something back. If I don’t get something back, as in the case of the meals, I would probably not give in the future. Appreciation is good, but I don’t like to be the center of attention, so this is from whence my perspective comes.

As to the party, well, it would depend. If I were offended by not being invited (i.e. felt like I was deliberately left out), I’d probably be petty enough to not bother inviting the person to my party. If I felt like it were a space or timing or other issue (a specific type of crowd or activity that I wouldn’t be interested in), I wouldn’t be offended and I would invite the person to my party.

12 slowmamma { 02.20.12 at 9:37 pm }

Yes! I totally agree with this post. It seems to me that online communities are commonly stepping in to meet a need that offline communities are failing to meet these days. And I think that very similar dynamics are at play. Getting a whole bunch of people with different ideas and personalities together is bound to bring up the usual issues but, as you say, we humans benefit immensely by belonging to these networks. I do believe that, while never a 1/1 relationship, those who give the most tend to receive the most. They will tend to develop the strongest connections and the most meaningful bonds. And people will always be hurt and offended, sometimes rightfully.

13 Justine { 02.20.12 at 11:02 pm }

I had to laugh at Gail’s Christmas card comment, because I did something like that this year: I decided I wasn’t going to send cards to anyone who didn’t send one to me first, just as an experiment. My husband tells me I need two years of data to make a decision, but he’s an engineer.

I also like Chickenpig’s comments on 19th century manners dictating that you inform people in advance why they weren’t invited.

I think that the answer depends on how generous you’re feeling, and how much of a grudge you hold. Will you enjoy the party, or will you be thinking about her non-invitation when you see her there? Will you be able to put that aside? If so, then I say go for it … maybe the friendship will blossom. Or maybe you’ll figure out that you didn’t want to be closer to her after all. Either way, you won’t regret the opportunity to figure that out, if you can let go of her previous choice.

14 Kir { 02.22.12 at 3:26 pm }

I need a little time to answer this, but in my heart….I know that I don’t come here as often as I should or want to (although I did give your blog it’s own bookmark on my phone..FRONT PAGE!) And I feel shitty about it…my only hope is that you love me no matter what. I’ll always invite you to my party Mel!

15 coffeegrljp { 02.25.12 at 3:04 am }

I’d probably invite her. A one-off event is less significant to me than say, having her stand me up or cancelling on me time and time again which says to me that she really doesn’t want to be friends with me in the same way I want it. But this is a great question and upon further consideration I might feel differently. Tough call.

16 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 02.28.12 at 12:00 am }

This post reminds me of what I wrote last summer about having baked over a hundred birthday cakes and not ever having had one baked for me in my life. Here’s the thing, though: other things have been done for me that I didn’t reciprocate, like several meals made for us when the twins were born. Not only did I never make a meal for anyone who cooked for us (not that any of them specifically needed it as far as I know), but I never made a meal for anyone in those parents groups. Because I figure that it all works out, and I’ve contributed extra when I’ve had more resources so I can contribute less when I have fewer, if you look across different categories.

With blog commenting, for such a long time I left literally dozens of comments on blogs every day. Now, I leave only a few. This means that people who read my blog years ago were likely to get many comments from me, and people who read my blog now may very well get few or none. And it’s nothing personal, even though I realize some people may take it personally.

DH and I are both people who have gone far out of our way many, many times to give people a ride — not just friends and relatives, but coworkers, acquaintances, neighbors, etc. At times, DH has verged on a taxi service. But at one point a few years ago, there was a coworker who’d give me a ride home once a week when I otherwise would have taken the bus. I was exactly on her way home — she essentially just had to pull over and let me out on her way — so it was really no imposition, but she was still doing me a favor, and I never really did anything in return. Sometimes I was bursting to say, “Usually I’m the one giving people rides! I’m not a freeloader! It all works out in the grand scheme!”

But, when it comes to personal relationships, we do expect direct reciprocity, and we do take the lack of reciprocity personally. Which probably does us little good, yet the “do you really like me?” urge is hard to turn off.

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