Why is it that it is only after a relationship is over that some people accuse their former partners of having used them?
I’m not saying that there aren’t men that use women. Of course there are. And vice versa. But surely after staying with a man for years and years, it no longer becomes a valid complaint to say that he used you? Remaining in an exploitative situation is a choice some women make perhaps under the misguided belief that there is some kind of unspoken reward waiting at the end of the road.
Some women actually encourage a certain amount of dependency from their men, not realizing that dependency and exploitation are flip sides of the same coin. Before he could say “I’m hungry”, she already has lunch fully prepared, his special knife and fork ready. Scarcely do the words, “what’s on these days?” pass his lips than she has run out to buy tickets for the latest show, stopping by the stores to grab him a new outfit to wear. His eyelids barely start drooping, and she has the pillows all fluffed up and the covers turned back. And in bed! Well, what do her needs matter? Come to think of it, what are her needs?
Until he decides that he wants out of the relationship.
“You were only using me!” she screams. She complains bitterly that he used her for food, comfort, and sex. Worst of all, for sex. That is the most unforgivable.
But why do such accusations often come only after the relationship has ended? My only guess is that making them while the relationship is in full force would create cognitve dissonance – you can’t possibly remain in a situation that you yourself define as exploitative, so you leave the labeling for after it is all over.
But sometimes women do make these accusations during the relationship – and yet remain. In such situations the accusation may be an invitation to the man to prove them wrong, to reassure them that their perceptions are inaccurate, to invalidate their gut instincts. When he does, they have reasons for not initiating the break-up.
Sometimes a woman is aware that the man is using her but believes, as many women do, that she can change him with time. Being used is not supposed to become a permanent feature of their relationship, but is expected to have an unspoken shelf-life. After he leaves, she may have dark thoughts of revenge, or hope that he get his comeuppance through karma.
Other times the woman feels that she is being used but as long as the man remains in her life, his using her can be overlooked. It may be the price she is willing to pay in order to have a man in her life. Some women are prepared to pay any price for not having to face life without a romantic partner.
Psychologist Linda Tschirhart-Sanford blames this on the “indoctrination into couplism”. This is the notion that no matter how much a woman has accomplished, society continues to tell her – and she is at risk of believing – that she is incomplete unless she is part of a couple.
Low self-esteem may be a factor in a woman’s willingness to believe that she is incomplete without a partner, and would have to compromise her self-worth in order to get intimacy needs met.
Women with high self-esteem seem better able to accept their aloneness – the aloneness that is fundamental to the human condition – and are more willing to take responsibility for creating their own happiness. With or without a man.