Relationships, Returns, and Ted Rubin

I am friends with Ted Rubin on Facebook, I follow his twitter handle, and I had a brief stint of being obsessed with him and his socks at a blogger meetup.

It was brief, y’all (don’t judge me!)

You can’t log on to any social media platform where you might be connected with Ted and NOT see something about Ted’s (trademarked) phrase Return on Relationship™.

I am told that Ted is a big deal in the social media world. I am told he speaks at conferences and has a pretty significant following. The other day, on his Facebook, he posted a status update about how you should do something in building relationships without seeking something in return. He was talking about pure altruism. Of course, yours truly, had to respond. I basically made the case that pure altruism doesn’t exist. Beyond it not existing as a human process, pure altruism isn’t consistent with Ted’s signature talking point: Return on Relationship™

I don’t believe you can tout Return on Relationship™ and then advocate the position that we should build in relationships with expectation of nothing in return. The very phrase Ted floods into our Twitter feeds and Facebook feeds suggests that you get something FROM relationship, you know “a return”.

Sadie and I talk about this all the time. We openly talk about the fact that we aren’t friends for nothing. All relationships have a ledger. This invisible ledger is a record of withdraws and deposits that amount to the relationship equity. Sometimes you’ve invested for years and you might need to call your friend in the middle of the night to ask her to watch your kids while you drive around and cry (not that I have done that or anything). Your friend agrees to help, as she understands that this BIG withdraw from your “friendship account” will be deposited back. You have “good credit” and even if you don’t have that much capital to withdraw she is willing to extend to you in trust.

On the flip side

We have all had relationships where your “friend” didn’t really make regular relational deposits, but continually took from you. These friends or relationships are the kind that tax you and leave you drained. They need favors, help, someone to talk to, etc etc, without being the kind of person who reciprocates. They never deposit something in the relationship that builds equity.

I’ve beat this metaphor to death.

Shit. Now I am anthropomorphizing the metaphor.

I digress.

My point is. We ALL expect things from our relationships. Elevating behavior in relationships to this “selfless” ideal is a foolish act, it isn’t realistic. Moreover, there is NOTHING wrong with expecting something back in a relationship, which is why I like Ted’s phrase…

I still stand by what I said. Pure altruism does not exist

When you do something good for another person you cannot do it without some sort of reward. Sure you can act noble and shrug off anything in return, but your brain won’t let you win that game. Your brain produces neurotransmitters that serve the purpose to propagate acts of love, kindness, and social interaction. Your brain rewards you when you do something that serves the needs of others, even if it is a sacrifice for you. That “feel good” feeling is actually your brain rewarding your actions.  Cooperative social interactions keep your brain feeling good about what you are doing and you are more likely to repeat good deeds.

So what is wrong with that? NOTHING. I mean, I suppose it is more chivalrous to pretend that we aren’t rewarded, even on a neurological level, when we do something good. Can you do something without being rewarded for it?I don’t think so. We have these chemical processes in place to create survival. These chemical processes keep us giving, and loving, and  caring. Those people who say they get nothing  out of doing something for others…those people don’t exist. We are hardwired for reward. If that reward is social cues, chemical cues, or something else we are built to look for reward.

So Ted Rubin, stick to Return on Relationship™ and stay away from pure altruism…since, you know, there is no such thing.

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