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Saturday, September 20, 2003

What about "Rent to Own" and "Payment Plan"?

(Part one of this is: Girlfriends: Better to Rent or Own?)

In some businesses there is a concept of "rent to own." I see this advertised particularly in furniture stores, where you can pay a monthly rent that is applied toward ownership of the goods, but you can walk away at any time, and you don't own the good until you've paid in fully.

There is an inverse kind of activity called "payment plan." In this case, you pay like rent, but the intent is ownership. This is quite common in cars and homes. For most purposes you own the item even though it costs you money for a while.

In the previous posting I discussed "rented girlfriends" and "owned girlfriends." I made a sharp distinction between the two.

Life among humans, however, is rarely that simple. In my experience there is a blurry line between the rental and ownership.

Let's look at the two obvious cases:

1. Ownership converting into rental, what I'll call the "payment plan" scenario; and

2. Rental converting to ownership, what I'll call the "rent to own" scenario.


PAYMENT PLAN

Let's call this story fiction.

Once upon a time, I had a girlfriend. She fell onto hard times and needed financial help. We weren't engaged, married, or even living together. But because of the financial stress, it made sense for her to live in my property and accept financial assistance from me.

Because of the rather high end lifestyle that I lead, it seemed unfair to make her live a very impoverished lifestyle when we spent time together. But this made the financial assistance rather expensive.

What happens next in this story is a classic tragedy, because it stems from the nature of humans. We are taught from an early age that "love conquers all," and that vast asymmetries in a relationship are good, because they allow us to prove how powerful love can be. Asymmetries like the gal dating the boy from the wrong side of town, or the Romeo Montague in love with Juliet Capulet, or the classic love triangle,... or the modern financial asymmetry.

You know those maple tree spinners -- you throw them up and they spin downwards like nature's little helicopters. Now imagine that one side of the spinner is ten times larger than the other. It is wildly unbalanced, and spins wildly out of control.

That's what happens.

Suddenly tiny things become amplified by the financial asymmetry. Does she owe me something? Even if I say "no", there is something implicit. Even if she thinks "no" there is a twinge of guilt. And both can grow if there is ever any friction in the relationship.

And before you know it, what used to be a "owned" girlfriend relationship building to lasting commitment, becomes a rental girlfriend relationship: transactional, where each person is keeping track of the cost of payment and provision of girlfriend services.

You end up with most of the liabilities of a "owned" girlfriend relationship, with few of the benefits of the "rented" girlfriend. For example, it hurts a lot more to leave. More ego has been invested. Society expects different behaviors from the two of you, and friends will go out of their way to help you stay together (even if the two of you are like matter and antimatter and shouldn't share a universe!) Which just makes things worse.

Of course, that's all just fiction. But you'd be surprised how it can devolve rapidly into reality.

Are there ways to avoid it? Let's talk about that later.

Now let's turn to the second scenario:


RENT TO OWN

Here's another fictional story.

Imagine there is a provider, a rental girlfriend. She primarily provides travel and event companionship. But she is also a provider of sexual services to others, of course, that is, she is non-exclusive to me. I might sample the latter services from time to time.

But spending a lot of time with her, and not always insisting on sexual services, starts something... unexpected. But not unreasonable given, well, that we're only human.

You start having a relationship. At some point she notices that she prefers me to other customers and will make time preferentially over others. At first because it's more fun to fly to Italy for vacation than to just have a few hours of sex with another person, but later because she actually likes me. And I might have new expectations, where I feel slighted if she doesn't spend time with me, or I begin to expect that she will not charge me much. Before you know it, I get jealous thinking of her having sex with other men, or wonder if their sex is better, and she feels jealous of other woman I might be taking out.

And now we are on the way to "ownership."

It can sneak up on you.

Again, an important measure of this is money. But in the exact opposite direction from the first scenario. In the first scenario I might find I'm giving money or other compensation to my girlfriend. For a good reason. But it messes up the relationship.

In this scenario, I start by giving money to the woman, but at some point either one or both of us decide to no longer make the transaction financial. This also might seem like a great idea, because we're friends, or having too much fun, or not having sex, or I'm spending enough money on the events and travel, or something. So in this case somebody is uncomfortable, and STOPPING payment solves the discomfort.

It's interesting that other people think the trigger event for the first scenario is unfortunate, but the second is like manna from heaven. In the first case, I might have a friend telling me, "Man, what a bummer. I hope it doesn't last long." In the second case it might be, "You lucky dog! She's not asking for money? What a great thing!"

But they both can be curses of equivalent magnitude.

For one thing, scenario two is very confusing. Because rental girlfriends are not socially accepted (although socially common), the rules of how to manage the relationship when it starts to wander out of the traditional roles are less clear.

Consider the following fictional story: one day my provider stops accepting money. She just won't take it, and says she is having fun with me. What does this mean? Is she romantically interested, or just wants to be a friend? If this was not a provider context, I would have a lot of evidence to help me understand. For example, a girl I met at a bar who wanted to be my friend would not have sex with me. If she wanted a commitment, she probably would have sex with me. But with a provider, I may have already had frequent and very advanced sex with her. I might even be continuing to have some kind of sexual interaction that would, in a traditional "owned" girlfriend relationship, be considered inappropriate. Yet in this context, going retrograde (i.e. lightening up the sexual interactions) might also seem awkward and atypical progress.

So it's clearly more difficult to interpret the signals to understand if the girl is looking for friendship or more.

This is only one example of new complexities arising from the rent to own scenario. There are many more. Obviously each can be addressed through good communcation, but these are atypical and sometimes awkward topics, certainly not ones you'd bring up early in a friendship or romantic relationship. Readers with a little imagination and some compassion can probably imagine how complex and confusing it can get on both sides.

So "rent to own" has a lot of complexity and opportunity for misconstrual of intentions. In this way it's different than the "Payment Plan" scenario, where initial intentions are clear, but become distorted by asymmetric pressure.

But is "rent to own" worth avoiding with the same energy as "payment plan?" In MY case?

I have established that in my current case, rented girlfriends are better than owned girlfriends. But the fact that "rent to own" starts with the right attitude and evolves in the direction I am evolving, might make it a better approach.

But perhaps it's too screwed up to ever straighten out?

A movie I saw recently gave me hope about all this. The movie is called The Secretary.