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Lessons in Discernment: Carrot Danglers

by Marina Michaels

There is a certain type of behavior I call carrot dangling, and the people who regularly truck in this kind of behavior are what I call carrot danglers (term courtesy of Louise Garnett; extended definition courtesy of me). These people are to be avoided.

What is a Carrot Dangler?

A carrot dangler is someone who promises something—to help you out, to give you something, to introduce you to someone, or whatever—and never comes through. When you try to collect on the promise, there is always some reason why they can't give it to you right then, though they tell you they will do it another time. But when "another time" comes along, that isn't a good time either, and so it goes, until you give up on that carrot, and then they start to dangle another carrot. The underlying dynamic is that they are generally getting something they want from you, and they are making the appearance of offering something in exchange, but they never actually give anything in return.

Not all carrot danglers do it consciously—many do it because they have no confidence in their ability to actually offer anything of value. But some do it deliberately. And although carrot danglers often do it to get something tangible in return, they also often do it to get something intangible, such as praise, positive regard, and so on.

Example 1

Here is an example of a carrot dangler. I knew someone once—I'll call her "Linda"—in the mid-1980s who promised to introduce me to a man whom she thought would be very compatible with me—someone a lot like me in many ways, she said, and who would, she was sure, want to meet me as well. She went on in great detail about just how compatible we would be, and how perfect I was for him and vice versa, and how much she thought he and I would enjoy each other. I could practically hear wedding bells every time she talked about him.

The first several times she tried to get me interested, I declined to meet him, for I was rather shy about being introduced to anyone. Finally, however, I gave in and asked her to go ahead and perform the introduction. She made some excuse for why it couldn't happen right then, which I accepted. She continued to make excuses every time I asked for the introduction, until after having deferred the introduction six or seven times, she finally told me, "You don't want to meet him. He really isn't your type." (She didn't explain how he could have been my type up until that moment, and then suddenly change.)

I told her, reasonably enough, that it couldn't hurt to just introduce us and let us both decide whether we liked each other.

Then she said that well, maybe she wasn't the right person to introduce him to me—no reason given, because she said that he and she were good friends. I asked her to suggest someone else who could make that introduction, and she said she knew of no one else who knew him.

At the time I knew this woman, I had not encountered the idea of carrot danglers, and so her behavior was puzzling. Eventually, as you might imagine, I finally gave up on meeting this mythical man, and soon after gave up on trying to make sense of a person who just didn't make sense. I also dropped the friendship as well, though not for this reason.

Example 2

I encountered a variation of this with another person many years later. She was getting free readings from me (this was before I started to charge a fee for my time to prevent just her sort of person from taking advantage of me), and offered to introduce me to a man she knew whom she thought I would enjoy meeting as a "thank you" for the readings. Yet every time I tried to pin her down on making the introduction happen, there was always some reason why it couldn't happen just then. It was a bad time for him, or she didn't think she should take the time from her busy schedule (she was unemployed, supported by her ex, and not looking for work, nor was she involved with any community organizations, so what exactly was keeping her too busy to make a two-minute phone call to her friend, I could never tell), or she didn't want to bother me right then (hey—I was the one asking to be bothered!)—you get the picture. I dropped her very quickly, not solely because of this, but because this, along with much other behavior, helped me to realize that she was a user and would not be a good person to have in my life.

Other Ways to Dangle the Carrot

There are more subtle forms of carrot dangling as well—such as a person promising to do something good for you if you only make "this one concession" to them over something, and then that something never shows up—and they do this to you not once but many times. The alcoholic or emotional or physical abuser who promises to be better if you only give them "one more chance" is also, except in extremely rare occasions, a carrot dangler as well.

Why Do They Do It?

Why do they do it? I cannot say. Some might be in such deep denial that they honestly think, at the moment they are speaking, that they mean it and will follow through. How they later explain to themselves their consistent failure to follow through is a mystery—probably, they don't explain, and just go into more denial about it. Others, unfortunately, get a kick out of pulling those puppet strings and watching people dance. Others still have their own motivations and reasons.

Why they do it isn't important from the practical point of view. It might make an interesting conversation some night with some of your true friends, to debate this kind of insanity, but otherwise, you don't need to understand this kind of behavior to know that it doesn't feel good.

Here's the bottom line: To tell the difference between a carrot dangler and someone who genuinely is trying to help you, watch what happens when you reach for the carrot. Do they stand in the way and tell you all the reasons why you can't have it right then? Or do they do their best to help you get that carrot? If they stand in your way, they usually do so while telling you how much they are helping you and how great that carrot will taste when you get it. Yet somehow they are always between you and the carrot. That's a carrot dangler—someone to be avoided unless you like that kind of drama in your life.

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