A remora is a cool little fish. It is frequently found attached to larger animals, like sharks. The remora feeds by eating parasites and droppings off the shark’s skin. In return for the cleaning service, the shark provides some protection for the remora because, hey, it’s a friggin’ shark.
This is called a symbiotic relationship. When each individual does what is best for the other creature, she is also doing what is best for herself.
Some relationships are about sacrifice. Those aren’t symbiotic. If one creature gains at the expense of the other, then that is a parasitic relationship. If the remora were to start feeding on the shark’s flesh, the shark probably wouldn’t want to hang out with her anymore.
But wait, said the shark. Last week, my remora got really sick. I had to take time off from doing shark stuff to take her to the hospital. Wasn’t that a sacrifice?
Well, Shark, how did you feel about saving the remora’s life and being a good sharkfriend? Did it negatively impact how you view your life?
No, said Shark. I was proud of myself for being a supportive sharkfriend.
Wait a minute, said the remora. I spend 40 hours a week rimming Shark’s anus. I hate this job. I want to be an artist, and I’m only stuck to this shark because I need the food. This does not feel very symbiotic.
It’s not. It’s a messed up codependency. You should find some other animal who will feed you in exchange for your art. Or maybe create artwork on your own, and trade it with other remoras for food. If you hate what you are doing, then you are probably doing a crappy job anyway. Let Shark go so she can find another remora to take your place.
Thank you Elaine, said the shark.
Thank you Elaine, said the remora.
And they all lived happily ever after.