Should I amend my personality to make more friends or, "be me" and have fewer friends?
September 12, 2009 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Should I amend my personality to make more friends, or "be me" and have fewer friends?

I have a sarcastic sense of humour, and when I'm with friends I tend to make jokes about everyone, including myself. I have close friends that I share this with. I never mind being the butt of the joke myself. I am not everybody's cup of tea, obviously. I like to think I have a high level of social skills (wow that sounds pompous), I am quite good at reading people. Or so I thought.

A new-ish but close friend of mine, let's call her K, just told me that she doesn't appreciate the way I make jokes about her. The example she used was an instance where I jokingly called her the "town's fashion expert" after a comment she made about what streets were 'in' and not. It's probably a "you had to be there" moment, but anyway. She didn't like it.

I am fully aware of the fact that everybody's limits vary, and I misjudged K's comfort zone when it comes to being the butt of the joke. I apologised to her, and thanked her for letting me know. But it actually came as a surprise, because I had always thought we were on the same page. Turns out she has been offended on many occasions, which, let's face it, I can understand. And she is probably not the first to react, but she is the first to tell me to my face.

I am also aware that we all need to compromise and make sacrifices in order to get along, but to what degree does this apply to your closest circle of friends? (Again, not work/school colleagues, family, or anyone else that you're forced to interact with.)

My usual principle would be to always show my true colours, warts and all, and people can take it or leave it. I have had success with this, people still like me. But is that too rigid and selfish? It seems I would be missing out on friends like K, who is awesome in many ways but can't stomach my humour. Should I treat all new friends with kid gloves, in case they are offended by my personality? That doesn't seem right either. I'd love some insight and thoughts about this, and hope I won't be completely slaughtered for being an insensitive beach.

For the record, I am in the 25-35 age group and female, and this is not intended to be your classical "how do I become most popular in high school" question, but rather "how do I end up with quality friends without sacrificing my personality".
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Does making fun of people have to be an immutable part of your personality, though? I was a lot like you when I was in high school and college and then one day I realized that I was really hurting people's feelings. (I made fun of myself, too, but let's face it -- I did that so no one else could do it first.) But that's just something I did, not who I was.

I don't mock people anymore. Well, not people I know. Celebrities and news figures are still fair game.

If you're really insistent on having that type of any comment goes relationship with someone, hook yourself up with your local comedy scene. Comedians love to mock each other and themselves. But don't do it to everyone else.
posted by sugarfish at 7:18 AM on September 12, 2009 [16 favorites]

I think that the need to compromise and make sacrifices in order to get along doesn't lessen with your best friends, it just changes tone a bit.

When you're with someone you don't know very well, it's easy for you not to like each other but it's hard for you to really offend them---since you don't even know them that well, after all. But as a friendship grows, you will learn lots of things about the other person, including some traits that rub you the wrong way, some episodes they'd rather not bring up, etc.

So you have to make a different kind of effort that you wouldn't have had to make when you just met the person. Even though you are probably more compatible at a basic level, your closeness imposes an extra level of consideration: you know more about the person, so you have to use this in-depth knowledge to be a better friend.

I don't think this means "amending your personality" so much as it does bringing out different parts of your personality with different people. And if you do this for them, they will show you the same consideration, hopefully, and not do the things that drive you nuts.
posted by goingonit at 7:18 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

You sound like MY kind of friend, so I say "be yourself!". Don't try to change who you are to appease those who are too rigid and stuffy to appreciate your sense of humor!
posted by newfers at 7:19 AM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Should I amend my personality to make more friends, or "be me" and have fewer friends?

How much do these friends mean to you, and are you willing to lose them in exchange for your right to tell jokes that are hurtful? If you want to preserve your friendship with K (or anyone else who is rankled by your sense of humor), then you will probably need to create a filter for yourself when it comes to jokes that can be construed as personal attacks. That's not "kid gloves," it's respect for others' feelings.
posted by Eumachia L F at 7:50 AM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

You start off a maybe-friendship by making fun of *yourself*, not them. (Maybe other people you know, but not behind their backs, and only if they do it as well. Politicians and celebrities are possibly fair game, that really depends, because it's very much easier to go too far about them.) You can then gauge how they respond to things. Also, try to recalibrate your joking about other people: it's really important not to be mean. Eventually you can find a level -- what is mean to one person won't be mean to another -- but you start off not assuming that people like to be insulted jokingly. (Note: I like to be insulted jokingly, but by *friends*, not new acquaintances who might end up friends.)

Your jokes are more often about yourself than any other person, right? And you're not meaner about anyone else than about yourself? These two are very important.

You know when it is and isn't appropriate? (Generally not in front of other people, or when people are upset, etc.)

It's giving up a part of yourself to stop being funny, sure, but there are lots of ways to be funny, and you might want to try to reaim your sarcasm.
posted by jeather at 8:00 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with sugarfish. Do you really consider making fun of people an intrinsic part of who you are? That sounds like a cop-out to me - it's probably something you can sacrifice for the sake of another's feelings and not be any less you. You can still have a sarcastic sense of humor that isn't aimed at people, or simply isn't aimed at her.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:01 AM on September 12, 2009

Meh, don't change anything.

Except for your new friend K. Treat her sensitive butt with care.
posted by General Tonic at 8:06 AM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

"I tend to make jokes about everyone, including myself."

When you make jokes about yourself, you are picking the tone, the subject matter, the time, etc. When you make jokes about someone else they don't get to pick those things.

So, making jokes about yourself doesn't necessarily mean that you are thick skinned and they are wilting weenies, it could mean that you are throwing pies around and occasionally dabbing a little whip cream on your nose as if to say...See! I make fun of myself too!

Showing your true colors warts and all may be fine...but how many of your close friends are sparing you from *their* warts and all because....well...because it would hurt your feelings?
posted by ian1977 at 8:07 AM on September 12, 2009 [12 favorites]

So call me an over sensitive weenie, but, if you started being sarcastic and making jokes about me, I'd tell you where to get off. It's tiresome at best, bloody annoying at worst.
posted by x46 at 8:18 AM on September 12, 2009 [11 favorites]

Yeah, any comedy bible will tell you about why some jokes will make you popular and others won't. Don't make your audience feel insulted, make them feel they're in on a joke about something else.
posted by Kirklander at 8:26 AM on September 12, 2009

You mention that you feel that you are good at reading people, for the most part, but your sense of humor doesn't jibe with that. In other words, you are using a shotgun method of jokes. The problem is that you are likely reacting to a turn of phrase, or a situation, or nothing in particular and firing off a clever quip. It can be very witty and funny when it hits it's mark and avoids collateral damage.

But you likely don't have sniper like wit, so you are hitting people where they are sensitive just as much as where they'll say "hah, good one! You're a funny person and I like to have sex with funny people!". Well, maybe that last part isn't what you are intending, but you get my drift.

So, if you really want to exercise your awesome sarcastic sense of humor, start working on your ability to know what might be a sensitive area to your friends. You say you joke about yourself, thus leveling the field, but I bet dollars to donuts that you never actually pick an area you are truly sensitive about when you are firing one off at yourself.

So, stay sarcastic, but put on a filter to make witty remarks that the group can enjoy, without it being at the expense of anyone in particular. Knowing how to do that is what makes a sense of humor really enjoyable for others and won't necessitate a change in personality for you.
posted by qwip at 8:26 AM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Jokes and sarcasm at someone else's expense always are made because they have a grain of truth. I think they are often a bit hurtful even when the recipient laughs. Laughing is often a defense mechanism. You have probably already found that each person has a limit to what they will laugh about - and for each person at some time [which you cannot predict!] your sarcasm becomes hurtful.

I used to do this and hang around with people who did it to me. I think we have all mellowed with age and experience. Now when I'm around someone like that, I think they're immature at best and a jerk at worst.

I don't think it's true that this is a part of your personality. I think it's a habit. It's not very nice and maybe you can make new habits of being nice. That sounds quaint but it's true - instead of trying to build a close friendship with K by being mean to her or making fun of her, try doing it by being nice to her. If you can make this habit, I think you'll find that you are happier too.
posted by fritley at 8:29 AM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

The answer you really want to hear is that you don't have to amend your personality and that it won't cost you friends either. That may not happen, but I think this is a good opportunity for you to evolve your style of humor into something more accessible. It sounds like you say whatever you find funny and that you enjoy, even if it's at the expense of other people's feelings. But are you in it to make yourself laugh and feel better only or everybody else too? I think you just need a slight tweaking of style, not an overhaul or changing of who you fundamentally are. Take it as a test of the flexibility of your sense of humor and sarcasm. For example, you could put the emphasis of your jokes more on the external environment, pop culture, strangers on the street, yourself, etc. Of course, you still need to make fun of your friends once in a while when it's truly deserved--people need to have a sense of humor about themselves.

But by all means, if it's not a serious problem, don't think about it too much. The real danger of overanalysis here is sapping any personality you do have, so just pinpoint the solution here quickly if you need one and test it out.
posted by coffeecold at 8:36 AM on September 12, 2009

Hm - the joke you mention sounds totally harmless, maybe your friend is just oversensitive (but maybe you really "had to be there" and you said it in a way that was kind of mean?). As an example for a really grating personality, let me mention this: when my pet rabbit had to be put down, a (now ex-)"friend" who is a constant joker and leg-puller asked me in a text message "So, are you going to serve it for dinner?". That crossed the line for me.

I'd say: it's ok to be sarcastic most of the time if people still see an empathetic, well-meaning person behind that facade - that is who you are, not your jokes. Jokes are just a facade, and you have to give people a chance to look behind it. If you're always the guy who makes fun of everyone, in literally all circumstances (like the death of loved pets, or when you notice someone is really depressed or scared or just crabby), people start to hate you. I love people who get irony and sarcasm and I even find it charming if people make jokes about me - as long as I have the impression that they are able to switch it off, should the need arise.
posted by The Toad at 8:42 AM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you truly think your good friends like your personality the way it is and are not gonna get annoyed by it in a few months (a lot of sarcastic joker type people are repetitive) and you are a good friend otherwise and they know it, then keep your personality around them, but filter yourself around new people and break them in slowly.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:50 AM on September 12, 2009

Be yourself, but learn when to shut up.

It's not changing your personality. It's just being able to read the situation.
posted by Saydur at 8:58 AM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

You sound a lot like someone that I used to know. Her sarcastic sense of humor was fun and appealing—up to a point. The problem was that she didn't seem to know where that point was. Quite a few people who don't mind being the butt of an occasional joke, especially if it is genuinely funny, but some things hit a nerve and are pretty hurtful. My acquaintance wasn't very good at filtering out the more hurtful comments from the innocuous funny stuff, and her filter got even worse after a few drinks.

Add to this the fact that this woman was insecure about a number of things and fairly competitive, and it seemed like the reason for the snark was, consciously or not, a way of trying to take others down a few pegs. Her frequent jabs at herself didn't do much to prove that the humor was good-natured since she sometimes seemed to have a negative self-image. No one would want to be thought of by her the same way she thought of herself.

Anyway, my advice to you, anonymous, is to be honest with yourself. This question seems like a false dichotomy to me. You can have more friends and keep the aspects of your personality you like. You seem to think of "sarcastic humor" as an integral part of your personality. Do you really think "sarcastic humor targeted at your friends" is an integral part? Really? You can't find other targets? Even if you can't resist the occasional joke at your friends' expense, do you think "lack of empathy" is an integral part of your personality? I think not, given that you pride yourself on your social skills and ability to read people. Take a hard look at how good you really are at that. You already realize that K is probably not the only one to think this way. If you can take it (because, man, this sounds like a really hard thing to do), you might ask your friends to tell you when you have stepped over the line before to help you recalibrate a little.

You are on more solid ground with people who can dish it out as well. I bet K is not someone who makes those sorts of jokes about you. If she does a little, maybe she is forcing it so she doesn't feel bad about the jibes being a one way street. So be careful even when you try to match other people's level of banter—there is a potential double error here that they might already be outside their comfort level, and you might not be so great at judging the impact of your words. Dial it down two notches, not one.

The other thing to remember is that all relationships have some sort of buffer of goodwill. Your actions will be interpreted in the context of this goodwill. Are you otherwise a thoughtful, considerate person who makes it clear how much you appreciate your friends and their qualities? Most people think they are above average in these categories, but if it is really true for you, then your jokes are more likely to be interpreted as simply funny and perhaps even welcome. What if you, instead, act generally in ways that don't really make your friends feel valued—perhaps you don't ask them much about themselves, are a little bit flaky or tardy, or freely point out their mistakes. These things might not be dealbreakers for your friendships on their own, but like the jokes themselves, they take away from the goodwill. When you make the comments, people will wonder: is she saying this because she thinks it is funny, or is that just an excuse to express her disregard for me yet again?
posted by grouse at 9:41 AM on September 12, 2009 [13 favorites]

You will benefit from learning to be less aggressive; making jokes about people, no matter how well-intentioned, puts them on the spot to attack or submit. Friends don't put friends in that position in public, unless they're close enough that both parties know, without a doubt, that it's nothing but friendly.

To make it easier, don't quit cold turkey; instead, continue making jokes at your own expense, just stop making jokes at other people's expense. If you feel like you need to say something, and the only thing you think to say is a joke at someone else's expense, just don't say anything.

This isn't you amending your personality to make more friends; it's amending your habits to be nicer to your friends.
posted by davejay at 10:35 AM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have friends like that, though I'm not so much that way myself. I find that I can tolerate them a lot more when they choose their occasions a bit more carefully, rather than shotgunning all. day. long.

It's funny to poke fun at someone once in a while, even if it's a cut down. It's not funny to not have the ability to let two minutes pass without trying to wedge in some lame 'humor'. Some situations are funny, some aren't. Sometimes people want to be taken at face value and not treated as a straight man.

They are fun to hang out with even in max sarcasm mode (and yes, the shotgun method pretty much guarantees that sometimes they'll hit a subject that offends me from time to time, but I'm pretty easy going and get over it fast.) Part of being a friend though is that you can get to know the real person behind the comedy routine. Do you have a real person behind the act, or is that all there is? Would I ever feel like you treated me any differently as my friend than someone you just met in the bar? Do I ever get to be on the home team in the "Us vs. Everyone else" world, or do I always have to watch my back conversationally around you? 'Cause being on guard all the time is kind of tiresome.

Also, as my friend I would expect you to know me well enough to know that I would be offended by certain things. Are you sensitive to people's reactions to your humor? If I don't react well to a "joke" at my expense, well, ok that will happen sometimes. If you keep returning to it just for a laugh, I would start to wonder about the nature of our friendship.
posted by ctmf at 10:45 AM on September 12, 2009

I think you'd be wise to tone it down. The line between sarcasm and contempt is very fine, if not nonexistent, and contempt is relationship poison. Being the best you that you can be rarely involves cutting down your friends, imho.

I had a friend who was similarly sarcastic and aggressive, and I was in the K role with him not too long ago. He's basically, I think, not a bad man, and I have a history of being pretty flexible. But sometime in my early thirties, I stopped priding myself on getting over being offended. I know he's got lots of good qualities, and probably doesn't consciously mean to hurt or harm. But I stopped caring whether he's basically a good person; there are lots of basically good people who do not think it's funny to slam me. I thought to myself, "Y'know, AskMe would tell me to DTMFA," and I did. Right? Wrong? I can't say, but I sure am happier.

This guy is part of a group of friends that I've known for a long time. And while not everybody gives him the what-for the way I did, what I've seen is that he's been slowly marginalized, and at least one close friend doesn't seem to be close to him anymore. He used to be a fairly prominent part of our little community, but now that most of us are in the 35-45 age range, things have changed. Generally, we get fed up with edged jokes more quickly. We've done the quickwitted quip thing for decades, and it's gotten stale. Kindness and sincerity have taken on new importance, while sarcastic attack-jokes have become both exasperating and dull.

So, according to my experience, you are heading into an age demographic in which people are going to be putting up with that kind of thing a whole lot less than they do now, including people who seem -- or are! -- fine with it at the moment. Not to mention that people's time for friendships may become more limited, and you're going to be essentially competing with people who may be a lot less challenging to deal with. Things are likely to change in a way that could be hard for you if you don't learn to back away from the sarcasm and develop more outward kindness. That takes practice. Might as well start now.
posted by sculpin at 11:33 AM on September 12, 2009 [9 favorites]

I'm going to assume you're in the typical MeFi demographic of twenty-somethings; if not, forgive me. My advice would be to learn to modulate the snark, since as people get older they have less tolerance for not-so-niceness. In a few years you might find that your circle of friends really doesn't appreciate your humor any more, and starts to drift away.

What happens? In my experience, younger people usually have fewer cares and responsibilities and this seems to translate to a more buoyant outlook on life, and it's harder to get them down. As people age, they accumulate a whole slew of responsibilities: kids, mortgage, aging parents, career worries, debt, you name it. When life starts kicking your ass, you really don't need your friends to take jabs at you too.

So learn to tone it down now, before your friends get dragged down by life's cares. In my case, I still snark but I keep it inside my head. My sense of humor is wicked fast and wicked sharp, but most people never know it - only those whom I'm SURE can take it (and who dish it out in equal measure) get the treatment. Plus, it's basically bullying if I lacerate someone who can't keep up, and then I'm ashamed of myself. I get to enjoy my own humor silently, but my "victims" aren't hurt by it. I admit I often recount choice bits to Hubby, but I can trust him not to repeat anything.

I think it's easier (and more genuine, if you will) to learn to simply keep your mouth shut when you feel a snark coming on than it is to learn a new softer style of humor. I doubt any of your friends will think there's something wrong if you snark less frequently; some of them may even be secretly relieved. Keep your wit sharp but save it for appropriate targets.

On preview, sculpin says much the same thing. Take some advice from us old fogies!
posted by Quietgal at 11:38 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know someone like this: she thinks she is witty and insightful and funny, but she is actually, just mean. When people laugh at what she says, it is an embarrassed laugh because they need to seal the social ruptures she is constantly picking at. You sound like her. In my books, that's not a good thing and yes I would prefer that you either toned it down, or, stick to your own kind, so to speak.

Also, exactly what grouse said.
posted by Rumple at 11:56 AM on September 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

I have a friend like you, he thinks everyone is sensitive but really, he hurts people's feelings on a regular basis and they just get tired of calling him on it every. single. time he does it. He occasionally makes fun of himself but who cares?

So the only people who can stand to be around him as friends are me (and only barely) and people who have super-low self-esteem.

But at least he's being himself!
posted by kathrineg at 12:25 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

The point of your "town's fashion expert" comment was surely not to be insulting to your friend for no reason, or just to make fun of her, but to point out in a witty way that her broadcasting which streets are hip and which streets are not is an annoying comment to you. So the way I see it is your friend was being judgemental, you called her out on it, and she sulked.

I wouldn't regret your comment too much, except for the fact that you played the man not the ball. Avoid the ad homenium, but you have every right to deflate your friend's balloons of pretention. That's what friends are for, is it not?
posted by dydecker at 12:52 PM on September 12, 2009

This is the exact problem I have. I was talking about this just last night. My take is, I know I can be a challenge. But I also know that it's difficult for me to turn it off. And there are some people who just can't handle it. And so, instead of trying to change, which I find both stressful and sort of self-esteem hurting, I am learning to accept that some people may not like me. And that's ok. Because there are people who love me FOR my craziness.
posted by dithmer at 1:18 PM on September 12, 2009

The thing about sarcasm is that it comes with an edge, and that edge can wear people down after a while. I'd personally rather hang around people that make me feel good, rather than--like davejay says--feel like I have to always be ready to respond to someone else's "wit".
posted by mpls2 at 1:32 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, I used to be you! Just two years ago, I was definitely you!

I didn't intentionally do a personality flip, but it was rather a combination of things that lead me to become less caustic. I had a few falling out with friends who were similarly acerbic and over time, I noticed I had no interest in making jokes in which someone had to play the butt. I still have a sarcastic sense of humor, sure, but my jokes are much kinder.

Basically, I do everything in my power to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, things really are funny and yeah, my best friend totally deserves to be ribbed for the rest of her life that she said "Oh wow, look at that sculpture of the red bug!" when it was very obviously a lobster - but I would never make a flip comment like your example with the "fashion expert." Yeah, two years ago, I totally would have. But now... I just don't get anything out of it. Maybe I think it's funny for five minutes, but if I hurt her feelings, I just feel like a dick.

This is kinda hippie-dippy (ok, *really* hippie-dippy), but the more I get into my Buddhist practice, the more I'm able to just let stuff go. Yeah, I haven't let my sense of humor go, but I'm also not looking for the opportunity to make snide comments because honestly, who benefits from that? How is that making life more awesome? Life is a constant dynamic between construction and destruction - think when you make comments "Is this CON-structive or DE-structive?" Try not to make the latter.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:29 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

"The line between sarcasm and contempt is very fine, if not nonexistent, and contempt is relationship poison."

I came in here to say that.

Your targeted sarcasm produces a dynamic you might not fully be aware of. Not everybody will be offended, but many will, and it may erode the friendships you have. Your comments do hurt and embarrass some people. If you're okay with that, and consider the thinning that will result to be a net positive, then there's no reason to change. However, if the thought that you are making others uncomfortable makes you uncomfortable, you may want to reconsider.

Refraining from making sarcastic jokes aimed at your friends is not treating them with kid gloves, but rather, treating them with respect. It's not a personality change; it's a targeted behavior change. You still get to be sharp, quick, and funny, just not at another's expense.
posted by moira at 2:35 PM on September 12, 2009 [6 favorites]

you have every right to deflate your friend's balloons of pretention

Well, you do, I suppose, but usually friends don't deflate each other's "balloons of pretention" while still staying friends for very long...

My sense of humor is not at all like yours is, anonymous, but I still find that I can be more open with my really close, older friends than I can with a newer friend, even if we are relatively close. I can lower my barriers more with my older friends because we're practically family. With newer friends, there's a slight tension there, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't (and wouldn't want to) get away with cutting down their so-called pretentious statements. If I found them truly pretentious or otherwise truly deserving of scorn, I'd keep it to myself and just not hang out with them as often.

I imagine, anonymous, that we work quite differently in social settings, so all I'm saying is that certain of your friends are more game for your sarcastic sense of humor than others, and you should try to take the time to find out who. Closer friends will be less likely to take it personally than newer friends. Imagine you were on a first date. Would you make fun of your date's interests? Probably not, right? You're still trying to get to know the person, and gauge their sense of humor and capacity for kindness. Well, treat your less-well-known friends the same way. You can still (probably) be sarcastic and cutting with your most well-known friends.
posted by malapropist at 3:20 PM on September 12, 2009

I often used sharp humor with my friends when I was younger, but I eventually grew out of it.

I realized that I was taking out my aggression on people whom I felt comfortable with.

Once in while I might share a bit of barbed wit with a fellow, but just for old time's sake.
posted by ovvl at 3:25 PM on September 12, 2009

Sarcasm that requires someone to be "the butt" is like wearing an I'm With Stupid shirt every day.

You don't have to change your personality to correct this in your social interactions.
posted by Sallyfur at 3:36 PM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

You sound like one of my dearest friends, who is a good person, a wonderful friend, and quite funny, but has to really make an effort to filter what he says because people's threshold for teasing varies, and he doesn't have the clearest sense of boundaries. He can take it as much as he can dish it, but when you hit someone's sore spot, that doesn't really matter. Unfortunately, he often has to overstep once before he knows what is off limits. Some friendships will survive that fine, and others will not.

I think the most important thing is to know your audience and adjust the sarcasm accordingly. For many people, teasing is a way to show affection, and you will know who those people are, and you can proceed accordingly. Some people take themselves too seriously (from your example, your friend K sounds like that sort), and some people can take being teased about x and y, but never about z. It is rare to find someone that anything is fair game and a joke about them will never smart, but witty retorts and sarcasm have their place, as well. So, you can still be you, but you may need to tamp that down with some people who you would still want as friends.

Also, I would consider that while your friend K might be somewhat sensitive, she also was the one who bothered to say something to you. That tells you that she cares enough about you not to just write you off, and she is someone who can serve as a guide and offer an alternative perspective that you may not be able to see on your own or with other friends. Those kinds of friendships are just as important as the ones that seamlessly mesh with who you are at your most basic, instinctual level. The fact that you're even giving this some serious thought demonstrates that you can be sensitive and respectful of other people's needs, but you may have to work harder at it than when you operate from your default sarcastic place. It will get easier, it just takes practice.
posted by katemcd at 4:44 PM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

I grew up in a family where this kind of humour was the norm, and any negative reaction to was described as oversensitive, or precious. So I was quite the sarcastic friend myself, and concentrated my best wit on my best friends, because I was so fond of them. It didn't end well. I didn't know that my best friend was crying herself to sleep at night because I was so mean. The last time I saw her (over 20 years ago) she told me that she loved me, but she didn't like me at all.

So I changed. I realised making people the butt of jokes was cruel, no matter what I intended, that I clearly couldn't read when they were offended or not, and by then, it's too late. There are lots of things to be sarcastic about - red tape, politics, the media, the internet, and anonymous drivers (hoons and the like), without putting someone in front of you on the firing line.

It's not up to you to decide whether their feelings are valid. Their feelings are feelings, and real to them, and it hurts.
posted by b33j at 5:53 PM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

It is possible to be funny, sarcastic, even, WITHOUT belittling people. It's actually rather important to learn to do so, not for popularity's sake, but because the two things that will always see you through life are good health and good friends - and mocking people makes people less friendly towards you, or gives you not-friends which will come back on you when life hits the fan.
posted by medea42 at 6:31 PM on September 12, 2009

I think this is an issue of culture. There are groups of friends who really like this kind of joking, and take it as it is intended. If you can find like-minded people you can really let your snark fly, but this can be hard to do. I never thought I would be able to take jokes made (good-naturedly) at my expense, but I have been in a guild in World of Warcraft (laugh if you must) for three years where this kind of humor is widespread. If it's the right environment and you know for certain people really do value you and treat you with respect, then you can laugh together at each other. Strangely (or maybe not so strangely), it can really help you bond. It's actually been rather cathartic for me since I was extremely emotionally sensitive as a child and for a long time after, and could not take any kind of joke made about me.

That said, a successful environment like that for that type of joking is a delicate balance, and a huge part of that is tone of voice. This cannot be emphasized enough.

But outside of a group where you know it is safe, you really should tone it down. Most people just are not wired this way, or haven't been exposed to an environment where it just amounts to a way for friends to have fun together.
posted by marble at 11:20 PM on September 12, 2009

you have every right to deflate your friend's balloons of pretention

True. They also have every right to call you an abrasive prick1. And, like you, they can choose to be themselves and only have friends who put up with their "balloons of pretention" -- ie, not you.

1You see what I did there?
posted by davejay at 9:02 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of it depends on your actual tone and your subconscious intent. It's one thing to joke in a laughing and give and take manner, but if you're using sarcasm as a mask for attack, as a lot of people do, then people will feel the difference.
posted by gt2 at 11:07 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've battled with this type of question myself and here is what I have come up with; I try to put myself in the other persons shoes and imagine how they feel about me and my behavior, if I can see them being put out I alter it because sometimes we can all be annoying. That being said if you have to literally alter your personality to maintain a friendship then it isn't a good friendship. Being yourself is always the best route to go. Being yourself and sensitive to those around you is even better. Having a dynamic big personality isn't easy some people will adore you and others will want to slap you. good luck :).
posted by gypseefire at 1:39 PM on September 19, 2009

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