Teach me to be a less of a jerk
June 7, 2011 7:50 AM   Subscribe

My behaviour towards a friend of mine is sort of cruddy, and I'd like an outside perspective on how to change it.

We're both mid 20s, I'm a she, he's a he. Our conversations are often fun and sarcastic, but lately I feel that when I'm around him I say things which are just plain hostile and/or weirdly defensive in an effort to get his attention. I also don't listen very well. I can see that this is a ridiculous dynamic, and not a good way to treat a friend who is genuinely a stand-up guy.

I have martian-esque social skills in general, but I don't think this is typical behaviour for me. Possibly relevant: I do think this guy is pretty foxy, though I'm not his type (I mean, insecure people who are rude to people they fancy aren't really anyone's type, I imagine). I don't want to hook up with him, I would just like to behave more decently.

I guess I'm looking for tips on how to take a step back when I'm tempted to say something jerky and defensive -- take a deep breath and count to ten? How do I quiet this ego-heavy bit of me which needs his attention?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps some time spent in reflection about why you are suddenly so strangely craving his attention will help figure out how to stop.

Mind you, I don't mean that in the sense that "oh tee-hee, you must secretly like him and now you're acting all like kids in school who pick on each other because they've got a cruuuuuush". What I mean is -- there is something about your dynamic, and something about you in particular, that is suddenly triggering you to do something. It may take a while to figure out, but it could be something like -- suddenly you figure out he reminds you of one of your old teachers, or he's also recently changed his behavior in a way that gets under your skin, but it was just so subtle you didn't notice it was something he did, or you realize that you've not been sleeping very well and that, upon reflection, you've been treating everyone that way... something.

Then once you figure out, "ohhhh, okay, this is just happening because he's started eating stinky foot cheese and I"ve always wanted to try it," you may be able to better figure out a plan to stop. (Not that it's as simple as cheese, but there could be some weird quirk that is prompting this, and knowing that quirk will help form a plan.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would think you might consider telling him that you're into him. Based on my experience in my own life, and hearing about other peoples' love lives, these feelings do not go away because they're inconvenient or even because the object of affection may or may not reciprocate them. You say that you aren't his type, you think, but it sounds like maybe he's your type.

If your feelings for him are causing you to behave in a way that's sorta outside the territory of uncomplicated friendship, it's probably time to be open and honest and let the chips fall where they may, as they say.
posted by clockzero at 8:01 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

This might sound silly but in the past I have mentally paused before interacting with people who I needed an extra "filter" to interact with, and said to myself, "Okay...filter turned on!" It was a conscious way to remind myself to process what I was saying to a greater extent than if I said nothing to myself.

However, personally I don't derive great pleasure from relationships that require me to stop and think about everything I am about to say. Whatever strategy you try here, you need to check and see down the road if you are still having to police yourself and whether it's worth it.
posted by thorny at 8:01 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe you are in denial regarding how much you really like him and therefore you try to create this scenario in order to convince yourself that you don't like him; or to convince him to not like you in return.

I have been on the receiving end of this: I have a female friend who has been my best friend for 19 years now. Whenever she had a boyfriend, she was nice to me. Whenever she was single, she would do anything to make things as unpleasant as possible. I could never understand why she would treat me that way.

It wasn't until we were both married with kids that she admitted that she was always in love with me, but denied it because I wasn't her "type" and she assumed it would never really work. So, she convinced me to not like her back by acting mean to me. I figured this all along, but we never communicated about it until 12 years later. And we weren't teenagers during all this; we were in our late 20's!
posted by TinWhistle at 8:01 AM on June 7, 2011

Did he tell you you're not his type or did you assume? If you fancy him, let him make that decision himself.
posted by inturnaround at 8:03 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've told on myself to a friend or two when I've behaved like this. It's like we've gotten stuck in some old Bogie-and-Bacall pattern of sarcastic repartee and by the time I notice, I don't like who I've become. So I take a big breath and say, "You know, I think I've been acting kind of harsh with you. I know we're close and all that, but I need to take it down a notch before I actually turn into that person. If I say something too harsh will you let me know and say 'Hey, you're doing that thing again.'"
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 8:04 AM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I used to repeat a dynamic where I'd find a person who attracted me for bad reasons (even if they were a nice person) - they'd be really smart, a bit out of my league socially and physically, kind of mean, very funny, emotionally inaccessible - and interact with them in such a way that I both fascinated them and made them get very competitive with me, really want to defeat me at things. It's hard to describe, but it was always the same. We'd have a lot of very mean repartee that was supposed to be jokes but really covered up competition and unease.

I finally figured out that this was all about convincing myself that I was stupid and useless by seeking out people who would want to triumph over me. Figuring this out helped me to de-escalate the interactions. Similarly, you might want to ask yourself what you're getting out of being mean - what part of you does it satisfy? Are you punishing part of yourself?

Also, vis-a-vis crushes: After a really protracted one wore itself out and vanished as if it had never been, I find that when I remind myself "In 18 months you won't understand what you saw in this person - it wears off" I can manage my feelings a lot better. When I remind myself that crushes aren't huge tragic fated things but instead perfectly standard, repeatable biological/emotional experiences, it helps me put them in perspective and be more normal around their objects.
posted by Frowner at 8:14 AM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

This sounds like a case where Ding Training might work. (I'm not really a fan of ding training as it's originally presented, since it seems condescending, but if the potential ding-ee is on board with it beforehand that's more okay.) Tell him you'd like to get out of your snark habit, and ask if he's willing to alert you as soon as you say something over the line.

It may also help you to just keep in mind that what you're doing never works in the long run. Good platonic and romantic relationships are built on trust and openness, never on manipulation or passive-aggressiveness. If you're doing or saying things with the intent to get a certain reaction from him, that's not a friendship, it's a Skinner box. Whenever you're hanging out with him, periodically ask yourself, "is there anything I'm doing just to get his attention?" or "am I acting like I would around my other friends?" Take a deep breath and picture yourself letting those things go.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:40 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Real life is not like a rom-com. In general, people aren't actually attracted to those whose only form of communication is the zinger.

I have martian-esque social skills in general

I sometimes wonder if some entrepreneur could make $$ by opening a charm school for adults. This might be the perfect opportunity to develop better manners and social skills, and you could start on this one relationship.

Do you think, even for a tiny second, before you speak? "Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it something I'd want to hear?"
posted by Ideefixe at 9:49 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Anonymous said: "How do I quiet this ego-heavy bit of me which needs his attention?"

Ask that ego-heavy bit of you what it is that you get from his attention? If he's ignoring you generally, and you need to behave in this manner to get him to pay attention to you, that's one thing. If he's paying attention to you and you're still behaving in this fashion, then it's not to get his attention.

One way I find useful to work out why I do X is to offer advice to an imaginary friend who is having the same problem. How I suggest the imaginary friend deals with the situation is often a good guide to why I'm doing it. The friend has to be imaginary or people will look at you funny when you give them advice about something you aren't doing.
posted by Solomon at 9:50 AM on June 7, 2011

I finally figured out that good relationships are just as much about liking who you are around someone as liking them. It's saved me so much time, energy and angst to be able to say "we're both nice people, but we bring out the worst in each other" and subsequently scale back interaction with some people. Guilt will mess with your mind, making you think failed relationships (including friendships) are about doing something wrong, punishment and "why can't I just get along with everyone" when in reality, knowing to quit while you're ahead is a crucial life skill that saves much more pain in the long run.
posted by Nixy at 11:31 AM on June 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

If your entire interaction with someone is entirely made up of being witty and sarcastic and cynical, it's really hard to move beyond that and be authentic.

However if you are going to try, it is easier to start by being mean and trying to provoke him than by being nice and expressing anything serious on your own part, because obvs he could always come back with more sarcasm, which would suck.

Could that be why you're doing it. Tired of the constant sarcasm but not ready to be real?
posted by citron at 7:09 PM on June 7, 2011

Seconding Nixy on their assessment of the situation. I am also a girl with martianesque social skills who has frequent crushes on guys that aren't into me, and furthermore, sometimes bring out the worst in my own personality. However, I would add these relationships are two-way streets - there are quite a few guys who are able to pick up on your feelings, disregard them, and continue to dig the attention and apologies that your faux-pas generate. This might not be that particular situation, but in retrospect I've looked back on a couple of relationships where I felt guilty about my sarcasm, sudden silences, etc. and found myself looking at guys who weren't really worth my time, even if I was trying to invest myself fully in a platonic friendship. And my sarcasm was kind of a unconscious way of calling them out on it, albeit in an unhealthy (for my own sake) kind of way.
posted by ajarbaday at 7:38 PM on June 7, 2011

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