Help! I'm living in a "Family Guy" episode.
March 26, 2013 9:57 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend of a little more than a year is a totally. great. guy. With one exception: he thinks that being funny means saying whatever overtly racist, homophobic or sexist joke he can think of as a response to many situations. I always stop and tell him it's not cool, then he says, "what? I'm just kidding." Now, I worry he might actually be pretty sexist. What to do?

He is a truly wonderful boyfriend: respectful, generous, hardworking, does his part, supportive of my career and dreams, willing to work on our relationship, comfortable with my career ambitions, eager to be a team, thoughtful, emotional, considerate, charming, loyal, and a great friend.

For my part, I do not have a problem with most inappropriate humor, there are few sacred cows. But it's important that if a joke might trade in taboo humor, it should at least be witty; something more than: "here is a stereotype." But he loves to tease people in general so at the start of our relationship, I thought he really was kidding. The jokes were less frequent and less offensive. As time goes on, I worry that he might actually be racist or sexist, even though he treats people of all sorts very well out in the world.

Some examples of the mortifying jokes.

— He used to use a fake-Chinese accent to pronounce a local street name that contains the "L" sound in it.

— We watched the Oscar-winning AIDS documentary, "How To Survive a Plague" on Netflix last night. In the first 5 minutes he saw footage of some men discussing things in an apartment. One man had his shirt off. He laughed and joked at the screen, "Faggot!" This is after I told him that word was very offensive to me and my friends. He half-assedly apologized, but I could tell he enjoyed the "joke" still.

— He called a friend recently to make plans for a dinner party. I was in the next room. When the friend asked on the phone if I was available at that time, the boyfriend said, "Let me check with the Gash." I was appalled, and popped my head out to tell him that was not cool. I told him later how offensive that was. He sorta apologized, but thought it was just funny. He retold the whole argument at the dinner party later that night.

— If I tell him about something alarming in the media, like reports of women being raped in India or sexual harassment in certain industries, he makes jokes about it. When I called him out on a sexist comment in response to a news report recently, he paused, got serious and called me a "prude." When I told him that was offensive he said he was trying to be funny. I told him I was still offended. He said I'm trying to "change him" — and , "I don't really care about that stuff because it doesn't affect me."

However, there has been some progress in the past which made me hopeful

— He agreed to curtail the racist humor after a long discussion we had about my discomfort with that, and my fear that he will hurt my (public) career by making such comments around the wrong people.

— He prevented his sister from making offensive jokes about lesbians when we were all hanging out, since he knows my best friend is a lesbian.

— He sometimes pauses after a joke, and looks at me to see if I laugh. In the beginning I was more forgiving but now that I've learned it's a pattern, I almost never do. I quietly say, "that's not funny," "that's not cool," or "I'm offended by that." And then don't want to be close to him for awhile, because I truly am offended and unattracted to him.

Lately, he's started to pull away after these run-ins and claim that I am trying to change him. He's feeling attacked. I'll admit, I was hopeful early on that we'd both grow from knowing each other and that this would stop... but now I think maybe that was silly of me. He is not really budging on the sexist stuff, and that gets under my skin particularly since I am a feminist and feel those issues deeply (I can just imagine the joke he'd make here about "feeling it deeply," ugh.) So I feel like I'm living in one long continuous Family Guy episode where it's just me and a guy who thinks a song about Boobs is hilarious. Frankly, if this stays the same I don't think I can stay in this relationship. But he is truly a gem on every other possible human level and I don't know how to better engage him on this subject so he can appreciate that it's just not funny anymore — and destructive to us. Any ideas, Oh Great Green?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (178 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
You can't change people who don't want to change.

And it's okay for a relationship to be otherwise great, but have one thing that's just a deal breaker.

I've dated that guy who is usually a Good Human TM but had a sense of humor that was on the other side of the line. It was absolutely a turn off, led to me not liking him very much anymore, and thus to countless fights that could have been avoided if I'd just DedTMFA.

Sorry I don't have advice on how to get him to change.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:07 PM on March 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

Well, you are trying to change his behavior. His shitty, racist/sexist/homophobic behavior. Why is it so important to him to be rude and childish? I honestly would just shout "Poo-poo doo-doo, I'm a child trying to be edgy" every time he broke out that kind of bullshit.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:11 PM on March 26, 2013 [55 favorites]

If I tell him about something alarming in the media, like reports of women being raped in India ... "I don't really care about that stuff because it doesn't affect me."

This is way more of a red flag to me than just the offensive jokes (for the record: my non-sexist, anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ boyfriend loves making the occasional offensive joke to me, mostly because he enjoys my theatrical eye-rolling and tsk-tsk'ing). To me it suggests a fundamental callousness and lack of empathy.

If he thinks you're trying to change him, it's only because he perceives that there are people out there who DO care about things that don't affect them directly, and he sees that that's a quality you value, but which he doesn't care to develop.

It sounds like he has lots of fine qualities, but basic compassion for human beings who are unlike himself or are outside his immediate circle isn't one of them. Only you can decide if that's a deal-breaker for you, but I don't think it's something you can force him to develop.
posted by scody at 10:17 PM on March 26, 2013 [96 favorites]

I'd dump him. But I have a low tolerance for intolerance, and someone who referred to me as "the gash", even jokingly, would no longer be referred to as my boyfriend.

And I'm hilarious. You don't need to act like a jerk to be funny.
posted by emd3737 at 10:18 PM on March 26, 2013 [116 favorites]

What scody said.

The biggest problem is that your examples of progress, aren't progress. He refrains form some jokes but only because he knows you will be angry with him, or because you've told him that the PC police will ruin your career.
posted by Garm at 10:21 PM on March 26, 2013 [18 favorites]

I have found that people who find these things hilarious and are really stubborn about it are less likely to be stand up individuals when things get real. Plus having contempt for everyone and dressing it up as "just a joke" gets old really quick. So I would DTMFA.
posted by heyjude at 10:23 PM on March 26, 2013 [12 favorites]

I'd give him one chance to cut it out before I dumped him. I'd probably be super direct, something along the lines of "I am offended by the sexist and racist bullshit that comes out of your mouth. It hurts my feelings when you say it and I don't want to hear it in my presence anymore. If you can't stop or don't want to stop, I'm going to leave."

99 times out of 100, this will turn into a breakup speech, but perhaps all the indicators you're giving are wrong and he's in the 1%. At least you'll know.
posted by zug at 10:28 PM on March 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

You are trying to change him. Sounds like his sister is the same way, which leads me to assume that it is a family issue. Imagine your future children saying stuff like that. And then leave.
posted by myselfasme at 10:30 PM on March 26, 2013 [45 favorites]

Having to be constantly on alert about someone else's behavior is exhausting-- it's what parents of toddlers have to do. And then the toddlers grow up. And the parents get to stop monitoring their behavior. Sounds like you've got a perma-toddler. Is threat-level-orange how you want to spend the rest of your life? Sounds like you might be able to come up with some superior options...
posted by airguitar2 at 10:30 PM on March 26, 2013 [16 favorites]

If his other qualities are good enough that you are actually asking for advice rather than covertly trying to find backup for a breakup, you could give him the Shamu treatment – you know, just don't react at all. Be as if you never heard it. He's poking you with a verbal stick, trying to get a rise out of you for whatever reason.

Don't give him one. Do that for a few weeks and see where that takes you.

Or DTMFA. You're allowed.
posted by zadcat at 10:31 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I tell him about something alarming in the media, like reports of women being raped in India or sexual harassment in certain industries, he makes jokes about it. When I called him out on a sexist comment in response to a news report recently, he paused, got serious and called me a "prude." When I told him that was offensive he said he was trying to be funny. I told him I was still offended. He said I'm trying to "change him" — and , "I don't really care about that stuff because it doesn't affect me."

It seems a part of the issue (or maybe the whole issue entirely) is that your boyfriend has shown himself to be immature and incapable of having serious discussions.

And FYI, there are plenty of gems out there to be had who behave like grown adults capable of adult conversation. You sound like a nice person, if you've discovered a 'gem' like this can find better ones. And you deserve it. Everyone deserves to be with someone who cares, has empathy, is understanding, has patience, and truly listens to their partner. It would upset me greatly if my SO wouldn't try to make a serious effort (or at least not deliberately trying to sabotage it every time) to understand me.

I think you should strongly consider breaking up with him.
posted by driedmango at 10:32 PM on March 26, 2013 [17 favorites]

How old is he? The answer to your question is very different if he is 20 and if he is 30.
posted by empath at 10:36 PM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

DTMFA. Not even for that -ist dumbfuckery, but for shutting you down and not giving you two shits of respect.
posted by Keter at 10:37 PM on March 26, 2013 [14 favorites]

How old is he? If he's in his 30s or 40s, then he's likely set in his ways and has had chance to change but hasn't taken it. But people in their 20s can still have a lot of growing to do, and he may well come to understand that he needs to have more empathy and respect for others. This is especially true if he comes from a narrow or sheltered background.
posted by Jehan at 10:37 PM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

On re-reading this. He referred to you as "the Gash". I do not tolerate being spoken to or about in such a disrespectful manner. Neither you should or anyone else. DTMFA.
posted by driedmango at 10:42 PM on March 26, 2013 [65 favorites]

As time goes on, I worry that he might actually be racist or sexist, even though he treats people of all sorts very well out in the world.

So he treats people okay, except for how he insults them with racist and sexist language? Sorry to say, based on the behavior you've described, he seems pretty goddamned racist and sexist already.

Also, "I don't really care about that stuff because it doesn't affect me." is a huge red flag of immaturity and disrespect, and basically comes down to "I can't be bothered to modify my hurtful behavior because other people's pain isn't real to me." Have you ever talked with him about how sexist behavior (because sexist jokes and sexist language count as sexist behavior) hurts you, specifically? Not just that it's offensive or not funny, but that it actively causes you harm and makes you feel like he doesn't respect you? Because calling you the Gash and not really apologizing screams "I don't respect you."

Sure, you can continue the long, uphill slog to change his racist and sexist ways against his will, but why should that be your obligation? Why should you be the one who gets hurt by his offensive language while you attempt to better him? Why the fuck should you put up with a man who called you "the Gash" and didn't grovel in abject apology when he realized how offensive and disrespectful that is? DTMFA. You are not obligated to be his learning experience, I don't care how young and sheltered he is.
posted by yasaman at 10:43 PM on March 26, 2013 [28 favorites]

When I told him that was offensive he said he was trying to be funny. I told him I was still offended. He said I'm trying to "change him" — and , "I don't really care about that stuff because it doesn't affect me."

Leaving the issues of racism and sexism aside, he has demonstrated that he doesn't care how you feel. Caring how you feel should be an inherent part of being a boyfriend.

You know what to do.
posted by pompomtom at 10:50 PM on March 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Honestly, what would you say to a friend that described the same scenario to you?

He sounds like a juvenile jerk that lacks a fundamental sensitivity that is important to a robust relationship with a person like you.

He may be saying it's just his brand of humor but if you find it intolerable and he is resisting change, then it doesn't look great for your chances at happiness. This is especially so since it seems like his network outside of you, friends and family, share in the same culture that you find abhorrent.

As the saying goes, vote with your feet! If one year together hasn't done it, not sure what two or more would do.
posted by dottiechang at 10:51 PM on March 26, 2013

Are you really sure he isn't negging you and pushing your boundaries over and over to establish long-term dominance in a 'playful' manner? Because I'm not. DTMFA.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:52 PM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Does it really matter if he actually is racist/sexist/homophobic or just acts like he is all the time, even after he knows this upsets you? In my opinion, it doesn't matter at all. Other people who hear him behaving this way aren't going to care if he's joking or not. They would just be offended. Rightfully so. He's acting like as ass.

If you want to make one more attempt at getting him to see the light, you could sit him down and explain in no uncertain terms that he's acting like a racist/sexist/homophobic pig, and unless he wants to see you walk out the door, he needs to step up and grow up. Personally, I wouldn't bother. You seem to have made it abundantly clear that his behavior is offensive to you, and he doesn't seem to care.

And quite frankly, as a couple others have said, any boyfriend who referred to me as "the gash" to his friends would quickly find himself being an ex-boyfriend. Doubly so since he felt the need to share the scene again with his friends over dinner that night.

You'll meet people who are gems in every way but one, but sometimes that one is a deal breaker and can't be overcome.
posted by Orb at 10:54 PM on March 26, 2013 [12 favorites]

>>the boyfriend said, "Let me check with the Gash."

As if the rest wasn't enough, this right here tells you everything you need to know. I would never call a man who talked about me to his friends--or ANYONE--that way my "boyfriend". Or, really, my friend. That is horrible. All of this is horrible. And unacceptable. No amount of sensitive relationship discussion from you will fix what is wrong with this picture. I hate to be that person, but please dump this juvenile asshole and get a boyfriend who is actually truly a nice guy.
posted by anonnymoose at 10:56 PM on March 26, 2013 [33 favorites]

P.S. You deserve better.
posted by anonnymoose at 10:57 PM on March 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Imagine your future children saying stuff like that.

Seriously. His sister also sounds charming. Do you want to get further entangled in a family that makes gay jokes, when your best friend is gay? If you are worried his off-handed comments are going to hurt your public career, how prepared are you to spend the rest of your life trying to control his family's comments? That's going to be like herding cats. Offensive cats.

He makes racist and sexist jokes. He called you a prude. He refers to you as The Gash (I'd prefer The Old Ball and Chain, seriously). You're worried he's going to upset your friends and hurt your career. And he isn't even ACTUALLY FUNNY.

I hate to break it to you, but saying "other than that, he's a gem" is kind of like, "other than the fact that it's invested with cockroaches and the heat doesn't work and there's a huge leak right over my bed, and I think there's a gas leak, this apartment is great!" He's not actually a gem. I promise you, you can find someone with all his good qualities who ALSO doesn't call you The Gash and can refrain from using the f word during AN AIDS DOCUMENTARY.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:57 PM on March 26, 2013 [45 favorites]

My husband can have a sense of humor that's over the line(though if I call him on it he's ashamed and says sorry), but thing is I know in his heart he is not racist, sexist, or homophobic, he treats all people with respect, and he knows when he's with people who are"safe" for those types of jokes and and ehen he's with those who aren't. I guess if your bf also meet those same criteria i would let it go.
posted by bananafish at 10:57 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really can't figure out how a guy who called you "The Gash" - twice, because it was so funny the first time - is "respectful", "considerate", or "charming". Yuck. Maybe he's mostly those good things, but when he's not, he is being a complete jackass.
posted by gingerest at 11:04 PM on March 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm male and straight, but I would drop someone even as an *acquaintance* for saying those things.
posted by ead at 11:06 PM on March 26, 2013 [59 favorites]

I can not imagine a person amazing enough to even give me pause before walking out the door after they referred to me as The Gash. I don't care if he's covered in jewels and farts magic glitter. If you thought it was funny I'd say you may as well hold onto him, considering how limited the pool of interested ladies must be, but since you clearly aren't I'm just confused.

There are a lot of men who wouldn't have that term even enter their heads, if you get where I'm going with that.
posted by Dynex at 11:06 PM on March 26, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'll picking out my own detail that sets off the alarm bells here--

He retold the whole argument at the dinner party later that night.

Your boyfriend is a performer, and I don't mean that in a good way. He is a signed-up member of the peanut gallery, a Beavis and Butthead cosplayer. It sort of doesn't matter whether he's racist/sexist in his heart, because the symptoms here are of an amateur insult comic wired to play to an audience even if that audience doesn't want to live every hour as a fucking roast.

Is it unfair to suspect that you're the butt of the joke as part of other performances when you're not around, especially among friends and family of his who are perhaps a more receptive crowd? I don't think so.
posted by holgate at 11:09 PM on March 26, 2013 [113 favorites]

I think people can change. I think they will change. If they want to. I don't think they can change overnight. I think there is hope for your bf and for your relationship.

I would sit down with him and have a serious heart to heart. I would not be accusatory or angry. I would try to come across as wanting to genuinely work together to fix what is broken. I would tell him that you think he is a terrific person, etc as you told us. Then I would tell him that telling racist, sexist, homophobic jokes is a huge problem for you. You simply cannot and will not tolerate it. You recognize that it may take some time to change habits and you are willing to work with him to do so. I would come up with a phrase or a word that when you say it, you are telling him that whatever he just said is not ok and needs to be stopped.

See if he is willing to try. See if he takes it seriously. Then, a few months from now if he is not making progress, decide if it is a deal breaker or not. If he is making progress and is showing an understanding of why what he is saying is wrong, then continue to work with him (train him).

Only you know in your heart if he is a good person. I think actions speak louder than words. While I am not in any way condoning what he says, I think the way he treats people is more an indication of his true feelings than what he says in an attempt to be funny.

It is easy (and not necessarily wrong) to simply say that what he calls you or the jokes he makes are deal breakers and you should dump his ass. It will be hard to try to work through it and to change his behaviour. Before you take the easy way out, if you believe in your heart he is a good man, make the hard decision to try to change his behavior.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:13 PM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

the first adjective you use to describe your bf is "respectful". uh, no he isn't. not to you or others. you can give him an ultimatum but i doubt it will do any good. i think you know it's time to move on.
posted by wildflower at 11:15 PM on March 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

"Let me check with the Gash."

I had to stop and re-read that for it to actually sink in that he really referred to you that way. It's appalling, offensive, and humiliating. You deserve better.
posted by 168 at 11:15 PM on March 26, 2013 [18 favorites]

Yeah, re-reading this in detail, I'm modifying my response. The guy disrespects you. Dump him. I asked about his age, because people from sheltered backgrounds often just don't know any better and will grow out crass humor like that, but the guy is treating you, personally, like shit in the meantime and nobody should put up with that.
posted by empath at 11:24 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

My partner has a theory about the line and the balance - if you cross the line into offense, the humour better well outweigh the meanness. He still misses, makes some awful 'jokes' and still, ten years in, occasionally offends me. But when he does it's awful and he feels awful and apologises and it never happens again (he just finds new and exciting ways to offend me! Or more accurately, is running out of ways as we go along). I talked about it once before, but it's a learning behaviour and your boyfriend is refusing to learn.

Like, seriously, the other anachronism sometimes calls me 'wifey' and sometimes does stupid shit that is sexist and I get offended and we fight and then, after a while, it becomes a joke about the time he did the stupid thing and I got offended. The key part of that process is that a: there is some time between the incident and the joke retelling and b: I TELL THE JOKE NOT HIM. Him telling the joke is making it a joke about me, laughing at me (unless it's done superbly well and it sounds like your boyfriend doesn't have the comedic chops for that) - me telling it is a joke about us, about the situation (even if I tell it badly, which happens). He, regardless of what he says, is coming from a position of power and when he tells a joke about you getting upset over a really vicious horrible slur is really not showing any respect for you.

And the moment someone said they are allowed to joke about women being raped in India because 'it doesn't affect them' is the moment I would begin to make an exit plan because that is viscerally anti-empathic and truly worrisome.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:26 PM on March 26, 2013 [12 favorites]

I've met guys like him. They're shits. Change him into your ex-boyfriend.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:31 PM on March 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Here's another problem: his behaviour will reflect badly on you. Especially if you have a public career.

I know a guy so much like your boyfriend that the only reason I suspect this is not him is that I haven't heard these specific stories before. And I think I would have, because if there's one thing he loves more than offending people with these stupid "jokes", it's retelling the stories to other people to mock how offended the first people got. Anyway, my first, second and third impressions of this dude were that he is a total unredeemed asshole. If I hadn't had to work with him as a colleague, I wouldn't have bothered getting to know him any better. I met his girlfriend a few times socially and would also not have tried to get to know her at all, assuming that she must be a dickhead or otherwise completely uncivilised in order to like a guy like him. That bolded bit is the sort of assumption that could end up being a problem for you.

Now as it happens, because I keep getting pushed together with this guy through work, I have got to see a different side of him, gradually. He does have many redeeming features. (I still can't stand his sense of humour, the way he mocks people, the way he thinks his bar for offense is the only one that matters, or the way he disrespects women. But I do see some of the good things about him, and have started to realise that his girlfriend has reasons to like him, so maybe she isn't a terrible person and maybe I should get to know her a bit.)
posted by lollusc at 11:32 PM on March 26, 2013 [21 favorites]

I think there are people who consistently say and do inflammatory things for a laugh. In that moment, they are in it for the crowd - and they are willing to erase the humanity and throw people and causes under the bus for that laugh, just so they can be seen as edgy or in or whatever.

There came a moment when I realized that the guy I was seeing who was doing it, was doing it because he was weak. It was more important for him to see if he could get people to chuckle with a demeaning joke about some woman wearing an unfortunate clothing choice, than it was to stop himself because I was uncomfortable with it, or to stop himself because he wouldn't dare say it to that woman's face. It was then I noticed he had a bit of a blind privilege/coward combo that kind of made me frown when I thought about it. It wasn't that I was trying to change him, it was that he really didn't want to learn how to make jokes any other way, or to learn how to be okay with not being the life of the party, and just be quiet. He was kind of okay with the price of his words - demeaning some group of people, embarrassing himself and I thought, me.

So I ended it. Ultimately this is one of those things that when you have the privilege not to see, you have to choose to see, and try to change accordingly. He was willfully choosing not to take responsibility for his words. He was choosing not to see. And while I could respect his right to make that choice, I found it hard to really respect him. He was a great guy in a lot of ways. But I realized I a least wanted to be with a guy who was at least open to seeing. Who wasn't squeezing his eyes shut and then telling me I was the downer who was making it all dark and dreary up in here. If you are busy making racist ass jokes, I hope we can at least agree that the problem here isn't that I'm bringing you down for pointing that out to you. It didn't matter that he never made racist or sexist jokes about me. He kept thinking that that was an important distinction. I kept understanding that it wasn't. Because the people he was joking with might not be able to appreciate the nuance about the fact that he was referring to hoes, and not fine upstanding women such as myself. And I just hated being at the table when that happened. Hated it, and all the eye rolling in the world didn't make it better.

And while I didn't explain it nearly well enough at the time, the next guy I dated got it instantly, and was just as sweet as the other guy to boot. This is one of those insidious values reasons as to why people break up. It's not direct, and it's not constant. But it's really hard to let go of once you notice it, because every time he does it - the stupid crowd titillating joke - you question his judgment. And that just begins to kill the relationship at the roots.
posted by anitanita at 11:40 PM on March 26, 2013 [27 favorites]

it's not the juvenile crap-humor - it's this bullshit about "you're trying to change me" - i've been caught saying some pretty unbelievably immature shit in my day, but there is no way in hell i would ever say "you're trying to change me" to somebody i gave even half a crap about. that right there is a deal-breaker.
posted by facetious at 11:47 PM on March 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

Ya know, I used to indulge in this sense of humor when I was a teen/ early 20's. But I had cut bits out over the years. A special-ed teacher told me how her kids cry because they are called "retard". I made a girl cry once because she overheard me make a rape joke. Those were shitty, fucked up things and I was an absolutely terrible, self-centered piece of shit for saying them. Sure, I can volunteer at a Take Back The Night rally or petition my representatives for protecting choice, but isolated incidents of good dont balance isolated incidents of vile behavior.

When actual flesh and blood human beings were hurt or called me on my shit I stopped. I could empathize with them because their naked pain was so real. Do you get a sense that this guy is empathizing with you and the many other people he is hurting? From your description it doesn't seem like it. Perhaps dumping him will be the much needed kick in the ass he needs. Either way you will have improved your situation and given him a concrete reason to stop being a racist, mysogonist, homophobe. Because his behavior and my past behavior is the genuine article. Even if we do claim we were kidding the effect is the same.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:49 PM on March 26, 2013 [33 favorites]

Here's another problem: his behaviour will reflect badly on you. Especially if you have a public career.

This. I have known a guy like this for decades and he is a decent guy. He's not racist or homophobic in thought or action but he says some jaw dropping stuff trying to be "funny" and then he thinks everyone should be Minnesota nice about it if they don't agree and is offended when anyone openly tells him to put a sock in it. I know its held him back at work and reflected badly on people he's associated with. I'd say it was his upbringing and place of origin but his brother grew out of that shit in his early 20s so it's clearly not all that.

Rereading your question and wanted to add- this guy might make the Chinese joke or call his wife something offensive, in both cases mimicking something he'd been exposed to before (possibly in the 70s) in an attempt to make a joke, but he wouldn't openly mock AIDS patients. That seems pretty pointed and vicious to me.
posted by fshgrl at 11:57 PM on March 26, 2013

Collecting and nthing fshgrl, dottiechang, and scody's answers.

Lack of empathy is always disturbing (rape in India), and his behavior shows a cultural / standards difference between you two that you don't deserve to be burdened with resolving.

You don't need to meet shittiness in the middle, or touch it to try to airlift it to your side.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:04 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

He makes these terrible jokes...all the time? He must really be a gem if you haven't already dumped him.

It sounds like he really likes to make jokes with the people he's close to. Can you steer him towards making jokes that are actually funny to both of you? Maybe you can try, lightheartedly, to beat him at his own game. Try to top each other with offensive jokes. Try to make each other laugh by any means possible. Maybe show him some examples of edgy humor that isn't offensive. The point is to make the end result of fixing your disagreement positive for both of you. Right now, you're in a situation where only one of you can win, which ultimately means that the relationship is going to be damaged. If he gives in, he can't make jokes anymore until he figures out how to be funny in a way that you like. Except--he genuinely doesn't seem to get why they aren't funny, and you aren't really giving him any positive examples of what is funny. So, he'll resent you and feel rejected. If you give in, you have to put up with these nasty, unfunny jokes for the rest of your relationship. So, you'll resent him and respect him less.

However, if you help him find jokes that you will both laugh at, you're working on the problem together. You'll also be spending a lot of time laughing and figuring each other out, which is a good thing in terms of making your relationship better. He's already trying to understand where the lines are supposed to be drawn, which suggests that he's already trying to do this by himself. Give him a hand!
posted by rhythm and booze at 12:05 AM on March 27, 2013

All of it sounds boorish and cringe-worthy. Most horrible is calling you his 'gash' and then repeating the tale as though he has the high ground. Tone deaf at the very least.

But the thing I can't stand the most is the whinging "You're trying to change me" refrain. Like changing is a bad thing when you are doing something hurtful and insensitive to not just to your spouse, but to others around you. Just say 'Yes, I am asking you to change a behaviour which is eminently changeable. Can you do that? Will you do that? Your answer is important."
posted by honey-barbara at 12:07 AM on March 27, 2013 [26 favorites]

even though he treats people of all sorts very well out in the world

Unless you're around your boyfriend 24/7, you can't know this is true. And it's not like standing around at work talking about that hot temp's ass or mocking that new guy from India's accent is somehow okay behaviour simply because he's doing it behind their back.

Your boyfriend is sexist, racist, and homophobic. He can't magically turn off that part of his brain in the real world, even if he does (sometimes) keep his mouth shut. That's one of the reasons why sexism, racism and homophobia can be so insidious, because even if a man's learnt not to, say, sexually harass a woman in the workplace, it still doesn't mean he'll consider her as an equal when it comes time to promote someone.

Only you can decide if you're okay dating this guy, but I agree with others that you're unlikely to get him to change. And you know why? Because he doesn't respect you and your feelings either, as exemplified by that awful Gash story and the way he told it a second time at a dinner party just to mock you.

I'm sorry. You deserve much better.
posted by Georgina at 12:30 AM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Thirding Monsieur Caution. I once knew a dude at work like this (who was 29 or 30) who made offensive jokes and crossed my personal boundaries. I gave him the benefit of the doubt at first, thinking he was making fun of racists and sexists, but it eventually dawned on me that his crappy jokes stemmed from the fact that he was actually racist and sexist. And he had a longtime girlfriend, but he made a pass at me and I realized how even his jokes revealed what a gigantic red flag the dude was, even as an acquaintance at work. Among other things, it's like he used the jokes to see how far he could get away with disrespectful, boundary-pushing behavior. I remember basically everyone, including myself, was uncomfortable around him (and I cut him off, which gave me so much peace of mind). I could not imagine being in a relationship with a child like that.

I understand there may be a part of you that wants to make this work, but I think that not dumping him would just waste your time until you can't take his disrespect anymore, because as far as he's concerned in his twisted mind, he doesn't believe there is any problem with his actions, so he's unlikely to change, as he seems to get reinforcement from his sister, and possibly the rest of his family too. He seems to think that you are the problem, being a 'prude' among other awful names, but you're not in the wrong here. Life is too short to waste it on someone as disrespectful as this. Consider moving on and finding a decent, respectful man to be with, who is capable of being considerate and sensitive to your feelings and also to women and people in general, even if it "doesn't affect him." Good luck.
posted by timespacewheredoifit at 12:34 AM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

I feel a bit of sympathy for the guy, because he sounds so much like my dad. My dad genuinely went to the mat when he suspected his daughter might be gay, and the world might be hostile to his amazing lesbian daughter. But he talks like any other blue collar Republican who's threatened by high falutin' pc rhetoric. It's painful because I think he simultaneously respects each individual he meets, while still perpetuating sexist racist attitudes through casual jokes and asides. It's hypocritical. But racism and sexism don't persist because of a few Snidely Whiplash-esque characters.

I tolerate my dad's bad habits because he's of certain generation. He was entrenched with these stereotypes, it would be unreasonable to expect him to just let it all go. Beneficial, yes. But it's difficult emotional work to uproot these biases, so I accept it as unlikely. I pick the battles that address how he treats people, and turn a blind eye to the terrible jokes.

But the key difference is that Im talking about my dad. The constant teetering of respect between the two generations is expected and normal. In a loving romantic relationship? Not so much. You won't change him. And you won't respect him until you do.

So same DTMFA conclusion. But perhaps a way to reconcile the good you see in him with the bad.
posted by politikitty at 1:01 AM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

"Let me check with the Gash."

What the fuck!? No, that's not ok.

Hey, for what it's worth I basically never comment in relationship AskMe threads. I was brought here by Scody's comment showing up in my sidebar and a bout of insomnia.

And I've been accused a few times of being too tolerant (if not outright co-dependent) in love, and I've been called (I quote directly) "a fearless love warrior" among other things, and I really don't like to kiss and tell but...

Those things your BF is saying aren't "jokes" even if he follows them up with "I was just joking." They're bald-faced ugly slurs. Your boyfriend is a dick.

I went on a few dates over a year ago with a gal that I liked a fair amount, and on our last date she took me out to eat. We were talking about our general pasts and where we grew up and stuff and I talked about growing up in LA. I had noticed little bits of ignorance, bigotry or xenophobia or whatever but I was letting it slide and being, well, you know - tolerant, because she grew up in a smaller town or city.

When I mentioned and talked about LA her response was (direct quote): "Huh. I thought LA was all just criminals and niggers." at which point my jaw shattered on the floor and there was a lot of uncomfortable silence and Seattle's patented blend of passive-aggressive staring at us in shock and she was totally oblivious that what she just said was totally unacceptable to anyone polite.

I basically just shut up for the rest of the meal and all I could think of was "I can never take you out to meet any of my friends" and "This is totally not going to work" and "Well, that's over. How do I kindly and gracefully extract myself from this?"

Which did indeed end up being slightly, briefly messy with protests that it was my job to educate her about what might not be appropriate to say at a restaurant in Seattle (or ever!) and she tried some classical blame shifting like it was my fault for not setting those boundaries or something.

"Sorry hun, I'm out. I can't deal with that kind of intolerance and casual bigotry. Have a nice life."

It's not your job to change him. He probably won't, anyway. Change is hard. If he wanted to change he probably already would have.
posted by loquacious at 1:11 AM on March 27, 2013 [54 favorites]

I think if you care about not being a bigot you are going to become more that way as time goes on. Similarly if he does not care and resents your trying to change his expression of bigotry, he will become more offensive as time goes on. You will be less able to tolerate him and he will be more mocking of your progressive view. This stuff matters and if you are serious about your principles, it eventually won't matter whether you think he respects you--which he doesn't-- because you won't be able to respect him. One day something like overhearing him call you 'the gash' will be the absolute last straw and you'll wonder what took you so long to act on what you've known all along. Save yourself all that time and aggravation and believe what he is telling you about himself. Find someone who at least agrees with you about basic human rights.
posted by Anitanola at 1:30 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

If your sweet and caring boyfriend calls you "The Gash" to your friends when you're in the other room, I wonder what he "jokingly" calls you when you are not there to monitor him.

You need to police this guy to get him to act the way you think is appropriate. Do you enjoy that? If so, stay. If not, move on.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 2:03 AM on March 27, 2013 [13 favorites]

I have had something like the same problem at least twice. I am attracted to outrageous humor, but only facetious outrageous humor. Telling sexist jokes as a joke kind of thing. I've ended up almost dating a couple of whacked out people as a result. That moment when you realize, "Oh my God, you've never been really joking, have you?" is kind of twisted. I bailed on mine, because we weren't dating.

I suppose if you want to save the relationship, you need to do what you might do with any other problem. "I am really not trying to change you. I think you have many good qualities of generosity, boo, and blah. But I am uncomfortable around this humor stuff. And we have to find a way of working it out, because it is becoming a big thing for me. I really am not trying to attack you, I like you. Can we talk about it?" I suppose if he becomes defensive, you have your answer.
posted by amodelcitizen at 2:08 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to live with a guy like this. Almost everything describes him perfectly.

I'll add that he had a seemingly ok girlfriend, but the main thing is that he toned it way down when she was around. He would still say awful shit, but the frequency and intensity was lower.

My main point though, is that he said awful shit about her whenever she wasnt around. Why the fuck would you put up with that? Do you really believe he isn't if he calls you "the gash" even just that one time you've heard of? And said guy from my life also farted out WAY worse shit in general when she wasnt around.

Oh, and as said above, it reflected pretty fucking badly on her for associating with him. Everyone new this guy was a complete clownshoe in the worst possible sense, and to a lot of people she just became "mr buttheads girlfriend" first and herself second since he cast such a huge shadow with his cockery.

Mainly though, I think the best point is if this is what he shows you on presumably his "best behavior", what else is he doing when you aren't around? You can't pretend it's all sunshine and rainbow, I've seen this shit firsthand.

My story, by the way, ended in an asskicking and a large and decent group of people never talking to him again.

or her.
posted by emptythought at 2:18 AM on March 27, 2013 [14 favorites]

I'm guessing you and your guy are pretty young, based on the way you describe him.

He may not be an actual racist or homophobe so much as he's getting off on saying obnoxious, transgressive things and the attention this gets him. It also probably gains him social currency among other guys in his peer group. This is a common thing in certain social circles, young men especially. Some grow out of it pretty early; others don't.

The thing is, and this is coming from a guy who used to run with guys like you're describing... I'm afraid I wouldn't hold out much hope for real, lasting changes in your boyfriend's behavior. What changes he *has* made are probably solely for your
benefit, because he likes you and is trying to keep the peace. You are probably the only person in his life who is pulling him up on his behavior. And he is already starting to resent you for it, because clearly, at some level, doing this stuff is rewarding/gratifying for him. In his eyes, you are being a great big buzzkill.

You need to decide if this guy's behavior is a dealbreaker, because this behavior is really, really unlikely to change.

(Also - Nthing all the people who are saying his lack of empathy is way more of a red flag than the stupid racist/sexist jokes).
posted by Broseph at 2:25 AM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

You say he's thoughtful, considerate and respectful --- of WHO?!? Certainly not of other people when he's "saying whatever overtly racist, homophobic or sexist joke he can think of", and definately not of YOU when he calls you things like "the Gash" IN YOUR HEARING.

Then there's his "I'm just kidding" and "prude" comments..... that's classic bullying lines: 'if you don't appreciate my jokes, then there's something wrong with YOU, and YOU are the one with the defective sense of humor'.

And finally, the jokes about viscious, violent gang rapes: oh hell NO.
posted by easily confused at 2:27 AM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

"He is a truly wonderful boyfriend: respectful..."

Are you kidding me? He referred to you as a really disgusting, disrespectful term. And then he brought it up again in larger company! And he calls you a prude when you're honest with your feelings. How is any of this respectful?

"willing to work on our relationship,"

No he's not. He's not willing to change to become a better person and to make your relationship better. He is becoming defensive of his sexist, homophobic and racist view of the world, rather than realising what this is doing to you and your relationship with each other.

"eager to be a team..."

He called you The Gash when he thought you were out of his hearing. Then he brought it up again. Sounds more backstabby than a team if you ask me.

"emotional, considerate..."

Really? The guy who says he doesn't care about rape because it doesn't effect him while you, a woman, is sitting right there in front of him - he's emotional and considerate?

Sorry to be really hammering at this, but dude, he calls you names not only behind your back but right in front of you as well!

"a great friend."
Maybe to his other friends, but I don't see how he's that great of a friend to you. I wouldn't put up with this nonsense with acquaintances let alone a boyfriend.

"He is not really budging on the sexist stuff, and that gets under my skin particularly since I am a feminist and feel those issues deeply (I can just imagine the joke he'd make here about "feeling it deeply," ugh.)"

What an awful way to live your life. Look, I think you already know what you need to do. I got your back.
posted by like_neon at 2:57 AM on March 27, 2013 [17 favorites]

He is a truly wonderful boyfriend: respectful...
He laughed and joked at the screen, "Faggot!"

then the friend asked on the phone if I was available at that time, the boyfriend said, "Let me check with the Gash."

"I don't really care about that stuff because it doesn't affect me."

he paused, got serious and called me a "prude."

...willing to work on our relationship...
I told him I was still offended. He said I'm trying to "change him"

posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:29 AM on March 27, 2013 [90 favorites]

Joining the chorus: I don't think i could stay friends with someone who referred to his worst female enemy as a "gash." And - reading back over your question - he talked about this at the party all like "lulz can you believe The Gash was of-fend-ed I called her that"??! How does he even get invited to dinner parties in the first place I don't even.

He lacks basic respect, empathy, and decency, and he's uninterested in learning. Maybe he'll grow out of it in five years, but it's not worth sticking around to see if he does. You deserve better, and you can do better.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:39 AM on March 27, 2013 [13 favorites]

Despite how I might seem on the green, I am actually very, very laid-back about friends' and loved ones' behaviour. I have no problem recognizing when someone's being rude, in principle or in practice, but 99.9% of the time I just let it go. A sliver of 0.1% of the time I say, "hey could you move a little to the left please? thanks." Only the remaining sliver of that 0.1% is the DTMFA zone, for me. Maybe you wouldn't think so from my complete works here, but I'm very very very slow to anger.

But here's the thing about giving people a lot of rope. You get a really good sense of when someone's committed a hanging offense. Those are the cases that really draw my attention here.

That name he called you when he was talking about you on the phone? I can't even bring myself to repeat it. And then he used your objection to it to make fun of you at the dinner table, just to make sure you know that that's what he genuinely thinks of you.

I'm deadly serious about this, as much as I wish I weren't. That name he called you? That's what he thinks you are.

You know how it's often said, here, that people tell you who they are and what they think? Well, he did. It's that bad.

I am in no way exaggerating when I say that someone who talked about me like that is someone I would walk out on without a moment's hesitation. I don't say this lightly. It would be a difficult, painful, and embarrassing thing to do, and also probably very costly and a cause of serious logistical upheavals in my life. But I'd still do it.

And it wouldn't matter what else the person had going for them, either. It wouldn't matter to me if that person rescued orphans and resuscitated stray puppies and kitties by night while tirelessly working at a women's shelter during the day. They'd still get the consequences of talking like that about me, which would be that I'd leave. (If they really were that good a person and they just made one galactic-level mistake, then presumably they'd find a way to make it right and win me back, so I'm not being completely merciless here - but it wouldn't stop me leaving in the first place.)

I can't even imagine how humiliating it must be to be talked about like that. I thought I had had every possible thing said to me, been called every possible name, and nothing that anyone could ever say or do could shock me. I was wrong. Even the former boss who apparently was referring to me as "the dog" was not so insulting as this.

People who say this is going to reflect badly on you, and limit your opportunities in ways you can't even see, are right BTW. I could expand on that, but I frankly just don't have the energy.
posted by tel3path at 3:43 AM on March 27, 2013 [67 favorites]

Let me tell you something from the voice of experience here: if you would not choose this person as a friend, don't keep him as a boyfriend.

In a typical day of hanging out with and seeing movies with your friends, isn't it nice how you don't have to put up with their vicious, hateful "joking"? Don't your friends treat you respectfully without referring to you with demeaning nicknames?

You know decent people exist, and you choose your social circle based on that decency and wouldn't tolerate such boorish behavior in a friend. So there's no reason to put up with it in a significant other. Someone who can't even meet the "friend" threshold shouldn't be a boyfriend.
posted by deanc at 3:57 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

These are not jokes. They're not even unfunny jokes. All of your examples are simply him calling people (including you) mean names, or mocking people. This is not a "questionable sense of humor" problem.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:00 AM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

Allow me to be the tympani in this orchestra, booming out: NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:24 AM on March 27, 2013 [23 favorites]

I have a slightly different perspective on this from everybody else. I've spent a lot of time around professional comedy writers, who tend to have an incredibly dark and transgressive sense of humor. I've heard amazingly offensive things come out of the mouths of people who I know to be wonderful, kind human beings. Sometimes those things are masterpieces of beautifully crafted transgressive comedy. Sometimes they're just crude and shocking for the sake of being crude and shocking.

So, taken in a vacuum, the fact that your boyfriend is making these jokes does not mean he is a bad person.


When I was in a room with a bunch of comedy writers, and a non-writer came in, the tone would shift completely. Everybody would censor themselves, because we all knew that most people would be genuinely hurt and offended by the kind of material we were throwing around.

And every comedy writer I know negotiates these issues differently with their spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends. Some people have partners with equally dark sense of humor, and anything goes at home. Some people don't, and to avoid offending the people they love, they save their really dark stuff for the office.

That's because comedy is a way of communicating. In a comedy room, sick jokes mean We have 100% creative freedom here, and also I'm totally shock proof.

The first time your boyfriend made offensive jokes in front of you, maybe he was just communicating I'm completely comfortable letting it all hang out around you and You understand me so well, I can make racist jokes and you'll know I mean them ironically.

But once you expressed your discomfort with this, his jokes starting communicating something different. Something like I don't respect your feelings enough to stop doing this, or maybe I don't have the self-control to stop doing this, or perhaps I know you don't like this but this is too important an aspect of who I am to give it up.

And calling you an offensive word, and then laughing at your hurt feelings, and then repeating the anecdote at a dinner party as if everybody else would find your hurt feelings amusing -- that's a deeply callous and disrespectful move.

Now, when he says you're trying to change him-- he's right. You are. And you know what? You have a right to ask him to change. For my wife, I stopped wearing ratty old clothes that were held together with scotch tape. For me, my wife started going to bed earlier. Neither of us could have changed who we are, but we were happy to change at least some of the things we do.

If he feels you're asking him to change something that is an important part of his identity, he has a right to say "No." And if he says "no," you have a right to decide whether you want to keep dating him.

Finally... Next time you express your discomfort and he accuses you of lacking a sense of humor, please feel free to show him this response. Tell him you consulted with a professional comedy writer, who has written stuff for HBO, the BBC, The Onion, McSweeneys, and The New Yorker. And tell him I think he's acting like an ass.
posted by yankeefog at 4:36 AM on March 27, 2013 [132 favorites]

As other people have said, even if you actually believe he is all those nice things (although everything you've posted argues against that), you will shed friends and acquaintances if you stay with this man.

I would shun anyone associated with a man like your boyfriend on the assumption that if they stayed with him they must approve of his behavior. Do you want people thinking you are like him?
posted by winna at 4:43 AM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

You don't often see a relationship Askmefi as painfully obvious as this one. His racist, sexist, unkind, uncaring, disrespectful behaviour isn't a joke. It is who he is and how he thinks. Aside from all of his "jokes", he is showing you that he doesn't care how he makes you feel. He won't stop an offensive hurtful behaviour, even though it hurs and upsets you. He actually gets DEFENSIVE at the idea of ceasing this damaging, upsetting, insulting behaviour.

Sorry, but NONE of what he is doing is okay on any level for me. And even if he had all those other good traits you say he has (which I cannot believe considering everything else you wrote) this would all be dealbreaker stuff for me.

I don't think he warrants the DTMFA acronym.
He warrants a full "Dump the mother fucker already".
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:47 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

"I don't really care about that stuff because it doesn't affect me."

I don't think his sense of humor is the problem. This, right here, is the problem, and I've never seen this attitude change in a person if it's really there. This part isn't racism/sexism/homophobia at work, this is lack of empathy at work, and lack of empathy is not something you're going to educate him out of, in my opinion. Everything you're talking about doing -- telling him how much it bothers you, explaining it's "not cool" -- requires as a baseline that he be able to see and interested in seeing things from other people's points of view. And if he says this, and means it (and I tend to adopt the Maya Angelou philosophy that when people tell you about themselves, you should believe them), then that's the end of the inquiry. For me, anyway. Not for everybody.

Trying to teach various specific kinds of ... walking gently in the world, I guess, to a person who (1) doesn't care about anything that doesn't affect him directly and (2) thinks that's a perfectly okay attitude to express is, for me, like trying to bake a cake with the oven off.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:48 AM on March 27, 2013 [17 favorites]

My brother had a habit of either re-telling the joke or following it with a similar joke where the subject was boyfriend's mother. Any reaction was lightly met with, come on, I'm just joking! Seemed to work best in a group setting. This leaves him having to explain why some stuff just isn't that funny.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:49 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're trying to change him, and I wish it would work, but it most likely won't. But you can certainly change your attitude toward putting up with that shit at all!

*awful disgusting sexist/racist comment*

**door slamming shut**
posted by oceanjesse at 4:56 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your boyfriend is racist and sexist and a bit homophobic: that's just the truth. I would say, aside from his lack of respect for you (GASH?!?!? Gurl, no.) you have no way to truly know what he says or does when you're not there. He may be otherwise very loving and supportive of you but you can't be with him in every interaction all the time for the rest of your lives to know. For example, how do you know he's not talking down to female or POC peers at work, if you aren't with him?

For the sake of your own career, let alone your self-respect because he's not respecting you, I would DTMFA.
posted by itsonreserve at 5:01 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

it's this bullshit about "you're trying to change me"

This should not be the line that shuts down the argument. Yes, you are asking him to change something about himself. He is under no obligation to do so. The next part of the discussion is you saying, "oh well, then I guess this isn't going to work out". Plenty of people who make "jokes" like this find partners who have no problem with it so he'll be fine. When you leave you could always tell him that if he decides he'll miss you more than being an offensive person lacking in any empathy or foresight or respect for you (or anyone else) he can give you a call and you might consider possibly thinking about testing the waters. But I wouldn't wait by the phone if I were you. You'll find someone else who is actually all the things you describe without all the disclaimers.

And if he really is just wanting to be funny tell him to take some improv classes or something in the meantime. Or find a time portal back to the Catskill Mountains in 1955.
posted by mikepop at 5:23 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

yankeefrog: But once you expressed your discomfort with this, his jokes starting communicating something different. Something like I don't respect your feelings enough to stop doing this, or maybe I don't have the self-control to stop doing this, or perhaps I know you don't like this but this is too important an aspect of who I am to give it up.

And calling you an offensive word, and then laughing at your hurt feelings, and then repeating the anecdote at a dinner party as if everybody else would find your hurt feelings amusing -- that's a deeply callous and disrespectful move.

This is really insightful and explains my personal take on it better than I ever could. Is it okay to make off color jokes in front of your girlfriend sometimes? Yes. If my boyfriend called me something like "gash" I'd probably laugh under most circumstances. But if I expressed hurt feelings over such a thing and he sort of made it a point to rub salt in that wound later and in front of a crowd, no less, well. That's not cool.

Your boyfriend hasn't just made one offensive joke. Sometimes offensive jokes are funny to me (in the right setting, of course). The last guy I dated could make some seriously inappropriate jokes that would have me rolling on the floor. However, the second you express that this is something you're uncomfortable with and he doesn't take that to heart is the minute you've now got a problem. This man is repeating a pattern and it's not a pretty one.

If my last SO had said some of the things yours has and I told him he was being pretty shitty and his response was "I don't care"? Yeah, he wouldn't be my SO anymore. People with wonderful qualities are allowed to be shitty racists. People who are nice sometimes are allowed to be homophobes. But this guy is showing you his true colors. I suggest you believe him when he lets you know, with his powerful words, that he's pretty much a jerk.

Frame it this way: If you had children together and he spoke this way around one of them, what would you say? My grandpa (who I no longer speak to) could sometimes be a decent human. But even at say, 8, I caught his insanely racist remarks and hated him for it even at that age.

Have a sit down, tell him you cannot love someone who refuses to understand how the things he says might be hurtful or offensive to others, and if he doesn't cut it out, DTMFA.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:26 AM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

Absolutely it is the staggering lack of empathy that really stands out. He repeated the argument over "the gash" at a DINNER PARTY?

Okay. To start off, I totally relate to what tel3path has posted because I too am, in real life, very laid back and tolerant, which might not come across in things I post on AskMe, especially since I only tend to post when I feel certain and can manage to put words to it.

I had to close my browser tab as soon as I read that he called you the Gash. I couldn't come back until after having eaten lunch with some of my favorite co-workers. It horrified me at such a level that it went straight past "infuriating" and right into "sickening".

Then I came back and read the rest of it. Ugh.

Don't feel badly about yourself reading all these responses, okay? I know what it is to hope for the best with a blisteringly immature partner whom I eventually dumped and, in time, came to recognize the crushing weight of all the shit he had piled on me, little by little, over the years. When you're in a pile of shit, or surrounded by any strong-smelling thing you can't get away from, eventually you get used to it. You tell others that, hey, shit makes good fertilizer, after all, and there are even people who cook stuff in manure piles. The thing is, manure and other smelly things are indeed very well and good in certain ways, but only if you can get away from it, and especially in moderate amounts. Just because manure makes good fertilizer, does not mean that we should turn Earth into a stinking pile of it. Right, metaphor's getting a bit tiresome. TL;DR you can only put up with so much shit, for so long, before you start to lose your sense of smell (I did, i.e. I thought the stinkfest could be improved until he finally plopped a huge turd on his pile - hitting me - that made me realize it never would), or the pile needs professional help of its own, and/or you have to get away.

Dude needs to grow up. Another commenter mentioned something that I actually lived, and had pondered over lunch after reading your post: "Because the people he was joking with might not be able to appreciate the nuance about the fact that he was referring to hoes, and not fine upstanding women such as myself."

One night, not long before the breakup, we had friends of my ex, officemates of his, over to our house for dinner. (This was with the ex in question.) At one point, while I was focused on stirring my homemade ratatouille, I mentally switched back to the conversation at the dinner table and listened to what was being said. My ex:
"... and jesus christ that fucking worthless bitch, I swear to god she NEEDS a smack to put her in her fucking place, women can be so goddamned uppity." It was so familiar; exactly what he said to me in private, that my reaction was automatic. I 'knew' he was talking about me.

I exploded. "HOW DARE YOU speak about me like that in front of our guests! It is unacceptable and I demand an apology this instant!!"


Apologies from the guests.

Ex was white as a sheet and completely unable to make a peep.

Hours later I found out that he'd been talking about their secretary.

This man has turned into a father (my ex-MIL kept in touch, she's totally non-drama but confides in how she's been heartbroken by the turn of events) who does not give two shits about his daughter. His daughter is under supervision by the French equivalent of child protective services. That is how bad it is. His "relationship" with the mother of the daughter is... rocky... to say the least; my ex-MIL fears that physical abuse is going on. From both of them; she does not sugarcoat anything about her son (nor does she exaggerate; and knowing him, I believe her).

Do you want to have a relationship like that? Do you want to wonder what bridges he's burning for you behind your back?
posted by fraula at 5:32 AM on March 27, 2013 [19 favorites]

Classic - he's "just kidding" so no one else is allowed to be angry with all his shitty comments, but the second someone speaks up his delicate feelings are wounded because you're "trying to change him." Just precious.

Tell him to get lost, IMO.
posted by kavasa at 5:36 AM on March 27, 2013 [18 favorites]

clarification: by "dude needs to grow up", I do not mean that you should feel obligated to stick around until he does. He might never, which was why I shared the story about my similarly immature ex who, nearing age 40, still has not.

Dump him and find someone who is genuinely respectful and supportive.
posted by fraula at 5:37 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to let you know what I had to look up the alternate definitions of "gash" and when I did so, my mouth literally dropped open.
posted by thank you silence at 5:40 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

No, you don't understand.

He's joking about rape because he thinks rape is funny.

Do not just gloss over that in your mind and mentally avoid it as a fact. He flat out said he doesn't care about it on a real level and it doesn't bother him because it doesn't affect him. Make yourself face the truth. HE THINKS RAPE IS FUNNY.

And he's making racist "jokes" because he thinks the racist jokes are true. He calls you a "gash" because that's what he sees you as. Really. He makes the jokes to his friends because they see you in the same way. He and his friends assume all men see women that way.

I think you are clinging to some sort of idea that the jokes are just on the surface, but underneath, inside, the way he feels about these things is just like the way you feel about them. He is flat out telling you that you are wrong. Listen to him.

It is so easy to be in denial about what all this means. I mean he seems like such a great guy. If something really happened to you in real life, he wouldn't be joking anymore, he would suddenly, magically change how he feels about these things, and you would find that the "real" way he felt was magically exactly like how you feel. Right? Unfortunately, that is exactly when you would find out how much he really does see rape as funny, how much he really does see you as a "gash."
posted by cairdeas at 5:41 AM on March 27, 2013 [20 favorites]

Like Fraula, the guy who ended up throwing me down the stairs did this too. And you would never imagine he would do something like that, if you met him. He kept his vile opinions a hundred times more under wraps than your boyfriend does. Very very occasionally, he'd bust out with them, like if we were driving and a woman driver did something minor to piss him off. Yes, we also spent a lot of time "talking" about why that was bad and wrong...
posted by cairdeas at 5:47 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Listen to yourself.

You say "He is not really budging on the sexist stuff, and that gets under my skin particularly since I am a feminist and feel those issues deeply (I can just imagine the joke he'd make here about "feeling it deeply," ugh.)"

What do you imagine he'd say if you showed him this thread?

Act based on that.
posted by moody cow at 5:50 AM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'd try imagining myself, like, fifteen years down the line, with my partner, being invited over to friends, with friend's friends present and so on, and said partner making his "I'll crack a joke"- face. Oh the squirming.

Earlier or later, you risk being bunched together with his life-views by people who mainly see you as a couple, not as individuals, see? That's what needs being considered.
posted by Namlit at 5:55 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

The most charitable view of him seems to be that he's a Michael Scott type, not racist so much as shockingly clueless. It's not clear how that would change the advice that most people are offering.
posted by deadweightloss at 5:56 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

My wife has a friend to whom she has been close for many years. A few years ago that friend moved back to our area with her BF at the time. He's a nice enough guy in general, but he clearly thought racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes were funny, and he made them with some frequency. This made all of us in this circle really scratch our heads. We couldn't figure out why our friend, who is supposedly not racist, sexist, or homophobic put up with it. She has never said things like that. There were some embarrassing moments at parties, and eventually the guy came to say that kind of thing less. It was clear she had spoken with him a few times and he cut it out. Still, it did not endear him to anyone, and it made several of us question her attitudes.

They are married now, with a young baby. My wife and I also have a young baby, and we recently got together to have a little play date, such as it is with two six month olds. During the course of conversation the potential sexual orientation of our kids came up, and this guy used the phrase "god forbid" to respond to the idea that his daughter might be a lesbian.
posted by OmieWise at 6:05 AM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

... But he loves to tease people in general...

There is never a reason for this. Mr. Terrier and I make our share of Mongoloid jokes in the privacy of our home, but public "teasing" and harrassment are often indistinguishable.

Also? The defense "I'm just kidding" is see-through bullshit. Please don't allow it.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:24 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Adding to the chorus: I was ready to break up with the guy at "Faggot!" and your question just kept getting worse and worse. My jaw literally dropped at "gash" - I can never in a million years imagine my husband calling me that, even as a joke.

There are plenty of guys with all the good qualities you list that don't act like toddlers and sociopaths. You are wasting your time with this dude.
posted by desjardins at 6:44 AM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'll be honest, "I have to check with the Gash" did make me LOL. It's one of those jokes that are so stupid and pathetic you just have to laugh. But to actually *use* that term to refer to someone - I can't comprehend that he thinks that that is acceptable. We all might laugh at rednecks who refer to their other half as "the gash" - but that's because we're laughing at how stupid they are, not at how witty they are by referring to their partner by such a vile term.

I think he thinks he is trying to be ironic. But he comes across as an immature wanker.

He's right, it is very hard to change someone. I don't think he can change - he may mellow with age, but then again he may get worse. I'm sorry but he really doesn't sound to be the type for you. It's time you moved on.
posted by humpy at 6:45 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

This isn't about jokes, this is about boundaries. You've clearly set a boundary about sexist humor which he seemingly resents having to respect. You are absolutely correct to have these boundaries.

People are free to make jokes about whatever they choose, but they are not free from the consequences of those jokes, even if they think of them as jokes.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:52 AM on March 27, 2013 [10 favorites]

But he is truly a gem on every other possible human level and I don't know how to better engage him on this subject so he can appreciate that it's just not funny anymore — and destructive to us. Any ideas, Oh Great Green?

It's hard to say, because you don't mention much about him and his background. For instance, are his friends and family like this? Do they laugh at his jokes? What happens when one of his jokes falls flat, what is his reaction? In short, does he have steady stream of people enforcing the idea that he's funny or is he stubbornly swimming upstream on this, either not getting or refusing to get signals that he's not funny? If it's the latter, there may be some hope.

Sit down and have a "come to Jesus" meeting with him. As an example of how these jokes make you feel, point out how joking about something he cares for might come off as hurtful or unfunny. Point out that this repeated behavior is negatively affecting the relationship.

But really, when your boyfriend is referring to you as "the gash" to his friends and yelling "faggot" at the screen, it's probably time to go. There's not a lot to work with if he thinks that's ok.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:54 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If person A is kidding, it means they are not especially invested in what they are saying, right? They don't mean it. It's just a joke.

If person B is sincerely offended, it means they are specifically invested in and hurt by what has been said. It means something to them. It's not just a joke.

I don't understand why person A's disinterest in the joke is worth more, in terms of the relationship, than person B's sincere interest in the joke. It's not clear to me why somebody who has nothing at stake should not yield to somebody who has something at stake, (assuming mutual goodwill and parity in other areas).

Put another way, the fact that he won't refrain from making these jokes about you suggests to me very strongly that he means it. That he's not just kidding.

Which, in turn, suggests that he is a racist, sexist, homophobic asshole who is disrespecting you.
posted by gauche at 6:55 AM on March 27, 2013 [22 favorites]

I've seen a behavior referred to as "Hipster racism" that seems to describe what your boyfriend could be doing. Could he believe that it's cool to say these things as long as he "has the right attitudes" and is only "using these terms ironically" in order to "shake things up?" That seems to be what some of my friends are getting at when they behave like this. I find it childish and trite. Good luck...
posted by Infinity_8 at 6:55 AM on March 27, 2013

>>the boyfriend said, "Let me check with the Gash."

Really? REALLY? I'd fucking punch any of my friends who called their SO this.

You deserve MUCH better. DTMFA.
posted by liquado at 6:58 AM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

So, look. The gash thing is brutal and offensive. Everyone here is 100% right about that. But yeah, maybe this is hipster sexism or whatever we're calling ironic cruelty these days. Maybe it was just a joke that fell flat.

But then you told him you were offended and he did it again?!

"Ow, it hurts when you hit me"
"Ha ha, you're such a sensitive prude. Let me hit you harder this time."
posted by AmandaA at 7:09 AM on March 27, 2013 [17 favorites]

I think there's a bit of a problem in that lots of cruel and sleazy boors make for "great boyfriends" in some ways because they have to go that extra mile to get laid at all. Clearly you have not fallen for this pig's capacious intellect or his remarkable kindness to humanity. He's not a good person; he just puts in some effort into trying to fit into a 'good boyfriend' caricature. Some very limited effort.

And yet he is still a boor. Who treats you poorly, who will cause others to think poorly of you. Run.
posted by kmennie at 7:11 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I registered just so that I could comment on this, because I totally know this guy. Hopefully not THIS exact guy, but I know this guy. He was in my friendship group in college, and you totally nailed it with the title - it was like living in a Family Guy episode 24/7.

He was in the theatre program at my school and the play they were putting on at the time of this story was The Laramie Project, which deals with the murder of a gay man named Matthew Shepard. We were discussing the play over lunch, and Guy makes some comment about Matthew Shepard (not a derogatory comment at all, by the way) in which he referred to him as "that faggot".

I was FLOORED. I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea that someone would refer to another person in that way, especially in the context of discussing said person's hate-crime murder. I normally don't get upset but I really let Guy have it. He got very serious and apologized and I had to leave for a while to go cool off.

Later, when I had calmed down a little, I met up with some friends, and I saw Guy speaking with a mutual friend. I went over to talk to him so that I could, if not apologize, at least acknowledge that I had gotten a little worked up earlier. He wasn't facing me, and I walked up behind him just in time to hear him say, "[So-and-so] got really upset earlier when we were talking about Matthew Shepard. Is she a lesbian or something?"

posted by chainsofreedom at 7:18 AM on March 27, 2013 [32 favorites]

Whoo....pretty far gone. I went right to DTMFA (I understand it might be more complicated than that, but he's in a bad way).

He might be on the long, slow, miserable climb to a raised consciousness, you really need this big a project? You aren't wrong. He's racist and sexist. It's going to take a lot of time and exposure for him to decide to change, if he even wants to change. I think you might accomplish more faster by saying "we have very different values and beliefs about respect for people's human dignity, and it's better if we don't try to stay together because it does damage to me - I can't go along with racist and sexist comments any more." And moving on.

There are lots of guys who can give you everything you like about him - with none of the nastiness. Also, keep in mind this is him on his best behavior, actually. Once he reaches a more comfortable point and starts taking you more for granted, I suspect your "opinions" will become more of an eye-roll for him, played for comic value and then ignored.
posted by Miko at 7:23 AM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

You know, he doesn't take you seriously, right? Sure he's made small changes in his behavior but he's still pushing, still acting in completely unacceptable ways that he's managed to de-sensitize you to over the time you've been together. He's not so much getting better as he is training you to defend/rationalize/justify him.

You want to show him how strongly you feel about his behavior?

Leave him. He'll either laugh it off with his friends (most likely), or be shocked to his core that his words actually have effect and consequences. Change is HARD. I am not optimistic he's going to change, but a fundamental bone deep shock is about the only way to get him started. He argues that you want to change him - showing right there that he isn't willing to change, so you're not coming from a position of strength. Walking out the door and cutting him out of your life is about the only thing you can do.
posted by lemniskate at 7:27 AM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

Like Infinity_8 , I was also thinking "hipster racism" in the first few sentences -- an (extremely offensive) example would be the Onion's vile, vile comment about Quvenzhané Wallis.

Falguni A. Sheth wrote about this in Salon: "So many kinds of hostility — racial, sexual, homo- and trans-phobic humor — gain an easy acceptability, precisely because it plays into the ironic hipster self-aware racism of “being so cool that we know it’s racist that it’s ok to participate in it. We’re above it.”

However, if he is attempting hipster humour -- a type of humour is very, very often still racist/homophobic/sexist IMO -- he's not there. Not even close.

So yeah, I do think it is possible to turn racist et al comments on their heads with ironic humour, but it takes a very smart and very funny person (often they go hand-in-hand) to get it right.

But honestly -- reading his "jokes" -- this does not sound like he's even trying to be ironic. It sounds like he's of poor character.

I also echo the others that his poor character will reflect on you.
posted by Lescha at 7:29 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's much easier to date someone whose views are in line with your own. Someone who doesn't need "retraining" in basic human sensitivity. Kick this child to the curb already.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:33 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm not one who believes that anything is universally off-limits for the sake of comedy. This obviously does not fly with a lot of people, but it's my opinion. There are many topics for which I have not yet found the right place to joke about, and haven't particularly tried, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

However, being funny is about knowing your audience. "Just joking" is not an excuse to be an ass, and the slimmest attempt at a defense, and being an ass is what he's doing by making himself feel like a king by making you uncomfortable. I don't think the signs of progress are any bit about respecting your opinion or need to do without his racist humor as much as trying to mitigate effects of your cold shoulder on himself.

I'm willing to bet that he's done the thing where, after you didn't bowl over laughing at some ethnic swipe, he said something to the effect that you are a humorless cur who doesn't understand comedy. I'm also willing to bet that he rarely makes fun of himself and gets bent out of shape over small slights.

You don't need to offer any acceptance to his outbursts, and since you're never going to tolerate them, you should make that crystal clear to him-- they go or you go.

After that, figure out why you were or are willing to overlook the behavior.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:45 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

This isn't about jokes, this is about boundaries. You've clearly set a boundary about sexist humor which he seemingly resents having to respect. You are absolutely correct to have these boundaries.

A million times this.

The chorus of "this is not the relationship for you" does not mean you're wrong about this guy's finer qualities. It does not mean you're a bad person for having dated or liked him. Mostly, it means only that the wisdom of the crowd says that this is not going to get better and now is when you must decide whether you can live with his "jokes" or not. I would not.

It sounds to me like your instincts are to end the relationship now, before you become more invested, before this "Family Guy" identity rubs off on you, before you find yourself not attracted to him all the time. Your instincts are right; now is the time to leave this relationship. Breaking up sucks, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Chances are, he knows it's not working either. But he can just keep talking bad about you and your relationship to relieve the stress of incompatibility. My pride would not want the hit of being dumped by an asshole like this. I say, dump him first.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:49 AM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

The part about you trying to change him is what stands out to me.

It's the exact thing my abusive ex said to me when I was begging him to stop abusing me. "Some women," he said, "just treat men like they are projects to fix. My mom taught me to stay away from women like you."

This, after two years of molding me to be a submissive, meek, starved woman. Interesting.

So. He thinks he is right and you are wrong. That you being offended by him making fun of real people in a documentary about AIDS, or you being offended by being called a horrible name - that your feelings about this are incorrect.

You're not allowed to feel these things. If you do, he will fight with you in private and publicly humiliate you. Change? I think he is trying to change you into someone who will accept this kind of behavior.

You don't have to accept this kind of behavior from the person you are dating, from the person you may be considering living with for the rest of your life. You just don't.

You've already asked him to change, and he isn't going to do that. He won't even consider the possibility that you could be right about this, and his process of change will be a long, uphill journey - one he likely will decide not to take.

You can try asking one more time and giving the ultimatum, but it will likely lead to a breakup.

I'm sorry.
posted by sockermom at 8:09 AM on March 27, 2013 [19 favorites]

I strongly agree with those who say his comments, jokes, and behavior will reflect poorly on you. There are two couples in my life, each with a person who talks like your boyfriend. In one case, I got to know a woman very well as a friend before I met her partner, who thinks it's funny and edgy to make racist jokes. I backed off the friendship considerably once I got to know her partner--I actively avoid socializing with her in contexts where she's likely to bring her partner. I don't understand why she makes excuses for her partner's horrible jokes, and I sort of think less of her as a result. In the other case, I met both of the people at the same party. The first thing I heard the guy say was a racist joke, with a sort of "wink wink, I'm not really racist--aren't I clever?" edge, and I avoided him for the rest of the evening, but he was loud and drunk and I heard quite a few more ugly, "ironic" jokes. I chatted a bit with this guy's girlfriend, and she seemed fun, friendly, and nice, but I wrote off any chance of seriously getting to know or become friends with her because her boyfriend was so unpleasant to be around.

I think that it's relatively easy to get caught up in a pattern of thinking and joking, especially if you're around friends who egg you on, and I don't think a person is automatically terrible for telling offensive jokes--the key is what they do when confronted about how they're talking. I had my own phase during college where I thought it was cool and edgy to tell ironically racist jokes--a couple people I cared about pointedly not laughing, and asking me why I thought what I was saying was funny got me to think about what I was doing and stop using that kind of humor. I recently had a close friend start using this kind of shock-value humor, and when just saying, "That's not funny" didn't work, I ended up saying, very seriously: I hate when you make those kinds of jokes, they're not funny, and they make you sound racist--people are going to think you are racist. And my friend got it, and stopped. My point is: your boyfriend could stop, but he doesn't want to and is choosing not to. This isn't about you trying to fundamentally change him (unless he actually is racist, homophobic, and sexist)--it's about you asking him to behave in a responsive, respectful, and caring way and him refusing.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:10 AM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

I am adding my voice to the chorus of "for the love of God get away from this person right now." But I will also add that, if you decide to stay, this is slowly going to become normal to you. You won't be able to help it.

If you are exposed to a group's social norms, and it sounds like your boyfriend, his family, and maybe his friends, too, constitute a group with VERY different norms from yours, for a long period of time, that slowly becomes the social norm for you too. It's not going to get easier to make him change, it's going to get harder to feel like you're justified in demanding that he do so-- which you are! You are SO justified! You are so far beyond justified I really think that you would be served well by just walking away from this asshole now!

Think about that. If you stick around his wheedling, "it's just a joke, why are you so offended?" ways long enough, you are going to get gaslighted. It probably won't be intentional; it will, instead, flow naturally from constantly having to fight against a stream of, "you're too sensitive, you can't take a joke, why are you so offended?" Slowly, over time, those norms will become little demons on your back, eating away at your righteous indignation and sense of justice, making you question yourself. And then, even if you tear yourself away from this dude, you may find you have a slightly harder time defending yourself against the next immature disrespectful asshole who comes along, whether they're a family member or boss or SO or coworker or just some dude at the grocery store, because now you have a thousand little demons telling you you're "taking yourself too seriously", and they probably have his voice.

You deserve respect, 24/7. That's not something that he gets to flip a switch to turn off just so he can tell a joke. Tell him he's an immature, uncaring dickbag, and walk away.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:11 AM on March 27, 2013 [15 favorites]

Be aware that if you stay with him, you will slowly but surely lose friends who will no longer want to spend time with you because of your proximity to him. Fewer invites to parties and events because it'll be easier to exclude you than deal with trying to figure out how to make sure he doesn't come with you. People will avoid you because they don't want to see or interact with him, or even hear about him. And, I can't even imagine what fresh hell taking him to a professionally important event will bring. A work party or colleague's wedding will turn into a waiting game to see when his need for attention overrides your need for him to act like a decent person.
posted by quince at 8:11 AM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

If you have to explain that your jokes where jokes they generally aren't. If you have to repeat this numerous times to the same person you really are being intentionally assholish. Nothing makes my blood boil more then the $_assholejoke + Just Kidding! combination.

FWIW the response to "You're trying to change me" is "Adapt or perish"

Do you love him? How much are you willing to invest in this? Because, well you know we are just internet strangers reading the situation from the outside, but from what you have said I think it is going to be a long continual fight that might grind you down to acceptance.
posted by edgeways at 8:14 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the most important things to me in my marriage is my wife RESPECTS me. I know it because of her words and actions. And I respect her. And because I respect her, I would NEVER, ever, ever, speak about her to my friends the way he has about you.

"The Gash". Are you kidding me!?!?!?! Imagine for a second that he had said, "let me ask The Bitch"?

The best case scenario is that he doesn't actually think of you that way, but says this stuff to gain cred with his friends, which, again best-case scenario, demonstrates that he cares more about what his friends think of him then your feelings.

He doesn't respect you. None of the other ways he is supposedly a good guy matter if he can't treat you with respect.

And to the point others have made about boundaries, honouring your boundaries is another key way partners show respect. And enforcing your boundaries is the way you demand it.
posted by dry white toast at 8:16 AM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've experienced some relationships that were intensely chemical but ultimately not good for me so you might want to consider if that is the case here. Strong chemical attractions can really mislead us and many of us have remained in relationships that are ultimately destined not to work out.

One of my close friends dated a guy who was presentable, knowledgeable, fairly regular but then he joked that his "cum toilet" wouldn't allow him to go out on night X. I can take conventional light hearted "differences of sexes" jokes for jokes as they are often told by both sexes and can often lead to some good discussion, but this one made me furious because obviously, it is beyond denigrating and insulting. My friend regrets staying with this guy for so long but still thinks of him from time to time and concludes it's the chemical aspect.

The humour in Family Guy is different because it's not the real world. I remember seeing the Beavis and Butthead movie years ago and was amused but then when I walked out of the theatre there were real Beavis and Buttheads and it wasn't funny at all.
posted by juiceCake at 8:22 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah, so this is definitely not about boundaries. It’s about human decency. We don’t call AIDS victims faggots. Even in pre-school.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:29 AM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

Realistically, he's not going to change and you should leave if this bothers you because it won't stop.

But if you want to try to drive home how little it matters that it's a joke, try this: Every time he drops one of these shitty comments, don't act offended, don't tell him it's not funny. Instead, say, "Yeah, but you've got a tiny dick."

Explain that you're just joking and he doesn't really have a tiny dick and he knows you don't think that.

But don't stop doing it. Get creative. If you just keep using the same phrasing he'll get used to it. So if he drops a slur, just toss in out of the blue: "That joke did not satisfy me, much like your tiny dick."

Or, "I didn't think that was funny but I'm willing to fake like I enjoyed it. Like I do with your tiny dick."

Or, "That joke was barely adequate. Like your dick. Which is small."

He wants to call you The Gash? Okay, dude. His new nickname is Tiny. "Because of his tiny dick," you can helpfully explain. To his friends.

I'm willing to bet that he'll even think it's funny at first, but as you keep it up, he'll go through stages: First it will bother him a little, then it will start to really bother him, then he'll say out loud that it bothers him, then you can explain to him that "I'm only joking" does not absolve a person of anything.

But honestly, I doubt even that'll reach him. Just cut and run.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:32 AM on March 27, 2013 [59 favorites]

I tend to have a lot of cognitive empathy and not very much affective empathy (at least for people I don't know), but I still don't make racist jokes. It just lacks class and makes losers gravitate towards you.

If he was still trying to change, I would advise you to stay with him. You don't really need affective empathy to be a decent human being - I've done tons of volunteer work and probably even saved a few lives without being a particularly compassionate person. You say your boyfriend's actions display that he's a good person, and I think that's more important than what he says or what's going on in his head.

The real trouble is that he's not trying to change anymore. You're getting pushback. If he cared about you, he'd try to change at least his outwards behavior for your sake, even if he disagrees with your values. I recommend that you make sure he knows this is a dealbreaker, and if he still doesn't change, DTMFA.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:32 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

There's a pattern that questions like yours follow. It goes like this.

1) My parter is amaaaaaaaaaaziiiiiiing. (My boyfriend of a little more than a year is a totally. great. guy.)

2) There's just this teensy problem... my partner does completely horrible, inexcusable things, and I hate it! But I'm going to play them down, despite that there is no way to describe their actions in a way which makes them appear acceptable! ("faggot"/"Gash"/"doesn't affect me")

3) My partner has capitulated in a few meaningless ways, and that makes me think a deeply-entrenched character flaw is starting to magically go away. ("He agreed to curtail the racist humor after a long discussion we had about my discomfort with that")

4) How am I the real problem here? (I don't know how to better engage him on this subject so he can appreciate that it's just not funny anymore — and destructive to us.)

Go check through the human relations questions and see if I'm wrong. Check out all the people who have asked questions that are so similar to yours in form. See if you don't think to yourself, "Oh, man, this person needs to get out of this relationship!" And then ponder why you're making excuses to stay in a relationship, when you'd almost certainly advise anyone else to get out of the same situation.

There is no age at which this behavior is excusable or acceptable. Worse, he's just clever enough to know that you can guilt-trip many women by accusing them of being prudish nags who are "trying to change me! MEEEE!" (A misogynist attitude, yes?) This is not the kind of person who is going to upheave their behavior any time soon. He loves what he's doing. He resents you for making him recognize how unacceptable his behavior is.

Is this what you want from a partner? Someone with horrible, nasty, juvenile attitudes? Someone who can't be trusted to act right? Someone who will turn on you like a snake when you make very reasonable requests about their awful behavior?

Quit rewarding this guy with your presence. You're miserable, and he is a garbage human being. Also, figure out why you feel you deserve this kind of relationship.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:37 AM on March 27, 2013 [66 favorites]

"If he cared about you, he'd try to change at least his outwards behavior for your sake, even if he disagrees with your values."

That's not good enough. If he truly cared he'd try to change his inward behavior because he would make a serious effort to understand why the things he is saying upset you.

You need someone whose values align with yours on important points because you need someone who has affective empathy towards you so that he does things not because he's going to win points or avoid getting in trouble but so that when he doesn't feel like its not in his best interests he doesn't do things that hurt you. For a person to be truly good for you they have to be good inside not just when they choose to be. If his values don't align with yours and he only acts in ways you aprove of because he wants to win you over/mollify you what happens when he stops feeling the need to do so? I think some of the things he's done answer this question.

Repeating the "joke", and I personally think it wasn't a joke at all, about calling you "the gash" is what will happen. He apologizes at the time to mollify you then he turns around and tells other points when he thinks he can score some points off it. The subtext is "look my girlfriend is a stuck up prude who can't take a joke but look how nice I'm being putting up with that?" and "girlfriend i don't agree with you I'm only going along with you because you're irrational feminism would come between me and something I want otherwise."
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:44 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

So I've got one friend who does stuff sorta like this. He's very fond of offensive humor, but he uses it only in small settings where he knows everyone else knows he's joking, and that it's a sort of gallows humor, and that if anything he's mocking people who genuinely believe such things. It's also worth noting that he's exceptionally charismatic, eloquent and intelligent.

He makes racial jokes, but would never actually tolerate racism in his social circle.

He makes rape jokes, but I've consistently seen him stand up for women & issues of consent.

He makes gay jokes, but several of his best friends are openly gay. Hell, he does it at our D&D game with at least one gay man and one bi woman at the table.

But even so, sometimes we tell him to stop. And he does. It takes work. Much of our broader social circle enjoys the sort of humor where people say extreme things, and frankly that sort of humor can also be quite contagious...

...but yeah, it grates. And sometimes we have to remind him. Repeatedly. And typically, he backs off and apologizes.

I'm not gonna tell you that you should ditch your boyfriend. It's absolutely worth having a calm and rational conversation about this. Get a sense of his sensitivity about this. Impress upon him that this genuinely bothers you. If he doesn't give a damn, then you've learned something about him that is probably more important than his "humor" in the context of your relationship and its prospects. But if he agrees to back off on it, you need to understand that such things don't happen at the drop of a hat.

Even if he agrees to stop, he will slip from time to time. Habits like this don't just hit a full stop. You need to maintain your line with him, but you also need to understand that this will not all go away with a single conversation.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:47 AM on March 27, 2013

Are you dating my ex? It sounds just like him. It so nice to be dating someone who does not put others down to make himself look stronger.
posted by seesom at 8:47 AM on March 27, 2013

Mod note: From the OP:
Wow! Well, I was not expecting the DTMFA pile on with this one! I wasn't even asking if we should stay together, in fact. My question was trying to learn new approaches to open his mind a little more. I guess I was expecting suggestions like, "have him watch this documentary about bullying," or something. But given the avalanche of comments here, perhaps no one thinks that's possible.

At the same time I do really appreciate everyone's comments. It has reoriented my thinking and I am thinking about the problem differently now — with the explicit consequence that the relationship can't continue if this behavior does.

I feel like I could have done a better job of explaining the situation to you all, however. The comments have gotten more strident as they have accumulated and I need to be clear: the relationship is not abusive, he does not gaslight me, and he respects me enormously in every other area of our lives, often defers to my judgements, and has shown a great deal of willingness to change his mind and behaviors when we talk on other issues. I do the same with him. We both love the relationship because we truly can talk about everything else — politics, money, sex, the future and even when we disagree, he's respectful, listens, and often incorporates my worldview into his. He is not a jerk.

There is no overall power imbalance in this relationship. This has been the only sticky issue. And maybe you're all right, maybe it's a total dealbreaker, but I know in my heart he respects me, and that I'm the most important thing in the world to him. If I pull an ultimatum, it won't be pretty, but I believe he will respond. I do think he's undereducated about these things. Although he is in his early 30s, he is from a rural community without much diversity where this kind of humor seems to be the norm. He tells me all the time, "you are making me a better person." And he means it. When I mentioned these stirrings initially to my therapist (who is queer, awesome and super wise) she just said, "you will both learn a lot from each other."

I did want to clarify that when he brought up the "gash" comment again at that night's dinner party, he was NOT mocking me. He was retelling the tale in a sheepish, "aren't I an asshole" // I had no idea // forehead-slapping way. He was mocking HIMSELF for being stupid and not realizing it was bad.

After reading all your supportive, thoughtful comments, I spoke to him this morning about this. He began again with his typical defense, ("but it's just words,") but I was more strident, thanks to you all. I said that they are words, but words that hurt me and are unacceptable to me. I said they made me embarrassed. I compared the comments to overt racism, like the n-word, and said it made me feel the same. I told him this is a Really Big Deal for me, and a Real Problem that needs to change. He listened respectfully, told me he would think about it seriously, and took some time to himself.

I am going to see what happens in the next few weeks. I am prepared now, because of all of you, to escalate if needed and exit if I must.

Thank you so much. I am in your debt.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:54 AM on March 27, 2013 [25 favorites]

Not sure how much you follow AskMe/Metatalk/MF threads, OP, but there are some usernames in this thread whom I would NEVER have expected to see in agreement with one another. At all. And yet they are. And even the inevitable devil's advocacy seems to be half-hearted at best.

I hope you take the staggering unanimity of responses here to heart, as it really doesn't happen that often (or for such good reason). You deserve better than this pitiful, embarrassing pinhead.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:56 AM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

I dunno. When it comes to relationship questions on AskMeFi, I tend to see a serious lean toward "DTMFA" answers in almost every case. I'm not saying that everyone here is wrong, but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:01 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was in a relationship like this once. And two things in the answers here really resonate for me.

One is, yes you do get used to it. I made all kinds of excuses for my partner's behaviour -- like, he didn't really feel that way, that he was struggling to overcome the way he'd been raised, etc. I got inured to it, and a couple of times a new friend would call him out and I'd find myself getting defensive on his behalf. That was weird and kind of awful. Think about what side you want to be on.

Second thing is, I did lose friends. Gradually our friends became people who found the way he talked okay, and other friends drifted away. I started to worry about who I could introduce him to, I didn't want to take him to work events, things like that. That will happen to you.

In the end we broke up, for that and other reasons. And it's amazing how freed I felt afterwards. Whoever said upthread this doesn't need to be your project is correct: it is easy to find people who don't have this problem, and you will feel much better once you do.

The big red flag to me is the sister. That suggests he's not going through some dumb irony shock phase, but that this is something he was raised to believe is okay. It's really hard to shrug off that kind of upbringing -- even if he were trying, which he is not.

One last thing: another flag is that he sees change as an imposition and something to be resisted. That's weird. People should always be changing and evolving and influenced by others around them. The fact that he sees change as bad is not a good sign.
posted by Susan PG at 9:03 AM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

There is no overall power imbalance in this relationship.

OK, no offense, but this is not true. He is using slurs against you. Stop defending it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:14 AM on March 27, 2013 [14 favorites]

scaryblackdeath, I do think that DTMFA is prevalent here mostly because by the time you need to ask strangers about your relationship, a lot of times, that relationship needs to end.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:15 AM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

he respects me enormously in every other area of our lives
If a person is nice to you 90% of the time it shouldn't give them permission to treat you extremely poorly the other 10%. And I frankly have a lot of trouble he is that wonderful the rest of the time. What you are describing is (and you'll have to forgive me for running with this) exactly why a lot of abused people stay in their unhealthy abusive relationships. They are nice to them most of the time, they only hit them occasionally and they always feel bad about it afterwards. You need to demand more for yourself.

I do think he's undereducated about these things. Although he is in his early 30s, he is from a rural community without much diversity where this kind of humor seems to be the norm.
Sorry, but that isn't a good enough excuse for me. I'm from a small (TINY) farming town in Atlantic Canada. For most, completing highschool was a major major accomplishment. Correct grammar and the desire post-secondary education were pretty uncommon. Guess what? The vast majority of people I knew and grew up with never spoke this way. I sure as hell would never speak that way. People from my small tiny hick town knew better than to speak that way in their teens. This guy is in his 30's for god's sake. He has had PLENTY of time to learn that what he is doing and how he is speaking isn't okay. I could argue all the times you've brought it up to him in the past should have "educated" him to it. It is making me sad how far you are going to justify his behaviours. Very sad.

Educated or not educated, some things are just wrong. Saying you don't care about the rape and murder of women in India "because it doesn't affect me" is scary. To me it is scary that he feels that way. That has nothing to do with education or diveristy. That has everything to do with being empathetic and valuing other's lives and respect and a base level of caring for others.

He listened respectfully, told me he would think about it seriously, and took some time to himself.
Again, how is this something he needs to "think" about. His behaviour and jokes are outright offensive and rude and hurtful. What is he thinking about? Honestly. It isn't like you haven't spoken to him before about this. He knows that you find his jokes and comments rude, insulting, racist, and offensive. He wasn't blindsided by this. What if someone was being abused by their partner and when they asked them to stop abusing them they went to go "think" about it? I don't know about you, but I would seriously doubt that they had any intention of changing. The only response I would have been okay with is "You're right, this is offensive and wrong, and it is hurting you. I will stop."

The fact that he needed to "think" about this is a signal to me (on top of all the others) that you need to end this.

the explicit consequence that the relationship can't continue if this behavior does
THIS is what you need to focus on and that you NEED to make good on.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:16 AM on March 27, 2013 [28 favorites]

I can empathize to a point (that point being far short of justification) with the fact that he grew up with these comments being the norm. Where (and when) I grew up (redneck Alberta), making fun of aboriginals was essentially completely acceptable. Having several reserves nearby which had many glaringly obvious examples of the negative stereotypes... it was the norm.

Then I moved to Manitoba, and 5 years later met my now wife. The first time I took her back to my hometown (while we were engaged), we met up with the guy who was one of my closest friends while I lived there. The jokes and comments made about aboriginals seemed perfectly normal to me, however my wife was absolutely livid. It took a while for me to understand that those jokes really weren't acceptable, and how hurtful they were. When I made jokes like that, I knew that they weren't really referring to all aboriginals... but I'm sure that it never came across like that.

That being said, I did listen to my wife when she told me that she found those statements abhorrent, and re-assessed the things I think and say. And even now, 5 years after that, I still occasionally find myself making an inappropriate joke, and need to consciously stop myself and re-think what I am doing. Breaking an ingrained habit takes a long time.

I have to disagree with what PuppetMcSockerson said, that taking the time to think is a sign you need to end it. Provided he is genuine when he says that, and not merely using it as a delay tactic, it's a good thing. I'd rather he change his opinion, then just develop a better filter.
posted by PGWG at 9:26 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, I'm really glad you spoke to him about it and that you stressed to him that it upset you, but what I am wondering if he understands that it isn't just YOU that thinks they are wrong and offensive. It sounds like you focused very much on how they affect you, and not so much on how they affect and hurt others as well. To date it sounds like he doesn't get the fact that hardly anyone worth his salt thinks or speaks this way. Because of that I would wonder if any changes were only for when you were within earshot.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:28 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a boyfriend who was like this. I did get him to tone it down but he obviously resented it. I sort of could ignore it so I thought it was cool. He later became seriously emotionally and sexually abusive. The contempt was always there underneath.

I'm not saying that this will happen to you, but a lot of partner violence and abuse stems from underlying attitudes about women. If you check out "Why Does He Do That" there's a lot of information about how personal and societal sexism lead to abuse. We're used to thinking of sexism as a verbal or attitudinal problem, but it has interpersonal and behavioral effects that stem from those attitudes and ways of speaking.

This seems really tough for you. Good luck with it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:29 AM on March 27, 2013 [14 favorites]

So--not to excuse, just to explain--when you're "the guy that'll say anything", that really is what you've built your identity around. That's why he thinks you're trying to change him, because he is the guy who will say anything in his head. It's his role in the group and it's why he's so defensive about it. And he may actually believe those things, like a lot of Reddit's hipster racism is actual racism, but it may just be how he's built himself as a person.

For example, I know some people who are really into nerdy stuff like, say, video games, but as they get older, they don't really enjoy them anymore for whatever reason. And they get this kind of mental vapor lock because admitting they don't actually enjoy these things anymore completely destroys their identity as a person. Like they have closests full of video game shirts and all their friends play video games, so admitting they don't enjoy the activity anymore isn't just removing a once-enjoyable activity, it's removing the entire foundation of your identity. What will you do with all that free time? Who will you hang out with? What will you talk about? So they continue doing this activity that they don't enjoy and wind up miserable and unhappy because of it, but they don't know what else to do because the prospect of change is scary.

Being "the guy that will say anything" is a similar identity and there's a distinct change you go through. In your teens and early twenties, it's "Oh, man, that guy will say anything, let's hang out with him," and you'll wind up with a lot of friends because of it. You'll wind up with even more people that will hang around you to watch the trainwreck of you making an ass out of yourself, but you don't care because a lot of people seem to like you and accept you. Of course, you don't notice all the people that quietly drift away from you or cut you out of their lives because you're acting like a jerkass, so you're surrounded by a circle of people that tell you you're funny and great. And the rare person that blows up or gets confrontational, well, THEY have a problem. YOU can't be the problem. Everyone thinks you're hilarious!

Only there's a point riiiight about age 25 where everyone starts getting grownup jobs and marrying and settling down that it's not acceptable anymore. It goes from "That guy will say anything, let's hang out with him!" to "That guy will say anything, so make sure we don't invite him to anything!"

So what you can explain to him, if you care to, is that he needs to start making this adaptation now. Because it's not just you (though obviously you are important!). It's going to be things like getting a talking-to from HR or getting fired for creating a hostile work environment. It's going to be things like watching all your friends drift away and not being able to figure out why, because they know you're going to start screaming "WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?! I'M JUST TELLING JOKES!" and they don't want to deal with that.

It's going to be things like you, or whoever he winds up with, doing anything they can to avoid taking him to professional occasions because him calling a friend a name is one thing, but him calling your boss or the CEO or the VP of Making Your Life Difficult that is quite another. It's going to be people not wanting you around their kids because they don't want their kids picking up the vile filth you spew. It's going to be a lot of awkward silences where nobody's laughing and he winds up screaming "WHAT?! I'M JUST TELLING JOKES?!" It's going to be driving people away, only nobody will ever say "Look, the reason nobody wants to hang out with you anymore is they're sick of you spouting slurs," so he'll just be lonely and angry because he's the funny guy everyone likes because he'll say anything.

But he's not anymore. He's a 30, 35, 40 year old man that spews racist or sexist drivel and is completely indistinguishable from an actual racist or whatever. People will just think he's racist rather than going "Ho ho, old bean, what ironic use of racist terms to shock and delight!" That's the future if he doesn't change.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:31 AM on March 27, 2013 [37 favorites]

Also, I know a lot of people are insisting that you dump him and that he's awful. It might seem unfair or overblown, understandably, because we don't have the whole picture. I think a lot of the reaction is so strong because if it were someone we cared about we'd be very hurt and angry to hear them spoken to and about in these kinds of ways.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:33 AM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

This was an issue between my then-girlfriend-now-wife early on in our relationship. I was the guy who thought it was funny to make sexist jokes.

One afternoon, she brought it up to me and said that it really bothered her, and that it was going to be a serious problem for our relationship if it continued.

At that moment, I decided that she was more important than stupid jokes. I slipped up once or twice, but she knew that I was making the effort to modify this aspect of my behavior. We've been married fifteen years so it looks like it worked out.

Either this is a dealbreaker for you or it is not. Only you can decide that. If you decide that yes, it is a dealbreaker, then you need to say so in no uncertain terms. If he fails to follow through, you leave the relationship.

No one will respect the boundaries you set if you don't respect them yourself.

Best of luck to you.
posted by DWRoelands at 9:34 AM on March 27, 2013 [12 favorites]

I see this as a dangerous mental illness.

I've known two people like this. One of them was overheard and beaten to death in a bar. The two people with him were severely injured.

The other one went to therapy after losing a good job and got over the schtick.

They both "caught it" from toxic families.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:50 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a forgetful person. My SO gets exasperated by this. A few years ago, when I'd say "I don't remember that" he would respond with something alone the lines of "Hey, futureisunwritten forgot something. What a surprise! I'm in shock!" He thought this was funny but it enraged me. Anyway, I took him aside and said something along the lines of "When you do X, especially in front of other people, it embarrasses me and hurts me and I'd appreciate it if you'd stop it."

He apologized and it NEVER happened again. He didn't get defensive or act like I was overreacting or imply that I couldn't take a joke. He realized that this particular behavior was not cool with me and knocked it the fuck off.

OP, I'm even more concerned for your relationship after reading your latest update. The fact that you even have to explain this (OVER AND OVER, it seems) to a grown man is worrying. Whether he's trying to be edgy or is just ignorant is irrelevant.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2013 [10 favorites]

When I mentioned these stirrings initially to my therapist (who is queer, awesome and super wise) she just said, "you will both learn a lot from each other."

This is one of those therapist sayings with multiple interpretations. Think about what some of them might be. What will you learn? What are you learning?
posted by Miko at 10:15 AM on March 27, 2013 [12 favorites]

He is a truly wonderful boyfriend: respectful

Clearly this is very inacurrate, subjective as it may be. So, how many of the other traits are equally inacurrate as you have described him?
posted by TinWhistle at 10:16 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

In an attempt to be more helpful, I am going to temporarily (because frankly I have trouble believing this) take you at your word that you are one thousand percent sure this guy isn't the racist, disrespectful, demeaning scumbag that a lot of us are invisioning, and that he is actually a good guy but just grossly, astronomically misguided and unaware of the negative effect his "jokes" are having on you, on your relationship, and on the people around him. If that is to be believed, maybe just being "educated" and shown how average people view this type of behaviour would help.

If he is the kind, supportive, understanding, loving person you are describing, and if you are sure that his reaction wouldn't put you in any sort of jeopardy, I suggest you show him this AskMeFi question.

Perhaps seeing how strongly people felt, how disgusting a lot of people found his comments, and how negatively he's been viewed and judged (depsite your best efforts to paint him in a nicer light), and how adamant people are that he is not worthy of you, he would better understand how important it is that he stop doing this. Not just in front of you, but just NOT making these types of jokes and comments any more. I don't know this guy from Adam, but I really don't think he understands that this isn't just YOU being offended. The vast vast vast majority of the population would be offended by the way he was behaving and the jokes he is cracking, and the majority of the population would write him off as a scumbag and not worth their time after the first "joke". Maybe if he understood that this is pretty universally offensive and hated he would be more dedicated to changing/improving.

He also may say that you are the most important thing to him, but he hasn't been proving it. He has actually been demonstrating that his "jokes" and offensive comments are more important to him than you, because when you asked him to stop he didn't. He may also say that he loves and respects you, but he hasn't been behaving that way either. He is saying a lot of things but his behaviour (which is the one you should trust) is telling a totally different tale.
So maybe you/he need to do some thinking on that as well.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:17 AM on March 27, 2013 [12 favorites]

Imagine if your children (if you want them, or your future nieces and nephews or friends children) are gay or marry someone of a different race or are just female. Do you want them hear these comments growing up, even if they're just jokes?

I was in a mixed-gender group that was living together for a few months and working on part of a project together. The men were overall good guys and I had conversations with a few of them about feminism that showed they had a good grasp of the ideas, and yet the group as a whole could not stop making sexist and racist jokes. Constantly. Despite people saying that it was offensive and not okay. After about a month of this, it was two groups, polite and friendly to each other, but very distinct group. One was the men and one was the women plus the one gay guy.

What I'm saying is that consider that your boyfriend is probably going to attract and hang out with people who make the same sorts of jokes and it's going to drive away people that aren't okay with that. I love my best friends and would do anything for them, but I'd have a really hard time hanging out with them and their boyfriend if I knew that he was going to use slurs and make jokes about rape and I'd wonder what he was saying about me as a bisexual woman to his friends.
posted by raeka at 10:25 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am going to see what happens in the next few weeks. I am prepared now, because of all of you, to escalate if needed and exit if I must.

I think this is a good strategy. If you haven't done so already, one thing you might also start observing over the next few weeks is how he speaks about women in his life in day-to-day contexts. How does he talk about his female coworkers? What about his female platonic friends (he does have them, or at least believes that men and women can be platonic friends, right?) How does he characterize his exes -- do you get the impression that they were generally pretty cool/nice/worthwhile women with whom things just didn't work out, or does he seem to have been beset exclusively by crazy bitches, oversensitive prudes, gold-diggers, etc.?

We already know how he views women he doesn't know (i.e., the joking about Indian women who have been raped and tortured to death). The way he views and treats other women he does know is pretty much the baseline for his capacity to treat you. (Oh, and if he happens to tell you that you're sooooo much better than all those other women in his life: don't take any comfort in that. That just means he's put you on a pedestal, and will resent it when you fall of it.)

Finally, a thought experiment: if you did leave him over this, what do you think he might say about the breakup in private to his very best friend? Would it be closer to "the cunt left me because she can't take a fucking joke" or "I drove her away because my attitudes pissed her off"? In other words, would it be YOUR problem, or HIS?
posted by scody at 10:30 AM on March 27, 2013 [21 favorites]

OK, I still see this as testing, probing, pushing, putting you off-balance, and implicitly asserting that in the end his point of view counts more than yours. It's dominance flying under the radar all the time, and although I do not really believe that it has no effects in other domains, I certainly don't know it.

Incidentally, I used to teach a sort of film comedy appreciation class where we both laughed at and then analyzed one movie that may be a useful vehicle for talking about this with your boyfriend: _Howard Stern's Private Parts_. Its subject matter start to finish is a guy being an asshole performer at the expense of his wife, and it's the most sympathetic portrayal of your boyfriend's point of view that he could possibly ask for. And it's hilarious. You'll both laugh at it.

It's also really, really easy to talk about: the mythologization/heroization is overt; the unwelcome boundary-pushing is an explicit theme; the power imbalance is obvious; the conflation of dignity/respect with caricatures of villainous censorship is obvious; and the reality that this in not a tenable relationship has pretty good support in that they eventually divorce.

It's a film that could demonstrate to your BF you think you understand what's going through his head sympathetically, but it could also supply a neutral target for you to tear apart rather than attack him directly.

I would also make the point that you're not asking him to change who he is. He can giggle at shitty comments on Reddit and YouTube all day for all anyone cares. You're asking him to curtail behaviors that pollute and dominate the space between you to which you have an equal right.

Good luck with that--really.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:33 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I guess I was expecting suggestions like, "have him watch this documentary about bullying," or something.

He's already told you that if something doesn't affect him personally, it doesn't matter to him. Why would showing him a documentary change this?

You have a right to set boundaries, and you have a right to expect they will be respected. As others have said above, if your boundaries are something he feels force him to change in ways he doesn't want to, that's on him and not you. He's an adult, for all that he doesn't sound much like one, who has agency and can make his own decisions. If his decision is that making "jokes" he knows hurt and offend you is more important than not hurting and offending you, so be it. You can take on the role of mother/teacher/counselor if you want, but go into it with eyes open.
posted by rtha at 10:37 AM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Of note: in your very first question you say "now I worry that he might actually be pretty sexist."

Then: hundreds of comments saying YEP LOOKS LIKE HE'S PRETTY SEXIST.

You don't seem ready to hear that, apparently, but you did phrase the question in those exact words. Somewhere in your heart of hearts you know. He might be a "nice" person (apparently? I kind of doubt it.) but he's not a GOOD one.

Look at the people in this thread who had to *look up the word "gash" in order to understand that story*. That's digging in the stacks of sexist bullshit, as it were. That's a discontinued B-side of sexist bullshit. It is not standard-issue. You only get there by thinking about hating women, or hanging around people who do, a lot.

People who are not holding deeply sexist beliefs don't immediately run for the single most disgusting sexist slur I have ever heard. Seriously, it is the grossest. The only person I have ever heard use this phrase in the real world WAS A NEO-NAZI, just for some context.

Maybe, just maybe, your boyfriend is the one lone truly "ironic" snotgob. But honestly? The odds are against you.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:41 AM on March 27, 2013 [26 favorites]

In light of your update, OP, I'm going to repeat myself and clarify a bit how this is simply not "humor" in any way. Taking your examples, this is what dumb/borderline offensive attempts at humor would look like:

— He used to use a fake-Chinese accent to pronounce a local street name that contains the "L" sound in it imitate the accent of a funny Chinese character in a movie we were watching.

— We watched the Oscar-winning AIDS documentary, "How To Survive a Plague" on Netflix last night. In the first 5 minutes he saw footage of some men discussing things in an apartment. One man had his shirt off. He laughed and joked at the screen, "Faggot!" "Aren't gay men supposed to have better abs than that?"

— He called a friend recently to make plans for a dinner party. I was in the next room. When the friend asked on the phone if I was available at that time, the boyfriend said, "Let me check with the Gash. the old ball and chain, haha."

Those aren't funny either, obviously, but they wouldn't necessarily come from a place of hate or bigotry, just a poor understanding of what's amusing or acceptable in society.

The things he says/does aren't him trying to be funny. (I wonder, sort of, what were his "jokes" about the rapes in India, etc.) I believe you when you say he's otherwise nice and respectful. The thing is, a person can be nice and great and loving, but also a total sexist and racist. I think a lot of time we get stuck on "but he's so nice, so he can't be sexist/racist, because those are things that bad people are." But that's not true. Well, sometimes it's true. But he could be a great guy in many ways, a good friend, etc, but also hold these entrenched bigoted beliefs. I think this makes it even harder to call people out when they say things like this, because they can say "But I'm a nice person!" or "I'm just kidding."

tl;dr I get no sense from any of what you've written that he's trying to be a comedian here. I think he simply believes he has the natural right to insult certain groups of people.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:01 AM on March 27, 2013 [17 favorites]

Look, even if somehow, theoretically, he otherwise treats you really well, continuing to be in a long-term relationship with this person is going to be like social leprosy. For example, I would not want this guy at my party; so, I really doubt I'd be inviting you to my party. If I meet this dickhead I'm going to assume his girlfriend is either also a dickhead, or just not very intelligent; so I'm not exactly going to be clamoring to become acquainted with you. I suspect you'll gradually see less and less of your gay best friend, too. Nobody has the time or energy for that shit.
posted by threeants at 11:06 AM on March 27, 2013 [19 favorites]

Nthing most of the responses above. (And this is maybe least important, but in addition to probably being afraid of relating to people in an authentic way & being an attention addict, he’s spent three decades tuning his mind and ear to the cheapest, easiest, basest level of humour. Lazy clown.)
posted by nelljie at 11:42 AM on March 27, 2013

Ah, the old advice column cliche. My boyfriend is wonderful and amazing, except that he's an asshole.

It's your life, but I wouldn't consider someone a great boyfriend if he acted like this. If you want to date an asshole, though, it's up to you. It may be, as your therapist sort of implied, a learning experience.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:48 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

In your question, and in many of the answers, you see the classic cognitive dissonance that people have about racism/sexism/homophobia. People make a distinction between behavior that is racist/sexist/homophobic and a racist/sexist/homophobic identity. The idea is that someone isn't truly a racist/sexist/homphobe unless there's something in their heart them that makes it so. This is how people can think that even if someone makes racist/sexist/homophobic jokes, that doesn't mean they are a racist/sexist/homophobe. To really be a bigot is assumed to require a higher bar, like you have to advocate for the extermination of people of color/women/queer people, or claim it as your identity by becoming a Grand Magical Wizard Dragon of the KKK, or something.

Here's the thing: this distinction between behavior and identity is bullshit. Someone who acts in racist/sexist/homphobic ways is racist/sexist homophobic. That's how you can tell what they are - it's by the way they behave. Thinking that racist/sexist/homophobic jokes are funny means that you are racist/sexist/homophobic. You can tell who the bigots are because they do bigoted things.

Your boyfriend is racist, sexist, and homophobic. His behavior shows this. He may be nice in other ways, but he is a bigot. It's up to you how to handle this.
posted by medusa at 11:49 AM on March 27, 2013 [20 favorites]

Honestly, I kinda find the "I came from a small town and I learned better" answers to be a bit boot-strappy and unaware. If we were talking about getting a job, we would clearly understand that getting a good paying job is a good thing, and it's harder for certain people due to economic imbalances.

I am fully aware that I am as liberal as I am because I grew up on the shoulders of giants. My grandmother was active in women's rights in the seventies. My dad haphazardly outed me in high school, so I became the straight focal point for the gay community. In my college, whites were a plurality and I had diversity foisted upon me. Even now, I try to think of myself as an enlightened person, and realize that in twenty years, there will probably be 100 new social mores based on my casual ignorance of something.

I think it's possible that he can simultaneously respect you, and hold sexist attitudes. The mind can easily gloss over that logical inconsistency, because you're not all women. You're a special snowflake.

I don't think it's possible that you can simulatenously respect him while training him out of these ingrained social habits. It takes more work to develop empathy for the ignorant soul who is hurting folks from blind privilege and power than it does to develop empathy for victims.
posted by politikitty at 11:59 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

So I'm the guy who has managed to quite often embarrass my wife by telling a "funny story" that everyone laughed at, when my wife would far rather the situation I was relating had remained private.

What put a stop to this was realizing that I do not get to choose my wife's boundaries. If my wife doesn't want me to talk about something, I don't get to decide come on, it's not that big a deal and merrily proceed on the assumption that if I just tell a good enough story, she'll find the humor in it.

That issue was serious bad news for our relationship, and it is not one-tenth as serious and poisonous as what you're going through.

You are being repeatedly disrespected and occasionally made the butt of jokes by someone who allegedly loves you. But here's the real problem: when you broach the issue, he refuses to take your objections seriously.

In a healthy long-term relationship, when one partner says this thing that you do is really not okay, even though I know you think it's okay, the other partner makes a serious, emotionally invested effort to understand where you're coming from. And, most importantly, they simply accept that there are some things that will never be okay for you.

Is that really happening for you? Only you can decide. But I can tell you that if you have even an inkling that he's not taking your concerns seriously, and has decided just to hide things from you instead of stop doing them, it's trouble.
posted by scrump at 12:00 PM on March 27, 2013 [13 favorites]

If he called me a gash, I would deny him access to mine.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:10 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

In your add-on, you did not mention any intent of showing him this thread, which makes me wonder if a) you don't want him to read the words you've written detailing/describing how painful it is for you to be in relationship with him and b) you are trying to protect him from the reaction here, which would surely be a cold slap to him. In fact, both of those might be a cold, sharp slap to him; I suspect that's the case, suspect also that's why you didn't mention showing him this thread -- you don't intend to do so. Too bad -- it could be instructive.

Ben Franklin: "That which hurts, instructs."

If you have a real desire to have this work, yet it doesn't seem like he's going to be willing or able to make the changes you need in order to feel safe in your love with him, leave him while you still love him. Leave while you still love him.

Why? Because if it turns out that you are truly important to him, if it turns out that he is devastated by the sight of you walking out the door, if he ends up broken and on the floor with achefulness, it is possible that he will change in order to get you back in the door. It happens. It does. Not always, of course, but sometimes. But if you stayed until after you'd burned your love for him, it won't matter that he's willing to change. Your heart will be closed off to him. I've seen this play out many times.

He'll say "Myrtle, I love you. I love you so much. I have changed, I will change more, I will become more considerate, I will. I love you." and then you'll say "Yes, Melvin, I know. And I love you, too, I really do care about you, and I truly hope you'll find someone great to be with." and then you'll walk on your way. Having myself walked in Melvin's shoes, I can tell you that there is nothing more painful than hearing those words, there is not a sharper knife to the heart.

Had you left before you'd burned the fire to nothing, you could do a holding pattern, not for long, certainly not forever, but long enough to determine if he really means business, or if instead he's just trying to get back to the old status quo.

When it happened to me, when I was in Melvin's shoes -- I truly didn't see it, what I was doing, who I was. And I don't guess I knew how much I cared for her, just exactly how important she was to me. But I sure found out how much I cared, and in getting blown apart with the hurts I also was able to see what had gone down in that relationship, who I was, how I acted -- it was a revelation. I'd have done about anything to have made it right, who knows, maybe if she had some love left in the tank we could have made a run at it.

Last. Though she was gone, I made the changes anyways, least as best I have been able. My mirror was an agonizing place, and having seen myself clearly, and seeing what it cost me, I just didn't have any choice but to change. I hope that the love she spent was not spent in vain, I've tried to live with others what I couldn't live with her.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

Imagine how he talks about you when you aren't around. It ain't pretty, sister.
posted by discopolo at 12:26 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow! Well, I was not expecting the DTMFA pile on with this one! I wasn't even asking if we should stay together, in fact. My question was trying to learn new approaches to open his mind a little more. I guess I was expecting suggestions like, "have him watch this documentary about bullying," or something. But given the avalanche of comments here, perhaps no one thinks that's possible.

We're a bunch of people who don't really know you or your BF, but based on his behavior our first impression of him is that he's an asshole and you shouldn't be dating him. Please bear in mind that people you meet for the first time in real life may form similar opinions.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:37 PM on March 27, 2013 [18 favorites]

Dude, if he can't watch a heart shattering documentary about the AIDS crisis without launching into a homophobic slur, why on Earth do you think a 'documentary about bullying' is going to change this person? Jokes are funny. You don't think these things are funny, and he clearly believes all of the things he's saying.

I think it's time to look into why you don't think you can do better, and why it's worth it to you to keep this person around. Your boyfriend is an asshole. It's not your job to change him. It's your job to figure out why you think so little of yourself that you wish to make this kind of behavior acceptable.
posted by loriginedumonde at 12:45 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

Yeah, to follow up on that, I don't think it's possible.

I've had the extensive unpleasure of the company of people like this. It's part of their core principles to hurt, offend, and disrespect you. When they call you these kinds of names, they believe they're upholding a righteous principle. You've already told him it's insulting and hurtful, he has told you he's right to do it. It's clear that your BF's sense of honour and personal respectability depends on talking to and about you like this.

In all seriousness, and I am in no way being sarcastic, who are you to try to change someone else's deeply held sense of honour and personal respectability? You can't control him by denying who he is and stubbornly trying to chip away and carve him into something that doesn't look like him.

I mean you could chip away for a few more years, if you want. But you're only likely to make him respect you less, not more.
posted by tel3path at 12:47 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was 19, I was madly in love with my 20 year old boyfriend. We lived in a crappy small city in northern Ontario. He was raised in an even crappier, smaller town and hour past the city limits of that crappy small city. We're both white, and lived in a city that was predominantly white and Catholic. I would never have considered either of us racist or sexist (though when I got older, moved to a bigger city and started university, I saw my own thinking in a new light, came to think about privilege and racism differently).

One afternoon, we were in the living room of the house he shared with his best friend and the phone rang. My boyfriend answered it, spoke to the caller, and then called out to his friend "Hey, Mike--gash!" I'd never heard the term before, but knew immediately what it meant and that it was Mike's girlfriend on the line. I also knew immediately that when I called, the roommate would have referred to me the same way. It would have been impossible to keep the horror and shock from my face. But here's the thing: when my boyfriend turned and saw the look on my face, he knew exactly why and he was ashamed. Immediately, unabashedly ashamed. I didn't even have to say anything, he got it.

We talked about it later, with the roommate and his girlfriend, not in a heavy way, with a lot of joking. The reeled off their entire offensive vocabulary, they thought they were being clever and edgy but they were also mortified to actually say it to our faces. We called them pigs and probably threatened to cut off sex or something. It wasn't a deep heavy discussion, there was no moralizing. But it still stopped them calling us disgusting names. Boyfriend and I were together 4 years after that and broke up for unrelated reasons. He really was a great boyfriend and we both worked hard to overcome our shitty close-minded upbringings. I get news about him occasionally even now, 20 years later, and he sounds like a good man.

So, I do think it's possible for a guy to be offensive and stay truly horrifying things out of ignorance and a desire to seem clever, but then grow up into a great man. The key difference between my story and yours, though, is that my guy realized on his own that what he was doing was hurtful and wrong, and made an effort to change--I didn't even have to nag him about it. A guy in his thirties who still talks this way and refuses to take responsibility for it is a different kettle of fish. I, personally, wouldn't be able to spend an evening with someone who made jokes about the gang rapes in India (a woman was literally raped to death FOR FUCK SAKE) never mind share my life with him.
posted by looli at 12:56 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's part of their core principles to hurt, offend, and disrespect you. When they call you these kinds of names, they believe they're upholding a righteous principle.

Yeah, I know people like this as well. Basically, since THEY aren't offended by these things, they think that means these things aren't offensive, full stop, because they can't conceive of reactions besides their own as being legitimate. Everyone else is wrong and a whiner for being offended.

Therefore, it is their god-given duty to say these things as much as possible; they feel well within their rights to do so, because words SHOULDN'T be able to hurt peoples' feelings, and if anyone is offended, it is completely their own fault for being so PC.

If someone's feelings are hurt, that's funny, because don't they know that this isn't a big deal, the dumb babies?

There is absolutely no convincing people like this. If you say "that offends me," they'll respond "Lol it WOULD offend you! LOSER!"

My solution is to stop hanging out with these people. YMMV.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:59 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

Jokes about the gang rapes in India.
I read the whole thread, but I really didn't need to. That one thing would be enough for me to leave, because it reveals such a staggering lack of empathy -- IMO the most important human trait.
I can't see maintaining a friendship, much less a relationship, with someone who has that terrible hole in their middle.
posted by LonnieK at 1:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I kinda find the "I came from a small town and I learned better" answers to be a bit boot-strappy and unaware.

I don't think it's mis-applied in this specific case. The "I came from a small town" excuse can be fair when someone is actually sheltered and lives in an echo chamber of bad juju. Anon's dude has not only been exposed to more enlightened thinking, but his behavior has also actively and consistently bothered his girlfriend, yet he doesn't seem to genuinely care. At that point it's not education or experience that's lacking but basic empathy, which I don't believe is either cultural or limited to the urbane.
posted by threeants at 1:25 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is after I told him that word was very offensive to me and my friends. He half-assedly apologized, but I could tell he enjoyed the "joke" still.

He was retelling the tale in a sheepish, "aren't I an asshole" // I had no idea // forehead-slapping way. He was mocking HIMSELF for being stupid and not realizing it was bad.

When I told him that was offensive he said he was trying to be funny. I told him I was still offended. He said I'm trying to "change him" — and , "I don't really care about that stuff because it doesn't affect me."

This guy think's he's hilarious. He's not going to stop finding this kind of horrible behavior hilarious just because you want him to, and in fact, he sounds pretty pleased with himself. Quite frankly, if a person called their significant other a degrading and offensive term, and was really sorry and upset about the whole thing, they wouldn't retell the story to a group of friends like it was a minor offense.

No, a person who was really sorry, who respected your feelings and fully understood how his behavior was unacceptable to you, would not retell that story to a group of friends with you present, like you could all laugh about what an asshole he is. That's not how a person who wants to change acts. That's not how a person who thinks their behavior is appalling acts. That's the behavior of a clown who thinks playing "the asshole" to an audience is funny.
posted by inertia at 1:30 PM on March 27, 2013 [15 favorites]

I did want to clarify that when he brought up the "gash" comment again at that night's dinner party, he was NOT mocking me. He was retelling the tale in a sheepish, "aren't I an asshole" // I had no idea // forehead-slapping way. He was mocking HIMSELF for being stupid and not realizing it was bad.

That's as maybe, but it's still a performance, and he thinks the incident is worth a re-enactment to that particular audience, when the appropriate thing is to STFU about it.
posted by holgate at 1:31 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

You could show him this, and see how he responds. If it seems to strike a chord, that's potentially a good sign. If he makes a joke (or if some variation of the words "pussy" and/or "whipped" come out of his mouth), that will help tell you how respectful he's really being.
posted by scody at 1:36 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

While you're at it, dump the dinner party friends who didn't immediately drop their forks, take you aside, and warn you away from this guy. Seriously. I would have walked out of a party if a guest told a story like that, even if he was the "bad guy" in his retelling. I will eat my hat if none of your friends have said anything to you about this guy, and unlike us, they actually know him.
posted by desjardins at 1:40 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

By way of comparison, I have a pretty ridiculous phobia (of fish), and my partner knows this about me. She likes fish and LOVES the ocean, so obviously she doesn't exactly share my point of view here. If she ever brandished a fish at me it would freak me out quite spectacularly and I guess could be considered funny from a certain point of view, but she would NEVER do this. She's never even forwarded me news stories or pictures of fish (something that several friends seem to find hilarious to do) - actually, she goes out of her way to be my 'fish guard' when we're at a market or the beach or whatever. And I love that - it's wonderful to feel safe and cared about, to know that your feelings are respected, even when your partner doesn't see things the same way you do (and even when it's about something as ridiculous as this).

Now she, she really hates it when people go "BOO!" and scare her. And because I am an asshole, fairly early in our relationship I DID try to startle her because I thought it would be funny. She did jump - and then she looked SO upset and shaken and I felt absolutely WRETCHED. I will never, EVER do such a thing again - not because I don't want to be told off, not because I completely understand what's that scary about being jumped out at and startled, not because I don't ever find it funny when that happens to someone - but because I know it upsets her and I hate to be the person who upsets her.

Neither of these things are even in the same ballpark as the stuff your boyfriend is saying, but my point is this: You really shouldn't have to "defend" why you're upset by what you're upset by, and it really shouldn't be this hard to get your boyfriend to change his behavior - if he loves and respects you, he will care more about your well-being than his right to make puny-minded, hateful little flaccid "jokes."
posted by DingoMutt at 1:54 PM on March 27, 2013 [44 favorites]

I have a pretty high threshold for getting offended at things people say or words they use, having lived on submarines. Trying to offend other people and building up your own thick skin is the official sport of young bored males with nothing else to do.

The thing that bothers me about all of your examples is: they're not even funny disregarding the offensiveness. They're just not funny. There's no cleverness, no insight in seeing something amusing nobody else saw. Was the street name a street in Chinatown? (I always thought it was kind of amusing that a Filipino guy I know was named "Jeff" and he couldn't say his own name. That doesn't mean that simply saying words in that accent is funny.) (By the way, Chinese has an L sound. Japanese doesn't.) Yelling "Faggot" was funny how? except for "ha ha, I said faggot, bet you didn't expect that!"

So you know, I guess humor is different for everyone, but I'd have to dump him just because he thinks merely saying shocking things is funny, and I don't think it is. I wouldn't find it offensive, I'd find it maddening and grating and have to get away.

Your problem sounds bigger to me than, "he says offensive things." It sounds to me like it's "we don't have the same sense of humor." I think that's a much, much harder problem to solve, because a person can't just stop having the sense of humor that they have at will.
posted by ctmf at 1:56 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your boyfriend is telling you and everyone who will listen precisely how he sees the world, and what he thinks your place is in it.

Listen carefully and choose accordingly.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:01 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

My question was trying to learn new approaches to open his mind a little more.

Oh, honey. No. You buy a fixer-upper, you don't date one.
posted by sobell at 2:44 PM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

Everyone can be respectful, conscientious, kind, etc., when it's easy. You can't really test the mettle of a person's soul by easy cases. What really separates the respectful, good folk from assholes is how they act when it's not easy.

Suppose you were go on a first date with a guy. You meet up with him at work. While there, he's respectful, courteous, and kind towards his boss. Then the two of you go out to a restaurant. While there, he's disrespectful, discourteous, and cruel to the waitstaff. Ask yourself: is this guy respectful and kind, because of how he treats his boss, or is he a disrespectful asshole, because of how he treats the server? Which gives more insight into his character, the way he treats the person who could fire him or the way he treats the person he could get fired?

Now, your scenario is different. But ask yourself: which gives more insight into a person's character, what he says to a person's face or what jokes he's willing to make behind their backs? Which tells you more about how he feels about you, the way you two get along when there's no source of conflict, or the way he treats you when there is conflict?

You know the answers, here.
posted by meese at 2:50 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

>My question was trying to learn new approaches to open his mind a little more.

>>Oh, honey. No. You buy a fixer-upper, you don't date one.

I actually was dating a guy recently who was very sweet but had some... regressive beliefs. Honestly, if I had decided to spend years working at it, I might have been able to 'fix' him. But as my friend said to me...

1. If he isn't smart enough to figure out that this stuff is wrong by himself, is he smart enough for you to date?

2. You could spend years fixing him... or, you could just go out and find someone who doesn't NEED fixing in the first place.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:04 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Remember this: out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
posted by tel3path at 3:06 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

If your best friend heard what he said during the AIDS documentary, would she still want to be around you (and him)? She will hear it, sooner or later.
posted by cnc at 3:45 PM on March 27, 2013

If I were dating someone like this, or a friend was, I would agree with the DTMFA advice. Not knowing this guy, I am trying to come at this from the perspective of your follow-up, where you really want to make this work, and perhaps so does he.

Yes, what he has said is indefensible. It's offensive and horrific. However, I do not believe that the way to change mindsets is by telling someone he's being an asshole. That just makes a person aggressive, defensive, and stubborn. It'd be an appropriate thing to call him, but it wouldn't help him in any way. It's not your responsibility to help him develop appropriate mindsets or broaden his horizons or anything, but it's up to you if you want to take that on.

So! If you do want to think about how to develop his mindsets (ugh, yes, it isn't your job to change him or teach him, but if he wants to learn, if he's open to it...), I see this as a privilege issue. He has privilege and is unable to see it because it's all he's known, and no one has ever pushed him to question it or notice it. Perhaps you can explore this together? A really awesome book, particularly around what it's like to be a person of color in America, is Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum. It's really eye-opening in explaining what it means to be a person of color in this country (ie a person without white privilege), and what are the crazy things going on that a white person just doesn't notice. The ideas are transferrable to feminism, gay rights, etc - being an oppressed group, the group that doesn't have privilege, means dealing with some crazy shit all the time that people outside the group don't notice until they start looking for it. Once someone starts seeing this, and starts looking for it in their everyday life, it's a lot harder to make these horrific "jokes".

Memail me if you're interested in other suggestions.
posted by violetish at 3:53 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Way too much ink being spilled here. The answer is simple: he uses racist and sexist humor because he is a racist and a sexist. And an asshole. Oh, and he has zero respect for you.

Other than that, he is a great guy.
posted by LarryC at 4:15 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Anonymous, if you really are determined to stay, I want to cast another vote for FAMOUS MONSTER's idea. I think it may have got lost in the shuffle of DTMFA. The best way to tell whether or not someone is "really joking" is to reverse the joke such that they're the object of it. If they are hurt, then you know their intention is to hurt. If they laugh, then their intention truly was to entertain all along.

I warn you, though: I've yet to meet the joker who laughs.
posted by cirocco at 4:32 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

He divides the world into 'us' and 'them', where 'them' (non-white, non-straight, female) are funny. Hilarious apparently. To the point where the jokes don't even have to be funny, they are funny because they're about 'them'.

Maybe you can change his mindset. Maybe.
posted by kjs4 at 5:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The examples you've given aren't even phrased remotely like jokes. The simple insertion of hate speech like 'faggot' and 'gash' into conversation isn't humour.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 6:43 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

He's pretty sexist and homophobic and racist. I'm sorry. There are nice guys who are not. Too many fish in the sea, etc., go forth and find one.

Please tell him exactly why you're breaking up with him. You're not trying to change him, you've just alerted him to this issue a bunch of times and he's decided that his goofy offensive "jokes" are the hill he wants to die upon. Maybe if he hears it enough times, he'll eventually think about his self-absorbed, entitled idea of what's funny.

Because holy shit. Chinky-fake-accent? Faggot? Gash? GASH?! Seriously, are you fucking kidding me?
posted by desuetude at 12:25 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, people can change. I've seen it happen. I've had people I've known since high school gradually turn from evangelical Christian to fairly progressive, or friends from college who'd constantly joke about rape to the point where it got actively uncomfortable catch up with me and say, offhand, "hey, uh, sorry for all those rape jokes, I didn't understand why you were so offended before but now I do."

The common element in all of these is that they were in high school and college. The guy you're with should probably stop doing this, and the fact that he's still doing this not only suggests he is in fact a sexist/racist/jerk but that he has some major growing up to do. Because the people who do change tend to do so when they're actually growing up.

This would be a dealbreaker for me, FWIW. Any one of those incidents in isolation probably would be, but all of them? At once? For this long?

(I wouldn't really suggest documentaries/101 stuff/etc. In an ideal world I would, but people who are so strident about stuff like this tend to dismiss them offhand as preachy or whatever. By now surely he knows what he's doing.)
posted by dekathelon at 1:16 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

He was retelling the tale in a sheepish, "aren't I an asshole" // I had no idea // forehead-slapping way. He was mocking HIMSELF for being stupid and not realizing it was bad.

How does a man in his early thirties not realize that calling his girlfriend that awful word is bad? What did he think that word meant? Telling the story this way is also weird - it kind of places himself as the victim, "Aw shucks, I'm so clueless." If he was actually really mortified he wouldn't be repeating a story about how horrible he was to his girlfriend.

He listened respectfully, told me he would think about it seriously, and took some time to himself.

"Please stop saying jerky things, it makes me feel bad."
"Ok I'll think about it."

What is there to think about???

I personally think people getting into abuse territory are going a bit far. It doesn't have to be abuse for you to leave. He's just not a very good catch and you can do much better.
posted by like_neon at 3:50 AM on March 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

These are not jokes. You are exactly who you pretend to be, to paraphrase a Kurt Vonnegut quote.

Again, again and again, DTMFA.
posted by ianK at 4:38 AM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have been a member of Metafilter for 8 years now and I have never in my life seen or heard of anyone referring to another human being as "The Gash". WHAT IN THE FUCK. You've read it over and over in this thread. Find the door, and quickly.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:10 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I mentioned these stirrings initially to my therapist (who is queer, awesome and super wise) she just said, "you will both learn a lot from each other

Two separate awesome therapists said the exact same thing to me when I started expressing difficulties about what I now realize was an abusive relationship. This is pretty much what therapists say to clients who have not yet reached a level of awareness about how shitty their relationship is, because therapists don't give concrete advice except in severe crisis situations (mainly because clients won't take it; see this whole thread for evidence).
posted by jaguar at 7:12 AM on March 28, 2013 [30 favorites]

Coming back in to say that it's not the language. It's what the sentiment indicates about this person's thought process. That's what I think a lot of people here are worried about.

Suppose, instead of the awful word "the gash" he had used another (slightly more acceptable?) word. Suppose he had referred to you, to one of his friends, as "the pussy." What would be reasonable to conclude about how he thinks of you?

Suppose he had even used the medically correct term. Suppose he had called you "the vagina." What would you conclude about his respect for you as a person?

It's not the language. It's the mindset.
posted by gauche at 7:29 AM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

Do not show him this thread. This is a lot of people on the internet judging him on anecdotes you have presented. He might have sheepishly retold the "gash" story to friends, but that was him opening up a bit to people close to him. This is asking the world for guidance, and getting a ton of judgment tossed in for free.

If you really think he's open to change his point of view, I don't think he can watch any TV or movies and get it. He already cracked a homophobic "joke" at a documentary on the AIDS epidemic. Instead, you could bring up that he could seriously get his ass kicked by people who do care about these topics. He's not a shock-jock, slinging insults from the safety of a radio booth. It's hard to be "clean" in public if you are offensive around your friends, assuming his "jokes" aren't who he really is inside.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:49 AM on March 28, 2013

he respects me enormously in every other area of our lives, often defers to my judgements, and has shown a great deal of willingness to change his mind and behaviors when we talk on other issues. I do the same with him. We both love the relationship because we truly can talk about everything else — politics, money, sex, the future and even when we disagree, he's respectful, listens, and often incorporates my worldview into his. He is not a jerk.

Here is the thing with all of this: It doesn't matter. All of the other non-jerk, non-racist, non-bigoted behaviour doesn't some how cancel out his racism and sexism and bigotry. It sounds like that is how he behaves while he is trying. That sounds like the "best efforts" him, and it sounds like he doesn't really get why he needs to put in that effort. Natural no effort left to his own devices him doesn't behave that way and sees nothing wrong with it. He sees nothing wrong with it even though you've told him multiple times that it upsets you and isn't okay.

As for your saying that he isn't a jerk the rest of the time...If a person is caught stealing someone's car, the defence of "Oh, but I only steal one car a month, and I spend the rest of my time not stealing cars!" doesn't fly. It doesn't matter what other things that person did, they are still a theif. They still stole that car. In your case, he has stolen a car mutliple times and has been told repeatedly why stealing cars is wrong, but he is still stealing cars. It wouldn't matter if that person spent their non-car stealing time helping other people. They are still a car their and they are still doing things that are wrong and they are still going to get arrested.

I have a six year old step son. He is like every other six year old and sometimes acts up. Last week at school he started dropping F-bomb all over the place. We explained to him that he cannot use those words, that they are very rude and hurt people's feelings. He said, "They don't hurt my feelings when other kids say it!" but we explained that it may not hurt his feelings, but it does hurt other people's feelings and that matters. We also said that he might not think it is rude, but most people do and it isn't something he is allowed to do. We asked him if he wanted to be a person who was rude and hurting people's feelings all the time, even accidentally. He replied with a strong "No."

Guess what? My six year old step son understood and he has stopped.

Your mid-30's boyfriend hasn't been able to understand that exact same message.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:09 AM on March 28, 2013 [14 favorites]

I think everyone has covered the "he's an asshole" angle, so I want to approach this a little differently. Whether or not he's an asshole (I think he is), you guys don't share a sense of humor. That, for me, is a huge dealbreaker. Can you really picture yourself in a relationship where you can't laugh together?
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:38 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been reading this thread without commenting, but I'll add one thing on your question of how to engage him. I wouldn't engage him much, and I would avoid falling into a routine where he says something (ironically?) offensive and you react with (mock?) outrage. Being part of that kind of routine almost becomes its own reward. It's also hard, as the (mock?) outraged person, to switch back to "no, seriously, that's not okay."

I would also avoid saying things like "that hurts or offends me," because that plays into the "don't be so sensitive" framing. These statements aren't a problem because you're so delicate, they are a problem because they can hurt others, and as we all grow up, we learn to behave in public in ways that do not cause disgust or hurt. I would more be like "I don't know how you were raised, but I was taught that it's not okay to talk like that"and "you need to educate yourself if you think it's okay to act that way."

If he does want to learn about how to be anti-racist and not sexist, or to learn why hate speech is hurtful, or about the violence done in the name of these divides, there are many resources out there.
posted by salvia at 1:30 PM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also I'd decide how much work you want to do here since he seems to have a lot to learn. But I'm more concerned that it's not a matter of quantity of material but of willingness to learn. I tend to think that by our mid-30s, we might have a few blind spots ("oh, when I call something 'lame' that reinforces prejudice against the disabled. I never thought of that, thanks"), but we're not using that kind of language very commonly at all anymore.
posted by salvia at 1:35 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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