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August 17, 2007 2:06 PM   Subscribe

If all that ‘be yourself’ dating advice here ever annoyed you, then this question’s for you. Tips for stopping being oneself, when that is counterproductive?

When I am sober and really do not care what other people think of me and what I’m doing, I am playful and jeery, and am happy when other people reciprocate. This is counterproductive in interacting with basically everyone outside of the people I spent my teens with.

So. Because being honest and open is less work than being careful and considered about everything I do and say, I’ve tried to switch back to the former, as far as it will work. And that’s been good. Except that now it’s stopped being good (but it’s still early signs, not a huge deal), and I’ve acquired an alcohol habit that means my earlier self-discipline has gone away.

Realistically from my previous rewiring-the-brain experience (learning second languages well, programming), I need to stop downing a bottle of wine a night, and to go back to considering in silly empirical detail the consequences of everything I say (which consideration worked really well, for a long time). But does anyone have any tips beyond that for this—for actually communicating who you are and what you feel, while suppressing that you think that anyone who can’t take evidently-joking criticism has something wrong with them?

I am pessimistic about getting a helpful answer to this question, but part of why I’m posting it is perhaps to communicate that not everyone’s actual personality includes social skills that work well in society at large, and that is not necessarily a huge deal.
posted by Aidan Kehoe to Human Relations (32 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, but I do think this is a situation where you should 'be yourself'. This is how I am, and it has worked to weed out the good from the bad. If someone can't take evidently-joking criticism, I think that they are probably too sensitive and/or self-conscious to actually ever appreciate me. And I have some really good friends, and have had a very good relationship because I don't have a filter at all.

Yes, at times I do wish I could keep my mouth shut and have stepped over the line. But those who forgive are those who I have to be as explicit to me as I am to them if they want me tochoose to keep around. Most importantly the people (friends and S.O.'s) know to trust me (although they explicitly have to tell me to keep something a secret, because I do tend to consider most things fit for public consumption).

Anyway, don't change.
posted by greta simone at 2:19 PM on August 17, 2007

Wow, I have some serious issues with not editing before posting. I would repost what I was trying to say but I don't have time and hopefully you can suss out what I was trying to say. Damnit, now I'm embarrassed. ADMINS!!! please erase this tripe.
posted by greta simone at 2:21 PM on August 17, 2007

Hey, drugloving criminal foulmouthed sexytime girl here. The answer is, AT WORK.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:22 PM on August 17, 2007

have you considered therapy? it's marginally cheaper than a bottle of wine a night, over a lifetime anyway, and probably longer-lasting. i mean, i'm sensing a not inconsiderable amount of self-loathing here that is not particularly healthy.

behavior-wise, what you want, i think, is not to not be yourself, but rather to be a more considerate version of yourself. i am not a therapist myself, but i imagine the thing to do is just monitor yourself for a week (sober!) and write down everything you say or do that you think is counterproductive and/or alienating. see if you can identify a pattern. adjust as necessary.

this might sound kind of stupid, but acting and/or etiquette classes might help. you just need to learn new habits.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:24 PM on August 17, 2007

Oh, tips? Just don't speak unless required to, then lay on a qualifier. It can be the same, lame one in every sentence and still make people think you're a more sympathetic individual.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:24 PM on August 17, 2007

But does anyone have any tips beyond that for this—for actually communicating who you are and what you feel, while suppressing that you think that anyone who can’t take evidently-joking criticism has something wrong with them?

I would examine why you feel the need to tell other people what you think. Why do other people HAVE to know everything you're thinking? Sometimes, I'm talking to someone, and I'm about to say something, and then I think- why do they need to know that? Let's say I'm talking to someone who is in a show, and I didn't think it was going to be very good, but it was good. Do I really need to say, Boy, Fred, I thought your show was going to be lousy, but it was actually good? No, I don't. It doesn't matter to the end point of what I'm meaning to say, and more importantly, it's going to hurt Fred's feelings. That's not what I was meaning to do. I care about Fred, therefore, I keep that part to myself. "Fred, you were great!" Think about what you're trying to communicate, and cut out the rest. Of course, in order to be able to watch what you say, you're gonna need to stop drinking so much.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:26 PM on August 17, 2007 [6 favorites]

This is a tough question, mainly because I absolutely love funny / sarcastic people. There definitely is a fine line between being funny and being a douchebag though, and I can definitely see where downing a bottle of wine could blur that line significantly.

My advice is that when you are getting to know someone new, the best way to win their acceptance isn't to worry so much about expressing yourself, but rather to encourage them to express THEMSELVES. Everyone's favorite subject is themselves, and it's really easy to enjoy talking to someone who asks lots of good questions about you & your life & your hobbies & your outfit & your tattoo & why you are at this party, etc. They may ask similar questions back of you, in which case, you can answer them, hopefully in a non-obnoxious way (e.g. maybe truthfully or something), thus letting your personality shine through without resorting to being a smartass.
posted by tastybrains at 2:30 PM on August 17, 2007

IMO, this describes when it's like for someone born in the Northen US States who suddenly moves to the Southern US States. Keep in mind this just my experience.

You have to learn the new social language and stop thinking of your original social language as the "natural or proper way". To do this, you have to listen to these new ways and think about and understand why they are different from the way you do things. Think of it as speaking in Spanish: why do they have upside down question marks? Well, there's a reason, sure, and you might understand it or not or like it or not but that's how they do it in Spanish. If you want to effectively communicate you throw in the upside down punctuation and move on to the next problem.

This takes pratice. You try, you stumble, you do a few locally social no-nos and then you learn. Eventually you learn the language. But the key point is that you have want learn the language and attempt to use it.

For what it's worth I 'm a total smart ass, which doesn't go over well in the South. After stumbling around a bit, my sense of humor has developed a more polite edge, where a bit of scathing humor can be delieved with just the right polite tone and smile. Basically it's an acquired skill.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:34 PM on August 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Try being a narcissistic sociopath as opposed to a repellant one? That is, see how delightfully winsome you can be, for fun. Changing up your style from lolfucktard to el suavissimo is both healthy for your brain, and a stylistic distinction these days. It's still as much about expressing your confidence as being mean for kicks is. It's like the light side of snark.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:34 PM on August 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

wow this question is very confusing.

but i too am sarcastic and smart-assed and it sometimes rubs people the wrong way.

the thing is, there's no such thing as "being yourself." People can use that as an excuse for any kind of behavior- taken to its extreme, Hitler was just being himself.

Over the years, I have tried to lay off or qualify my sarcasm for people I feel will get offended. It's not a matter of changing who I am, just learning the time and place for that kind of talk.

Maybe everyone "should" be able to take it with humor and grace, but guess what? They can't. I don't see the rest of the world suddenly changing to suit my needs, so I tend to try to change myself. Not out of altruism- it just makes my life easier if I am not constantly pissing off my co-workers and random people on the street.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:34 PM on August 17, 2007

IMO, this describes when it's like for someone born in the Northen US States who suddenly moves to the Southern US States. Keep in mind this just my experience.

goes for moving to the west coast too, btw. When i first got to L.A. everyone was aghast at how sarcastic I was. being from Baltimore, I thought I was just being normal.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:36 PM on August 17, 2007

There are a whole bunch of assumptive statements in your question that, in my opinion, are going to get in the way of people taking you seriously that may affect your ability to get a good answer.

An alternative way of phrasing what I just said above is "Wow, what an assholish way to try to get random internet people to want to help you by setting up a bunch of straw man assumptions about the way people interact with eachother and forcing a false dichotomy wherein they either have to disagree with your heavily loaded assumptions one by one to actually help you, or ignore tham and risk having you come back with some sort of 'just answer the question I asked please' nonsense. Bonus points for insulting the site like an adolescent because you're unhappy about something that happened that you won't just come out and say "

The difference btween the first response of mine and the second is the fact that, to a certain extent I'm trying to be considerate of you. Well, then I'm not in the second paragraph but since you've indicated you'd like to be very meta about all of this, I figure it's okay.

So, in short, I think you are saying that when you are "being yourself" you're sort of a jerk and you'd like to be less of a jerk in a way that doesn't involve too much work on your part. I see a few ways of approaching this problem. It's one I have, to a lesser extent, myself so I sympathize.

1. don't hang out with people who don't like you when you're being yourself. Has its obvious downsides. Explore those downsides a little bit. Myabe it seems that the only people who are cool always with you being yourself are possible jerks themselves and not fun to be around on a regular basis (I'm just speculating here). Given that, perhaps there's a way you can turn the mirror back on yourself and realize that conversation and communication are a two way street in many cases and if there's a situation that you'd like to get something out of (friendship, cameraderie, your comments not getting deleted) perhaps you could pay some attention to the street signs and not just pretend like you're someplace you've never been before.

2. cost/benefit - as I stated in the last item, you may just want to look at some of this stuff in a mercenery/transactional sort of way. What do you need to give in order to get what you'd like to get? I feel that a lot of this is selling this idea to you anyhow since you seem to know how to not "be yourself" in order to get along with people if you need to, you just don't like to. As a result you need to make this into a genuine option for yourself where it's something appealing to you.

3. go live on a mountain somewhere. Realize that living in society to a certain extent involves compromises. You don't like to make thos ecompromises. That would be the obvious choice. This has worked for me to a pretty good degree, living in the country where it's easier for me to be just who I want to be. There are also some obvious downsides and one thing I worry about is getting less and less able to freely interact with people who aren't like me because I've gotten spoiled "being myself"

Everyone has to figure out where to draw a line between strictly doing everyhting they want to all the time, and moving within structures other people have set up for them. People who can't do this are said to have "poor impulse control" or all sorts of other finger-pointing crazifying names attached to them. As you said, if you don't think it's a huge deal, why do you care? Also, I think it goes without saying that if you want to make some sort of critique about how the site operates [which I detect in your title and tags] you might be happier doing that in Metatalk.
posted by jessamyn at 2:38 PM on August 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

Here's a good tip to learn. When you're getting to know someone new, stop talking and listen. Surpress the urge to make a jokey blistering criticism and just listen. And when they're done talking, rather than make a strange comment about their choice in clothing, ask them a question about what they like.


Once you get to question #5, then you'll be able to make your stupid jokey comment. Moderation, listeniing, c'est la vie. Basically, learn to not be an asshole. And once this new person gets into your circle of friends, you'll discover that they're just as crit-tastic as you are. And if they're not, they'll either learn to accept you (and help you tone down your need to make a jackass of yourself) all at the same time.
posted by Stynxno at 2:38 PM on August 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well, I'll take a crack at this one.

Do you actually feel this way, that "anyone who can't take evidently-joking criticism has something wrong with them"?

Because if they're taking offense, apparently the joking isn't so evident.

Also, have you ever wondered why they're taking offense? Maybe you've touched a nerve. If that's the case, that tells you something: they're sensitive about that aspect of themselves. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine why that might be the case. Try to imagine how it must feel to be so sensitive about [whatever thing], to be ashamed, embarrassed, to dislike that part of yourself. Maybe you'll start to feel a little empathy -- after all, surely there are things about yourself you wouldn't want other people (especially someone new you're trying to make friends with!) to poke at.

As far as openly communicating who you are and what you feel, I think you can easily do so without including any critiques of the other person -- whether meant as jokes or not.
posted by GrammarMoses at 2:39 PM on August 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Good job, Grammar. I was going to say, as a person with a sharp tongue and who likes to tease friends or would-be friends, but little tolerance for assholery as an ethos, that if someone says "Shut up, you fucking prick," that's your cue to do it. And to apologize for getting your audience wrong. Once you clue them into the fact that you're not just a hater, and that you're trying to be funny, you should be golden.

Or, you can just get in the habit of telling people that you tease and make fun "only when you like someone" true or not, it works pretty well.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:43 PM on August 17, 2007

"... But does anyone have any tips beyond that for this—for actually communicating who you are and what you feel, while suppressing that you think that anyone who can’t take evidently-joking criticism has something wrong with them? ..."

Take up ball room dancing. It's a great way of meeting people, while minimizing early mis-communication, and remaining socially occupied long enough to see if you really want to get to know someone, before actually doing so. And it's so fraught with ironic potential, all of which can be later fodder for your wit, when it does manifest itself.
posted by paulsc at 2:45 PM on August 17, 2007

Seconding GrammarMoses.

As someone who has been on the receiving end of jokey sarcasm more than once, and not appreciated it at all, here's my take.

What seems like obvious jokey sarcasm to you might not seem that way to others. I've been broadsided most often by people who can deliver their lines seemingly in all seriousness, get the reaction they want from me, and then say "ha! fooled you! I was just joking!" It makes me feel like an incompetent jackass.

If you can't temper the jokey sarcasm, as a minimum, please preface your jokes with something that will signal to the other person that the sarcasm is about to start. Once people get to know you, they'll recognize the warning signs and be ready for it. Recent acquaintances have no such experience.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 2:48 PM on August 17, 2007

If you can easily be honest and open without making a mess of things I'd say you have good instincts and should continue to rely on them. Trying to consider consequences of everything is a pain, and thinking much beyond "is what just popped into my head obviously mean or offensive?" just leads to awkward, boring conversation. I'm a bit reserved while sober, but once I have a beer or two I open up and joke around and such. After I get beyond that level of buzzed I tend to lose my charm, and I think it's because I stop picking up on the subtle clues that usually tell you when you're about to cross some line. When I find myself too drunk I let other people carry the conversation and sit back for a while. Then it's a matter of either sobering up and catching a second wind or getting tired and calling it a night.

My advice would be to only drink with close friends and people who know you and won't be offended when you let it all hang out. With people you don't know as well stay sober and try to be more attentive to their reactions. If you start saying things that evoke an awkward response, change the subject and make a mental note to save that once for later. Getting to know someone is a gradual process of feeling each other out, and it's best to start with safe conversation (small talk) and slowly work toward the riskier subjects as they feel comfortable.
posted by waxboy at 2:58 PM on August 17, 2007

If I catch your drift correctly, for you:
being yourself = being open and honest = jeery jokey criticism.

My humor is 99% sarcastic and I do tend to think people who don't catch it are a bit slow, but it's really not accurate to conflate it with honesty or openness.

If I call my friend dumb because I think he's so smart he'll surely get the joke, I'm not really being honest or open. I'm hiding my feelings (respect for my friend's intelligence, warmth, desire to include him in the conversation) behind a joke.
posted by xo at 3:02 PM on August 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

There is something I should clarify; the vast majority of the time, any social problems I have are related to my command of German (I live in Germany), and even those problems are much less relevant now than they were a year ago. When I’m interacting with people through English, for the last 6-7 years social problems have really not been an issue. I am not asking for help with (most of) how I interact with people now; I’ve rather noticed a recent destructive tendency in myself (provoked by reasonable self-development, that is, moving towards being more open and honest) that I intend to suppress, and I would like tips on that.

Jessamyn, my headline was intended to better communicate where I’m coming from, and not to berate MetaFilter in general. I read MetaFilter for years without signing up because it didn’t seem like I could add anything to the discussions, which is about as good a recommendation of an English-language forum as I can give. (Right, right, economically that makes no sense, but that is how people use the web.) Umoderated forums seem a little better suited to my temperament, but there are enough temperaments out there that that means almost nothing.

Thank you everyone!
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 3:06 PM on August 17, 2007

I have a few friends that "jokey criticism" is part of how we relate to each other. We can be pretty rough with each other and we're comfortable enough with each other to know it's a joke. With such friends, saying, "Jesus Christ, you're an idiot," comes against a long background of loyalty and good times and they realize I'm not a prick.

As to these episodes where you make critical comments of people you don't know well, and they get offended --- well, how are they supposed to know if you're an asshole or a good guy? It's kind of like saying, "I get my best friend in a headlock all the time, and he always knows I'm kidding ... why is it that this guy I just met, got pissed when I put him in a headlock?"

The way you've phrased your question, it sounds as though you think people who don't respond well to your jokey criticism are lame and thin-skinned. I think that's possibly an unfair way to describe the situation. I think many people's attitudes may be, "I have limited time to spend around people for pleasure, and I don't get a good vibe from this dude whose idea of social intercourse, when I just met him, is hard kidding."

It's a matter of being sensitive to what's appropriate and for people you know well, versus people you don't know well.
posted by jayder at 3:07 PM on August 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Say I bought a pair of shoes. And say they were ugly. Are you the kind of person who would be all, "ha, nice shoes! [eye roll] [more negative criticism] I'm just joking. They're fine."

If so, I'd be surprised if you had any friends, other than those with ulterior motives for hanging around you. Ha-ha-only-serious "joking" is the height of assholery. Maybe I should be able to take evidently joking criticism? Maybe so. Maybe though, you should fuck off instead.

I think you need to start by asking yourself why you like to be the way you are normally. Attention whore? Why make someone feel shitty, even if only for a second or two? What's the point, seriously? I don't find it funny when it's directed at me, I don't find it funny when directed at someone else. What are you trying to be, Don Rickles? He wasn't funny, either. I bet he was a shitty friend when he was drunk, too.

Just find another way of dealing with people and practice it until it comes naturally. If you don't like my shoes, you don't have to lie, just say on the lowdown, "well, I'm not really crazy about them, sorry. I don't care for them that much." Honesty is cool. A friend would say what he really thought. Being a big crowing jackass about in in front of others isn't cool, though, and isn't what a friend would do.
posted by ctmf at 3:15 PM on August 17, 2007

So you find that as you get older you can't just act like a teenager hanging out with his buddies? There's no news here at all. Everyone has to adapt to the social environments they find themselves in. Or you can be the guy who sticks out. You get to choose. As you point out, drinking a lot probably doesn't help your attitude toward relating to others.
posted by DarkForest at 3:30 PM on August 17, 2007

If moving towards openness and honesty has brought you to a place of caustic sarcasm, then it might just be a midway stop. If you go farther you might begin to find more empathy for other's feelings. If people are hurt by your comments, they aren't wrong, they just aren't you.
posted by DarkForest at 3:43 PM on August 17, 2007

Good on you for noticing that this bothers people. In fact I've found that when even close friends do it to excess, it gets on my nerves. Why can't they just be friendly/nice sometimes? It doesn't always have to be a competition to see who can be the most sarcastic. It gets old even if I know they're playing.

Your question, I think, is how not to appear to be an asshole. I think the answer is to practice. You don't have to think of 'silly' little consequences, you just have to practice not being sarcastic and jeery.

It is presumptous to think you can guess how everyone will react to everything you say, and it's unnecessary to do so. In short, if there's something about how you act that you want to change [excessive sarcasm, excessive drinking], change it. Concentrate on YOU and how YOU want to act.
posted by putril at 3:57 PM on August 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

meditation is often an effective antidote to verbal diarrhea.
posted by desjardins at 4:15 PM on August 17, 2007

This American Life 330: My Reputation contains a segment that addresses some of these issues. It's self-produced story by an abrasive, teasing guy who thinks all his friends see the abrasiveness as his "thing" in the group. It starts around 47:45 in the shitty Flash player.
"It's one thing to wonder what other people really think of you. It's quite another to go out and ask them. Writer Gabriel Delahaye asked his closest friends—on tape—what they really think of him, and the answers surprised him. The story of one man's brave quest to face up to his reputation. (11 minutes)"
posted by contraption at 5:11 PM on August 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

But does anyone have any tips beyond that for this—for actually communicating who you are and what you feel, while suppressing that you think that anyone who can’t take evidently-joking criticism has something wrong with them?

This is a skill. It takes practice to acquire. It can be learned; a lot of what is called psychotherapy today is actually just a venue for one-on-one tutoring in communications techniques. For people who need such tutoring it can be more valuable than, say, Freudian psychoanalysis. Books are written about effective communication with others. If you like to read books these are a good way to learn about it.

You can also take community college courses in communication. That is not a bad idea.

But you gotta practice this before you get good at it. Eventually it's like riding a bike; you just do it. Look at it this way - did learning to ride a bike change who you really were as a person? No? Neither will acquiring this skill.

If it's in doubt, I definitely think you should work on learning and practicing this skill in whatever way seems to make most sense to you.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:50 PM on August 17, 2007

meditation is often an effective antidote to verbal diarrhea.

This is actually pretty good advice. I get the impression you're an analytical extrovert and most people hanging out in forums like metafilter just don't plain get these people. Your problem is that you keep on blabbering about things you know are true while knowing the people you're talking to know this as well. This is called preaching. People generally hate this.

Meditation is good advice because it will give you a third person perspective of your actions. It makes it easier for you to recognize the times you're acting like an idiot.
posted by uandt at 6:21 PM on August 17, 2007

Be yourself, find someone who likes who you are by searching harder and longer for that person. If you do want to change, do it because you want to, not because you think you will find more dates that way. When you reach the point of really wanting to change, try cognitive therapy.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:12 PM on August 17, 2007

You say you're in germany?

There is the rare person from that culture that I've met who has a sense of humor - it tends to be very dry. Most of the ones I've met (and I've had quite a few people who've lived in germany agree) say that most Germans simply do not have a sense of humor, and don't see the funny.

Quit assuming people around you have a sense of humor - most of them emphatically don't, or they have one that is probably more than a little challenging to just pick up, and is likely profoundly different from your native sense of humor.

That said, after a sufficiently long time and sufficiently close attention, any skillset (including social ones) can become reflex. I speak as someone who started at square one as an adult with social skills in my native culture.
posted by ysabet at 5:27 AM on August 20, 2007

FWIW, the "be yourself" mantra wrt dating and talking with opposite sexies tends to address guys that are fun and personable among their friends, but freeze up and get insecure around women they want to date -- as in, "Hey, man, don't get insecure and weird around her; just be fun and personable, you know, 'yourself'."
posted by LordSludge at 9:16 AM on August 20, 2007

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