Big, bad wolf
November 2, 2007 9:25 PM   Subscribe

How to handle my boyfriend's father?

My boyfriend's father continues to challenge me and I'd like some advice on how to respond. We've been dating 3.5 years and his father developed a negative perception of me very early on. He believes that I'm fairly rigid and not very adventurous. My boyfriend is fairly spontaeous, adventurous and likes to regale the family with stories of his latest findings. Usually, during these conversations, his dad will turn to me and say in a loud, sarcastic tone, "So, do you think you might be willing to join him in doing this newest thing?" I find it mean-spirited and it makes me really uncomfortable. I usually mumble some wishy-washy statement about how I'm somewhat interested or try to explain why I'm not but he has already turned away and started some other conversation. Clearly, he is not interested in a true answer. I believe there are several things at play here--

1. Boyfriend's father is self-absorbed to a fault and not truly interested in others. He has a perception of me that isn't totally accurate. I am less adventurous and spontaneous but have many of the same interests as boyfriend but he hasn't chosen to get to know me beyond initial impression.
2. Boyfriend's father may feel that boyfriend is "settling" as a result of dating someone less adventurous. The entire family values a less structured, spontaneous lifestyle.
3. Boyfriend's father has a mean streak and it often surfaces publically.

I've considered addressing this philosophically by challenging the idea that being adventurous isn't necessarily better than not. I've also considered addressing the fact that this perception is somewhat skewed and inaccurate. I have also considered just explaining that I feel that he is intentionally being hurtful and it makes me uncomfortable. In all of this, boyfriend has been fairly passive. I believe that he sees this as very mild and not worth addressing. He also avoids confrontation with family members. Yes, I am an overly sensitive person and have a hard time letting things roll off of my back. Regardless, what would you do in this situation and why?

Ultimately, I am not trying to change this individual. I just want to know how to address this situation as I believe that I will eventually be related to this person.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Part, or all, of the responsibility here falls on your boyfriend, to control his obnoxious father, or at least confront him with his obnoxiousness. As a girlfriend, you're not yet officially a member of the family and you should not have to do the confronting.

But if forced to handle this yourself, I vote for the following:

I have also considered just explaining that I feel that he is intentionally being hurtful and it makes me uncomfortable.
posted by jayder at 9:40 PM on November 2, 2007

You could laugh elusively and say, "hell no", or just ignore him. He's baiting you, for whatever reason, and the best thing is to not take his challenges all that seriously.

You're fine - be yourself - he may be trying to play some perceived trump card that doesn't exit. I'm sure his son abd the rest find him tiresome!
posted by MiffyCLB at 9:44 PM on November 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

I don't feel like I have much of a handle on this.... it's not clear to me what sort of adventure we are talking about and whether other issues might be at play. Unfortunately rational discussion is likely not going to influence the father's views, and I doubt any leveraging by your boyfriend is going to change that, so I think you're down to picking your battles. You have no duty or obligation to handle the father. He's not family, and you do not need to deal with this.

I say avoid him. If this father loves adventure, your distance will allow his imagination to fill in the details about who you are, and things will be more cordial. In the meantime perhaps you can re-examine this for yourself and maybe do those little adventurous things on your own for your own life experience and as brownie points for later on if you all get serious. If news of those little things makes it back to him as hearsay, that will seem bigger than it really is.

That's about all I have to say.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:44 PM on November 2, 2007

Your boyfriend should be handling this, not you. It isn't your place and it will likely make things worse for you if you confront his father, who is obviously a bit of a bully. Even if your boyfriend thinks it's minor, it bothers you, a lot, and he should take his father aside and tell him to knock it off.
posted by whoaali at 9:49 PM on November 2, 2007

It sounds like boyfriend's father enjoys getting your goat. Your job is to not let him because, as you said, you are not going to change him - to which I'll go on a limb and say that none of the hive mind are gonna change any of the parental hive mind minds.

I would try to figure out why I give a rat's what Pop says or thinks. Really, what do you care that he doesn't "know you" or thinks BF is settling or is a dick. If you are in love with BF, what difference does it make what his old man says/thinks/does?

I'd try to get to the point where I was cool with - BF's dad can be a jerk but I don't pay him no mind. I wouldn't engage with his banter, if he asks a teasing question he gets a sappy smiling "sure" and done. I wish I could tell you how to do this, but I think it has to do with letting Pops be who he is. Especially if you will end up related to this crank.

(Speculation) Just make sure you are not eating some resentment around the BF not noticing/defending you, or that Pops is actually pushing some button that has to do with your feelings about BF and his adventuresomeness. That stuff, resentment, is poison.
posted by asparagus_berlin at 9:50 PM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't think you should ignore it, per se...when he says those things to you, instead of mumbling, you should gird your loins and laugh as if he's telling a great joke. "Ha ha, everyone knows I love XY!" then turn back to the conversation. Have your boyfriend get your back in these situations, for sure.

Alternately, you could bring photos of you and your bf doing said adventures, approach Dad casually and say, "I just got these photos developed and we had such a great time doing them, I wanted to share." He'll probably grumble and mutter, but it's a start.
posted by lhall at 10:28 PM on November 2, 2007

Don't demur any longer. Unleash dangerous, witty comebacks. Straight face. If he can dish it, he can take it.

- "I did the same thing, but blindfolded, while riding a charging zebra, when I was ten. Twice."

- "I would have joined bf, but I still have the steel rods in my spine from that accident I had bungee jumping from the Empire State Building."

- "Right now I'm channeling all my energies into training for knife fights with bears."

- "I'm sorry, what was that? I'm still coming down from the peyote I took yesterday."

posted by brain cloud at 10:43 PM on November 2, 2007 [20 favorites]

Sounds like dude has a cool son. Why don't you let him enjoy it?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:45 PM on November 2, 2007

Sounds like dude has a cool son. Why don't you let him enjoy it?

Do you really think it's ok to put somebody in the same shitty position over and over, all for the glofication of one's child? I don't. I call that "being an asshole."
posted by brain cloud at 11:02 PM on November 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

posted by brain cloud at 11:02 PM on November 2, 2007

I'm guessing that the rest of the family just ignores his rudeness, or that it puts (some of) them on edge. You'd be doing everyone a favor if you could deflect his negative comments -- with a smile, if possible. In your shoes, I'd feel most comfortable saying, "I could NEVER do that. I'm much too rigid/timid/scared of heights/busy with my knitting." I'd give it a tone of playful teasing, as if I were making fun of him in a good-natured way.

You don't need to show him up -- his family knows what he's like. And you don't need to prove him wrong, because his baiting has nothing to do with you, really. It's all about him.

The right thing to do, as likely a future member of the family, is not to engage with him on it with everyone around. If you want to have a sincere chat with him about the substance of his remarks, or about how they make you feel, do that privately.
posted by wryly at 11:04 PM on November 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

so, do you think you might be willing to join him in doing this newest thing?

no sir, i'm the one who'll be contributing the genes for decent brains to your grandchildren.
posted by bruce at 11:26 PM on November 2, 2007 [7 favorites]

If I didn't know better I'd think you were dating my b/f and dealing with my own future f.i.l. After silently suffering 2 years of dinner conversation barbs of almost the same nature as you, I finally reached my limit one fine Sunday evening & spontaneously responded with "wtf is your problem, you crazy old coot, piss the hell off", and continued enjoying the honey glazed ham. Everyone was gobsmacked for a few seconds and then continued on as though I hadn't said anything, and the old coot hasn't been rude to me since. On the way home b/f apologized for letting his dad's bs go on for so long and promised to not be a wimp in the future. Things have been cool for almost 2 years since that dinner.
posted by zarah at 11:35 PM on November 2, 2007 [7 favorites]

He's a narcissistic dick, ok. Nothing you can do or say will help.

Nothing. Period. He simply doesn't care. Your boyfriend knows this, which is why he doesn't bother.

Sorry. It sucks. It's not fixable by anything you will or will not do.

It has nothing to do with you.

Hope that makes you feel better.

When/if you have children you'll want to keep them away from him.

Until then, look up narcissistic personality disorder and realize that his father is sick and should be pitied and kindly humored, or if that doesn't work, completely ignored.

Good luck.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:03 AM on November 3, 2007

Since he doesn't listen long enough, you'll have to make do with one-liners.

Q: "So, do you think you might be willing to join him in doing this newest thing?"

Jovial, non-confrontational, but sarcastic tone:

A1: "Nah, _____, I prefer to make sarcastic comments from the sidelines like you."
A2: "Nah, _____, seeing you is my adventure for the week."
A3: "Nah, it's a little tame for me."
A4: "Yes, I'm glad you asked, _____. I would never have thought of it without you."


Q: "What the hell did you just say?"

A: "What? You've been taking friendly potshots at me for years. I thought we were all pals here. [mutter to self] Jeeze... talk about thin-skinned."
posted by Krrrlson at 1:46 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

If the guy likes adventure, he should really value the unique experience of being pepper sprayed.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:12 AM on November 3, 2007 [4 favorites]

echoing the narcissitic personality disorder. He's also living his life through his son's exploits and wants it to be in technicolour. GF included. Sad.
I do think a short sharp shock is in order but I'm not an introvert like you.
posted by Wilder at 2:44 AM on November 3, 2007

I suffered a boyfriend's crappy family for years, and you know what? It turns out that most of 'em are dicks.

Next time this happens just tell him to fuck right off and watch when he sits their slack-jawed like someone just slapped him in the face.

Not at all grown up, mature, or right-on way of dealing with things but he sounds like a right twatknob (TM) and doesn't deserve a better response.

I don't know what's come over me today, I usually try to be the understanding type, but seriously, what an idiot.

Good luck.
posted by Lleyam at 3:32 AM on November 3, 2007

Your kind intent is to use reason to deflect something that's unreasonable, and it probably won't work. You'll have to get Dad's attention to do that, and he's practicing 'hit and run' techniques.

Like a dog, a potentially effective way to approach this is to educate Dad on the rewards and sanctions of dealing with you in a kinder manner.

Just to brainstorm for a second:

"NO, but Son and I are going to an anal fisting convention. Any tips you and Mom care to share?"

"Dad... I'm curious, did you go to school to be an asshole or did it just come naturally?"

I was tormented once in college by a gas company tech that loved to harass me at my part time job at a pottery. The stream of insults and inuendo was constant for weeks.

One day, he asked me what I was going to be when I grew up and graduated from that fancy college. I told him I was giving consideration to being a gas man, since it apparently didn't take much training and left one plenty of time to harass people trying to work for a living.

The laughter of everyone seeing him deflated so resoundingly shut him down for good, and he steered clear of me until his month long job next to our building was over.

Show the old man some teeth. He'll calm right down. Break a plate in the floor and ask him if that answers his question. You are not going to get through with reason.
posted by FauxScot at 3:59 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

what everybody else said - a few choice words in the right situation and he'll be retreating with his tail between his legs...
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:43 AM on November 3, 2007

When he asks you that question I'd either say, "Sure!" or "Nah, not my thing," with a bright smile. He'll stop bugging you when he realizes he can't get your goat anymore.

I think a lot of people want others to understand that they've hurt them. But this dude does understand...obviously, he wouldn't keep doing it if he didn't think it bothered you. And he won't change his ways either. Just let him be his mean-spirited self and then after your visits go have wild sex with his son. It's the boyfriend that matters to you, not his dad.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:36 AM on November 3, 2007

I'm suprised at the number of people who recommend you escalate the animonsity by being rude right back.

A better response is to look him square in the eye, put a serious look on your face and say something like, "I've thought about it, and it doesn't interest me." or "Not really, he and I love each other enough that we can have some seperate interests" or anything that calmly and objectively answers the question while letting him know that it doesn't bother you.

You may have to fake this at first, but eventually he will realize that this no longer gets a rise out of you and will quit. He's a bully, pure and simple and you don't need to sink to his level.
posted by MCTDavid at 6:02 AM on November 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have also considered just explaining that I feel that he is intentionally being hurtful and it makes me uncomfortable.

Bad idea. It will just encourage him. You need to either ignore him (and I mean completely ignore, not mutter an inaudible comment) or (if you can manage it) come back with a confident zinger such as people are describing. This guy is a bully, and bullies respect only force (verbal or physical). The main thing is not to let him see/think that he's getting to you.

And your boyfriend needs to learn to stand up to his dad, but that's his battle.
posted by languagehat at 6:07 AM on November 3, 2007

I had to deal with this same sort of thing. I was 17 and the bf's (now husband) father was a big, blow hard kind of guy who would say stuff just to get a rise out of you. I basically did what brain cloud suggested, countered back with something smart that showed he couldn't bully me. I had to do it several times but it earned me respect in his eyes and he was much friendlier after that. In the ensuing years, we would spar back and forth, challenge each other and joke and it was no secret that he really liked me. Mainly because I was the only one (family included) who he couldn't scare. Be ready to come back at him with some smart ass answer that he's not expecting. You'll feel better for sticking up for yourself and he'll back down. Good Luck!!
posted by pearlybob at 6:20 AM on November 3, 2007

Think carefully before you marry into a family where your future FIL bullies you and your future husband refuses to stand up for you. Is that the kind of dynamic you want for the rest of your life? What about for your child?
posted by mccxxiii at 6:26 AM on November 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

You're probably not going to change him, so you might as well amuse yourself.

Reply with complete nonsense. Seriously, at this point he's being a complete ass and will continue to be a complete ass and he thinks poorly of you, even though you're not a bad person, so just amuse yourself with random one liners and the one liners from "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" are perfect for this.

You're so wise. You're like a miniature Buddha, covered in hair.

Take it easy, Champ. Why don't you sit this next one out, stop talking for a while.

Look, the most glorious rainbow ever.

Guess what, I do. I know that one day and I are gonna to get married on top of a mountain, and there's going to be flutes playing and trombones and flowers and garlands of fresh herbs. And we will dance till the sun rises. And then our children will form a family band. And we will tour the countryside and you won't be invited.

I'll have three fingers of Glenlivet, with a little bit of pepper... and some cheese.

You look like a blueberry.

Why don't you go back to your home on Whore Island?

Well, you have bad hair.

You've got a dirty whorish mouth.

We have a saying in my country - the coyote of the desert likes to eat the heart of the young and the blood drips down to his children for breakfast, lunch and dinner and only the ribs will be broken.

What? You pooped in the refrigerator? And you ate the whole... wheel of cheese? How'd you do that? Heck, I'm not even mad; that's amazing. How 'bout we get you in your p.j.'s and we hit the hay.

I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

You know I don't speak Spanish.

Why are you being this way? Why can't you just be proud of me as a peer and my gentleman lover?

I'm gonna shoot you with a BB gun when you're not looking. Yep, back of the head.

I pooped a hammer.

I love lamp.

I'm not talking to you because you cut off my arm.

This is worse than that time the raccoon got in the copier!

, if I would give you some money out of my wallet, would that ease the pain?

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

i would ignore it. like, don't even answer the question. pretend it wasn't even asked. just change the subject or continue the conversation without answering.

boyfriend: "so i'm training to climb everest."
dad: "really? that's great. hey anonymous, think you'd ever be that brave?"
you: "don't forget we need to pick up those ice cleats you ordered from the everest-climbing store."
dad: "no, really, anonymous, do you think you have the guts?"
you: "boyfriend, could you pass those chips?"

you can enlist boyfriend to support your decisions publicly, even if he is reluctant to call his dad on his behavior. like, this would be a great time for him to say, "anonymous is great. no matter what crazy scheme i come up with, she's got my back. i couldn't do it if i didn't have her to come home to." or something like that.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:41 AM on November 3, 2007

I would suggest saying, "Go light yourself on fire" when he says shit to you.

It is offensive enough to catch him off guard, but seriously ridiculous enough to not be taken all that seriously by anyone else in the room. This is no personal attack (i.e. "you asshole" or "what is your problem"), it is simply an order. If you respond directly to his cajoling, you've fallen into his trap--and look like an ass. If you are very serious about it and look him straight in the eye, it makes you look like you're overly sensitive--and you've fallen in to his trap. It seems like he's putting you in a no-win situation, but just be a bit outrageous and it will make it all better.
posted by rocket_johnny at 6:59 AM on November 3, 2007

Tell him he's being a jerk, look your BF in the eye when you do it, and storm out of the house.

After 3.5 years, enough already- you are part of the family. Unfortunately, it looks like you're the doormat.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:00 AM on November 3, 2007

I have a difficult father in law and I have to agree with the previous commenters that having your boyfriend on your side is key. If you haven't already, you should talk to your boyfriend: tell him you really don't appreciate the way his dad talks to you, and since you haven't had to put up with him all your life the way your boyfriend has you're at a loss as to what to do. Ask your boyfriend what he thinks is the best way to deal with him, and ask him to back you up, too. He really should be defending you, but if he's put up with his dad's crap all his life he might not notice it until you point it out.

All that said, I'd go with thinkingwoman's advice to ignore him, but pointedly so: look him in the eye (a "Really? Still?" expression on your face or an eye roll would help) and then carry on the conversation with someone else. Or, if you can muster the nerve, one of brain cloud or bruce's snappy comebacks.
posted by AV at 7:20 AM on November 3, 2007

boyfriend: "so i'm training to climb everest."
dad: "really? that's great. hey anonymous, think you'd ever be that brave?"
you: "I am brave. I'm still committed to him, despite the fact I have to put up with the adventure that is you!"

Said with a big, friendly smile on your face. You can get away with saying anything if you're smiling. My mother taught me that when I was 11 and trying to deal with The Mean Girls Table.

Alternatively, you can go Psych 101 on him. Answer every question with a question. Make no statements that are not questions until he gives up. Charge him $150.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:32 AM on November 3, 2007

The problem with snappy comebacks is that he's probably a lot better at them than you are - you'd start a game that you couldn't win. I would go with the 'ignore absolutely' advice, unless he says something completely beyond the pale, then stare coolly at him, perhaps with a slightly contemptuous expression, for several seconds - longer than is comfortable, but don't drop your gaze or look down! - and then calmly turn your attention back to what you were doing. If he asks you what your problem is, you're back in ignore mode. The more he badgers you the worse he'll look, since you didn't say anything at all.
posted by frobozz at 7:48 AM on November 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think all of these suggestions are good because they would achieve *you* feeling like you weren't passively taking it, regardless of the impact on him (old guy, set in his ways, etc).

Another possible tactic, depending on if you're interested in making a better (albeit shallow and annoying) relationship:

-maybe he wants attention? 'So, have you done something like this? wow, that must have been scary, how did you have the guts? Tell me *all* about your climbing trip!'

Or you could just ask him if he wants to go with his son, because you think it would make a great father-son experience. And encourage them to discuss it. And say, oh no, I don't want to get in on *your* adventures, I have my own...
posted by Salamandrous at 7:51 AM on November 3, 2007

My response would be, every single time, "I put up with you, don't I?"
posted by headspace at 8:25 AM on November 3, 2007

I don't think the snappy comebacks are going to work. When someone is like the father-in-law, engaging them in this way often just gets them excited and leads them to inflict further abuse, which is not what anonymous wants. The thing to keep in mind is that father-in-law is more than likely a professional asshole, and amateurs do not want to escalate with a professional asshole. The snappy comebacks that people have been proposing ("I do it blindfolded on a zebra") while cute, are hopelessly amateurish; if he gets excited and thinks, "Good, now I finally get to have a real put-down war with this little bitch," she won't be prepared to sustain it.

Think about a corollary situation. Imagine if a non-athletic person gets picked on by a trained boxer. It's not good advice to tell them "slug the boxer in the face," because he's used to getting hit in the face and he will be glad the situation has escalated and he will proceed to beat the person's ass. You want to find some way of defusing the situation that does not play to the boxer's strengths, and engaging him in a fight is playing to his strengths and setting yourself up for failure.

The way for anonymous to put a stop to the situation is not to come down to the father-in-law's level; she needs to enlist the boyfriend or the rest of the family to put a stop to the abuse. She shouldn't have to "scrap" with her own potential father-in-law to preserve her place in the pecking order; that's barbaric. She needs to resolve this situation honestly, by letting people know how she feels about the abuse and asking them to actually have some integrity to put a stop to this bullshit. To respond with snappy comebacks is bound to be ineffective, because it tacitly communicates that she approves of his abuse.

Anonymous, if these people do not have the integrity or decency to intervene and stop his abuse of you, I would urge you to consider whether your boyfriend is "man enough" to be your life partner.

And it is abuse --- any persistent attempt to humiliate someone is abuse.
posted by jayder at 9:06 AM on November 3, 2007 [5 favorites]

"Why do you care?" said in an (honestly) curiously way might work. He'll likely either continue with blowhard statements, at which point you can probably politely shrug them off, since they aren't actually answering your question; or he might surprise you by actually revealing some underlying concern that you can address without all the usual hostility.
posted by occhiblu at 9:15 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

back by popular demand!

so, do you think you might be willing to join him in doing this newest thing?

why no sir, i'm a very timid soul, really i am, and just crossing a street makes my heart race, but that's ok with your son, he says i fuck like a wild jackrabbit on crystal meth!
posted by bruce at 9:25 AM on November 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

Hmmm, although he is being very underhanded with those comments, he is being very coy about them, so blowing up in his face might backfire and make you look like a frail, insecure, emotional bunny - he can always say "what's up with her, I was just asking a question, making conversation"

I also agree with frobozz in that if you are not used to the snappy comebacks, and he is, he will beat you at the game.

I wouldn't try to prove myself to him either. I mean it is one thing to try to impress the inlaws, but impress them with who you are not with who they want you to be.

Because the attacks are passive-agressive (I am assuming that he is not calling you any derogatory names to your face), you are at a disadvantage when you are on his territory, surrounded by his minions (family).

First, you need to address this with your b/f ASAP. That is crucial. You need to let him know and more importantly you need to see how he reacts - if he will defend you or if he will defend his father.

Next, you need to tell him that the next time his father gets stupid with you, you are not going to reply, but you are going to walk out and leave.

Finally, if his father gets stupid, you need to say nothing, walk out and leave.

At the very least, your b/f will know why.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:36 AM on November 3, 2007

My boyfriend's (of nearly 10 years) older brother is a dick to me. Not the exact sort of dick as your guy's dad, but the effect is very similar. He fires volleys of questions at me about personal things that I don't want to answer, goads me, questions my life choices, refuses to let up when I'm obviously on the verge of tears, and for years, passive aggressively tried to get my boyfriend to break up with me because he's convinced that I hold him back as a person. He's like a shark that smells blood in the water around me.

My boyfriend has really come to support me in this. He has talked to his brother. His mother has talked to his brother. They've all talked about it in family therapy. It doesn't work. He is self absorbed and almost totally lacking in empathy, and no amount of snappy comeback, angry rejoinder, or thoughtful discussion has ever made any difference. The guy's whole way of seeing the world (and me) is false. He's never been a warm and cuddly guy, but I'm apparently the ultimate example of a person he just can't leave alone.

I don't say this to make you feel like it's hopeless. What I'm really trying to learn is that I can't change him, I can only change me and how I feel about what he says. My boyfriend and I have learned some positive coping skills (he'll actively work to change the subject or distract his brother when he gets going, we structure our time with his family to minimize my contact with his brother, etc.), but more importantly, I'm trying to change me. It's really hard to teach yourself not to feel hurt when a person is being deliberately hurtful, but I think it's possible. I'm teaching myself that this guys behavior is about him, not me. His opinion is utterly irrelevant, he looks like an ass, and everyone I respect in the room can see it. This stuff, combined with a lot of centering, deep breathing, and body awareness to help keep my anxiety in check around him has actually helped.

Basically, I urge you to try to keep trying to find a solution to this guy's behavior, but don't get your heart set on it. There's a decent possibility that you can't change him. Focus on you and how to make yourself as happy and healthy as possibly in spite of this utter twat waffle. And definitely talk to you boyfriend and make him see how serious this is. If he isn't your ally in this, it will make it much, much harder.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:21 AM on November 3, 2007 [4 favorites]

He's a bully. Bullies pick on people they perceive as weaker, and when they think they can get away with it. You can get mean in response, but might really suck, cause who wants to be mean? So use it as an opportunity to pump up the bf in the same way that politicians use all questions to push whatever talking point they choose.

"So, do you think you might be willing to join him in doing this newest thing?"

Anon: He is so great at mountain climbing. I'm so proud of him.

"So, do you think you might be willing to join him in doing this newest thing?"

Anon: I love him so much, I'd follow him up Everest.

"So, do you think you might be willing to join him in doing this newest thing?"

Anon: He has natural leadership talent.

It will gain you points with the bf, and probably with other listeners. You might win in a verbal match, but then you lose with the bf. You should probably once in a while give him a cold hard stare when he's mean, just because it does tend to beat you down.
posted by theora55 at 11:08 AM on November 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

FauxScot is correct in that you cannot use reason in the face of an unreasonable person. This guy has a mental defect that prevents him from appreciating the effect of his words on others. Nothing short of a spiritual epiphany is going to change that. However, I disagree with the advice on humiliating him back. This may or may not stop his behavior; I don't think any of us have a sure way of knowing. I don't think this approach is true to who you are, though.

What you seem to be aiming for is an acknowledgment of your feelings. I think you need to get this from BF, because you're not going to get it from his dad. bitteroldman has the best approach, in my opinion. Tell the BF that you're hurt by his dad's behavior, and you're not going to tolerate it. Then don't tolerate it. Get up and walk out. If BF doesn't do anything after this - DTMFA. Anyone who will allow abuse of you is not worth having in your life.
posted by desjardins at 11:14 AM on November 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm a proponent of the counter-snark approach. Your BF's dad probably has some crotchets of his own (e.g., cheapskate, slob, obsessive football fan, etc.), so go on the offensive with those. When he starts in on you, take the earliest opportunity to rag back on him. Hard. Don't start anything, but let this bully know that you have teeth.

My FIL is a very-watered-down version of this guy and after I zinged him a few times he totally backed off. Now we get along fine - not close, but amiable enough, and everyone's OK with that.

This is a situation where having a sharp tongue and crap social skills is actually an advantage - you just let loose and damn the consequences. If, on the other hand, you're a nice person who sincerely cares about others' feelings, you might have to make an effort to overcome your social inhibitions about ripping into somebody.
posted by Quietgal at 11:43 AM on November 3, 2007

don't take the bait. he's an asshole and he's just getting a kick out of your taking his bait.
posted by matteo at 11:44 AM on November 3, 2007

No one has brought this up, but I was in the exact same situation, and I have to ask: what is your boyfriend telling his family about you, anyway?

My mother-in-law, evil old hag that she was, thought I was a frivolous golddigging child, despite the fact I worked and went to school full-time. It was only after the divorce I found out that all those years my husband would run to his mommy to tell her complete lies about how mean I was and how selfish so she would pony up with thousand-dollar checks.

If your boyfriend's father is persistently, aggressively rude, he may not just be the asshole he appears to be - he may very well be hearing a completely different version of you from his son.

And please, take it from me - having in-laws that hate your guts is not worth it at all.
posted by winna at 11:45 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bitteroldman has it. It's pointless and unwise to try to outsnark this rude creep. You said that he doesn't really wait for a response anyway but turns away to talk with someone else, so if you do attempt a "comeback," he won't hear it or will ignore it.

I'm also troubled by the fact that, in your question, you didn't mention bf's response to his father's behavior or whether you've tried to enlist bf's support. I wonder why, instead of occasionally regaling ol' Dad with tales of fun, marvelous things you two have done together, he trots out stories of his adventures. After 3.5 years, you're supposed to be treated by bf and his family as part of the group, not some third wheel spectator at their Circus of Spontaneity.

It's just unspeakably rude that these people would let someone behave so boorishly to you when you're a guest in their house. I am introverted and tend to avoid conflict, but I am god-damned if I'd let any member of my own family, let alone some bozo I'm not related to, speak to me that way with impunity. From now on, speak to him only when necessary in civil but economical monosyllables whenever possible. If he makes an assholish comment, give him the icy stare. If he makes a second one, get up and leave the room without so much as a "so long, sucker." If he makes a third one, stop attending events where he's present.

I'm sure he'd spin that as you being hypersensitive and unable to take a "joke," but so what? You can either make a pretzel of yourself trying to get along with a bully, or you can unapologetically be the lovely person you are and let other people think of you what they will.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:33 PM on November 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think getting up and leaving would be a terrible idea - huge drama with vanishingly little likelihood of any good outcome.

And in my opinion a huge overreaction. As far as dealing with bad family issues go, frankly, this is small potatoes. You should be all means be making your boyfriend aware of how much this discomfits you, and get his feedback (whether any confrontation with his father would be worth the trouble is hard to guess from your description, but even a supportive or complimentary word from him when his father trots out this tired bullshit might make it a lot more tolerable) - but your given your own assessment that this person is unlikely to change, chances are dealing with it is your long-term reality.

Facing a situation like this I think I would contrive the most content-less, disinterested standard response I could come up with (something to the tune of "gosh, I don't know, Jack"), deliver it with as much flat, unemotional politeness as I could and then immediately disengage - look back to your boyfriend, whatever, just end the exchange.
posted by nanojath at 1:24 PM on November 3, 2007

Here's another viewpoint: I think you owe it to yourself to ask for him to stop what he's doing. It's not needed to make a scene, but just tell'em something along these lines: "Yeah, could you knock that off, it's kinda hurtful and makes me uncomfortable" If you can, ask to speak to him alone and say it. The point with doing that is not embarass him or try to play the same game, but to confront and talk to him as an equal, in the hopes that he'd understand. Yes, it probably won't change things, but you can at least look back and say you tried to be adult and reasonable about this.

If this doesn't work, then I would suggest trying to win him over, not in the sense that you try to be what he thinks you should be, but confront him, quietly, with who you are. Yeah, it sucks that you're the only one acting like an adult here, but what the hell, he's going to be relative, so you might as well try and make your life easier.

So invite HIM to go an adventure with YOU. Pick something you know he likes and say "Hey, Dady, let's go hang out." It'll give both of you an opportunity to learn more about each other and maybe appreciate each other.

Finally, based on your post, you're thinking about this too much. Just DO something with him, swing by the house, say "I'm ready, let's go do X" and just hang out. Sure, it'll be awkward and kinda strange, but what the hell, you're gonna have to deal with him one way or another and if you can make it better for yourself at least, that would be great.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:37 PM on November 3, 2007

You could take the Miss Manners approach and respond along the lines of, "You couldn't possibly want to know about that!" while lightly laughing or smiling. If he presses, I suggest turning to your boyfriend and saying, "Don't forget you promised to take the stitches out tonight."

I suggest this because you should also talk to your boyfriend about this and the stitches comment is a signal for him to step up to the plate for you. You need someone else on your side.
posted by plinth at 2:10 PM on November 3, 2007

Usually, during these conversations, his dad will turn to me and say in a loud, sarcastic tone, "So, do you think you might be willing to join him in doing this newest thing?" I find it mean-spirited and it makes me really uncomfortable. I usually mumble some wishy-washy statement about how I'm somewhat interested or try to explain why I'm not but he has already turned away and started some other conversation. Clearly, he is not interested in a true answer.

Some thoughts:

1) Admit that you are less adventurous than your boyfriend. If you were doing everything that your boyfriend was doing, or cooler shit, then when his father said "So, are you doing XtremeWhatever?", you'd be all "Been there, done that, SUCKITOLDMAN". But you can't honestly say that, because you are less adventurous than your boyfriend. Nothing wrong with that, unless you can't admit it.

2) It may look like the old man isn't listening to your response, but it seems like you wuss out and don't give him a response worth listening to. Whatever you say, it has to be bold and loud. No more wishy-washy mumbling explanations.

3) He's acting like he is in order to make you feel bad. He keeps doing it because it's working, and he likes making you feel bad. The thing you want to do is not make him feel bad in return, but instead to make him feel stupid. The next time he starts in with a "So, are you going to be joining my son?", you just laugh. Laugh like he just asked you if you'll be doing the stupidest thing ever. If he asks why you're laughing, deny him an answer. Smirk to yourself, and say "Oh, nothing." Repeat.

4) If you can't bring yourself to laugh at someone, the best thing is to laugh while saying "No, why would I want to do that?" Whatever he says in response, just smile and say "Hmmmm, I don't think so." Don't try and prove yourself to this man by telling him you do adventurous things. Prove yourself by showing him that you can be as much of a passive-agressively jackhole as he can be.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:25 PM on November 3, 2007

If you can verbally spar with him, go for it. But from the sounds of it, that's not your style. Next time he does it just say, "No, I'm not doing that with him. Who's going to bring in a paycheck when he breaks his arm/leg/neck? That's my role." And laugh. After that I'd ignore the question.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:59 PM on November 4, 2007

A good comeback: But, Daddykins, someone has to take care of our babies! (with optional: and it sure as hell won't be you!)

The truth is, in a partnership where one party is very adventurous, it is excellent that the other is not. It is just possible that that is the answer he would appreciate. But in any case, there's something for you to consider. Sounds like you love your guy :-)

Myself, I would simply avoid contact. But my family taught me very well about family values. Family was only important when they wished to demand something of me, never the other way around.
posted by Goofyy at 5:23 AM on November 5, 2007

Dick: "So, do you think you might be willing to join him in doing this newest thing?"

Anon: "Why do you ask?"

Dick: "Uh, well, you don't seem to do those types of things?"

Anon: "If you knew that, why did you ask?"

The truth is that he asked simply to be a jerk. Because he can't say that without looking like a complete ass, pretty much any response to "Why did you ask?" will be easy to dismiss and then follow-up with another "Why do you ask?"

The first "Why do you ask?" needs to be loud and assertative so he can't ignore it. The follow-ups need to be genuinely curious so you don't look like an ass too.
posted by probablysteve at 11:37 AM on November 5, 2007

"Hey Anonymous, why don't you try climbing Everest?"

"Why don't you try sucking my cock?"
posted by ND¢ at 11:45 AM on November 5, 2007

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