Dear Captain Awkward:
This should be a quickie, at least to ask. I have two friends (they’re dating) who constantly argue with me about the field I’m studying in graduate school. They challenge my knowledge about it, and honestly about most everything, up to and including outright telling me I’m wrong about something I just took a class on. They don’t, however, argue with my boyfriend. It’s driving me crazy – I can’t be around them without wanting to pull my hair out and scream because of their constant arguing, getting frustrated with me as if I’m being stupid for disagreeing, and even just plain yelling.
These two are great friends of mine, or at least their friendship is very valuable to me, and while one has never been the easiest to get along with (just one of those people), the other hasn’t really been that bad. They’re also partners, and both male.
The arguing is actively interfering with every aspect of our friendship, because (1) I hate arguing – which they know, and (2) they do it EVERY TIME I see them. Every single time, and if by some miracle they don’t argue with me about my field of study, they find something else, something innocuous, to ask me about and then vehemently disagree with me. So far, I just leave the room/take a walk/play games in the bathroom when it gets too bad, but then I wind up being tense and out of sorts for hours from the argument, so it’s just not working for me anymore.
Basically, I want them to stop arguing with me. It’s one thing to ask a question about something I know (like the color of the sky), say “Oh, I thought it was fuschia today” and then drop it, and another entirely to say “No, you’re wrong, it’s not blue, it’s fuschia, I know because of my extensive knowledge in knowing and your study of this subject is clearly wrong because I say so,” and then continue asserting said position in the face of any and all evidence (including referring them to the clearly blue sky). Sorry, but I’m just so tired and angry from all the arguing. I just want a way to be reasonable, calm, and tell them that they’re driving me crazy and they need to stop this moment. Except . . . I don’t think just saying that will cut it.
Thanks for whatever help you can offer,
Dear Argued Out:
I doubt that these guys have the self-awareness to grok Rebecca Solnit’s great piece about mansplaining, so sending them a link and saying:
Seriously, this is what you do whenever we hang out. It is sexist, it is annoying, and I want it to stop.
…is likely to just get you a long explanation about why it’s not really sexist and you’re being oversensitive and stuff. (I do not know for sure that you are a lady, actually, but the fact that these guys don’t treat your partner the way they treat you makes me think that you might be. Correct me if I am wrong, please!)
My honest advice is that whatever it is that you like about these guys, it is not enough to put up with the behavior you describe, and probably the best thing you can do is to put the energy you’d put into hanging out with them into finding cooler people to hang out with. You could make one last ditch:
I value our friendship, but the constant arguing is wearing me down and making me not want to hang out with you. Is there any way we can cool it? If not, I think it’s better if we stop being friends.
Since the survival of the friendship actually is at stake, I think you lose nothing by being very, very blunt. Normally I would suggest that the next time they start the arguing thing, say “New topic, please. I don’t want to argue or listen to you argue about this.” Or, “Actually, of the people at the table, I am the expert on this, and I am done arguing about it. New topic now.”
If When they refuse to change the subject and keep arguing, leave. Oh wait, you’re already doing that, right? You are leaving and then feeling out of sorts and annoyed after you see them? Have you ever tried asking them to leave, if the hanging out is taking place at your house?
I don’t like how you are talking to me, and I would like you to leave now.
Friends who make you always feel tense and annoyed and dread seeing them, friends who browbeat you and yell at you and ignore your stated wishes, friends who treat you like you are stupid, friends who make you hide from them in the bathroom(!)….maybe shouldn’t be your friends anymore. I know you want to preserve this thing, but what if you took a few months off from any contact with them and gave yourself a break? Maybe you’ll find out you don’t miss them, or maybe you’ll find out that they make fine small-doses friends. I think you owe it to yourself to give yourself some distance and a break from the verbal abuse.
Maybe after taking a break, you can try hanging out with the nicer one without his partner. Sometimes couples bring out the worst in each other in social situations, and these arguments might be some performance of their relationship that is more about them than it is about you. I think if that were true it would still be very bad juju, but if you think that one of the guys is treating his partner the way he treats you (or using the way he treats you to browbeat the partner and keep him in line), you might try hanging out separately and see if things are less tense and awful. It’s okay not to do things “as a couple” and seek out the company of only the person you like. You don’t have to denigrate his partner to him or make it about excluding his partner, but “I never get to see just you anymore, want to get breakfast and catch up?” might be a good way to ease yourself back in and see if there is something worth preserving. But do this AFTER taking at least a short break, ok? You come first.
Let your partner go hang out with them if he wants to, but make it clear to him that they are not invited to your house and that you don’t want to be around them for a good while, and he is not allowed to pressure you about that. What does he say when he witnesses this behavior? Does he back you up on getting you to cool it, or does he take their side or join in? That seems like it might be the potentially stickier wicket.