Dear Captain Awkward,
Things have started getting *awkward* with a good friend of mine, and I need advice on how to handle it. He’s this really quirky guy – I met him through my boyfriend – and since we all have a silly sense of humour we enjoy having a laugh (usually with a good dose of toilet humour).
In the past couple of months, though, he’s being getting more extreme in what he finds funny and getting into some really gross stuff. I think this is partly because he hooked up with a girl who is the same way, and they spend a lot of their time together visiting the kinds of websites that are deliberately designed to make you gag (disclaimer: it gets a bit more specific further down, you’ve been warned!). He doesn’t get off on this stuff sexually, he just finds something really hilarious about it and I think he takes pride in locating the most disgusting things ever created by man.
The thing is, now every time we go out, and there’s a computer around, he’ll take the opportunity to pull this stuff up and make everyone watch it. I can handle a fart joke here and there, but this is way beyond that. He’s made us watch an explicit anal sex video, shown us fetish-y photos of women who are “on the rag”, and played a video of people putting eels in places that eels should *not* go. He does this even though the rest of us (there are usually others around, including my b/f) are clearly not into it. But whenever we tell him to cut it out, he gets really pissy and goes into a “why are you guys so lame” rant. I know that he keeps trying it with us because he really wants us to share in his grotesque new interest, and when we don’t he perceives that as us rejecting him. I have no problem with his new “hobby”, but he pushes it on others and doesn’t get the hints to stop. Last time, it got to the point w here I had to tell him very sternly to cut it out and his feelings got hurt. (He’s a real oddball so he’s very sensitive to not fitting in.)
I need a way to shut him down when he tries to pull this bizarro business, while also not being too harsh or making him feel like there’s something wrong with HIM. A script or some ideas would really help.
Dear Grossed Out:
Thank you for this timely opportunity to review the Geek Social Fallacies. Your friend is a strong #1 and #2 carrier.
Social skills can be learned, and here is an opportunity for your friend to learn an important lesson:
When you are super-enthusiastic about a new off-color hobby and force it on everyone around you and will talk about nothing else and totally ignore others’ communicated lack of interest and openly expressed revulsion…
The reason you don’t fit in is you. People aren’t being terrible and unfair by excluding and telling you to stop. You are being an ass, you are making a choice to continue behaving like an ass, and the group is correctly letting you know that you should stop it if you want to remain a part of it.
In the moment, when this is going on, it’s okay to groan and tell him to cut it short the next time he pulls out a computer. It’s okay to say “Really? Again?” or “Shut it down” or “I really don’t want to watch this” without qualification or apology, and if he won’t, I think it’s okay for you to get up and walk out of the room. I think it’s okay for everyone to walk out of the room, and to make a group decision not to give him any more attention when he pulls out his terrible party trick. He needs your attention for it to be fun, so by removing it you take the fun away. If you worry that you are somehow the one making it awkward, remember: He is getting off on your discomfort and horror at the images. He is enjoying making people uncomfortable. It’s fun for him.
And then, later, or before the next party, I think it’s a good idea to pull him aside and talk to him. “Dude, we like you, but if you keep pulling that shit, we will not invite you to parties anymore.” Or “I don’t know how to make it more clear – I’m not down with your new hobby of grossing people out. Please stop doing that around me, it makes me not want to hang out with you.” That doesn’t have to be a friendship ending conversation, if it’s one friend saying to another, whoa, you are out of line, please stop it so that we can keep hanging out. That is being straightforward and clear, and is giving him every opportunity to do the right thing. If he ignores it and keeps going, he is making a choice about how to behave.
And if he gets hurt and feels like he doesn’t fit in and that everyone is excluding him, it’s not your job to comfort him and say that everything is cool. It’s not cool. Sometimes shame and negative feelings and the harsh but honest words of your friends are there to teach you stuff, like how to stop acting like a jackass.
If you say “I hate it when you do that specific gross thing, please stop it” and someone says “But poor me I don’t fit in anywhere and am always excluded, why are you being so mean?” they are being manipulative. They are deflecting the conversation away from their own actions and a need to take any responsibility for them, and trying to get you to comfort them when really they are the ones who screwed up and you are the one being direct and cool by using your words. If you end up in a conversation like this, it can be maddening because the target is always moving. If you run into that tactic, I suggest ignoring the derail and bringing focus back to the behavior. “Okay, we can talk about your feelings later, but right now I need you to apologize for the behavior and reassure me that I won’t have to deal with it again. Until that happens, we can’t really deal with anything else. So, can I trust you to be cool?”
Consensual trolling between friends can be hilarious and fun, like when my friend Z. and I send each other Sex Kryptonite songs or links to (Warning! While hilariously curated and written, the following link contains things you will not be able to ever un-see and I do not recommend actually clicking it!) Scary Sex Toy Friday. That’s because everyone is in on the joke. It only works if you listen and have respect, which are big parts of that whole “fitting in” thing your friend needs to work on.