#511: When you find out that someone you care about is mean.

A Venn Diagram of Depressed, Attractive JerksDear Captain Awkward:

How do I see the whole of a person?

Hello! I was hoping you could help me with something. There is a guy at uni I am friends with, who has depression. Over the past semester at uni, we have grown very close, mostly on the basis of me becoming the person he turns to when he needs someone to confide in about the depression. We have also fairly recently become sexually involved with one another, which started in June for a week and the one time I’ve seen him since based on a couple of months of text/Skype conversations that became more and more explicit over time. I was also recently reminded of his mean streak, in regards to casual mean comments and tendency to strike out hurtfully at others when hurting or in misplaced jest/humour.

The issue is I can’t seem to integrate these three aspects of him in my head. When I think about him I am essentially thinking about one of three different versions of him – the one I listen to and comfort, the one whom I am sexually involved and also turn to for comfort, and the one with harsh comments and the mean humour. How, oh wise one, can I integrate these parts in my head and thus treat him as the whole person he is?

Thank you sincerely,

Dear Confused:

I vote that you believe hard in the Mean Guy and view the rest of his personality through that lens.

Because Sexy Guy is mean. And Sad Guy is mean. And I get it, because when you hate yourself and feel terrible, it makes it more likely that terrible things will escape your mouth. But at the end of the day, being depressed does not excuse being mean. Mean is a choice.

It sounds you are pretty well tangled up with this dude. The subject line of your email was “How do I see the whole of a person?” but the substance of your question was “How do I keep sleeping with this sexy person and comforting/being comforted by my friend when I’ve seen how mean he can be?”

I think the answer that Mean Guy would like to hear is “Just chalk all the mean things up to my depression, try really hard to see the ‘whole person’ and ignore or forgive the crappy comments, and definitely keep doing sexy things and being my listening ear and source of soothing noises.

My honest advice is to run far, far away from Mean Guy even if that means abandoning Sexy Guy and Sad Guy to his Sad, Sexy Darth Vader fate. As for the sex stuff, good on you for getting *something* fun (I hope) out of the relationship, but continuing to have sex with a partner who is mean to you?

This rocket goes to "nope"
Thanks for the Nope Rocket, @kingdomofwench & @louisathelast.

But if you’re not ready to call it quits on this person yet, there is one test you can perform to see how deep the mean runs before you bail entirely.

Mean Guy: “Mean thing…”

You: “Hey, that was really mean” (see also: uncalled for, not cool, not okay, hurtful)

Mean Guy: “Oh crap, you are right. I am sorry.”

Mean Guy: -doesn’t do or say that thing or things like it again-

Test passed! Be cautious, but it is possible that he is not a complete a-hole. Though if you have to do this every single conversation, or more than once in a given conversation, it’s time to hop on the Nope Rocket and flee to safety. Run the test a few times to be sure. In fact, do it every time he says something mean.

If on the other hand, it goes like this:

Mean Guy: “Mean thing…”

You: “Hey, that was really mean” (see also: uncalled for, not cool, not okay, hurtful)

and Mean Guy:

  • Mansplains why it was actually funny
  • Doubles down on the jerky sentiments
  • Calls you too sensitive or questions your sense of humor
  • Blames his depression or makes it about some issue he has where he somehow can’t help it
  • ESPECIALLY if at the end of the above conversations you end up apologizing to him in some way

Or he says anything that is not in the vicinity of “I’m sorry, you’re right”–

MY Little Ponies saying "Nope"

Martin Freeman as The Hobbit saying "nope" and falling over.

Adventure-time NOPE gif

"Not great, Bob" - Pete Campbell from Mad Men

Princess Bubblegum flips a table.

I don't fucking think so - animated gif

Model walking in to a runway and then right back out.

McGonagall shaking her head no.

Lesley Knope saying "no."

–I regret to inform you that he is behaving like your run-of-the-mill shithead with higher-than-average charisma and some combination of lower-than-healthy-happy-brain chemicals and/or troubling-life-circumstances.

This “integrating the whole person” thing? Is how unkind people who hurt us manage to stay in our lives for so long. Nobody is all good or all bad. We wouldn’t put up with crappy behavior from people if they didn’t have good qualities, and crappy behavior can come in very charismatic and appealing packages. So our sense of fairness and loyalty and what it means to be a good friend gets turned against us while we work hard to see the whole person but they keep right on being mean. “Why is he doing this?” doesn’t matter. The depression doesn’t matter. If someone is treating you badly, and you make them aware of the problem and ask them to stop, and they keep going with what they were doing before? That is a strong indicator that you should re-consider having them in your life at all.

She Bitches About Boys (Marilyn Hacker)

To live on charm, one must be courteous.

To live on others’ love, one must be loveable.

Some get away with murder being beautiful.

Girls love a sick child or a healthy animal.

A man who’s both itches them like an incubus.

But I, for one, have had a bellyful

of giving reassurances and obvious

advice with scrambled eggs and cereal;

then bad debts, broken dates, and lecherous

onanastic dreams of estival

nights when some high-strung, well-hung, penurious

boy, not knowing what he’d get, could be more generous.

Dear, Confused Letter Writer, I am saying this with love for you and I am reaching out across time to my past self and shaking her by the shoulders and saying:

“Please do not sink all of your time and energy into figuring out mean (but sexy) people. Your kindness cannot fill them up, but their unkindness can drain you dry.” 

Maybe this guy will get better, eventually, and maybe he’ll stop being so mean. You do not have to hold out for that day. You can waste so much time waiting for that day. It is okay to say “I hope you feel better, but I can’t be around you when you make mean comments like that, so let’s take a long break from whatever this is.” It is okay to hit the “block” button on your chat program and your phone. It is okay to make that a unilateral decision. It is okay to do that even if he cries or feels bad or refers to your past sexy chats. “I’m sorry, my feelings have changed, and I don’t think it’s a good idea if we are involved.” You are not responsible for knitting him back together or waiting out the mean times or spending these precious days during your education worried about him.

If you do decide to bail, be prepared that he might not go quietly. He will use every manipulator trick in the book to stay in the warmth of your attention. So if there is a counseling office at your Uni, line up some support there. Tell them what’s up, tell them about the mean comments. Rehearse difficult conversations. Make sure there is someone on Team You, ok? Because your Team You can do better than this guy. A LOT better.

P.S. “ Over the past semester at uni, we have grown very close, mostly on the basis of me becoming the person he turns to when he needs someone to confide in about the depression” is not necessarily a good basis for a friendship, even if the sexy stuff wasn’t involved. Friends lean on each other, but there needs to be reciprocity and something else to go on. This is an exhausting role for you to take on, especially while you’ve got your own studies going on. 

300 thoughts on “#511: When you find out that someone you care about is mean.

  1. Yep, eject, eject, eject.

    I’m about to have a similar conversation with an ex who has turned mean in since breaking up. I was going to let it slide but friends have intervened. So have that conversation and if he doesn’t change get out.

  2. LW, I say this as someone who has a mental illness that sometimes causes me to say things that I later regret (with “later” sometimes meaning within seconds):

    Sometimes I have a “moment” when I literally cannot stop myself from saying something I shouldn’t, but nobody is actually obligated to put up with me doing that. Nobody is required to be friends with me (or worse, sleep with me) just because I have a convenient excuse to pin onto my bad behavior. You can sympathize with a person and be very understanding of a person’s circumstances, and at the same time not tolerate that shit around yourself.

    I was really bitter when I was younger, when I didn’t understand this, and got all angry and entitled-feeling when people would distance themselves from me. But it’s really my obligation to accommodate myself to others, not the reverse. The one with the problem is me, and the responsibility to deal with it is mine.

    1. ” You can sympathize with a person and be very understanding of a person’s circumstances, and at the same time not tolerate that shit around yourself.”

      I love this line. And way to go taking responsibility for your own actions! More people need to learn to do that.

      1. Thank you! I am a believer that toleration and empathy are not indelibly linked. We can tolerate people without understanding or empathizing with them, and we can understand and empathize with people and yet not tolerate their behavior.

        There’s a strong urge to think otherwise, that if I really empathize with (universal) you, I will have to overlook anything you do because I totally understand why you’re doing it. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It’s certainly in the best interest of people who do intolerable things to promote this meme, but I don’t believe it.

        I do try, at least, to take responsibility for my actions. Sometimes all I can do is apologize afterward – I can’t even promise that it won’t happen again because it totally might – and not complain if someone decides that the price of admission to friendship with me is too high.

      2. ”You can sympathize with a person and be very understanding of a person’s circumstances, and at the same time not tolerate that shit around yourself.”

        Is the line I’ve been looking for for a very long time. Thanks Dante for the language!!

    2. This. Ten thousand times this. I have ADHD which means I will sometimes say or do things which are mean because my “This will be hilarious!” reaction beats out my “this is a terrible idea” reaction. If this upsets people, they have every right to cut me no slack and either demand an apology or just not be around me. I try to apologise straight away and correct my behaviour, but just because my brain is wonky is no reason that someone else has to put up with me when I’m being obnoxious, or even give me a second chance.

    3. This, all this. I was raised with tons and tons of abusive words, and sometimes when I have a really bad day I can’t stop myself from saying nasty things. It’s like you know you shouldn’t scratch that moskito bite, but it’s your default reaction to go and scratch it, and if you are tired and sad and everythings to much you can fall back to the bad behaviour. I apologize, but its still tough for those around me. I have often cried in shame when I realized how I behaved without meaning to be such a nasty person.

      I also totally agree that being called out for the nasty things is the right thing. And if somebody can’t put up with my shit, I have to deal with it. I can’t expect that everybody has the energy to do that. But I’m really glad that I have people who are willing to work with me to get better, even though it would be much easier to get another friend/wife.

    4. “I was really bitter when I was younger, when I didn’t understand this, and got all angry and entitled-feeling when people would distance themselves from me. But it’s really my obligation to accommodate myself to others, not the reverse. The one with the problem is me, and the responsibility to deal with it is mine.”

      But, shouldn’t there be a meet-in-the-middle sort of thing? If someone is truly ill and, despite their best efforts and the efforts of modern medicine, they cannot get better, should they be ostracized by society?

      1. This is a derail.

        This is not a thread about ostracizing mentally ill people from society. That is a straw man.

        This is a thread about one’s personal threshhold for putting up with mean behavior from someone. Is it because they are ill? Maybe. Is it just their personality? Maybe. The OP gives a test, where you call the person on their mean behavior and see how they handle that. If they double down on the mean, it’s a good sign that maybe they are just mean.

        Compassion for a mentally ill person does not mean you must stay in a relationship with someone who is mean. Lots of physically abusive & emotionally abusive people have legitimate problems that require counseling and time and care. But that doesn’t mean that their victim is required to stick it out with them while they get that care, or be the one to deliver that care.

  3. Letter Writer, as someone who dated a guy who was basically this guy, I can tell you from firsthand experience what I wish any of my friends had been flat-out disrespectful enough to tell me: DO NOT DATE THIS GUY.

    The cognitive dissonance will only get worse and worse as you try harder and harder to simultaneously be compassionate towards this guy and bury all your compassionate, empathetic instincts and ethics to excuse what he says as “not that bad.” Eventually you will have sufficiently talked yourself out of your own opinions, morals, and boundaries enough that you will put up with all sorts of stupid bullshit–perhaps, if you are as unlucky as I was, abusive and controlling bullshit–and when you finally, after several months of being inured to general meanness as not that big a deal, say something a fraction as mean about him as he says about everybody else, and he gets all fuckin’ ~*~OuTrAgEd!!11!1!!~*~ and the ensuing fight is so bad that one of you finally dumps the other, you are going to feel very, very, very angry at him, and also stupid and ashamed of yourself for putting up with this shit (not that it’s your fault, but if you’ve internalized a fraction of the It’s Our Responsibility To Keep Ourselves Safe crap that most women have internalized, you will feel like it is), for a very long time.

    I’m sorry to be all capslocky doom and gloom on this but (a) I am highly biased due to personal experience and (b) “is mean” might sound like a short phrase but it is a BIG deal and it only gets bigger with time.

    1. I have been in that relationship too and GOD the worst part I think was the aftermath when I felt so hurt and used and mad at myself for putting up with it for so long.

    2. When I was dating That Guy it didn’t help that several people told me they thought I should leave. They just didn’t understaaaand! And I put them in the can’t-talk-about-partner folder. It wasn’t until it made me feel crappy enough that the doctor I went to with some physical pain sent me to a counselor who asked me some key questions, that I finally realized that yeah, I should leave. And it had to dawn on me over the course of some weeks after he had asked those questions.

      1. I dated That Girl, and developed a can’t-talk-about-partner folder for the exact same reasons. Took me much longer than weeks to finally get out; we were on-and-off anyway, we were frequently long-distance, and I had way too much but-nobody-else-will-ever-want-me. Sigh.

        I like the test. It’s advice that offers a probe to hang the recommendations on.

        1. Well, it was after putting up with the way he treated me for almost a year and it was also one of those times when we weren’t in contact anyway. He just stopped communicating a few times, without a word of warning, for a week, a month, two months.

          He was so good on paper, the cuddliest cuddler, and such a beauty. That he wanted to be with me was amazing! (But then, did he really want to be with me or did he just like to have me around when it suited him? Someone pretty to look at who would distract him from the darkness with love and cuddles?) Also he put up with my PTSD and its resulting no-sex situation. He wasn’t actively supportive, not at all, but he accepted it and didn’t pressure me, which was more than I dared to hope from anybody at that time. He felt bad for me, but more than that he was overwhelmed by manpain because of the collective guilt of being a man and the awful things that men do.

          Full disclosure: it did help that the counselor I went to was hot, not-depressed and, as far as I could tell, not a jerk. That I felt safe there in a way I didn’t with the hot, depressed jerk, especially when he held my gaze for a long time. It made me cry afterwards when I realized how much I had been missing and needing just that. That Guy didn’t do eye contact, it was too intense for him, and I was understanding and accommodating to the point of completely neglecting my own needs until it became normal. This in combination with the spot-on questions allowed me to “wake up” and see things from another perspective. Since he never actually said I should leave, just pointed to things and feelings without setting off my alarms, I never had to put him in the Folder and so I was more open. Excellent work Sir, excellent work.

          The test is good and I actually kind of did it with That Guy, only to not want to listen to the results. “He will do better when he feels better” said the Wishful Thinking Fairy. “You just have to be patient and more helpful”. Doing the test and living by the result is harder, but with my lesson learned here, I for sure hope I’d be better at that part.

    3. I had an identical experience with a boyfriend also, from the ages of 20-21. Hot and Sad but Mean. It’s like the trifecta of confusion for girls, especially!! when they are masters of manipulation and bait and switch you real bad… (I did not have him figured out until we’d dated for 6 or 7 months! It then took another 4 months to slowly extract myself, and the whole experience gave me a pretty severe case of PTSD. But that’s enough sob story for now.)
      This was so, so good to read:
      I am reaching out across time to my past self and shaking her by the shoulders and saying:

      “Please do not sink all of your time and energy into figuring out mean (but sexy) people. Your kindness cannot fill them up, but their unkindness can drain you dry.”

      AMEN. And mad props to the notion of giving them a fair chance before your fight or flight kicks in (luuuvvv the “Nope Rocket”- cutest .gif ever… stealing that, lmao)
      Great advice here. I wish you the best of luck on dealing with this. Just don’t lose sight of what’s important, stick up for yourself, and gtfo if it’s unsalvageable… you’ll do ok!

      1. It can get guys too. ‘Mean’ wouldn’t have been the precise word(though maybe that’s because the exact expression and/or interpretation of the behaviour is affected by the gender dynamic), but I had a thing with an older woman when I was around that age, the development of which tracks really closely with what Confused described.

        Like someone further up said, the lingering emotional aftermath was almost the worst of it. In my case it took years to stop making excuses for her and blaming myself, to the point where it basically utterly sabotaged any dating life I otherwise might have had in my university years (when it really is important, and frankly should be easier than at any other period in your life).

        The one positive I can say I got out of it is that there’s a lot of things I can recognize as red flags now. I’ll include the most telling one, because it’s one people often miss and if Confused reads this far down she might find it instructive: they have a lot of exes (not itself a problem, but it needs to be more than, like, three to be a decent sample size), all of whom were, by their account, dicks/assholes/bitches/unsympathetic/didn’t understand them/etc. If I’d been smarter at the time I’d have Occam’s Razored that shit and realized that ‘unreliable narrator’ was a lot more plausible an explanation for that than ‘streak of bad luck with partners lasting someone’s entire adult life’.

        1. THIS! Don’t date people who don’t have a single nice word to say about any of their exes and don’t live with people who don’t have a single nice word to say about any of their ex-housemates.

        2. ” I’ll include the most telling one, because it’s one people often miss and if Confused reads this far down she might find it instructive: they have a lot of exes (not itself a problem, but it needs to be more than, like, three to be a decent sample size), all of whom were, by their account, dicks/assholes/bitches/unsympathetic/didn’t understand them/etc. If I’d been smarter at the time I’d have Occam’s Razored that shit and realized that ‘unreliable narrator’ was a lot more plausible an explanation for that than ‘streak of bad luck with partners lasting someone’s entire adult life’.”

          Truth! Same would have saved me a great deal of pain. I only have one ex I’d describe as a Darth Vader, and guess what? According to him, every single one of his exes is a fucking crazy bitch who abused and manipulated him.

          Also, on the flip side, every time I have a fight or bad patch in current relationship, the brainweasels try to make me feel like I’m just Bad at Relationships and it’s all my fault and I’m a horrible person and turning into my abusive father etc etc. And then I can point at the many exes I’m still friends with (like, inviting each other to our parties and going out for drinks still friends, not smile and nod when you run into them in the grocery store) and say “Well, if you were really such an asshole, all these smart caring wonderful people wouldn’t still be in your life. Shut up brainweasels.”

        3. Among my friends we say, “The thing all your problems have in common is you.” If all your problems are that you keep dating assholes, either you’re the asshole and you’re angry because they got wise, or you have really terrible taste and need to develop higher standards and better gauges for whether someone else is worth your time.

          1. The latter scenario is an important one, because sometimes people who grew up with nothing but crappy relationships just think that’s how relationships feel, so loving, respectful relationships feel wrong and unreal and full of anxiety. And sometimes once they realize they’re surrounded by assholes they go, “The common denominator of all my bad relationships is me, right? It’s my fault these relationships keep screwing up.” And I’m just like, oh sweetie, no. It’s not your fault. And it definitely doesn’t mean you should squish yourself harder into that abusive “I’m no good” mindset and try to make it work this time. It means doing some serious rewriting of what you think you deserve and are capable of, which is: more.

          2. @staranise – ❤ your comment. I'll be saving that for my partner 🙂 They've said to me on more than one occasion they don't feel like our relationship is real, compared to what they've come out of or have had in the past.

        4. Yup, still reading this far down. d:
          I can’t really judge him on his exes though – he’s only got one (that I know of; there have been other people he’s had something of a one-night-stand with, but I don’t think any other relationships) and he still talks about her in a civil manner. Do you think I should ask more about any other previous relationships he may have had, to find out what he says?

          1. To be honest, I don’t know that you’re going to find any more information that will sway you. Either you think this guy is worth the price of admission, or you don’t, and you already know that the price of admission is putting up with his depressed meanness. Maybe he will get magically better and turn out awesome, but you have to make your decision based on the person he is now, not the person you think he could be six months from now. That person may never appear, and you have zero control over whether he does or not. If he does, this is because of the work he does on his own–you cannot save him or fix him, nor could you even if you were a trained psychotherapist or if you loved him with the purest love in all the world. (I have a longer comment in the spamtrap about this and career advice for future counsellors.) People have to fight their own battles.

            But right now it sounds like breaking up isn’t an attractive option for you. It’s not liberating you to being footloose and fancy free; it just leaves you alone, believing you’re not attractive or loveable, especially since you just did something selfish when you’re used to thinking of yourself as a good person because you help people. So maybe you’re gonna try sticking with this guy because it’s honestly the more attractive option. Either works.

            I think right now you need to focus on you. Get yourself into counselling when term starts. Right now you’re afraid of not helping, afraid of being selfish, afraid that you’ll be alone forever, and you can’t always run from those by helping other people. But you do have innate value as a person even if you’re not a selfless martyr. Go find it and learn to believe in it. Learn how to be selfish, to ask for help, to live with people being angry with you, and to recover from mistakes. Spend your time learning how to be resilient, and maybe even joyful, so you can greet challenges with any number of different approaches, instead of just trying to help and self-deny until it goes away.

            This isn’t about him at all. It never was. After all, you didn’t create his problems, you can’t control them, and you can’t cure them. All you can do is decide what to do, so this was always about you.

  4. Nope is right. Just did this to a friend who was all kinds of cool and interesting but had a habit of being casually shitty to me, then blaming it on a nervous breakdown or on “this is just how I am!” I have plenty of other friends who are also cool and interesting but who can behave like decent human beings even when they’re sad. I’ll just hang out with them.

    1. ‘ I have plenty of other friends who are also cool and interesting but who can behave like decent human beings even when they’re sad. I’ll just hang out with them.’

      This is what it comes down to you. LW, there are people out there who will stay up late having sexy skype conversations with you (or whichever part of this particular entanglement is your favorite) without also being nasty!

      Those people are your people, and you might be surprised at how much less effort it is to hang with them instead.

  5. This… this is an excellent post. And I shall remember the Nope Rocket.

    (My browser doesn’t like gifs, so I’ll take everyone’s word that the gif aspect was awesome. The pics I can see are near perfect.)

    LW, it’s so tempting to ignore mean things because the payoff you get from the sexy things seems so nice, but before you know it the mean things will build up and soak you in hellish vibes. Please get away from this guy.

    1. I am in LOVE with the venn diagram. I might tweak it slightly for my own particular circumstances, but L O f***ing L.

  6. Thanks for this, Captain. I’ve been dealing with a person in my circle who keeps sliding into mean behaviour (is depressed/anxious, gets weirdly territorial and makes cutting remarks out of nowhere). I’ve been minimizing contact to avoid putting myself in the target field, being reluctant to call them out on it because they’re dealing with mental health shit, and this gave me some good tools to defend myself and maybe reset the dynamic the next time it happens.

    1. “Hey, that wasn’t cool.”
      “I’m sorry, it’s because of (issues).”
      “I am really sorry you are dealing with that, but I need you to not say mean things to me anymore.”

      It’s not actually helping the person who is feeling out of control and like they can’t help it to let them run amok. Being direct and enforcing the boundary is actually the most respectful and kind way to handle the issue. “You may be feeling shitty and have a hard time seeing the line, so let me show you where it is and trust you to make this right.”

    2. Don’t worry about the mental illness part if you need to call them out. You are not demanding they stop being ill or feel shitty. You can also be compassionate for them feeling shitty while at the same time refusing to be a punching bag. It’s not that it helps them feel better to bash people (and if it does: GO). “It’s because I XYZ” is just a really convenient excuse. Yes, they may feel really bad and wouldn’t have said it hadn’t they been so depressed/anxious/whatever, but they are not zombies who will look for braninz no matter what, they can still control their actions to a reasonable degree and are 100% respronsible for them. If they “just aren’t capable” to deal with feeling like shit without insulting/hurting you? You are within your bounds to end this.

      1. “Don’t worry about the mental illness part if you need to call them out. You are not demanding they stop being ill or feel shitty.” Actually, you are… or at least you may be. There are mean people who get depressed. (Poo on them for being mean.) There are also perfectly nice people who get depressed and who become an ugly version of themselves that they (we) desperately do not want to be. Light and vitality and good humor just vanish from our lives–and, with corrosive powerlessness and skewed self-perception, we try to figure out what is happening. We start choosing to isolate from others because we don’t want to feel that way (half-dead) around people we care about–but we cannot turn those horrible feelings off just because we want to. With treatment, we can get help and do better, but it takes time and it takes support. When people take flight from our lives, when they cannot handle what we are going through, when they cannot stand with us as we seek treatment and recovery, when instead they treat us like radioactive specimens because we have a mental illness–well, these responses are not helpful. They are not compassionate.

        No one who struggles with mental illness ever chose that path–and we do not want it. Who would? We who struggle with illness should not expect a free pass to treat people any old way just because we have an illness. That is Manipulative Behavior 101–and we should be called on it. We have to own our own behavior, in full. However, we should also expect the people who care about us, and who know us well, to be able to draw a line between impermissible meanness and words spoken out of deep, illness-induced pain. There is a line. On one side of it, the no-standing-for-nonsense reaction is entirely appropriate. On the other side, though, what is appropriate is compassion–a humane, empathic response to profound suffering. That line is not always clear, but it is there.

        1. One way to draw the line is exactly what I said in the OP:

          “Hey, that was mean. Knock it off, please.”

          That IS being compassionate. It is being respectful. Setting boundaries and keeping them is a way of being a good friend.

          1. For someone who is mean and blaming illness for the preexisting behavior, use your words… “That was mean. Knock it off, please.” No disagreement there.

            For someone whose personality and behavior are changing from nice and friendly and good to something mean and out of character, perhaps because of illness, though, the situation is different. In that situation, use different words: “Hey, what’s up? That crack was really mean and harsh. That’s not like you–and I don’t like the change. What’s going on? Maybe I can help.”

            That nice/good/sexy person is still in there, fighting hard to live, but under major stress and pain. (If the person was a jerk to begin with, stick with the first response.) Second response also sets a proper boundary about behavior, but it also invites a deeper interaction. Someone who is dealing with the first appearance of an illness will likely be pretty slow to open up about it, or to accept the reality of it themselves. This person needs boundaries–but he also needs support of friends who understand that this change of behavior is not by design or malicious intent–and it is NOT a change in his life that he wants or understands or controls. (In recovery, he may gain some greater control over it, but it takes time and it is incomplete control at best.) This is not what he wants his life to be–and he is searching for a way back. If his friends and family leave, the pain and illness only intensify–and the odds of recovery go down.
            It is an illness, not a choice. Ill people need support as they move toward recovery. (If someone is just trying to milk an illness for sympathy or rationalization of bad behavior, that is a different situation.)

          2. I like your scripts very much (VERY MUCH!), but I think this subthread is going to go off into derail territory if it keeps going.

            I guess it hinges on what you said – “That’s not like you, what’s going on?” vs. “That IS like you….so what’s going on?”

            Riding out a hard time with a beloved partner is VERY different from the Letter Writer’s situation.

            I think it is okay to take some distance from the wherefores of behaviors, and look at how the behaviors themselves are affecting you. It is okay to preserve your own boundaries and well-being by saying “Where is this coming from? I hope you get to the bottom of it, BECAUSE IT IS NOT OKAY, and if it continues, I will have to go.”

            Most people who write in with problems like this aren’t suffering from a lack of compassion or looking for a way to leave; they are looking for a way to stay, sometimes against their own self-interest and well-being, past all point of “Is this a good idea?”

            I say this as a depressed person in love with a bipolar person – we can love each other through some really hard stuff, but I didn’t sign up for mean, and I would not be a terrible ableist person if I tried your scripts (they’re good), waited a bit for it to get better, and bailed on someone who was being mean to me if it didn’t improve.

            People can leave a relationship for any reason at any time. Someone who is depressed but trying really hard and working on being kind (not cheerful, not positive, not upbeat, not fake – KIND) – if you love them, ride it out if you can and hope it gets better. Someone who is sunk deep into the mean and it’s all on you to put up with it and there is no sign of it getting better? You do not have to stay or pour endless kindness and compassion into that person. You can if you want to, but you can also break up and leave. Making an effort to be kind to each other is part of the contract of a healthy relationship, and I think people need to fight to preserve that part of the contract, even when things are hard.

          3. Exactly.

            What’s really terrible to do to the mentally ill person is to treat them as though they can never be anything but a broken monster. It’s far, far more respectful and hopeful for their future to do exactly as the Captain is outlining.

            “You are now broken beyond repair and I can’t expect any better from you than meanness and cruelty” is a terrible message to send to someone trying to find their way back to themselves.

          4. Questions I receive often: “I am sad and I can’t stop lashing out at all my friends, so I am afraid they will leave.”

            “Treat your mental health as best you can, and STOP LASHING OUT as a coping mechanism. Because they might leave if you are mean to them, and nothing I say would make that untrue.”

        2. >> However, we should also expect the people who care about us, and who know us well, to be able to draw a line between impermissible meanness and words spoken out of deep, illness-induced pain.

          I agree. I’ve also been in that sort of situation where it was a relatively new friend, and that was incredibly hard. The thing about old friends who you know well is that they can see who the “real”, not-mean you is. With someone you know and love and have seen at their best as well as their worst, it’s – not easy, but possible – to distinguish mean (or intensely negative, or manic, or self-involved, or whatever flavour of mental not-well that makes them difficult to be around) behaviour from the person you know and love who is better than that.

          When you don’t have that history, it’s seriously hard. I’ve been in a situation where someone relatively new to our friendship group was having serious mental health issues and behaving in a fairly erratic way. I don’t doubt that her mental health issues were real, but I had no measure at all of who the person was beside the erratic and difficult behaviour, and it was really scary. She really needed people who could do the, “Look, this isn’t you, I know the real you and I’m going to help you find that person”, but I really couldn’t.

          So that’s a distinction I make very strongly now. I can support people with mental health problems if we have enough history and love that I can see the whole person who I love and help them separate the negative or self-involved stuff that’s coming from being ill from the lovely person I know them to be. But I can’t do it with people where I don’t have a strong sense of where the boundary lies, which seems to be the situation that the OP is in. In that situation, if people aren’t able to pass Captain’s “Knock it off”, “You’re right, I’m sorry” test, then it can be pretty dangerous to yourself to get more involved.

          1. Thanks for the responses. I appreciate the wise and insighful comments, in this thread and others. Reading them has been helpful to me. Gratitude to all…

        3. > There are also perfectly nice people who get depressed and who become an ugly version of themselves that they (we) desperately do not want to be.

          Earlier this year when I was in a massive mood slump, my partner X told me, “You don’t get to be depressed for free.” My partners are amazingly patient, kind, understanding, supportive people. That doesn’t change the fact that me being miserably depressed is really super hard on them. And part of being a responsible adult means that I acknowledge that and respect their limits and boundaries, even when I’m struggling with my mental health.

          Also, being called on shitty behavior that’s sourced in mental illness can be a genuinely helpful thing. X recently confessed to really hating it when I vocalize unkind thoughts about myself; they’d tried to be supportive and just let me vent, but it got too hard to listen to me say those things. So yesterday when I was feeling low and got an urge to say miserable things about what an awful person I am, I said, “Let’s skip the part where I cry and feel awful about myself and move on to the part where I feel better and we work on that jigsaw puzzle.” We got out the puzzle and worked on it a bit and I felt genuinely better. It was revelatory! I didn’t need to vent (wallow) in order to get through that mood; it was okay to just set it aside and move on! I would never have known that if the people around me had endlessly indulged me in doing things that have the surface appearance of being therapeutic but are actually either not helpful or actively harmful. So everyone benefits there.

  7. Hi.




    I probably was this person once, except most people who knew me at the time hated me anyways, so I never got a chance to emotionally manipulate people. I didn’t really know how to, either, but that’s not excuse for my behavior (neither is most people hating me, because they could see right through me, an excuse for my behavior).

    But still. This guy is a manipulator. He is a user. This is not okay. If you must test him (though I’d advise just getting out), follow the Captain’s script EXACTLY. Then run.

    Run as far and as fast as you can. Run until you two no longer occupy the same universe… metaphorically speaking, anyways.

    It may hurt at first, but you’ll feel better… that’s a promise.

  8. I just want to remind you that if he’s being mean about other people around you, he’s being mean about you to other people. You know those terribly funny people who say terribly cutting gossipy things about people you both know? They say that shit about you to other people, too. People who make mean shitty comments about their room mates/land lord/ chem partners/ etc to you? Make mean shitty comments about you to those people. It’s how they communicate. You are not immune to it.

    Some people just do it without thinking about it. And some people are friends and love each other and still say appalling shit about each other. My best friend and I tear into each other and it’s hilarious to us and it’s consensual, but we’ve accidentally hurt other people who don’t have our sense of humor and we’ve learned to tune it down and be more civil. And some people are malignant. Let’s hope your friend/pantspartner is the first or second and not the third.

    1. I think there is a pervasive cultural fantasy about the Guy-Who-Is-Mean-To-Everyone-But-Me. We are OBSESSED with looking for the good in That Guy, for making excuses for That Guy, for watching stories that let us fantasize about living with That Guy in his Vampire House, Forever, making That Guy palatable and sexy and interesting in 1,000 different forms.

      One mission statement of this blog is: BEWARE OF THAT GUY.

      1. I think it goes hand in hand with the tortured genius trope, like Dr House or Sherlock from “Sherlock” or Quicksilver from Marvel Comics or whatever. He’s a complete asshole, but it’s because he’s so much better than everyone else, and if you can just RECOGNIZE and SUPPORT that superiority it rubs off on you, too. Plus you’re a special snowflake that recognizes how great he is and maybe you can teach him to be more human/better AND REDEEM HIM thus proving how special YOU are. Teehee!

        Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh forever.

          1. I’m very frustrated that The Detective’s attitude was changed so drastically from the source material (ACD’s Holmes was ALWAYS polite to EVERYBODY and ESPECIALLY women; having Yet Another Tortured Genius Asshole is lazy writing and cliched) but I am excite too! I want to get together w/people and watch it with pizza and boozes.

          2. brigid, I also really disliked that part of Sherlock. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I’d recommend Elementary — the episodic mysteries aren’t as good, but the characters are way, WAY better. Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller have great (platonic) chemistry, and I much prefer JLM’s take on Sherlock.

          3. Seconding the recommendation of Elementary! I love Sherlock, but gosh is it refreshing to watch Elementary and see the totally different, much-better-model-relationship going on there. It’s not brilliant, but it’s a good crime show and I really like it. 🙂 Sorry if this is a derail…

          4. I really like Elementary but after watching for a while I keep thinking; so you modernized Sherlock and that’s cool but it would have been so much better if Lucy Liu was Sherlock and Jonny Lee Miller was Watson. THAT would be a modern version that I’d be very into.

        1. Oh my God THIS. It’s like Beauty and the Beast rehashed and modernized and made sexy, RIGHT? Everyone’s supposed to take That Guy’s shit because That Guy is just so WORTHY. He’s so DEEP and SPECIAL and who am I to demand he be less unique and special and deep just so that we can have a conversation that doesn’t make me feel lousy about myself? If I RECOGNIZE how special he is, I’m special too!!!

          Our culture is so good at that trope. It always seems to be males too – the only female character I’ve ever seen with that character type is Kara Thrace (Starbuck) on Battlestar Galactica 2.0. And she was originally meant to be male. Really, as a culture, we’re not great at teaching men and women to treat each other with/demand respect from each other, are we?

        2. Though in Sherlock, EVERYBODY calls him on his shit. And he apologizes.

          (FWIW, yes, in the original stories, Sherlock Holmes is a douche. He is capable of being charming and polite, but he’s constantly making snotty remarks to Watson and the police about how much smarter he is and what a pity they’re so incompetent.)

        3. Tangenty-nerdy aside, I thought the appeal of Quicksilver was that, yes, he is a complete asshole, but everyone around him knows it and generally Does Not Put Up With His Shenanigans. Like, he’s a dick, but unlike the Sherlock/House/Smart-Mean-Guy trope, he *doesn’t* get a pass, and it is hilarious to watch him get smacked around when people are tired of putting up with his crap.

          Like, I thought Quicksilver primarily served as a warning not to be a complete asshole, or else no one will like you.

          I wish I could say that teen-and-college me had been immune from fangirling the Smart-and-Superior characters–and subsequently thinking that smart guys who thought they were better than everyone else by virtue of being smart were good dating material. Maybe it’s just an awkward phase that nerdgirls go through?

        1. Hard sometimes to sit there with the knowledge that most pop culture is grooming us to idolize assholes.

      2. Directly reminds me of “Why does he do that?”. Yes, he’s only being mean to other people. … until you have been together for a while and he starts to tear into you, too, favorably when you two are alone.

        1. Yes. It can take months, or even years, or for you to get married, or have a kid together, but they will *always* turn on you. I remember when I figured out that my former partner was nicer to me when other people were around. we had gone to visit his family and I was reflecting how pleasant it had been. And then the bottom dropped out when I realized that it was because we were always around others and he was acting. That was awful. These people know what they are doing even if they will never admit it to themselves in 1,000 years.

      3. “I think there is a pervasive cultural fantasy about the Guy-Who-Is-Mean-To-Everyone-But-Me.”

        Yes. Yes there is.

        I’ve been on the receiving end of that more than once, where the guy really does treat me completely differently from everyone else. It can really draw you in, if it’s done artfully.

        But there are two critical points to realize, even if he is consistently wonderful to you:

        1. If he is mean to others, then being mean is a fundamental part of how he operates, and it’s only a matter of time before he turns it on you.

        2. If he is mean to others, then being mean is a fundamental part of how he operates, so why would you encourage such a person to be this way by spending time with him? What does that say about you?

    2. You know those terribly funny people who say terribly cutting gossipy things about people you both know? They say that shit about you to other people, too.

      This times infinity, forever and ever. The should be printed on banners and hung up in middle & high schools everywhere. Maybe even some office environments.

      1. FWIW, I tried to italicize the first two lines to indicate that I was quoting but it didn’t work. Is this a square brace instead of angle bracket blog?

  9. When I read “mean comments and tendency to strike out hurtfully at others when hurting or in misplaced jest/humour” I think that these comments might not be aimed at the LW, who might then think, “Well, he’s not mean/abusive to me, right?”

    Putting aside the moral fiber of the guy you’re sleeping with mattering–

    If he’s not now, he will be sooner or later.

    This behaviour is something a lot of people decide they can’t put up with. A common response is to leave. So if you’re standing with this guy, and he has just chased off everyone around you, you are more isolated. Now he has no one left to be mean to–except you; and you have fewer people to turn to for support and have possibly invested pride and social capital in sticking by him, which makes you very vulnerable to abuse. So you’ve got a guy who likes to play with matches, and he’s in a wooden house. Do you really want to stick around and see what happens next?

    1. Good summation of why the words “But you’re the only person who really gets me/can put up with me/I can stand to be around” should send ice water through your veins. NOT A COMPLIMENT.

      1. Usually true, but there are exceptions. My partner is both mentally and physically disabled. He has lost many friends since he became disabled because see his inability to take care of himself as being lazy and want him ‘just push through the pain’ (how is he supposed to ‘push through’ his legs collapsing under him, I wonder?)

        Recently we’ve made some new friends who recognize that his physical disability is in fact a disability and blaming him for needing help ISN’T helpful. So for several years I was the only person in his daily life who got it and could stand to be around him, because everyone else was blaming him for his illness rather than supporting him through it.

        I recognize that this is very different from being the only person who ‘gets’ an abusive asshole, but there were times he said things like this to me and while it did send icewater through my veins, it was out of empathy and grief at watching him lose everyone else who mattered to him, not because it was a sign that he was a person I should run from.

    2. I have personally seen abusers do this on purpose as a way of isolating and controlling/manipulating people; I’ve also seen sad sacks do it accidentally.

        1. Oh, that’s totally true. But I’ve known people who were lashing out at the world without realizing it OR realizing why they were so lonely (duh because of their behavior) but who managed to figure it out… and I’ve known sad sack abusers (YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME YOU’RE ALL I HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAVE).

          1. Abusers aren’t actually a magical race of arch-manipulators. Mostly they’re just people who do mean things sometimes for no real reason they could put their finger on. There is no line between sad-sacks and abusers except ‘is abusive’.

          2. Word, Funny Grrrl. Most of the people I have known to behave abusively on the regular would be deeply and genuinely hurt and offended if someone called them an abuser. They’re convinced that they’re the victims; that they’re just lashing out as a totally understandable human response to life being so unfaaaaaiir and people being so meeeeeeeaan to them. And if somebody has the gonads to tell them to their face ‘Dude, that’s abusive as all get-out, cut that shit out,’ to them is is only a confirmation of what they already know. Life is unfaaaaaaiir to them. They just had so many feeeelings, which were totally justified and understandable, and someone else is being really meeeeeeeaan to them by trying to make them out to be the bad guy.

            You can’t ever make them understand. You can’t save them. You can only save yourself by ‘abandoning’ them in their (perpetual) hour of victimised need. And I’m not sure anyone ever really learned to walk away from people like this by being told to. I think maybe it’s just one of those things that everyone has to learn the hard way.

          3. @FunnyGrrrl Wow. I wish someone had told me that before I spent x years trying to figure out WHY. Why my now ex didn’t understand that he was hurting me. Why he would to it again, and again, even when I told him he was hurting me. What it was in him that made him great and loving and awesome and sweet some time and the next, a gigantic asshole who beat me into the ground with his words and wouldn’t. stop.

            I knew about abusers and the theories about why they do what they do. But I couldn’t believe that he was operating according to some grand evil scheme and that kept me focussed on ‘what do I call this?’ for entirely too long.

          4. @FunnyGrrl, this is a really great comment. IME, sometimes people who abuse you are people who learned the abusive behavior and think “oh, this works to control people so they do what I want.” It’s not necessarily intentional, which makes it hard to challenge because that’s just “who I am.” Another reason why the Captain’s script in her response is a good one.

        2. My ex abuser did the “sad sack” very well, the pity me party gets ugly when it’s used to manipulate.

          1. Same with mine.

            “You don’t HAVE to have sex with me…but if you don’t I’m going to be sad and self-loathing for the next six hours.”

          2. “You don’t HAVE to have sex with me…but if you don’t I’m going to be sad and self-loathing for the next six hours.”

            Fuck yes. It’s been more than two years, and still even the slightest hint of someone being sad at me about not having sexytimes is panic inducing. Mine was also, for whatever reason, particularly prone to doing this to me as I was waking up in the morning, which took me from not-particularly-loving-morning-sex to absolutely-fucking-despising-morning-sex. This is because I got in the habit of just going along with it so I could get it over with, and then I would get to fully awake about halfway through and realize that I was having painful sex that I didn’t want, and then I’d have to finish while wanting to throw up because I was so disgusted at the situation/myself.

            The rule now with all my partners in the morning is “if I’m not already completely awake and having a full-fledged conversation with you/other fully-alert-activity, don’t even fucking MENTION sex”. It seems a little extreme, but it’s way better than me potentially going along with it and then feeling violated after.

        3. Oh HELL YES. I’ve seen sad sacks turn into full-blown stalkers. They’re also good at getting other people to agree that they’re entitled to you.

          1. YES, THEY ARE. Because they are so sad, right? Why are you trying to make them more sad by telling them they don’t own you?

  10. I feel like Heathcliff should be in the middle of the diagram. He’s certainly got a special mix of all 3 attributes.

    This is an important topic and the advice has some very important things to keep in mind. The single most difficult person in my life is someone who is has this attitude where they feel they need to be themselves (great!) and express their emotions (awesome!) and need to do things their own way (fantastic!).


    But part of this is that them “being themself” means being a self admittedly difficult person. And they are difficult. And not great at respecting other people’s boundaries and life choices. And because they have to do things their own way – even when/though their own way is often terrifically ineffective and crap – they can’t really take on board criticism/suggestions.

    And when this all becomes too much, and you try to get some distance for the sake of your own sanity, they get hurt and defensive and make the guilt play cause you’re not “being supportive enough” and you don’t respect their right to be a pain in the arse (who frequently inconveniences you because they’re too busy being true to themself and doing things their own way to care about the consequences of their actions). Cause their right to be difficult is more important than your right to anything. And it always will be.

    So no matter what (even legitimate) reasons they have, the person who needs to take are of you is you. Cause otherwise they’ll suck you dry.

    (Whoops. Sorry about the epic saga.)

    1. In my experience, people who make a big fuss out of ‘going their own way” or “being me!!” are almost always looking for a license to be an ass. I don’t need to announce to the world constantly that “I’ve just gotta be me!” because the me that I am treats other people with respect. If you need to basically warn people, it just means your ‘me’ is a shitty person…which is not actually something to brag about! The whole implication there is that being respectful and kind is something people only do as an act, and that following your own path means being a jerk because hey, man, that’s ‘real’. You don’t actually have to pick just one or the other…I can have hot dogs AND burgers, and I can be respectful AND real all at the same time. Amazing sauce!

      My brother is one of these people who thinks being rude and blunt is actually a positive personality trait. I love him to death, but the guy is a grade A ass. He’s gotten slightly better as he ages…I think having a child has mellowed him a bit. But every time he pulls the ‘gotta be real’ thing after saying something awful, my response is “Oh…so you’re ‘really’ that much of a jerk? You know you can stop trying to prove it…we’ve all gotten the message by now.”

      1. This is brilliant. I may need to ponder it for a while. I’ve heard what I think is a variation of this, which is, “I need to be able to express my feelings” or “You don’t want to censor me, do you?” followed by a barrage of really hurtful “expressions of feeling” that usually start with “you never…” instead of “I feel…”

        1. Oh yes. That exactly. Because if you are feeling hurt by what they say or how they’re saying it, it’s because you’re over senstative/ being melodramatic/ a drama queen/ unable yk take criticism, not because of anything to do with you.

          (The worst one I can remember – and this is slightly to the side of this issue – is when they kept wanting to being up a painful family situation. I personally couldn’t stand to talk about it anymore and gently let them know. At which point I was called selfish and unsupportive etc).

        2. Same old asymmetry–they’re allowed to express their unpleasantness, but you’re expected to censor your feelings about their unpleasantness. When do *you* get to express who *you* really are, ie, a person who thinks crap like that is out of line?


            And yet it’s a big thing in my life right now and I’m rather angry about it, since it’s coming from my mother, and my kids are spending (and want to spend) a lot of time with her right now. And she’s the primary caretaker of my awesome 97-year-old grandmother, who still lives in her own house but needs help with some things now.

            My mother said a lot of insulting and wrong things about my profession and the subject of my dissertation research (and insulted the HELL out of another family member in the process who wasn’t exactly there to defend herself, and indirectly insulted my spouse while she was at it), told me to stop talking about it and just accept she’s more conservative than I am when I started explaining that first of all, based on my actual research, her perspective is a bit inaccurate and secondly, she is being insulting to someone who accomplished something really awesome (for not being awesome ENOUGH for her, I guess?), so I did even though very angry and hurt. Then a few days later, she emailed me something to supposedly back up her incorrect argument, and when I emailed her something to back up my correct argument (regarding licensing standards for social workers, so this part was actually a purely factual thing), instead of apologizing, she said (paraphrased slightly), “Thanks for the information. Things have changed since I remember working in a related field [almost 40 years ago]. I don’t want to argue so it’s best if we don’t talk to each other for a while.”

            It really feels like in another life, the woman was Inspector Javert, because there is NO life circumstance or mental illness that ever excuses a person from Having Everything Together At All Times Starting At Or Before Age 18. (That post I wrote about Rules for Real Adulthood? Was right after this fight happened.) And I want my kids to enjoy their time with her but a) I don’t want THEM internalizing this stuff, b) it’s really hurtful to my spouse and myself to hear this stuff, and c) FirstKid in particular is starting to pick up on the “Mama is mad at Grandma” dynamic and I don’t want to damage the very close FirstKid/Grandma relationship. *sigh*

            Wow, that got long and rant-ish. Probably because I’m on the way to pick The Kids up from their grandparents later today and am really dreading this confrontation. 😦

      2. Hoo boy, do I know the type. Back in high school, I knew a girl who was like this. For her, it was about pulling traits from film characters that she admired. But instead of picking a show like Pushing Daisies, she picked House. And Tarantino movies. She even stopped tipping waitresses because of a scene in Reservoir Dogs. I’ve avoided/backed out of a fair few social gatherings to avoid her, ‘cuz spending time around her more than counteracts seeing the rest of the gang.

      3. This reminds me of a really wonderful scene from “Man of the House”, where Tommy Lee Jones is getting ready for a date and getting some advice:
        “Just be yourself!”
        “But not the you that you are now. The you that you would be if you were someone else…someone better.”
        “Yes! Be the you that you would be if you were better”.
        That’s something I’ve kind of appropriated for my own life, because there’s nothing inauthentic about trying to increase the amount of time where you’re your best self.

      4. Unfortunately, I have to agree with you, and that was a lesson that was a hard and painful time coming for me. I was definitely the awkward book geek misfit person who didn’t fit in blah blah starting at a very young age, liberal in a mostly Republican town, big Goth phase in high school, etc., and ideas of individuality and not squashing your own likes and personality to fit in with more “normal” people were *very* important to me and, thankfully, encouraged by my parents, who raised me on a lot of self-expression-oriented media from an extremely young age (one of the kids’ books that got the most rereads in our house was “The Big Orange Splot”, which is about feeling free to go nuts and decorate your house like a pirate ship or whatever because it’s your house and who cares what your square neighbors think).

        I had to hang out with a LOT of assholes before I learned that it really is that common to co-opt the vocabulary of individuality and self-expression in order to try and justify being a giant douchebag to people, and then blame the people on the receiving end of the douchebaggitude if they don’t like it. Now that I’ve finally cottoned on, it gives me some serious flames-on-the-side-of-my-face rage when exposed to it.

        1. “it really is that common to co-opt the vocabulary of individuality and self-expression in order to try and justify being a giant douchebag to people”

          Wow. This is seriously insightful.

      5. I would say this a case of “my freedom ends where yours begins” – I am very much in favour of people being honest and true to their innermost self, but I expect them to do that only to the degree that it doesn’t seriously interfere with other people’s right to be treated with respect.

        And actually, if someone’s true inner self makes them want to be continuously shitty towards me or other people, I guess my own true inner self will want to be far away from them…

      6. See also: self-described “free spirits.” They’re usually less overtly mean, but just as self-absorbed and unreliable.

        1. “I want the freedom to avoid anything that makes me even a little uncomfortable.” Yeah.

      7. That is one of my “It’s time to leave now,” cues. The room, the job, the relationship, the continent if necessary. It’s like a rattlesnake’s tail that says, “This person is going to be horrible to me under the guise of honesty. Time to run.”

        1. Absolutely right on. That is a warning label, whether it’s “Straight Shooter”, “Free Spirit”, etc–they are warning you that they’re about to let fly with some assholery, and it’s likely to hit you. Run, don’t walk, for the nearest exit.

    2. I completely blanked on the Heathcliff reference and thought “The cat? Well, maybe not Heathcliff, but Garfield definitely fits that model.” Then my brain kicked in and I figured out what you were going for.

      1. I must confess, Heathcliff the Cat is the only reference I can think of. What is being discussed?

        1. Wuthering Heights, in which pretty much everyone is nasty and violent, particularly the dark brooding “romantic figure” murderous psycho Heathcliff.

    3. This whole sub-thread is reminding me of a different but also annoying take on being ‘real’: the “there’s no good way to say this… (so I’ll say it in a hurtful way)” thing.
      Like, you giving up on trying to find a kind/constructive way of expressing your views isn’t more honest, it’s just lazy, ergo not very impressive (and also makes less likely to take whatever it is on board).

      1. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “I’m just being honest” or “I’ve got to be honest with you” and then said something horribly mean and insulting…I could take each and every awesome commenter on this site (and the Captain and other bloggers of course) out on my yacht. All at the same time.

        1. There’s a school of thought which holds that the truth hurts, and therefore anything that isn’t hurtful can’t be true.

          This is bullshit. Flee from it.

  11. My favorite NOPE gif: http://imgur.com/Gw6zf (Includes octopus, which may be a bonus or a drawback depending on your preferences.)

    This also reminds me of the axiom “when someone tells you who they are, believe them.” This person has told you that among other things, they’re a jerk. Take the Captain’s advice and proceed apace.

    1. People ALWAYS tell you who they are. It’s not always obvious, at least not without the 20/20 Google of Hindsight, but they do. And very often we chose not to believe them, or anyone who points out what you’ve been told already. I think most people would be surprised at just how much they “tell” about themselves that they would prefer to keep under wraps.

  12. One of the groups I hang out with has a guy who, when he wants to be, is charming and intelligent and fascinating to talk to.

    And other times he’s complete ass who can’t be bothered to observe common courtesies.
    And multiple of our mutual friends, upon hearing of my distaste for him, try to make excuses – everything from his dad died when he was little to that’s just how he is. And I just tell them that one of my requirements for liking a person is that they’re a decent person on a daily basis. I think it’s a fair requirement and it’s surprising how people start really thinking about his behavior once I point that out.

  13. Coming from the other side here:
    I am the depressed jerk who said mean things to their best friend *about* their best friend. Yes, I was/am depressed and hurting and lashing out etc blah blah blah

    But I wish they had walked away.

    I wish when I had said to them, “I am not a good friend right now” they had walked about before I’d said truly horrible things to them. I wish that when I said, “I need to not see you for a while” they had taken me at my word instead of trying to be “the good friend” who “doesn’t give up” and is there “to help”. In the end they never said any of that, and it got to the point where I was hating myself for what I was saying. When I finally broke it off things had deteriorated to the point where I don’t know if when I am better/less of a jerk, things can be fixed and we can be friends again.

    I don’t want to blame the victim here. And maybe this guy isn’t asking for space like I was trying to ask my friend for space. But either way the very best thing you can do for them is to walk away.

  14. I had a friend (emphasis on past tense here) who pulled that sort of thing. Most of the time he was interesting and intelligent and witty, though a bit sad and morbid. But in every conversation he’d make at least one subtle snide/cutting/mean remark to me. Every time. But every time it came as a surprise, because I take people at their word and want desperately to believe the best about everyone, because I’m an honest person who tries my best to be a good person. So, every time he said something mean, it was a surprise, and it took me a while to realize how mean it was, and that it was a pattern.

    LW, it sounds like you’re in kinda the same boat. You want to believe the best of him, and you want to believe that Mean Him is not his Real and True Self, but that is just as much a part of him as everything you like, and it’s probably not going anywhere.

    1. And if the Mean Him is not actually his Real and True Self? Great, then he can cut it out when you ask him to!

  15. Whoa. This post is relevant to my interests.

    LW, you have all my empathy. Your guy sounds very similar to my husband of almost 10 years, whom I just left about three weeks ago. If you know now that he’s kind of a mean guy, please don’t stick around. I was really slow to catch on, but you’re not! The Captain is right on: Don’t hang out with mean people. (BRB, gonna embroider that on a pillow.)

    If your guy is important to you, and it sounds like he is, you can try calling out his mean behavior and seeing how he responds, as the Captain recommended. But, you know, it’s also ok for you to decide it’s not your job to be the Meanness Police. He’s a grownup and he needs to be responsible for his own actions. FWIW, I’m going to be talking with my husband to see if he can stop being a mean guy, so I guess it would be hypocritical to tell you to burn everything down and run for the hills.

    If your guy can’t/won’t cut out the meanness IMMEDIATELY when you point it out, he’s not worth your time and heartache. When someone tells you how much they love you and how wonderful you are, but is also sometimes mean to you, it turns your brains inside out. My husband is charming and smart and funny and has many fine qualities, and he also has terrible depression, and he also sometimes shouts at me and calls me names and ‘splains about how I misunderstand all the things and I’m bad at communication. No, it’s not all the time, and sure, it could be a lot worse, and [insert other minimizing statements here]. But this summer I found myself sending a panicky email to a friend to ask her, “Am I actually crazy? Do I regularly fail to understand basic English? Do I remember things that never happened?” and I knew I had to GTFO. (He also hurt our cat by kinda-sorta accident, which gave me enough motivation to actually pay a deposit and sign a lease and GO.)

    [Note: I have my own place now! It’s tiny but cute, in a convenient location, and Kitty and I are happy in our own space. My husband and I are in communication but he doesn’t have my new address and I like it that way. I’ve started seeing a counselor and Team Me has demonstrated itself to be awesome beyond all my wildest hopes. I owe Captain Awkward and all y’all in this community many thanks for your insights and perspectives. I’ve been lurking here a long time, working my way through all the archives, and you guys have made a huge difference in helping convince me that it’s ok to take care of me and insist that people treat me well if they want the pleasure of my fabulous company. So thanks, everyone. ❤ End of digression.]

    LW, you are not me and your guy is not my husband, but you sound like a cool and caring person and you deserve to be with someone who will NOT be a jerk to you. Please listen to the little jerk-alarm beepers that are going off in your head and don't hang out with mean people. Jedi hugs to you.

    1. I’m glad to hear that you got your own place and that your team me is so dependable 🙂

      1. Thanks! The best part of this really uncomfortable process has been finding lots of support I didn’t even know I had. The rest is not so fun, but that part: AMAZEBALLS.

      1. Thank you! Yeah, the hardest thing for me was letting go of what I *hoped* and *wanted* the relationship to be and looking at what was really there. (That’s the feeling I get from the LW, too–“But he’s such a cool guy in lots of ways! This could be so great, if only it weren’t for that other bad stuff!” So much empathy.)

        Once I finally decided to move out, things got way easier. I feel like I can breathe now, which is delightful! Several friends have told me that I look and sound better than I have for a while, too. I think all the evidence says that it was the right decision, but you’re right–it wasn’t an easy one. I appreciate the love and support!

        1. Jedi hugs if you want em Lgbookworm, I know the feeling washing the real person with the good person he seemed to be for so long, I did that. I was with my ex for 17 years and the last five were hell, escalation of manipulation and rages got more frequent and then he cheated. When we separated before I decided to divorce, the gaslighting from ex increased, I want to assure you too, NO, you are NOT crazy and your memory is perfectly fine! I started a journal so I would be able to confirm I wasn’t crazy, I even recorded phone conversations at one point because he’d made me feel that nuts. Gaslighting sucks.

        2. “Yeah, the hardest thing for me was letting go of what I *hoped* and *wanted* the relationship to be and looking at what was really there.”

          That is terribly hard.

          When getting away from my abusive ex, it was terribly hard to accept that the person I had loved was gone as surely as if he were dead, because there was still someone walking around wearing his face. I kept thinking that meant the person I had loved still existed. He didn’t.

          And when the person you loved is gone as surely as if they were dead, you go through the full grieving process of when a close family member dies. And yet other people in your life may not get that — they think it should be easy to walk away from someone who is bad to you and it should just be that easy. It can be hard to explain to people that both things are happening at once — you’re getting away from someone who is bad to you, *and* you’re grieving for the permanent loss of someone you loved who is gone forever even though there is still someone walking around wearing their face.

          1. Oh, Helen, are you me?? Someone walking around wearing the face of someone you loved–that is *exactly* how I described it to a friend after I left my abusive ex. The grief is wicked, because you’re actually grieving a relationship that never existed. So, so hard. Be gentle with yourself, and you too, Lgbookworm. This will get better, but it will take time, maybe much much more time than you thought. Jedi hugs if you want ’em.

    2. Wow, so happy you were able to get out of that situation! I hope things continue to go well for you.

  16. LW – As someone who has dealt with Depression/Anxiety/Irritability I want to let you know that what he is doing is not uncontrollable.

    Even at the worst points (when I hated everyone and wanted to claw out their eyes and laugh) I did not make excuses for lashing out. I apologized and kept the hell away from people. Why? Because I knew that hurting people was WRONG. How did I know this? Kindergarten.

    If this person -keeps- lashing out it is a CHOICE. You get to decide if you want to be with a person who makes that choice.

    1. Very much this. Depression/anxiety/other mental issues may be a reason, but they are never an excuse. It’s the responsibility of the person who has those issues to sort them out in such a way that they can treat other people decently.

      In the darkest days of my depression, there were times when, frankly, I treated my partner terribly. He stuck with me because I took tangible steps to make things better–I went to a counselor, I came up with a phrase that I could say when I needed comfort instead of lashing out, and I worked very hard to manage my negative emotions so that he would not be hurt by them along with me. It was unbelievably difficult. It was also the least I could have possibly done.

      Things are better now, but even on bad days, I rarely lash out anymore. It IS fixable. It can be done. It doesn’t happen overnight, but someone who is not even willing to take the first step is not worth your time and energy.

  17. It is sad/funny how so many of us have known a version (or sometimes more!) of this person. I’m about a month into the process of cutting That Guy out of my life, and the thing I feel stupidest about is the fact it took me four years to see the Mean Guy perspective. There’s always the excuses, the “but I’m just being honest”, the “but my life is so stressful right now”, “but that’s just how I am and my long-term friends all know that”. And the gaslighting! Oh, the gaslighting. “What the fuck are you talking about, that wasn’t an argument, it was just a discussion!”

    In short: Stand not upon the order of your going, but go at once.

    And I don’t know if it’s bad form to recommend other sites upon the Cap’n’s watch, but if folks don’t mind, I’d point them to the Baggage Reclaim blog which I came across during my frantic googling for advice on my situation – it’s all about How To Cut Assholes Out Of Your Life, and despite a few wiffly New Agey sentiments and a small but fortunately negligible amount of gender-essentialism, it’s full of mostly Very Good Stuff. Good luck!

    1. wait….are you me? I don’t know that site, though. I went with Out of the Fog, and must now go to Baggage Reclaim because if you are me, it sounds like it helped. 🙂

  18. This is something I’m working with right now, kind of.

    A close friend and I had a disagreement earlier this month wherein I blew up at her and pointed out a pattern of behaviour she’d been repeating for some time. She left abruptly, but emailed me later with a few apologies, none of them relevant to what we had disagreed over. I replied and apologised for blowing up. It was a mistake on my part, and I will openly admit I handled it very badly, but I also told her that I wasn’t sorry that I’d finally brought up what had been bothering me.

    She continued the conversation over email, but within the two emails, she managed to belittle me, insult me, and completely failed to address the real problem, instead getting defensive and blaming depression.

    I don’t doubt she has depression. I am supportive of her taking time to feel better and finding treatment if she will. I am not supportive of her behaviour toward me. Depression is not an excuse to treat people like crap.

    She hasn’t emailed me since, and I am at the point where I doubt we’ll talk again. I’m sad to see the end of a friendship that was good for so long, but with how I’ve felt since she stopped speaking to me (I’ve actually had more energy, gotten more things done, been more engaged with my family, and have felt all around happier), I’ve had to wonder if I want to patch things up if she ever does speak to me again.

    It’s a weird feeling. I don’t like the uncertainty. I don’t like not being able to tell if this friendship I’ve valued for years is one I should keep up with. I don’t want to lose her, but at the same time, with some new perspective, I don’t know if having her around is for the best.

    I guess I’ll figure it out eventually.

  19. So many feels! First, I have had depression. Totally untreated, life-ruining, terrifyingly-linked-to-finances, barely-leaving-bed-to-pee depression. And I actually tried really hard not to be a jerk, because of what was actually some awful social conditioning from when I was a kid (Not being a jerk: good. Thinking your feelings are b.s. and you have to bend over backwards for everyone all the time to be tolerated: BAD BAD LEMON BAD). I was actually pretty successful at it, but when I was a jerk? I was a huge jerk, a total asswad, and I apologized and tried my best to soldier on and not do it again. I knew damn well it wasn’t okay to say mean things to people. Even when I was having trouble stopping the words from coming out, I knew they were not okay. I suspect I am not alone here; we learn the Golden Rule in kindergarten and are frequently reminded of it in life. If he wants to hang this on depression and make you out to be a bad person, run away like he is a rabid werebadger intent on eating your face.

    Second, I know That Guy. I’ve known several of That Guy, but they got booted from my life tout fuckin’ suite when they pinged my mean radar one too many times/too egregiously to ignore. The one Guy who remains in my life? I manage the hell out of that relationship on the rare occasions we interact. It’s easy for me, since he’s like a brother to me and he actually, literally does not bag on me the way he does on everyone else (I don’t know why, nor do I care). But I can see it being a megahuge pain in the butt for most people, so I don’t recommend it. You haven’t built up an immunity to That Guy, and you have been intimate with him, and that makes it honestly a lot of trouble. Go forth, and know that there is nothing wrong with deciding you don’t want to spend a buttload of time maintaining a very specific kind of friendship with That Guy.

    Third, sexytimes are great! It’s great that you feel comfortable with sexytimes and with your own pantsneeds! But, man, you don’t have to fulfill those needs with That Guy. You can hook up with/date/FWB charming, funny, decent dudes. It’s not some either/or, and I assure you, you can attract nice people who like to touch you in places. Basically, you don’t *need* That Guy for your romantic/pants life to be what you want it to be. All this is much more fun when you don’t have to worry about someone saying something really shitty to you, anyway.

  20. I am projecting pretty hard right now but I’d bet that if this guy is anything like the guys I dated at university he doesn’t see the whole you either.

    Quick story: The first guy saw me as fun and attractive and up for anything and since that’s exactly who I wanted to be at the time I went with it (really I’m shy and attractive and fairly conservative about new things). But he’d start suggesting things that were not my idea of a good time and when I said so would just ignore me or bully me into it. It got worse when he started getting upset with me about personality traits that I don’t actually have and I’d have to reassure him about whatever thing it was that I’d never do. We split up fairly quickly but he never did manage to reconcile my real personality and the one he’d made up for me.

    The second guy was depressed and sexy and a jerk so he might be more relevant. He would confide in me and, like with the first guy, I was flattered because it was nice to be thought of as a caring person (I am not a caring person). The thing is, I was never allowed to take a break from his issues. As soon as I said “It’s 3 in the morning. I have to go to bed” the last however many hours I’d spent listening to him didn’t count and I was a terrible friend for abandoning him. So he’d dangle this carrot of telling me how kind I was and how none of his other friends would put up with him and then whack me with it if I was ever actually myself around him. The last time I saw him he called me selfish for not completely existing to take care of him while we lived together.

    That got sort of long and rambly but the point is that before you worry about seeing the ‘whole’ him you should consider whether he sees the whole you. How much of the time you spend together doing stuff you want to do and how much is what he wants? Are you happy with how he treats you or are you trying to live up to the person you think he thinks you are?

    1. I am pretty sure that I have only been called “selfish” by extremely selfish people.

      1. And the irony is that those people HATE “selfish people”. The perfect solution to dealing with these people: agreeing with them. It takes the power away from them.

        ***Don’t want to spend more than 90 minutes in a row emphatically listening to their problems at work/drive an hour to pick them up because they’re out of gas money/do whatever it is they want you to do***
        Them: You’re so selfish!
        Me: Okay, by your definition of the word selfish that’s absolutely true.
        Them: You don’t get it, you’re so selfish! You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever met!
        Me: Yes, I realize that’s how you feel.
        Them: It’s not how I feel, you’re being selfish! You’re a horrible person. You’re awful! If you can’t even get your head out of your ass and do this one little thing for another human being [f.ex. not go home because they don’t want to be alone after you’ve already spent six hours with them] then I really feel sorry for you. I’m the sort of person who do things for other people [no they’re not] and you just don’t have any empathy for other people and their feelings.
        Me: Right.

        This is the “error, error, does not compute!” phase begins. After years of being able to get you to do anything to prove to them that you’re not actually selfish, horrible and awful (because nobody wants to be that!), it’s inconceivable to them that being called selfish doesn’t destroy you to such an extent that you have to immediately try to disprove it. If they’re family members, do this three times and they’ll stop screaming that your selfish for not catering to their every need while completely suppressing your own. If they’re friends: dump them STAT!

        1. I have a friend who wrote this poem with the line “I’m selfish because this is the only self I have to love.” It’s helped me get through a lot of confusing gas-lighty moments from old Darth-exes.

        2. Both my parents and my first boyfriend controlled me with the threat of being called “selfish” for YEARS. They actually had me believing it. I really was a terribly selfish daughter and girlfriend, and therefore I deserved to be made to feel like shit constantly, because I should be grateful they still even care about/love me.

          Eventually I left the boyfriend, and started ending conversations with my parents and/or physically leaving if they started screaming at me, calling me nasty things, or were otherwise mean. And I stopped picking up the phone when I didn’t want to talk, even though giving my mother less contact than she wanted was the pinnacle of selfishness. Eventually they got afraid to start fights because they realized that next time they threatened to disown me over something fucking stupid, I’d probably let them.

  21. *in a sing-song voice* Run Awaaaaaaaaaay

    Seriously, try the Capt.’s test and if he’s still a jerky jerk-face then run away and never look back! Other wise you’re going to find yourself making excuses for his nastyness all the time to other friends and end up in a horrible shame-spiral where you know he’s mean but can’t seem to find a way to do anything about it.


  22. I had a Mean Person in my social group a while back. They’d never had a partner who wasn’t an asshole and they’d never had a housemate who wasn’t an asshole and everyone they worked with was an asshole and every bus driver/shop assistant/waiter they had to deal with was and asshole and…

    It took me a while to figure out that they were the asshole. When I finally did, I realised the horrifying scope and depth of their assholery – from rape apologizing to never tipping serving staff, and it reminded me of how a teacher once explained the university’s zero-tolerance policies:

    People who sexually assault their partners are also loudly bitchy about what strangers are wearing. People who steal your stuff also make fat jokes. Antisocial people are as antisocial as they can get away with being, so when someone is antisocial and unrepentant, run like your hair is on fire.

    (If your hair is on fire, do not run. Stop drop and roll.)

  23. Hoo boy.
    This is very much on time and something I wish I had thought about earlier. The perfect amazing dude with whom I was ridiculously happy but never talked about feelings I wrote about in my letter dumped me a month ago (which I guess was actually nice of him). Turns out the reason why we never talked about things is that he never had feelings for me, but apparently the sex and companionship were great! And he was nice to me because it was the right thing to do, but he’s tired of faking that!
    I should have seen it coming, because he was so cold when he talked about his family and friends and how he acted nice to them because he felt socially pressured. He just isn’t capable of forming close bonds. Or doesn’t want to. I think he actually told me that, but I didn’t listen or didn’t want to hear it. He also jokingly suggested I put down my ancient but beloved cat so I could get a new fluffy kitten. Seriously.
    I think it will be a while until I date again because clearly I can’t trust my own judgement and I’m not sure if I can trust other people to get close to me.

    Dear LW, run, run, run. Now.

    1. Oh LW #458, I am sorry to hear that! What a bummer.

      I guess at least now you know that when a dude tells you he doesn’t form close bonds, what he is telling you is RUN AWAYYYYYY? So that’s something.

      1. Ohh yeah, a tough lesson well learned. It’s especially hard if they’re being SO good to you that you start believing you’re a special snowflake who gets to magic real emotions out of a robot.

    2. Ooof. That sounds pretty awful.

      I don’t know that your judgment needs questioning. Your powers of perception seemed pretty good to me. You knew that you were connecting on a nonverbal level pretty well–he agrees. You knew that there was a strong possibility he didn’t return your feelings. You knew you were taking a big risk. You did see this coming. It’s why you wrote in; your judgment was saying, “All systems are not a go here.”

      Because it wasn’t a 100% certainty. It was just a chance. There was a possibility that he was nonverbally expressing the love and affection he felt but didn’t say, because some people are like that, and you would have been safe trusting him; and there was a possibility that he was a jerk. I went back and reread the Captain’s letter, and she said: It may or may not work out. But if you’re having a good time right now, and you’re willing to take the risk, why not try? So you had the choice: Should I risk being loving and hopeful even though he might not love me back, or should I withdraw now because it’s not a sure thing and risk missing out?

      You pays your money, you takes your chances. So you took a gamble on love and had your heart set on winning, and now it hurts that you didn’t. That’s not a sign you did something wrong–that’s how love goes. It’s basically statistically impossible to always make the correct choices that lead you straight to being surrounded by peole you love without ever getting hurt. Sometimes the odds aren’t in your favour, which isn’t your fault.

      1. Well said. LW#458, you clearly knew something was up, at least on some level, or you wouldn’t have written in asking how to fix it. That little seed of doubt was looking out for you, and it was totally on the money. My takeaway from the situation would be to trust your gut judgments more, not less, especially now that you have more experience with what it feels like when your intuition is trying to warn you about something.

        P.S. Your ex is an unbelievable jerk, and I totally hope he steps on something pointy on his way to the bathroom tonight.

      2. “Sometimes the odds aren’t in your favour, which isn’t your fault.”

        Hoo boy. Thanks for saying this (and pretty much everything above) staranise.

        Minor trigger warning:

        This is a bit of a more extreme example – I recently had to end things with someone that I was starting to have feelings for he was utterly wonderful and kind and brilliant – until he hit me on our third date. My mind couldn’t reconcile the two and went numb drawing blanks. After four days of numbness, all I could come up with behind my mental wall was, “I CAN’T” and cut the whole thing off. I mean, even in the best case scenario, a casual slap to the face does not bode well you know? I’m glad to be done, and that I got out early, but it doesn’t mean I’m any less sad / disappointed / confused. Sometimes even knowing the reasons why doesn’t help. Either way, it was great until it wasn’t. And then it just wasn’t.

        Dear LW – Totally get your confusion. And completely understand trying to see out the best in said Mean Person, but at the end of the day, even if he’s just Potentially Awesome Person who Just Happens to do Mean Things because of Reasons, he’s still doing those Mean Things. And Mean is Mean. It’s still a choice. And the after behavior – that’s a choice too.

        LW #458 – I’m sorry to hear about your jerky ex! Good on you for taking time to re-assess and question. Jedi Hugs if you want them, and I second the notion that a stray lego finds his way underfoot for that kitten comment. Yeesh.

        1. Ugh, Nerdlinger, that’s awful. What a jerk. I’m glad you found out early on, but it’s still rotten that he did that to you. I hope you’ve got a good Team You to see you through any aftermath.

          > And completely understand trying to see out the best in said Mean Person, but at the end of the day, even if he’s just Potentially Awesome Person who Just Happens to do Mean Things because of Reasons, he’s still doing those Mean Things.

          Yes. This. People can have wonderful qualities that are still outweighed by their shitty qualities. It sucks but there it is.

          1. Thanks Rose Fox. It’s all still pretty fresh – I just couldn’t go into my new year (birthday coming up) with my gut sending me flashing warning signs constantly.

            To his credit he was appropriately apologetic and contrite and realized / owned that he had fucked up massively. Which is made it a bit difficult to end it. But it still doesn’t change what happened, and my bottom line is still “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.”

        2. “a casual slap to the face does not bode well you know?”

          You were right that there is no amount of apology that would make it safe to continue with him. Hitting you is so fundamental to his worldview that he could 1) do it at all; 2) do it casually; 3) do it on the third date when he’s still in the early making-best-impression stages.

          He has told you something deeply fundamental about who he is: Hitting you is one of the go-to strategies at the top of his mind.

          He has also told you how the cycle will go — a moving and beautiful apology will follow the violence. But then there will be more violence, because as he has demonstrated, that’s a strategy he’s so comfortable with that he went there early, quickly, casually.

  24. This hits so close to home. And that test! I LOVE when the captain gives advice that is something I’m already doing. LW, that is a GOOD, GOOD test. I can think of several people off the top of my head that failed that test spectacularly (YES, the mansplaining. YES the implying it’s my fault somehow. YES the “I just can’t help it.” I so want to tell all these stories because WOW have I fallen for some mean people).

    I’ll tell a quick story of the one guy I’ve known who passed that test, because it’s so extraordinary in retrospect. He’s diagosed with aspergers and most of the group knows that he really appreciates being told directly when he’s behaving badly because it’s hard for him to pick up on subtle social cues. With that in mind, I straight up told him when he crossed the line with me one day (we were having a brunch discussion on some trivial intellectual topic and he got so intense about his point of view that he was angry and hostile and looking at me like I was an idiot). I almost left the restaurant – I was prepared to. I told him that I wasn’t going to share a meal with a person who treats me like that. His demeanor changed instantly – the anger vanished when he suddenly realized he’d gone too far and apologized sincerely, looking me in the eye. He said we’d talk about something else. And it never came up again.

    That’s what passing that test looks like. Unfortunately, nobody else has passed before or since. I have left two men in two restaurants and never saw them again – those were the extreme cases. There are several others where I just quietly withdrew. A look at my facebook “blocked” list is like a litany of Mean People that I once let get too close. And it’s ok… Now I realize that I’m better off without those guys in my life. (Except my brother, who also failed the “Hey, this is mean and it’s hurting my feelings” test, but I still kinda have to keep around because Family. He’s still blocked from my facebook and not allowed to send me political emails anymore.) But there was a long time when, for some bizarre reason, I attached my own sense of identity to those dudes. I wonder if maybe you’re doing the same thing? As in, maybe you put a lot of importance on your role as “The only person who understands this complicated, interesting man who deserves to be loved.”

    Unfortunately… I don’t think that’s usually true. I mean – it’s the Beauty and the Beast myth, isn’t it? Women are taught that this is a worthy goal in life, but I think not only can we do much better, but it’s also pretty much a lie. I think that if you were not in his life, some other woman would step in and fill that role. Because it doesn’t seem to be so much about you as a person as it is about him. It looks like the relationship is mostly centered around *his* needs, which means that the only thing a new sexy times friend has to bring to the table is a willingness to sacrifice herself on the altar of Him. And sadly, I think there are a LOT of women out there that can do that.

    You, LW, can do better though. And you deserve better.

    1. Too much Beauty and the Beast in our heads, not enough Bluebeard.

      I think the identity thing is a good instinct. Part of why I used to go after depressed sexy jerks was that I didn’t see myself as all that attractive or worth dating, so what right did I have to expect some happy, normal person to love me? It was just impossible. On the other hand, as the only one who understood this sexy jerk… I didn’t think I had much competition. It was just me! And him. And his sexy jerkiness. So maybe my patient, loving support would make up for my… lack of whatever made normal people attractive.

      Or it could be reciprocal: I found the hidden inner beauty in him, he found the hidden inner beauty in me.

      1. “Too much Beauty and the Beast in our heads, not enough Bluebeard.”


        I got a peak into Bluebeard’s chamber on Saturday night.

        There’s an acquaintance, a retired scientist, who has made a point of exclaiming how wonderful it is to be in conversation with a “young lady” like me who is so knowledgeable and speaks so confidently. It seemed harmless.

        Then there got to be a bit of an edge to it — it became a way to cut me off from talking about a topic. But it had just barely started to go there, because I hardly know this person and haven’t had all that much contact with him.

        Saturday night, he slapped me in the face at a party.

        And he did it so casually, as though it were an ordinary thing to do instead of an utterly bizarre and surreal thing to do, sweeping onwards with “oh there she goes again speaking so authoritatively,” and then making his own remarks as though nothing had happened.

        It so happens he’s divorced. No big deal — lots of people are. Except we now know pretty much know why in his case.

          1. Inorite? It really does feel like a look into Bluebeard’s chamber — it tells us all so clearly what this guy is fundamentally like at the core.

        1. YIKES.

          I always liked the versions of Bluebeard where she manages to escape on her own, or work with the other wives in the chamber (who are still alive) to escape together. Much better than the Perrault version most people know, which he assigns the moral, “Too much curiosity has ruined many a happy marriage.” (I hate Perrault.)

          1. Perrault’s stories are the WORST. (But in a kind of awesome train-wreck way; I sort of like terrible stories. Sometimes.)

            The only one that traumatized me *less* than the modern version was Peau d’Ane; Robin McKinley’s “Deerskin” was…I can’t even describe how hard that book was for me. It feels like when other people describe being triggered, except I’ve never been abused so it wasn’t that.

          2. Deerskin is really, really intense. On the other hand, Perrault’s narration of Donkeyskin is so deeply gross that I can’t really say that it’s “better”.

        2. I hate to ask this because it probably paints me as a naive & hopeful flower, but do you mean a physical or metaphorical slap in the face? Because a physical slap in company is terrifying – what would such a person do with no audience.

          1. Slap in the face, as in he raised his right hand and whacked it against the left side of my face.

        3. HELEN. WHAT THE FUCK.

          Utterly bizarre and surreal does not BEGIN to cover it. I am so sorry he assaulted you–at a party, no less! I hope other people told him off for it.

          1. “told him off”???? It’s assault and battery. Unless by “told him off” you meant “charged him with assault and battery”

          2. There are any number of reasons a person might choose not to press assault charges despite having grounds to do so, and it would be extremely rude for another person to make that decision on Helen’s behalf, so I don’t see that as a thing to hope for. I do think it’s entirely socially appropriate for someone to step up and say “Dude, that was SO NOT OKAY”.

        4. Oh. My. Fuck. I–wow. Yikes, and wow.

          Helen, I hope that you are all right after that, because that is as scary as it is shocking. I hope that the fellow party-goers, if they observed this assault, were on team you and not team “aw it was just a love tap, that’s just how Sciencey McDouchebag is.”

          1. I’ve been pretty shaken up ever since.

            I really do want to reiterate what staranise said above though, about we need less Beauty and the Beast in our consciousness and more Bluebeard’s Chamber — this was a case were I definitely got a look into what this person really is.

            But there are other things that happen that tell us about who people really are, and we should look at them as glimpses into Bluebeard’s Chamber.

            For example, people’s reactions when I tell them this story. Variations on shock and bewilderment strike me as pretty normal. Believing the victim tells you something positive about the person who is reacting. But if someone reacts by defaulting to not believing the victim, or to some variation on, “Well what did you say, because you must have said something that caused it,” that tells you a whole lot about who the speaker is, and it’s not good. It’s a peek into Bluebeard’s Chamber.

            staranise really nailed it: “Too much Beauty and the Beast in our heads, not enough Bluebeard.” The former narrative primes us to accept abuse, while the latter is another version of, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

          2. “Well what did you say, because you must have said something that caused it.”

            …because there is actually a thing one can say that causes an involuntary slap reaction? That’s just sickening. Jedi hugs if you want them, Helen.

          3. “just a love tap” -> this reminds me of the INCREDIBLY fucked up ?Disney? movie (not sure which one?) with the song about “But a bear likes to say it with a slap.”

            …and I just looked that song up on YouTube, and OH MY FUCKING GOD. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khsN1iNaeCE It’s like Pedobear plus domestic violence, all set to music. I just. What.

          4. Gah, the “love tap” notion. My father was really into that.

            It took me a while as an adult to break him of wanting a hug hello or goodbye, but when when I complied, slapping me painfully hard and repeatedly on the back. I started yelling, “Stop hitting me!” loudly every time he did it. He would do the jocular, “Oh it’s just a love tap” routine, and I would say, no, it’s hitting.

            He quit it because he found being loudly called on his violence embarrassing.

        5. Holy shit!

          I was gonna start up with “if that happened to me [insert kickassery here]…” but honestly, if someone did just slap me like that out of the blue I’d be so stunned I’d just stand there and stammer.

          At least now you know what sort of creature this is. Fucking hell.

        6. I second (tenth? twentieth?) everyone who hopes the onlookers at this party started shrieking and pointing at that guy. Holy shit. There needs to be consequences.

          1. None of you will be surprised to hear that he chose his witnesses pretty carefully — a young couple who just arrived in this country, don’t know anyone, have no idea what to expect, and can barely follow local accents and contribute to the conversation yet.

          2. That sucks. I hope he underestimated them. Imagine yourself in a foreign country where you don’t know the customs, and something violent happens at a party. A reasonable response would be to find somebody who speaks your language and say, “OMGWTF IS THIS NORMAL HERE?”

            Hope he gets ostracized.

          3. If ever there was a case for non-contact (ironically, given the trigger), this is it. NEVER spend time within casual striking distance of this person, and make it an issue. It’s likely you are not the only person he does/has done this to.


          Are you and I living in parallel universes or something because Sweet Mister Jesus on a Breadstick, the exact same “casual slapping” happened to me last week with someone I was dating. (Already went through deets earlier in the thread, so I won’t iterate them again to save space).

          Its so fucking jarring isn’t it? Like the word “inappropriate can’t even cover the massive NO-FUCK-NO-FEELS that come with something like that. And just…nope. (This is what my brain did when it happened: http://awesomegifs.com/wp-content/uploads/big-red-nope-button.gif)

          You know what, I’m glad that I saw this, because just now I was having some residual sadness and disappointment earlier for ending it yesterday, but now methinks I may have moved a bit closer to feeling way less so.

          Solidarity and Jedi Hugs if you want them! Also, loving the literary referencing and calling out that has been looped into this thread SO MUCH.

    2. Now you really made me think. About half a year ago my guy had this shitty habit of casually making jokes about raping me. As you can imagine, I wasn’t very into that. At first I wasn’t really using my words about it, but when I finally did, with an explanation why I thought this was really shitty and clearly stating I’d be gone very fast if he didn’t stop that crap, it resulted in him having a huge ragexplosion and how could I do that to him and basically he failed the test. But some days later he wrote me a lengthy e-mail apology saying he would never again make those jokes. And then stopped making those jokes, which would mean he passed the test.
      Except that now I’m thinking about it again, when I read all of these stories, and especially comparing it to your story of Passed The Test, and not sure if there might be future evil bees, because, honestly, who needs two or three days to figure out why making jokes about raping your partner might not be okay?

      (Context: we were dating for over two years before he started making those jokes and he has a history of playing the bad boy, that’s why I didn’t immediately run)

      1. I’d say yeah, HUGE red flags.

        Think about it even apart from what your specific complaint was — there was a relationship-busting issue, and he threw a ragexplosion to make it clear that how relationship-busting issues are to be handled is that you should keep your mouth shut.

        What generally happens when you use your words to bring up a problem?

    3. This is kind of weird for me, because I watched the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast and the lessons I took from that were about Gaston: Just because a guy is handsome and muscle-y, doesn’t mean he isn’t going to be a giant, entitled douche who disrespects you and needs to fall from a tower.

      What I took from the beast was that outside looks (furry, weird teeth) were not as important as how a dude is on the inside and how he treats you.

      But that totally glosses over the fact the beast is very problematic on the inside as well, with the kidnapping and violence thing that I pretty much JUST NOTICED right now at age 27. And even though he’s nice through middle portions of the movie, he’s still kind of scary at the end when she leaves and he’s destroying his house.

      I’m a little sad because this is one of my favorite Disney movies and I just realized that it’s basically about Belle choosing the lesser of 2 douchebags. I’ve mostly been able to avoid Gaston types without falling into the trap of the Beast types (probably for unrelated reasons, though) so I guess I should just be thankful I was able to absorb something positive from it and not be harmed.

      1. This post has a great deconstruction of Beauty and the Beast as “a fairly cut-and-dried abuse-apologist narrative”, and is generally an excellent piece about the importance of critically engaging with media even when it makes you sad to admit the flaws in something you love.

        1. Tl;dr cut for irrelevance (maybe when the forums are a thing I can talk about it) but the fairy tales as we know them? Come from a long tradition of French noblewomen telling stories as masked metaphors and satires on the conditions of their lives. (Tons of women writing smart stuff! Then Charles Perrault comes along, writes crappy versions of them, says a peasant woman told them, becomes famous. HOW TO SUPPRESS WOMEN’S WRITING. Why yes I’m bitter.)

          Beauty and the Beast is actually exactly an allegory for arranged marriages. It says: This is how you should behave, who you should listen to, what qualities you should cultivate, to be happy. It’s not a children’s story, it’s a survival guide.

          1. That is so interesting! Have you written more on this somewhere else on the Internet? I’d love to read it.

      2. It fits so well into our cultural tropes, doesn’t it? Gaston is handsome and narcissistic and wants Belle for shallow reasons and is violently abusive on top of it, so he’s not okay. But the Beast, we are reminded, is a non-pretty boy who Haz A Sad (which proves he is deep and tortured rather than shallow, despite being just as violent and just as narcissistic as Gaston), and that makes all his violent abuse okay, because that’s what women are for — to fix poor boys who feel sad.

  25. I just want you to know that since I was turned on to your blog, I really get into it. Your voice is confident and real. You also speak from a knowledgeable point of view, I can tell you have been there. For a second, I thought, “Well, what if these letters are an artificial construct, like Plato’s dialogues? My next thought was, “Even better, for it really shows the subtlety of your writing and your innovation and thoughtfulness.”

    (btw, I have only read a few posts, haven’t gotten to the author info yet, so I don’t know if your faq talks about who writes the letters.)

    I really like your blog. It always seems to pertain to something I can relate to.

  26. My disastrous first boyfriend had parents with this dynamic twenty years on. Husband would say something deeply horrible–sometimes sexist or racist, sometimes just vicious without regard to demographics. Wife would say, “Na-ame! That’s me-ean!” And Husband would laugh, and nothing would happen.

    Well, no. Not nothing. Their kids would get shown that these things were totally acceptable, and that mean things were clever whereas people who cared in even a token way about being kind whined powerlessly and said the same thing over and over again, even knowing that it would have zero effect.

    This is not all of why my first boyfriend is labeled disastrous in all discussions of him, but it sure contributed.

    So: the “doesn’t do or say things like that again” portion of this program is really, really important. It may not be magically perfect, but you should see a decrease in objectionable comments *promptly*.

    1. My dad likes to try and create this dynamic between us because I’ve started pushing back and establishing boundaries like ‘it’s actually not OK for you to be racist in front of me’. His response is always just to carry on and do it louder and ‘funnier’ like I’m in on this hilarious joke. That dynamic is deeply deeply unhealthy, and anyone who tries to get you to participate in it is a dick.

      1. Good luck. My horribly racist dad would. not. respect the boundary of “do not say that stuff in front of me”, and at my sister’s wedding last year he said racist things about Mr Hypotenuse, our children, and some family friends (who became family friends after I became friends with their daughter almost 30 years ago).

        That is not the only thing he did that led me to cutting off contact with him as much as is possible, but it was the last thing.

        FWIW, Mr Hypotenuse used to use some pretty effective humor-undercutting tactics with my dad when he’d make a “joke”. “That’s not a joke; that’s just an excuse because you’re too much of a coward to own up to what you said.” that was my favorite.

        Again, good luck with your racist dad. I hope you don’t end up needing to build a giant boundary wall like I did!

      2. I’m in a similar racist-dad situation and what works for me (for a given definition of working) is this: My brothers and I repeatedly respond with “Dad you can’t say that it’s racist”. The first time he gets to finish his sentence and then we say it. He may laugh or justify or repeat or whatever, but we repeat (interrupting and raising volume as necessary) “DAD NO THAT’S RACIST”. Eventually he’ll just grumble and stop. It’s not perfect and only works if there are at least two of us three present, but it’s something and gives a little more weight to the “that’s mean”. Good luck dealing with your own racist dad (jedi hugs).

        1. I would be interested in a post about how to navigate racist parents and whether they can change, ways to facilitate change. I know my own Dad was racist and did change his feelings and viewpoints over years because we talked about it alot. Had to, because I could not reconcile this loving person with his being racist, it’s not the topic here so I’ll say no more.

          1. I think it’s a flowchart that starts with “First, have the kind of parents who care enough to want to change…”

          2. Yes pleeease, I would very much appreciate a post like this. My FIL is unconsciously (not actively-maliciously, I think? I hope?) racist, and my husband and I are trying to figure out ways to deal with this (and protect our daughter, AND PROBABLY HER FRIENDS, from it) without cutting him off entirely.

          3. That sounds like the kind of post that would change a lot depending on the POV it was written from. If it got addressed here I think that, because it’s an advice blog, it would depend a lot on the LW. But I’m kind of thinking, “Is answering this question actually the best way to learn about it?”

            I’m white, and I know that there’s a whole ambient level of microaggressions that I don’t even parse as racism, so what I see as an acceptable lack of prejudice does not read as benign to the people of colour in the room. For me, it’s doable to say, “How can I get this person to not be racist?” and use my words until they tone it down enough that I don’t notice it or have to object to it. But I know that with sexism, when it’s turned down so that the men don’t see it, I still notice it, and it really seems like it’s the same way with PoC.

            So I’m reading your question as a kind of, “I’m not the target of racism, and I would like someone else from the privileged group to stop trying to make me collude with their racism” thing. Which is valid!

            But what I think I’ve found more interesting is learning from the experts: when I can sit back and listen to PoC talk about how they deal with racist people they just can’t avoid, or how they teach their children about racism, I learn a lot more. I could be protected from racism, so that when I was a teenager I was really shocked to learn just how racist the world could be; I didn’t have to learn those skills early. But the PoC I know and have talked to grew up with “racism exists, it’s awful, you try to deal with it, and it’s not going away” in their worldview from a very young age, so they’ve had decades to learn attitudes and techniques that have been handed down generations. So what they have to say is a lot more valuable from a practical perspective than what I’ve figured out.

  27. I was in a similar situation some time ago… although I wasn’t sleeping with the person (but mostly through their choice).

    I really did want to continue the friendship, because lets face it, he was totally sexy and sometimes really awesome. But 90% of the time, he was an abusive arsehole, and no matter how many times he convinced me that our friendship was important to him, it obviously wasn’t important enough for him to hear me when I said “Hey, what you did just now was not ok!”

    I do still care about him, but honestly it reached the point where the only thing I could do for him – and myself – was tell him that his behaviour had reached the point where I couldn’t continue the friendship, and hope that would reach some little braincell that would trigger a chain reaction towards his eventually becoming a decent person…

    But since I cut off all contact, I guess I’ll never know for sure if it made a difference or not 😦

  28. LW: Are you me?

    I had this almost exact experience when I was in my first year of university. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t end all that well.

    The most important advice I think I could have heard at this time was this:

    It’s not your fault.

    Say it with me:

    “It’s not my fault”.

    It’s not my fault he’s mean to me.

    It’s not my fault he has depression.

    It’s not my fault that my leaving him might make that worse.


    Ahem. The Captain said this would be hard and she’s right. If your guy is anything like my guy, he’ll fight to stay close to you. In popular culture, it’s romantic if boys “fight for you” to make you “see their good qualities” because they “have such strong feelings that they just can’t let you go”. In real life, this is creepy as fuck. Try to remember that too.

    A final thing: It gets better. Certainly for me, it got a whole lot better once I stopped seeing/speaking to my guy. I learned my boundaries. I discovered how to see red flag behaviour. I found this blog! And, as a result, I got a whole lot better at picking my friends, and now I have a kick ass circle of people who love me, and there’s not a Darth Vader in sight!

    One day, you’ll look back on this, and you’ll be telling someone else that it’s not your fault, and that it gets better. And on that day you will be right.

  29. LW, here is my two cents and experience if you decide he’s not for you and he decides to be mean about it:
    I dated a guy briefly who turned out to be mean. Or, it took me a while to realize that he’s just a jerk, to me and to other people. So when we broke up I was ready for the backlash. The first email after the breakup was basically a list of all the terrible things I do and what a crappy person I am. It hurt at first and I had the understandable moment of, what if I really AM those terrible things? Then I sat down and went through the letter line by line and made notes of the manipulative technique he was using in each sentence. Neurotic and overanalytic? Yes. Helpful in keeping me from letting it get to me? Absolutely. I had to re-read those notes a couple of times to keep myself on track. I did respond, but just acknowledging his email but not acknowledging anything in it. I decided I would not believe anything in that email–I know myself better than that.

    Second email, a few weeks later, the exact opposite of the first. All compliments, you are so beautiful and smart etc etc. Same thing though–I decided i would not believe any of that shit either. I mean really, two weeks ago I was the single most horrible person on the planet, and now I am super amazing? Again I acknowledged the email but nothing in it.
    Haven’t heard from him since.

    1. Ugh, the wildly fluctuating emails. I got those. For a YEAR after I left my asshole boyfriend. Sometimes I was his one true love and the greatest thing ever and he couldn’t live without me, and sometimes I was a worthless, selfish whore who had ruined his life by TRICKING HIM into loving me. I eventually stopped reading them, but holy shit was that awful.

  30. Oh my. LW, I hope you listen to this advice. I suspect you won’t because, when I was in uni, I dated the SAME GUY and I wouldn’t have taken the advice. He had hair like a new penny and an ass like a peach and depression like a smog cloud that followed him around and made it hard for me to breathe when he was in the room.

    I was lucky (?) enough that I had my first and only bout of depression about nine months into our relationship and when I was no longer able to devote all my time to taking care of him, he dumped me. (When I say all my time, I mean it. I spent literally two to four hours a DAY listening to him talk about his depression. In person because I went to college before the internet.) And when he dumped me, I was devastated and wrecked and remember lying on my bed and free falling through layers of misery and loneliness and pain. And looking back, now, I was so damned lucky.

    LW, I know just how huge this guy looms in your head and heart (and pants) right now. So I hope that you can take good advice and walk away. I know I would not have done it, but I’m hoping you’re smarter. If it helps, I am happily married with a great life and I never think about him except, you know, when discussing toxic ex boyfriends.

    1. “He had hair like a new penny and an ass like a peach and depression like a smog cloud that followed him around and made it hard for me to breathe when he was in the room.”

      This and you handle now has me picturing you as one of those noir detectives and it’s a great mental image. 😀

  31. I think something else to take into consideration, though by no means the most alarming item is… do *YOU* want to be mean?

    Because I promise you, spending time with mean people will make you mean.

    If he’s mean to other people, even (or especially) if it’s just that he says mean things *about* those people to you, it’s only a matter of time before that just because part of your social mindset. Snark is fun, but it is addictive, and if you’re spending an awful lot of time with someone who just doesn’t care about not being mean…it’s like your safety valve sorta breaks. And you get to a point where you find yourself being angry and mean for no good reason except that it’s just the way you are. Around him.

    BareNaked Ladies have a song about it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWQ4L6HRzB4

    For me, it was work. My coworkers were all fun nerds, but one in particular (the head guy too) was Smart-and-Superior and loved to complain about the public and the employees. So while he’d talk smack about whoever had done something stupid, you knew he’d be just as cruel to you if you “screwed up.” And all the rest of us gradually got more and more like him, more angry, more vicious, with each other and with the public. It was addictive. One of the best things about not working there anymore is simply not being involved in that negative environment, and gradually getting back to the much happier person I was before that job.

    You don’t need to be in that negative environment. And you don’t want to become That Guy either.

    1. Oh gosh I’m glad you brought this up, because this is something I’ve experienced too, both with friends and with a boyfriend. In the case of my boyfriend, he had a silver tongue and was super witty and funny and any time I called him out on his jokes being mean and/or bigoted, he sulked and told me I was no fun and too sensitive. At the time, dating him was definitely a status symbol for me and all of my acquaintances expressed their envy so the last thing I wanted to do was alienate him. Thus I stopped calling him out and started trying to be more like him–urf. Big mistake.

      Your environment affects you. The people you surround yourself with affect you. And it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle once it gets started, because a mean person you’re determined to stick with will drive away all the other people around you who aren’t mean, and then all that will be left is the mean person and other mean people. And to survive with them, you’ll have to become mean too.

      If this guy won’t take criticism and a setting of boundaries to heart, then walk away. Surround yourself with the kind of people that you want to be like: considerate, compassionate, and Not Mean.

    2. Yes, yes, yes.

      I have an ex, not the Darth Vader Ex, but someone I had this weird complicated relationship with both before and after the Darth, who was snarky and cynical and always ALWAYS strategizing. And I think he liked to be around me because I could keep up with that and respond somewhat the same way to it and play along.

      Then we had this stupid fight started by a third party for reasons unknown but the fact that it was bad enough to destroy the history we had was…pretty upsetting. And by the time we were on speaking terms, I had met Spouse.

      I’ve often said that in the closest alternate universe I can think of, Strategy Guy and I would have eventually decided to stay together and get married, but the person I am now doesn’t much care for the person I would have been if I’d stayed with him. It’s not far off from Katniss-at-the-end-of-Mockingjay logic, why this relationship would not have been good.

    3. Oh, man. THIS SO MUCH.

      I quit hanging with someone because she was mean. I realized that being around her made me feel like being mean was OK, and it’s not.

      My breaking point was when she cheerily informed a group that when she worked at a hospital taking down the menus for patients, she would make sure that “Muslim mummies” got jello if they annoyed her. Jello is non-halal. She was deliberately feeding them something that was forbidden to them, because, she said, they were annoying. She was, by the way, announcing this in front of a Jew and a Muslim.

      I cut her off after that. I should have done it sooner.

      She considered herself a “good Catholic.” I wish I’d had the wit to ask her how she’d feel about being given deconsecrated Communion wafers because she annoyed the priest.

  32. You (and everybody else in the world) get to decide what’s important to you and what’s a deal-breaker. Sadly, it’s usually not black and white and people are a mix of nice behavior, neutral behavior, and sometimes some deal-breaker traits. If not being mean is on your list, I think you have to break it off with this guy, if he doesn’t understand and isn’t willing to change. I’m sorry, because it means you have to lose the things you like about him, too.

  33. Here’s the thing: assholes are sometimes great because they have to be. If they were nothing but assholes ever, they’d be shunned by all good society and live in a shack in the hinterlands with townsfolk whispering about them wondering if they’re the next Unabomber. They have to be charming and winning sometimes so that they can live in society. They have to be charming and winning sometimes so as to lure in people they can be assholes to.

    So it’s not like the Mean Guy is the aberration — it’s the sweet, angsty, sexypants guy who is the mask here.

    Noperocket, ho!

    1. They have to be charming and winning sometimes so as to lure in people they can be assholes to.

      OMG! You just explained my father to me. That makes so much sense! And timely since I just spent the weekend visiting.

      I had already come to the realization that my father is a Darth Vader Husband (or Giant Bag of Rotting Dicks) and my mother is a Sad Sack (or Black Hole of Neediness & Manipulation), but so much is clearer now. The bag of dicks is him. The charming, funny guy? THAT’S NOT REAL.

      Now I need to work on being less like them. Every time I catch myself, I make myself apologize even though it’s hard to admit you were such an asshole. But it makes me a better person. Or so I hope.

    2. I think this is a really mind-blowing way to think about Darth Vaders. I also think that sometimes people are assholes because at some point in their lives, that’s how they learned to survive. It doesn’t excuse shitty behavior, but I think it’s an oversimplification to make across-the-board write offs of all positive qualities as manipulative masks.

      Both parts of people can be totally real and whole. People don’t have to be one way or another, and trying to figure out which one is the “real” person is totally fucking exhausting and nearly impossible to come to an actual conclusion. People are not equations. When it comes down to it, the side of themselves they *choose to prioritize* says a lot more about how they will end up treating you [general], which is what matters for your purposes.

      As a bystander to this comment thread, I just think this is an important distinction to make because I’ve done, and known other people who did, the cruel-to-survive/cycle of violence thing and been able to pull themselves out of it. If someone had told me that all my positive, charming traits were all fake, manipulative lies, it would have been totally fucking devastating, really set me back in my process of learning how to NOT be an asshole, and also actually not true.

      Does that make sense?

  34. Oh man, my first ‘serious’ boyfriend was like that too. Depressed, but I could make him laugh. Willing to accept my ‘flaws’ (funny how I didn’t even realise they were flaws til he pointed them out). Happy to snark about anyone in my life giving me shit.

    The price of entry? The time he reduced me to tears when I said I didn’t want to see The Social Network because it was just the straight white man show and he thought I was just being IGNORANT and PREJUDICED and boy did he tell me. The jokes he would make about me being just so naive. The time he told me he didn’t think he could ever love me because his ex was just so perfect (compared to me, one assumes) and then, when I dumped him shortly after, how I would never find happiness if I just gave up on relationships.

    This was the first guy I ever had really good sex with. This is the guy who would stare deeply into my eyes and tell me I was amazing. This is the guy I would stay up late every night talking to because there was so much for us to talk about.

    This guy was a grade-a jerk, and it sounds like yours is too. You might date him anyway. The siren call of good sexytimes is hard to ignore. It might be a learning experience for you in the long run. You might just wake up one day and realise you are just so over him.

    But unfortunately, you might not brush off the relationship that easy. You might get caught up for years in his vicious cycle of sexy negativity. He might become even more mean, and target you specifically because he thinks you’ll put up with it and he might not be wrong.

    You’re not going to know this stuff unless you try it, but the gamble isn’t always worth it. My mum referred to my mean boy as Clayton Weatherston, an abusive man who murdered his girlfriend while her mother was in the next room (mum didn’t tell me this til after, for obvious reasons). Luckily my dude was never that mean. But that’s probably what Sophie Elliot thought too, and it’s probably not a bad thing for you to keep in mind either.

  35. Hot, Sad, and Mean – see also: The Doctor (new Who, anyway).

    Feel free to channel your inner Dr. Martha Jones and walk away because you deserve better.

  36. Just want to mention – I posted this on my facebook page with a comment about a guy I’d dated in a friend group I’d long since drifted away from. I didn’t mention the guy’s name, but used him as an example: “The guy who once explained to me that he’d ‘lost social capital’ way back when I dumped him and that I still owed him an apology for that. His jaw dropped when I got up and left [the restaurant].”

    Anyway, someone else in that friend group commented and it led to a discussion about that guy wherein we established that he was pretty much a predator and extremely good at manipulating people. He’s one of those Very Bad People who hide in plain sight in groups of good people because we don’t actually get together and compare notes. Having left this loose end untied for years now, there was a certain satisfaction in having this conversation and no longer feeling alone in the knowledge that this guy was poisonous.

  37. My depressed, sexy jerk was a poet. Who ballroom danced. He actually attracted women like moths to a flame, until a year or two after my infatuation I was chatting with a group of girls/women in our mutual hobby and a new person asked, “Jerk, is he single? I kinda like him,” and it turned out that almost every other woman there had, at one point, been somehow entangled with him, gotten wise, and dumped his ass. He was a Bad Relationship Prospect.

    The newbie STILL tried to be The Only One Who Truly Understood Him… got wise, dumped his ass, and came back to say, “Yeah, that didn’t work.” But we didn’t do I-told-you-so; ignoring everyone and trying your own way was part of the process. It was kind of like a group initiation ritual.

    Guy loved to whine about how misunderstood and unloved he was, but then actively resisted actually engaging in a loving relationship. I still think about him sometimes. I really hope he’s not still doing the same thing.

  38. OK. This is Letter Writer here.

    Before I begin, I will warn you, I say the word sh*t a lot in the following message, but not as an insult – as an expression of the shock and realisation I am going through. Let me know if it’s inappropriate.

    While I was reading the response – and /thank you/ for being so quick about it – what was going through my mind was “sh*sh*thsh*tsh*tsh*tsh*tsh*t”. Because it rings so many bells, hits so close to home. There were some tears as I realised just how true what everyone is saying is.

    I can’t remember who said what, but the bits about not considering myself attractive or likely to get a partner? And of basing my self-identity on the role I take? And of the relationship not being very reciprocal?Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Oh sh*t. So many truth bombs here.

    Being, well. Being the sort of person who has gotten into this relationship, I am going to go the ‘second chance’ route. Uni will be starting soon, so I will see This Guy on a regular social basis in a group of friends. I will be using the script Captain Awkward provided every time I have the energy to do so. Even if I break off the personal side of this relationship, at least for the next year I will be seeing him on a regular basis socially as we are both high ranking members of the same uni group.So I am going to try and get into the habit on calling him out when he is mean.

    I also need to have a big discussion about what exactly this relationship/friendship is to us. I was planning on having this anyway, but I will also use it as an opportunity to expressly state boundaries I need respected (such as not always being available to offer comfort). Oh, sh*t, that was a boundary I started trying to erect in my head back in February when he started confiding in me. Yup, definitely need to state that one to him.

    The relationship is currently secret from our friends at uni and his home town, although we had already planned to review this in three months (end of semester). I do have a friend not at uni who doesn’t yet know but would be very understanding, listen, and offer good advice, so I know I can turn to them if/when I need someone more than strangers on the internet for advice (although this post certainly proves internet-based-strangers can be extremely helpful).

    It is probably a bad idea to give him this second chance, given what you have all talked about here, but I do not have the energy right now to break off another of my relationships – I recently broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years for reasons entirely unrelated to This Guy (basically, I realised I didn’t love him and that it was cruel of me to stay in a relationship with him and keep him from seeking a partner who loved him as much as he loved them. The relationship was open – I was free to seek other partners – but he was monogamous at heart and did not want to seek other partners). But having ended such a long term relationship, I know I can do it, and therefore feel confident enough that should I have to break off this relationship/friendship with This Guy I can.

    Also, the person who said “It’s not your fault. Repeat after me. It’s not my fault”? Thank you. I am feeling all frustrated/angry at myself because I always believed that I would be able to spot manipulative behaviours, that I wouldn’t fall for them or be one of those people that let’s their heart/pants rule their head. But, it seems, I am. Repeating “It’s not my fault” helps.

    To finish, a big thank you to Captain Awkward and to everyone who has commented. They have /all/ been helpful. Please, feel free to keep them up, if you want. Thank you.

    (and for good measure: oh sh*t, it feels as if I’ve been whacked in the chest, this post is so full of truth).

    1. I love when LWs reply so we can find out how the advice was received and if there are any updates. Thanks for jumping in!

      I’m glad the stuff here is valuable to you. I really wish I’d had this blog about 20 years ago–it would have saved me so much angst. I can totally relate to the bit about not feeling worthy of a relationship unless I’m taking on this perfect comforting accepting person role. And it’s not true–not for me or for you.

      One thing in your comment here stuck with me. You said your relationship is secret from your uni friends and his hometown friends. Is that his doing or yours? I ask because I had a BF in college who never told his friends we were dating, and acted very aloof to me when we were out with them. It turns out he had his eye on someone else in our social group, and when he got a shot with her he dropped me like a hot potato (on Valentine’s Day, when I showed up at his place for our date with a batch of homemade cookies in his favorite variety). I’m not saying there are never good reasons to keep a relationship on the down-low, but you shouldn’t ever have to feel like you’re someone’s dirty little secret.

      Best of luck to you…it sounds like you have some good plans for moving forward!

      1. My first thought upon “We’re keeping our relationship secret” was, he doesn’t want you running his behavior past your friends and getting a needed reality check. But Redgirl’s theory is also plausible.

        I’m glad you checked in, LW#511. I don’t have any valuable advice for you, just empathy. It’s really hard to for me to “see the whole person” too. If they’re being mean, I don’t like them. If they’re being nice, I do like them. I don’t know how to like them when they’re mean (which is probably good) or keep disliking them when they’re nice. Good luck sorting it out emotionally. It sounds like you’ll do what you need to do.

      2. Yes, I wanted to ask about this, too. It’s sketchy to me that the relationship is secret. Even if both of you agreed on this at the beginning of the “arrangement”, I’d encourage you to think about whether it’s helpful to you now or whether he’s the one benefitting.

      3. Yeah, for me “our relationship is a secret” is a yellow flag and a sign that something needs closer investigation to make sure it’s legit. I’ve seen too much of, “I need our relationship to be a secret because it’s more socially advantageous for me” going on. In my experience, someone who asks you to keep a relationship secret is not so likely to have your best interests at heart. Especially if the reason given is things like “avoiding drama” or “not getting people sticking their noses in” as opposed to “avoiding [being evicted/expelled/imprisoned/other dire consequence].”

        I totally understand being discreet and choosy about who you tell, and I get that there might be very valid reasons not to be open about what’s going on. But I think there’s always a danger, when your partner cannot tell other people about this part of their life, that now they don’t have any resources to fall back on if something goes wrong between the two of you. And, some people care about their partner’s well-being no matter how things may stand between them; and some people, well, some people are motivated to make it hard for their partner to do anything other than keep the waters smooth.

        1. Yes.

          “Our relationship is secret-ish for now” was OK when the relationship was with another girl and she was just starting to move away from the closet.

          Most other times, the reason has been “I’m just sleeping with you until someone better shows up!” 😦

        2. >>as opposed to “avoiding [being evicted/expelled/imprisoned/other dire consequence].”

          Even when both parties do have each others’ best interests at heart and there are good, life-preserving reasons for keeping a relationship secret, secrecy can dramatically increase the chances of a good relationship going abusive. I think even good relationships benefit from being socially visible and your dynamics and power relationships being shared with and seen by friends.

          So yes, LW – good luck with the second chance and I hope your guy passes the “That was mean” test – but have a look at that secrecy thing as well.

      4. It was a joint decision. There are factors I’d rather not go into right now which mean that he really does not want the people in his hometown to know and I’d rather they didn’t either. But we had both decided, before I wrote this letter and realised what the situation was like, was to try the next three months – a semester – carrying on in secret as we are, and then come December if things were going well, to tell some people up at uni.

        Thank you. I hope they work out well for me.

    2. I feel you. I hope that as you’re repeating “it isn’t my fault” you also take a look at all the brilliant, insightful, funny, amazing people here who have done the exact same thing and realize that this is something that puts you more in fellowship with them. (Us.)

      I don’t think this is you “falling for a manipulator”. This is you finding out that you’ve loved and forgiven someone past the point that it did either of you any good. Yeah, you let your heart make the decisions. What would you rather, that you loved too little? That you were unforgiving? Because let me tell you, there are people out there who never once in their lives made the mistake of loving anyone too much–who never erred on the side of selflessness–and they are assholes.

      The price of being a good person is being open to being taken advantage of. The price of hoping is vulnerability to disappointment. The price of loving is the chance of heartbreak. Those are not penalties. They are necessary components. Some people are willing to pay those prices; some aren’t, and cut themselves off from that experience.

      And if you don’t think this experience has helped you as a person? Just tuck it under your hat and wait a bit. Because some day somebody’s going to say to you, possibly while sniffling, “I can’t believe I trusted them. I was so stupid. Why did I love someone so awful?” and you’re going to be able to tell them, honestly: They’re not alone. You’ve been there too.

    3. Hi LW,
      It sounds like you have the emotional tools & strengths to get out of this situation if that’s what you want to do and some people lined up to be Team You IRL (counseling at your institution as mentioned by the Captain might be a good idea if TY is geographically distant).
      Mostly I want to link to an older CA post in case you are not yet aware of it, and I don’t think it’s been referred to here:
      I think it’s relevant to and will have some good scripts for this thing that you want to do:
      “expressly state boundaries I need respected (such as not always being available to offer comfort). Oh, sh*t, that was a boundary I started trying to erect in my head back in February when he started confiding in me. Yup, definitely need to state that one to him.”
      All the best for this going forward!

      1. Well, he has started therapy at his home town, so I’ll push him to get something to compliment that up at uni.

        Reading through that link you gave, just near the beginning of the Captain’s answer: “it is time for you to talk to a mental health professional” (to be said to the friend)…one of the reasons I conceptualise myself as the listening ear, the comforter and such, is because I am planning on probably becoming a counsellor in the future (if I can’t find a job in animal psychology research). So, I feel…if I can’t handle a friend/s coming to me, how can I become a counsellor? I suppose I know I don’t yet have the training, both to help the other person and to keep their stuff from getting to me, but it’s hard to remember that when I feel I ought to be able to handle it anyway (by disposition, if you will).

        I’ve bookmarked that link too. Might be good for setting my boundaries in general, as I am aware I have a tendency to try and take on everyone’s problems.

        1. Must I repost the Nope Rocket?


          As a professional counselor, you don’t counsel your friends. That is because those listening/counseling relationships have boundaries – set hours, a set space where they happen, a short time-frame and those services are not offered on demand.

          And it would definitely be a big ethical violation to become sexually involved with a patient.

          This dude is not counseling training for you. And you foisting him off, away from you, is not telling of your ability to be a counselor. Making this work out would not be a testament to your skills in that arena, and if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a failure of that nature.

          I think this guy is very, very bad news, LW.

        2. What you’re describing – that empathetic thing of wanting to help, and also being genuinely interested in hearing people’s problems and their emotional tangles – is exactly where a lot of people who go into counselling professions start off. But figuring out where to draw and enforce boundaries and when to say, “actually no, not tonight” is you getting *better* at being someone who listens, not a sign that you can’t hack it. As the Captain says, professional listening is all about knowing when to say no as well as yes: specific times, specific spaces, specific relationships, specific topics. It’s not about being an empty jug into which the entire world pours all their troubles. Counsellors or therapists without good boundaries and without a strong sense of how to protect themselves are *crap* at their jobs. Saying no and enforcing those boundaries *is* you “handling” it, and that’s something you need to develop.

          If you are interested in going down that route, see what voluntary listening services are available in your area – if you’re at university in the UK, for example, check out Nightline or the Samaritans or a similar listening/befriending service in your area. They won’t give you the same kind of training that you’d get as a counsellor, but they’ll train you in Active Listening, which will give you some really useful tools and also some support for how and when to say no and how to look after yourself. Active listening is something that works really well with friends who have stuff they need to talk about, but it’ll also give you a place to practise listening and helping people in a much more structured and supportive environment than what sounds like a slightly one-sided friendship.

          Good luck!

          1. As someone who is hoping to go into counselling, and volunteers with the Samaritans, I second this advice.

            I, too, struggle with how much I help people in my life, and the Samaritans training was very emphatic on self-care and the limits of what you can actually do.

            Remember, you can’t fix someone, you can only help them change themselves.

        3. If I had a time-machine to go back in time to tell myself not to try to be there always-no-matter-what-come-hell-or-high-water to comfort friends, not to try to ‘fix’ situations even when I know intellectually 100% that’s hubris, and not to try to be the ‘answer’ for someone… So much grief & serious pain that still reverberates years later. It’s not lack of resilience that is lacking in you; you /are/ resilient. It’s the training to not take things personally, and to keep yourself safe, and to set up boundaries that protect you from others treating you as their emotional punching bag, and the skills to help others in addition to simply comforting them. And if it’s friends, you can’t do those things. Please take care of yourself in the best ways you can.

        4. My comment to this from Monday hasn’t surfaced from the spamtrap yet, so I’m gonna try reposting it.

          YUP YUP NOPEROCKET. I know exactly where you’re coming from. It’s how I ended up in counselling. And I still say NOPE.

          A lot of the point of counsellor training is teaching you how NOT to “handle it all”. It’s natural to want to rescue people, and it’s natural for people in trouble to want you do. Unfortunately, that’s not how people work, because people in trouble don’t change that way and people who help can’t keep at it like that. So my counselling classes were very much on gaining intellectual distance, learning to set boundaries, and separating sympathy from empathy. “Self care” is a big watchword in the field, because we are so notoriously bad at it.

          So the hardest thing to learn is how to trust the people you’re helping, and step back and let them take over. Because there’s this nasty little hook in there that will sure as hell cause you grief if you go into counselling. The clasmates who didn’t realize this was a bad thing broke down the hardest as we got into real counselling, because the profs look for this hook specifically and do their best to pull it out. (Basically everyone had some sort of breakdown in counselling school. Get a therapist when you start, because you’ll need them by the time you’re done.)

          The hook is: sometimes you can get your ego invested in being indispensible. You think, “I can’t leave them alone, they couldn’t cope!” and “I am always there to listen to them!” which means that you’re awesome and selfless. But that can turn helping into a soothing behaviour for you. “I feel bad, so I’ll help someone.” And if you need to heal, you need somebody else to be sick, whether they’re actually sick or not. Which can end up with you not seeing the other person’s strengths and abilities, and disregarding their actual accomplishments, which definitely does not help them out. Quite often, I know a client is really starting to improve when they stop leaning on me for everything and begin disagreeing with the things I say and making decisions they don’t think I’d approve of. We literally do work to put ourselves out of a job, every time.

          So if you’re serious about being a counsellor, your job is to find out who you are when you’re not helping people. You still have something to offer, even if you’re just having fun; even if you’re having to ask for help. Because the job is constructed so you can pour all that concentrated helping into 50-minute hours of being totally about the other person, and then letting it go when you clock out of work. You’ll need to focus on yourself and getting your needs met in a more direct way to compensate for the work you’re doing, or else you’ll burn out.

          PS. It is a really good idea to volunteer for a crisis hotline or student helping centre while you’re in uni to gain counselling experience and knowledge of the social service system. Ditto volunteering in professors’ labs and getting to know the research process. They give you more contacts in the field, possible future mentors, and look good on your grad school application.

  39. This is so close to me too. I dated a guy for 2 years through high school/college, and in that time he had to deal with a lot of s***, including ADHD, his alcoholic father, divorce, and his father’s death. At the 20 month mark I tried to break up with him. But I fell for tears and hung in there longer. Big mistake. I couldn’t stand him. Everything about him got on my nerves. That’s when I broke up with him and was firm about it. But, by that point he was going through a serious flare up of a lifelong medical issue, and after we broke up he had to have surgery. I kept contact after the breakup and tried being friends like he wanted. Another big mistake. It was toxic. I heard all those manipulative defenses for mean jokes that Jennifer mentioned, and eventually did take the nope rocket thanks to my mom assuring me that I didn’t owe him anything.

    After that I completely cut off contact, but still had to deal with stalker behavior and more attempts at manipulations, including “but I’m dying!!” and “my shrink says that you need to help me.” I didn’t believe a word of it. Then ex did in fact pass away about 2 years after the breakup.

    Once I heard about his death, it took me a long time to come to terms with my decisions to break up and cut him off. It haunted my waking moments. But eventually I became sure of myself and then I thought about it less and less. It probably would have been easier to deal with if I had a therapist to talk to. Instead I had lots of time to myself and nothing to do but think.

    Michelle, I did the same thing you did in thinking of myself as “the only person who understands.” I definitely put my own needs aside in the face of his issues. LW don’t let those thoughts determine your actions. Mean Guy has parents, or friends, or someone else Not You that he will find to talk to. He is not your responsibility to make right.

    I want to thank you, Jennifer and other commenters, for confirming that it’s ok to leave a toxic relationship, even when there are medical/mental issues going on. Even this many years later, it helps to get a little affirmation.

  40. I’m seeing a narrative here in this comment thread that fascinates me — the story of the woman who is tangled up with a bad boy, and who gets warned away from him, but then goes back and has to “learn for herself” that he is no good. I’m not saying the Letter Writer will do this, but I’m getting the impression that many of us expect her to.

    We all know this story though, don’t we. We know this woman, and we’ve been this woman. And so what I’m curious about is this — does anyone have a story where they were warned away from the bad boy, and actually took the advice and walked away sooner rather than later?

    1. Well, since my experience, I’ve had little patience for depressed sexy jerks. But it feels like that ties back into the narrative–now that I know better, I’m steering clear. I’ve also had the same-sex version, which had more of a moral of “you cannot save people, no matter how hard you try” so now I set much clearer boundaries and stave off people who think I’m here to fix all their troubles.

      But none of my “once I met someone who was way overenthusiastic so I backed off” stories have built in my head to actual narratives.

    2. I think there’s probably a bunch of these stories, but that we can’t remember them. If you think back, how many people have you NOT spent more time with, for whatever reason? Impossible to count, right? So if one of those reasons is “iffy feeling” or “some friends told me they were bad news”… well, that story probably isn’t going to make an impression on you.

      The story of ignoring that iffy feeling, however? That’s a story that sticks, because you know all the bad stuff that came after.

      1. I agree. There are a number of times when I just thought “yeah….NOPE,” and deleted the email or number or started ignoring the person at parties, but those aren’t interesting stories.

    3. There is one thing I have finally learned, after being a big sister, big cousin, best friend for 25 some odd years. Some things you just have to learn for yourself.

      Just like when my mom told me not to touch the iron when I was 3, and I went ahead and did it anyway. Sometimes you gotta touch the iron.

      It is hard to love people and watch them make choices that hurt them. But sometimes that is just how we learn, it is part of growing and becoming the person we will be.

      Falling down is how you learn to get up again, and all that cliched nonsense.

      1. I want to add too, that sometimes being told you are doing something wrong actually makes you more sure you are right. I don’t think that is true in the LW’s case, they seem to be handling our responses well. But we all know how many people have responded here with things like “you just don’t underSTaaaaand i’m a unique snowflake and my situation has never happened before and all of your advice is wrong because i don’t like it. ”

        This is probably the brain trying to protect itself from cognitive dissonance. Just like when you argue with a creationist and they come out of it more sure that they are right, people’s brains sometimes try to protect them from feeling like they are wrong. Which sometimes has the unfortunate side effect of not protecting them from making unfortunate life choices that lead to heartache and pain.

        Everyone ever should read “Mistakes were Made (But not by Me)” it provides SO much insight into human behavior.

    4. Well, I’ve done both, I guess. I stayed with my first bad boy boyfriend much longer than I should have. And I also stayed wtih my ex-boyfriend–who was depressed, unwilling to deal with it, and seemed to be using it in a passive-aggressive way to make sure we were most often doing what he wanted–stayed longer than I should have probably because he wasn’t mean.

      That said there are times I did see the mean red flags. The first weekend I went to visit a long-distance guy I’d connected with at a wedding, he was mean to his brother in my presence. I was the one to opt not to continue the romantic option. Another guy who never asked me out but always flirted in such a way as to keep me in pantsfeelings seemed to show me his mean side the longer I knew him and as I hung out with him more, I realized that his inner circle was mostly composed of really mean people. I began to avoid them altogether. There was another guy with whom I had chemistry, who would do things like invite me to a “meeting” at what turned out to be the most romantic bar in town, and who several people thought I should get together with, but he was rather inconsiderate towards me and I did not like the overbearing way he treated his administrative assistant and his sister; neither of us made a move.

      Actually, even though as someone with a caring, understanding, initially sweet demeanor (also family issues where standing up for oneself or trying to set boundaries could be met with cruel explosive rage) who tends to attract guys who are a mix of depressed/unresolved issues/jerks, I suspect more mean guys don’t pursue something with me because they learn I won’t put up with it for long. One guy, for example, stopped calling within a month of our getting together when he realized he couldn’t pressure me into dropping everything to take care of him.

    5. I’m thinking, (thought I can’t be sure of course, she doesn’t tell me everything, obviously) that my daughter seems to have an uncommonly good compass for relationships – friends and others. They are good and supportive towards each other, sad and mean doesn’t seem to be attractive. At all. Thank God!

    6. *raises hand*
      In my case it was a bad girl (I’m also a girl) but after a few bright red flags too many popped up, I broke it off, then once it was over I blocked her on all the services, and never contacted her again. That was a few years ago and I have zero regrets. Had I not noticed the flags and not broken it off, I think I would have non-zero numbers of regrets.


      1. In my case it was a friend I´d had for 15 years. There was a pattern of mean and caring, belittling and empowering. I african-violetted hir more than seven years ago. There are regrets, I miss my listening, caring, empowering friend. But since ze comes with hir side of belittling, mean and cruel I have to live without hir. And it´s the right decision! I don´t regret the decision for one second. But the Wishful thinking fairy (what an amazing concept btw) rears its soulful head and whispers bittersweet “whatifs” every now and again.

    7. I went from unconvinced-but-curious about a guy to NOPE when a friend of a friend told me he’d cheated on her. While in an open relationship. Where the *only rule* was to use condoms.

    8. For myself, even when I took the advice late and did a fair amount of ‘learning for myself’, I can’t imagine what would have happened had I not gotten it at all. Everything people told me stuck with me and played a part in my decision making.

  41. Wow, this really hits home with me, and I really can only recommend to the LW to run as fast as possible from the situation. There’s a reason some relationships get called toxic. Every discomfort you experience may seem insignificant and bearable in itself, but in reality it kills you bit by bit.
    I used to be in a friendship with a girl I met at university, and when everything was going well she was the best friend you can hope for. Funny, outgoing where I was introverted, made friends easily, was interested in a lot of the same stuff I was into, and of seemingly full of endless energy.
    The problem was when things didn’t go well. When something bad happened, when you said something she didn’t want to hear, when she didn’t get what she wanted, when she felt unwell. You get the drift.
    She turned vicious then. She’d steamroll me verbally (who’s rather awkward and meek in discussions, especially serious ones), she’d indicate very clearly when she was displeased, and had no problem hitting you where it hurts most. And she knew where it hurt the most because I DID confide in here when she was an awesome friend. She didn’t just behave like that with me, either. She pulled the same stuff with her parents, her sister and her boyfriend.
    But because of her “good side” I was more than willing to let such behaviors slide, to excuse it as lapses due to stress, or relationship trouble, or illness. I took the bad parts as a part of her that I had to except for what good she brought to the table. And as with any abusive relationship, romantic or platonic, me letting it slide didn’t make it better. It just allowed things to escalate.
    At the end, I moved into a flatshare with her and her boyfriend, something we had planned to do for a long time. Before that, we had to renovate the place, and it was here where she showed just how little she regarded me as a person and friend, instead of some weird, walking, talking pet.
    She disregarded the effort put into renovations by me and her boyfriend (she had to finish classes for a semester abroad, so the two of us had to shoulder two weeks of renovations by ourselves, with the occasional help by a parent.) It didn’t matter that I was so tired that I’d sometimes fall asleep from exhaustion, lights and clothes still on; or that her boyfriend started to slack at work because he worked in car repair for 9-10 hours, only to spend until midnight putting up wallpapers. SHE was the one who really suffered, because she was the one having to leave behind all the awsome friends she had made abroad, and “getting to terms” with the fact that she had to move out of her old flatshare. What we experienced was “merely physical exhaustion”. Verbatim quote.
    She demanded I pick up the writing of my BA thesis (which really suffered from the renovations marathon) because it would be inconvenient for HER if I was still in the stressful writing process when she would have already finished hers.
    She praised me to her mother after at one point dressing me down for chattering while at a particulary hard part in the renovations because I knew “how to shut up when told to.”
    She came back home and something happened in the last few days prior to moving that made her behave absolutely ROTTEN to me and her BF. He decided at the evening of the same day to confront her, after being ignored and snubbed the entire day for some slight we had subjected her to which she never bothered to explain to us. It involved a lot of yelling. I, who was tired, just left for home. I paid for that refusal to be in discussions about my “misconduct” when she felt it was necessary bitterly.
    She treated me like dirt, made passive agressive remarks ABOUT, NOT TO me, she forbade others to help me renovate my own room and dressed me down for being lazy and useless, because I couldn’t help in her BF’s move since I had not had the time to pack up my own stuff yet (maybe I should have used the time I painted the ceiling and walls of her room and the kitchen and the living room alone for that?).
    I sat in what was to be my room and cried, mortified that anyone would see me.
    This treatment continued after the move, where she would wait for moments where we were alone to dress me down for my behavior. It only ended when the stress of it all lead to me having massive period cramps. The next morning she took pity on me. She never told me what that initial incident was that had pissed her of so much, but generously forgave ME for my “bad behavior”, which consisted of hiding out in my room to avoid her and not having harsh discussions on her time.
    And because a move is stressful, and we were facing or BA thesis, and I was a stupid idiot that couldn’t read the writing on the wall I EXCUSED HER BEHAVIOR. Because she was my friend, because when she was good, she was damn good.
    I moved out after a month.
    It was after another mood swing in a furniture store, where she threw a tantrum for that one couch she wanted because reasons, which of course had nothing to do with it being her favorite color. She stooped to threatening her boyfriend with breaking up with him in the store, despite him being the one who would pay for the couch. She was on a bad mood until the evening, where we went to the cinema. I had almost forgotten her earlier episode, but when walking home after the movie I found myself yelled at in the middle of the night in the middle of the street for my various short-commings. Something snapped inside me. I told her to … well, I cant really repeat that here … turned around and walked away. At my mother’s place, I spent the next few days receiving vicious texts, finding passive agressive updates on her facebook timeline (I defriended her for that, which was, hilariously, met with a text if I didn’t think that that “went to far”) and talking to her BF (behind her back, he was afraid what would happen if she found out) on the phone.
    I knew that this would never work out when he told me that she was aware of having screwed something up, but that I would have to come and reach out to her because she would never make that step herself.
    Was I severely depressed in the following months, leading to me dropping out of university a few credits before completion? Oh boy, yes.
    Do I regret having broken free of her? Oh hell, no.

    Long (loooong) story short: I still miss her Dr Jeckyll persona. She was so many things I wanted to be. But I couldn’t get over her Mr Hyde.

    People like the LW’s BF or my former friend aren’t awful, toxic people because they have faults or darker emotions, but because they don’t care to control or change them. Like Hyde they run unchecked and rampant. And like with Hyde, the safest option is a fast approach of the opposide direction.

    1. You did great. Yes, it sucks that it went on for so long, but we want to see the good in people and not the bad and if abuse situations were just bad, no one would be able to do this to someone else. There is always the honeymoon period in the cycle (at least at the beginning of an abusive relationship, intimate or not). You left when you were ready. Congratulations.

    2. This sounds like full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder. uggggh… 😦
      Book tip: “Coping with Infuriating, Mean, Critical People: The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern” by Nina W. Brown

      1. Hey, just FYI, site policy is that we don’t e-diagnose other peoples’ problems or personality. If that’s a book that’s helped you, you can recommend it without medically labelling somebody you’ve never met.

    3. I had a friendship in college that was eerily similiar to this one. My “friend” liked to call me the “yin to her yang” and pretty much relegated me to the role of her less attractive, less talented, less interesting shadow. She would sleep with guys that I was seeing, and then blame it on me for “liking guys who were interested in her.” She would blow up at me when I hadn’t done anything wrong, and the only explanation I’d get would be, “I didn’t like the way you were being.”

      Eventually she went off on a rage bender one summer, and sent multi-page, character assassination letters to me and several other mutual friends. My letter was horrible. I read it, and then I stuffed it between the books in my bookshelf, never mentioned it to her, found it four years later, burned it, and then flushed the ashes down the toilet. Another friend called her up and challenged everything she wrote about her in her letter. Another friend went through her letter with a red pen, corrected her spelling and grammar, graded the letter, and mailed it back to her (I’d always wished I’d done this.)

      I pretty much stopped speaking to her after that, but it took over 10 years, her reaching out to me and me finally telling her off for good before I forgave myself for allowing her to abuse me like that.

      This is all to say that I think you’re doing fine. THIS WAS NOT YOUR FAULT.

  42. Captain, as someone who’s spent most of their adult years learning how not to be a mean person, thank you for including the “one last chance” script.

    Memoir of a mean person:

    My childhood best friend followed me around the playground saying “Rose didn’t mean it like that”. I sure as hell did mean it like that. I was six years old and angry and hurting and sad and MEAN. When I was a teenager I realized that I had no friends because I was mean to everyone, so I started trying to do the “nice to you while saying funny mean things about other people” thing. That worked okay for a while but kept landing me in the middle of burned bridges. Then I tried being nice all the time, except that didn’t address the underlying anger/depression that was fueling the meanness, so whenever I got upset I’d lash out, and it would really shock people who weren’t used to me being mean. Hurting people made me feel awful about myself and that made me more angry/depressed and more mean. Eventually I got myself out of some shitty situations and into a lot of therapy, and as I got less sad and angry, surprise! I stopped wanting to hurt people, and I stopped wanting to ingratiate myself with people by doing the funny-mean thing.

    I’m not saying any of this to excuse meanness, or to say that people should stick around and subject themselves to meanness while patiently waiting for the mean person to figure out how not to be mean anymore. I am saying that it may be worth at least checking to see whether a mean person is on the path out of meanness, and if so, where on that path they are. Then you can decide whether it’s worth it to you to stick around, see what kind of progress they make, and maybe help them out if that’s an option (as in, if they’re really ready and willing to be helped, and if you’ve got the time and energy for it).

    Also, beware of excuses like “I just like friendly shit-talking!”. One of my partners is a friendly shit-talking kind of person, and I can tell you for certain that there is a real difference between affectionate insults (“You got a full-body My Little Pony tattoo?! You are SUCH a DORK!”) and meanness (“Ha ha, I see you’re off doing little brony things with your little brony friends again”). It’s always okay to say “Wow, that really hurt regardless of how you meant it”, and when you do, the other person should back way off and apologize rather than doubling down.

    1. I just wanted to second that last thing. Friendly shit-talking is a form of endearment and should never, ever made the other person feel anything but loved IMO. If it does, it needs to be addressed immediately, and the reaction of a truly friendly shit-talker should be one of horror and ‘noooo, I didn’t mean it like that, I am so sorry, I love your passion for your hobbies, very very sorry’, etc. (With the ‘I didn’t mean it like that’ being a genuine statement of regret and implied promise not to do it again, rather than a way of inferring that the victim is somehow to blame for not understanding.)

    2. “Wow, that really hurt regardless of how you meant it”

      Now tell me, why on earth haven’t I ever thought of saying that before, in response to those “it was just a joke” people? Thank you!

      1. You’re welcome!

        I used to hang out on the Usenet group alt.polyamory, and we’d get very into metaphors that involved stepping on someone’s tomatoes. In this case, regardless of whether the person stumbled or deliberately went off the path in your garden, they still stepped on your tomatoes and your tomatoes are still squished.

      2. I use the phrases ‘borderline’ and ‘over the line’ a lot with friends and coworkers. I’ve worked in a lot of places where dudes are the majority and inappropriate jokes are supposedly normal, and I find that only the real assholes will keep pushing after you let them know a joke was over the line for you. It helps get past the “but it’s just a joke” part to the “I don’t care, you’re pissing me off” part a little faster too. I get to decide where my personal offense line is, so they can’t really argue with me about it.

  43. LW, your letter and the Captain’s great reply have really got me thinking about this topic (like everyone else, been there, done that)!

    All of us like to think we don’t date jerks (or have mean friends). We really really *believe* that we don’t like mean people, so when someone we date does something mean, it sometimes fails to sink in as information about that person. They’re nice (by default right, because we like them, and we only like nice people, therefore nice!) so the mean thing must be an excusable aberration of some kind. We just need to get past that one mean thing and back to the happy place where everything is like we thought it was. Unlike strangers we have no vested interest in, who we can label jerks for teeny tiny transgressions with a supermarket trolley.

    I suspect those of us who’ve had dodgy families as children become masters of forgiving and minimising bad behaviour in our loved ones (certainly I have), but possibly it’s just universal human behaviour. Just accepting that we can be wrong about people, and really like and be attracted to really awful people by mistake, is a very powerful defence against the instinct to pretend bad behaviour is not really happening or really a part of our friend/family member/lover’s personality.

    That your boyfriend is mean is as real a part of who he is as any of his good qualities. As others have said, jerks are never mean 100% of the time, or we would spot them right away. Your boyfriend might not be an unredeemable jerk, but it’s also possible that he is. In any case it’s definitely true that it’s not your job to redeem him.

  44. 10000% you need to bail the hell out of there.

    “Being the person he talks to about his feelings” = “being the person he shits on when his mental issues are too much”

    You are becoming his emotional sinkhole.
    That will leave you unhappy, bitter, resentful, and emotionally dead yourself.
    You’re giving him your best. He is giving you his worst.
    You are writing him emotional checks from your emotional checkbook.
    His emotional checks are written on an empty bank account. They’ll bounce.
    And trust me, if he’s mean to other people he will eventually be mean to you, too.

    Now, depressed =/= asshole.
    But depression is NEVER an excuse for being an asshole to other people.
    It doesn’t matter that he has problems. He does not get to lash out at other people OR you, in any way. You have the right to expect him to treat you and others like a person.

    This will not get better for you until this guy gets help on his own. You are not the person to give him that help. His problems are waaaaay the hell above your pay grade (and mine).

    And also? His beginning a sexual relationship with you? Sounds creepy and manipulative and use-ing. It’s another rope he will pull on to keep you around.

    GET. OUT. NOW.

  45. I couldn’t tell if the person was mean to the questioner or to other people. If you’re just a generally nasty/snarky/bitter person but you wouldn’t be mean to your friends and partners and would never be violent, isn’t that… kinda okay? I’d never be that nasty to people I’m close to, but I have a pretty Daria style outlook on the world, and I’d be cool meeting people like that.

    1. If you are okay with your friends being nasty/snarky/bitter as long as it’s not directed at you, then it’s okay. But the LW clearly doesn’t like her boyfriend’s mean streak, or she wouldn’t have written in about it. She gets to decide what kind of behavior she is willing to be around. That’s why the Captain’s “test” is terrific. If she tells the guy she finds his comments mean-spirited, then she’s being direct with him that his behavior hurts her. If he says, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean that” and stops, then he probably is just a snarky but okay guy. If he tries to make her feel like a bad guy for having the boundaries that she has, then it’s pretty clear he’s actually a jerk.

    2. There has been an excellent thread on this site discussing just that – can’t remember which one but worth a search. I think we discussed how being generally bitter can be a protection mechanism which swallows up your capacity to feel joy.

      Spoken as someone who wouldn’t want to lose her Daria outlook, but can feel it taking over sometimes…

    3. If you’re cool with it, go you. I know that the people I hang out with really aren’t okay with ambient nastiness. It’s partly because of our various moral perspectives on how to be in a community, but hugely because we all live with depression and we really can’t afford to indulge that tendency. To keep myself going, I have to be really mindful and watchful about how I think, because if end up in a negative mindset about somebody or something else, my life literally just stops. I’ve spent four months straight on a couch. I’ve hit snooze and rolled over when I had a university final to write. The consequences are real and important. So being bitter and negative, or doing things I feel bad about later, isn’t an option for me. I have to cut people who would take me down that path out of my life.

      Doesn’t mean we’re not snarky, sarcastic, bitter, cynical, or enraged a lot. We do dark humour like nobody’s business. But we stay careful of where our punches land.

  46. I spent a chunk of my childhood and teenage years being ill. It was not fun. It was downright depressing at times. I cried a LOT. One thing I did my level best not to do? Be mean. It was not my dad’s fault I was sick, even when he was being annoying. It wasn’t my brother’s fault, even when he pushed my buttons. It just was. Did it suck? Like a porn star. Sick is still not an excuse. Depression isn’t an excuse. Nobody gets a free pass to be a jerk. Don’t give him one.

  47. I think the Captain’s initial diagnostic (“you are mean! here is your chance to stop and apologise!”) is so excellent. I think some mean people are abusive and some are not, and it’s only by challenging the meanness that you get to work out which it is. I have been in a long relationship with a man whose misery makes him full of despair, and sometimes it comes out. If I don’t challenge him on it, it gets worse and eats away at our life. If I do challenge him on it, he apologises and tries to make it right. I try to cheer him up when I know he’s feeling that way, so that he doesn’t have such acres of bitterness inside. It works for us. But, the first time I had said, ‘whoa, that’s mean!’, if he had tried to deny it, ‘splain it or justify it away, I would have been out of there.

  48. I dated this guy. Depressed, sexy, said mean things, etc. I called him on his mean actions, and this would inevitably result in one of the things spelled out by the Captain in her original advice to the LW.

    Or, it would trigger him into a depressive episode. I used to wonder whether they were “real” episodes, or if he was faking it to manipulate me. Then I realised it doesn’t matter whether they were real or not. If being called on your bullshit triggers you into a depressive episode, I can’t date you. The end. Boarding the Nope Rocket right now.

    I wonder if it’s possible to differentiate between “mean people” and “people who sometimes do/say mean things”, and whether that is useful. The people who commented above saying they sometimes say mean things and then immediately regret it and apologise are not mean people. They are good people who occasionally fuck up. But I know my guy was a mean guy. And if your guy fails the test, LW, he is a mean guy too 😦

  49. I will add a caveat to the ‘that’s mean’ ‘no it’s not!’ NOPE idea. While I agree in general, some people need time to process a new idea. So if someone responded to me calling them out badly, and came back a little later and apologized, admitted I was right, etc; I would give them a chance to demonstrate that they meant it. If they didn’t do it again then I would stay friends, if they did it again then I’d be gone.

    Re: healthy friendships being a give and take, I very much agree. I’ve been on the receiving end of an all give relationship, not because I wanted to be but because I was in a very part place and needed a lot of support, and my friend didn’t allow my to give back. As much as I needed the support, the imbalance in that relationship was damaging to me as well as to them. You are not helping him by giving and giving and giving without letting him/insisting he give back.

  50. One thing I haven’t seen anyone say yet (and there have been so many wonderful comments!) is that the fact that it seems to be a closed loop: him –> you, without any other variables. When someone relies on one other person as their only confidant, then generally something is the matter. It isn’t YOUR responsibility to handle his emotions, or all his problems. When that happens, you will get exhausted and burnt out and it will be bad for you (please read as “I got exhausted, burnt out, and it was bad for me.” And ultimately the person I was trying to help). Because you can’t say, “Hey, I’ve got X going on, and I need a break.” There are no breaks, because there is no one else. I think healthy support systems involve more than one person. We as humans work best together.

  51. One thing that occurred to me that’s not directly pertinent, but it’s a useful checking point. A saying in our household is “If you live with people, you grow like them.”

    It’s really a reference to some long-married couples becoming more and more like each other, but you can see the same thing in many relationships or groups. The checking point? If you intend to spend more time with people whose conversation or behaviour you dislike, do you really want to be like that? It’s a good mental counterweight to the feeble hope or the (deeply unrealistic) intention to change the habits of someone you’d like to have a long-term relationship with.

    If you don’t want misery or meanness to rub off on you, you have to either nip it in the bud, manage it openly and mutually, or abandon ship entirely. Just as the Captain said.

  52. I could have used exactly this advice about exactly a year ago. I even used the “you’re being mean, please stop” test, complete with “here is why it’s mean, I will give you a logical explanation in excruciating detail because you demanded it,” and it resulted in 1. no apology 2. doubling down 3. explanations about why he was right and I was wrong to feel hurt 4. continuation of the behavior.

    there were excuses. I was complicit in enabling the behavior, accepting and repeating the excuses, for a long time. and then (finally, eventually) it went too far, and I was done. pulling away hurt. breaking all contact hurt. it still hurts, sometimes. I still feel like I haven’t completely recovered (there was a lot of other stuff going on as well). but I left that one window open, that one crack, that if he wanted to get back in contact with me, if he could bring himself just to apologize, that would be something I’d be willing to work with. I haven’t heard from him since. I truly don’t think he’s capable of apologizing.

    I’ll know I’m really over him when this feels like a happy ending. it doesn’t, yet.

    1. “I’ll know I’m really over him when this feels like a happy ending. it doesn’t, yet.” Just a word of caution, keep it or toss it as you see fit, but this is a commonly-held belief in recovery. We want (and sometimes, those who surround us insist that we get!) a Hollywood Ending, where the hero/ine rides off victorious into the sunset while orchestral music swells, and then they lower the velvet curtains annnnnd you’re done grieving/healing forever!! In reality, the movie keeps playing, and the question “Okay, now what??” may be with you for awhile. That is normal, and not some failing on your part. Happy is kind of a nebulous concept, anyway. You are the only one that will know when this episode has become a footnote in a dusty old journal on a dark bookshelf in your mind. And you will get there, absolutely.

  53. I’m a lurker here, but I wrote a song for this thread (and for myself, natch), so I wanted to share it. It’s a perky folk song about abuse! Surely the world needs one of those! Nothing graphic in it, but potentially could be triggering; and if you have a horror of insects do not look at the screen.

    Captain and the entire Awkward Army, thank you for being so awesome.

  54. I expect everyone has left this wonderful thread, but I’m gonna try anyway! I have some related advice-asking.

    First, I really don’t think I’m a mean person. I work hard to be kind to everyone around me, especially the intimates. However, like anyone else, I slip, usually with a quip. Or I screw up in some other way.

    I had an ex who HATED it when I explained myself. He wanted a bare apology, nothing more, because anything else felt like an excuse. So I started doing that. Now me, when I’m upset, I want to talk about it. I want to hear why the other person said something kind of mean, or did something kind of hurtful, because I want to understand, and maybe make a plan for next time.

    I’m in a newish and really great relationship. We don’t fight much (yet, I’m sure). The few times he has confronted me about a joke gone too far or a behavior that felt hurtful, I’ve done the bare apology. “I’m sorry, you’re right, that was an inappropriate thing to say and I will not say that particular thing again, and I will try very hard to not say similar things again. I don’t feel that way, and it was a joke that went off the rails.” I think my boyfriend wants some more discussion. I think he finds the bare apology like I find it: kind of meaningless or empty, and he wants to discuss the thing so he understands.

    How do we walk the line for not making excuses for ourselves when we screw up, but also talking about why we screwed up in order to forge a better relationship?

    1. I think your apology is spot on. The whys can be important, but they don’t really matter until after the apology is made cleanly. Maybe the way you get it to a deeper discussion is to say “Is there something you would like to talk about or to happen now?” and see what he says? You haven’t been together long, you’ll find a rhythm I predict.

    2. Oh, Claire. *all the sympathies*

      I see lots of myself in what you’re describing. My ex-husband also hated explanations and processing – he hated “talking about talking,” and told me that the bottom line was that I was just mean and hateful and if I cared, if I WANTED to not be hurtful, I would just try harder.

      Turns out that he was a gaslighting abuser who messed me up for years afterwards. To this day, I have a hard time seeing myself as a nice person, although I tie myself up in knots trying to be. My friends and coworkers tell me that I am, but all I see are the moments where I’m snappish, or anxious, or thoughtless.

      I did a year of therapy around the end of that marriage (not a coincidence!) and found that I was just STARVED for someone to hear and validate my own out-loud processing of “why did that just happen?” As small as “I’m sorry I snapped at you, I’m just tired” or “I don’t mean to be abrupt, I’m in a hurry.” or as big as all-night wine-fueled Deep Explorations of the Human Psyche, and a whole lot in between, I’d been denied for, just, decades.

      My new partner is a behavior geek – he’s just fascinated with the question of “why did that just happen?” We have the best Processing conversations, and it feels so good! But the worst fights that we have are when I have an off moment and snap at him, and he snaps back, and I spiral right down into Oh, I’m A Horrible Fucking Person, The Next Time I Make You Feel Bad You’re Going To Dump Me, I Can’t Stand Myself, SorrySorrySorry What Can I Say To Make That Have Never Happened? land and he yells at me to stop being mean. To myself.

      I think the line is simple: if you’re trying to deflect the question, “why did that just happen?” you’re making excuses. If you’re asking it, in a self-aware way, and open to the answer, you’re processing. Starting from a place of good faith makes all the difference, and if you’re both doing that – it sounds like you are – you’ll be fine. I love, love the script Jennifer offers, and space helps too – sometimes “wow, that was really upsetting, and I’d like to talk about it, but not right now. Can we find a time to do that later?” is a kindness. Even if you don’t find the time later (life happens), the tacit acknowledgment that Things Were Felt on both sides is a gesture of goodwill that can help get past the hurt of the moment.

      (I’m a week behind reading, too!)

  55. I think you’re reading an awful lot into the phrase “harsh comments and mean humor”, and writing off a human being on the basis of that. It doesn’t sound like a major personality flaw to me. For goodness’ sake, Bill Hicks, Jim Jeffries, Jon Stewart and innumerable other genius comedians whose work you probably enjoy use “harsh comments and mean humor” as their stock-in-trade. This guy sounds like he definitely has a problem in that he turns his “harsh comments and mean humor” on his friends to an inappropriate degree and in inappropriate ways (bearing in mind, of course, that a bit of friendly ball-busting is normal among people not suffering from hyper-fragility). But then, he’s depressed and suffering. And yet you refuse, up-front, to consider that the two may be inextraciably linked, and that alleviating the one may alleviate the other. I think you are being way too harsh. The writer never said that she’s suffering as a result of the guy’s meanness, or that it’s of such a degree that she can’t handle it. She didn’t ask you whether she should stay or go. You just inferred that – wrongly. What she ACTUALLY asked was for help understanding the guy as a composite personality. Question not answered, in my opinion.

    1. Ok – What would you suggest to the LW, given she is not in the position to alleviate the person’s suffering or depression?

      1. That she should understand that the meanness comes from insecurity. Male insecurity, of course, has become a pejorative term among feminists, which is a bit strange when you consider that it’s an affliction that no-one would choose for themselves, and that it’s almost always the result of some sort of external damage that’s previously been inflicted on the insecure person. Understand that, and then tell the guy, in a positive way, that she understands that, and that she doesn’t think his meanness is part of his personality, but an insecure response to negative life experiences. Tell him that she doesn’t think his meanness is clever or funny, and that she would like him even more than she already does if he would tone down that behavior.

        In closing, if you treat every minor instance of male temperamentality or offensiveness as if it were the same as full-blown misogyny or abuse, by prescribing the same one-size-fits-all, kick-him-to-the-kerb treatment across the board, you’re kind of diluting the seriousness of what the actual abusers and misogynists are doing.

        1. Your use of the phrases “full-blown misogyny or abuse” and “actual abusers” is a big red flag here. Both suggest a degree of mistreatment that one should simply put up with because it’s not “full-blown” or “actual”. That is a really dangerous approach, because abusers start small and escalate. And it’s a really unkind thing to say to women, because the fact is that NO amount of mistreatment is okay. NONE. It is ALL serious, and treating it all as serious in no way dilutes it. Quite the contrary. What dilutes the seriousness of abuse and misogyny is saying that some quantity or variety of it is excusable.

        2. Translation: “If the person making you miserable is a nice guy, then you should put up with being miserable longer. Because the thing you should keep in the forefront of your mind is not ‘it is not okay for someone to hurt me’ but ‘how does the person who’s hurting me feel?’ After all, if an abuser might not be doing it deliberately or consciously, it’s not like you have the right to object.”

        3. Did you notice Pierre, that you also treated the letter as ‘should I stay or should I go’ question? You just reached a different conclusion than CA and other commentators. They also suggested a great test – tell once that this behaviour is hurtful, and you want it to stop, and see what he does. I think it’s more than fair chance for him to stop being mean, without putting the responsibility of managing his feelings on LW.
          Your approach suggests that the LW should put her friends feeling above her own. That she should understand him first, comfort and reassure him second and take care of herself third. That’s not fair. I think it’s also a little patronizing for the guy to psychoanalise him like that. We don’t know if his meaniness comes from insecurity, let alone male insecurity (whatever it is, I don’t understand the distinction).

          I don’t think his meanniness is the gender issue here, and I don’t think anybody called him misogynist. If there is a gender issue here it’s whether women should put up with small instances of abuse (because the abuser is a Nice Guy, or for whatever reason) and whether they can put their own feelings above others. And I think the best way to stop abuse is reacting when it’s still relatively small.

    2. “I would like help understanding this person as a composite personality. I understand the bits of them that I am comfortable with already; I would just like some help figuring out how to treat them as a whole person, in a way that reflects that on top of other things, they are also mean.”
      “This person is strikes out hurtfully, using harsh comments and mean humour. It is okay to correctly identify them as mean–mean and charming, mean and sexy, mean and insightful. It is okay to decide to not be around a mean person.”

      No, really, pretty bang on.

      If someone shows up explaining that another person had poured something that made them feel sick into the punch bowl at their party, but the punch also had lovely port and really tasty fruit in it, and they want help figuring out how to react to the drink that was currently in the punch bowl, would you not say “You know, it’s okay to not drink that? You can try a little if you think it’s really worth it, but it is okay to walk the hell away.”

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