#1219: “My good friend’s boyfriend keeps ‘negging’ me.”

Hi Captain Awkward,

One of my (32, she/her) very best friends (ditto, ditto), Sara, has been dating John, for about a year, and I’ve recently realized that I just do not like him much.

Most of the time, in either big or small groups, John doesn’t interact much with me or others at all; he’s in the “just kind of there” school of significant other-ing, which is understandable early in a relationship. We haven’t found any common interests (besides Sara) that could be an easy point of connection, other than me occasionally asking him about work in a small-talky way, which is too bad, but not a huge problem.

The problem is when he does interact with me unprompted, it’s often to “well, actually” me: things like “you don’t need bug spray, we’re on pavement” (yes I do) or “you say you’re avoiding sugar, but you’re drinking wine right now” (uh, OK?) or “you could take a rideshare for the same amount you’re spending on that drink, and then you wouldn’t need to stress out about taking the bus” (reiterating that I need to catch that bus is my way of signaling that this conversation will have an expiration date!). Or he’ll point out a flaw or foible in a sorta-joking way. Maybe he’s just a jerk; maybe he’s just socially awkward and is trying, badly, to join in the conversation. Either way, as another close friend, who has also not warmed to him, put it recently: it feels like he’s lightly negging us all the time.

I realize that part of adulthood is that my friends are going to date or marry people who are not necessarily my cup of tea, and that even if Sara and John break up, I will likely not be so lucky as to genuinely connect with every single person my friends ever bring around (though I’ve been pretty lucky so far). In these situations, what are some strategies I can use to forge some low-key social bonds, or at least manage to tolerate hanging out with, people who would not be my first choice to socialize with but matter to people I care about?

—I Could Probably Be Trying Harder Here Too

Dear “I Could Probably Be Trying Harder,”

If you want to “try harder,” try saying something back to John when he says this stuff to you. The One! Weird! Trick! for engaging with difficult people who comment on other people’s consumption or other habits that are really none of their business is:  Don’t engage the judgmental comments on their merits. Don’t explain why you need bug spray, why you’re happily spending your day’s sugar allotment on wine, or why you like public transit, actually, because it means having a set departure time in mind. Instead, point out how weird it is that he would comment on this at all, and challenge his authority/standing to speak to you this way. For best results, be incredibly boring about it, use a flat, even tone, and it’s okay to use the same script for all instances of this.

John: “You don’t need bug spray, we’re on pavement.” 

You: “Weird, I don’t remember asking you.”

Then apply bug spray! Don’t be an urban mosquito buffet!

John: “You say you’re avoiding sugar, but you’re drinking wine right now.”

You: “Weird, I don’t remember asking you.”

Then drink your wine!

John: ““You could take a rideshare for the same amount you’re spending on that drink, and then you wouldn’t need to stress out about taking the bus.”

You: “Weird, I don’t remember asking you.”

Then drink your drink and take the bus home!

Alternate scripts or strategies:

  • “Okay.” (then do what you were going to do anyway)
  • “Howabout no.”
  • Take a beat of sweet, cold, delicious silence. Maybe give a confused shake of the head, like you saw a dog do a magic trick. Consider the shrug. Then go back to whatever you were saying or doing without acknowledging what John said.
  • “Hey, I think you think that’s an okay thing to say or a joke, but it’s actually annoying when you comment on what I’m drinking or doing, please don’t.” 

Do these scripts seem “mean” or “harsh”? They aren’t, unless you think communicating disapproval when someone says something annoying and patronizing to you is “mean,” (which a lot of people seem to think is the case and will try to argue you should never do unless you know for sure that the person intended to be evil beyond a reasonable doubt and until you’ve exhausted all “nice” strategies for quelling the behavior, preferably without ever crossing over into making someone who annoyed you the tiniest bit upset or uncomfortable…or accountable). People are always full of advice for what a woman should do about a man’s rude behavior (like patronizing comments or unfunny mean jokes at her expense that don’t land right) and it’s almost never saying “Bro? No. No, Bro” and expecting him to change his behavior. 

Instead:  (I guess? Though I can’t remember where or how I know what these expectations even are, I just know that people have them?)  We’re “supposed to” “just ignore it” (for the sake of our friends’ romantic happiness, which apparently means permanently tolerating it when their chosen dudes can’t hang and also worry it will be our fault for not being nice and accommodating enough if a chosen dude becomes abusive down the road and tries to isolate our friend from her friendships. Also, if we ever say, ‘Hey, your boyfriend can be kind of a jerk to me sometimes what’s that about, is he ever like that with you?’ it’s probably ’cause we are “jealous” and don’t want our friends to be “happy,”  which happiness can only be achieved via long-term heterosexual partnership with a dude who can’t hang?

And if we have a problem we’re “supposed to” deflect, laugh it off, be nice, extend empathy and sympathy without expecting any in return (aka himpathy), “be the bigger person,” or else we’re supposed to find a good reason for it, assume “he probably didn’t mean it that way,” and (my favorite!) brace ourselves for the summoning of Schrödinger’s Autist, who only ever comes out in internet discussions when men are being shitty to women, as if autism and misogyny are co-morbid (they aren’t), as if women with autism don’t exist (they do), or as if autistic people don’t try EXTRA FUCKING HARD to be polite and avoid accidentally pissing neurotypical off (they do!) and as if they don’t respond better to direct feedback about interpersonal stuff than many allistic people do because they don’t assume they already know how do to do everything (<3!).

And if we’re Slightly Too Mean to a man when he’s a little bit mean to us, well, then it’s probably our fault he acts that way, what did we expect, why did we escalate things instead of smoothing them over? Do I have this right?

Kindly consider this entire website to exist as a refutation of the above-described attitudes and conditioning.

If John is acting this way because he’s kind of a jerk, then he needs to stop it.

If John is “just socially awkward and trying, badly, to join the conversation” then, welcome to the time-honored tradition of socially awkward people realizing that what we are doing isn’t working when we don’t get positive feedback when we make jokey and overly-familiar insults and perhaps experimenting with non-insulting communication strategies and seeing if we get better results next time. If John fixes this behavior, you’ll like him better, it is actually that simple!

You don’t have to endlessly submit to this annoying behavior and try to smooth it over to be a good friend to Sara. If her boyfriend is bad at interacting with her friends and turns gentle correction when he steps out of line into a chance to double down and drink deep from the Well, Actually, you’re still allowed to “Well, Actually, IDGAF” your way out of these annoying interactions. He isn’t Sara’s fault and she’s not his governess or life tutor, so address it with him directly and expect that he’ll adapt if he wants to get along with his girlfriend’s friends.

You don’t have to endlessly submit to this annoying behavior and try to smooth it over, period, even if John meant it as a joke, even if Sara doesn’t mind being joked at this way, even if every single other person at these gatherings wouldn’t mind it in your shoes. You’re still allowed to mind it, and, look, you’ve got some independent confirmation from this mutual friend that he does this to other people, too, and it annoys them, too, so I definitely don’t think you’re being too exacting or unreasonable. You’re not overreacting, you’re reacting.

What I need you and all of us to definitely stop doing in the name of feminism [I’m dead serious]: Stop framing a situation where a dude is behaving badly as a situation where *you* need to try harder to excuse or endure or engage with him. You’ve tried already! You’ve been perfectly pleasant to John and tried to find acceptable topics of conversation. It’s actually okay to not particularly bond with someone or have much in common with them and coexist at a polite distance, and when they cross that polite distance, it’s also actually okay to check people. It’s not the end of the world, “Bro, no,” isn’t a Doomsday Device or The Extremely Good China that can only be taken out for special occasions. For most people, hearing, “Hey, what do you mean when you say stuff like that? I think you think it’s a funny joke, but it’s actually just pissing me off, so, could you not?” is a sign to apologize and change it up. 

In other words, John has choices. One choice a kind-but-socially-awkward person can make is realizing, “Hey, I have unintentionally messed up here and annoyed this person, even though I meant it as a joke. I really like the LW and don’t want to upset her, and I want Sara’s friends to like me, so I’ll apologize and not do that annoying thing any more.” 

If he makes different choices, that might make it less enjoyable for you to hang out with Sara when she brings him along and more likely for you to want to schedule Sara-only hangouts to set yourself up for a more enjoyable time with her, but that’s not a situation you created, and it won’t be a test of tolerance or friendship that you failed. It’s okay to hope that your friends won’t date people who are hard to get along with, and to refuse to pretend everything’s “amazing!” when they do.

Edited To Add: I am closing comments, even though they are mostly constructive. Almost 400 comments strategizing about how to tell one guy to pipe down a little when he does something annoying = That’s enough comments and way more than enough work!

Letter Writer, next time John says something irritating to ‘neg’ you just reply with one of the many scripts along the lines of “noted” or “who called the bug spray police” and move on with your night. He’ll either adapt or he won’t, he’s not your burden, you’re not his life tutor, you don’t have to pull him aside for a gentle performance review. ❤


381 thoughts on “#1219: “My good friend’s boyfriend keeps ‘negging’ me.”

  1. Thank you for defending us autistics. I’m always trying not to offend, and asking people to just directly tell me if I screw up.

    1. Agree with this and with the Captain’s words, *but* I think that one aspect of ‘Schrodinger’s Autist’ that she didn’t mention (at least… not explicitly, I guess maybe it’s implied and I’m missing it, but I don’t think so) is that as well as being ableist and assuming autistic men are all misogynists, it also gives a pass for the autistic men who *are* misogynists or ‘just’ sexist now and then (and sadly, there are plenty of them, because of exactly this attitude) to just carry on because ‘oh, he doesn’t know any better, poor lamb.’ And who are they most often getting away with being misogynists *at*? In my experience, other autistics.

      Yeah, most autistics (including most autistic men!) are at great pains to not fuck up or upset someone etc, but it’s a bit of a problem, IMO, to swing too far the other way and pretend that there are no autistic men* who will (like any other misogynist/sexist would…) seize an opportunity to ‘well actually’ their way out of consequences 😦 especially when they can maybe get some bonus himpathy points for ‘oh no I am but a poor autist who did not understand the impact of my words and also definitely cannot be expected to change how I act going forwards’. (Again, *not* all autistic men but a fair number and often the people they’re impacting are also autistic.)

      *or autistic white people or autistic cis people – this absolutely happens along other axes, too

      1. It’s the “but mental issues!” aspect.

        I recently read a post where a man talks about leaving the family dinner (extended, I assume) and left because Uncle Old Guy propositioned his wife, very crassly.

        The first, the VERY FIRST comment, was “but what about dementia? Not his fault!”

        Dude if you can’t control what comes out of your mouth around your niece-in-law, bring an aide who will help you with that. Lots of old folks bring an aide because they can’t get around so well.


        1. Especially since the post clearly states Uncle Gross was drunk and implies he’s awful and entitled at the best of times. If dementia were part of it, the OP would have said so.

          In the event one is dealing with someone who actually does have dementia, if they were a decent person before their decline, I feel it’s best to withhold judgment on them because they can’t control what’s happening to their brain, but it doesn’t mean you must stay and put up with abuse. However, if they were always an asshat, then they’re still an asshat, dementia be damned, and it’s their own damn fault they’re spending their declining years alone.

        2. There’s another reason the what-about-dementia excuse doesn’t work. Having 2 guests suddenly get up and leave dinner doesn’t hurt a dementia patient. Dementia is normally associated with memory loss. It should also be associated with loss of impulse control, that self-censor that makes us not blurt out everything we think, not act on everything we want to do. I’ve seen dementia patients (straight men) grope their (female presenting) care takers. I once saw a (female) dementia patient reach out and grab a 4 year old child to hug and kiss her roughly. The child screamed, and her mother was able to hurry her away to safety. In all these cases, the excuse really was dementia. And in all these cases, the safety of the other people was at least as important as that of the patient. If the person with dementia regularly fell downstairs, you wouldn’t shrug and say “oh, well it’s dementia, can’t be helped.” You’d keep them away from stairs. Likewise, if the person with dementia regularly attacks young women, you keep them away from young women.

          1. Yes exactly! I think that part of this comes with conflating “blame” with “consequences”. It’s why there’s a lot of people who will say that there’s “no excuse” for certain things, even when some conditions CAN in fact cause or contribute to harmful behavior The idea is that if we “excuse” the bad behavior then it means we have to accept it continuing – not true. If I punch someone because I’m coming out of anaesthesia, the victim is just as punched, and still hurts, and still is more than reasonable to avoid me. But the way I should be dealt with is very different than if I punched someone because they said they liked pineapple on pizza and I got really mad.

      2. My favourite facet of Schrodinger’s Autist is how the people who use it to excuse and paper over genuinely not okay behaviour are also often the people who are deeply uncomfortable with actual autistic behaviour because, surprise! They’re ableist!

        Sure it’s cool for a guy to creepily hit on the entire female presenting population of a group because he’s just awkward and autistic, but my touch averse ass better get over it ’cause this is a hugging group!
        No I’m not bitter. (Yes I found better friends)

    2. Cosigned. What baffles me the most about Schrödinger’s Autist is why their solution to the problem of “a maybe-autistic person is doing something not-okay” is “the person they’re doing it to should suck it up and say nothing because they’re autistic and it’s meeeean.”

      There are plenty of valid reasons LW (or someone else in her position) might decide it’s best for her not to have that discussion, so I can understand that fine and know not to hold people I’ve wronged responsible for educating me on how. But I don’t get why outside advisors would tell her it’s best for the possibly-autistic person not to tell him, and I’ve seen it happen too.

      What they’re advising would hurt me (if I were in John’s situation) way worse in the long run than simply finding out I said the wrong thing, and also it… doesn’t solve the problem. It’s the action most likely to result in the situation not getting any better!

      They are saying, in effect, “He probably has a disability that means he doesn’t know there’s a problem and won’t know if you don’t tell him… so you’d better not tell him, that’s the best way to accommodate his disability.” Like “You’d better not tell him he’s pressing the red button instead of the green one, he’s colour-blind, so it’s not fair to him to expect him to know that.”

      Why would the logical conclusion to “it’s not fair to expect him to know this without being told” be “…so don’t tell him”? (That was rhetorical. I know why. Because they intend it as an excuse, not an explanation. But do they not hear themselves?)

  2. OMG, you have no idea how much I needed this today! My favorite part about what you said: “What I need you and all of us to definitely stop doing in the name of feminism…..” THANK YOU!!!

  3. Ooooh, yes, say it again and louder: YOU’RE NOT OVERREACTING, YOU’RE REACTING. Thank you, CA, I needed this.

  4. In my experience, people who dole out those negging comments, where nothing you do is ever good enough by their standards and they always think you should be doing things just a little differently, is “OH, I’M sorry, I was just trying to HELP you! Fine, make your bad choices and enjoy the consequences, but don’t come crawling to me when you realize I was right!” Which is, obviously, super douchey, but this is why we often try to make nice in these situations, because the fallout can be messy and they always manage to get some people on their side, “yeah, he just wanted to help you, what’s your problem?” LW, be prepared for this kind of response, and hold firm.

    1. I’ve gotten those comments too, and I used to capitulate because I would think “what if they’re right?” But experience has borne out that usually doing things my way has been just fine, and I’ve never really needed their advice. If I’d known this sooner, I could have jettisoned one friendship that I was quickly outgrowing.

      1. Yes to this! Also I used to date this guy and spent years also thinking “what if he’s right?” truth is…maybe he is…maybe he’s optimized certain ways of doing things…and also? that is not my pace/my design. I hated twisting myself in pretzel knots to conform to all those “When are you going to finally XYZ?” or “how do you keep doing that wrong?!” I’d rather be a bit haphazard and chaotic and enjoy my evening in my style even with a few self-made hiccups than submit endlessly to the optimizing and critique of a partner.

        1. I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in the notion of how John or similar will witness a crash-and-burn, cackling gleefully after one’s choice has somehow not turned out ideally.

          Someone saying “I was only trying to help”? They get told, with dripping sweetness if I believe their tone warrants, “Thanks, that’s great. When I want help, I will ASK for it.”

          The Johns of this world might gracefully retreat with this reminder of one’s agency. On the other hand, the things that might follow the “But you…” give a good indication of how lacking they believe you to be, so use that against them with a clear conscience. “But you might drop that heavy box!” “Oh, so you think I’m a weakling? Thanks, bro!”

          I’m sure the commentariat has more creativity than I in this kind of answer.

          1. I once got a “do what you want, I don’t CARE,” as if politely declining advice was an unspeakable faux pas, and I just said, “okay, I will.” And I did, and I did not crash and burn! Everything was fine!

          2. Perhaps my favorite romantic overture I’ve ever received was this:

            “Will you make a glorious mess with me?
            Want to wing some things at the last minute?
            Have random adventures?
            Find magic in small moments?
            Fumble and rush and dabble and try and grin about all the wonderful doing …
            That beats worrying about it ten times out of ten…
            Because most of life is small, and poorly prepared-for, and generally made of enthusiasm and effort.”

            Because I’ve always been surrounded by people who know a “better way” or a “right way” to do things, it never seemed to be how I do them. I’ve made a life’s work of doubting myself or my way but I recently started to understand the agony of forcing myself to do a thing the good/perfect/efficient way is a joy-killer for me. And having someone not only see and validate my way, but also agree with the approach in theory and in practice, and present it to me as a positive bid for affection makes my heart melt.

          3. I agree that people should just NOT tie themselves into knots to try to avoid the “aftermath” and the “comeback” from the Johns of the world.

            Here’s the thing: I’ve stood up to verbal bullies, the guys in the lunch line picking on the heavy, unpopular girls eating their lunch. And the FIRST thing the guy did was come back at me. He didn’t want to lose the power he was trying to wield, the rush of power he was trying to feel.

            That’s how you tell what kind of a person he is.

            If he says, “Oh, sorry,” he’s OK. If he snarks, “I was only trying to help you,” you know he’s a jerk, and now you are free to stop trying to make nice.

            It’s a test.

            I’m also a HUGE fan of the “cut and paste,” “rinse and repeat.”

            No matter what response you get, you just say the same exact words all over again. “Weird, I don’t remember asking you.”

        2. I grew up in a family of optimizers, and it took forever to realize that just because a certain method is optimal doesn’t mean that it’s the right way for everyone. I know some genuinely want to help, but sometimes in there, they don’t seem to realize that others can feel beaten down and defeated because it feels like they’re being chastised again for not Doing It Right.

          1. Did we have the same family? My father meant well, but he didn’t understand that life was not one-size-fits-all.

          2. @BigDogLittleCat: we might have! I know mine meant well, but the response to even mild rejection and also telling me that I needed to use my brain more really, really did not make me feel like I was being helped. it just made me feel really bad at things, even if my way would have done just fine.

          3. This is also my dad and I may or may not have shouted STOP OPTIMIZING THE TOMATOES at a holiday.

            (But seriously if you insist that the tomatoes be chopped only in your preferred way, chop them yourself.)

          4. @stellanor: guh, sympathies. I once wound up in a fight about how to properly boil a sweet potato. A sweet potato that was going to be for my lunch and nobody else’s.

          5. Hello, long-lost sibling/cousin!

            I didn’t even realize my parents were optimizers until I moved out, then went back home to visit months later. And realized that, “OMG most people don’t critique me every move I make when I’m driving. And it’s actually really stressful and inappropriate when I’m driving somewhere, and the passenger goes, “Didn’t you want to turn on Elm? Why are you taking Oak street? It’s got one extra stop light.”

          6. ha, funnily enough (I’m the LW) I’m also an optimizer/fixer who is trying (with, uh, mixed success) to eliminate “you should” from my vocabulary unless someone asks directly for my advice. my way tends to be additive if sometimes unsolicited (“oh, you’re giving up sugar? I found it really helped me to give up Diet Coke too” or “you could take the H8 bus home, it goes right past your place”) rather than contradictory, but it’s still not a great trait.

            that may be why it ESPECIALLY grates on me — actually I have put a lot of thought into doing the things I do the way I do them, thanks!!!

          7. So I don’t know if this will help anyone else, but I used to get a lot of people telling me when I wasn’t doing something in the best possible way (or what they felt the best possible way was). I finally came across my personal favorite response: “That’s a good way of doing things, and I bet a lot of people would do it that way. I personally have chosen to do it THIS way instead.” For people who were more or less well-intentioned, it let them know that I’d considered their idea at some point and gone with something else. For those who were less well-intentioned, it gave them less to hold onto because I didn’t give them an argument, just told them what decision I had made. I’ve gotten a lot less push-back from that than I did when I tried to debate their suggestions back at them.

          8. I’m only just now realizing that the optimizing – and the implication that Anything Less Than Perfection Is BAD – is one reason I’m reluctant to experiment. What if I don’t do it right?!?!! What if I don’t choose right?!?!! What if it’s not perfect?!?!!!!
            Hence, paralysis.

        3. “truth is…maybe he is…maybe he’s optimized certain ways of doing things…and also? that is not my pace/my design”

          Yes! Often times, things that work really well for one person may not work for another person all. We are a a goddamn Skittles bag of variety.

          For example, using a sunlight lamp massively improved the way I wake up every morning. I started waking up more naturally before my alarm went off, and felt more alert right away. My wife tried it (we don’t share a bedroom, incompatible schedules), and it did nothing for her at all.

          1. I was (painfully) watching my husband cut herbs one day. I said “can I show you something?” He handed me the knife and I showed him a (much!) simpler, more efficient way to get what he wanted. He was grateful and now cuts herbs my way because it’s better overall.

            The thing is, I didn’t tell him how he was doing it wrong so *my way was better, etc. And if he’s said “no I’m good,” well I would have had to just leave the room, but **I would not have negged him about it.

            * I chop a lot of herbs.
            ** Of course I’m not a guy so thinking I always know best/better isn’t my default.

          2. Yep. It just seems to never occur to people that I do XYZ a certain way because for me, that’s the best way to do it. I’m not telling them to do it that way.

          3. @auntimimi I think the difference there is asking whether you can share an idea, and being okay with being told no.

            It’s not that sharing your trick for doing a thing is bad, it’s that stomping in and assuming you know The Best Way all the time is rude.

          4. @litandnovels Yes, that was pretty much my point with my example how to not just be a d-bag telling people how they “should” do things.

          5. Yes! Exactly! One thing I’ve learned in particular since my adult ADHD diagnosis, is that trying to force myself to adhere to some sort of daily house cleaning schedule/optimized dishes doing method/weekly dusting regimen is a recipe for absolute misery. It makes nothing easier for me or more efficient…it makes me dread things…whereas if I throw myself a “clean this house” party day and I crank up the music, graze on snacks while making a dozen messes in every room then cleaning them up and taking multiple breaks as needed…it is fun FOR ME and therefore doable.

        4. Thinking about this it’s actually quite akin to how I play games. If you’re creating a character in D&D or WoW or something, sure you can min-max it, follow the exact recommendations for an optimised build or whatever. OR you can create a Shardmind bard named Shardibardfast even though dexterity is one of the optimal bard stats and Shardminds are shit at it, being made out of rock. Because playing Shardibardfast is *so much more fun*. There was like four weeks late in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion where they reworked the talent trees again and suddenly damage-dealing holy paladins were semi-viable again and I was absolutely rocking that until I couldn’t anymore. I don’t have any of the best damage dealing dinosaurs in Ark Mobile because I’m not trying to “win” at being the most OP, I’m busy breeding freaking kangaroos and gorilla cows. (They’re good gorilla cows, though. People keep asking for them.)

          To guys like that I am absolutely playing the game “wrong”. But I guarantee you that everyone remembers Shardibardfast and everyone knows that I’m the person who breeds weird mammals really well – or even not so well! I’m having trouble boosting the right stats on my roly poly stone eaters still!, and no one remembers the people who all had the exact same optimised build. What’s more… I don’t even have to run the high level content, because if there is something in there I need for my highly specialised subpar breeding lines, people know I’m going to want it and think to save it for me. Usually for free, whereas that battleaxe with the perfect stats to eke a few extra dps out of your death knight is going to stay expensive as hell. It’s… really kind of an interesting analogy about how doing things the “correct” way can be a hell of a lot harder, whereas finding a way that works for you can *seriously* grease the wheels by finding unexpected advantages. Or just plain being more enjoyable – I always tell people who ask the best way to level up that it’s finding literally anything that gives experience that you enjoy doing, and doing that, because if you don’t enjoy it you’re not going to want to do it even if it averages out to improve your exp yield by 8.3% an hour.

          – off to knock up some gorilla cows so they can gestate overnight

          1. I raided as a holy paladin in the original WoW. For BC, I discovered the shockadin build (half holy, half ret, not good enough at healing to raid as a healer, not good enough at DPS to raid as melee), so I raided on my priest. But gosh, did I have fun questing in Outland with that pally. And then in Wrath, two awesome things happened. First, dual speccs, so I could quest as a shockadin and raid as full on holy. And second, pallies still had special anti-undead abilities, so that the shockadin in Northrend was by far the most fun questing character I have ever played in any expansion.

            People laughed at me for “wasting” one of my two speccs on the shockadin build, but I had so much fun in that expansion. And if you think holy was doing insane damage during those four weeks, you should have seen what shockadins were doing in that same time period. Good times!

            (Also, in those days, the female dwarf with the pigtails, her pigtails rotated in the air around her head when she cast spells. That was the whole reason I picked dwarf female when I made that character, even though human paladins are slightly more optimized than dwarves. Because when I am playing a game, fun matters more to me than that last 5% of healing throughput.)

          2. please tell me that character name is a Hitchhiker’s Guide reference. ❤

          3. At one point my ex said, “You and your friends are playing World of Darkness? But the system is so broken!” and launched into an explanation of why he didn’t like it, mostly because of math reasons. When he was done, I blinked and said, “It’s – what’s that thing you’re supposed to have when you play games? Oh yeah – fun. I play it because it’s fun.”
            (For what it’s worth, he wasn’t wrong about the math; I just don’t care much about correct numbers in the game where I pretend to be a vampire.)

        5. Yesss! My in laws like to do this – make suggestions or give unasked advice in the name of “efficiency” and spouse used to do this as well. We finally had a blow out while cooking where I said something along the lines of “I don’t care if this is the most efficient way to cut up chicken, you can either stop or I’m not cooking with you anymore.” He’s gotten so much better and now even notices when his parents are doing the same thing, although we haven’t found a foolproof solution to that other than the information diet.

        6. This is my boyfriend. It makes me insane. It makes it hard to want to take his advice when it’s actually useful, and sometimes I end up doing whatever I’m doing in a sub-optimal way just out of spite.

      2. Yup. And had I known this years ago, I would’ve wasted my time with that one guy who always thinks I should change something about my appearance of lifestyle, and when I told him I wasn’t interested in his life coaching he’d say “oh well, there’s lots of ladies on campus who love my advice, I guess I’ll give one of them a call.” At 21 I was fighting tooth and nail to be this guy’s girlfriend for some reason, but I wish I could go back in time and say “okay Batman, off you f*ck!”

        1. Yeah, one of the former guy friends responded to me enforcing boundaries on his “halping” by sending me a diatribe that was basically “goddammit, I’m trying to help you here” with the insulting command not to delete in the subject line.

          I thought this dude’s good intentions trumped the real discomfort and anxiety he was putting me through, so I just compromised, but I think if that was to happen to me now not only would I delete, I’d also declare the friendship over and block him straightaway. Because things did not get better.

          1. I don’t know where I read it, but it’s become my favorite response to the “I’m just trying to help” comments: I don’t care what your intentions are, what you are doing is pissing me off (making me angry / sad / upset / etc). So it needs to stop.

            My husband can be thoughtless at times – he acts first and then is bending over backwards to apologize. He always tries to excuse bad behaviour with “Well, I intended to help (surprise you / do it for you / etc)” Since using the “I don’t care what your intentions were…” phrasing he’s actually been a little more mindful of how his behaviour impacts those around him. What makes me happy is my kids (daughter and son – both teens) have adopted this as well.

          2. @Mimi Me: I really wish I’d had that response handy! It doesn’t work on some folks who think intent matters more than impact, but at least with that guy I could have gotten a clearer picture of where he stood and acted accordingly instead of trying to salvage a friendship that was on its way out.

            I’ve got family that tends to double down on intention, even if I point out that the intent doesn’t really matter (and who in fact responded nastily when the positions were reversed and I pointed out that I had good intentions.)

        2. You fought for their approval because the approval of the ‘not easily impressed’ is valued in our culture above nearly all else.

          Too bad that the ‘not easily impressed’ often use that approval like a bludgeon.

          1. Oof that is super sad and super true. We do operate as if people who are stingy with their approval are necessarily doing so because they’re more discerning or superior in some way. It’s almost market logic, like, if it’s harder to obtain, then, it must have more value.

            But that’s gonna be bull in most cases – I’d wager that a huge majority of “not easily impressed” people aren’t like that specifically because they have impeccable taste and discernment. Why would their judgment have more weight than anyone else’s?

          2. “But your good opinion is rarely bestowed and therefore more worth the earning.” – Austen

            Dammit I liked that line! But I can now see (from my own experience with a couple of exes) that constantly seeking approval from someone who refuses to be pleased is just an exercise in futlity…

        3. Now what I want to do is go back in time and find those lots of ladies on campus who love his advice. I want to interview them and find out what they really thought of Mr. Helpful. If we were able to do such an experiment I believe we’d find a gulf of difference between what he thought they loved and what they were really thinking.

        4. Allison said:
          and when I told him I wasn’t interested in his life coaching he’d say “oh well, there’s lots of ladies on campus who love my advice, I guess I’ll give one of them a call.” At 21 I was fighting tooth and nail to be this guy’s girlfriend for some reason

          I can tell you the reason you were fighting so hard to be his girlfriend. He was playing a head game with you: “prove you’re good enough for me… or else”.

          My husband used to use a milder variation of this on me until I figured it out and called him on it. He’d say “you’re just x” where x was some undesirable trait (selfish, lazy, jealous…) and thus make me want to prove him wrong by being the opposite of x. A very manipulative little game.

      3. “But experience has borne out that usually doing things my way has been just fine, and I’ve never really needed their advice.”

        To your point, their criticisms aren’t usually matters of science or ethics. Different people can choose different courses and both still come out just fine. Putting on a superfluous dose of repellent won’t hurt you you. Choosing a drink and a bus ride over an Uber is a perfectly legit option. And neither is, frankly, any of a friend’s boyfriend’s freakin’ business. He and his brother educators-of-Women can butt right out.

        1. Yes, in my experience, these weren’t scientific/ethical matters–they were just a method B or C vs. the prescribed method A (or in halpy friend’s case, just not wanting his help because he wasn’t in my field). (I assume you’re agreeing with me?)

      4. My father was like this and he often was right but it still didn’t fit right, and I finally figured out that it was because it was what was right *for him.*
        My life became so much better when I decided I’d rather make my own mistakes than someone else’s.

      5. I tried to think of an example where he might be both right and I’d be glad to hear it. Then I asked myself how I’d want it to be phrased. It took some thinking, but I did finally think of directions in a car. I’m pretty bad about finding addresses, and if a friend wanted to tell me that there’s an easier way to get to where I’m going, that could be useful information. But it wouldn’t take the form of “Well actually, you should turn here and take the next exit.” It would be “If you turn here and take the next exit, it’s a more direct route and avoids a difficult left turn.” That phrasing leaves it open for me to counter with “true, but there’s always less traffic this way and I like the scenery” if that’s the case or “thanks, I hadn’t realized that” if that’s the case too.

        But the point is that it was hard for me to think of that example. I suppose “QUICK GET OUT OF THE WAY!” if there’s a piano about to fall on my head, but not “Cigarettes are bad for you.” The problem with all unwanted advice– or its mean little cousin well-actually observations is that it promotes the speaker to manager, the one in charge of how things should be done.

        1. Yeah, an explanation of why their way would be better can be more helpful, especially if presented in a neutral/kind way like that. I’ve had advice presented to me as “here is a better way” ::shows example:: along with the infuriating “your brain just needs to work a little more, see”

          Once a family member reduced me to tears because I hadn’t arranged the plastic bags in my own place to their liking and in their haste to show me a better way, it made me feel hurt and inferior vs. enlightened.

          1. My Papa (maternal grandfather) was excellent at advice giving. He’d never ‘should’ at you. It was always something like, ‘Yes, that would work, though have you considered X?’ It was never foisted, but often good advice was offered.

        2. “You should” is a phrase that I have been actively cutting from my vocabulary for years, even when speaking to children.

          No one likes to hear it.

      6. Honestly, I would just go straight to the core of the matter: “Why are you so deeply invested in telling me that I’m wrong about everything?” Then if he deflects, shifts blame, backpedals: “I’m an adult and I am actually allowed to be different from you and make different choices. You’re going to have to get used to that, because it’s not going to change.” Then whenever he tries it again, all you have to say is “I’m still allowed to be different from you.” Keep repeating this, and his pattern will become plainly obvious.

        You can say all this with an extremely mild tone, which will also highlight his ridiculousness for getting super-agitated about your independence of him. Bonus, no one can accuse you of being mean for asking a straightforward, mild-in-tone question. If someone tries, just ask “how else was I supposed to learn the answer?”

        1. The problem with phrasing that as a question is that he’s all too likely to answer. If you ask why he’s so deeply invested in telling you why you’re wrong, he’ll probably double down and say “because you’re wasting time/ wasting effort/ getting all upset over nothing/ not doing what you said/ doing it wrong/ not doing it my way.” And he’ll see nothing wrong with explaining this any more than he saw anything wrong with explaining the economic superiority of taking ride shares in the first place. I like “I’m an adult and I’m allowed to be different” with the exception that it sounds like an invitation to debate. He can hear that, acknowledge that you’re different, and go on to explain how your different choices are all wrong. I like much better a quizzical look and walking away, the way you’d react when someone had done something really embarrassing that they already know is embarrassing. You acknowledge it, then give them space to run to the bathroom and fix the problem.

      7. Related to this, so what if they’re right? They could be right. They could be the Platonic form of Right. They could have a PhD in Rightness. But none of that makes it okay or necessary to be a jerk to people. None of that makes it okay to cram advice down people’s throats, or pick every last nit, or publicly shame someone, or generally act like others are helpless children. There is more to life than rightness, and there would be even if there was some kind of universal standard thereof- which there isn’t (and if whatever optimizer doesn’t know that, well, there’s another sign they’re maybe not flawless and they can maybe stuff a sock in it). Like…so the heck what if this person has found a better way? That doesn’t mean they can dispense with common courtesy, or that they get any authority whatever on how other people run their own lives. It’s all beside the point.

    2. Asshats gonna asshat, but the great thing here is that he’s not LW’s boss or her dad or her new brother-in-law or somebody she can’t avoid a long-term relationship with.

      So unless he’s literally going to respond with violence*, there’s really not so much messy that the fallout can get for LW in this case. He reacts with good grace … he reacts with bad grace, sulks, picks a fight, she cuts the evening short and never has to see him again … neither of those is an unbearable outcome.

      * (I hate that we can’t rule this out, but I hope that LW knows whether that’s probable or not.)

    3. I like “Funny, you don’t *look* like my mother*,” in those situations, or “Odd, I don’t *remember* hiring a life coach.”

      * Not that anyone’s mom should pull that either, and my Actual Mom, who is lovely, does not. But it works as a reminder that I am a grown-ass adult and will ask for help if and when I need it.

      1. I had a colleague who just could not deal with me not wearing a jacket to go between buildings in fall/winter. We had a weekly meeting and nearly every time it would be “where is your jacket”/”why didn’t you wear a jacket”/etc. No amount of “in my office”/”I didn’t want to”/”I wasn’t cold enough”/”it’s not that bad”/etc. would stop it.

        I finally resorted to “OK, mooom…” or “Yes, mom.” and after only a few times, it stopped.

        1. Nice!

          The Last Ex was a very…advice-y guy. Extremely Type A and could not deal with my “eh, shit happens” attitude. (Yep, I lost my bank card somewhere, so I’ll call and get another one, not sure what freaking out would do, but he was Extremely Disturbed that I wasn’t more upset. Yep, I got a semi-deep cut on my leg moving an air conditioner, but I’ve had my shots and I’ll put Neosporin on it and watch to see if it turns green, which is exactly what they’d do/tell me to do at the ER but they’d charge me two hundred bucks for the privilege.) During the part of the relationship when it hadn’t ended yet but it was getting there, I may have turned to him during one of these moments: “You know, whatever Freud’s theories might say, most women don’t *actually* want to fuck their dads.”

          There was some blustering afterwards. Didn’t actually help anything. Still really glad I said it.

          1. Oh, wow. I *love* the comment on Freud. I’m definitely filing that one away for future reference.

          2. Also, I THOUGHT I recognized you from somewhere. Hi, fellow Slacktivite! (former, in my case, because the trolls were getting to be too much. I was Kitrona)

          3. I’m getting hives just reading about this guy. Sorry you had to put up with his ‘If you’re not going to worry, you’re forcing me to worry FOR you!’ schtick.

          4. No more nesting for me, but thanks!

            ChimeraCat: Ha! Hi! Yeah, I left a few years back due to a combination of trolls plus more-demanding-than-previously day job and writing deadlines. Good to run into you again!

            Emma9: Thanks, and right? It’s been about nine years now, and I theoretically wish him well, but I remember stuff like that (and also that he emailed the staff of a LARP I was in to try and get them to make me stop flirting in game, which I only found out about post-breakup or aforesaid breakup would’ve come WAY SOONER JESUS) and then I want to find him and pour a drink over his head.

      2. Love this approach! A related option is to reply to every offer of help with “Thanks, [Title Relevant to Advice]!”. E.g. “Thanks, Mom!”; “Thanks, Life Coach!”; “Thanks, Personal Dietitian!” These can be said in neutral or sarcastic tone of voice. Then just keep doing what you were doing anyway.

        1. Ha! Exactly!

          And parent-figure-ally related, if they don’t change and I still have to be around them, I try and replace everything they say with the “wah WAH wah wah wah WAH wah wah” Grownup Voices from the Charlie Brown movies. (Or make jerking-off motions in my brain.)

          When I had a more public-facing job with clients who called me, or back in the days of Retail Hell, I used to do that a lot.

          1. GOD, the number of people who want to A) decide how the store/restaurant you work in is run and B) think you personally have the power and interest to make that happen.

            It amazes me how many people don’t grasp why we have a fleet of dedicated drivers as opposed to partnering with UberEats, for example. They just decide we should upend our entire business model for their convenience on one delivery right then and there. I’m all you know I’m not the owner, right? And if I was I still wouldn’t be doing this purely at your suggestion?

          2. Goddess of Transitory: Right? Or the guy in the convenience store who pointed out that WalMart sells such-and-so thing for cheaper, like, feel free to go there? Second of all, our business model is “we’re right nearby this campsite, so we hike the prices” and first of all, I am seventeen and making five bucks an hour so what in the name of God’s holy junk makes you think I care?

            In a more recent job, I was working with clients who occasionally had Issues with our contracts. “Sorry, that’s standard policy,” was my default answer, and then they asked who made the policy, like, Mr. Procter and Mr. Gamble (not my real workplace). Your mom. Me, I wrote it up last night because I hate you and so does our legal department. SHUT UP, is who.

      3. I’m working on this boundary with my actual mother right now, because I am going through some tings and I just want to whine sometimes–and I really DON’T want any advice at all whatsoever. Not one bit. I know what I have to do (my husband and I are emptying his parents hoard house), it’s just incredibly depressing and hard. I told my mother that I installed an app on my phone that automatically hangs up whenever it hears the phrases ‘you should’ or ‘have you though about.’ She’s trying.

        1. My mom has a hard time with this, too, @Clorinda. We ended up having a conversation about it a few years ago, when we were both calm and she was not telling me to do things I already knew I needed to do. Now, when she starts in trying to fix a problem that I don’t need help figuring out how to fix, I can say, “This is a venting problem, not an advice problem” and she’s gotten good about switching gears and saying, “That sounds super hard/annoying/sad/etc!” instead. Good luck with your mom!

    4. I find the best way to deal with that is not to let it rile you up. Just remain as calm and laid back as possible (or present as calm and laid back) and be the straight man in a slap stick comedy – look at him like he’s a little nuts and say or emote ‘I just want to drink my wine dude?’ or ‘I just want to put bugspray on?’. Show that you are not the one getting weirdly emotional. If he is doing a big reaction he’s hoping it will make you get defensive or angry, or something where you have an even bigger reaction. Don’t give him that. Just hold your boundaries like you are a reasonable person, because you are.

      1. Direct eye contact while slowly and deliberately doing whatever he just said not to do. Like the way my cat pushes things off the shelf.

        1. I love this. With respect to MusicWithRocksIn, it’s very hard to choose not to be upset by crap that gets under your skin, or masterfully conceal said upset. Your variant, however, feels like it might be enough fun to *hope* he pulls something annoying so you have the chance to do it. (Mileage may vary, or course, this might not work for everyone either.)

        2. Life would be more enjoyable if we would all just start acting like cats when we’re pissed off. 🙂

          1. I… don’t think so. The last time my mom’s cat got pissed off at someone, he pooped in the person’s bed.

      2. I’ve had some success with this method, at least with some of members of my competitively hypercritical extended family. The key, at least with my relatives, has been to give them a confused facial expression, perhaps tinged with concern–as if I think that perhaps they are deeply confused about what is going on, and then I say, “I’m just putting on my bugspray now,” either very slowly, or with a question mark at the end of it. The tone and facial expression should convey “I don’t understand why you just said the thing you said. Did you misunderstand the situation and think that I was asking you for advice about my application of insect repellent?” (Or, in some cases, I might say exactly that–“Did you misunderstand and think I was asking you for advice about ___?”) Basically, I treat their unwanted criticism as the bizarre non-sequitur that it is and restate that I am going to go on doing the thing I’m doing. With the relatives who are basically okay people, this seems to make them realize that they’ve overstepped, and snaps them back into basic politeness. The relatives who are kind of shitty will sometimes try to double down, though, so this approach isn’t the best for every situation–YMMV.

        1. Agreed; it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Sometimes it works for de-escalating the situation while holding up boundaries, and that’s great! And in others, in my experience, the shitty ones try to find some way to bypass it, either by modifying the boundary for themselves “oh, I’ll just try and help you later” for example, even when you’ve calmly made it clear that you do not want this, ever.

          I tend to dispense with politeness once the tantrums start, myself.

      3. I disagree with the premise that the best way is to put the burden on the person being reasonable to control their feelings. There are so many letters in this column where the reasonable person has greater and greater burdens to not react when something bad is going on. If he wants to make someone defensive and angry, then let him do it and then deal with the consequences of someone being angry at them.

        1. I don’t know about you, but I actually *don’t* enjoy being angry. Snappish, sure. Contrary, sure. But if I get to the point of actual anger, my words come out wrong and I get the shakes from adrenaline. I’d rather maintain my cool while I tell the other person to knock it off.

          1. You disliking being angry =/= other people should not be given the chance to be angry. What, exactly, did that comment add to the conversation?

          2. Out of nesting, but I think it means that, in response to “let yourself get angry as a natural consequence of angering you,” thneedle is saying they don’t want to get angry because they -don’t enjoy being in that state-

            So “its ok to get angry” (valid! true!) bumps up against the preference not to enter that state of mind (also valid! also real and true!).

        2. Combinatorialist said ” let him do it and then deal with the consequences of someone being angry at them.”

          Probably an approach one wants to use sparingly, but I recall a friend’s strategy for dealing with weirdos on the NY subway: keep a packet of Alka Seltzer in your cheek. If somebody gets out of line at you, just break the packet with your teeth. ::evil grin::

          1. huh?

            Also, to contribute, my ancestors used to carry a long hat pin on the subway so they could stab fondlers.

      4. Yes, I agree. Also you are keeping it about yourself and highlighting that it’s your decision to make, but you’re not escalating (which can be exhausting). This also means it is a boring interaction so if he’s hoping for a pay-off, he’s not getting it.

      5. I find the best way to shut it down is to refuse the comment:“Yeah, no.”or to call it out:
        “I don’t want advice.”
        “I don’t need help.”
        “My food choices aren’t your business.”
        “Don’t tell me what to do.”

        But then again, these days IDGAF about the opinions of entitled douches. YMMV

    5. One way to counteract This Guy is to pleasantly say, “oh, I actually wasn’t looking for advice!” as if he were the victim of a simple misunderstanding. It’s hard to argue with because the phrasing assumes he was trying to be helpful (even if you’re pretty sure he was just being a douche) and disregards his advice anyway.

      1. This works if you get that warm-but-pitying tone going that Southerners use for faux pas when they go for the, “Bless your heart!” approach.

        That’s the one thing I miss — I found out that a warm-but-pitying “Aww, bless your heart!” was a great way to throw cold water over inappropriate expressions of romantic interest. It doesn’t work where I live now.

        1. I don’t come from a “bless your heart” place and much as I’d love to deploy it, it usually sounds a bit stilted from me. My version of let’s pretend you’re well-intentioned and that was just a faux pas is “geez, you know a lot about stuff, don’t you?” or “thanks for your concern/input” delivered without too much sarcasm or seriousness. I also proceed to do whatever I was doing.

        2. One of my favorite parts of moving to a Bless Your Heart region is deploying “Bless your heart” at mansplainers.

          1. I’ve actually shut a few down on twitter by going with, “Awww, aren’t you adorable! Actually, as we all know, the case is…”

    6. When people are low key contradicting me and giving me annoying advice I like to say “it’s cool, I’ve got it covered” or similar. “Maybe you should call a ride share” “it’s cool, I’ve got it covered”, “do you know that wine has sugar in it?” “it’s cool, I’ve got a plan”. Then, if they try to continue the conversation, they are now jumping a bunch of aggressiveness points forward to contradicting my assertion that I know what the heck I’m doing. Clueless people might still push back, but then I have no compunction about pulling a “dude, I said I already have a plan!”

  5. Gosh, I needed to read this today while dealing with my boyfriend’s ass of a father, whose motto seems to be “Well I was only joking”. Well IDGAF and he can take that casually misogynistic shit somewhere else, and it’s good to hear validation that I’m within my rights to say that if he starts it up with me.

    1. Schrodinger’s Joker! They’re only joking if they’ve offended you, otherwise they totally meant it. Like Schrodingers Flirt, who’s only flirting if you’re receptive and otherwise can’t fathom why you might be taking their commentary as a come-on.

      1. This is definitely the way to deal with a dude who is not even related to you, but what if the person constantly criticizing you is your in-law? And older, and female, and you would be violating major rules of etiquette/culture by telling her to fuck off? Do you just say “ok, thanks”?

        1. My experience…? Gray rock, gray rock, gray rock. “You’re really letting those dishes pile up, aren’t you?” Give her the blank look, saying a neutral “Huh” or “Ok, thanks” or shrugging, and then going right back to whatever you were doing.

        2. As the Captain has suggested in the past, “Thanks, I’ll consider it.” can work.

          Which you do, for the duration of that statement, and then you’ve considered it, rejected it, and (hopefully) can go on with your day.

        3. I have to work with a dude who is like this. He’s leadership at a company that is our client and he is insufferable.

          You cannot, unfortunately, actually slam a client for well-actually-ing you six times an hour. My strategies are to spend as little time talking to him as possible, and be totally open with my (awesome) manager about thinking the guy is a sexist ass. This ends up meaning I have to agree with him a lot because if you don’t agree with him HE NEVER STOPS TALKING. I say “Yes, Phoebus, of course, I’ll definitely look into that” A LOT. And then I look into it and discover that as I suspected he is full of crap and we do what I wanted to do originally. I also have a lot of “Phoebus said X and I agreed but he’s wrong” conversations with my colleagues.

          With non-work people I have reasons to not offend (so… my dad’s siblings, my partner’s family), I tend to say “Huh!” in an engaged tone, as if they have said something interesting, and then move on. As long as you keep the tone cheerily interested they kind of can’t figure out how to object.

          1. You might be very entertained by a pair of superhero audiobooks by Alexander Kane (“Andrea Vernon and the Corporation for UltraHuman Protection”) has a superhero named Inspector Well Actually. His superpower is correcting people. He does not have a close and loving relationship with his coworkers (but is super useful if you can put up with being corrected).

      2. Or Shrodinger’s Serial Killer, like the subject of the book Devil in the White City. The guy would come down and jolly around with the crew building his (unknown to them) deathtrap house, and say something to a guy like, wouldn’t it be funny if this brick fell off the ledge and beaned that guy down there?

        If his target looked appalled/bewildered, it was a joke! Ha ha! If the guy went along, however, he knew he had somebody who could be interested in … other things.

      1. “Humor is a social act that performs a social function.”

        It’s t-shirt/cross-stitch pillow/calligraphy wall art time!

      2. There is a Hidden Brain episode on this. People don’t really fully, deeply laugh at tv shows when alone. That’s why the laugh track was invented. Laugher is a social matter. Humor is social.

    2. Maybe try “Did…. you think I’d find that funny??” or perhaps “Is… that funny to you?” in a confused voice next time he says he was joking. Repeat every time.

    3. Ughghghgh I hate that shit. My partner used to do “ironic” racist/sexist/etc jokes sometimes early in our relationship, and after softer attempts to get him to stop, I started just declaring at him: IRONIC MISOGYNY IS STILL MISOGYNY. IT IS NOT FUNNY. I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT. That worked.

      1. I like the genuinely confused facial expression accompanied by “was that…supposed to be…humor?” approach myself. (actual shot pauses where the ellipses are)

      2. apropos of absolutely nothing in this entire comment section (sorry, sorry): YOU HAVE MY HAIR. AND MY GLASSES. AND MY EYEBROWS. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH MY FOREHEAD. (do you use Special Effects Iguana Green?) 😀

    4. My favorite response to “I was only joking” is wide eyes with lowered eyebrows (body language: do you think I’m stupid) and saying Ha. Ha. Ha.

      What are they going to complain about, that you laughed at their joke?

      “Can’t you take a joke” / “I was only joking” are code words for “I did something that might get me in trouble if anyone takes it seriously, so DON’T DO THAT.”

      See also, “You have no sense of humor.”

      1. I do that same expression sometimes with the added bonus of looking over the rim of my glasses annoyed librarian style and often with crossed arms. Totally silent as they squirm and try to “figure out” what they did wrong… (e.g. “what?” “what did I say?” “can’t you take a joke?” “it was just a joke!” etc.)

        Then, I just turn and walk away without ever saying a word. They may not change their ways overall, but I’ve had good luck with them changing them with me.

        Of course I get the occasional *”feminazi”* thing but I just say (if I say anything) “yes, of course, wanting the majority of the human population to be treated as actual humans with equality is exactly the same as genocide.”

        *As an aside wasn’t this coined by Rush Limbaugh? Doesn’t everyone know by now what a complete douchebag loser that guy is? Why would anyone still be quoting him at this point?

  6. I think my favourite about replying “weird I don’t remember asking you” is HOW OFFENDED the other person gets that you *dared* to talk back at them. “Weird, I don’t remember asking you” is one of the most empowering and satisfying phrases to have in the back of your mind. Watching someone ‘defend’ why you _absolutely_ needed their unnecessary commentary can also give you great insight into how they really think about you and/or the topic at hand, and often reveals the other person’s ignorance and bigotry.

  7. John: “You say you’re avoiding sugar, but you’re drinking wine right now.”

    You: “Yup” as you take another sip, looking back at the person.

  8. This reminds me of my best friend’s college boyfriend, who I never jelled with and who did things like referring to her as “your erstwhile roommate” when talking to me about her.

    Long story short: Said boyfriend was not a good person. I’m not saying Sara’s boyfriend is like he was, just that the behavior reminds me of him.

    The Captain is absolutely right in her suggestions. Including asking Sara, if you can, if he treats her that way, too.

  9. Can I steal “Schrödinger’s Autist”? As an actual autistic woman(tm), I always die a bit inside when people trot out the “maybe he’s a general asshole/abuses you/take your pick of mean and unacceptable behaviour because he has THE AUTISMS hurr durr” excuse and it’s one of the reasons I am damn careful about who I tell or out myself to in real life.

  10. Cisdude here with a confession: I still struggle NOT to be this kind of asshole because that was the behavior that was modeled for me as a kid. Thank you for the reminder that (a) this shit isn’t my business and (b) just because I think I’m being funny doesn’t mean that others will see the humor so I need to keep working to retire this sort of “joke” from my repertoire. Credit to several patient but clearly pissed people who called me out over the years and major credit to the Captain for laying it out so clearly.

    1. You know, this brings up such an important point that the Captain made.


      Life is really just one big scientific experiment.
      Hypothesize, experiment, observe, measure, recalibrate.

      In a way, we owe it to people to give them accurate feedback.

      We don’t have to “teach” them, or fix them. But it’s actually a kindness to let them know when they have overstepped.

      The secret is to do it promptly and without a lot of heat. Not always the easiest, but even if it’s just a straightforward, “I really didn’t like that comment–it felt like a dig. No matter what you meant it to be, that’s how it felt. Please don’t do that kind of thing again.”

    2. Thank you for saying this. I’m non-binary (and not assigned male at birth, but most strangers read me as male now) and have also struggled with this and related issues, both because autistic and also because upbringing, and will probably always be finding new things to unpack. I picked up a lot of toxic shit from imitating things I’d seen without understanding them, or treating others the way I’d been treated without understanding that how I’d been treated wasn’t okay or loving/friendly or “just teasing” either.

      It’s comforting to see another person in the space of “I’ve done this and realised it was bad and am trying not to do it, and it helped me to be explicitly told to stop doing the thing.”

  11. OMG, I needed this: “Stop framing a situation where a dude is behaving badly as a situation where *you* need to try harder to excuse or endure or engage with him.”

    I needed this for at least three men who were in my life, because I could have saved myself so much aggro. This is so liberating to read. I tried to endure or make excuses for crappy behavior, and folks, there is no reward for this. There is only more crappy behavior.

  12. As I’ve gotten older I find I can’t even do the “polite spine” thing with these kinds of men. I just say “no one cares what you think about this, John” or “I don’t care what you think about my choice, John”. They usually sputter and act all offended but, again, I DON’T CARE. They’re the ones being rude.

    1. I said that once and it was very cathartic.

      The thing is, though, you’ve gotta get to a mindset where you legit don’t care. I couldn’t say that convincingly when I actually did care whether everybody liked me and approved of what I did. I had to do the work of building genuine self-confidence and self-respect before “I don’t care what you think about this, dude,” actually sounded plausible rather than defensive.

      What’s hard is when you do care, to the point where you might actually cry or something over someone’s disapproval– like, if a specific person’s disapproval can really hurt your feelings, there are other approaches to take, but one genuine option might be just…not hanging out with John (or minimizing hangout time) because it’s just not worth the emotional distress.

      1. This was the one good thing about following that advice often given to the bullied or picked-on: “Don’t give them a reaction.”

        I practiced that often enough that it came true. And now it’s MUCH easier to just not care what someone thinks.

        But boy yes, it was work!

      2. I don’t know if I’m confident, but I can reach a point where I truly don’t care.

        I become reckless. Other people’s potential for violence doesn’t frighten me. In that state, I’m not very predictable, except in my inability to tolerate people interfering with me.

        I’m told that I’m not fun at all under those circumstances.

    2. This reminds me of a time when my Dad wanted to talk at me about how I needed to treat a sunburn. (1) I already know, and (2) I’ve heard him spew the same info on the subject a million times.

      I had to stop him multiple times from mansplaining at me, to which he responded by yelling at me and saying “I hope you peel then!”

      Super mature. And he’s absolutely the type who would keep on telling you what you have to do, even after dropping one of the clear lines suggested.

  13. Ugh, unasked for advice/”help” is my personal bug bear. It was something my ex-husband did a lot, and his response when I asked him not to was always that he was just trying to help.

    To my mind, it’s a power play. He gets to pretend he’s doing you a favour, and if you object, he gets to act wounded at your cruel rejection of his benificence.

    I’d say following the Captain’s advice of leaving a beat, shake your head in puzzlement at his un-prompted interference, and continuing on as if he had never given his unwanted tuppeny-worth, is your best bet.

    1. I’m afraid I’m of that group who always know a more efficient way to do everything (though I’m a woman, so at least I don’t expect *applause* for it), and frankly, when we sour someone’s day with an unrequested life hack, it doesn’t matter whether we’re trying to help or not.

      (Speaking only for myself, what I’m actually trying to do is get mommy head pats for being Such A Clever Girl, because apparently, no matter how I try, some part of me is going to be a precocious child forever.)

      1. I hear you. I have actual kids of my own now, who are old enough to get annoyed at me for unsolicited optimizing.

        What I’ve started doing is to say, “I know a trick to make that easier. Do you want me to show you?”

        But the hard part is when they say no, I have to SHUT UP. It seems to be working though, because sometimes they come back and say, “yes.”

      2. Oh, hello me!

        And also for EllenS – I am expecting my first kid and boy oh boy I’m gonna have to learn to shut my damn mouth otherwise they are going to punish me bad for unsolicited optimizing in a few years.

        Repeat to self: you do not get points for trying to be clever, you do not get points for trying to be perfect, you do not get points for being annoyingly “helpful”.

      3. I struggle with doing the same thing, but in my case it’s having spent so long being raised by an aggressive “corrector”, that part of my brain goes “No, don’t you realize you have to do it the *right* way, otherwise everyone will be mad at you? I don’t want anyone to be mean to you, let me help you act correctly so they won’t notice!”

        Short-circuiting that with a “Step 1: Ask if they want help first” instruction is the only thing that has really worked.

        1. I grew up with unsolicited optimizers and even getting a whiff of that Step 1 drives me nuts. It still comes off as a passive aggressive “Just reminding you I know better, let me know if you want to hear the evidence”.

          That said, I also had similar tendencies with a similar internal monologue, and the only thing that worked for me was to replace “everyone/anyone” with “I/me”, which was actually the real problem. E.g. “everyone will be mean to you” really meant “I will be mean to you”, and that thought is something I could control. I stopped 99.9% of my optimizing for others.

  14. The problem I encounter with the comeback is that their initial critical comment flies under the radar of the group and it’s the no-nonsense response that first catches everyone’s attention, so the way they understand the conversation is that the “criticizee” started the rudeness. My poor midwestern heart actually jumped at reading “I don’t remember asking you.” as the suggested response (not that it is wrong, just talking about my own comfort levels here, the Cap is right about everything as usual. )
    I think I would have to do a milder rebuke first so they are more obviously the ones escalating. A dismissive “I have my reasons” as the first response. When they start to argue (and they would), I could then act confused at their rudeness and pull out the “Why do you care so much about what I do?” or maybe the more definitive “I’m not asking you, this is not a fun conversation.”

    1. As a fellow midwesterner, I get a lot of mileage out of “Nah, I’m good” (smushed together into “Nahmgood” or “Nahmgood, thanks”) as if the advice-giver has just offered me a second helping of something when I am very full, or something else theoretically positive that I have no interest in. It’s short, boring, but reads as polite, while communicating total lack of interest in the “offer.” If someone keeps pushing after that, “Nah, seriously, I’m good.” Treat it like someone trying to get you to take leftovers because they feel like they have to and you’re just hustling the social interaction along to its natural end by reassuring them that you’re fine. If they’re actually concerned about you, they’ll hopefully be reassured, and if they’re trying to sound smarter than you then you haven’t given them anything to argue with. And, best of all, anyone listening in will think THEY’RE the rude one if they push it.

      1. ‘Nah, I’m good’ is a great and easy script. Or ‘Thanks, I’m good!’ if you’re trying to be even less confrontational.

      2. I try to do something similar with unwelcome comments. I just smile brightly and say “No,Thank you!” Doesn’t matter what they said. Rude sexual comment on the street? No thank you. Asking me why I’m not eating a Thing? No, thank you. I don’t engage with the content, I just brush them off politely.

        1. “No, thank you!” is also excellent, and carries the “this isn’t even relevant to what you tried to say” dismissal even farther. To me, “Nah, I’m good” is for when you want the person on the receiving end to not be 100% sure that you’re dismissing them but to be sort of stymied anyway, while “No, thank you!” definitely communicates “You are being dismissed on purpose.” Either is totally valid, but which one I want to use depends on context.

    2. Repeating the comment or advice, so that it doesn’t fly under everyone’s radar; and then following with your chosen response, would make the situation clear to others in the group . (If it’s important to you that this clarity is achieved).

      John: “You’re avoiding sugar, but you are drinking wine right now”.
      You: “You say that I’m avoiding sugar, but drinking wine” (pause for a beat.) “Yes, I am drinking wine. Please stop commenting about it.”

    3. Just like the kid who whispers, “We’re not supposed to talk in chapel” is the one who’ll get called out.

      I have strived to be the parent and the person who sees the altercation and tries to look backward in time to find the true starting point.

    4. This was my initial reaction, too. I’d start milder, or with a bland “yeah, ok” or something, and then if the jerkiness escalated in the conversation I’d similarly escalate.

  15. UUUUGH. My husband is like this, and responds to my calling him on his shit with, “I’m just trying to help!” I’ve started replying to that with, “I’m just trying to live!”

    LW I strongly recommend you use “Weird, I don’t remember asking you” so I can live vicariously through you and cackle wildly waiting for my beloved to get home and do it again.

  16. I’m a bit of a snark, and here’s a memory I occasionally summon for relaxation:

    At a party pre-2018, a friend’s annoying boyfriend overheard an Irish person say, “Yes, abortion is banned in the constitution, it’s so awful,” and swooped in to pompously correct her: “I think you’ll find that abortion is NOT banned in the constitution,” at which point I snapped, “It’s the Irish constitution, how rude of you to try to correct someone when you don’t even know what the conversation is about.”

    And to his credit, he apologized and bowed out. Sometimes people just need a sharp correction.

    1. This reminds me of a friend who has a bad habit of anticipating what I’m going to say, “chime in” with me, and then being wrong. I have to admit I get great glee in saying “well, no, I wasn’t going to say that at all . . ” I know that the conversation-anticipation thing is a bad habit but I personally really dislike it, because it comes across to me like they’re saying I’m being predictable or boring and they already know what I’m going to say anyway.

      1. Ugh, I AM this friend and I can verify that the quick correction is the best way to remind me to wait for my goddamn turn… I just get so carried away in conversations and want people to know how much I agree with them!!! Right This Second!!!!!!

        It’s such a bad habit, and I am doing my best to unlearn it. Getting a well-earned “no, I wasn’t going to say that” made me notice I was doing it in the first place, so hopefully me and your friend will both unlearn this behaviour!

        1. I’m this friend, as is everyone in my family.

          Most of us have been trying for years to stop stepping on people’s words.

          My brother and I are certainly better than we were 20 years ago, but we’re not done yet 😕

      2. I find conversation-anticipation annoying because often it seems that the person isn’t really interested in what *I* have to say. They just want to get in and say their piece.
        It’s especially irritating for me right now because one of my best, oldest friends is doing it with increasing frequency, on top of some other behaviors that make me feel like she’s *literally* not even listening to me. I’ve been wondering how to bring it up and just this morning I said “that is not what I was going to say.”

        But the worst are the people who answer questions before you’ve finished asking. ARGH! Has one of them ever in history ever answered the actual intended question?
        I had a co-worker who was a sweetheart, but was like a poorly trained Golden Retriever he was always so eager to be helpful. I finally had to tell him, “Dude, I know you’re trying to be helpful, but you need to shut up and actually *listen* to my question because you have no idea what I’m trying to ask you.”
        When I was finally able to get the entire question out he looked like he’d been poleaxed. “Wow, I never would have guessed that’s where you were going.” “Exactly. Please stop trying to anticipate what I’m asking. It doesn’t help and it’s very frustrating.”

        And like that, he stopped doing it. But as I said, he was a sweetheart and a good guy who really did want to help.

        1. Then there are the people who’ve asked you a technical question, but jump in on the answer, wrongly, when The Who,e reason they asked in the first place is because they didn’t know. Grrrrrr!

          1. Oh land, yes.
            How about the people who when you ask “Do you know [what/why/whether]?” start speculating about what/why/whether when it’s immediately clear that they haven’t the faintest clue.
            Since I rarely have the time to spare, and I don’t want to “contaminate” my understanding of the facts with something that’s pure fantasy, I now cut them off, “I’m sorry, I’m trying to find a person who *does* know. Are you saying you do not know? It’s okay if you don’t, I’ll stop taking up your time. ”

            In the US at least, it seems that people feel like they’re not allowed to say “I don’t know” at work. It’s terribly unfair because no one can be expected to know everything.

          2. BigDogLittleCat, what is it with that whole thing with people not saying they don’t know something at work? It drives me nuts. For one thing, it wastes a huge amount of time.

            It probably extra-annoys me because I’m an engineer, so I get to be pertinacious about saying precisely what is accurate and nothing more nor less. I’ve noticed that senior people (world leaders of the field) will test younger ones by asking questions where the answer currently is not known — you find out how the person handles it, and you might get new insight too. The preferred approach to answering these seems to be to have the courage to say starkly that you don’t know, but then to go even further out on a limb by saying what you might do as a first attempt to find an answer. Something about our culture makes this unthinkably scary, and you can wind up being regarded as a hero if you do answer this way.

            Seriously, the amount of respect you can win just by not being afraid to say, “I don’t know, because the universe is not linear time-invariant…” is amazing because so few people will say that.

        2. Fwiw, in the days I answered the question they hadn’t asked yet, I was right with some people always, and with most people at least 3/4 of the time.

          But that doesn’t matter because it’s rude and annoying and I don’t do it anymore.

          1. Truth is, we probably don’t notice when the person answers correctly.

            It can drive me bonkers at work, because I’m in Legal and interviewing engineers and contractors etc, and the Golden Retriever can throw off my train of thought when I’m trying to pin down a very subtle point.

      3. UUUUGGGHHH. I have several friends that do this. (I probably do, too. I’ve lately been working to sit on that impulse.) I have one friend who’s so bad about it that I’ve actually gone on a break from hanging out with him. It’s sad, because I love him dearly. But it’s just so frickin’ exhausting to repeatedly be interrupted, have to parse the interruption, say, “no, that’s not what I was going to say,” and then try to get back my train of thought. It very clearly signals to me that he isn’t actually interested in what I’m saying (which is consistent with a bunch of other behaviors of his I’ve lost patience with).

        Not only is it painful just from a conversational standpoint, it’s hurtful because it feels like he cares more about scoring “rightness” points than about actually engaging with me.

  17. Years ago I had someone in my life who would do this sort of thing, usually in quite an oblique way: not “you should stop doing X”, more “oh, you’re doing X again”. About the tiny details of my life: how I spoke, what I wore, how I cut my toenails (true). My boyfriend at the time pointed out that, every time, I jumped in with my apologies and excuses, and that instead maybe I could just… not do that. Learning to say “Oh.” or “OK.” and leave it at that was honestly life-changing. It left the person with 2 options: 1. drop it, or 2. be more explicit in their message of “you should live as I think you should”, which made it much clearer how unreasonable and unpleasant they were being (easier for me to see that I could safely ignore them, and for others not to try and persuade me they didn’t mean anything by it).

    Also, the boyfriend in question was a disaster in every other way, so that one comment was the only good outcome from that relationship, and it was almost worth it.

  18. Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh John reminds me of a former coworker’s husband. She was lovely, he was not.

    He went through a phase where every time he came into the store and I was there, he’d say something negative about my appearance (think stuff like “did you brush your hair with a weedwhacker?” kind of “joking” comments).

    LW, with the full backing of the Awkward Army and the blessing of the Most Divine Captain Awkward, feel free to shut John and his stupid opinions down with a quickness.

    I personally am a big fan of the dead stare coupled with a long, drawn out okaaaaaaaaaaaay.

    1. Ew ew ew dude no, just no. Why are people? That’s just so very rude and unnecessary.

  19. Another possible script to use is something like, “I could, but I don’t want to”/”Yup, that’s what I’m choosing right now” as appropriate. I also dream about saying things like, “You know, if you’re trying to help, I don’t feel helped right now.”

    1. Yeah, I haven’t yet tried but was thinking about something along the lines of “This is what I want to do,” with a very slight emphasis on the “I” to point out that this is your decision, not theirs.

    2. My mother, who I love dearly, gets variations of ‘I COULD HAVE DONE THAT, BUT I DIDN’T’. from me. Also, asking her if she’ll still do this when I’m forty (39 atm).

    3. My mother, who I love dearly, gets variations of ‘I COULD HAVE DONE THAT, BUT I DIDN’T’. from me. Also, asking her if she’ll still do this when I’m forty (39 atm).

  20. What came to my mind here was the Social Geek Fallacies that the Captain so often refers to. LW’s friend may be dating Johnand friends with LW….but that does not mean that John and LW must get along, too. If John really wanted his girlfreind’s people to like him, he’d mind his manners. He’d be trying to ask the girlfriend why LW doesn’t seem to like him. He’d be the one doing the self-reflection and writing to advice columnists. The fact that he just continues to be rude says that he doesn’t really give a rip if he and LW hit it off. You don’t need to make any other effort her, LW, other then basic politeness. And for record saying ,’You’ll have to excuse me” whle turning and walking away is, in fact, polite, if it comes to that point!

    1. Oh yes! I just spent a weekend interacting with a friend of newer boyfriend’s and some people he used to know but randomly ran into. I spent a lot of time getting to know them better and reaching out as the odd person out who doesn’t know everyone. I had a delightful time and we all found common ground. Just trying to picture myself sitting with all of them and throwing around judgmental comments about how or why they did anything makes my own skin crawl.

      1. Yeah, one thing that has made this super-obvious (I’m the LW) is that my other very close lady friend started dating a new guy within a few weeks of Sara getting together with John, and I like Other Friend’s boyfriend so much, and the contrast is really obvious — he has treated me from the first time he met me like I matter to him, because Other Friend matters to him, and I matter to Other Friend.

  21. How about saying in a bright, chirpy voice, Thank you, John! I really appreciate your input!” and then doing what you were doing anyway? That may confuse John. It could also keep Sara from saying, “You are so rude to poor John! I can’t be friends with you anymore until you apologize.”

    NOTE: It would not be OK for Sara to react that way. However, in my experience, most women put their boyfriends/husbands first and blame their friends if their partners don’t get along with them.

    1. Or if you can’t quite bring yourself to be chirpy, you could try “Thanks for your opinion” with a dry delivery that makes it clear that it’s only that – their opinion and nothing more. It worked brilliantly for one of my coworkers.

  22. As a ‘small happy examples of bros standing up to bros when they are asshats’ – I was once hosting a dinner of my small family, my bff and her new BF. MRIs came up and I said to my then 8-year-old, “I don’t actually know the difference between and MRI and an FRMI. Do you?”

    The BFF’s BF said “It’s short for FEMALE MRI, because they turn the sensitivity WAAAAAAY up!” and did that big goofy smile like ‘hey look how funny I am’.

    Silence. I gave him a deadpan glare. My BFF gave him a deadpan glare. My daughter looked confused.

    BF looked at my husband who said “Don’t look at me for back up. That was sexist as hell.”

    BF blinked, shocked, and didn’t say anything.

    And we all turned back to my 8 year old who explained about FMRIs and MRIs (I still don’t understand.)

    LW, she married him, but he keeps his flipping sexist shit to himself in front of us all now. Which is sometimes all you can ask for in a friend’s SO who you don’t get along with.

    1. Well, now I had to go look it up, thanks.

      (No, thanks, that was interesting – no sarcasm!)

  23. My favourite script for unwanted “advice”, if I want to make the person squirm a little: “OK, what do you want me to do with that information?”

    If their intention is honest, they’ll let you know. If it wasn’t, it becomes really clear.

    1. A blank or confused look followed by “I’m not sure why you’re telling me this” can do wonders

          1. Oooo! I’ve used that one too.

            I recently said “And that means what to me?” He gaped at me like a fish.

    2. Off topic, but I use something similar when people as inappropriate personal questions.

      Them: Are you and [partner] trying for another baby?
      Me: Why do you want to know? (Or what are you going to do with that information?)
      Them, disarmingly: Oh, I’m just curious!
      Me: Oh, ok.

      And then I don’t answer their question!

      1. ‘Well, because if you are you really need to hurry up. 38 isn’t so young. I know someone who never had children because they waited too long. When I was your age….’ (this is hypothetical but I have met people I am pretty sure would say it)

        I mean, just try to know your audience before you invite people to tell you more about why they are asking questions!

  24. John’s behavior reminds me of one of my relatives, who is an Optimizer. Things can always be optimized! There’s always room for improvement! His life’s purpose and dearest wish is to live it at peak efficiency! And he believes others have, or should have, this as their dearest wish too, and he doesn’t understand when they don’t. In fact, he loves it when people “optimize” him, and correct him all the time, because Everything! Must! Be! Peak! Efficiency!

    HOWEVER, it doesn’t matter what his intentions are, because the behavior/outcome is the same. I don’t enjoy being constantly corrected, even if the intentions are pure and he’s just trying to help me live my best life. For years, I tried to argue the “why” of the scenario, and Captain was right….it got me nowhere. It just led to a frustrated argument. At one point I snapped at him, and he stopped for a while, but then it picked back up. So now my tack is:
    John: Actually, you could wash the plate this way, and it would get a better soap/water ratio…
    Me: I’m doing it my way. [then do the thing your way]

    Repeat as necessary. He got the message that I didn’t care if it wasn’t Peak Efficiency, it was My Way, and My Choice as to how I did it. Flatly, unemotionally, just “I’m doing it my way.”

    1. I had a coworker who would do this, and this type of response was basically the only thing that worked.

      The most important thing to avoid is giving any type of explanation for why/how I am doing something, because it implied my coworker was owed an explanation as to what I named my personal Outlook folders or why I went to Burger King on my lunch hour and not McDonald’s (seriously, she’d be the type to see you with a Burger Kind bag and volunteer apropos of nothing that McDonald’s is having a huge sale and you should have gone there.)

    2. “OH LOOK EVERYBODY, OPTIMIZER RELATIVE HAS VOLUNTEERED TO DO THE DISHES FROM NOW ON! Oh, that’s NOT what you meant, Optimizer Relative? Then shut up and let me do it the way I’m doing it…”

      1. Yep. Unless the dishwashing method is letting the dog lick the plates clean and then putting them back in the cupboard, mind your own garden.

        1. My father did that once.
          His overbearing aunt who had long overstayed her welcome left the next day.

  25. That comment about buses and drinks has me puzzled. In what universe would I rather spend money on a rideshare than a drink, especially when I have public transportation available to me? I’d almost be tempted to have that argument with him because this is such a patently ludicrous suggestion.

    However, the Captain’s right that there actually is no winning against the Johns of the world—at least not if you engage on their terms. I tend to agree with them and then do things my way anyway, which is passive-aggressive, but so is the behavior that elicits it.
    “You don’t need bug spray, we’re on pavement.”
    “You’re probably right.” [puts bug spray on anyway]

    “You said you’re avoiding sugar, but you’re drinking wine.”
    “I sure am!” [downs the glass]

    It is maddening for these people because I am very clearly not doing what they are suggesting, nor am I giving them a chance to show how correct they are by openly challenging them. Their options are to escalate things (which means getting visibly angry at your for minding your own business, which doesn’t tend to go down well) or to drop it.

    1. Not that I agree with that it’s John’s business either way but I think it’s going something like this:

      LW is at a bar or event and mentions having to catch a bus, either to get out of a dull/annoying conversation that’s happening now or as an excuse not to go the after-party, and John wants to let her know she can stay and leave whenever she wants via rideshare.

      1. And even if the motivation is as you propose, it is still constructed as though LW doesn’t know basic facts about her mobility options and possibly shouldn’t be out unsupervised.

      2. Yanno, when I had dogs I’d use them as an excuse to leave. I’m sure people knew I was making an excuse. “I have to walk the dogs” is kinder than “You’re boring me to tears” and so is “I have to catch a bus.”

    2. That stopped me too! Like – I can have this drink, then take the bus, or I could skip this drink and, I guess, just…. be done, call a car and leave now? That isn’t a better social option!

    3. It’s a comment from someone who really means, “My values are superior, and should be your values.”

      The cheerful “agreement” works great for some people. I use that on my mom a lot and now she just rolls her eyes at me, which is vastly superior to her trying to direct my life.

    4. I had a customer once who was complaining about everything and when I had to leave to help someone else, she shouted after me “You need more employees!” and I just replied, “We sure do!” It was very satisfying, because she couldn’t argue with me or say I’d been rude, and also it was true.

  26. There’s a certain kind of person (who somehow, coincidentally, often seems to be a white, reasonably rich man) who thinks that the best way to endear himself to others is to tell them all the ways he sees that they could be doing better. I imagine he’s under the impression that people have never considered his ideas before, and will appreciate the advice and therefore his presence in their lives.

    Disabusing these guys of their delusions is really doing them a favor. When people make a choice, they generally have considered the obvious alternatives and decided, for their own reasons, that this one is the best option for them. Giving advice to people who haven’t explicitly asked for it is almost always obnoxious, not helpful. This goes double with people you don’t know well and hope to impress. The sooner they learn this, the sooner they can stop being obnoxious and start actually building positive relationships in their lives. So telling them bluntly that this is obnoxious? Not rude, not combative, actually really doing them a favor. If John is this kind of guy, he’ll surely appreciate it, since he clearly likes unsought advice so much.

    Worth noting: some of them have already been taught and have chosen to disregard it. These guys are just jerks, and being rude at them is doing a favor to everyone else, who are surely thinking the same thing. If John is this type, you’re doing the entire world a favor if you call him on it.

    1. Thank you Amy.
      I was discussing this with my psychologist yesterday. His comment…”Many men are just patronising arseholes.”
      The rich white man comment struck a chord for me. I’ve been noticing just how empowered their money makes them feel.
      LW, my friends & I tend to do spouse free catch ups as a solution to the clashes some of us have. It’s not optimal, but over the years we’ve discussed it & found it’s the best outcome for our friendships.
      On shitty comments… Recently I had a blatantly racist comment made to me by someone I thought better of. I was pissed off & said, “You are showing your lack of education & it’s very unattractive.” I’m totally over being polite to entitled wankers.

  27. Douchy guy: Unwanted comment.
    Me: (blank look, wait a beat) Noted.

    Repeat ad infinitum.

    1. Hm, my husband told me that’s how they did it when he was in the Navy. Seems like a good one.

      1. Yep. I picked that one up in the service, too, and I love it. It’s my formal one. A nasal, high-pitched sort of truncated “humhn” is my informal one.

    2. Noted is the not region-specific “Bless your heart,” meaning “You have just said something so deeply stupid that I’m not going to dignify it by engaging.”

    3. So I’ve been re-watching old Star Trek over the summer, including (of course) The Trouble With Tribbles. The line “As for what you want…it has been noted and logged.” remains one of my favorites, so thanks for calling it to mind again!

    4. My personal favorite is, “I shall give that the consideration it so richly deserves.”

      1. I once used a dramatic, “Thank you for your wise counsel!” And it was so much fun I can’t wait for the opportunity to use it again.

        1. Not the same scenario, but it reminds me of I was once resting at a small overlook on a hiking trail when a little family came by and stopped to snack/rearrange belongings/etc. The smallest child said something I couldn’t hear and one of the adults replied “what’s that? You hate it here? Thank you for your feedback; we’ll keep that in mind.”

      2. I go Pratchett-style and say: your ideas have been taken on board (and will be thrown over the side as soon as we leave the harbor)

    5. Someone recommended “noted” to me years ago, and I’ve used it ever since. Usually with a cheerful upbeat inflection and a smile while continuing to do exactly what I’m doing.

      Dude: You don’t need bug spray, we’re on payment.
      Me: Noted! *sprays on the bug spray*

      Dude: You said you are limiting sugar, but your’e drinking wine.
      Me: Noted! *sips wine*

      I do martial arts and ballroom dancing, so am surrounded by mansplainers a lot. “Noted!” works so well in so many circumstances.

      And the best part is, if they do get pissed off, what are they gonna do? If the ‘splainer complains to someone else and says, “I tried to give sofar advice and all she said was ‘Noted!'” it makes THEM look crazy.

  28. I have a friend-of-a-friend who’s just like this – others have described it as “he says *everything* as if he’s somehow correcting you.” My personal favorite response is just variations of “Okay.” So many options: Letterkenny-style “‘Kayyyy.” Eyebrows-raised, surprised-face, “Okay?” Blank eyes, straight-mouthed, “…Okay.” And then either just continue the conversation as if he hadn’t thrown in a weird non-sequitur, or walk away/turn to someone else and talk to them.

    1. I’m a big fan of the “k.” response to things online, too. It really highlights that you don’t even care enough to use more than one letter, but it also has that solid emphasis that you’re done now at the end. 🙂

  29. This was wonderful to read today! I have dealt with some very similar people and it was so freeing when I started responding in a cheery tone with “I’m happy with my choice!” and then moving the conversation along. I’m definitely going to keep the Captain’s scripts in my back pocket!

  30. My five-year-old loves to “well actually”. The response he gets is me & his dad talking over each other to firmly tell him NOBODY LIKES THAT and for his own sake he’d better learn not to do it. I’m pretty sure it’s getting less frequent.

    Maybe Dude is as good at learning as a five-year-old! We can hope…

  31. My five-year-old loves to “well actually”. The response he typically gets is me & my husband talking over each other to firmly tell him nobody likes that and for his own sake he’d better learn not to do it. It seems to be getting less frequent… no idea why!

    Maybe Dude is as smart as a five-year-old. We can hope…

    1. Oops, double post with bonus real name reveal. Oh well, at least it’s an uncontroversial topic… (Or should be!!)

  32. Hi LW,

    I think it’s worth pointing out that there’s a difference between a friend’s significant other who’s kind of a pain, and one who’s a jerk. If your friend’s partner was super into cheesy puns, or was super! excited! about! everything!, or wears cargo shorts and flip flops to every single social event, or wears a suit at all times, those might be people that you more or less pretend to like (while also finding ways to see your friend sans partner). Or, you know, whatever character traits you find off-putting. I’m sure we could all make a different list of people we’d prefer our friends not date.

    My family member married a guy who tells the same long, detailed stories over and over. He is generally a great guy, so I’m willing to sit and listen to some really boring stories for the sake of the family.

    But your friend’s boyfriend is straight up insulting you, and being rude and condescending towards you. That is 100% not something that you ever need to put up with “for the sake of the group.” Everyone isn’t going to be your cup of tea, but everyone does need to treat you with respect. This isn’t you being picky or too judgemental. Captain Awkward is right that you don’t need to do any work here. This guy needs to stop being an ass if he wants people to treat him like he’s not an asshole.

    1. I’m the LW. Thank you. I really needed to hear this.

      Reading your comment almost made me cry because it made me realize that one thing that bothers me is that Sara has heard some of this and has never cut in to stand up for me: “I’m sure she knows alcohol has sugar in it, John.” “Actually she gets bug bites if a mosquito flies within one square mile of her.” If the tables were turned and my partner were being snide to her (a thing I actually can’t imagine, he can be an introvert who kinda hangs back but would never, ever be a jerk), I would absolutely call him out on it on the spot.

      1. I’m sorry your friend doesn’t pull up her asinine boyfriend.

        No, actually I’m sorry she doesn’t ditch him. (I think he is trying to isolate her.)

  33. Another option you can consider which has not been mentioned is that you speak to him 1-1. Ask him if you and him can step aside immediately after he makes such a comment. If after taking his aside, he doesn’t seem apologetic and more combative, then the next time around I would just “react” in the manner described. You know the context best if taking John aside in a 1-1 conversation is proper or not. As an adult, you can leave a situation if you don’t enjoy being there with his presence, but definitely stand up for yourself too. Definitely also make sure he’s aware of what he’s doing and try to tell him privately first if given the opportunity. Feel it out from there.

    1. I disagree with taking him aside 1:1. LW is better staying in the social situation with a man whose reactions to being corrected she cannot know, but also you’re asking her to do more emotional labor around this guy’s possible feelings. Polite, firm, and public is better in this situation, because if he later tries to pull the ‘well, you never told me…’ there will be others in the group who know that isn’t true.

      I like the Captain’s scripts (and some of the ones in the comments as well accounting for regional sociologial variations).

      1. Agreed. His behavior history doesn’t indicate any more effort on OP’s part. Way way way too much emotional investment for this guy. Seriously OP if he (ever) says anything in the future, offers “helpful advice” I’d just say “duly noted,” turn away and do whatever I was doing anyway. Don’t give this guy any more traction, at all, ever. Hopefully your friend will wise up and dump him soon.

      1. Right? Too much work!

        I am fascinated with the repeated implication that a quick, direct correction of an ongoing irritating behavior is “too much” in some way. If this dude is likely to melt down because someone briefly and matter-of-factly told him to stop making annoying suggestions like this, I’d extra want it to happen where everyone can see & hear!

        1. This response especially for some reason put me in mind of one of the earlier LWs whose uncle? Cousin? B-I-L? tried to set her sister on fire during a family celebration. I can’t imagine pulling either of these guys *aside* to discuss their behavior!

  34. Yes! Coming from a family extremely bent on giving un-asked for advice as a way to manipulate, the only way is to just say okay, shrug, an get on with exactly what you were doing.

  35. I realize this is very much not the point of the letter… But where the fuck is John from that he thinks being on pavement means mosquitoes/flies/etc. aren’t going to find a way to get at you, regardless?

    Like, yes, sure, biting/swarming bugs are worse if you’re standing in a literal swamp than if you’re tailgating on asphalt in a parking lot. But… they don’t disappear? Certainly not in my large midwestern city.

    1. Yup, I’ve been in places where mosquitoes are everywhere, and a huge chunk of the time when I’ve gotten bit I’ve been on pavement, because mosquitoes also hang out in big cities!

    2. “Mosquitoes have wings, my dude” I think is what might have come out of my mouth as I went ahead and applied my bug spray.

      My husband has a friend like John, an Optimizer with a dash of good intentions and a crockpot full of needing to be the smartest person in the room and I’ve had excellent results mixing the tone/attitude from The Captain’s with less chilly messaging. My John really is just trying to engage and be friendly in the most obnoxious way possible and so I try to meet him in the middle with a gesture of good will.

      And so I just have flat comebacks, like a lot of other people have suggested. “Mosquitoes can fly and I am delicious to them [subtext: you incorrect dingdong]” with a raised eyebrow and continuing to do my thing. “I know alcohol is made of sugar, dude” while taking a long drink and making prolonged eye contact. “OOOORRR I could both get home AND have another drink, a 2-for-1” and then waggle some finger guns at him.

      I see the merits in “no one asked you, John” but I personally find it pretty satisfying to adopt that attitude while also defending my honor, as it were.

      1. Right? Like, what, is every mosquito on earth playing a game of “the floor is lava” with the pavement, and I’ve just not heard of it until now? I have so many questions about that. I’d almost want to ask John more about it, in horrible detail, except I fear he’d answer and it wouldn’t actually be as funny as I’m hoping.

    3. Exactly! I’ve never found that magical pavement that was a mosquito free zone.

    4. I’m the LW. The coda to that story, by the way, is I put on the bug spray anyway, and I still came home with 4-5 bites.

  36. I’m a fan of “That wasn’t a request for criticism.”

    The benefits of this are that it makes clear you don’t mind his joining in on the conversation, just his criticism. It’s also a way of pointing out to him that you percieve he’s criticizing you, so if that’s not what he intends, he should do something else.

    If he kept it up, I’d escalate to a flat “Wow”.

  37. I’ve known a couple of guys like this – always SOs of friends of mine, and actually, always engineers (see “Optimizer”, above) – if something wasn’t being done correctly or efficiently, they just couldn’t let that pass! If there was a better way, they were compelled to share it! If someone was saying something Illogical (TM), it had to be called out! One dude genuinely was socially awkward (he didn’t have many friends, and seemed to be trying to show off his smarts to impress us), and eventually realized it wasn’t landing (both his gf and another engineer in the group calling him out) and corrected the behaviour. The second dude, nearly 10 years later, STILL does this, and over time it’s annoyed me more and more – even though he rarely directs it at me.

    I have found that the “Stony K” is the best method to deal with the compulsive correctors in my midst (and yes, it usually has been men…) Deadpan stare. “K”. Do whatever you’re doing. Let the silence hang for a moment, then go talk to someone else. I think CA has referred to this in other posts as “return Awkward to sender”. Whether they fully get the “why” of it, or think you’re an idiot or whatever, they generally at least figure out you’re not “open” to their “corrections.” It also tends to be not quite rude enough that the other person can really raise a scene or make a conflict out of it. If he complains to his gf later, what’s he going to say?

  38. The end of Captain Marvel where she flat out tells a man (who had been her friend and mentor) “I have nothing to prove to you” literally changed my life. If dude doubles down on Well Actually-ing you, or keeps trying to tell you what to do or get you to defend yourself, this has been an incredibly powerful conversation-ender and really helped me be able to not argue myself into circles with someone who isn’t actually interested in anything I have to say.

    1. I’ve been trying to figure out who the third is in my trifecta, because we have:

      You have no power over me. — Sarah, from Labyrinth
      I have nothing to prove to you. — Captain Marvel

      And I feel like maybe Buttercup has a similar line?

      1. “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.” – Elizabeth Bennet

      2. I am glad I’m not the only one who wanted to put those lines together on a list, both are so, so powerful to me.

        She has some good lines, but I’d have to rewatch to dig up the one I’m thinking of anyway, not finding it online!

        1. ❤ Oh, no, you are definitely not the only one.

          It may not be Buttercup (although "And you can die too, for all I care" is a good one); I just know I saw someone comparing "I have nothing to prove to you" to a quote that wasn't "You have no power over me" and I thought "ooohhh, I need to add that one.

    2. God, I loved that scene. He’s just being Man Power ON and raving about fighting one on one and proving herself and all that horseshit dancing guys like that demand under the guise of “toughening you up” or not “letting you rely on” whatever and she just flat out ends him. Because she finally got that HE was the weak one and hated her for it.

      1. Compare to Captain America in Winter Soldier when Batroc is all “you’re just a shield” so he throws down the shield AND takes off his helmet. Like geez dude, he didn’t insult your head protection, you can at least leave that there!

    3. That moment was absolutely thrilling. For me it is right up there with my favorite moment ever – in Firefly when that guy tried to threaten Mal by telling him that he would spend the rest of his life hunting him down to kill him, and Mal just kicked him into the engine. Yes! If someone has tried to kill you a bunch and shows no sign of remorse and will continue to try to kill you, why the heck would you just let them go? I’m sure there’s a much deeper meaning here about letting the same people hurt you again and again, but man it was so satisfying on a shallow level too.

  39. Hello!
    This is fabulous advice, and definitely something I fall into the trap of doing. I find it so hard to say to men in a social context ‘Wow, that was rude, could you not?’
    Also as an autistic lady, I loooooved what you said about ‘Schrödinger’s Autist’. One of my best friends is engaged to a guy who has pretty bad social anxiety, and he has displayed some really rude/potentially alarming behaviour at social/family events. Friend has said to me that she thinks he might be autistic and I’m like… Are you really saying this to me??? Being autistic/socially anxious is NOT AN EXCUSE FOR CRAP BEHAVIOUR! I don’t think she understood why this irritated me… Sighhh. Most people have the ability to get somewhat better at most things if they have the will to do so!

  40. My very favorite response, which I’ve only used one time when a guy was on my case hard about why I ordered a soda instead of a beer: “I find it helps me mind my own business.”
    My friend (who had a crush on him) burst out laughing and dudebro immediately took the point and apologized.

  41. omg, I’ve been announcing my pregnancy this week and like. I KNEW there would be unsolicited advice, but I really did not anticipate the extent, condescension, and irrelevance that would be involved. So far I’ve just been ignoring it or like, actually just laughing at people. Today’s letter is timely and helpful!

    (My favorite was when I told a friend I’d found a doula I liked, and she IMMEDIATELY told me I should use the one she used. Like, thanks KAREN but you’re a cis white woman and I need somebody who’s not gonna misgender me the whole time kthxbai!!!!)

    1. Oh, the advice! For me, it wasn’t so much the amount of advice but the level of odd coming form people I expected not to be Like That.

      Congratulations on the pregnancy and here’s hoping the people in your life chill out sooner rather than later.

    2. I don’t think I’ve ever really truly wanted to punch someone in the throat the way I did when people told me ‘better get some sleep now’ when I was pregnant. Thanks for that – I actually can’t sleep well right now because I have this giant lump on me that makes it super hard to turn over and I have to get up twenty times in the night to pee, and also all the vomiting.

      And now that I am on the other side… it still makes me so angry! No one is going to be well rested after giving birth and/or a c-section. No one! You could be the most well rested person in the world just off a super relaxing vacation and you are still going to be totally drained by the process of getting a tiny human body outside of your body. I could rage rant about this forever. All that vague gimmicky advice is all bullshi*t – all the stuff about ‘take time for yourself’ and ‘trust yourself’ and ‘take time to enjoy it’ is crap. I got one piece of helpful advice the entire time I was pregnant – layer the sheets in the crib so that when one gets crap on it in the middle of the night you can just pull it off. Everything else was useless hallmark card greeting nothingness.

      1. If an older kid ever starts bedwetting, you can do the same thing, but with a layer of the protective/plastic sheets, a layer of normal sheet, plastic sheet, normal sheet.

  42. I’ve gotten good mileage out of: “Face it, your opinion means nothing to me.”

  43. LW: if you want to forge low-key social bonds (perhaps for others who are not John St. Neggington) the following tactics have worked for me.

    1) Limited contact – only in larger group settings or at the very least with someone other than the mutual friend as a buffer so that I can not-talk to the people I’m not fond of.

    2) Acknowledge them as fellow humans. I do this with greetings and farewells. Say hello (with whatever level of interaction you wish – I’m perhaps too gregarious and will usually attempt a “how’s the [hobby] and [life thing]” inquiry but it’s not necessary), find people I actually like to talk to and spend my precious time socializing with them, and then find them to say goodbye (“it was nice to see you, have fun tonight!”).

    I personally feel special and noticed when people seek me out to say hi and bye, regardless of whether we have any depth of connection or not. So when I want to foster a friendly but low-key vibe with someone, greetings and farewells are my MO.

    3) Recruit others. If I find myself suddenly in a conversation with a John and it’s going south really quickly, I pull someone else in, hopefully someone who genuinely likes John, and then GTFO and find someone else to talk to.

  44. I hosted a BBQ this weekend that included my husband’s old friend from high school who had just moved to the area. Apparently this friend was miffed about not being invited to our wedding last month and kept making really passive-aggressive jokes about it, all of which seemed to be aimed at me (even though my husband had made the choice not to invite him).

    Finally, I got kind of tired of it and I said, “Is your move right now really complaining about not being invited to a party?”
    And he deadass goes, “It’s okay. I’ll just be at his next wedding.”

    Which would have really bothered me once upon a time, but this website is my lifeblood now, so I picked up my glass and said, “Cool, I don’t really need to be here,” and went to another part of the house and felt pretty great over there with different people.

    Apparently my husband then turned to him and said. “This is why *I* didn’t invite you to my wedding, if you were wondering.”

  45. Indeed.

    I am a lady-person who learned over time to take extra care in reading the room before choosing my Banter Mode.

    And the way I learned it was by having nice people whom I liked and wanted to get along with, give me dog-doing-tricks looks and saying things like, “Um. Why would you even say something like that?”

    Or worse yet, “Excuse me”, with the emphasis on “cuse,” which sounds both like “J’accuse!” And like “Cues,” as in “Conversational cues, babe. Read some.”

    I survived. I adapted. And I remained on friendly terms with these nice people.

    DudeBro can do the same.

    1. I like the way you put this.

      Code switching is a real skill we all have to learn. It takes a lot of privilege and entitlement to be able to stomp through life without doing so.

      The thing is, it’s so gloriously enriching when we do learn to hang with different ways of being with people and different social styles.

  46. For relatively mild cases of this, I like to say “HMMMMM, ah so, ah so,” while nodding sagely. It’s impossible to argue with. However, when someone says something so out of line that it’s time to burn everything down, I like “I will notify you in the extremely unlikely event that I care.”

  47. I enjoy using “If it bothers you, you’re welcome to leave” in negging situations.

    In LW’s case, since you’re presumable with Sara whenever you’re with John, this could also be enhanced by immediately directing your attention away from John to Sara. Not even waiting for John’s response to the “you’re welcome to leave” comment.

    “So, Sara, whatever happened with That Situation At Work?”

  48. This sort of negging and pretend life hacking used to really get to me (sometimes it still does!). My family was all about correcting and negging and The One True Right Way. Especially about things they were totally ignorant about. I grew up thinking that I was very, very unintelligent, ignorant and unlovable because of it (and all the other abuse, of course).

    One thing that really made me realize that much of this stuff is just nonsensical posturing and bullshit?
    When my significant other would correct me in order to make sure I did/believed the One True Right Way. His way, of course. Then, a few days later, when I regurgitated his One True Right Way, he would then neg/correct me because the complete opposite thing (that I had said or done the last time) was now the One True Right Way, and was of course what he believed all along. As if our previous discussion never happened. Ummm, WTF, bro?

    1. I agree with you haha, the one true way, gave me a laugh. A lot of people I know are like this 😮

  49. This is a slightly different example but I once had a day/night where I went to visit a girl friend from uni and meet her friends from home and one of her guy friends was negging me the whole time. I felt a bit shy anyway because they all knew each other and I was the new one but he kept commenting on EVERYTHING, (at one point they were playing a loud group video game and I was eating, he kept making comments about me being quiet and to myself but a. i was eating and b. loud competitive games aren’t my thing) To every comment I was super polite! And! Cheerful! Because I wanted to make a good impression but it escalated and escalated and was really ruining my visit and he totally knew it. Eventually we were all dancing and drinking and then I noticed that he was copying my every dance move right next to me, (I’m not exactly a gifted dancer), and I just threw my hands up and gave up. He stopped, said ‘have I ruined your night?’ and I said YES. He apologised and said joking around like that was fun for him and I said ‘well it’s not for me’ and he apologised again and was fine for the rest of the night. I don’t know what the takeaway is from this exactly – I guess that there is a possibility this will turn out okay? Even though it’s still crappy that you have to actively say ‘hey, this thing where you criticise me all the time is not fun for me’

  50. My dear OP, no you do not have to try harder. CA said it so well but I will reiterate…women need to stop worrying about being nice to d-bag guys.

  51. Personally I like the approach of a little chuckle and then saying “You’re funny.” And then continuing merrily on your way doing whatever you were doing.

    Another alternative is to say “You’re funny. ….Not “. And proceed as before.

    1. I like “haha…Oh!…you’re serious! In that case, no thank you.” ::walk away::

  52. Schrodinger’s Autist? I love it! Back in the LJ days folks used to call this tactic Assburger Syndrome.

  53. Hi, uuum, I might try the ‘he’s probably not being nasty’ tact and address this at the time it happens (if not drunk or anything), those scripts sound like they would be aimed as someone who is being deliberately rude and snipey to you.

    I might response to the wine comment: “I know it does” (has sugar in it) in a neutral tone.
    The bus comment, tricky eh, is he being helpful Harold or snippy Steve?? I might say thanks but I prefer…. or, I might use his words and say:did I sound worried?
    Bug spray: I get what I get (purchase wise) just bland tone. Shrug shoulders.

    The examples given at this stage sound like he has listened to you talking perhaps about your goals or worries and he is being helpful, wine does have ‘invisible’ sugar, but like capt said you might have been saving up your sugar allowance. The bus comment, I wouldn’t personally recognise that is your personal ‘getting ready to go’ phrase. What he said makes sense – if you had perhaps commented about being worried or seemed worried about taking the bus (I would be after drinking, plus the walk home from bus stop).
    I have met lots of people who say I need this or I’m going to do that blah blah and they do the opposite, but they’ve said it in a group or social setting, it’s kinda open for people to observe and comment. What you do is your choice but ?.?
    This guy might be using social comments as conversation starters (that just aren’t liked) I personally would neutralise them rather than be saying “and who asked you??” I would be far more offended by someone saying that back to me. I wouldn’t know where to look. I’d be hurt and actually not know how to respond when social comments/goals are made in a social setting ergo ‘up for some kind of audience/conversation.

    I have lots of extended family who do this type of stuff. You have to see in other ways are they trying to advise or one-up you. If he is otherwise kind to your friend/nice. He might be trying to be helpful, useful guy

    1. I guess my question is, if someone intends to be helpful but is never actually helpful, at what point are you allowed to say, “Noted” or “Your point is?” and stop pretending that it’s welcome and/or not annoying you? B/C the letter writer has been dealing with this for a year & is annoyed by an ongoing *pattern* of behavior from this guy that others have also observed. 🤷🏻‍♀️ I think we are allowed to get mildly annoyed with people who overstep in this fashion and respond in a less-than-enthusiastic way to their gambits. She can use a joking, pleasant tone, she’s not guillotining him, she’s just (hopefully) shutting down an annoying thing before it gets any worse. He will survive!

      1. Agreed. Sure first time, assume he’s not being an asshole. That should be the standard for everyone I think. Err on the side of they are just being awkward…all the gods I don’t believe in know I certainly am… But when it’s a pattern, and it’s not necessary to wait this long for it to become apparent, two or three (max!) times should do it, it’s fine to stop giving him the benefit of the doubt. Even smart, healthy, and necessary IMO. In fact depending on how he responds the first time, he should lose any benefit of the doubt going forward.

    2. For the record, I completely disagree that he is trying to be helpful. He’s like a living breathing advertisement for Ugh…That Guy Again

      That said, let’s stipulate that he is. Who asked him? He is being nosey, bossy, and intrusive. He is being controlling and mansplaining life to OP. He’s an interloper who needs to sit down, shut up, and stay in his lane…which does not include OP.

    3. “I wouldn’t know where to look. I’d be hurt and actually not know how to respond when social comments/goals are made in a social setting”

      I mean…good? That’s sort of the point? Or would be with me.

      Mentioning things in an open group is not actually an open invite for people to “be helpful” unless asked, and I don’t really give a damn how people mean their intrusive comments.

      Yes, discussing your goals in a social setting is technically “open” for people to observe and comment, but it says nothing good when those people do that. If you don’t have a way to respond to “hey, I’m trying to do X” or “I’d rather Y,” or whatever other than becoming Deputy Mom/Hall Monitor, I suggest “Oh, cool,” and then ignoring it. If you want conversation starters, ask if people have seen good movies lately.

      1. While we’re here, “my extended family does X” isn’t really a defense of X. Like, I am not minded to think the best of/put up with/be nice to or about the obnoxious relatives of strangers. I have enough obnoxious relatives of my own, and I’m not even getting fifty bucks at Christmas or leftover pumpkin pie from yours.

      2. I mean…good? That’s sort of the point? Or would be with me.

        And with me. Why shouldn’t the douche suffer some social consequences?

    4. I think it’s safe to say that it’s never nice or acceptable to give unasked-for nutritional advice or even information in a social situation. “You say you’re on a diet but that has a lot of calories” or any of its myriad subtler variations is the very definition of concern-trolling, it is shaming, it is one-upmanship and signals this person’s intentions to us. (The obvious exception being if there’s a safety issue like an allergy or something.)

      1. This. Nutritional choices are medical choices. It’s not okay to go around trying to practice medicine on people in social settings.

        What on earth could possibly be the point of remarking to someone, “You say you’re limiting sugar, but you’re drinking wine.” How could that possibly help? Is there some bizarre fantasy that the speaker is gifted with basic logic and no one else on earth is? Because the obvious conclusion to seeing someone drink wine after remarking they’re limiting sugar and realizing you don’t understand why is that YOU clearly don’t understand the complexities driving their choices, not that they don’t understand the complexities driving their choices. And you don’t need to, since you’re not on their medical team.

        1. I do see a lot of people seemingly confused about what does/doesn’t have sugar (“It has honey in it instead!” etc. etc.) so it’s possible that people don’t know… but that possibility doesn’t mean that I should say something, particularly to someone I am not close to. There is so much baggage around food that the messenging people get can be wrong.

          1. I started to type, “The great thing is, people will ask if they think they might be confused, so we can all just wait for that,” but now my brain is stuck on, “Is butter a carb?” and it’s all Mean Girls quotes for the night. Which is probably my brain’s attempt to thwart back pain.

    5. “I have met lots of people who say I need this or I’m going to do that blah blah and they do the opposite, but they’ve said it in a group or social setting, it’s kinda open for people to observe and comment.”

      I don’t think it means that at all, in the sense of people commenting on the person’s apparent inconsistencies. People are inconsistent; they have competing priorities and they change their minds and they make trade-offs. Unless someone is directly hurting someone else, that’s fine and not really my business. I have some friends where we can have conversations along the lines of “How do you reconcile [X] and [Y]?” but those are close friend conversations where we are very careful with each other’s feelings. And even then, I would never presume to comment about what someone else was eating or drinking except along the lines of “Wait, that has [thing you’re allergic to that isn’t obvious in the dish]” just so they could make an informed decision.

      1. Or, as Walt Whitman observed, “I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself! Get out of my face, I’m trying to drink some wine here.”

    6. it’s kinda open for people to observe and comment

      Yeah, no. Most of it is phatic noise, or verbal grooming. People want affirmation. The typical responses are of the form :

      – I do Variant B of thing you’re doing
      – That’s so cool!
      – I know a person who is also doing that thing. Let’s bond!
      – Wanna talk more about thing?

      It’s not an invitation to criticize.

      1. Yes, exactly! It’s fine to choose not to engage (if the person starts talking about their diet, I try to segue into something else as fast as I can), but criticism is really not the point.

    7. Re: “I wouldn’t know where to look. I’d be hurt and actually not know how to respond”…

      That is the actual goal of saying something like “I didn’t ask you.” The goal is for John to feel awkward and uncomfortable about having said this thing. OP doesn’t need to care about whether he’s offended by it; the things he is saying are consistently rude and obnoxious, and if he’s offended by being called on that, then he can easily fix that by not being rude and obnoxious all the time. It’s a ‘him’ problem. What OP does need to care about is that he is being offensive to OP on a regular basis, in ways that are interfering with her ability to socialize with her friend comfortably. OP needs to know that they don’t have to suck it up and tolerate this quietly; it is not their job to shield John from the social consequences of his rude behavior.

      And it is rude behavior. Someone making a comment in public is not generally an invitation for the crowd to jump in to correct them, offer advice, or otherwise tell them what to do. In fact, those kinds of responses are almost never welcome! You get the occasional person who Really Likes Optimizing Everything and is unusually ok with unasked-for correction, but most people are only going to be receptive to this stuff when 1) they asked for it, or 2) you’re actually their boss and they have to listen to you whether they like it or not. If John has somehow reached adulthood without realizing this, OP would actually be doing him a favor by calling him on it; they’d be offering him an opportunity to learn a missed life lesson.

    8. Icantremembermyusername, everyone’s mileage may vary; this is my experience. I feel uncomfortable around what looks like a ‘socially visible actions vs words, just saying’ line of thinking from people I don’t know well. Unless I have a prior agreement with a good friend or my partner to remind me of a goal, I would not welcome this. I’d feel weird, shamed, and on edge being consistency-monitored in a social setting by an acquaintance or peripheral friend.

      I hope I don’t go around constantly contradicting myself or kidding myself, but if I were frequently gotcha’d in a “just enlightening you about the distance between your words and observable behavior” sort of way I’d feel a need to choose between quietly-submitting-while-flinching-inside, sheepishly explaining myself while feeling one-down in the interaction, trying to figure out what fraction of “why are you paying that much attention/did I ask for advice/you don’t know me well enough to have a feedback license” could be safe to say and how to say it politely enough, or (Heaven forbid) actually saying one of those sentences and becoming the one in the wrong.

      People in my past have done invalidations like “AHA, you DON’T really want/value/mean X because I’ve seen you do OccasionalExceptionY” a lot, which makes the whole domain of consistency-policing very much By Invitation Only If At All for me. I would only accept it unsolicited from a therapist, supervisor, or pastor.

    9. “…up for some kind of audience/conversation…”

      Yet it’s ok for him to say stuff that draws attention (i.e. audience) from the group to her?

    10. There is a difference between trying to be a kind and helpful person in a non intrusive and non judgemental way and what this guy is actually doing, which is trying to perform his super helpful and knowledgeable righteousness *at* people. And from what it sounds like, at *women* people in particular. He is showing off, and doing it at other people’s expense, by bullying women who are just trying to be friendly and include him in the group. Not cool. He sounds like a massive asshole, and being politely but firmly held accountable for his jerk behavior publicly and in the moment seems like a good way to deal with him. He has no problem with publicly negging the OP and others, after all. Sending the awkwardness back to where it originated seems like a good plan. His supposed good intentions are not the point. Intentions are not magic. If he wants to be helpful and useful, he should start by not behaving like a bullying jackass.

      Whether he actually does have good intentions remains to be seen. Somehow I doubt it.

  54. I just want to say how much I love that no one has said anything about the LW routing through Sara or telling Sara to manage her man. I kept bracing for “Why don’t you tell Sara that John’s comments are really bothering you and ask her to ask him to stop” and it’s tremendously refreshing not to see any of that. (I may have been reading too much Ask Amy.)

    LW, I’m an Optimizer and a half, and I am, I hope!, living proof that one can be an Optimizer and also learn how not to be an asshole about it. The thing where John never says anything to you or this other friend except criticism is a real strong sign that he only cares about the sound of his own voice and is not so much trying in an awkward way to be your buddy. The absolute easiest way for an Optimizer to be less of a jerk is to say things that aren’t critical. Nicenessing more is a crucial first step toward friendship while you work on the harder task of Optimizing less. If he’s not even bothering to engage you in “How about that local sports team?” or “Have you seen a movie this year?” or “I love tomatoes, do you love tomatoes? Wait here while I get my binder of tomato recipes!” levels of friendly conversation, you should feel no qualms about firmly shutting down his critiques.

    You have given him considerable benefit of the doubt, and he’s used it to go on poking at you. Brush him off like you would a mosquito if you hadn’t already put on the bug spray that keeps away the mosquitoes.

    Recommended reading: the extremely funny short story “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger.

    1. Considering the overall affect of niceness and enthusiasm when unsolicited advice/commentary is coming your way is a really super-duper excellent point!

      As a fellow Optimizer, my observations are driven by a bone-deep instinct to Mitigate! All! Suffering! With! Information!

      From one Optimizer’s perspective on the LW’s examples:

      ** The bug spray thing was just plain inaccurate, and I would have hopped right in there to Well, Actually the idea that mosquitoes don’t hang out over pavement. Standing water exists in urban areas! Buckets, swimming pools, puddles…I would have been all over my phone, crushing that guy’s campaign of dangerous misinformation. I can’t stand by and let someone take him seriously and get some unnecessary bug bites!

      ** I wouldn’t comment on the dieting thing, because people often take breaks from diets, especially at social events. It’s not helpful to draw someone’s attention to “cheating” on their diet – it just makes their fun less fun. That’s not Mitigating Suffering at all.

      ** I might have been lured into trying to Optimize the bus situation, as I probably would have perceived the LW’s commentary about the bus as *anxiety* about the bus (thus a soft ask for help) rather than as a straightforward announcement of a departure time. But I probably would have been more in the zone of “do you need a ride?” or “hey, Uber alerted me to a promo this weekend,” rather than suggesting different spending priorities. People know if they want to spend money on a drink vs transportation. They don’t need that suggestion!

      That’s on the small scale. Arguably, the biggest example of this in my life was a good friend who has a long-term goal of moving to Hawaii and buying her first house. One day, I mentioned I was getting some sweet cash back on my credit card in a “maybe you can get cash back, too” sort of way. She replied that she’d never had a credit card (or credit) of any kind, just student loan debt. I know money is a thing Not To Be Talked About, but I had a heartbreaking vision of how disappointed she might be 10 years from now if her credit score isn’t high enough for an affordable mortgage. It would be just *awful* if that were to happen merely because no one ever told her that not having revolving credit might negative impact her score.

      I had reflexively gasped, “Oh, no!” Then I took a breath and asked if I could tell her about my credit history and how it impacted my home-buying process, and what she might want to do differently over the next ten years, because I love her and I want her to have the best possible life. And I made a point of cursing our society/educational system for not adequately getting this kind of information out there, because I wanted to avoid her feeling “stupid” for not knowing what she didn’t know. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses in their knowledge base. There’s a lot she knows about the legal system that I don’t, and I listen to her about it! We share information! Less Suffering! Yay!

      The point here is that there’s a huge difference between advice meaning, “Let me help you!” and “advice” meant to convey, “You’re stupid for doing it wrong!”

      It sounds like the LW’s problem dude is the latter. If he isn’t proactively offering up nice, enthusiastic advice like, “You should try that sandwich shop by your work,” and if he’s making not-that-funny jokes about flaws and foibles, and if lot of people are noticing, then he’s probably not a well-meaning but awkward Optimizer.

      Rather, he’s a dude who’s suffering the LW’s social group for his girlfriend’s sake and can’t keep his dislike and resentment about it totally contained. I don’t think the LW should worry overmuch about hurting his feelings when he’s “just trying to help,” because he actually *isn’t.* Firm correction is definitely the right call here.

      (FWIW, I personally don’t try to optimize things for people I dislike. Let ’em get that parking ticket, etc.)

      1. The thing about not being able to get a mortgage if you’ve never had a credit card is a myth by the way. If you’ve paid rent, or any regular bill, that is more useful for your credit score than having a credit card.

        1. Hey, embertine, do you have a source for that?

          I’m willing to be corrected, but I double-checked my information after talking to my friend *and* again, just before I posted my comment above, to be reasonably certain I wasn’t inadvertently spreading misinformation.

          In trying to steel-man your argument, I’ve found articles like this one (https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/mortgages/mortgage-no-credit-history/) stating that you *can* get a mortgage without revolving credit, but it’s much more difficult, and you’ll probably have to go through special lenders like FHA.

          However, even the FHA cares about borrowers having a history of managing multiple lines of credit and their FICO score. The FHA site states: “The FHA usually requires two lines of credit for qualifying applicants. If you don’t have a sufficient credit history, you can try to qualify through a substitute form.”

          And FICO impacts the size of an FHA down-payment: FHA loan down-payments can be 3.5% or 10%, depending on if your FICO is above or below 580 (https://www.fha.com/fha_credit_requirements). Other non-government-backed lenders are likely to require much larger down payments with much better scores.

          So my friend’s FICO could be a REALLY big deal in terms of getting an affordable down payment on a mortgage, with the FHA and everyone else. And regardless of whether or not she paid on time, her FICO is probably very low, because my friend has one line of credit – her student loan debt. One of the major factors of one’s FICO is the debt-to-credit ratio, which should ideally be under 30%. If my friend *only* has her student loan, then her debt-to-credit ratio is effectively 100%, which is a serious ding against her credit score and can seriously impact her chance to get things like mortgages and student loan refinancing (https://studentloanhero.com/featured/student-loan-debt-to-income-ratio/).

          From my reading, I’m pretty certain your credit score is not your payment history; it’s a lot of factors. Experian states: “Payment history and credit utilization ratios are among the most important in many critical credit scoring models, and together they can represent up to 70% of a credit score, which means they’re hugely influential.” (https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-education/improving-credit/improve-credit-score/#s1).

          All this ads up to: If my friend wants the *best possible chance* of acquiring a mortgage on a house in Hawaii someday, she should get a credit card right away, use it to pay something she would be paying anyway (like her utilities), and pay it off every month. Once her score begins to come up, she should apply for additional credit *but never really use it* so that her debt-to-credit ratio comes up. And so on.

          So sources like the above are what’s informing my conclusions on this topic. If you have sources that disprove this kind of information, I’d be very interested to see them! My friend was leery of credit cards because her family had a history of abusing consumer credit, and if she really doesn’t need to be concerned about sources like Experian, the FHA, and Nerdwallet encouraging her to have revolving credit, I’m sure it would be a relief!

          1. This is very comprehensive! And also a good topic for the forums (friendsofcaptainawkward.com) if people want to discuss more.

      2. I said this upthread, but I’m the LW, and optimizers don’t need to explain themselves to me! I’m a total optimizer myself! (I am unbearable when my partner is cooking, I have put in a *lot* of work to remember to start with an opening like “hey, I have a different way of cutting potatoes that’s faster for me, do you want to see it?” or to just stay out of the kitchen if I know it’s going to bother me and I won’t be able to hold back.) I say “You should!” way, WAY too much. I am lucky that my friends are indulgent, and it’s something I’m actively working on.

        But yes, you’re correct, it’s the tone/approach that makes it worse — the implication is very “why are you doing that, you idiot woman” and not “hey, I want to help!” (The sugar thing, btw, was because he’d offered me something sweet and I wanted to soften the no, which was my first mistake!)

        1. I’ve said to people who offer me sweets “No thanks. I prefer drinking my sugar.” Then I lift my wine glass and sip. If I don’t have a wine glass it’s “No thanks. I take my sugar as booze.”

        2. Ah so he didn’t like that you said no to his offer and then decided to ‘punish’ you by commenting on your wine. He’s an asshole.

          1. That’s my read, too.

            And more generally, there is A LOT of strategizing in this thread about whether telling one annoying dude to knock it off. I stand by the OP: Just say, “Good thing nobody asked you!” and move on with your evening when this guy oversteps. He will not melt!

        3. Oh, I’m sorry firefly57, I didn’t catch your upthread comments.

          I am super-curious if you (or anyone else) ever tried to offer helpful optimizery advice to John, and how he took it?

          Like before you realized there was a pattern of him being a jerk?

          I’m absolutely not suggesting that you should have given him advice earlier or that you try to do it now, just curious if my hypothesis about
          genuine optimizers being more open to advice from others is accurate or not. And fake-nice “optimizers” not wanting advice, ever.

          Because I just bet John gets huffy when people offer him genuinely kindly-intended advice.

          I sure hope that dude gets shaken loose from your friend circle soon.

          1. My experience with people like John is they don’t get upset when you offer them advice, so much as they take it as another opportunity to explain why you’re wrong.

    2. Considering the overall affect of niceness and enthusiasm when unsolicited advice/commentary is coming your way is a really super-duper excellent point!

      As a fellow Optimizer, my observations are driven by a bone-deep instinct to Mitigate! All! Suffering! With! Information!

      From one Optimizer’s perspective on the LW’s examples:

      ** The bug spray thing was just plain inaccurate, and I would have hopped right in there to Well, Actually the idea that mosquitoes don’t hang out over pavement. Standing water exists in urban areas! Buckets, swimming pools, puddles…I would have been all over my phone, crushing that guy’s campaign of dangerous misinformation. I can’t stand by and let someone take him seriously and get some unnecessary bug bites!

      ** I wouldn’t comment on the dieting thing, because people often take breaks from diets, especially at social events. It’s not helpful to draw someone’s attention to “cheating” on their diet – it just makes their fun less fun. That’s not Mitigating Suffering at all.

      ** I might have been lured into trying to Optimize the bus situation, as I probably would have perceived the LW’s commentary about the bus as *anxiety* about the bus (thus a soft ask for help) rather than as a straightforward announcement of a departure time. But I probably would have been more in the zone of “do you need a ride?” or “hey, Uber alerted me to a promo this weekend,” rather than suggesting different spending priorities. People know if they want to spend money on a drink vs transportation. They don’t need that suggestion!

      That’s on the small scale. Arguably, the biggest example of this in my life was a good friend who has a long-term goal of moving to Hawaii and buying her first house. One day, I mentioned I was getting some sweet cash back on my credit card in a “maybe you can get cash back, too” sort of way. She replied that she’d never had a credit card (or credit) of any kind, just student loan debt. I know money is a thing Not To Be Talked About, but I had a heartbreaking vision of how disappointed she might be 10 years from now if her credit score isn’t high enough for an affordable mortgage. It would be just *awful* if that were to happen merely because no one ever told her that not having revolving credit might negative impact her score.

      I had reflexively gasped, “Oh, no!” Then I took a breath and asked if I could tell her about my credit history and how it impacted my home-buying process, and what she might want to do differently over the next ten years, because I love her and I want her to have the best possible life. And I made a point of cursing our society/educational system for not adequately getting this kind of information out there, because I wanted to avoid her feeling “stupid” for not knowing what she didn’t know. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses in their knowledge base. There’s a lot she knows about the legal system that I don’t, and I listen to her about it! We share information! Less Suffering! Yay!

      The point here is that there’s a huge difference between advice meaning, “Let me help you!” and “advice” meant to convey, “You’re stupid for doing it wrong!”

      It sounds like the LW’s problem dude is the latter. If he isn’t proactively offering up nice, enthusiastic advice like, “You should try that sandwich shop by your work,” and if he’s making not-that-funny jokes about flaws and foibles, and if lot of people are noticing, then he’s probably not a well-meaning but awkward Optimizer.

      Rather, he’s a dude who’s suffering the LW’s social group for his girlfriend’s sake and can’t keep his dislike and resentment about it totally contained. I don’t think the LW should worry overmuch about hurting his feelings when he’s “just trying to help,” because he actually *isn’t.* Firm correction is definitely the right call here.

      (FWIW, I personally don’t try to optimize things for people I dislike. Let ’em get that parking ticket, etc.)

    3. Oooh, I forgot to mention – it might be worth noting that well-meaning Optimizers will be as enthusiastic about receiving advice from others as they are about giving it. You might have a better way of doing something? GIMME!

      So if someone always offers advice and criticism but resents having advice and criticism directed at them, then you can assume they are interested in power and dominance, rather than mitigating suffering. If you’re in doubt about someone’s motivations and how to proceed, I think seeing how they react to (useful, well-intentioned) advice is a potential test.

    4. Here’s the thing about optimizing. (I’m putting my comment here in the threading because I love George Alec Effinger. It could go almost anywhere.) This is a good almost mathematical way to explain it to supreme optimizers: There is no optimizing without a hierarchy of importance, and people might list them on the hierarchy in different ways. Put another way, they might give different value weights to the items on the list. I’ll use the example of deciding on the absolute best route home. There’s avoiding highways, difficult left turns, direct non-circuitous route, gas mileage, safety, scenery, speed, stop lights, traffic, probably several others. When deciding how to drive home, I might put avoiding the highway pretty high on my priority list while someone else might not consider that. Someone else might agree that avoiding the highway is good, but getting good gas mileage is better. An optimizer will take all the factors into account, but in order to come to a conclusion on the best way, value judgments must be made.

      The optimizer in my life doesn’t take into consideration time, time gone without, and frustration at no decision being made. He’s great at shopping. He takes into account price, features, value, etc. He reads reviews of how others have liked the widget, learns about how the widget was manufactured, will even research the company that makes the widget. He’ll take as long as he needs to shop for the perfect widget. Meanwhile, it could be weeks or months that we’re both struggling by without a widget. That doesn’t factor into his accounting. It does factor into mine.

      1. Yes! This is so important! I often don’t have much patience with optimizers because “do it in a way I know will work that allows me to just get on with things” is usually at the top of my priority list. Once I find driving shortcuts I’ll use them, but the time to teach them to me is not while I’m driving unless you’re full-on navigating and all I have to do is keep from crashing. If the onions are in smaller pieces, I’m chopping the onions correctly. I’m a planner by nature, so if I wanted a plan, I’d have one 🙂

  55. Someone on twitter recently referred to these people as “Truth Bullies”. They pretend that they are solely engaged in the dispassionate search for “truth” or what’s “correct”, but it’s obviously & transparently just an excuse to bully & abuse others who are perceived as structurally weaker. One way to tell this is what’s going on is that it’s always “kiss up & shit down” with such people.

  56. Thank you so much for the “Schrödinger’s Autist” thing. It does everybody a disservice when people handwave rude behaviour as “maybe he’s just autistic”.

  57. I was so excited to see this letter, because I’m dealing with almost precisely this problem. I’m curious, though, given how much male privilege entered into the response and comments… in my situation, the constant negs/downer comments are from a woman (dating my male friend). Does that change things? This advice feels so brutal when I (also a woman) imagine responding this way to her, without the underlying extra-problematic social dynamic of ‘man being shitty to woman he barely knows.’

    1. The responses may seem brutal to a woman just because many women seem to be better at picking up more subtle hints. But obviously not all are. If you’re in the LW’s situation, though, then you’ve probably already tried some subtle hints? So you could probably be a bit more blunt. And if that doesn’t get the message across, it may be time to be really really direct.

  58. I recently witnessed an older female neighbor get an unsolicited comment from another (male) neighbor. Still smiling, she gently touched his arm and said “Oh, sweetie, I was just telling a story, not looking for advice”, and then continued telling her story without missing a beat. Dude turned a little red, mumbled an “Oh, sorry”, then stayed quiet until she had finished her anecdote, at which point everyone laughed and the conversation carried on. It was perfect. His interjection wasn’t mean, but it was patronizing and unnecessary, and her quick rebuttal patronized back in just the right way – sort of a “that’s cute honey, but the grown-ups are talking” way.

      1. It so was! She’s a retired nurse, and obviously a rock-star at handling folks in all kinds of situations. What I loved was how quickly it shut the guy down without really even calling attention to it. For sure, he felt embarrassed (and rightly so), but there was no way he could claim to being humiliated, or that she was being defensive. Neither could he try to push his point or repeat himself without looking like a complete ass. It was so expertly done.

  59. My favorite rebuttal to unsolicited opinions/advice has been the pleasantly neutral, “Well, that’s one theory.” You can mildly stress the word “one.” It’s non-confrontational, leaves nothing to latch onto, and both conveys that they are not presenting new information and that they are not really helping you. I’ve used this a lot. You want the tone of voice of a Kindergarten teacher when responding to a kid’s insistence that the dinosaurs were wiped out by time travelers. Like, you don’t want to dampen his childlike enthusiasm (bless his little heart!) but you also don’t want to waste valuable class time on misguided ideas.

    More direct responses can simply be “don’t criticize me” or “I’m not interested in your opinion.” I’ve used this when I don’t care about making nice with the other person, I just want them to stop telling me how to do the thing I am already doing just fine.

    A somewhat more snarky response to the “I was only trying to help!” BS is something I heard when working for a non-profit: “Help is the sunny side of control.” With enough deadpan authority, it shines a light on the ugly thing they’re trying to do (even if they don’t recognize their own motivations.) I have not used this yet, but I’m polishing it up in case I need it someday.

  60. An additional reply could be to simply say, “I have my reasons” without actually then putting in the effort to explain those reasons. It indicates that the LW a) is confident in her decisions and b) doesn’t feel the need to get him to co-sign on those decisions.

    Or if the LW wants to keep it more light-hearted, she could say something along the lines of, “Just let me live my life, man” or “I’m going to keep doing me”.

    An end-of -the-night recap could also come in handy in instances where they have to hang out for hours. Saying something like, “Ok, so I don’t put bug spray on right, and I don’t pick the right transportation, and I now don’t drink wine correctly either. Got it.” If he’s not aware that every interaction with you is critical, putting it all in a row could highlight that. It illustrates that while any one comment isn’t a massive deal, the pattern of interaction is.

  61. I still remember in high school when I suddenly stopped trying to be good enough for a Cool Jerk and scathingly responded, “Oh no the great [Jerk Name] doesn’t approve excuse me while I go–” and before I even got to the [sarcastic threat of self harm] he was already putting his hands up and conceding the point.

    It was such a relief to stop caring what he thought–and I don’t think he ever pulled that crap again.

  62. Schrodinger’s Autist, amazing. I’m using that forever now.
    As an autistic woman who has had several stalkers, all of whom had behavior that was often excused as being “socially awkward,” I hate hate HATE people pulling that card. When I would commit minor social faux pas, it was cause for exclusion and ostracization. But when a man is literally being a creep and literally stalking someone, “oh he’s just socially awkward you have to be patient with him.” Fuck that idea.

    Having a term for it is fantastic.

  63. Icantremembermyusername, everyone’s mileage may vary; this is my experience. I feel uncomfortable around what looks like a ‘socially visible actions vs words, just saying’ line of thinking from people I don’t know well. Unless I have a prior agreement with a good friend or my partner to remind me of a goal, I would not welcome this. I’d feel weird, shamed, and on edge being consistency-monitored in a social setting by an acquaintance or peripheral friend.

    I hope I don’t go around constantly contradicting myself or kidding myself, but if I were frequently gotcha’d in a “just enlightening you about the distance between your words and observable behavior” sort of way I’d feel a need to choose between quietly-submitting-while-flinching-inside, sheepishly explaining myself while feeling one-down in the interaction, trying to figure out what fraction of “why are you paying that much attention/did I ask for advice/you don’t know me well enough to have a feedback license” could be safe to say and how to say it politely enough, or (Heaven forbid) actually saying one of those sentences and becoming the one in the wrong.

    People in my past have done invalidations like “AHA, you DON’T really want/value/mean X because I’ve seen you do OccasionalExceptionY” a lot, which makes the whole domain of consistency-policing very much By Invitation Only If At All for me. I would only accept it unsolicited from a therapist, supervisor, or pastor.

  64. Way way back when I was in school, I was coming out of a building at class’s end and ran down the stairs 2 at a time, as was easy for me then [all right, they weren’t real steep.] A person of the same age said, “Stop that–we don’t do that here in America,” and I said “We are in America, and I just did it, so we *do* do it in America” and that person shut up quick. Not real inspired, I guess, but it got the job done. At other times I have said “When I want your opinion I will read your entrails.”
    But now I’ve got an older cousin who likes to neg people, to snark about how they talk or eat or whatever, besides treating me like a servant instead of a guest when I visit, so I’m working on comebacks for that. It’s not easy. Thanks for the good suggestions.
    I feel the same way as you about “pulling the autism card”. Another thing to watch out for is labeling introverted or otherwise neuro-atypical people as autistic when they aren’t–whether they are being rude or not.

    1. “Stop that–we don’t do that here in America,” what the actual–? Dude, seriously?

      Your response was perfect.

      1. This individual had sent up a couple of red flags previously–don’t recall details–and vanished from the class after the described incident. I’m allergic to bossy people.

  65. Oh, gosh. People seem to be getting worked up in what to me seems disproportionate amounts depending on the situation. For me, it is helpful to look at a few factors before saying something. Is the comment ANNOYING or is it OFFENDING? (Truly. There are folks who think everything is an offense. Sigh.) Is comment made out of INNOCENCE (ignorance,true helpfulness, etc.) or out of MALICIOUSNESS? I am going to react differently to a remark that is both offending and malicious v. one that is offending and made out of ignorance. One deserves a harsh comeback and the other is a teaching moment. WHO is making the comment (Person you will never see again v. person you will see every day)? Weigh all those things and then decide what is SAFE for you to say (not just physically – for example, it may be that the speaker in question is your boss).

    I realized after reading this thread that I am an “optimizer” (I knew my tendencies but didn’t know there was a name for that). So just a few thoughts on that. One – it is helpful for me to have people state what they need (to rant, to get sympathy, to get advice), because if I guess, I often get it wrong (sometimes I even give only sympathy and then get chided for NOT giving advice!). Two – trying hard to eliminate the word “should.” (At the very least, “you should do that…” becomes “maybe you could try that…”) Three – this seems typical between mothers/daughters and mothers-in-law/daughters-in-law. The book “You’re Wearing That?” by Deborah Tannen explores that dynamic in depth. We often read criticism into someone’s true desire to help/BE NEEDED. I realized this in my own life with my relationship with my mother-in-law. I took her comments as critical and bristled. Then I realized – I am assuming her intent, but I think she just wants to feel useful! So I would ASK her opinion on some things, and I would ASK her to help with something I knew she could do well.

    1. Safety, yes. Anything else? Way too much work for someone who’s acting like an asshat, because I don’t give a damn where the comment’s coming from, and I’m not interested, nor am I getting paid for, a second job as a teacher.

      1. And unless others have asked to be taught, it’s not okay to assume they NEED to be Optimized. Or that the way they do things isn’t already optimal for them.

        LW has no interest in nor obligation to “teach” John.

    2. Does a recipient of “wants to feel useful” comment have an obligation to be Teachable and/or does a “wants to feel useful” commenter have a responsibility to avoid being Invasive (or to determine whether there is consent for them to give guidance)? How can these obligations be less asymmetrical or land less completely on whoever has the less power in the relationship?

      I am an omega-female in all kin groups I frequent, seem to get matriarchsplained at frequently and mansplained at occasionally and *SO well-meaningly*. I have no permission to say “please don’t preach about calories in a fine restaurant that was your invitation” and “please pause your efforts to increase everyone’s physical activity to the excess of our spoons”. I just *know* (cringe) that if I dared to respond anyway but with gratitude, accountabiilty, compliance, or at least silence, I’d be the Difficult One who caused the resulting conflict.

      1. Forsworn, as with all things, YMMV! Just another way of looking at it. I agree, isabelcooper, because someone who is being an a$$hat is being far more than just annoying!! My comments are what I find helpful in my experience.

      2. I’d argue that in an asymmetrical relationship, the alphas should be looking after you more. That’s their responsibility.

        What is it that you get out of the group? Is that worth what you are putting in to it? Would you feel better pulling back a bit for a while?
        Instead of attending things hosted by other people, could you host some events, perhaps with smaller groups of people who are also not the matriarchs?

        Honestly, the fact that you have to react a certain way or there’s conflict is a bit of a red flag to me.

        1. Apricity: Relationships not asymmetrical by design, mostly seem to be so by the patterns I observe and the responses I see dished out to family members who do push back. I don’t know whether I ACTUALLY have to react a certain way or there’ll be conflict, or if I just model it in my head that way. I grew up with a very invasive/halpy family of origin that made a production of “you have to learn to take constructive criticism/you take yourself too seriously/like Galileo: And Yet It Does Move even if you don’t want to hear what I’m saying”). I seldom can bring myself to test the hypothesis that in-laws’ matriarchy would respond differently to intendedly-civil pushback; and all our relatives are in different states, which makes hosting events at our place rare and laborious–and sometimes command-performanced. (“I’m GOING to come to BrotherInLawMetropolis by way of Forswornville for Mother’s Day weekend!” a couple weeks before the date. Not “May I” or “would it be OK if”).

          1. What would be the fallout if they did get upset?

            What would happen if you replied “i am so sorry but that doesn’t work for me/us” in response to a command hosting gig?

    3. It sounds like you’re telling the LW (and everybody else) that we have to make very sure someone who’s behaving badly is doing so for sufficiently nasty reasons(tm) before we tell them to stop.

      That’s nonsense in general (see Hershele Ostropoler on foot stepping: https://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/31/readercon-harassment-etc/#comment-346433)

      But even if it weren’t nonsense in general (and it is), it would be arrant nonsense in this particular instance.

      You see, John is not innocent. He has engaged in a pattern of insulting the LW.

      So why are you making excuses for him?

    4. When you add up a year of annoying comments they equal offending. LW’s been putting up with this for a year.

    5. Well, you really made the Captain’s point. You’re proposing people do an astonishing amount of work to deal with someone who is being rude so they can protect the feelings of the rude person.

      The Captain is proposing not doing that work. The rude people who cause the trouble can do their own work and take care of their own problems that they themselves choose to cause. Or they could skip the whole thing and make less work for everybody.

      I prefer that last one.

    6. Someone being rude at you does not obligate you to be a Teachable Moment for them—even if they genuinely meant well. Part of being a person is that sometimes our well-intentioned behaviors are still not great in practice (they come off as rude, they’re obnoxious, they make others feel unsafe, they contribute to societal prejudices in ways we weren’t aware of, etc.), and it’s on us to own that and fix it, not on others around us to kindly enlighten us in a way that’s palatable and easy for us to digest.

      In this case, it doesn’t matter if John is intending to be useful. In practice, he’s coming off as rude, dismissive, and somewhat insulting. OP is allowed to respond to the actual impact of his actions without trying to mind-read his intent! In fact, if OP were to try to divine whether he really means well or is trying to be annoying, they’d likely be putting a lot more thought into it than John himself has—which isn’t their job. Instead, they should just act annoyed when John is obnoxious, act offended when he is insulting, etc. He’ll learn just fine from that feedback that his ‘advice’ isn’t actually helpful or wanted.

    7. I’m confused about how all this applies to LW. You think she should state to John, “My need is to not be constantly criticized about inane stuff?” But that first she should do a lot of intuiting about whether he’s innocent or malicious (not sure how she’d know) before saying anything at all?

      I can’t tell from your comment whether you’re an optimizer in your own life or if you also optimize AT other people, people who haven’t asked. If the latter, please consider cutting down on that!

  66. The simplest, most mindless “script” I can think of to reply to “well, actually” negging is simply, “___ police.”
    “Oh, bug spray police.”
    “Wine police?”
    “Spending police, huh?”

    You can play it off like a joke if the social pressure is on. CA’s “I didn’t ask you” is also excellent in its simplicity and repetition! The reason I like simple is that, as satisfying as the perfect witty retort can be (deeply), unless you’re some sort of conversational wizard you can only realistically think of a good reply 1 in 10 times, if that. So the other 9 times you are at a loss and feeling ashamed of yourself for not having the perfect zinger. Additionally putting in the work of crafting the reply unwittingly plays into the dynamic of, “I, John, issue the criticism, so you, LW, start scrambling and defending.”

    If you really want to level with someone and you are ready to NOT be playful or “light,” another possible script is, “Would you like to try that again?” or “That’s condescending, would you like a do-over?” or simply, “That’s condescending.” “That’s actually insulting.” “That’s invasive.” Those replies are different in kind from, “that makes me feel [x]” because the focus is on John’s behavior not the target’s feelings. Not that there’s anything wrong with the “makes me feel [X]” approach when you suspect friendly intentions, it’s just unhelpful when you suspect unfriendly intentions because it falls right in line with the critic’s goal of shining the blinding light of interrogation upon the target and watching them sweat.

  67. There’s a thing on the web that goes something like: you’re stepping on my foot, get off my foot. If you’re stepping on my foot accidentally, get off my foot. If people in your religion step on feet, get off my foot. If you have foot-stepping disorder, get off my foot. It goes on a bit, and i can’t recall it, but it was a GREAT revelation. It doesn’t matter why. The why is unimportant. He is insulting you and needs to stop. Full stop, period… if i had a nickel for every single time both men and women told me some arsy guy who was begging me ‘really didn’t mean it that way’ or ‘was only kidding’ or some version of ‘it’s ok to be a jerk and wow but aren’t you just inappropriate for objecting’ i could retire.

  68. I wonder if it would be helpful to say something like, “Well, actually, you’re giving advice wrong. You’re supposed to wait until it’s solicited.” But that might be a bit too engaging and end up encouraging the behaviour. (Because even negative engagement can encourage behaviour. It’s not like the feedback he’s gotten so far is positive, after all.)

    The Captain’s advice to stay really neutral and bored and say something that conveys “Dude, nobody cares” is probably the best way to go.

  69. ” Schrödinger’s Autist, who only ever comes out in internet discussions when men are being shitty to women, as if autism and misogyny are co-morbid (they aren’t), as if women with autism don’t exist (they do), or as if autistic people don’t try EXTRA FUCKING HARD to be polite and avoid accidentally pissing neurotypical off (they do!) and as if they don’t respond better to direct feedback about interpersonal stuff than many allistic people do because they don’t assume they already know how do to do everything (<3!)."

    This. Is. 100%. Gold.

    I think I may need to memorize this to pull out conveniently (I'll cite you!) because you say it so perfectly.

  70. I meet so many people who do this. The overwhelming majority of them are men. My favorite (“favorite”) are the ones who will do this to me at work, about aspects of my job, which I have been doing for almost seven years and they have never done. “You should put them over here!” Well no, I should put the things I’m stocking where corporate wants me to put them, so I don’t have to waste time later putting them back. But thanks. (“Thanks”.)

    I don’t get it; I made the occasional comment like this out of insecurity when I was younger, blurting out just anything to make myself sound cooler and more knowledgeable than I was, but to do it constantly? To everyone? It’s just such a fundamentally contemptuous way to interact with your fellow human beings.

  71. I have strong optimizer tendencies that I try very hard to keep in check. Because of those tendencies, I will often allow unsolicited-advice-givers the benefit of the doubt, IF their advice comes in a non-judgy, “here is some information you might not have” kind of way, free of Shoulds.

    For other situations where I have no intention of following the unsolicited advice, my favourite response is, “Sure, I *could* do that. It would be legal.” or “…sure, that doesn’t break the laws of physics.” Implying that the legality and physical possibility of the suggested course of action is its only redeeming feature.

  72. Oh my gosh, I have absolitely been in LW’s shoes. In my case, John had previously had a crush on me, and started dating my best friend when I wasn’t interested. We were in college and all in the same social circle, and suddenly when John and Sara started dating, John started to be just really crappy to me. It seemed every time I spoke, John had something mean to say. Nobody else in my group seemed to notice or care.

    I regret the way I dealt with it – instead of bringing it up in the moment or talking to John in private, I instead talked to Sara and asked her to talk to him about it. I recall I kept saying “I’m not asking you to choose between us,” which I genuinely meant, but it evidently gave the opposite impression. She stopped talking to me due to a combination of things, but I always imagine that was the final nail in the coffin for our friendship. I missed her dearly for a long time, but I also realize that someone who let their SO put you down constantly isn’t a very good friend.

    Anyhow, she eventually started to say all kinds of nasty stuff about me, too, and my friend circle remained friends with me and not her. It was hard at the time, but I’m happy with where I am now.please learn from my mistakes, LW, I hope things go better for you!

  73. My default response when people give unwanted “You could…” advice is to agree — “I could!” — and then keep on doing whatever I feel like doing.

    Sometimes I’ll upgrade to “I could, but I don’t want to” if it’s necessary, but usually “I could!” suffices to acknowledge that I have heard their observation about what is within the realm of possibility for me to do, and that they are indeed correct about it being a thing within the realm of possibility for me to do. Now everyone’s on the same page!

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