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Hello Captain Awkward & Team!

A couple of years ago my mother met a new partner, A. He has many fine qualities such as being handy with building things, generous with his time and always willing to lend a hand. He makes my mother very happy and I am happy for her. He is also the biggest mansplainer ever.

If we talk about something and I make an assertion he disagrees with he questions me, he always demands sources (as in right now at the dinner table I should cite article, author and page number). When he cannot argue his case successfully he’ll just cop to his extensive business travel experience or other business/age-related experience. He does not respect the fact that I am more knowledgeable about my subject of study (I am a grad student in history) and will disagree with me or treat me like I’m ignorant.

If we have a discussion about something and he does not believe me and my boyfriend steps in and says The. Exact. Same. Thing. he will immediately fold. Every single time (my boyfriend has noticed this, too). And then I want to throw my hands into the air and scream, “I’M SORRY, I DIDN’T REALIZE THAT A BAG OF DICKS WAS A PREREQUISITE TO BE ELIGIBLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS CONVERSATION.” (I don’t scream that.)

He is insecure and must always have what other people have when it comes to food, candy & similar. He needs constant, repeated validation from all people present for things like setting the table, barbecuing something for dinner etc. (As in, everyone must explicitly say to him, “Well done A, for barbecuing those steaks” or he will fish for it. Forever.) And I feel like everyone just accept this way of things. My mom will do some version of “boys will be boys”. His (adult) children just quietly roll their eyes. Everyone says “That’s just what A is like. It’s stupid but whatever, don’t let it get to you.”

I am an assertive person and I do not as a general rule let people trample all over me. I am not interested in enabling his inner man-child and just writing about this has me angry. But I also want to keep the peace and have a functional relationship with A for my mother’s sake. But I can’t always shut up, never engage in a discussion, tolerate being condescended to and bottle everything up for the sake of “peace”.

How can I deal with all of this in a mature, assertive manner?

Sincerely,

Hysterical Historian

Dear Historian:

We talked about dealing with the unpleasant partners of people we otherwise love a little while back (and way, way back and some in the middle), but your question is making me think about this in a slightly different way that I think will apply to many situations.

Let’s talk about what “keeping the peace” means in a family situation like this. A nice person has somehow brought a jerk into the family/social group and exposed everyone to this person’s bad behavior. They feel guilty and awkward, because they love Jerkface but can also see that this person is not treating others well, so their loyalties are torn. They are realistic about the likelihood that Jerkface will ever change (It is unlikely), so they try to prevail upon the more reasonable folks around to be the adults. “That’s just how he is…” “Just ignore him….” “Don’t sink to his level…” “He’s just insecure. You’re so much more together, can’t you just let it go?” etc.  They win if they get to keep Jerkface in their lives without too much friction from the people who Jerkface hurts and tramples all over.

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