Dear Lovehacker, So I’ll just be completely honest and upfront with you from the jump: I’m not exactly what you’d call a “smart” man. Not like special needs or anything, just, a little slow. Despite putting in a lot of effort during high school, certain topics just eluded my grasp, mostly maths and science courses.
That being said, I’m actually doing really well right now, despite being kinda dumb. I have a job that pays very well, I live in an apartment that’s not a total crap-sack for the first time since I was 18 and living at home, and I have a very seriously cool partner. Her name is A, and she is the smartest, and most fiercely independent woman I’ve ever met, which for me is “The Dream” you know. However, I recently met A’s friends which is where the problems started.
We’ve been taking things pretty slow, as she had been in an an extremely abusive relationship during university, and has been extra cautious ever since. So me meeting her friends was a big deal.
It’s at this point I’ll mention that her and all of her friends are all university grads that went to a very prestigious university near my city. Almost all of them work in either a technology related field, or in the medical field, and are ridiculously smart. Now you would think my not having gone to university wouldn’t matter to a bunch of grown arse adults, and it didn’t, except to one of them. We’ll call him George.
During the dinner, things were going pretty well, everyone seemed to like me just fine, and I honestly liked them. However, it eventually came out that I never went to university. This is when things took a turn, Doc. George latched on to this little fact, and spent the rest of the night making jokes at my expense. It was to the point where things were getting awkward, and he was not relenting.
Now, to describe George is to describe a meme: He is obese, has a very patchy “beard”, showed up wearing khaki shorts and a fedora, and more than once referred to the server as m’lady, (screw you Joel McHale). Now, I very much tried to be the bigger person, but then he called me a retard.
I must have had a horrific look on my face because everything just stopped, even George got the hint at this point, because his face turned white as a sheet. I have a niece that’s disabled who I absolutely adore, and he very much crossed a line that he will never come back from in my eyes.
A realised what was about to happen, grabbed me, and started pulling me away, but not before I layed into this neck-bearded pud. I said some things that I am not very proud of, especially because I myself was overweight when I was a teen, so I very much know that struggle. She takes me outside, tells me to go home and cool off, she’ll try and explain to them what happened, and she’ll text me later.
Later that night she comes back to my place and apologises for George, saying that the reason he’s like that is because he’s a little protective of her. When pressed on this she admits that every six months or so, whether she’s single or not, he asks her out.
She lets him down as gently as possible, so as not to disturb their group dynamic, but in the process he has seen this as being lead on, and has become increasingly bitter about the whole situation. He actively tries to drive the men off that she dates, and she admits he has been successful in the past.
The guy’s an arse, but that has no bearing on how I feel about her, which I explain. Then she asks me to apologise to him for what I said. I tell her that if he apologises to me in person, I’ll do the same, and we can move on.
I don’t think I can do it. The thought of apologising to this basement dwelling 4-channer makes me so irrationally angry, that if I’m forced to I might throw a chair at him instead. A didn’t say this but it’s pretty clear that her friends are a deal breaker, she considers them family, and she really wants us to get along.
So what do I do? Do I swallow my pride, and apologise to this human Twitch chat room, or do I stand my ground, and give up probably the coolest woman I’ve ever dated? Signed, Dumb and Angry
You’ve left out some critical information. A told you that George of the Bungle has driven off boyfriends before. What you don’t mention is “how”… but I suspect you’ve just witnessed it.
George here strikes me as the type who knows that A has fallen for one of the classic Geek Social Fallacies, the most famous of which is “ostracisers are evil” but only slightly less well known is: “All of my friends are friends with each other!” He’s in the friends group because he latched on like a barnacle with boundary issues and is about as hard to pry off.
While he may be the equivalent of a fedora with legs, he is savvy enough to know how to leverage this.
Have you ever heard the phrase “All’s fair in love and war” before, DaA? George of the Bungle here has. He has also likely read Sun Tzu’s Art of War – especially this particular line: “If your enemy is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him.”
He’s trying to do two things. First: He’s trying to drive home the idea that you’re the wrong social class and an idiot and make A (and you) feel like you don’t belong there.
Second: He’s trying to needle you into… well, doing more or less what you did. Granted, I don’t think he expected it to turn into Free Arse Beating Day, but y’know, these are the risks one takes when one tries to stir up shit.
The problem is that it ultimately plays into his hands; now he gets to play the victim in the name of “maintaining the group dynamic”. So you’re left with an unpalatable choice: Swallow your pride and apologise or stand your ground and lose an amazing relationship.
Except there’s a third choice here: Flip the script. You never want to take on a conflict on ground your opponent has chosen, so make them come to you instead.
Right, that’s getting a little too “rawr rawr this is WAR Mrs Peacock”. Let me explain: George here is hoping that he can push things without actually crossing the line from “missing stair” to “actively toxic to the group“. But just as he is needling you and attempting to play the class and education card against you, you can take a page from his own playbook and needle him right back.
So first things first: Yes. George should apologise to you and I’d advise you to make that a condition of your apologising. But you are going to apologise. In public. In front of her friends.
And you’re going to say, “I’m sorry I said those things, it was uncalled for. But when people throw words like ‘retard’ around, I think about my niece. She’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever known and when I hear people dropping slurs like that, I think of the people who’ve bullied her and called her that to her face and sent her home crying, wanting to know why people are so mean and… well, I’m sure you can understand why that sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable.”
Is this how I normally tell people to apologise? Nope. Is it a little passive-aggressive at the end there? Yuuuuuup. Is it gonna make him look like the arsehat for dropping the r-word? Oh hell yes.
Next: You change your “weakness” to a strength. See, the last thing you want to do is compete with George on his own ground. He’s trying to set the terms and drive a wedge between you and A by bringing up your differences.
This often leads to a trap; by getting irritated by his jabs or arguing against them, you’re letting him set the terms. In either case, you are granting that there’s some sort of validity to what he’s doing. You’re agreeing that there’s something shameful about having not gone to university or for being blue-collar by taking what he says as an insult.
So, again, you need to disarm him by taking his weapons away. You do this by utilising some verbal judo and playing Agree and Amplify.
Take this scene from the movie Roxanne as an example:
In this scene an arsehole at the bar is trying to provoke Steve Martin’s character with a fairly obvious taunt. Martin’s character, on the other hand, turns the whole thing around by agreeing and amplifying; yeah his nose is big but really, that’s the best you can do? Over the course of four minutes and 20 jokes, Martin has won over the entire bar and made the guy look like an idiot.
This is what you’re aiming for: Stealing ground out from under George and making it clear who the “hero” is in this situation. See, he’s hoping to look clever by calling you dumb and making you get flustered. But if you were to, say, agree with him and then turn it up to 11, suddenly he’s the arsehole.
He mocks your lack of education, you say, “Ungh. Me Grunt no understand hat boy fancy word. Why hat boy try talk above Grunt?” He makes a big deal out of your being blue collar and you can go all Beverly Hillbillies on him, talking about how shitfire, now that you’re in the big city you’re just not used to all their high-falutin’ ways, but have they seen your apartment’s concrete swimmin’ hole?
Taking his material and exaggerating it to the point of absurdity is a subtle, humorous way to disarm him; if he tries to go back to the less obvious, less over-the-top insults, then he looks as though he’s out of ideas. But at the same time, he can’t really go any bigger because how’re you supposed to top “I’m just a simple caveman, frightened by your superior ways”? And by doing this, you make it clear that he’s acting like an arsehole without directly calling him out.
Plus: Do it right and it will make A’s friends laugh. But instead of being the butt of the joke, you’ll be the one delivering it, and George won’t have a way of responding.
You may feel like he needs to catch some hands, but getting violent is going to be a drastic overreaction to a dude mouthing off. Insulting him directly only works in his favour because it makes you the arsehole – especially when you’re mocking him for being fat.
You’re a relative newcomer to the group and you haven’t been part of it long enough to have insider privileges that include things like “picking fights”. He was there first and A isn’t ready to admit that sometimes the fact that he’s already in the group doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s a dick. But the more that you can make A’s friends laugh with you over this, the worse George looks.
One thing you shouldn’t do, however, is try to drive a wedge between A and George. You especially shouldn’t poke George about A or tell him to butt out. Getting all Big Moose telling dudes to “stay away from your girl” makes you look insecure and it’s just going to piss off A when it gets back to her. Because it will. Because let’s be real: George is a squealer.
You know George isn’t a direct threat to the relationship. A isn’t attracted to him and she isn’t going to date him. To some degree, he already knows this, which is why he keeps trying to drive her boyfriends away. His only edge is that he was there first, so if you take a metaphorical or literal swing – even if he richly deserves it – then he looks like the victim.
Is it worth asking A why she puts up with George’s behaviour or why she lets him try to run off her boyfriends? Sure. Once. Unless George escalates, you get one opening before you start looking insecure or like you’re trying to make her pick sides. The more you bring it up without an obvious inciting incident, the more you’re going to run the risk of triggering the “my friends all get along and if they don’t that’s a problem” issue… and then George’s seniority wins.
And don’t forget: You may not have A – or her friends’ – education… but you also don’t have their crippling student debt. You’re actually in a better position than they are; many, if not most of the best paying jobs out there are actually blue-collar.
So while George is mocking your lack of a university degree, you aren’t going to be spending the rest of your life throwing 2/3rds of your paycheck down a hole. Remember that the next time George tries to poke at your “weakness”.
This story originally appeared on Kotaku.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove.