DEAR MISS MANNERS: My partner of over 10 years is a wonderful person, and has been my rock through extraordinarily challenging circumstances. I feel very fortunate that we’ve found each other, and I know he feels the same.
My concern is that he has a way of interacting with people — including myself — that could be described as rude. While it doesn’t come from a malicious place, his antagonistic behavior and words can be jarring, embarrassing and ultimately, hurtful to other people.
He’s made jokes that upset others — never anything like using racial slurs or misogynistic language, but a general jokiness that can be anxiety-inducing. He will stare at people doing yoga in the park, and openly challenge others when he feels they’re confused or incorrect. I overheard him on a conference call openly contradicting a person of authority in front of others.
He sometimes corrects me publicly, so I have to stand up for myself and tell him that no, I’m correct and his assumptions are wrong. He then apologizes and laughs a bit, sometimes in a way that kind of puts me down. If I point it out to him later, privately, he feels very badly and apologizes sincerely.
I know he is a kind person who does not mean to hurt others, and that this is a reflection of his personal history, insecurity and neglectful upbringing. Plus, he has a diagnosed mental health disorder that can affect behavior and personality.
I can view him with compassion — and, of course, I have my own flaws and behavioral challenges, which he patiently navigates. But others do not necessarily have access to all this information, which can help contextualize his behavior.
When it comes to other people, I’ve tried to point out how his behavior or words might impact others, and he almost always brushes me off and says I’m overly sensitive. I’m worried that this is affecting his relationships, both personal and professional. In fact, I know it is. As his partner, I feel I have a duty to help him see the light, but he has basically set a boundary asking me not to correct him anymore, and so I feel like I must respect that. But I can’t knock this feeling that I’m supposed to be helping him.
Should I keep trying to help him adjust his behavior, or do as he asks and leave him alone? If you recommend the latter, is there anything I can do, indirectly, to point out a more productive and polite way of interacting with others?
GENTLE READER: Speak for yourself.
Miss Manners is not being flippant; she is genuinely advising you to speak to him only about his behavior toward you, not toward others. He will soon learn, if he hasn’t already, that his methods are tactless — and that he is alienating others and perhaps even jeopardizing his career.
If he has been genuinely remorseful when you have pointed out hurt feelings or embarrassment, stay the course and continue to do so — but for your own sanity, try not to listen in on his conference calls. (c) MISS MANNERS
Wow, that’s depressing. This letter writer is trying so hard to justify her boyfriend’s bad, bad behavior. Let’s look at all the justifications, in order as they appeared!
- His bad behavior doesn’t come from a malicious place.
- At least he’s not racist or misogynistic!
- At least the letter writer’s able to stand up to him!
- He apologizes and feels bad later.
- He’s a kind person who doesn’t mean to hurt others.
- He’s had a hard life.
- He’s insecure.
- He was neglected as a child.
- My personal favorite: he has a diagnosed mental health disorder that can affect behavior and personality. Okay. Um, I’m schizophrenic, bipolar, and obsessive. I probably also have PTSD, extreme dissociative tendencies, and some occasional borderline personality traits. But I also have a conscience, and if I hurt someone’s feelings, whether on accident or because I’ve gone off the deep end of sanity, I feel guilty and want to make it right.
- The letter writer herself isn’t perfect, so he shouldn’t have to be perfect, either!
- He’s misunderstood! Others just don’t understand him because they don’t know his history.
- It’s the letter writer’s job to help him! She truly believes this!
Wow. This is really upsetting. As a mentally ill person who loses control of her behavior all the time, I have an issue with bullet point #9 above. No, no, no, no, no, no. That’s not how it works. This is how it works: “I’m so sorry. I had a bad moment, but I’ll try harder to prevent it from happening again. Please forgive me.” And then you actually try harder to prevent it from happening again, by whatever means necessary. I think the letter writer’s boyfriend didn’t get that important memo.
Instead, he’s more or less forcing her to accept his shameless bad behavior. GROAN. Bad behavior of a recurring nature should never be accepted. There are exceptions, of course (like if your loved one gets the flu and becomes a total jerk because he/she is a pathetic sick person), but none of them really apply here.
The letter writer has been with this guy for ten years. That would be hard to walk away from in more ways than one. But I’d do it. What she’s seeing is a vestige of humanity in him because of how he’s helped her through hard times. But… and I’m shaking my head as I type this… that’s not enough to hold onto. This guy is bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. And I’m not copy/pasting there. I literally typed the word bad followed by a comma repeatedly. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.
Is this an act of martyrdom? Does the letter writer feel special for tolerating him in a way that no one else would? I doubt it. My sense is that she’s truly blinded to what’s going on here. She really thinks that he’s a good person, and that it’s her job to appreciate him and to not push him beyond what he’ll tolerate regarding personal growth.
The dynamic here sickens me. She goes to him with valid complaints and concerns, and he plays the “boundary” card. Like, it violates my boundaries for you to keep correcting my bad behavior, so please respect this in the future and quit doing it. [I want to slam my forehead on the keyboard, but I’ll refrain.]
She needs to cut her losses and run, fast and far.
What causes this dynamic? Women are prone to believing in a holy, divine connection, and then they’re asked to accept a lot of unacceptable behaviors. I can intuitively see myself getting caught up in that, and in the past, I’m sure I have. There was one guy I was involved with who I should’ve ditched way before I did. [Shaking my head.]
Letter writer, if you’re out there, bail. It’ll hurt and be hard, but as humans, we’ve all gone through it.