Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Rubbing One Off

We have seen this problem before, but perhaps it’s worth another go. The problem is simple. It is not even complex. A woman has a new boyfriend. Her friends have subtly pointed out that they do not like him. They find him "tough to like. They seem to find him grating. Apparently, what the letter writer calls “direct candor” strikes many other people as rude. She writes to Carolyn Hax and asks for enlightenment.

The letter writer, who calls herself Guest Rubbing on Hosts likes her boyfriend for his insensitive and crude remarks. Her friends do not. She does not know what to do. She suggests that she might try to buffer the problem with her friends, but she does not want to tell her boyfriend not to be himself.

Pause for a moment over that remark. If being himself means being rude, crude and lewd, doesn’t this suggest that she sees his bad manners and lack of decorum as a winning quality, and also as who he really is? If said boyfriend is not capable of controlling his distemper among other people, then he is acting on a stage, reciting his lines, with no real sensitivity to audience reaction. This does not speak well of him. It does not make look like a good prospective mate. If he rubs his girlfriend’s friends the wrong way, how does he treat managers, colleagues and co-workers on the job? 

My boyfriend and I are going to visit some friends who have invited us to join them at their lake house. A few months ago, my friends told me that my boyfriend is "tough to like." I realize his sense of humor isn't for everyone, but his direct candor — while harsh — is one of the traits I find attractive about him.

I'd like to buffer any difficulties with my friends, but I don't want to tell my boyfriend not to be himself, nor do I look forward to telling him he isn't completely liked. Any suggestions on how to approach this?

— Guests Rubbing on Hosts

Hax correctly points out that GRH should not buffer anything at all. If the boyfriend’s entertaining personality is socially disruptive, she would do better to find a new boyfriend. And she ought to revise her own standards about what is and is not a good quality in a boyfriend. If his character is bad, he is a bad bet.

Hax explains:

When you are with someone, the combination you create has to stand or fall on its merits, and that includes with your friends, your family, your home life, your professional life, your personal habits, your hobbies, your values, your goals, all of it. It’s not always going to be perfect, obviously, but if you have to exert a special effort to curate scenes and manage personalities and schedules just to keep the whole thing from blowing up, and if you’re already explaining/excusing/justifying yourself and your interest in him, then you’re going to exhaust yourself — especially over time — and sow resentment on both sides. Special orchestration is a sign that something is Not Going to Work.

Quite right, I say. 

One commenter suggested that perhaps the friends would grow to like him, but that seems farfetched. If GRH has to make that much of an effort to cover for her boyfriend, her friends will cease inviting her. Their suggesting that he is difficult to like is a euphemism for: he’s insufferable. 

She should take a hint, and understand, as Hax says, that she will soon have to choose between boyfriend and friends. It’s an unpleasant choice, but in most cases, she should choose her friends. If the boyfriend’s main value is as entertainment, making a life with him seems like a bad idea. If he rubs your friends the wrong way, think of the way he rubs strangers.


UbuMaccabee said...

It would help to have a tangible example of what exactly he says this is regarded at blunt or rude. It's such a sliding scale these days, and with the victim culture in full swing, I an sometimes astonished at what people deem offensive. But even truth can be said with decorum. I think all of us who live in reality have to temper what we say for the audience we are with. People who cannot, or will not, make these slight alterations for context are going to learn the hard way the high cost of their imperiousness. I trip to the social isolation ward is sometimes a bracing tonic.

sestamibi said...

Her boyfriend might be an aspie. She should check that out.

MikeyParks said...

He's probably on the spectrum. I agree with Ubu – I'd like to see an example or two of his tactlessness/bluntness and some context. I'd also like to know more about her friends. Likely, he's the wrong guy for her, but I have to believe that this would end up as unpleasant for him as it would for her. I think some truth is called for.