I Wish I Were Better At Telling Off Guys Who Behave Like Losers

Snarky dudes at the bar, flaky first dates, narcissistic pretty boys — over the years, I’ve encountered enough jerks to deserve a merit badge. Still, my response to these slime balls isn’t as authoritative as I’d like it to be. Even though I’m perfectly capable of evicting lowlifes from my romantic sphere, I’m not very good at responding in the moment to their bad behavior.

  1. I don’t always know exactly what’s wrong right away. My reaction to mistreatment is less boss bitch and more retreating introvert. Feelings are confusing to me until I get the time to sit around analyzing, comparing, and categorizing for a while. If I’m gonna let you have it, I prefer to be specific about my grievance. There’s something anti-climatic about saying, “I know that I find you somehow nauseating, but I can’t yet identify the source of the stomach-souring effect.” Although, honestly, it would feel amazing to say exactly that.
  2. I’m terrified of being one-upped. I pride myself on at least attempting eloquence and well-reasoned argument once my main point solidifies in my mind. I know, though, that I just can’t slay with a spontaneously crafted telling off. Jerks don’t deserve the ego boost of watching me struggle and splutter. The significant trade-off is a loss of impact once I finally do put my points in order.
  3. I try too hard to avoid stereotypes. Fragile, illogical female. Possibly menstruating. Aww, look, she’s all pissed off. How CUTE. I just can’t stand to give the bastard the satisfaction. I operate on the basis of the”ignore him and he’ll get bored” theory. The problem is, plenty of guys will push as far as they can to watch you squirm. Since I can’t suppress my body language, I might as well use my words to fight back.
  4. My belief in fairness gets out of hand. Call me an idealist, but I believe we should all be quicker to consider each other’s perspectives than to jump down each other’s throats. It’s hard to admit that some people are flat-out manipulative, self-serving human turds. Worse, I hate the idea of opening my own behavior to attack. Jerks don’t apologize, they turn the tables. Am I prepared to subvert his tactics? Is my own behavior unimpeachable?
  5. I don’t like to embarrass people. I’m sensitive to the fact that it’s uncomfortable to be held accountable right in the heat of the moment. I always assume that the guy doesn’t really mean to be a jerk. I shouldn’t make him feel bad for a quasi-innocent mistake, but calling out is the most effective way to make someone understand his own behavior. When your dog chews all your underwear, you don’t sit around for three days contemplating the best way to discuss her indiscretion with her. You stop her in the moment with a gentle correction. Immediate, calm intervention is best — and humans aren’t far off the mark from dogs.
  6. Fear of reprisal holds me back. How stable is this douche? What will I be provoking in him if I flip him the bird and walk out of the bar? Maybe we’ve been out a few times, and the inner-jerk is only now emerging, like weeds after a spring rain. He might even know my address. Until I’ve invested in self-defense training and maybe a rescued guard dog, I feel better playing it safe, but that inner-timidity makes me angry with myself.
  7. I’ve convinced myself prematurely that most guys are a lost cause. But even a lost cause might have a eureka moment if I force him to confront his boorish behavior. I shouldn’t let it pass just because I’ve convinced myself my words will do no good. It’s time for me to be a little braver–and maybe have a little more faith in the male of the species to outgrow idiocy.
  8. I admire women who refuse to take crap. Some ladies make a fine art of giving jerks a piece of their mind (or a drink to the face). They’re amazing. And they attract guys who appreciate strong, independent women. I’ve gotten better at recognizing rampant sexism and figuring out the qualities I expect in a guy. Now it’s time to channel my inner goddess and let ‘er rip.
  9. Building confidence in one part of my life will help me to build confidence in all parts. I can shrug and quietly avoid obnoxious barflies or pushy online Lotharios, but how about unreasonably pushy bosses? Or male medical professionals who think they know more about being a woman than I do? When it comes to standing up for myself, there’s much more at stake than a cringe-worthy dinner date.
  10. Practice makes perfect. I tend to make excuses when I don’t want to confront a guy. I can refuse to see him again, no need for discussion. I don’t owe a man an explanation for my lack of interest, after all. But I’m depriving myself of opportunities to strengthen my conflict management skills. I’ll probably botch it the first time or 12, but I’ll never improve if I’m unwilling to screw up a few attempts. Like the shy, shaky-voiced kid on the debate team, I desperately need to speak out.
Jackie Dever is a freelance writer and editor in Southern California. When she's not working, she enjoys hiking, reading, and sampling craft beers.