My Jelly Bean

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War On Back-Handed Compliments

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I hate back-handed compliments. You know, those comments someone will make that seem like they're saying something nice, but that really are meant to put you down. I think most of us have been on the receiving end of that at one time or another.

When I first started dating my guy, his good friend was with a girl (still is) who, for whatever reason, seemed to feel threatened by me. I didn't catch onto this at first, because she went overboard to be nice to me, and "teach" me all the rules of their crowd, etc.

But soon enough, I found that everytime we'd hung out with these two, I'd somehow be feeling bad about myself, or upset about something, but couldn't put my finger on it.

Finally, I figured it out. It was these needling little comments that the girl - let's call her "Jane" - would make. Like I'd wear my hair curly and she'd say, "It's so great that you have the confidence to go natural like that, and not care about what guys think. I mean, guys hate curly hair." Or on another memorable occasion, she came out with, "Most people couldn't wear something like that without looking trashy. But on you, it kind of works."

She also tried to plant little seeds of doubt in my mind about my boyfriend, for no reason at all that I could think of, except to mess with me. She'd mention something that happened when the guys went out together, and if I hadn't heard about it, try to make me worry that my BF was hiding stuff from me.

Like one time when the guys in the group all went out to a club, and one guy (who was in a serious relationship with a girl in our group) messed around with some girl there. A few days later, "Jane" and I went to lunch, and she told me about all this. When I said I hadn't heard the story, she said, "Wow, do you think there's a reason (my BF) didn't tell you? I wonder if he's doing something too, that he doesn't want people to talk about."

In the moment, I stupidly went along with her theory. I remember thinking, "Hey, why didn't he tell me? That must mean something. Maybe there's a problem with trust in my relationship." It wasn't until I was almost home from lunch that I realized, "Wait a minute. My BF forgets to tell me everything, and he couldn't care less about social gossip, like who's doing what. Jane's BF is the big guy-gossip in the group, so of course she knows. This isn't a problem with my relationship, it's totally typical."

I also thought about how my guy is way more trustworthy than Jane's guy, in terms of other girls (Jane's BF is a big flirt and always talks about whoever he thinks is hot, while my guy is good about not doing that too much). Then I thought, maybe she sees that my relationship is better than hers in some ways, and she's jealous - so she's decided to mess mine up, instead of making hers better.

That made me pretty angry. So I decided, the only way to stop her from making trouble, and dropping those backhanded remarks, was to respond to her as if she really meant what she said, and as if she meant well, instead of being my usual defensive self.

I waited until the next time she pulled her signature move. It happened at a big party at my place, that I threw to celebrate an important occasion in my life. Jane came over to say hi to me and then, predicatably, she said something like, "That's a good dress. It makes you look like you actually have boobs." Instead of saying "thanks" like an idiot, or feeling wounded and walking away feeling angry as usual, I responded with, "Thanks Jane. I know I've told you that sometimes I feel self-conscious about my small chest. So it means a lot to me that you'd give me a compliment like that, because I know you're trying to make me feel good about myself, on this important night in my life." (Yes, I practiced strategies before the party).

Her reaction was hilarious. She got a look on her face that was half "I failed", and half "what the hell is going on here". I made some excuse to walk away from her, and felt so amazing about myself for the rest of the party.

It only took one or two more such instances for things to change between me and Jane. We still didn't like each other much (under the surface - we're always fake polite to each other for the sake of our guys and group harmony), but there were no more comment wars.

Now it's a few years later, and Jane has gotten more mature - as I'm sure I have too - and we actually get along pretty well now. We're never going to be best friends, but I think we've made a truce, and are a sort of friends... which is better (and less tiring) than how things were before.

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  1. GlennaBelle's Avatar
    Aha! I wonder if we all have 'Janes', because I know I used to have a 'friend' who did that all the time and only now- two years after I realized she was hurting me more than she was worth being around- do I realize how many back-handed compliments she gave me. Reading this makes me realize it wasn't me, it was her and her insecurity. Thanks, JB!

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