How do I deal with a condescending friend?
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“A friend of mine, who is also the boyfriend of my best friend, has recently started taking a very condescending tone (and way of speaking) when he explains something to me or responds to something I said. I suspect that he has a tendency to do that, but he’s usually controlling himself not to. But with the stress of our current situation he’s less successful in doing that lately.
How do I approach this situation? Knowing that we are all under a great deal of strain right now and that I don’t want to upset him (and most importantly my best friend). I can’t really talk to her about it, can I?”
Hello, sweet reader! I’m so glad you’re asking about this. It’s no secret that a condescending friend rarely gets their point across. I’d even go as far as saying condescending friends can generally be resented, so it’s nice that you’re looking for advice before entirely dismissing the person. Kudos to you!
This sounds like a tried-and-true case of mansplaining, which, as defined by Oxford, is “the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” Lucky you, eh?! I know, I know…not all men. (Although in this case it’s true!) While it is a commonplace male/female dynamic, hence the word “mansplain,” this is an issue that we see beyond the gender binary. It’s a classic example of one person thinking they know more than the other, which we’ve all unfortunately been subjected to. The patronizing, dismissive tone has come from all sides of the gender spectrum at least once in our lives.
I wonder how much your bestie (his girlfriend) deals with this, especially if you think he’s typically quite good at biting his tongue. For what it’s worth, you can definitely approach her about feeling this way toward her boyfriend—after all, you are friends for a reason. Maybe she’s so used to it that she doesn’t quite see it anymore (which needs to be discussed)—or she recognizes it and wants him to work on it, too. Either way, you’ll both be helping each other out.
Open communication and talking things through will make your friendship stronger, even if it feels hard at first.
But first, before approaching your best friend, have you brought it up with him? We often shy away from communication because there may be a chance for conflict (myself very much included…I’ve never been one for confrontation). We’ve written another Good Question response about breaking up with a draining friend, which I am by no means saying is what you need to do, but there’s a great tidbit in there that I’ll paste for you here, and we can workshop to fit your circumstance. In the piece, my colleague Danielle writes:
“…have you told [them] how you feel? Have you explicitly said that you feel both trivialized and dominated, defeated and burnt out? […] I’m advising it as a method of leveling the playing field, of allowing two people an equal opportunity to speak their piece…”
Next time he corrects you, assumes he knows best, or reacts to something you’ve said in a less-than-savory way, do you feel comfortable expressing your discomfort? If so, try telling him how he makes you feel: talked down to, overlooked, disregarded, patronized.
It’d be doing your friendship a solid—both with the bf and the bestie—to speak up about how this is making you feel. If you feel that mentioning his condescending nature will upset him, well…woof. I’d consider your friendship as a whole and what kind of person he is.
If he responds defensively, that may indicate a lack of awareness and an inability to change. Friendship is a two-way street, and he has to be willing to work on himself in the relationship, too. He can’t speak down to you and not listen when you tell him he’s doing so, that’s just not a fair (or healthy) friendship dynamic.
I know you mentioned in your original question that you’re all under a bit of strain right now…I’m not sure if that’s general, surviving-through-a-pandemic strain (very valid) or if you have something else on your plate (I hope for your sake, no). Either way, you have every right to go easy on yourself and your group, but not at the cost of your own feelings. You can be empathetic towards a stressful situation and still not want to be walked all over, you know?
Ultimately, communicating boundaries is key to healthy relationships. It’s never nice to feel talked down to, needlessly parented, or patronized. I absolutely do think you can bring it up to your bestie, but maybe try going directly to the source and talk to him first. If he’s unwilling to hear you out or doesn’t show any interest in changing, you can talk to your bestie about it, too. You’ve got this! We’ll be here cheering you on as you speak up for yourself. 💛
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Alyssa Julian is the Social Media Lead at The Good Trade. She’s LA born and raised, and when she’s not scrolling her phone for the latest trends, she can be found at the farmers’ market, camping out of the back of her Subaru, or searching for adoptable dogs on Petfinder. If she’s not off-grid for the weekend, try looking for her at her home studio, where she’s probably making cups for a new coffee shop. Say hi on Instagram! 👋