dating, friendship, fun, relationships

Last night: A bachelorette party and adventures with men

bachelorette party girlsmen the show poster

My brother drops me off at the apartment of the cousin of bride-to-be at 2:30 pm on the dot. It is on Armitage, not far from where I used to live in Logan Square. I like being back in the neighborhood. The feeling of familiarity is nice. The building is nice, too. It’s the kind with a buzzer and intercom and elevator, which is unusual for the area.

I call the maid of honor who is also the friend that invited me. She says I’m the first one to arrive. I’m surprised because I was given strict instructions not to be late–we have a party bus coming and apparently they charge for every minute they sit waiting. She admonishes me. “You’re dealing with brown people, Jessica. Did you really think any of us would be on time?”

After scrolling through the buzzer’s options and realizing I don’t know the apartment number or the bride’s cousin’s name, I stand on the sidewalk in the sun and relax. The bachelorette party is 80s-themed and my Sixteen Candles t-shirt is appropriately ripped in lines across the back to reflect that. I can feel the sun hitting my skin through the holes in the shirt. I close my eyes and enjoy the sensation, marveling at how good it feels to be warm and sans bra.  I am wearing little gel stickies on my nipples, but that’s it. I contemplate donating all of my bras to Goodwill and wearing the gel stickies everyday, forever. My breasts aren’t very large and don’t sag so the only reason I wear a bra is to hide my nipples from a world that apparently finds them offensive. The gel stickies are so light and comfortable, I can’t even feel that they’re on.

The maid of honor arrives about 15 minutes later. In a flurry, we move boxes and bags of bachelorette party stuff from her car up to the apartment. During this I meet the host, her sister, and one of their friends. I arrange oversized wine glasses with red, pink, and silver glittered bottoms on the granite countertop–one for each woman attending. We stuff them with goodies: neon mesh 80s-style gloves, a mini bottle of either Fireball Whiskey or Rumchata, jelly bracelets, one Reese’s peanut butter cup, a button that says something about being part of a bachelorette party, and a package of Pop Rocks.

We put on bright pink lipstick and kiss a photo mat that will later frame a photo from the evening and be given as a gift to the bachelorette. We write messages next to our kiss prints. I write, “Congrats! xoxo, Jessica” and draw a heart. I instantly think this is idiotic and wish that I, a writer, had stopped to think of a more thoughtful or interesting message.

The host’s husband appears, introduces himself, and says he’s leaving for the night. He’s tall and handsome and well-dressed. Once he’s out, the host, who is as gorgeous as her man, pours me and the other girls rosé in a stemless wine glass. We toast and the drinking officially begins. I set up a “hangover station” for tomorrow morning. It consists of pretzels, bottled water, ibuprofen, and a framed sign that says “hangover station” and thanks people for attending the party.

The bride and three more friends arrive. We are all accounted for now as a group of nine. Someone jokes about the diversity of our group. We are Arab, Lao, Pakistani, Puerto Rican, and White. We put on our gloves and bracelets and quickly gobble down grape tomatoes and hummus, and grapes, fancy cheeses, and those paper-white, paper-thin crackers I can never remember the name of. We compliment each others’ outfits. Everyone looks awesome. Earlier I worried I’d be embarrassed to go out in a group like this, that it’d feel too corny. My worries were in vain. I am nothing but excited.

We grab some snacks, a bottle of champagne, a bottle of Patron and head out to the party bus. The bus driver is young. He resembles a comedian I once crushed on from afar and, as a result, I instantly like him. I know it’s not fair or logical, but I will give a chance to any man who resembles a man I’ve liked before. This man is tall and thin with dark hair and dark eyes. He looks nice in his black pants and white, button-down shirt. He has a thick Eastern European accent and a worried expression on his face. We are leaving later than scheduled.

The bus takes off, but we yell for the driver to pull over after he travels about half a mile because we can’t figure out how to get our music connected to the bus’s sound system. Once the music is playing we all begin dancing immediately. The driver pleads with us not to dance on the seats. We’re offended because we hadn’t planned on dancing on the seats. Someone indignantly points out that we’re in our 30s. He explains that the seats are brand new and he’s worried a girl will dance on them and poke holes in them with her high heels. Suddenly we all notice that the entire bus smells like new seats. We decide we like that.

The driver looks really nervous before turning around in his seat and pulling the bus away from the curb. I’m pretty sure he’s convinced we’re going to destroy the bus and get him fired. I wonder if he’s new to the job. I want to hug him.

Someone uncorks the champagne with a big pop and it bubbles over. That combined with the music and the bus’s flashy lights makes me feel like I’m in a rap video. I realize that bachelorette parties and weddings are the times regular people get to live like the wealthy. We toast to the bride and quickly down the champagne. There’s a stripper pole on the bus and the bride dances around it and does spins and other things I don’t know the name of. She holds herself up by her legs, and then does that again except upside-down, so her skirt flips up and exposes her underwear. I’m impressed. We all are.

party bus

The bride’s hobby is teaching pole dance and she’s great at it. As I watch her, I wonder if I should start pole dancing. Not now, but in general. I’ve been doing Zumba lately, but I worry that it’s not challenging enough to give me the type of body I want. I think about the bride’s abs and worry that I’m doing the wrong kind of exercise, that Zumba will never give me abs like hers. I shake off the thought and refocus on having fun.

Next, we take shots of Patron. A bag of already-cut-up limes appears and we each take one and pass it around along with a salt shaker. Taking shots of tequila makes me feel cool, like the type of person who is up for anything. I don’t do it often, and accidentally lick the salt off my hand after instead of before taking the shot.

Next, we take shots of Fireball Whiskey mixed 50/50 with Rumchata. It makes a drink called “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” that I’ve never heard of before. It really does taste like the cereal, which surprises me. I’ve always thought of the “red” or “hot” cinnamon as being different from “brown” or “spice” cinnamon. I guess I have a lot to learn about seasonings.

The party bus drops us off at Museum Campus, a grassy area near the Field Museum that has a great view of downtown. The drive that loops around in front of Adler Planetarium is backed up with traffic so we hop out and tell the driver we’ll get back on when he gets through the loop. We cross the street and take photos of ourselves and each other in front of the lake and the skyline. We ask some passersby to take photos of our entire group.

chicago skyline

I see a group of three twenty-somethings smoking cigarettes. I walk over to them and say, “I have a unique proposition for you.” They look nervous. I pull several packs of Pop Rocks out of my purse and fan them out like a poker hand. “How about we make a trade? One cigarette for one pack of Pop Rocks–you choose the flavor.” They all laugh. The lone guy in the group pulls out two packs of cigarettes and lets me pick between Camel and Marlboro. I pick Camel. He tells the girls they can have the Pop Rocks and they choose strawberry flavor. He asks if I need a lighter and I say no, this is for after dinner, and put the cigarette in my wallet. I realize I’m already drunk. I give the two girls jelly bracelets.

The bus arrives and I wrangle the girls to get back on it because even from a distance I can tell our driver is worried by the way he is craning his head and looking around. A friend and I are the first ones back on the bus. I want to ask his name, but I get nervous, so she asks. He says Marios. She asks where he’s from and he says Romania.

I instantly daydream about vacationing in Romania with Marios. The daydream details are fuzzy since I know nothing about the country. I vow to look it up on a map later, and learn its capitol (Bucharest). I wonder what the food is like, and if they have nice beaches. I wonder if all the men look like Marios. I wonder if the comedian I used to crush on is part Romanian. I think that Marios also kind of looks like a younger, clean-shaven version of Adam Goldberg, an actor on Fargo, a TV show I enjoy. I’ve never been attracted to Adam Goldberg before, but now that I’m realizing he looks like a man I already like, he’s my new celebrity crush.

Once everyone is on the bus, we take more shots of Patron. Once the bottle is killed, we take another shot of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I whisper to everyone that I have an announcement. I preface it with a plea that they not make fun of what I’m about to say, even though it is clear they all think the bus driver is dorky. I announce that I am completely and utterly in love with him. “Aw, that’s cute!” they say. When I look away, I hear one person whisper to another, “Really?!”

A cousin of the bride passes “dare” cards out to everyone. Each card lists something we must do later tonight while at the bar. I get one that says to take my underwear off, get a guy to take his off, and then trade. I say I can’t because I have my period and my underwear has a panty liner in it. One with wings, even. Everyone laughs. I wonder how I can get in touch with the Bridesmaids movie franchise folks, knowing a drunk woman pulling off panty liner-lined panties in a bar as part of a bachelorette party dare would make a great scene if they come out with a sequel.

One girl reads her dare card and instantly says, “I can’t do this; I’m married.” I joke that I’m single and will gladly take any cards that require giving a blow job. I say the married women can stick to the cards that call for pinching guys’ butts, but if they want, we can act out our dares concurrently, on the same lucky guy–they pinch while I suck. We all laugh. It’s a joke that both embraces the spirit of the American bachelorette party while mocking it. I find out that some girls knew about the dare cards in advance and are wearing two pairs of underwear, so if they have to take off a pair, they’ll still be covered. Smart.

We arrive at the tapas restaurant. I casually suggest we have our photo taken with the bus driver before he leaves–earlier he’d mentioned a different driver will pick us up later and I want a memento since I’ll probably never see him again. I stand next to him as we arrange into a line. My friend asks if he’s married and he says no. She asks if he has a girlfriend and he says no. As we pose for the photo, she blurts out, “She totally likes you, by the way.” I instantly deny it, saying I don’t even know him, then say, “Not that I wouldn’t exchange numbers if you asked.” Everyone laughs. He says, “Okay, I want your number.” Everyone laughs more. It is probably the most public pick-up-type exchange I’ve ever had. I feel both happy and embarrassed.

After the photo is taken, our huddled group breaks apart. I look at the bus driver and wonder if he was kidding around. He pulls out his phone. I tell him that I don’t always dress like this, and I don’t always act like this. He says he already knows. He has me type my number into his phone, then he calls it. He looks at me. I realize he’s testing to see if I gave a real number. I pull out my silenced phone and show him that the call when through. We smile shyly and say goodbye.

At the restaurant we eat and eat and eat tapas. My favorites are the beef sirloin with blue cheese and the bacon-wrapped dates. We drink sangria, trying both the mango and red flavors. We finish up with dessert. The coconut flan is heavenly. I espouse my theory about eating while drunk–it isn’t something you want to do regularly, but once in a while, it can be really fun. You can’t eat as much as you normally would, but if you remember to focus, the food will taste better and you’ll notice things you wouldn’t normally notice.

lincoln park bro

Note that I am acting. If I had a “type,” he wouldn’t be it.

We walk a few blocks through Lincoln Park to the bar for the evening’s main event, “Men the Show,” a male “revue” aka strip show. (Well, down to a g-string, that is.) We’re early and the first ones in line. We tease Lincoln Park bros walking down the street and I do my first dare–to “pet” a guy’s chest hair. It ends up being the only dare anyone does all night. A friend photographs it and dubs the guy “shark week” because he’s wearing shorts and a shirt covered in shark print.

The bar bouncer lets us in and we giddily walk up the stairs to the second floor and wait for the show to start. Four of the girls in the group have never been to anything like this before. I buy drink tickets to save money–6 drinks for $20–and split it with someone so we get 3 drinks each.

When the show starts, I recognize all three of the performers in the opening song. One is the guy who runs and announces the show. One is Corey. He is presumably Jewish and has a tattoo of the Star of David on his chest. Every time we come here, my Palestinian friend and I joke that her getting a lap dance from him helps foster peace in the Middle East. The third performer is Christian, my favorite. He has wavy, brown, 1970s-style hair and perfect teeth, a deadly combination. The three of them do a boy band-style dance then the announcer pumps up the crowd.

Christian is the first solo performer. He does a police man act with a woman he pulls from the audience. A recording plays and says things like, “Assume the position.” He mouths along with the recording as if he’s the one talking, and acts out what’s being said. He holds a flashlight, which is of course used to mime intercourse.

I’m happy. I was here a month prior for a different bachelorette party, and at that show Christian dressed up like Bret Michaels and sang “Every rose has its thorns” while playing an acoustic guitar. It was endearing because I knew he was letting his interests and personality show through, but it wasn’t sexy and seemed to bore the audience.

When his performance ends and it’s time for lap dances, I pull $5 out of my purse and go up to the stage.  I thoroughly enjoy my lap dance from Christian. It is sweet. Some strippers are rough and pick women up and throw them around. Once I had one force me to stand and then bend me over and mime hitting it from behind. It wasn’t a turn-on at all. Christian, however, kisses my neck and runs his hands through my hair while giving me a dance. It feels clear that he does the dance for my enjoyment, not for the spectacle. Aside from the fact that we never kiss on the lips, it feels like we’re genuinely making out. He gives the impression that he’s the type of man who “makes love.”

Christian smells like a rich vanilla and I keep sniffing his neck. His hair is shiny enough to be in a Pantene commercial and I keep touching it. His skin is very moisturized and also feels great to touch. Being near his body is pure pleasure. The idea of a very expensive hotel bedroom pops into my mind–the kind with a fluffy, white down comforter and 2,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. I realize what the two have in common–luxury. This man’s body is luxurious.

After my lap dance ends, Christian’s performance is done and we’re onto Corey’s solo show. The women go wild for him. I like him, but am a little confused as to why women like him that much. He chews gum the entire time, which I find to be weird. He is in excellent shape, however. I ask my friend why women, including her, like Corey better than Christian. She says it’s simple–Corey is taller and stronger and therefore more manly and more in line with most women’s fantasies. She says Christian looks like a little boy.

I become indignant and defend him righteously. He isn’t a “boy.” He’s a god. Also, he’s 22, I say. Or maybe even 23 by now. I know this because I first saw him perform at yet another bachelorette party last November. After that show, he and I drank and talked for nearly an hour. He was brand new then, and still using his real name. Even though I doubt he even knows who I am, I won’t type his real name here because I still feel a connection to him. Maybe it’s an imaginary connection, but I want to honor it nonetheless.

After the show in November, Christian opened up to me about how he never imagined he’d work as a stripper. It had just sort of happened, but he was one month in and loving it. He was a college student who had grown up in Europe. (I forget where. Germany, maybe?) His parents were divorced. He’d just recently “come out” about his job to his mom and some classmates. Everyone accepted it better than he’d imagined. He said it was the most fun job he’d ever had, and that it really boosted his confidence with women. He also asked all about me, my life, and my writing. Our conversation ended abruptly when I offended him by drunkenly asking if a lot of women get roofied and date raped at that bar. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to remember me the next time I was there.

men the show

My “history” with Christian makes me illogically loyal to him, and I watch the rest of the performers from my seat. The other girls in our group take turns getting lap dances with each one. I think there are two more performers after Christian, but I lose track. I notice flash bulbs going off and decide that for the first time I, too, will break the rules and take photos as Christian, Corey, and the announcer come on stage and end with another boy band-style dance.

When the show is over, we stick around to dance. “All I do is win” comes on and I do what I always do when I hear that song–punch the air repeatedly, dance like a maniac, and run around telling people that my friend is cousins with DJ Khaled. (She really is. I have a fantasy that once I move to Florida she will come visit and somehow arrange a meeting.) There aren’t many guys at the bar this time around so my friends and I mostly dance with each other.

At one point I feel a hand on my shoulder–it’s Christian! He tucks my hair behind my ear and leans in to whisper that he’s going downstairs for a drink, but he wants me to know he isn’t leaving. I look at him, stunned, wondering if his interest in me wasn’t just part of an act. I ask what he means, and he says he wants to hang out with me, and didn’t want me to leave thinking he had left. Then he walks downstairs. My friends go wild, asking what he said. When I tell them, they shout,” Go downstairs after him! Obviously that’s what he wants! Go! Go! Go!”

When I get downstairs, I see Christian standing at the bar talking to a girl. He isn’t touching her or flirting with her or anything, but they seem to be in a real conversation and more than just strangers making small talk as they wait for their drinks. I watch, wondering if they’ll go separate ways and give me a chance to approach him. I try to determine if she’s prettier than I am. Younger, yes, but prettier, I don’t think so. I feel like a bad feminist for sizing her up in this way, and generally feel creepy for watching them. I turn and run back upstairs, happy Christian didn’t seem to notice me standing against the wall like a loner, staring.

“Did you talk to your stripper?” my friend asks, with a big smile on her face. She wasn’t around when he approached me. I tell her what he whispered to me and how I followed him downstairs only to find him talking to someone else and she yells out, “What a dick! Fuck that guy! Seriously!” She explains that she’d bumped into him at the upstairs bar and told him that I genuinely like him. He’d acted interested and immediately approached me as she happily watched from the bar, feeling proud for helping me out with a guy for the second time today. She said she never would’ve made a comment to him if she’d known he’d lead me on like that.

I feel confused. Did Christian only talk to me because my friend put him up to it? If he wasn’t interested, why did he bother approaching me at all? The strip show was over so it’s not as if he was trying to get lap dances out of me. Had he wanted me to follow him downstairs? Or had he wanted to meet the other girl, and genuinely planned on coming back upstairs to hang out with me after? I don’t know, and I decide not to think about it further. I note that I’ve gotten much better at handling these types of minor rejections and disappointments, and instead of being upset, feel good about that. A few years ago even something small like this would’ve really gotten me down.

I also think about what I consider to be sad fact of life: the men who blow me away with their beauty are most often not the same men who feel blown away by mine. Even if Christian thinks I am cute or has an interest in me, clearly it is a mild interest. He does not view me with the same reverence I have for him. He is not going to wake up tomorrow and feel inspired to write a long blog post with favorable descriptions of me. Our interest is unequal.

I resolve to make my body luxurious. I want my skin to be as soft as his, my hair as shiny, my muscles as strong, and my smell as sweet. I want to walk around in the world feeling like I’m in an expensive hotel with 2,000 thread count sheets simply because I’m inside of me. I vow to treat my body like it’s sacred.

We leave to get on the bus. I take a look at my phone for the first time in hours and have a text from a number I don’t recognize, asking how the party is going. I respond, “Who is this?” It is Marius, our bus driver from earlier. I’d been spelling his name wrong in my mind all along. The parked party bus is stacked with beers, but I turn them down. The girls dance and one person walks off to order pizzas. I’m feeling worn out so I kick back, look through photos from the night, and text Marius.

When we get back to the apartment, my friend yells, “Jessica, you have to have sex with that bus driver from earlier because I forgot to tip him!” I look at her and solemnly nod. I say, “I will. You don’t know how long it’s been. I really will.” (Note: I probably won’t.) Someone says that because he’s a recent immigrant he probably lives with his parents, so we’ll have to find somewhere else to “do it.” Someone else says they hope he doesn’t have a wife and kids back in Romania. I say I can’t believe she didn’t tip him.

In the morning, I wake up lying on a couch I do not remember falling asleep on. I have a blanket on me and feel happy knowing that someone who cares about me put it there while I was sleeping. I think about how girlfriends are the best.

Our plans for an elegant brunch fall through when everyone wakes up hungover and wanting to get home. My friend gives me and the bride a ride and we go through a McDonald’s drive-thru to get breakfast sandwiches before hopping on the Kennedy to head back to the suburbs. Marius texts me, asking me on a date for tonight. I let him know that I’d love to go on a date, but I live in the suburbs so it will require advance planning. Tonight will not work. I do not mention that I’m probably still drunk.

The maid of honor and bride discuss the night before while I sit in the backseat eating my breakfast. Apparently Corey hit on the bride while she was getting a lap dance. He told her to take off his shirt and said that, if she wanted, she could take off his pants later at his house. I am instantly envious and think that maybe if I did pole dancing instead of Zumba I’d have a body that is closer to the societal ideal and that then Christian would’ve made a similar proposition to me. I let go of the thought and drink my McDonald’s orange juice. It is much too sweet.

The maid of honor comments that Corey has been stripping for a decade. I ask how she knows that and she says that he was there the very first time we went to the strip club. At first I don’t understand–I was with her the first time we went and I don’t know how that would connect her with this piece of information. Then it sinks in. We’ve been going to this strip show for birthdays and bachelorette parties for ten years.

My friend says that Corey looked a lot different ten years ago. I can’t remember him. When we first started going to the strip show, I viewed it as no more than a spectacle. It wasn’t until a few years in that I got over the cheesy aspects and began to genuinely enjoy it and feel physical attraction toward the men. I think that is partially a result of me becoming more comfortable in that setting, and partially a result of the show evolving and become sexier and featuring a wider variety of higher-quality men. The first time we went I remember thinking that everyone looked the same–buff, tan, hairless, and covered in oil. It isn’t like that any more.

My friend says she still has our group photo from our first night there, ten years ago, and that Corey was skinnier and scrawny. She says she remembers him from that night, and that he wasn’t nearly as hot or as popular with the ladies as he is now. I wonder if Christian will still be stripping in a decade. I wonder if he’ll bulk up like Corey did and become a crowd favorite. I know he lifts weights. I wonder if he’ll figure out a way to successfully incorporate 80s rock (his favorite music) into his act. I take a bite of my hash brown and smile, knowing that in a year or two someone will be getting married again. I’ll end up at the place again, drunk, with a purse full of dollar bills again, able to find out.

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dating, friendship, relationships

The friend zone doesn’t exist.

mlady sketch

Screen capture from the M’lady sketch on Inside Amy Schumer.

I’ve been hearing about “the friend zone” for years and I’m sick of it. “The friend zone” doesn’t exist. It’s fake. It’s a concept that doesn’t correspond to a real phenomenon. “The friend zone” was invented by men who are selfish and cowardly and do not understand women or their own behavior. They are unaware of their mistakes. They cling to wrong ideas like “the friend zone” because it’s easy, requires no reflection, and allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their own bad behavior.

“The friend zone” is supposed to be this (awful, terrible) place where a woman sticks a man who would presumably much rather be in “the dating zone” or “the sex zone.” Often times, the man thinks he has “earned” dating and/or sex by being nice. When his niceness is reciprocated with niceness instead of dating/sex, he proclaims he’s been “friend zoned.” He feels as if he’s been slighted or screwed over and not given what he deserves. Sometimes he uses the fact that he’s been “friend zoned” as evidence for other totally off-base ideas, such as “nice guys finish last,” or “women love to date jerks.”

If you’re a dude, “the friend zone” is probably so ingrained in your mind as a real thing that you might have no clue what I’m talking about or where I’m going with this. I’ll break it down.

If you act like a friendly friend seeking friendship, don’t be surprised or upset when friendship is what you get. Friends are nice to each other. They listen to each other vent. They hang out. They help each other move (my googling shows this is the quintessential “friend zone” example). Being nice is how friendship works. If you do all of the things people do when they’re trying to cultivate a friendship and then receive friendship in return, know that it is the direct result of what you did. Friendship is what you sought out and created–not an example of “nice guys” losing, or you being mistreated, taken advantage of, or shorted of something you deserve.

Two things must be in place for a man to believe he has been “friend zoned.” 1) He must be a coward. 2) He must have a (sexist) sense of entitlement.

If the “friend zoned” man weren’t a coward, he never would’ve become “friend zoned.” He would’ve seen the woman he wanted to date and asked her on a date rather than pretended he wanted to be her friend. If/when she said “no,” he would’ve moved on. He wouldn’t have invested time, energy, and money with secret hopes of romantic or sexual pay-off because he would’ve already been clear on the fact that she wasn’t interested in that way.

If the “friend zoned” man weren’t sexist and entitled, he never would’ve considered himself “friend zoned” because he wouldn’t have viewed friendship with a woman he thinks is cool as a bad thing. He would’ve acted genuinely, not with the secret motive of having his hidden desires met later on.

“Nice guys” who get “friend zoned” think they’re being nice by doing what appear to be kind deeds. Intention matters, however. Kindness that comes with strings attached or out of a secret motivation is unkind. It’s manipulative and deceitful and, when the goal is sex, pretty douche baggy. It’s sexist, too. It is a man treating his desire as real and important and the woman’s desire as irrelevant (at best), or something less authentic than his own that he believes can be controlled by him (at worst).

Men who cry “friend zone” often blame women not liking “nice guys” as the cause. Wrong. If you’re continually hanging around and being nice to a woman and she doesn’t make a move, she probably doesn’t have any attraction for you and wouldn’t have even if you’d been less “nice.” In the rare case that you did once have a chance with this woman and your actions somehow blew it, it wasn’t the “niceness.” It was that she realized you were a coward who couldn’t ask her on a date and wasn’t interested in you as a result. Or, she was a coward too, and by the time you made your intentions clear it was too late and she had moved on.

Some dudes like to act as if they’ve been led on and taken advantage of when “friend zoned.” Nope. Sure, there are women out there who take advantage of men, but “the friend zone” phenomenon isn’t an example of that. Don’t say a woman led you on because she trusted your actions as being honest and didn’t actively block you from being nice to her. The “friend zoned” guy is the one with the ulterior, deceitful motive. The responsibility does not lie with the woman to go out of her way to analyze his behavior, read his mind, and then stop him from being (fake) nice. Even if a woman did do this, a “nice guy” would probably (secretly) call the woman a “bitch” for hurting his ego. Remember, the whole reason he acts like a nice friend is because he isn’t willing to put himself out there and risk directly hearing that she isn’t interested.

That reminds me, check out the related M’lady sketch on Inside Amy Schumer. It is so spot on and funny. At one point Amy says something along the lines of, “I don’t want to lead him on, but I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” Her friend replies, “Oh, you can’t win.” It’s true. When a “nice guy” pops up with ulterior motives, he’s set up a situation in which he can damn the woman no matter what she does.

The bottom line is that “the friend zone” is just another phrase that means friendship, except it’s being said by guys who are too afraid to go for the women they want and are resentful and blame said women when their manipulative, “nice” half-efforts don’t result in their sexual and/or romantic day dreams coming true. In reality, these “friend zoned” guys should be grateful that women whose company they enjoy are willing to put up with their cowardly, manipulative, sexist ways. Friendship is a pretty cool thing to have with someone when you respect them and view them as a cool human being, but some guys are too busy being strategically “nice” to notice that.

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dating, friendship, relationships, roommates

Manipulation techniques used by manipulative people

UPDATE 9/20/15: It has come to my attention that this was posted on reddit and 50,000 people have visited this post as a result. Wow, cool! Based on comments from redditors I want to clarify some things. One–manipulation is about attempting to control someone else’s behavior. I’d never claim that everyone who does any of these things is manipulating. If you buy a gift or give a compliment because you want to be kind and you do not have an ulterior motive, clearly that isn’t manipulation. Two–most of these examples are made up and not from my personal life so any assumptions you make about my personal life based on these examples are probably false. Three–I switch gender pronouns throughout the post so if you comment or message me saying this post is anti-men or that all the examples are about men, it will be obvious to me that you didn’t read the whole thing/went into it with existing assumptions that are incorrect. That said, thanks everyone for reading! PS, can one of you post my Workaholics post to reddit? I feel like it’d do well there.

I’ve dealt with roommates, boyfriends, friends, co-workers, bosses, and even casual acquaintances who used manipulation techniques to try and get me to do what they wanted. Everyone uses manipulation at some point in time, but for most people it’s not a way of life.

Why do some people relentlessly attempt to manipulate and control others? I don’t know. Some manipulators probably have a personality disorder; others are probably unconsciously mimicking behavior they grew up with and haven’t yet examined; others are probably using planned, calculated attempts to get what they want in life. My concern isn’t why people manipulate, but how I can identify the manipulation and shut it down. I enjoy making decisions of my own free will and resent the idea of anyone trying to control me, even if it’s in a minor way.

Here I have brainstormed all of the manipulation techniques I can think of in order to help myself and others identify and resist them. I googled each concept and used the existing name for it, if I found one. For many of them, I created a name. At some point in time, someone has attempted each of these on me, with varying degrees of success.

1. Frog-in-Pot
Frog-in-pot is based on the idea that a frog will jump out of a pot of boiling water, but if it’s sitting in a pot of cold water that is slowly brought to a boil, won’t notice the gradual change and will die. Most manipulators know that if they are nasty to you right off the bat, or they try to openly coerce or intimidate you, it won’t work. Alarm bells will go off and you’ll immediately think, “Get me away from this monster.” Instead, they work gradually. Frog-in-pot is how strong, confident women find themselves in abusive relationships years after meeting someone, unsure of how they got there or if it’s truly abusive. This is also called creeping normality.

Frog-in-pot is more of a meta-manipulation technique. Manipulators apply manipulation techniques lightly at first, testing what they can get away with, and over time become more and more manipulative as you adjust to their behavior and accept it as normal. I’ve listed the manipulation techniques in the order I think people are most likely to chronologically use them as they crank up the manipulative heat on the metaphorical frog in the pot. Frog-in-pot is essentially the foot-in-door technique applied to control–once you (often unknowingly) allow the manipulator to control you in some small way, they know they will most likely be able to control you in larger ways later on.

2. Fun and Excitement.
Some manipulators draw people in through fun and excitement. These manipulators are really great to be around, at first. You might view them as the gateway to a good time. When you’re having more fun than you’ve had in ages, you don’t mind being the one to pick up the tab or drive the car or do whatever else it is that the manipulator is expecting of you. This is especially true if you also have a romantic interest in the manipulator. You’re willing to overlook initial red flags because you’re pursuing the fantasy life or relationship you think this person might help bring you. All people who are fun and exciting aren’t manipulators, of course. The manipulator uses fun and excitement to divert your attention so you don’t realize you’re being manipulated.

3. Flattery
Flattery is a well-known manipulation technique in which the person gives a disingenuous compliment in order to “butter you up” and encourage you to do what they want. Kids seem to learn flattery pretty early. “Mom, you look beautiful today. Can I spend the night at David’s?” An easy way to get someone you’ve just met to like you is to give them a compliment.

We are self-centered beings that crave approval, which is why flattery works even when it’s obvious. While basking in the glow of compliments, some people can be convinced to do almost anything. A master manipulator will hone in on a person’s insecurities and tailor their flattery to provide the person the reassurance they need. Of course, once the manipulator gets what they want, the flattery often ends.

4. The Favor/Gift
Manipulators can be well-liked not only for being fun and charming, but also because of how generous they seem, giving large gifts or doing major favors for people they hardly know. The catch is, they are doing these things in order to better manipulate later on. The favor could be as small as buying your drinks or meal when it takes you a minute to find your cash, or as large as lending you a vehicle, offering to dog sit for free, or connecting you with a job. This is similar to bribery, except it is subtle and not explicit. You are unaware there are strings attached or an ulterior motive.

Either immediately after providing a favor or gift (as is true with the salesperson who expects you to listen to his spiel in exchange for a free sample, or the douchebag who expects sex because he bought an expensive dinner) or down the line, the manipulator will ask for some sort of favor in return. You will be more likely to comply because of the “reciprocity norm.” If you do say no, the manipulator might couple this with a guilt trip (see technique #13) by bringing up that you “owe” him for all he’s done for you in the past. Reminder: true gifts/favors come without expectations or strings attached.

5. False Intimacy
False Intimacy is similar to the favor/gift technique in the sense that the manipulator gives you something with the ulterior motive of receiving something in return. Instead of giving a tangible gift or favor, however, he shares information. The manipulator might tell you a secret, acting as if you are special and the only one he’s told in order to gain your trust and get you to share private information about yourself in return. The manipulator might pretend to have feelings he doesn’t have so you are mistaken about the depth of the relationship and more willing to do what he wants as a result.

False intimacy is being used by sales people when they pretend to have something in common with you, or whisper an industry secret, asking you to keep it “just between you and me.” False intimacy is being used by the teenage boy who says “I love you” to his girlfriend even though he doesn’t mean it because he knows it will get him sex. False intimacy is being used by the new friend who tells you heart-breaking details about her past way too soon, right before asking you for a favor.

6. False Agreement
False agreement is when the manipulator pretends to agree with you when she really does not. She might pretend to have the same political beliefs or the same favorite band–anything to make you think of her as being more likable and more similar to yourself. This is similar to flattery and false intimacy. It builds trust and will make you more likely to go along with what she wants. Many manipulators do this when trying to gain a romantic relationship, suddenly showing a strong interest in all of the things their object of affection is interested in.

7. Scarcity
With scarcity, your manipulator pretends that whatever she wants you to do is scarce in order to entice you to do it. She’ll make it look like a limited time offer or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity although it is not. Maybe she’ll say, “You can probably come with me to the concert on Saturday, but tickets are sold out so I’ll have to try really hard to find one” when the truth is she has an extra ticket at home on her dresser top but knows the lie could help ensure you say “yes.” In dating, scarcity is known as “playing hard to get,” and the manipulator will pretend her time and attention is scarce in hopes that you view her as more valuable.

8. Fake Expectations
With fake expectations, the manipulator pretends he thinks things are a certain way–the way he wants them to be–forcing you to contradict him and create a potentially awkward situation if you want things to be different. This technique works especially well when you aren’t very close yet and you’re still highly motivated to be polite and avoid confrontation with someone you hardly know. Fake expectations often manifest in the form of the manipulator telling you what is going to happen, when really anyone who respected you would be asking you.

For example, a new boss might say, “See you tomorrow! We’re all working Saturdays this month,” instead of asking if you’re available and interested in overtime. After inviting you out, a new friend might say, “See you Friday–pick me up around eight,” although you haven’t yet agreed to attend the event on Friday, much less drive her to it. A new boyfriend might say, “Of course you won’t hang out with him one-on-one anymore now that you’re dating me,” when you turn down plans with a male friend because of a schedule conflict, although you weren’t planning on making any such rule for yourself.

9. Fake Normal
This is similar to fake expectations, except instead of implicitly pressuring you to adhere to his expectations, the manipulator explicitly pressures you to adhere to what he presents as socially normal. If you took DARE, you might remember this as the hallmark of peer pressure–the “everyone is doing it” technique. Your manipulator will point out that the thing he wants you to do is so normal that literally everyone is doing it except for you. Of course you’ll feel inclined to join in because you don’t want to be ostracized or to feel weird, crazy, uncool, or left out. If you’re doing something he doesn’t want you to do, he’ll point out that no one is doing it except you. Regardless of what “everyone” (or “no one”) is actually doing, the intent here is to control your behavior.

10. Facts & Figures
With facts & figures, the manipulator again tries to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, but instead of being socially wrong, you’re made to feel factually incorrect. She might use logic, quote experts or authority figures, and reference scientific studies. The purpose is for you to change your behavior to fit what the manipulator wants, but to think you’re changing it in order to be right or in line with science. Although this sounds like an official argument, it might not be presented that way. In fact, a manipulator could try to present the information as casually as possible so her manipulative intent is less noticeable, off-handedly remarking that she’s surprised to see you do x, y, or z given the results of latest study on the topic.

11. Fake Help
Fake help is–you guessed it–when a person pretends to try and help you, but really their “help” is just an attempt to control your behavior. The manipulator frames their argument as advice and suggests that it is in your own best interest. Maybe a jealous friend will “help” you by pointing out that your favorite jeans make you look fat and suggesting you change out of them, when in reality they make you look so good she feels threatened and doesn’t want you wearing them when she’s around.

Fake help becomes gaslighting when someone disingenuously “helps” you with some sort of psychological problem, either one you really have or one invented by them, with some motive other than helping. For example, when you question a cheating boyfriend, he  might convince you that the real issue is your own deep insecurity and nobly offer to help you deal with it…in a way that keeps you from asking questions that would cause you to discover his cheating ways, of course.

12. Subject Change
A manipulator will change the subject in order to distract you any time you bring up something he doesn’t want to talk about, especially if it involves calling him out on a manipulation. A master manipulator will bring up a new subject that genuinely interests you–hot gossip or surprising news–so you get so drawn into the new topic it isn’t until much later you remember what you were trying to talk about originally. If he can’t think of anything interesting to bring up, he might falsely accuse you of wrong-doing in hopes that you’ll get caught up in defending yourself.

Changing the subject often goes hand-in-hand with fake expectations. The manipulator will slip in his fake expectation quickly and move on to a different topic before you can speak up and disagree. Now, not only do you have to contradict something he said in order to avoid manipulation, you have to bring up a subject that he’s pretending is already settled, agreed upon, and in the past. This puts more pressure on you to go along with what he wants in order to avoid awkwardness (if you don’t know him well) or a fight (if you do know him well).

13. The Guilt Trip/Shaming
The guilt trip can take many forms, but the bottom line is the person makes you feel bad about something you’ve done or are going to do (or haven’t done, or are not going to do) and because of the resulting guilt or shame, you say or do what the manipulator wants. Often times they will frame the guilt trip as a question so it is less obvious. A master manipulator will identify the things you are most likely to feel guilty about/ashamed of and focus on those.

  • “You seriously aren’t going to be at my birthday party?”
  • “Is that your third cookie today?”
  • “You’re going home with him? Didn’t you go home with someone else last week?”

14. The Insecurity Trip
Similar to the guilt trip, the insecurity trip is intended to make you feel bad so you will do (or not do) what the manipulator wants in order to feel less bad. The manipulator will make a casual comment intended to hurt your feelings while acting completely innocent and oblivious to the comment’s effect. His goal is to convey the insult in such a way that you do not realize it was intended as an insult, and you accept it as true. It will generally be directed at an area in which you already feel insecure. For example, if you are self-conscious about your weight, the manipulator might ask you if the jeans you’re wearing shrunk in the dryer. Of course, when you say they did not, the manipulator will pretend to be embarrassed about the mix-up and apologize profusely.

Sometimes, especially in a romantic relationship, the manipulator will use the insecurity trip to purposely break down your confidence so you will become more dependent on him to bump up your self-esteem. After “accidentally” insulting you, the manipulator might switch over to flattery. You might feel immensely grateful for the reassurance that at least he loves you despite your flaws. You might even be less likely to leave him when things go wrong, thinking that no one could love you the way he does when really he is the one who orchestrated your insecurity in the first place.

15. The Pity Party
The pity party is similar to the guilt and insecurity trips in the sense that the manipulator is trying to make you feel bad, except instead of feeling bad about yourself, you feel sorry for her. I’ve noticed many manipulators try to play the victim very early on after meeting someone, giving a sob story of how awful their friends/family/ex-boyfriends have treated them. If you’re a kind person, you’ll naturally feel empathy and want to help. It could take quite a while to realize the manipulator’s “problems” you felt bad about were either self-created, greatly exaggerated, or outright lies.

Manipulators often have to stop using this technique as someone gets to know them better since most people aren’t willing to buy into someone else’s crises for an extended period of time. I’ve noticed manipulators will pull the pity party out again much later though, as a last result, after being called out for using manipulation techniques. “You’re right, I’m a liar. I’m awful. I need to change. There’s something wrong with me. I’m insane. No one loves me. I’ll be alone forever.” While some people might mistakenly view this as the manipulator finally changing or owning up to mistakes, it is simply another manipulation technique. Perhaps their words are more honest than usual, but the honesty is being used as a tool for deceit.

16. Playing Dumb/Fake Surprise
If you call a manipulator out on a manipulation technique or contradict his fake expectations, be prepared for him to act as if he has no clue what you’re talking about. It’s difficult to argue with someone who has no counter-argument other than “Huh? I don’t understand. Where is this coming from?” Playing dumb might be part of a larger plan to make you feel crazy so you trust his perceptions over your own. If that’s the case, it’s a form of gaslighting.

The manipulator might also pretend to be surprised. Acting surprised that you’re questioning his fake expectation puts more pressure on you to go along with it. Acting surprised that you’re calling him out on being manipulative can be another form of the guilt trip (“I am shocked you’d accuse me of this. I’ve been nothing but nice to you!”), yet another manipulation technique.

17. Misquoting
Misquoting is when the manipulator pretends to have misunderstood what you said at some other point in time. It usually creates an awkward situation. It goes hand-in-hand with fake expectations, changing the subject, and playing dumb. Say your boyfriend stated that you’d attend an event that you never agreed to attend, then changed the subject before you corrected him. Later, when you bring up that you aren’t going to the event, he might fake surprise at this and reference the conversation in which he mentioned you attending, attributing his words to you. “But you said you were going to come with me! We just discussed it on Saturday.”

A manipulator might misquote you in front of other people so the pressure to go along with what was said is even greater. That puts you in a situation where not only do you have to disagree with him in order to get out of doing what he wants, you also have to correct other people and potentially disappoint them.

18. Bait and Switch
Everyone’s heard of this one. A manipulator gets you to agree to one thing that is desirable or at least neutral, then uses that to manipulate you into doing some undesirable thing you wouldn’t have agreed to had you known what it was upfront. A friend might invite you to dinner but ask you to drive, for example, then once you get on the road suddenly “remember” she has several stops and errands to make. The “bait” was the dinner, and the “switch” was you playing chauffeur for the evening.

If you confront a manipulator about a bait and switch, she will probably either play dumb and pretend it was an accident (“I totally forgot I had to do these things until after we got in the car,” or “How was I supposed to know traffic would be so bad and running errands would take that long?”) or else misquote and act as if this was part of the plan the entire time (“I told you we would stop a few places and go out to eat. If you had a problem with it, why didn’t you speak up sooner?”).

19. Over Asking
This is called the “door in face” technique. The manipulator makes a ridiculous request he knows you will say “no” to, then follows it up with something more reasonable, knowing you’re now more likely to say “yes.” For example, a friend might confess to having financial trouble and ask to borrow $5,000. When you balk, he’ll apologize, then ask for $50 so he can at least keep his phone turned on. You’ll concede–$50 is affordable. In reality, he only wanted $50 all along.

This technique can be used for much more than money. A controlling boyfriend might have a jealous freak-out and demand his girlfriend never wear skirts or dresses again. When she responds that he’s being absurd, he might apologize and admit to irrational jealousy. As they make-up and the emotional roller coaster winds down, he might casually mention that getting rid of the one really short, tight skirt she has would help him keep insecurities like this at bay. She thinks she’s making a reasonable concession and being sensitive to his feelings by tossing the skirt, when really, his plan was for her to get rid of that one skirt from the beginning.

20. False Equivalence
False equivalence is when the manipulator uses a logical fallacy to imply that if you do (or don’t do) one specific thing, that it means something else, usually that you have a generally undesirable trait. The purpose is for you to conform to what the manipulator wants because you believe this false logical equivalence and don’t want to have the trait in question. The false equivalence is often mentioned casually, as fact, without any anger or malice. If it is questioned, the manipulator might employ the fake normal technique by making it seem that everyone believes in this false equivalence.

  • “You’re going to be out of town for my birthday party? Oh, I guess I thought you were my best friend.” (False equivalence: If you don’t attend my party, you aren’t my best friend.)
  • “Is that your third cookie today? I thought you cared about your health.” (False equivalence: If you eat this cookie, you don’t care about your health.)
  • “You’re going home with him? A week after going home with that other guy? I didn’t realize that you were one of those women.” (False equivalence: If you go home with this guy, you’re a slut.)

21. “Jokes”
No one likes to be humiliated or be the butt of a joke and manipulators know it. The manipulator will mock or joke about whatever you’re doing that he wants you to stop, or whatever you’re not doing that he’d like you to do. For example, the jealous boyfriend might make a “joke” about your skirt being so short that from a distance he thought you were a prostitute. The clingy friend might “kid” that if you won’t go out with her to a party tonight, you’re becoming “old.” If you stop wearing the short skirt or attend the party you didn’t want to attend, you were manipulated.

Jokes are often used by manipulators because it gives a built-in defense–“I was just kidding.” It puts you in a position where you cannot call out his manipulations without being made out to be uptight, boring, unfunny, or someone who just doesn’t “get it.” It gives the manipulator free reign to insult you without having to take any blame. This is especially difficult when the manipulator is genuinely funny and makes jokes in front of other people who laugh, not realizing that the jokes are part of a large manipulation attempt.

22. Punishment 
A master manipulator will know how to punish you for not complying with his manipulations without making it look like a clear-cut “punishment.” Maybe a boyfriend disappears or gives you the silent treatment after you bring up a discussion he didn’t want to have, ensuring you spend days feeling unloved and anxious at the prospect of being dumped. If you question this, he just says he “needed time to think” about all that you brought up. In reality, he punished you, sending the message not to talk about that topic again.

Maybe a friend or boyfriend with an anger problem will cause a scene in public in response to you doing or saying something they dislike, knowing that you’ll be embarrassed by the negative attention and will drop the conversation or behavior. If you censor your words or actions around someone in order to avoid an unwanted response–whether that is anger or the cold shoulder–that person is manipulating you.

23. Insinuated Ultimatums
Insinuated ultimatums hint at a possible punishment to come. These are more subtle than the outright coercion or blackmail of, “If you don’t do X, I’m going to Z,” but they operate on the same premise–you do what the manipulator wants in order to avoid a consequence the manipulator hints at and that you fear.

It took me quite a while to realize it, but I used this manipulation technique in past romantic relationships. “I don’t think I want to be with a smoker for the rest of my life,” I said, as he smoked a cigarette in front of me. And, “I don’t know if this relationship is going to work out,” I said after he displayed anger in a way I didn’t like. I didn’t realize this was manipulation at the time because the words I said were true. I didn’t want to date a smoker forever. I didn’t know if the relationship would work out if he kept getting angry like that. My intent was manipulation, however. I wasn’t sharing those true words in the spirit of open communication; I was sharing them in an attempt to control aspects of his behavior.

Insinuated ultimatums are used a lot in co-dependent relationships, I think, where one person walks on eggshells so as not to prompt the other person to start drinking or doing drugs again, or to become suicidal, or to once again resort to whatever unhealthy behavior they struggle with and happen to conveniently turn to or bring up when their partner does something they dislike. Perhaps the “sick” person purposely uses their issues to manipulate, or perhaps they don’t even know they’re doing it, but the unsaid message is, “Comply with my requests or I’ll go off the deep end again.”

24. Name Calling 
Name calling is false equivalence to an extreme. It’s nasty. It’s no-holds-barred, I-want-to-make-you-cry manipulation. Name calling will backfire with most people who have healthy self-esteem unless the frog-in-pot method has been used to acclimate them to bad treatment. Most manipulators will only pull this out once you’re very close with them and in a relationship that is difficult to sever. Name calling is done to shock you, hurt you, and ultimately, get you to do what they want.

  • “You aren’t coming to my party? I always knew you were a bitch. Everyone knows it.”
  • “You’re eating another cookie? God, what a fat pig.”
  • “You’re going home with that guy? I can’t believe I’m friends with such a whore.”

25. Fake Apology
Manipulators pull out the fake apology when they’ve gone too far and pushed you to the edge. They’ve acted too nasty or mean, or else you’ve caught on to their manipulations. They fear you’re about do something rash, like get serious revenge or cut them from your life forever. They say, “I’m sorry.” They say, “It’ll never happen again.” They say, “I can change.”

It’s all lies. If the manipulator was really sorry, he would’ve come to you and apologized on his own, before he realized you were going to do whatever it is he’s now trying to stop. The apology is just another manipulation, usually used to keep you engaged or to avoid other unpleasant consequences of being caught manipulating. Remember, manipulators don’t use words to express their thoughts and feelings like most people do. Manipulators use words as tools to get what they want. I’ve found most manipulators don’t like apologizing–it’s their least favorite tool–but they will do it when it appears to be one of the only options left. Of course, once they’re no longer at risk for dire consequences, they’ll be up to their old tricks and it’ll become clear they never felt sorry at all.

26. The Beg and Plead
This is another last resort manipulation tool. When nothing else works, the person might break down and say, “Please. Please help me. Just this once. Give me a chance. I’ll do anything. What can I do to prove myself to you? What do you want me to do? I’ll do it.”

The beg and plead could be combined with fake apologies and false promises and lots of crocodile tears. If you don’t know the person well, it might work because of how intensely awkward it feels, or because it becomes a pity party. If you’re close with the person, it works because it tricks you into thinking the manipulator has finally reached a breaking point and is owning up to his manipulative ways. You might view this as progress and a sign of maturation and changes to come. Most likely, he is just desperate and this is the only option that will allow him to continue manipulating you.

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Wow, this was an intense exercise that brought back many memories of dealing with manipulation. Although I am frustrated and saddened by manipulators, now that it’s fairly easy for me to spot their before I do feel a bit of joy in outwitting them and shutting down their attempts.

I’m curious, as you read this list, did any people in your life come to mind? Were there any manipulation techniques you recognized as something you’ve used before, whether intentionally or unconsciously? Are there any manipulation techniques you know of that I missed here?

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