I insult you because I like you

Growing up, I could easily gauge how well my Mother liked my friends: the more she playfully insulted or teased them, the more I knew she enjoyed their company.

Because of that conditioning, I’m the same way, firing playful insults left and right just so people know I care. I tread slowly at first, of course, to see how seriously my targets take themselves. Early on, light sarcasm is my weapon of choice. If they take the sarcasm well, then I’m off, moving in increments from BB gun to Uzi, lovingly shooting my nearest and dearest whenever I choose. Warm fuzzies abound.

The closest of my friends, who know that deprecation and self-deprecation are part of who I am, behave in kind, insulting me in all the ways I love to be insulted.

Me: Unless bi-colored hair is the look you’re going for, you really need to touch up your roots.

Her: I’ll do that as soon as you pluck your eyebrows, you Yeti.


Me: Did you sleep in that shirt? Do you not own an iron?

Him: Well, you’re one to talk. You look like you got dressed in the dark. Forget to pay the power bill?

And so it goes. Once the insults stop, I know the friendship is in trouble.

It’s not always easy being this sort of person, one who is more playful than not. It’s particularly problematic online, where tone of voice and non-verbal cues are impossible to detect. All we have are emoticons, but they don’t always work, at least not with people who have no sense of humor, particularly not about themselves.

Several years ago on a forum, I replied playfully to a woman’s post. Her reply to me was venomous, full of anger that was completely out of proportion to the wee jest I made. Ms. Everything-I-say-you-must-take-with-the-utmost-seriousness actually wrote a multi-paragraph screed in which she questioned my right to call myself a human being, questioned my parents’ humanity since I’m obviously a soulless demon, and questioned the entire forum for letting me be a member. I think she also insulted my cats.

I kept quiet because I didn’t want to dignify her self-righteousness with a response. Other forum members did reply, however, and told her that if she took herself that seriously, then online interactions were likely not for her.

Get thee to the serious places full of the serious people.

From that point on, if I did have to interact with her, I was so sickeningly polite that a forum friend sent me a private message telling me I was giving her diabetes.

I suppose I could be guilty of passive-aggressive behavior here, using uber-politeness to say “I really don’t like you!” 

If that’s the case, then am I passive-affectionate in my use of insults? Or is the more apt term aggressive-affectionate, like the little boys in 2nd grade who’d beat me up at recess because they had crushes on me?

I simply don’t know. What I do know is this: I tease and hope you grin and tease back. Or at the very least, I hope you don’t think I’m a soulless demon.

Know that when I tell you “your shirt is so loud, I’ve already suffered irreversible hearing loss,” what I’m really doing is saying, “Gosh, I really like you!”

I’m hoping you’ll really like me, too, and reply, “at least I don’t dress in black all the time just to hide the food stains.”

I’ll so really like you for that.