A few months ago, I found myself at the center of a conversation so upsetting it made me want to change how I present myself in social situations.
I was hanging out at a local bar after watching my wife’s band play, talking about movies and TV with her guitar player, his partner, and their drummer. All these people are mutual friends, and we were enjoying that level of comfort that allows us to talk about almost anything, at varying levels of seriousness, for however long our growing collection of empty beers lets us keep up.
Everyone was in a great mood, at about the same degree of tipsy, and just enjoying the night together like background actors in a hot dog commercial. Then a conflicting element was introduced, and our easy and harmless back-and-forth about the wonderment of Glenn Close and how Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” deserved a better shot was derailed.
This element, my wife’s new bass player (let’s call him Trevor here), was a dark-side-of-Craigslist addition to the band. The previous bass player, another friend of the group, had landed a teaching job with a schedule that made it nearly impossible to continue playing, and so up went the Craigslist ad. That ad widened a crack in some dank recess within the city that Trevor crawled out of.
Trevor is young. I’d say 30, tops, if that. He is blond. He wears suspenders, like, no matter what, and smokes a pipe for seemingly no reason. Can you see him?
He thinks of himself as a bit of a movie buff, which is a suspect self-label. He mentioned loving the original “Batman,” starring Michael Keaton, but didn’t know Prince did the soundtrack for it. That’s a pretty big detail for a film aficionado to show their ass for.
But, as I would come to learn, that was Trevor. He’s that suspenders-wearing, pipe-smoking guy who will pick a topic he knows very little about and bulldoze a conversation with musings about it. Because he’s a Trevor, and that’s what Trevors do.
It was easy enough for me to overlook his behavior the first night we interacted. I dog-eared him in my memory with a code yellow “this guy.” Our second exchange started when he all but ran to our table to interrupt with the anecdote that, when he watches a movie, he focuses only on the male actors, even though he knows he *should* be watching the female actors because “they’re beautiful.”
He followed that up with something about “shrinking and pinking” movies so women like them better, and then ended his reign of terror by saying he knew Glenn Close was *supposed to be* the focal point of “The Wife” (a film she won a Golden Globe for) but that he’d only cared to pay attention to Jonathan Pryce, her male co-star.
It was during this that I reached code red.
My reactions happened in stages. First it was all in the face. Widening eyes. Then shrinking eyes. The facial reading for “Is this guy for real?” I even presented some disputing arguments, like “How can you know ‘Ghostbusters’ was bad if you didn’t see it yourself?”
Nothing reached him, though. He just talked louder. At one point, he took actual pride in how effective he was and interrupted me to say, “Sorry, I didn’t hear you because I was talking over you.”
I felt defenseless. Frustrated. I tripped over my tongue to get out something about “ripping off balls” and then gave up to go outside for a cigarette.
I’d started that night feeling like a jovial, well-liked member of a social circle and ended it feeling like I’d just lost a battle with someone who had inserted himself into our conversation and then made every effort to single me out and talk *at* me, and then *over* me, just because he felt like he could.
I couldn’t stop wondering why, to that guy, at that time, I seemed like someone who it could so easily happen to. He felt strong enough to loudly talk over me, while literally pointing out that he was doing so, and laugh about it. And my strength, which I hold inside me as a thing that’s valued, protected, and carefully grown, didn’t translate outwardly enough to stop him.
This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, although it was one of the more upsetting instances. I often find myself being talked over, railroaded, or otherwise interrupted in social settings. Usually when it happens, I just make a face at whoever’s eye I can catch, making light of things, and politely wait my turn to speak again, as one should.
I don’t have that thing inside me that makes me want to be showy in conversations or invent little witty battles to “win,” like we’re an improv group. Usually, being interrupted or talked over just makes me thankful that I was raised better than the offending person.
But sometimes (more so now, after the previously described incident at my wife’s show) I wonder if there’s something I could do to push my inner strength out a bit more, in an effort to not seem like someone who can be so easily brushed aside, especially in social situations. If only to save myself a little bit of grief and aggravation.
And I should make clear, I’m no church mouse. I’m not interested in learning how to be loud, and I don’t want to learn how to be a dick. No, that seems like an easy enough thing to let oneself fall into the bad habit of being. I want to learn how to be that person in the crowd who even the most booming dick in the room wouldn’t dream of interrupting.
Such people exist. I’m sure you can think of a few. Maybe a close friend who, although quiet, has a presence that just seems to demand respect. Or maybe a celebrity like Oprah, or our queen Glenn Close, comes to mind. People who can just enter a room and have respect thrown at their feet without having to get all needy, shouty, and red-faced clamoring after it. Those people. I want to learn how to be more like those people.
If time mixed with trial and error is any indication, I’d say no, or else I’d be doing it by now. But still, it’s worth working toward.
Let’s think of it as a social experiment or a fun self-improvement goal to work on during the next decade. We are, undeniably, living in the age of the loud dick. Let’s become their kryptonite. But where to start?
Conversations seem like an easy thing to have and to navigate, but they are not. Not at all. At its most basic, a conversation is nothing more than one person saying something and the other person volleying something back. A fun and easy conversation can quickly go downhill when, instead of volleying, a person decides to just grab the damn thing and shove it up their ass.
A good way to work on stopping this from happening might just be to call attention to it. It doesn’t have to be loud, and it doesn’t have to be rude, but maybe a simple “I’m sorry, if I could just finish what I was saying” could be the very first twinkle of dick kryptonite.
Keep in mind that these people (and yeah, it’s gone unsaid until now, but we all know it’s usually men in these instances, right?) are very rarely called out or put in their places. Their experience has been that of running their mouths like the entitled jerks they are and getting away with it. Which, essentially, teaches them that it’s OK to keep doing it.
Calling them out might stop them in their tracks or, in the case of highly seasoned, A-level asses, it might fuel their fire. But either way, you did something to draw attention to their bad behavior, and that takes strength.
The nights and weeks following the instance I described at the top of this article were riddled with me wishing I’d have just said something pointedly effective. The efforts I made at the time were silly, less hostile versions of what he was doing to me. I was acting on his level, arguing and verging on nasty, when really I should have just snuffed out his behavior before it escalated by saying something like “You’re being very rude” or, even better, “I don’t wish to continue this conversation with you.”
Seeing that in print now, it seems so easy. It seems so badass. It seems like something a strong woman would do. Let’s do it. Let’s try. The Trevors of the world have talked enough. Now it’s our turn.
Kelly McClure is a writer who has written for NY Magazine, GQ, The Hairpin, Rolling Stone, and more. Find more of her work here.