Backhanded compliments and emotional abuse: introducing the twisted dating practice of negging

By Harriet Piercy

Published Apr 17, 2022 at 09:15 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Unknown to you, the cheeky dig that made you feel like that someone you just matched with is the ultimate catch you need to step up your game for, might be nothing more than a clear sign of emotional manipulation through a backhanded comment. As much as I hate to say it, oftentimes, it’s hard to differentiate one from the other. This is exactly why it’s so important for you to be aware of what is known as ‘negging’, especially when it comes to dating someone new—especially when first interacting with them on an app. Is it a pink flag or a red one? Let’s find out.

I am unashamedly familiar with dating apps and I love a bit of shallow banter—maybe this is weird, but I do have the most fun with individuals who can make fun of me. This particular ‘taste’ also plays a part in the photos I choose to post on my dating profiles. Attention seeking much? Obviously yes, but isn’t that the point anyway? I can only speak for myself here, but I’d rather date someone who sits on the side of ‘less serious’ than ‘look how hot I can look in this lighting’. But when you really think about it, what are those seemingly humorous comments from my latest crush doing to the ticking mechanics of my brain (and possibly yours too) when it comes to how I feel towards not only that person but subconsciously myself, too? The answer to that complex question lies in the very definition of ‘negging’.

What is negging exactly?

Bear with me readers—we do sometimes have to form our own opinions as we write. Full disclosure here, I take the piss out of many things in life and appreciate people who can take it and throw it straight back. I also think we’re in a bubble of time where the line of what we should and shouldn’t take seriously is a little blurred. That being said, I’ve had my own Will Smith moments in the past because of a sense of humour failure and I’m not too proud about it, regardless of the context leading up to it. But here goes—negging is a term that was coined by pick-up artists and is used to describe the behaviour someone displays when they sort of insult you with the purpose of increasing your social value to them in their head.

Examples of negging

Dating coach and TikTok content creator Ali had some examples to share. In one of her videos, one person had written as a prompt that they want “someone who has their shit together and is worth my time.” Another example she gave of a prompt was: “We’ll get along if you have a sense of humour. I know that’s setting the bar pretty high.” You see where this is going, right? Ironically, both of these profiles seem to take themselves very seriously indeed. Ali further mentioned an example that is strangely similar to what I have experienced in the past—a guy that I was dating said to me that “he usually dated models, and it was refreshing that I wasn’t one.” Yup, unnecessary, and this kind of stuff happens far more than we think. To delve deeper into it, it’s important to note that there are a few subtler examples in comparison to these.

Imagine someone tells you something along the lines of, “Well, don’t you look fabulous? I would never have the courage to wear my hair like that.” This comment would instantaneously make you feel the need to quietly search the room for a mirror. Another could be when someone tunes you out of conversion—that’s silent negging—and literally makes you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter or isn’t valid. This should all make us run a mile, yet it doesn’t on most occasions. Why is that?

What are the most ridiculous "negs" you've received from guys trying to sleep with you?
byu/BayAreaDreamer inAskWomen

The golden thread here is that the specific topics that people draw from when aiming to neg someone are more often than not based on the insecurities of the one who’s actually doing the negging. Regardless of why, however, these comments can have a huge impact on our self-esteem and our way of treating other future relationships.

We all desire and very much deserve healthy and mutually supportive relationships, but sometimes we get caught up in dangerously sensitive scenarios that we don’t really realise we’re in until it verbally hits us in the ego. What words affect you is also drawn from your own ego and insecurities, and that’s something we can’t forget to consider here. Although vitally, negging is wrong, all of it is wrong. You have to decide what is and what is not negging quite carefully. That being said, by no means are there any excuses to jeopardise someone’s self-confidence for the sake of your own. So here are some tips to help you deal with negging.

How to react to negging

First and foremost, you have to learn how to tune into the emotions that you’re feeling when you are in a relationship of any kind (friendship, workplace or a romantic relationship, negging happens in them all). Notice when something gives you that pinch in the stomach—you know the one. Then reflect on what it is, where it’s come from and why it’s affecting you so personally. Do not be afraid to call them out on it immediately, I can only say that this is what we should be doing. If someone does something that hurts you, call them out on it and have that conversation. But you can’t do this unless you know it’s happening.

Secondly, negging is most definitely a form of abuse, and when it’s really obvious—for example, there are many out there, but if someone outright says to you something like “You know, you’d actually look kind of sexy if you lost 10 pounds,” then pack your bags and go honey, because that flag is not pink, it is devilishly red. Another thing is, those red flags at the beginning of any relationship are more than likely to be the reason that relationship ends. The author of Happily Ever After: A Woman’s Guide to Online Dating, Benjamin Daly says the same thing in one of his TikTok videos.

@benjamindaly

If you ignore the red flags now… #datingadvice #datingtips

♬ original sound - Benjamin Daly

Finally, c’mon people, there are better ways to flirt. Engage in the interests of what the people you interact with are interested in. Listen to what they say, what you say, and how it makes you (and them) feel. This is your life, and you have to react to what happens in it in the best way that you can. Meditate, breathe, and no, I’m not joking—having a greater understanding of the spaces around the reactions and within the comments themselves allows you to avoid scenarios that do more harm than good. And as always, ask for help, because long-term effects of remaining in a verbally or emotionally abusive relationship can include anxiety, depression, and chronic pain among other things. You don’t deserve that.

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