Much to my lesbian mother’s dismay, I turned out to be heterosexual. Unfortunately for me, that meant I had to learn to navigate the rocky landscape of dating in the 21st century on my own.
While I became adept at recognizing the signs that a guy is an overt asshole pretty quickly (ie. he’s rude to wait staff, he refers to other men as ‘beta males,’ and he unironically asks to be called ‘daddy’), it took me a lot longer to figure out the more subtle signs that a guy is bad news.
Now, after 17 years of dating, I can confidently say that I am capable of spotting an asshole from a mile off — and metaphorically crossing the road to avoid him. I hope that after reading this article, you’ll be able to do the same.
Without further ado, here are five subtle signs that strongly indicate asshole-like tendencies. Call him out if he exhibits the following behavior.
1. He Negs You
Simply put, negging is a back-handed compliment designed to undermine your self-confidence and manipulate you into trying to prove your worth to him.
One subtle neg that I often come across is the use of the word ‘actually.’
“You’re actually really attractive.”
“Wow, you’re actually smart.”
“You’re actually pretty funny.”
I’ve heard all of these from various men. On the surface, these seemingly innocent lines sound like compliments. He’s calling you smart, funny, attractive, right?
The ‘actually’ suggests that it’s contrary to what people expect and the sexist implication that’s often left out is, ‘for a girl.’
You were all of those things in the first place and you’ve given him no reason to think otherwise, so why is he surprised?
Don’t fall for it. If he’s taken aback by the fact that you’re attractive, smart, or funny then he probably doesn’t value you, or women, in general. You’d never tell a date that he’s actually smart for a guy, so if he pulls this shit on you — call him out.
2. He Sprinkles Breadcrumbs
Have you ever had a guy come on super strong in the initial stages of dating? He initiates plans, takes you on cute dates, and responds to your text messages in a timely manner. But just when you start to get emotionally invested, he disappears… sort of.
After the initial whirlwind courtship, he stops showing up at your door and starts showing up in your DMs. Every couple of weeks, you’ll get a manipulative text from him, like “thinking about u,” before he disappears for another fortnight.
These ‘breadcrumbs’ are not harmless.
A breadcrumber’s game is to keep you mentally on the hook without any real investment into the relationship. This narcissistic behavior ensures that he continues to take up your mental and emotional space long after your feelings should have faded.
Next time you get a Snapchat from him saying ‘I miss you’ after weeks of radio silence — don’t respond.
While it may feed your ego to think that he’s been secretly pining after you for all this time, the reality is that you’re still single and he’s preventing you from moving on.
Stay grounded in your reality. These types of texts don’t mean anything unless they are consistently followed up with plans and greater investment on his end.
3. He Pouts When He’s Not Your Top Priority
Way back in the day, I was in a very casual flirtationship with this guy. We’d grown close over the past couple of months, but it wasn’t anything serious — we were both seeing other people. This was around the time that I was finishing up my first Bachelor’s degree and I confided in him that I was seriously considering doing a Master’s abroad.
At the time, it was my dream to move to Europe. I’d been really excited to learn that some countries offer free tuition for international students and I’d started looking into programs. All of my close friends were super supportive when I told them about this opportunity. That is, everyone except Mr. Flirtationship.
I hadn’t even applied to a single program when he started pouting, “Well this sucks, we were getting so close. What about us? I’m really going to miss you.”
He confessed his feelings for me and we started dating officially. At the time, I naively thought this was romantic. In hindsight, I realize that he was actually a selfish asshole.
About a month after we started dating he packed up and moved to a new city to pursue his dream of becoming a professional cyclist. This left me wondering why he could only stand to do long distance when he was the one leaving?
The moral of the story is that any decent guy will be excited about you pursuing your passions. On the other hand, an asshole will take putting your career first personally and try to guilt you out of it.
4. He’s All About One-Upmanship
Don’t get me wrong, I love a little competitive spirit in a relationship, but this subtle behavior is downright obnoxious.
I’m all for pushing each other to be better, but the subtle distinction is that an asshole can never truly celebrate your wins without trying to diminish your accomplishments or overshadow you in some way.
I once dated a guy who always tried to level with me in the most ridiculous ways. When I told him that I was going back to school for an honors degree, he told me that he too was investing time into furthering his education by listening to Joe Rogan’s podcast. When I received Dean’s list recognition, he launched into a story about how he was identified as gifted and he’s always had a pretty easy time getting good grades. The conversation could never just be about my achievements without him throwing in his two (superior) cents.
Being with someone shouldn’t feel inherently competitive, it should feel like you’re both winning — together. Your partner should feel secure enough in themselves that they can fully acknowledge your successes and vice versa.
5. He Makes You Feel Insecure About Your Feelings
I believe that modern dating culture has created the expectation that women repress their feelings in relationships. In the era of hookup culture and casual sex, there’s value in being a ‘chill girl.’ You know, a girl who’s super low-maintenance when it comes to her relationships. Someone who wouldn’t dare inconvenience a guy by asking him to consider her feelings.
That’s complete bullsh*t.
God forbid we express the desire for a more substantial relationship with the person we’re getting horizontal with.
Never-the-less, an asshole will make you pay for violating the implicit ‘casual dating’ agreement by making you feel insecure about your feelings.
If he does something that makes you uncomfortable, you’re being too sensitive. If you want to spend time with him, you’re being clingy. If you want him to stop DMing his exes, you’re being insecure. Both perspectives may be justifiable, but an asshole will put the blame solely on you, without acknowledging the validity of your concerns.
And that, my friends, is a very slippery slope to being gaslight.
A guy’s behavior gets truly toxic is when he begins subtly making you question your own memory, perception, or judgment of the situation. This psychological manipulation tactic is referred to as gaslighting and it can be an incredibly tricky pattern to spot in a relationship.
It can look as innocent as denial, like your partner repeatedly saying “I don’t know what you’re talking about” whenever you try to bring up an issue. But it can also manifest as outright lying or continually making promises that remain unkept.
The bottom line is that a person should never make you feel insecure about voicing your feelings, even if they aren’t mutual. An asshole will place blame, whereas a good partner will try to work with you to come up with a solution where both partners feel secure.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are 5 subtle signs that he’s an asshole:
- He negs you.
- He sprinkles breadcrumbs.
- He pouts when he’s not your top priority.
- He always tried to one-up you or brush-off your accomplishments.
- He makes you feel insecure about your feelings.
I’m no dating coach, but if reading this article helps you avoid another toxic relationship, I’ll be thrilled! At the end of the day, life is too short to spend it dating assholes. Go get yourself a good guy, he’s out there — I promise.