He was a middle aged man I talked to occasionally when I saw him here or there, but we didn’t have a social relationship. I had on several occasions listened to his stories.He was very smart and a bit eccentric. This one day I ran into him and he started telling me about visiting a woman friend and her 18 year old daughter. Then he told me about how the young woman had taken something of his and he had wanted it back. So he said, he had to “beat her up a little bit” to get it. I assumed he was just joking, using a turn of phrase to illustrate a story. I didn’t react. But then he made a point to repeat it, to say just that phrase again, that he’d had to “beat her up a little bit.” Now I was listening differently. I could tell he wanted a reaction from me – hence the repetition – and that he was kind of pleased with himself.
I was appalled. I suddenly had a visual of this solidly built man strong-arming a young woman. Frightening her, maybe even hurting her. The scene went from inconsequential to alarming in my mind’s eye. I’d never challenged him before, not seriously, but this couldn’t pass. “If you put your hands on an 18-year old girl for any reason that is a reflection on you,” I said levelly. He immediately became defensive. Clearly, my reaction was unexpected. He became agitated, raising his voice, insisting to me he wasn’t going to let someone take something of his. I know an argumentative tactic when I hear one. I’ve been listening to men say things like this all my life; the what-else-could-I-do excuse. As now, they get mad at you for pointing out they did wrong.
I was uncomfortable but kept my voice the same and repeated exactly what I’d already said. Instead of backing down, he clung to his position. I knew far better than to say things like “You could have called the police” or “You could have taken her to Small Claims Court.” People in this mode aren’t interested in solutions. They feel called out, embarrassed possibly, especially because a story meant to amuse you, their listener, or to at least get a positive response, has backfired.
Once someone starts raising their voice (to me), they are not listening. Moreover, once someone starts raising their voice to me, my time with them is over. I moved along that day and haven’t stopped to talk with him since. He revealed something about himself to me in that conversation that I wanted no part of. Putting his hands on the young woman was bad enough but repeating it to another woman he ostensibly liked – assuming I’d see his point or take his side – compounded it. He had an opportunity to reconsider when I challenged him, but instead he chose to defend his position and in doing, alienated me.