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If Your Partner Keeps Comparing You To Other People, You Might Be Getting Negged

Women's Health logo Women's Health 3/16/2022 Gabrielle Kassel
Negging, when a partner puts you down, so you feel you have to prove yourself, can often be disguised as flirting. Here's how to spot it and put it to an end. © LumiNola - Getty Images Negging, when a partner puts you down, so you feel you have to prove yourself, can often be disguised as flirting. Here's how to spot it and put it to an end.

It’s a lie we start telling tots and toddlers after their first mishap on the playground: He teased you because he *likes*~you! And it’s a lie society continues spewing to daters prom-aged and up.

The implication? That emotional abuse is not only normal, but an acceptable part of having a crush and locked-down boo. Spoiler alert: It’s not.

“The widespread cultural belief that someone is treating you poorly is a sign of liking them normalizes negatives and makes it seem like that’s an acceptable way to treat someone in your life,” certified clinical trauma professional and licensed social worker Silvi Saxena. But this isn’t normal. “It’s a toxic [type] of behaviors that should *not* be normalized, because it’s demoralizing and dehumanizing,” she says.

This damning dating behavior has entered the dating lexicon with a catchy name: negging.

Put simply, begging is when someone shows their supposed interest in you by...putting you down. Yep, just like the school kid on the playground.

At face value, negging may seem innocent enough. But it’s actually a type of emotional manipulation that can land a blow on your self-esteem, explains Jesse Kahn, LCSW, director and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in NYC.

The good news: When you have a term for something, it makes it easier to spot, according to Saxena. Meaning as more and more love-seekers learn the term they’ll have the ability to recognize neggers, and therefore avoid them.

Got questions about what negging looks like and practice? Fear not, WH has got you covered. Ahead, Saxena and Kahn answer all your questions. Plus, they'll explain exactly how to respond to it.

What is negging, exactly?

At its most distilled, negging is verbal emotional abuse. It’s a type of manipulation that involves lowering a person’s self-esteem, explains Kahn. But it’s subtle.

The reason it’s notoriously hard to spot is that it’s done under the guise of flirting. “The idea is that by insulting the person you're 'flirting' with you'll make them desperate to change your opinion of them and win your approval,” they explain. Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky.

The seriousness of negging is often negated because it’s not physical abuse. After all, the victim will never have to cake their bruises with coverup. But negging is indeed abuse. “Any time someone is mentally manipulating another person for their own personal gain, it’s one hundred percent abuse,” explains Saxena.

To be very clear: Negging is often done in situations where flirting would be appropriate (first dates, ongoing relationships, bar chit-chat, etc). But negging is not flirting.

“There are ways to communicate your feelings and show affection; saying mean and hurtful things is not an acceptable or appropriate way to flirt with someone,” explains Saxena. Got it? Good!

5 signs of negging and how to recognize them

In a world where witty quips and sarcastic jibes are hallmarks of online dating, negging can be hard to spot. However, there are some key differences between a flirty poke and a mean-minded neg. Here are the most common signs your partner or potential partner is negging you.

  • They’re constantly giving you backhanded compliments.

If colleges and universities offered Flirting 101 courses, complimenting would be a cornerstone of the course content. Why? Because comparing thee to a summer's day is grade-A flirting!

But compliments and backhanded compliments are not the same. A compliment is a genuine recognition of a physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, or sexual attribute that someone thinks is particularly noteworthy, special, or positive. Key word here: genuine.

A backhanded compliment is not a compliment at all, but an insult in a mask, explains Khan. “Backhanded compliments are things that are said with the same tone of a compliment, but actually put the receiver down,” they say.

“Things like ‘I would never have the courage to wear that,’ and ‘Wow, you're a lot smarter than I thought you would be’ are perfect examples,” says Kahn.

  • They won’t stop one-upping you.

People who neg are spotlight-stealers, according to Kahn. They’re the type of people who always have a story that is more interesting or an accomplishment that's grander than whatever you just shared.


Video: If Your Partner Earns More Money Should They Pay More Rent? (The Doctors (video))

Imagine being on a first date with someone and telling them you just got back from a 5-day camping trip out west. Without asking any questions about your trip, the quintessential negger would launch right into the tale of the time they lived in a tent for 30 days straight.

On dating apps it might look like someone responding to your scenic photo, “Oh! I traveled there, too. But the location that I just got back from was way better.” Or, responding to your prompt about your favorite movie, “That book was great, but have you read The Catcher In The Rye?”.

  • They keep asking “questions.”

Yep, the quotations around that word are intentional. With negging, a question isn’t actually a question your date, or match, or partner is expecting an answer to, explains Saxena. Instead, it’s a question meant to communicate distaste.

Common example: You’re going to wear that? Do you really think that is a good date idea? Are you sure you need dessert?

All these questions imply the asker thinks your decision is (all caps) WRONG. If the tone sucks and the wording of the Q implies your original choice is wrong, odds are you’re being negged.

  • Their constructive criticism sounds an awful lot like criticism.

Even in out-of-office relationships constructive criticism has its place. After all, romantic and sexual relationships can be gateways to becoming the best versions of ourselves. But the intent needs to be constructive.

When a negger gives “constructive criticism” the intent isn’t to help, but to hurt. “Someone saying these things isn’t actually helping you,” says Saxena. “They are insulting you and aiming to belittle you, or control you, your actions or how you view yourself and the world.”

‘You’d look better if,’ ‘You should,’ and ‘If I were you’ are all common starter phrase faves amongst people who love to neg.

  • They’re constantly comparing you to others.

PSA: You are fabulous because you are you. It’s not because you are more X or less Y than someone else.

Unfortunately, a negger would probs tell you otherwise. It is common for someone who is negging to compare you to someone else, says Saxena. Even if they are doing it in such a way that makes it seem like you come out on top, she says the intent is to make you feel inferior or embarrassed.

Sometimes these comparisons are as blatant as someone saying, “I usually date professional athletes, it’s really nice to date someone normal” or “You’re no Rihanna, but you’re pretty!”

But other times they’re a little more subtle. “You’re funny! Almost as funny as Cameron Esposito.” Or, “You earn almost as much money as my ex does.”

How to tell if you’re being negged

Hear a comment that sounds similar in tone and structure to the above negging examples? Odds are that you, my love, are being negged.

Another way to identify whether or not you’re being negged is to do a check-in on your emotions. “If you feel really angry, upset, down on yourself, self-conscious or on edge after leaving an interaction with a date, it’s possible that they have been negging you,” says Saxena.

Feeling confused is another possible sign that you were negged once (or four times) on your last date. “Really, any insult can leave someone feeling confused,” she says. “But especially one that is cracked to sound like a compliment but doesn't feel like a compliment, can feel very confusing.”

Other tips to spot manipulation:

You may also leave an interaction feeling like you have been overly sensitive or defensive. “Those who neg are likely very good at acting as though they were trying to be kind if you call them out on being hurtful,” explains Saxena. But the reality is they weren’t being friendly. “If this happens it’s plain manipulation,” she says.

How to respond to negging

You’ve identified that you’re being negged…now what?

Ultimately, it’s going to depend on how long you’ve been dating the person, if you want to keep dating them, and how often it’s happened.

If you just met the person or have only gone on a handful of dates with them, TBH, a confrontation probably isn’t worth your energy.

“If they are not someone close to you, you can just ignore them,” says Saxena. Wasting your time and energy to explain how their comment(s) made you feel will probably be for naught. “Remember: You don't have to prove anything to them,” she says. But, if you feel it's important to say something, go for it. After all, you could be paying it forward to the next person your date tries to go out with by sparing them negging.

However, if you've been dating this person for a minute and want to keep dating them, Saxena recommends confronting the person about their behavior. “You shouldn't be afraid to speak your mind and stand up for yourself,” she says. And some people will be receptive to your observation. (FTR: “If you have to question whether or not you can stand up to them, that is not someone you should spend time with,” she says.)

Okay, so how do you confront them? By being direct. “You can let them know that how they're treating or speaking to you isn't okay and that you won't be communicating with them further if the negging continues,” says Kahn. Though, whether or not you call it negging is up to you.

In practice that might look like:

  • "I noticed that you’ve been putting me down a lot recently with backhanded compliments. I love receiving compliments, but backhanded compliments hurt my feelings. Can I ask you to be more mindful about those snide remarks?"
  • "Babe, I know that sarcasm is a big part of how we communicate, but recently your comments have felt a lot more hurtful than helpful. I 'm going to start pointing out when your comments are crossing a line."
  • "I love your stories. But the last few times I’ve told a story when we were out with friends, I felt like you kept one-upping me. It leaves me feeling less than."

At the end of the day, if their behavior doesn’t turn around (read: the abuse doesn’t stop) that’s cause for severing ties. Because nobody (nobody!) deserves to have a partner who puts them down rather than lifts them up.

“No matter what, remember that negging is a reflection of them, not of you, your worth, nor worthiness of love and care,” says Kahn.

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