Ladies, gentleman and all in between: this is a public service announcement. This is not a test. Creatures of the most confusing, damaging and downright frustrating proportions walk among us. They can be found everywhere – in the office, on the tube, next door but one, up a tree in Alabama. They are armed with charm, charisma, and skills of manipulation so refined they may well have a PhD in the art. They are extremely dangerous to your sanity. That’s right, friends: I am talking about The Shady Ass Mofo.
The Shady Ass Mofo – the SAMF – is everywhere. He is the charming man you have been taught since childhood you must ensnare, and dance until midnight you will – but rather than chase you down with the glass slipper he’ll lose it somewhere and call three days later with some fantastical (but plausible) excuse. She is the film noir dame with a shimmy in her hips and a knife in her bra.
Sometimes, especially in the beginning, you’re swept up in a whirlwind of joy, picking chunks of the fairytale glitter the heavens are raining down on you out of your hair. You think you could marry this person. Its too good to be true – and deep down, you know that it is. Soon, you’re proven right; the SAMF’s mask slips easily and often. Don’t ignore it when you see it. I hate to break it to you, but if your spidey senses are tingling about anything sinister being amiss – you’re probably right.
The spectrum of the SAMF’s behaviour ranges from a bit shitty and upsetting to actual diagnosable narcissism. Rather than address the issues they are clearly battling and work on building their self esteem in healthy ways, the SAMF manipulates reality and the people around them to repair their damaged pride. Confusingly, along with their dose of toxic low self esteem, they usually have egos the size of Baghdad – and by allowing them into your lives, you have been unwittingly tasked with stroking them.
Having now dated three SAMFs, I would like to share my expertise on the subject. I will do a post about self protection from a SAMF at some point as a second part to this post; but for now, I’m going to talk about how to spot one.
For the purposes of this post I will be focusing on romantic relationships but if you’re dealing with a SAMF, no matter if they’re a friend, family member, colleague, whatever, you will recognise these traits. Adapt and apply as appropriate:
1. You try to talk to the SAMF about something that’s bothering you – then end up apologising yourself.
The first sign on our list is especially telling, and sadly common when it comes to dealing with the SAMF. Pretty standard story: SAMF does something crappy, you approach them to tell them the crappy thing was crappy and ask them not to do it again, and the SAMF makes you feel like youre overreacting, imagining it or worse still, the cause of the crappy thing. Regardless if it’s big or small, in their eyes or yours, if something is upsetting for you they should want to try and work it out with you.
If they’ve said something you’ve been hurt by and they tell you you’re too sensitive when you address it with them, that’s not okay. The point is they’ve said something hurtful whether they intended to or not and they should talk it through with you and apologise. If they respond with an eye roll and ask why you’re always getting at them over nothing – especially if they say youre clearly only feeling the way you do because of how things are in your life, absolving themselves of all responsibility entirely – this will often end with you apologising for ‘just overreacting’ and trying to appease them. They are very practiced and very, very convincing.
No – you are not too sensitive. You are not overreacting. You do not need to apologise for expressing how you feel. You deserve to be validated and to be confident that your partner will take you seriously. Someone who treats you like this does not care about your happiness; they are more interested in preserving their ego and being right than they are in sustaining a healthy relationship with you.
2. They’re inconsistent.
In the beginning, this person seemed perfect. They shared your interests, your values, they wanted to talk to you all the time, they claimed they wanted to know everything about you.
Days, weeks, a month later, all that changed, very sharply and with no warning whatsoever. They’re suddenly less interested in hanging out. They’re not that into that band or show or game you bonded over anymore; in fact, they never really liked them all that much. Your values are different, very suddenly. I once dated a guy who made a point of giving money to a homeless man on our first date and lamented about how he felt for him – then two weeks later told me he thought homeless people were lazy and should just get off their arses and find a job!
The inconsistent SAMF’s mood changes from hour to hour. They’re showering you with love and affection one day then they are quiet and standoffish the next. When it’s good, its so good, and you know you can stick it out for those times. Maybe it’s just a phase – and oh, look, that person I like is back again!
Some inconsistent SAMFs present themselves as soft-hearted victims of a conveyer belt of monsters they’ve encountered, as someone who needs protection and nurturance – then, when you actually see them deal with an unpleasant person or situation, you witness from them an unprecedented and uncalled for flurry of rage and cruelty. Bonus points if the sudden switch in personality genuinely frightens you.
Look, this person is not who they’re pretending they are. They want to present the best face they can to you to keep you, but the mask can and will slip. The sides you see that you don’t like? That’s the real them. The sides you like? They’re a creation, and they’re effort to sustain. That’s why they never last for long. Why do they need to pretend? Really, who knows. And don’t torture yourself trying to work them out.
Which leads me to my next point…
3. You can’t work them out.
In fact, sometimes you feel like you hardly know them. Sure, a bit of mystery is sexy, especially in the beginning, but in a ‘still waters run deep’ sense – not in a ‘we’ve been dating for half a year and I still don’t know your political views’ sense.
They seem completely reluctant to share themselves with you. They’re continually guarded, like a cool but guilty suspect being pressed by an unrelenting cop. They don’t seem to have an opinion about much of anything, but you know they’re not brainless; just hesitant. They always seem vague, unemotional and detached to the point where even the most intuitive person would struggle to read their expression. Sometimes you feel like you’re not actually spending time with a full person, but a one-dimensional character in a mediocre film. That’s definitely a sign that something’s not right. If someone is boring, you will know about it… but the way this person is just doesn’t feel the same as ‘boring’. It’s more that it feels as though you can’t penetrate them any deeper than the superficial. A relationship cannot work if one person is holding back. You may have never seen where they live, never met their friends, despite the fact that he or she makes vague plans for you to do this that just never materialise. Hint: If their guardedness is at this level, that is a really, really bad sign.
If any of this rings true, then I’m sorry to say no good can come of it. They are either closing themselves off to you because they just don’t want to let you in – no matter what their mouths are saying, their behaviour will give you the truth – or they’re being shady so they don’t accidentally drop something into conversation that they don’t want you to find out about. Best case scenario: They’re pretending to be interested when they’re not, which is a downright shitty thing to do. Worst case scenario: They have another partner and children in Switzerland. And of course they don’t want you to find this out.
4. They are rude, judgemental and entitled.
Goethe once said you can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.
Warning you to be wary of someone who is rude to the waiter is such commonplace advice it’s almost cliché – certainly true though, anyone who does treat waiting staff like shit is probably not a nice person. Beyond the waiter though, how do they treat people? Do they say please and thank you? Do they love to complain over minor glitches at the restaurant or the cinema, expressing disproportionate anger and insisting on speaking to management? Do they otherwise expect favourable or preferential treatment? A person who cannot navigate day to day things with a grain of respect for others and their time is bad news. This type of SAMF – despite being nice to you – is purposely hiding less than favourable parts of their personality from you. Pay attention when these behaviours come out. They’ll tell you things that the SAMF won’t.
Are they pleasant to your friends and family? Do they make an effort, or would they rather not turn up? Obviously it’s important that they treat your loved ones well – but what about theirs? Are they rude to their own family on the phone, or unkind about them? Do they call their parents names? Talk cruel and unnecesary shit about their friends? There’s nothing wrong with your partners talking about conflicts with people in their lives to you – as long as it’s productive and resolution-oriented – but that’s as far as it should go. Making fun of their friend’s acne or calling their mother a bitch is not cool. Says a lot about them. And a lot about the kind of things they say about you when you’re not around. Shady af, friends. Shady af.
5. You feel sad and bad about yourself when you’re around them.
Some particularly toxic breeds of SAMF are adept at this. This is because they have no self-esteem of their own. In fact, they have more involved, complex issues than a library of mathematical magazines.
Don’t get me wrong: plenty of perfectly good people in this world are insecure. There is nothing wrong with having issues. Who doesn’t? Someone once told me that there are two types of people in this world: the type that has got shit to sort out, and the type that has got shit to sort out but doesn’t know it/doesn’t want to. The SAMF falls into the latter category. Their unrelenting narcissism does not allow them to admit to the increasingly obvious chinks in their armour, so how else do they help themselves? That’s right, kids: by making the people close to them feel like big old bags of dicks.
Got a best friend? Yeah, the SAMF thinks that person is bad for you and you should cut them off. Got a promotion at work, an amazing grade or something else you are incredibly proud of? The SAMF thinks that’s cool and everything, but you’re showing off about it a bit, don’t you think? Or maybe you’re upset about something; the SAMF will say you’re being too sensitive, what is there to be sad about? The SAMF has been through much worse and you don’t see them crying about it. Hell, have you ever actually done anything in your life? Because the SAMF has done it too, and he or she has done it better.
Some SAMFs may directly name call or threaten; in that case, get out, get out right now and never look back. But oftentimes, SAMFs will employ subtlety to chip away at your self-esteem. We’ve all had that ‘friend’ who is the master of the backhanded compliment; that distant relative with a PhD in cryptic slights from the University of Passive Aggression. It is no fun to have that friend or relative and trust me, it is even less fun to date people like that.
The bottom line is, the SAMF feels bad and they want you to feel bad too. They lack the insight and self-awareness to understand this fact and they will carry on. And if you call them out on it? You’re taking it far too much to heart, of course (see point 1).
The bottom bottom line is, you do not have to take that shit from anyone – friends, family, partner, your hamster, whoever. Sometimes you need to walk away and you might feel guilty, but fuck it, you need to keep your sanity intact. Besides, if your own peace of mind is shot to bits, how can you be your best self for both you and for the people around you who really deserve you?
6. Their stories just do not add up.
Its unlikely, its dramatic, its unprecedented… But its highly plausible. Sound familiar?
Oh, he would love to come and meet your friends this weekend… but unfortunately he has to cancel because he has nerve damage in his calf that he’s never mentioned before and needs to have an MRI scan… on a Sunday.
It’s true; things come up and our plans change. But if it happens consistently and it’s never just something simple like ‘my car broke down’, you are potentially dealing with someone who likes to twist the truth worryingly more than the odd white lie. In the same vein, if it happens consistently and their excuse is always my car broke down – they’re probably just an idiot who thinks you’re an idiot too.
There’s the unreliable and shit-filled kind of liar mentioned above… then there’s the pathological type. Oh my actual fuck. You’ll have so much fun with this one. Does she tell a lot of stories about her life that seem rich, detailed and fantastical? Are some convoluted and tragic, sounding as though they came right off the pages of some dreadful real life story magazine, like Chat or Take a Break? Is the common thread that she is the innocent, grand hero of every single fucking one? Certainly, it’s true… terrible and amazing things do happen to people. But some people like to just pretend that terrible and amazing things have happened to them more than they actually have.
If absolutely every minor trivial event turns into an epic story, or so much of this Spielberg movie worthy stuff has happened to them that you start to wonder how one seemingly regular person could have experienced so much… this is suspect. Also, that nagging feeling you get when you suspect you’re being royally lied to? That feeling is likely to be right. That’s our real sixth sense. Listen to it ffs.
Regardless of which category they fall into, this is downright shady behaviour. Ask the SAMF directly why they are unreliable and full of, frankly, shit. If you can’t get a straight answer – which you probably can’t because liars lie and lie and lie and then they lie to your face even more when they’re caught – cut them loose. There’s no point in driving yourself crazy trying to work out a liar.
7. They act totally indifferent to you.
You feel like you could back flip into the room wearing Bjork’s Swan dress singing the Slovenian National Anthem and they still might not notice. Or even be interested enough to ask about all the crazy shit you must have gone through in order to actually carry this out.
Monosyllabic answers, long periods of staring into space, still not recalling what your best friend’s name is even after three months of dating: my friend, this person is not engaging with you. Someone who is really into you will be interested when you tell them what you had on your toast for breakfast. They will, at the very least, want to know how your day went.
Maybe you try and vent to them about an issue you’re having, and they grunt in response, or pat you on the head then start talking about the new phone they’re thinking of getting. Or you’ve planned to spend the day together and they are quiet and distracted, spending a lot of time checking their phone and looking worried and insisting everything is fine when you ask what’s up. If the latter happens frequently and there seems to be no explanation for it, you may not be their only squeeze – or at least they’re not present, and they don’t want to be.
If you feel like someone isn’t listening to you: They aren’t. And if you suspect they don’t care, they probably don’t. Ask yourself, if you called them in a crisis – could you be absolutely sure they’d be there? If the answer is anything less than a fervent yes, it might be time to rethink how important you actually are to this person.
8. Conversely, they’re too interested.
As stated above, of course the people close to you should be interested in you – or at least be interested enough in you as a person to pretend to be interested when you talk about something that bores the pants off them. But if they need to know every minute detail of your life, your thoughts, your emotions – even pressing and pushing when you’ve stated it’s something you don’t want to share – this can be kind of a red flag.
If you feel like they are asking pressing questions and intently studying every response you give, to the point where you begin to feel like you’re on a brown couch, you probably might as well be. Manipulators love to psychoanalyse their targets; from the moment you meet them they will be teasing out your vulnerabilities, working out what’s important to you, creating a profile of you in their minds so they can work out exactly how to play you. I say play because it really is just a game to the SAMF. They are well aware of the things you like and appreciate so they know how to keep you sweet when they sense they might be losing you. And they will not think twice about using your weaknesses against you in conflict, in some pretty fucked up and mean spirited ways.
Oh, and have you got have mutual friends with your SAMF? Because he or she is not above playing you off against each other – he said this, she said that – because they manipulate the friend too. This type of SAMF wants you all to themselves and any barrier to that must be obliterated.
They may also express unnecessary jealousy and possessiveness. If they are suspicious or easily annoyed at the mention of others, entirely unnecessarily, it is highly possible that they themselves have something to hide. At least, call them out; ideally, run.
9. They’re extremely unreliable.
“You can talk to me about anything!” You try, and they wriggle out of the subject… back to them.
“Sure, I will DEFINITELY be there.” They cancel last minute. This is a frequent occurrence.
Oh, and my personal favourite: “I am totally committed to this/you/us.” Funny, when absolutely everything else but that thing or person you are committed to seems to come before it or them.
Okay, I am not saying you should expect to be first priority every single waking minute of every single fucking day for anyone – the phrase ‘being a priority, not an option’ is very much abused in this way – but if you are quite reasonably expecting to at least rank somewhere on that priority list, and often find yourself disappointed, you may well have a SAMF on your hands.
The unreliable SAMF is, like most of the others, distant and difficult to mentally pinpoint. They say one thing and do the polar opposite. They make plans they have absolutely no intention of keeping. They exaggerate their skillset and claim they can do things they simply cannot – thus, when you ask them to follow through, they suddenly have the perfect excuse for why they can’t. They omit important details or facts to twist the truth. They fail to do things they said they would do, even when they knew it was so important to you – and make vague justifications for their shitty behaviour with phrases like ‘yeah I didn’t tell you I couldn’t do it because I didn’t want to upset you’ or, the most common and the SAMF’s favourite dish ‘ you’re overreacting.’
The fact is, if you can’t even rely on them to pick up the fucking phone when you call around 90% of the time, where would this person be if you really needed them? Like, if you were calling from the middle of a burning building? Likely they are flitty, jerky like little sparrows, flapping from one position to the next second to second; disorganised, and not in an endearing, scatty way, but in the kind of way that makes you want to tear your own face off.
10. They make you feel like you’re going crazy.
This one is the most telling of all that you’re dealing with a rotten no good SAMF. Run, run fast and never look back.
Assuming you are a sane and reasonable human being, if you feel as though things aren’t quite right, that’s because, newsflash: they. are. not. There is always a reason for these feelings and if there was nothing wrong, things would be so much easier. And no, your otherwise perfectly working memory isn’t lying to you about what the SAMF said or did, no matter how vehemently he or she denies it – you were there, you know what happened. You’re not clingy or possessive for wanting them to call you back after two days if you are actually in what you think is a relationship, and you’re not needy for wanting to spend time with them – when you love someone, of course that’s what you want. And if you and SAMFy were right for each other, and if they felt the same as you, they’d want that too. They wouldn’t fade in and out of your life at their leisure, they wouldn’t hide things from you, act disinterested, shut you out of their lives. You would matter. Things feel off BECAUSE THEY ARE.
The SAMF behaviours discussed above range from shitty and disrespectful to legit emotional abuse. If you recognise any of this from anyone in your life, PLEASE cut them off. Its hard, its horrible and yes, loss is painful – but that pain will be temporary. Either way, there’s going to be pain; and you will cause it to yourself unnecessarily if you keep giving their shady ass the benefit of the very strong doubt.
The reason we don’t like listening to our gut is because it tells us things we don’t want to hear. It’s not comfortable, true – but every now and then, it’s good to listen. And I promise you – if you were constantly thinking of someone specific whilst you were reading this post, that is your gut screaming in your face that that person is a massive SAMF. Let them go.