Negging is best described as a very specific type of pick-up, where the initiator will prey on the victim’s sense of self-worth –or lack thereof- in order to lower the victim’s expectations accordingly and settle for whatever they’re made to believe they can get.
This is a fairly vicious explanation, but in my opinion, it’s a fairly vicious tactic. It’s become incredibly prevalent since Neil Strauss published his rag “The Game” back in 2005.
I feel particularly vehement about it, because it seems to be the ploy most frequently used by men when attempting to get me into bed. I’d like to say I have no idea why (and on some level that’s true, but only because I have no idea why anyone would be so deliberately horrible in the first place) but the facts are these: I’m attractive enough that a guy in a pinch would sleep with me, but unattractive enough that they’re certain I’ll have low self-esteem.
They aren’t wrong, per se, but thankfully for me, as low as my self-worth can sometimes plummet, my sense of pride is fucking indomitable. I’m perfectly happy to have casual sex, but not with someone who wants me to believe they’re doing me a favour.
My most recent experience of negging was this weekend just past, when I was having a quiet drink by myself in my local pub. I was ensconced in a comfy chair, tucked away in a quiet corner, glass of wine in one hand, book in the other. I should imagine that to the casual onlooker I appeared quite content, and very clearly occupied.
One man, however, seemed to think otherwise, and despite the many empty tables and chairs in the bar, plonked himself and his pint down at my table without a single word. I jumped a little (a remnant of relationships past, I’m afraid) and glanced up at him in surprise. I don’t think he saw me look up, and as there was no eye-contact made before I quickly hid behind my book again, I decided it was safest to ignore his presence entirely. I hoped he would do likewise, but it wasn’t to be.
“I don’t understand why women put all that black around their eyes like that,” he said loudly. “You’d be so pretty without it!”
Clever, isn’t it? Nasty, but you have to give it to them; it’s clever. The subtle emotional manipulation behind those few words, undermining my confidence with a backhanded compliment so that I’ll try to seek his approval. It almost worked, I won’t lie. It tugged at some part of me that was ready to explain away my makeup choices, to placate him with excuses in order to win some favour. But in half a breath, the urge was gone.
I nodded once, slowly, then looked back at my book again. I was very conscious of the fact that most responses would be seen as encouragement, and the fact that I’d read the same paragraph at least four times without taking any of it in.
“Why do you do it?” he pressed, apparently unperturbed.
“I like it,” I said. I didn’t look up. I kept my voice flat. I wanted him to leave, but I was too afraid to say so.
He scoffed, but said nothing further, and I read the same paragraph for a fifth time with a level of concentration I generally only reserve for feats of mathematics.
There was a heavy silence that followed. I hoped he understood my disinterest and that he would leave soon, but once again, I was disappointed.
“I don’t like pink wine.”
I looked at the glass in my hand rather than at him, but felt myself tense up as he pulled his seat closer to mine.
“It tastes like paint-stripper,” he continued. “It’s a frilly drink.”
Some small corner of my mind wanted to ask him how paint-stripper was a frilly drink, but then he moved his leg so it was touching mine. I jumped back from him immediately and felt my face go red as I looked up at him. A combination of panic, anger, and years of bickering with my little sister supplied my brain immediately with, “Your face is paint-stripper!” but thankfully I ignored the urge and instead went with: “Well it’s a good thing you’re not drinking it, then!”
“Don’t be that way,” he wheedled, smiling at me despite my clear discomfort. “I’m just being friendly.”
For a split second, I felt guilty for my reaction. Was he just being friendly? Was I overreacting? But no. No. I didn’t seek or encourage his attention –his so-called friendliness- and I certainly hadn’t given him any reason to persist. A friendly person, whatever their gender, would have asked if I’d minded them sitting there in the first place (to which I’d have likely replied “Go ahead” and smiled at them) rather than helping themselves to my time and my space. They certainly wouldn’t have opened the conversation by criticizing the way I looked.
No. This was another ploy, often used socially to coerce someone into submission. It’s designed to shift the blame, to make you question your emotional response, and to make you seem like the rude or over-sensitive party. Naturally submissive I may be, but necessity has taught me how to keep myself safe despite that.
“I’m reading,” I told him, making certain to hold his gaze as I did so. I wanted to make sure he understood, and I saw the exact moment he realised I wasn’t going to budge.
“Fine,” he sneered, sitting back in his chair at last. “But I was just trying to help. When you don’t care what people think of you like that, it throws up a red flag to guys like me.”
I wanted to tell him I didn’t want his help, and I certainly hadn’t asked for it. I wanted to tell him to take his sanctimonious nonsense and stick it up his arse. I wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as I could so that I’d stop feeling nauseated and my heart would slow down again.
I didn’t do any of the above, and instead, I returned to my book without a word.
He stood abruptly, snatched up his pint, and left with the parting shot “Bitch” tossed over his shoulder, loud enough that people on other tables quietened, and the man behind the bar look across in clear concern.
I tried to reassure him with a smile, but I imagine at this point my discomposure was beyond hiding. I was incredibly anxious, my pulse roaring, my chest tight, and sweat prickling my forehead and up the back of my neck. I was shaking fairly violently, too. I wanted to leave, but the man had sat right up by the exit, and I didn’t want him to follow me out.
The barman came over and asked me if I was okay. I motioned to the man who had cornered me and said I wanted to leave. The barman nodded his understanding, pointed to a fire exit out of sight, and told me I could go that way. I thanked him quietly, not wanting to draw attention, and I left safely.
When I went back into the same pub a few days later with a friend, the barman recognised me and asked what had happened. I told him, and he said he unfortunately saw things like that all the time. He was very kind, and told me in future he’d keep an eye out, but also cautioned me that perhaps I shouldn’t come in by myself.
But why? How is that fair? Why should I not be able to come out to have a drink and read a book by myself without fearing harassment? And it is harassment. He invaded my space, my time, and my peace of mind. He deliberately tried to break me down and intimidate me to get his way.
Worse still, the next morning I woke up to find my social media full of finger-pointing and cries of “women should be more obvious” when they’re uninterested. But look what happens. Look what happens when we (and I’m sure it happens to men and gender-fluid people, too) refuse someone’s advances. We’re cornered, we’re bullied, and then told we ought not to leave our homes alone for fear of what could happen.
I don’t know, it just seems so wrong to me. I didn’t do anything to encourage this stranger, but I still came out of it badly somehow. I don’t know what the answer is, except perhaps to toughen up. But should I really have to do that just to go sit in a quiet pub by myself? Should any of us?