Ask Colleen: When the joke goes too far
February 16, 2017
I've got a friend who is getting a little too comfortable joking around with me, and it's getting to the point where I feel like she's attacking me personally instead of just messing around. I will make a comment or even a self-deprecating joke, and she'll expand on it and take it to a level that I'm uncomfortable with. To be clear, I think that giving your friends crap is a very important part of friendship. I love when my friends feel comfortable enough with me to do that! I'm probably just being too sensitive, but it's starting to feel like she's laughing at my expense rather than aiming for a "Lol that's so me!" response. I don't want to tell her directly that I'm feeling attacked because she'll never let that go and never want to joke around again, but I would like to get the point across that she's crossing a line. What should I do?
Butt of the Joke
Butt of the Joke,
You are completely right, giving your friends crap and joking around is a very essential part of a friendship. It is what keeps us all humble and honest, but we all know what it feels like when the joke goes a little too far, especially if you are the butt of it. I am not saying what your friend is doing isn’t wrong or that your feelings shouldn’t be taken into consideration, but I can say that I have been on both sides in this situation, so let’s just think about where she may be coming from. As I’ve grown older, I feel like I need to follow the “every story has two sides” rule and look at the situation from someone else’s point of view. I know that sounds completely middle school-ish, but I think it can really put things into perspective.
My friends and I joke with each other all the time. I mean, we sometimes only give each other crap or call each other crude names, names, of course, that would be completely offensive if a stranger said them. The key difference is that these people are my friends. It’s like in movies or on television shows when the older brother says, “No one can make fun of my sister except for me.” We all know none of us are being serious, and it’s all in good fun. Plus, these are people that I have known for years and I know where the line is drawn when it comes to joking around.
This friend could be testing your boundaries, pushing to see how far she can joke with you before she hits a soft spot. I know you said you don’t want to talk to her directly about this issue, but if you want her to stop or not cross certain boundaries I think that is what you’re going to have to do.
She may not know she is making you uncomfortable or that she’s hurting your feelings for the sake of the joke. If you are someone who always laughs back or jokes back with her she most definitely doesn’t have a clue that her jokes are hurting your feelings. If she can’t see your true reaction or you don’t mention anything to her, she will keep joking and keep pushing boundaries until one day you finally snap.
My advice for you would be to take her aside after she makes a rude remark and tell her that she went too far. This way, you aren’t calling her out in front of other people and you’re addressing the joke right after it was made.
If taking her aside isn’t something that you want to do right away, express yourself with nonverbals. Next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re the butt of joke, don’t laugh and shrug it off. Walk away or become quiet. Chances are, your friend will be able to pick up on your silence as a sign that she went too far. She may even come up to you after and ask why you seemed upset. This way you get her to come to you and you can address the issue from there.
Being the butt of the joke is never fun, but I will say it is important to be able to laugh at yourself. So when the line gets crossed, make sure whoever crossed it knows that it can’t be crossed again. It doesn’t matter what type of relationship it is, no one wants to feel attacked for the sake of a joke.
It comes down to you either addressing the issue by starting a conversation or through your nonverbal attitude after the joke was made. Now, if it were me, I would probably give her crap right back, but that’s completely immature. I should really be taking my own advice. Do as I say, not as I do, right? Anyway, everyone has their line that they don’t want crossed and it’s okay to let people know that.
Colleen Brown is a student at UW-River Falls.