Why We Tolerate Jerks

We're not stupid. We know, at least deep down, when we don't like how someone is treating us. Most of us have been burned at some point and should be more alert to the signs. Yet we often don't learn and allow ourselves to be set up for disappointment again. What attracts us to those jerks that we keep in our lives?

We know that eating candy isn't healthy yet it doesn't stop us from gobbling chocolate fixes and other yummies. We stress over putting on weight but those sweets are still hard to resist. We weaken easily for fried foods, cookies, creamy food, drinks. And jerks. We call people jerks when they manipulate our feelings, actions and attitudes after their facade has sucked us in and they continue to hurt us with those actions.

Jerks come in both sexes, though women and men may manipulate differently. Many women say men manipulate with sweet words: compliments, loving expressions and promises that tap into their personal desires. Romance can make us overlook a lot of otherwise bad behavior. Many men say they get sucked in by hot looks and great sex. There are many other reasons we stay with jerks -- they have money, fear of being alone if a stand is taken, they satisfy some need you crave, etc.

Years ago I was on a TV show about cheating and lying partners, based on my book, All Men Are Jerks Until Proven Otherwise. Couples shared how one partner had done them wrong. Yet they were all still together! I had to give each some advice. Most agreed it was time to split. When I got to the last woman, I told her she already had a foot out of the door and should keep walking. She began to vehemently defend her jerk.

"You don't understand. If it wasn't for the lying and cheating he'd be perfect."

The host almost fell off the stage laughing. I explained that people with unacceptable bad behavior must have good qualities or no one would stay with them. Jerks hone their skills for keeping you sucked in. Her guy made her feel good when he felt like it; his cheating and lies regularly devastated her. Yet she clung to her man, spouting his good qualities, except for lying and cheating, like they were small issues that were worth putting up with.

Jerks can be charming, and nice on cue. Many have their routines down pat. Like fisherman, they reel you in by using sweet bait to get you hooked. Then they keep you dangling from their lines, going from hurting you, to calming you after with words you want to hear, and then hurting you again -- if you let them.

Many people let jerks off easily. One fake apology and promises you know will be broken often lets them off the hook. A cheap bunch of flowers grabbed at a deli often gets romantic swoons instead of tossed in the garbage since they don't compensate for the hurt. When you don't let the jerk know how you feel in an appropriate manner, or complain but don't do anything, you give indirect license to the person to continue doing things that piss you off.

We've encouraged a breed of people who get by on looks and charm, and reinforce their unacceptable behavior by allowing those qualities to substitute for healthy emotional gratification. If you accept crumbs instead of consistent respectful behavior, who's the real jerk? If looks and the right words are more important than the person's integrity and consistent good behavior, you'll continue to set yourself up for poor treatment. If you stop making it easy for jerks to manipulate you, they'll have to treat you better, or leave.

By refusing to accept unacceptable behavior and getting over fear of losing the jerk, some might actually change. Setting boundaries can teach someone who does care about you to treat you right. We're better off losing anyone who continues to bring hurt. When you take your time getting to know someone new and set boundaries from the get-go, behavior can take a positive track or you can let go before getting too sucked in.

Develop friendship first. Jerks often don't make good friends. Respect yourself enough to not allow yourself to get in too deep with a jerk so you can exit more easily if their true colors show. Don't take what anyone says too seriously until they prove themselves with actions over a long period of time.