‘That’s a really interesting outfit’: Negging, and why men do it
From the ones who do it
No girl is a stranger to The Game. We’ve read 10 ways to make him jealous, how to play hard to get, and of course, a girl’s guide to winning him back. But how often do we think about the ways they’re playing us? Or negging us?
“You can’t pull until you push-pull,” one of my male friends said to me recently, and suddenly I realized, I’d been blindsided.
I decided to reach out to men in their twenties, and ask about their tactics, strategies, and ever-hopeful end goals. Here’s what I learned.
A brief explanation of shitty negging: as told by boys who do it
“Your hair is really nice, you seem like the sort of person that’s really into their appearance.”
“You’re really funny for a girl.”
“You must be so confident, you obviously don’t care what other girls think of you.”
“I love your nose – it gives your face character.”
“Your makeup always looks so nice, you must spend a lot of money on it.”
“Those are interesting shoes.”
“How much thought did you put into that outfit?”
“You have a memorable figure”
It’s about making a woman feel ‘noteworthy,’ but not necessarily ‘worthy’
“I always think of negging as remarks designed to be ambiguous,” my first subject told me. “Maybe she’s worthy! But maybe she isn’t, and huh, it turns out that the more she thinks about the remark that guy made, the more she thinks about that guy and what he might have meant.”
Which leads me to the next.
He does it because he wants to be sure you’re thinking of him
The more we think about what a guy means, the more we doubt our own perceptions of ourselves; in this way, negging kills two birds with one stone. By elevating himself while diminishing you, he is working to make the gap between you two larger, as a means of making himself seem more interesting than he actually is.
“What you end with is a guy snatching the woman’s self-worth and dangling it above her just out of reach – but maybe it’s only out of reach because she can’t jump high enough.”
It’s more about reassuring himself than knocking you down
When a guy says: “That’s a really nice outfit – I’ve seen lot of girls wearing it lately,” he’s making you question yourself as a means of reassuring his own confidence – he’s insecure.
It’s a strategy of building himself up by breaking you down.
It’s about wanting to stand out
“You want to do what other guys aren’t doing – you must be an exception to the rule,” the second guy I spoke with offered me as a kind of ‘rule,’ in and of itself.“A pretty girl is used to getting complimented so the idea behind it is to be sassy and create polarity.”
Without male insecurity, negging wouldn’t exist at all; aware you have options, his push for attention is a definitive marker of this. It’s not about your worth.
He’s more likely to do it if he’s genuinely interested in you
“It works better when you’re pursuing someone in longterm, or more than a hookup, because it makes things interesting,” he continued. “In hookup situations, there’s room for miscommunication.”
He’s doing it because he doesn’t think he’d have a shot with you otherwise. And he probably shouldn’t.
He’s worried about seeming overly interested
“You want to seem interested, but not too interested,” a third guy told me. “The person in any relationship who is more interested is always the one with more to lose.”
It’s an ego problem. If he pines after you and you turn him down, people will notice. But if he’s been ambiguous in his pursuing of you, he’s left room to turn it around on you when things don’t work out.
He genuinely thinks treating you poorly makes you want him more
“I’ve heard a few guys refer to it in that ‘treating her badly makes her want you more,'” one of them told me.
“For example: ‘You have an interesting figure.’ You’re not saying she has a hot body or she’s fit, but it’s implied,” he says. “Polarity creates a challenge, and everyone likes challenge.”
But why? I wondered if I should have told him “You have an interesting figure,” is likely not an implied “you’re fit,” to all girls.
‘It’s because he’s uncomfortable with expressing his feelings’
“It’s tempting to think it’s just about misogyny and wanting to put someone down,” explained a more earnest friend of mine, “but as with many things, it’s more complicated than just a naked desire to be mean. At its core, it’s about insecurity, and specifically the insecurity many guys have in expressing earnest feelings. There are so many stereotypes about guys I’ve read, but that one holds a lot of truth. Men feel embarrassed about saying something nice. They’ve let their feelings out, and immediately they feel soft and vulnerable. That’s when they say something mean to counteract it.
“I don’t mean to suggest it isn’t a form of misogyny and only situations in which a guy is actively trying to hurt or emotionally abuse a woman are misogyny,” he clarified, “Clearly this is covertly misogynistic.”
“What I do want to suggest is that it’s about insecurity more than anything. It’s crazy how uncomfortable men are with expressing their feelings. It’s extremely unhealthy.”
Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about him
None of this is to excuse men. Negging is deeply abusive behavior and since it’s commonly used as a pickup strategy, it’s all the more horrific, because your first interaction with someone is an intricate manipulation of power dynamics based on using someone’s fluid levels of self-esteem to make them dependent on your approval.
Instead of sorting the problem of men who negg, we should look first to the root of the problem: a society that tells men they are not to feel, or, god forbid, express genuine emotion. Negging is why men need feminism.