I Acted Like an Asshole for a Week to See if it Would Make My Life Better
In some ways, it definitely did.
Image by Adam Mignanelli
I'm a nice person. It's not in my nature to be an asshole. If I asked for iced coffee unsweetened and the barista gave it to me sweetened, I'd accept it as a sign that I deserved something sweet. I feel good about that part of me, for the most part.
That said, I'm 33-years-old, unemployed, single, and live alone with a cat. Based on the tragic half-hour sitcom life I'm currently the star of, perhaps I'm doing it all wrong? Assholes are everywhere, and they seem to be getting ahead. In fact, one of the two most popular people in the entire country right now is a gigantic asshole, and has made it to where he is entirely by being an asshole.
The reality is that assholes get ahead. There's actually research to back this up: One study from 2012 found that people who were arrogant or overconfident about their own abilities were perceived as "deserving respect and admiration" from their peers. Another study found when someone flagrantly breaks the rules or behaves rudely, other people perceive it as a power move and assume that person is important. And a series of experiments from 2012 showed that men who thought of themselves as agreeable made less money than men who were not agreeable. If you believe those studies, being an asshole makes you more popular, more powerful, and richer.
I wondered if my life would look different if I, too, were an asshole. So I decided to spend a week acting like a jerk to see how far it got me.
It wasn't long before an opportunity presented itself: a really, really bad date. I'd been on one date with this guy a month prior, and afterward, he kept texting, calling me "perfect," and saying he looked forward to seeing me again. So we scheduled a lunch date. The plan was for me to meet him at his place, then go from there.
I walked up to his apartment and noticed the door was wide open. I figured he was either cleaning or, because I'm an anxious person, dead. As I approached, I found him on the couch getting a blowjob from an obese older man.
"What?" he said, as if I had discovered him sneaking cupcakes late at night.
He came outside to talk to me. Zipping up his pants, he said, "I planned to be jerking off for you when you got here, but then this guy walked by and came in. I thought you'd like it."
Non-asshole me would have politely said goodbye and left. What would yelling solve? Why make this guy feel bad when it wouldn't change anything? The new asshole me had a different approach.
"What about our one date would make you think that? You're gross," I yelled as his neighbors watched the scene unfold like I was Sharon Stone in Casino. "You give someone a warning when they're about to walk in on you getting head from someone else. I hope he gave you genital warts. Die, trash."
Though I felt a little bad about calling him trash, the feeling didn't last for long. Being an asshole was great. Turns out, there's research to back that up, too: In one experiment, titled "Aggression, Exclusivity, and Status Attainment in Interpersonal Networks," sociologist Roger Faris followed a group of middle-schoolers for three years to understand what made them popular. Using yearbooks, school documents, and records of who was voted into the homecoming court, Faris sorted the students into four categories: elite, friend of the elite, hangers-on, and everyone else. Then he tracked what the students did throughout the years to break into different categories.
Faris found that students with larger groups of friends struggled to make it into the "elite" category, which was marked by exclusivity. "Elites" also remained "elites," according to the study, because of their verbal aggression toward other students (starting rumors, teasing, name-calling). So basically, being an asshole to other kids kept you at the cool kids table, while being nice kept you with the other basic bitches.
After my bad date, I was looking forward to being a jerk, but surprisingly few opportunities came up. Sure, there were the basic ones—putting my feet on the seat in front of me at the movie theater, ignoring people in a group conversation, intentionally using more space than needed when parking on the street. But mostly, I lived my life normally, without provocation.
If I had to cite one mundane moment, it would be from the gym. I do CrossFit, (which, if I'm being honest, inherently makes me an asshole). One day, during a partner workout, my very bro-y partner kept mansplaining what I was doing wrong on the rowing machine. After one too many pieces of "advice," I shouted at him, telling him to take his pity elsewhere. After the workout he asked, "Why did you yell at me?" like a child scolded for something he or she didn't understand. Asshole mission accomplished.
If I had trouble finding ways to be an asshole in real life, though, I certainly didn't have a problem finding it on the internet.
My online dating profile, which had previously included a photo of my face and a nice, normal description of what I like to do and what I'm looking for, changed to a photo of my chest and an updated profile that read: "You're probably not going to impress me. I'll show you my face if I feel like it. If I don't respond, take the hint dummy."
I got my fair share of people calling me an asshole for my profile (their fury only increasing when I wouldn't respond), but I also got messages from a number of "elite" dudes who would have never responded to my previous profile. I played along with some, ignored others out of spite (especially the dudes who were particularly arrogant on their profiles), and ultimately discovered that a little mystery and a dose of attitude goes a long way.
Still, after a week of openly being hostile, intentionally exclusive, and purposely arrogant, I was exhausted. I can honestly say that I'd just rather be nice. The attention was fun, and feeling above it all was great, but I think the desire to be liked and respected trumps all that. Plus, if you're not part of the "elite," you have a wider group of people to make fun of, which is way more enjoyable than silently being a dick for fun.
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