As our own Cory Garcia will attest, one of the things I actually do get paid for when working here is arguing on social media. It turns out one of the best ways to track and study human behavior in the online space is, well, to engage with people whose impulse control is poor enough that they let their unfiltered personality dangle out in the wind. It’s not the healthiest way to spend one’s time, but it does help you learn an awful lot about how people think and act online.
Recently I had a bad Internet dust-up with a local artist who has been on my friends list for years and a rather constant headache regarding his behavior involving women and minorities on my page, and it resulted in an unfriending and finally a block because boundaries were never his jam or jelly.
One of the gaslight-ier things he said to me before the blocking was “I’d take a bullet for you.” I’ve seen others say that to people who were trying to get them to modify their behavior and I now consider it a very red flag. Someone who says this to you, especially when it’s in response to a friendship being on the line because he acted in a way you asked him not to, is probably not your friend.
First, to get it out of the way, almost none of us need bullets taken for us. The odds, even in America, of me being in a situation where anyone would even have the chance to stop a bullet to save me are very small. I’m not the President. I’m not even a Nazi with a punchable face and a stupid frog pin. Offering to be my bodyguard for the fictional assassins out to get me is just dumb.
But let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what the statement “I’d take a bullet for you” as an accusation that you’re being a bad friend actually says. It implies, for one, that the world is a dangerous place, that you are beset on all sides by threats, and that the person saying it is the one you can really trust. That’s the sort of thing domestic abusers say to their significant others to alienate them from their friends.
More than that, though, it’s an attempt to instill a sense of obligation in the listener despite the fact that the person saying it hasn’t actually done anything to earn the obligation. It’s a case of “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” an emotional debt against a future act of ultimate selflessness that will almost certainly never come to pass. By saying it first, the speaker implies that you wouldn’t do this same heroic deed for him, or maybe you just haven’t thought about your friendship like he has.
If you’re one of the people saying this sort of thing to friends you’re having an argument over, you need to stop. It doesn’t actually come out as a nice thing to say, even if you’re sure you meant it. It definitely isn’t a good way to stop an argument when the subject under discussion is your behavior right now, not in the possible future.
Like most people, I don’t really need someone to take a bullet for me. I need people to stop calling women whores and cunts around me. I need a lot less queerphobia and transphobia in the world. I need folks to stop sharing every half-cocked conspiracy theory that proves they need a gun in an elementary school. These are actually helpful, and they require work and learning restraint, which is probably why jerks prefer to offer a pointless, manipulative and hollow martyrdom fantasy instead.