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Dating Maze #346: Offensive Words

November 10, 2011 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

How can I stop my date from using foul language?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I recently met a man and we've gone on a few dates that were great. We've spoken frequently on the phone and everything seems to be clicking between us.

Except for one problem: He will occasionally use words that I find derogatory and offensive. It's nothing that you wouldn't hear in a movie these days, but I just don't want it as part of my life.

Last night he used one of those words again. I let him know that I find it inappropriate. Unfortunately, I crossed the line and ended up lecturing him instead. He got off the phone quickly.

I feel like I've messed up something good. How can I best communicate my displeasure with his choice of language? And what can I do now to make amends?


Dear Andrea,

These days it is difficult to avoid coarse language, since it has gradually seeped into our culture. We get daily doses of four-letter words and derogatory phrases from movies, books and casual conversation. In spite of the fact that many people use these words in day-to-day vocabulary, most of us realize they are not quite appropriate. Very few people would actually speak in a coarse, informal way if they were delivering a lecture to an audience, speaking to their boss, addressing a judge in a courtroom, meeting with a prominent person, or attending religious services.

So why, then, do we feel comfortable peppering our everyday speech with profane words that many people find offensive? Is it for the shock value? The humor? Does it make us seem "with it"? Has it become so much a part of our culture that we don't even think about it any more?

We internalize the message that words convey.

First we need to clarify: What is the danger in using coarse language? It gradually desensitizes us. Even if we initially use a word for its shock value or humor, we've made it easier to say it a second time, and it can slowly become part of our daily habits. When we become accustomed to using a derogatory term to describe, for example, people from another race or culture, we begin to internalize the message those words convey.

Is that the kind of person we want to be? And is that the kind of person we want other people to see us as? (And are those the kind of kids we want to raise?)

What about when we're dating, hoping that the person we're with will see us as a potential marriage partner? Don't we want to convey that they're important to us, that we respect them as much as we do a judge, boss or rabbi? If we can contain our coarse language in front of people we're "supposed" to respect, shouldn't we do so with someone we date – someone who may become the most important person in our lives?

Judaism recognizes that speech is extremely powerful. God created the world using speech. (“And God said: ‘Let there be light.’”) And though the Torah never wastes words or letters, when referring to "indelicate" subjects, the Torah will use longer, less direct language rather than more direct, coarser words. This teaches how far out of our way we should go to use refined language.

Testing Ground

Now to your specific situation.

There are ways to convey your feelings to this man without "lecturing." First, we suggest that you phone him to apologize for your outburst, and say that you’d really like to continue seeing him. Mention that the next time you get together, you’d like to speak about the subject you had brought up. (And promise to be calm.)

During that subsequent conversation, you could say:

"I enjoy spending time with you and talking, but it upsets me to hear curses and coarse language. I realize that you may not find it offensive, but it makes me uncomfortable to hear it. I'd like us to continue dating, but this is something that really bothers me. I hope you're willing to try to not use these words."

Many daters experience "bumps" in the road with someone who otherwise has potential – something they feel could become a major problem, or even a deal-breaker, if it isn't resolved. If the other person is willing to work to address the issue, the relationship can become stronger. This is a good testing ground for compromise, and sincere willingness to accommodate the other person – which, after all, is the foundation of a good marriage.

Since this man’s language genuinely upsets you, and may even become a deal-breaker in your relationship, it's important to discuss it with him to see if he's willing to work on changing. You'll have to see how he reacts before you decide to continue dating him. If he's not willing to do so, it’s probably a sign for you to move on, no matter how nice he otherwise is.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry

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