Fiery or Just Plain Inflammatory?

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We’ve all seen it in movies: the couple that starts out as fiery opposites. They trade insults along with witty banter. The attraction builds, along with the tension, until it just can’t be denied; a passionate argument turns into something quite different.

Though it’s a common tale on TV and in novels, it’s not something that you encounter quite as much in real life. And of all the romance-novel scenarios, it’s one that would be exceedingly difficult to recreate utilizing an online dating site. But that doesn’t stop some from trying.

Usually an inflammatory or abusive first-contact email is easy to spot, but what about the ones with backhanded compliments or downright insults? Though it may seem unlikely, they are known to surface. “Sarah” tells me: “I’ve gotten emails that insult my favorite movie, my favorite books, even the choice of clothes I wear in my pictures. Oh, and there was the one guy who told me that since I have one cat at my age, I’m already headed down the slippery slope to becoming a crazy cat lady.”

It’s unclear why someone would go through the trouble of sending a semi-legitimate email, only to criticize or ridicule. In fact, the reasons are probably as varied as the emails themselves. There are a few possibilities, though:

One is the concept of “negging” - insulting an attractive person to “take them down a few notches” and therefore make them more vulnerable. It began as a technique used by self-proclaimed “pick-up artists,” but over the years it’s become increasingly mainstream (and it can come from either gender, too).

Another is the “opposites attract” theory - not that someone is literally trying to recreate a scene from a movie, but perhaps that’s the only way they know how to communicate with someone they’re attracted to. Picture children who tease, shove or pull the hair of the little boy or girl they like, and add thirty-plus years to the picture. Also in the “stunted” category, there’s the possibility that the emailer doesn’t even realize they’re being overly critical or cruel - they might think they’re starting up a healthy debate or trying to be funny.

Then, of course, there’s the possibility that someone’s simply being mean for the sake of being mean. They may be few and far between, but they do exist.

Whether or not the writer of such emails realizes they’re out of line, chances are the root cause is more than you ought to have to deal with. The easiest, and cleanest, option is to ignore the email - engaging them might cause more trouble, especially if they’re being purposely inflammatory. If you absolutely feel you must respond, a stiff letter in which you state you’re not interested in games or defending yourself might do the trick - but write at your own peril.

Remember, everyone gets such emails from time to time, but that doesn’t mean you need to fall into the trap of being upset by them. Fiery beginnings may work in the movies, but in person they just add stress and sap energy. Send genuine, honest first-contact emails, and only respond to those who do the same, and you’ll maximize your chances of finding someone truly compatible.