Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pet Peeve of the Week: One-Uppers

Over the past few weeks I've been attending more social events than usual, despite the fact that I prefer to be alone or with a small group of friends. I do this every once in a while because if I didn't, there's a good chance I'd lose all social skills. I also do it because even though I usually dread meeting new people and/or having to be "on" for a few hours, once I'm actually in the situation I've been dreading, I do enjoy myself, and afterward I'm always glad (and proud) that I stepped outside of my hermit-like comfort zone.

But there is a downside to these little outings, and it's dealing with "one-uppers." You know exactly who I'm talking about. The people who -- no matter what you or anyone else involved in a conversation might be saying -- feel the need to top it somehow. Kristen Wiig plays a classic one-upper ("Penelope") on Saturday Night Live. One-uppers HAVE to say something more impressive, or outlandish, or even unrelated to the topic at hand... just so long as they get the spotlight back on themselves. If you pay attention, you can actually see them squirming in their seats and approaching a near-panicked state when they're dying to regain control of a conversation by way of a comment that's sure to blow everyone listening away with its sheer awesomeness. They cannot take it when someone less worthy has the floor. This behavior would completely push me over the edge if it wasn't so pathetic, and therefore kind of funny.

I admittedly still get worked up by attention-seekers, though. About 10% of the time I'm not mature enough to just let people like that get away with acting like they're God's gift. I think the reason why is because I've met some truly impressive people in my lifetime, and they're the ones who would absolutely NEVER toot their own horn. Let's take my friend KG, for example. I went to grad school with her, and our class was full of extremely accomplished twenty- and thirtysomethings. Some of those students felt like they had to make sure that everyone knew just how special they were, whereas others hardly ever shared information about themselves. KG was in the latter group, and as the years went by (I've known her now for over a decade) and I slowly but surely learned more about all the places she'd traveled and lived and everything she'd done before coming to school, I simply could not comprehend how she'd be able to just smile and nod when in a conversation with crazy one-uppers who'd brag about some place they'd visited in a tone that suggested the rest of us were country bumpkins. Once I knew KG's background, I almost wanted to jump in and knock the one-uppers down a few pegs on her behalf!

I guess some people just don't feel the need for validation from others -- they're confident and secure in their accomplishments and that's it. Whereas the one-uppers aren't really as impressed with themselves as they may seem to be when they're blabbing on and on. They need others to be like, "Wow, that's so cool!" and fawn all over them in order to be at peace. So they surround themselves with people who do just that. Whereas the most successful people I've met
(and I don't mean that in merely a financial sense) seek out other confident, interesting people who they can learn from. They also tend to listen more than they speak, no matter the situation. And they're not above realizing that everyone has knowledge or interesting tales to dispense -- from C-level executives to barbers to bartenders to cab drivers.

The reality is that the day will probably never arrive when one-uppers no longer faze me. But hopefully it will get easier not to sink to their level and say something snarky to put them in their place. I'll just have to perfect the art of smiling and nodding -- or maybe I'll go the totally opposite route and start lavishing praise and adoration on any one-uppers I encounter. That could be kind of fun, right?

- e


Julie said...

Uggg, I hate one-uppers. I really don't have anything to get one-upped on either! Yet, it still happens, a lot! I just walk away and have a good giggle about it later.

Outbck844 said...

I usually keep it going, try to keep one upping the one upper. I realize this also makes me a one upper sometimes, but it's fun watching the squirming.

Paul N. said...

Matt Regan did a stand up bit about One-Uppers once. He can't stand them either, and his idea was about what would put them in their place... so an astronaut is at a party, listening to the "Me,Me, Me" people with a contrite smile, and after they were done, he simply said "I walked on the moon." End of discussion. I thought it was hilarious.

maikib said...

i totally work with a one-upper. the funny thing is that EVERYONE realizes he's a one-upper... he seems to be the only one who doesn't realize it! i remember in undergrad when all the frosh were doing the meet and greet thing and sizing each other up, when the question of "what do your parents do?" came up, kg simply responded, "oh-- my dad works at mcdonalds" and left it at that. i've always remembered that, and it still today cracks me up... he DID work at mcdonalds-- only as a SVP of international development, or something of the sort. but she was perfectly content with people drawing their own conclusions-- be it he being the fry guy, or whatever. i loved that. :)