XOMU: Don't get the last word
Back-and-forth exchanges are tremendously energetically draining, especially if you're intent on getting the last word. Here's why I walk away in order to "win."
I recently posted a self-deprecating Reel about taking my 9-year-old to Target, where we left with a few unanticipated treats (including jelly beans) because he just wore. me. down. I joked that I was the best parent ever before I had kids, and that no one prepares you for the unrelenting demands of a kid in a literal candy store.
The video blew up fast, and the overwhelming majority of comments were of the “been there, done that” variety. Parents laughed about the things they said before they had kids, and shared their best strategies for navigating their own kids’ demands in stores.
But one young woman left a pretty scathing condemnation (while completely missing the irony of her tone). Rather than the “I’ve tried this” or “my mom used to…” comments left by all the others, hers was directed at me, and super judgmental. She’s since deleted it, but it basically said, “You’re doing it wrong. If you give into your kid every time he asks for something, you’ll to turn him into a spoiled brat.”
I immediately recognized that her comment wasn’t about me, and left just one clear, kind reply: “I wasn’t actually looking for parenting advice (smile emoji).” To which she then dropped at least six more comments after mine. Every time someone else chimed into the thread, she was lightning-fast, sometimes leaving multiple comments at the same time, each lashing out at me (and others defending me) harder.
I stayed completely out of it. I stopped reading that comment thread, stopped checking notifications, and just let her spin herself out. Because at some point a few years ago, I decided I just didn’t care about getting the last word.
Satisfaction… at what cost?
I am invited into a lot of internet arguments. It comes with the territory when you have a large account, hold strong social justice values, and are comfortable sharing your views. I’ve been dragged into some messy and gross “discussions” on both my posts and others’ accounts around trans rights, reproductive rights, addiction and recovery, parenting—you name it.
In the past, I’d read every comment, spend 30 minutes crafting and editing the perfect scathing response, and refresh my notifications religiously looking to see how they’d respond to my burn. I write for a living, and it felt really good to smash someone’s argument to pieces for the world to see. (At least that’s how I saw it.)
Your energy is currency
But many people will just keep going. They seem to have oodles of time and energy to reply and endless vitriol to spread, and more important, they seem to enjoy it. I’ve watched others jump into these threads in defense of my position and engage in two days of back-and-forth, trading jab for jab and devolving with every comment.
I realized those replies—my replies—no matter how well-crafted, factual, or RIGHTEOUS, were feeding them. Then it hit me—your energy is currency. And in wanting to have the last word, I was leaking my energy out into the ether in a way that was never going to come back to me.
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Cut the cords
I began seeing this pattern in other areas of my life, though in far less contentious exchanges than arguing with a stranger on the internet. In text messaging with my co-parent, disagreements with a customer service rep, or in DMs with a community member who was pushing back on my advice, I really wanted to have the last word, especially if I wasn’t able to convince the other party of my point of view.
I’m not alone, either. I began seeing this pattern everywhere, including the terrible reality shows I’d throw on while I cleaned. In one episode, two women got into an argument and fought (somewhat comically) for the last word. They traded barbs for what felt like the whole hour until one of them shouted their last insult while speed-walking away (as fast as one can in 4” heels)—as if by outrunning the retort, she’d win the argument.
I’d been doing a lot of work around energy leakage in therapy, and knew that social media was a huge source of subconscious energy depletion. I had already made commitments to limit the time I spent in the DMs, not post on days where I didn’t have the energy, and block anyone who tried to insert negative energy into my space. But I also decided I was going to stop trying to get the last word.
The power of walking away
The people I was arguing with didn’t want to engage in productive discussion. They weren’t coming from a place of curiosity, they weren’t being respectful, and much of the time, they were sharing perspectives that were harmful. And they were attaching to my comments, and my energy. I wasn’t responsible for their perspectives, and I would continue to take stands for what I believed in—but staying involved in the mess just to get the “last word” was no longer in my highest interest.
So, I stopped. I’d say my piece, then do my best to ignore the follow-ups. I’d block anyone who tagged me in their hateful views, I wasn’t lured back in by ignorant or taunting claims, and I became adept at skipping over the notifications on posts that I knew had become contentious. I no longer needed to have the last word, because there was nothing there worth “winning.” And withdrawing my currency said more than any perfectly-crafted, well-researched, scathing response.
Unsurprisingly, this naturally led to me abandon the “last word” quest in other contentious or triggering conversations, and I must say, it feels oh-so-good to cut the cord (metaphorically, and sometimes energetically) on connections that are sapping my energy. I don’t need to be right. I don’t need to win. I don’t need to document my very last thought for posterity. All I want is to preserve my energy for the things that actually matter.
Actually, that feels like winning to me.
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It’s taken a long time for me to realize the power in NOT responding. Knee jerk reactive responses show a lack of control. Not responding at all, or taking time to sort my thoughts and feelings mean “I’m the boss of me.”
I have found that just saying “Okay,” and walking away is not conceding anything. It just ends the interaction. Most of the time I can get to a “I need to walk away from this conversation for a bit” but when I can’t “okay” is enough. It’s not a command or a retort. It’s just okay I hear the words you’re saying and all I have left is okay.
On the internet, I don’t have much desire to engage with people I don’t “know,” but if I say my piece and the other person isn’t receptive, oh well.