What are the Qualities of a 'Jerk'?

By Cindy Jenkins, Extension Assistant Professorpicture torn in half

Have you found yourself falling for a jerk in the past and want things to change? To help you avoid falling for a jerk or becoming a jerk yourself, let’s identify some of the key characteristics of being a jerk.

The core characteristic of being a jerk is the persistent resistance to change. This person may be hurtful or have difficult life patterns, and they are unwilling to change. Even after the facts have been presented to them, they still aren’t up for the dedicated changes a relationship may need. Or they may be willing to change for a while, then after a short time, the bad habits come back. (Van Epp, 2007)

Let’s not confuse the lack of desire to change with someone who has the occasional bad day. We all have those and generally these are kind and consistent people. These people are usually willing to apologize and shape up if they are having a bad day. See the difference? (Van Epp, 2007)

Qualities of a jerk

Space Invader and The Player

One kind of jerk is the space invader. These people come in at full force, never leaving you alone. They may invade your space on multiple levels as well, time, space, money, etc. (Van Epp, 2007)

The other kind of jerk is the player. We all know what this one looks like, right? Every other song on the radio can identify their key characteristic, they have a hard time with commitment. The player will confess they care deeply about you and then disappear or keep you on the back burner as they are infatuated with the idea of finding new love. (Van Epp, Jerk, 2007)

Other Warning Signs

  • Little insight into themselves or others.  When a person has little insight into themselves, they don’t care to or are not willing to recognize their own character flaws. Likewise, they are not trying to figure out the needs and wants of the people around them. (Van Epp, 2007)
  • Poor emotional controls. “Emotionally unstable people live on either the extreme right or the extreme left of center. Those on the right are the overreacting, explosive personality types. Those on the left are the flatliners. They have no emotional pulse. At first they appear easygoing, but later you realize that they are cold and detached.“ (Van Epp, 2007, p 19)
  • Inadequate relationship skills. When someone has inadequate relationship skills, it's generally linked to unhappiness and a relationship that becomes progressively worse (Van Epp, 2008).
  • Move too fast. In these relationships the movement is fast enough to feel like superglue and you often find yourself overlooking red flags because the intense speed of the relationship helps you feel like everything is fine (Van Epp, 2007). However, these fast relationships are usually linked to instability with marriage and commitment, which may not be the best for someone hoping to get married (Bradford, 2016).

What to do now

If this is something you want to act on, you have good reason to support your decision. Relationship instability is associated with negative outcome for both adults (Cherlin, 2009, as cited in Bradford 2019) and children (Brown, Manning, & Stykes, 2015, as cited in Bradford, 2019). There are several things you can do:


  1. Read the book, How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk, or
  2. Take a PICK class. The PICK program is designed to help singles make healthy relationship choices and avoid unhealthy relationships (Van Epp, 2011, as cited in Bradford, 2019). From the qualitative self-assessment data: ‘An illustrative comment came from a woman who said: “I expected just to look for. .. the jerks. But I come to find out that I am a jerk. Looking at it from both sides instead of just on my side, I’m being selfish.”’ There are many insights that may come your way by taking a PICK class.
  3. Contact your local Extension to find out what is available near you.

References:

  • Bradford, K., Spuhler, B., Higginbotham, B. J., Laxman, D., & Morgan, C. N. (2019). “I don’t want to make the same mistakes”: Relationship education among low‐income single adults. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies. https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1111/fare.12379
  • Bradford, K., Stewart, J. W., Pfister, R., & Higginbotham, B. J. (2016). Avoid falling for a jerk(ette): Effectiveness of the Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge program among emerging adults. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 42(4), 630–644. https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1111/jmft.12174
  • Van Epp, John. (2007). How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk. McGraw Hill Companies.
  • Van Epp, M. C., Futris, T. G., Van Epp, J. C., & Campbell, K. (2008). The impact of the PICK a partner relationship education program on single army soldiers. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 36(4), 328–349.https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1177/1077727X08316347