Okay, in my "Abuse is Not Funny" post last week, I promised I would weigh in on "Nice Guy" syndrome and its implications. This is a subject that has certainly been discussed by many people with as many different views.
I will begin this discussion by saying that I am not trying to indicate that there are no men who are legitimately nice out there. I know there are because I've known them and in fact, I've dated them. Men can be genuinely nice while also being aggressive, funny, and popular. I've dated and been friends with these men. There are also men who are capable of being shy, mostly passive, sweet, and also genuinely nice and interested. I have also dated a man like this and been friends with others. My point is that this is not about men who are genuinely nice, who are interested in being friends with people, and who are clear about their expectations and desires (even if it takes them a little while to work up the nerve to communicate them).
Most of this discussion and debate focuses around men who are interested in women. I am going to be clear and say that there are men who behave like this toward other men they are interested in and there are women who behave like this toward their desired partners. This is really a social issue, not just a feminist one, so don't go away from this thinking I'm beating up on heterosexual males.
(My actual analysis begins after the jump.)
So... the reason the debate about "Nice Guys" has been about heterosexual males is because this all stems from complaints from that group. You see them all over Facebook and elsewhere. One of the most popular that I've seen comes from Craigslist. It is a long, bitter rant by some guy who got hurt by some girl. Read it. It will
In reading that, you will find that the author never really had any interest in friendship with the girl he was letting cry on his shoulder. He really just wanted to get in her pants. He never makes that intention clear; he just expects her to somehow know through the magic of his "nice guy"-ness:
Basically, the girl in the story is not attracted to her friend, even though he is nice to her. This is a perfectly human reaction, though. Sometimes we are not attracted to people even though they are attracted to us. And that is okay. I'm sure that this "Nice Guy" doesn't find every woman he encounters to be attractive and worthwhile to pursue a relationship with. That would be completely implausible. It would also help his cause significantly if he would actually indicate that he was seeking a relationship rather than just assuming the girl he was interested in would suddenly decide they were a couple.
At the time, you probably joked with your girlfriends about how he was a little puppy dog, always following you around, trying to do things to get you to pay attention to him. They probably teased you because they thought he had a crush on you. Given that his behavior was, admittedly, a little pathetic, you vehemently denied having any romantic feelings for him, and buttressed your position by claiming that you were "just friends." Besides, he totally wasn't your type. I mean, he was a little too short, or too bald, or too fat, or too poor, or didn't know how to dress himself, or basically be or do any of the things that your tall, good-looking, fit, rich, stylish boyfriend at the time pulled off with such ease.
Eventually, your Platonic buddy drifted away, as your relationship with the boyfriend got more serious and spending time with this other guy was, admittedly, a little weird, if you werent dating him. More time passed, and the boyfriend eventually cheated on you, or became boring, or you realized that the things that attracted you to him weren't the kinds of things that make for a good, long-term relationship. So, now, you're single again, and after having tried the bar scene for several months having only encountered players and douche bags, you wonder, "What happened to all the nice guys?"
Well, once again, you did.
You ignored the nice guy. You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy. You laughed at his consideration and resented his devotion. You valued the aloof boyfriend more than the attentive "just-a-" friend. Eventually, he took the hint and moved on with his life. He probably came to realize, one day, that women aren't really attracted to guys who hold doors open; or make dinners just because; or buy you a Christmas gift that you mentioned, in passing, that you really wanted five months ago; or listen when you're upset; or hold you when you cry. He came to realize that, if he wanted a woman like you, he'd have to act more like the boyfriend that you had. He probably cleaned up his look, started making some money, and generally acted like more of an asshole than he ever wanted to be.
The one line that sums up the entire "Nice Guy" problem is right there in that last paragraph: "You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy." This quid pro quo set up is incredibly disturbing. It is as if the writer doesn't recognize that sex, or "physical intimacy," is not a payment for someone being nice to you.
I won't quote any more from that Best of Craigslist because I find the conclusion he reaches to be disturbing and quite offensive. You can read it for yourself. Or you can do yourself a favor and read Jeff Fecke's take on "Nice Guys" over at Shakesville instead. He analyzes the same Craigslist posting better than I do. He's a little bit angrier than I am, but he has license to be because he one day realized that he was a "Nice Guy" and decided he needed to change his outlook so he could be more of an actual nice guy. You know, the kind that actually likes women as people and not just as flesh bags. My favorite portion of his analysis is also about that same sentence I discussed above:
[Men] and women both need both physical and emotional intimacy, as anyone with any understanding of humans knows. And the two do not always go hand-in-hand, as anyone with any understanding of humans knows. The Nice Guy® is hampered because all he knows about women comes from his reading of evolutionary psychology and his internalization of patriarchal ideals. And despite his long, enduring friendship with a woman that was so wonderful and giving, he never learned enough about her to find out more.Okay, so there is one more little bit that if you aren't clicking over (which you totally should), you really ought to know. Fecke does a pretty good job of summing up another logical fault of the "Nice Guy" mentality:
In real life, most of the "bad boys" are actually, well, nice guys. I'm willing to bet this woman's boyfriend did buy her presents and hold her when she cried and listen when she was upset. That's not to say he was perfect, because nobody is, and he may have even had some downright lousy traits. But that doesn't make him evil; it makes him human.EXACTLY. How can we expect someone to understand our needs if we never tell him or her what those needs are? I'm not saying that every person we tell our feelings to will share them or even respect them, but it is unreasonable to expect our friends to be mind readers. It is especially unreasonable to expect friends to pick up on our cues when the cues are subtle and we're trying to change the entire nature of the relationship.
This is the ultimate failing of the Nice Guy®; he takes away the wrong message from not getting a date with His One True Love. The message he internalizes is that he's too nice. But the reality is that he never states his actual intentions.
There is yet another great response to "Nice Guy" syndrome from a community post over at Feministing. (I love it that this one is also by a heterosexual male, mostly because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy that there are men who are trying to combat this problem from within their gender.) Emmett J Doyle adds to this discussion:
It’s also important to realize that being a nice guy doesn’t entitle you to sex. Nothing does. Ever. Being resentful about the lack of sexing for your nice guy persona isn’t cool. In fact, if you have this sense of entitlement, whereby being a nice guy should get you laid, or being a nice guy is a strategy towards getting laid, you aren’t a nice guy.Amen. Doyle is writing in response to a picture posted on Facebook:
Personally, I have seen this linked to, liked, shared, etc. all over my Facebook news feed on a fairly regular basis. I understand the person who created this was clearly hurting. However, I think he took this the wrong way. Sometimes friendships do turn into relationships; the transition tends to be a bit tricky, but it can happen. But BOTH people have to want that to happen and both people need to be clear about it. Sometimes friendships can't become relationships for a multitude of reasons. And that is not anyone's fault. Being someone's best friend is not second place, and if you're only filling that role until you can be something more then you're not really a friend, you're just an opportunist waiting for a moment of weakness so you can pounce.
There are so many other points and resources I would like to discuss, but time is running low and I think I may be approaching the limit of how long a post you all are willing to read. ;) Perhaps this will become a multiple part post. For now I'll leave you with links which I will probably use in a part 2 if I make one.
READ THIS great article over at Wired about uncovering how not nice "Nice Guys" are
Creepy "Nice Guy" website aimed at hating American women
A strange take on "Nice Guys" that only kind of fit this profile, but may be actually of a slightly different breed
A wiki analysis of "Nice Guys" in the geek world
A much harsher analysis that I agree with parts of and would like to dissect other parts
Another man's take on "Nice Guys" which could really use a good analysis
One analysis of the previous link, but still not quite what I would say
A breakdown of the responses "Nice Guys" have to rejection
And, for a little humor, an xkcd comic on the subject