Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Promised "Nice Guys" Post

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 make you puke provide you with valuable insight into how nice the "Nice Guy" really is.

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:

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.
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.

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.

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.
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. 

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


  1. I love that you posted an xkcd comic. That is awesome.

    After reading a few of the articles that you gave me for homework I decided I would point out a few things I have learned. Number one would be that the "nice guy" cannot simply assume that his lady friend knows that he wants to get in her pants. He should let it be known. Speaking from past experience I believe he doesn't want to come out and say something like that because he will sound like a creep. So "nice guys" need to find a nice way to let that be known.

    Number two, the Wired article made a good point. The last paragraph talks about self-confidence. It states that the "nice guy" wants to be Someone's Boyfriend as if that will solve all of his problems. Instead of trying to be this "nice guy" I think they should just be themselves.

    I also stopped by the creepy "Nice Guy" link that you provided. I didn't read all of it but one thing caught my eye.

    "North American chicks are living examples of bait-and-switch fraud-- They try to convince you that you're getting a premium product but three days after you bring her home, a screw suddenly pops-loose and she starts to give-off a high-pitched snarl. And the only way to make this nonstop grating go-away is through constant maintenance. It's high-priced pussy, yet it's still not quite worth it."

    That last sentence is the prime example of how ignorant these "nice guys" are. He compares dating (or whatever he is doing or trying to do with girls) to prostitution. I don't know if he was speaking figuratively or literally. Either way all of his effort is not worth his reward. His effort being his niceness and the reward being sex.

    The other thing that pissed me off about that guy was how he spoke of money. One of his lines said "Their demands to be continuously pampered and showered with money." He is obviously not trying to get with the right type of girl if all she wants is money. I think that he just thinks that is what women want. When all actuality there is a lot that has to be put into a relationship. As Lauren and others from the linked articles have said: You can't just be nice and expect to get laid.

    1. KP, I am so glad you also picked up on the strange prostitution vibe of the "Nice Guy" website. Clearly this guy did not understand the dynamics of a healthy relationship. Of course there are people who are in relationships for the money, but that is an exception, not the rule.

      I also think you're right about finding a way to make feelings known without being awkward. That is always tricky, though. Even with people we just met. Feelings are so deep and personal that it is very tempting to hide them to avoid the embarrassment when really the best thing to do is usually to come clean. The only thing that makes it easier is practice.

  2. Great post! This is a mindset I've seen a lot of, from peers and from the kids I've worked with and, as you said, while I realize hat it comes from a very understandable place of pain and rejection, it's also really obnoxious. It's frustrating to see guys who are intelligent and compassionate in other parts of their lives completely miss the disconnect between claiming you're a nice guy and only being friends with a girl as means to an end.

    One big problem, as you said, is the self-confidence thing: these guys (and me, I've certainly done this before) are afraid to say what they want, so they try to find a back door. So they start looking for situations where they're needed - reasoning that if someone needs them, they won't be able to reject them. Which is unhealthy as well as selfish, and inevitably leads to resentment when they inevitably don't get everything they want. I learned pretty quickly in college that this was a stupid way to live, and really unfair to my female friends and crushes. Sadly, that's not the case for everyone.

    Another point I liked to make to my guy friends in college whenever they complained that girls didn't like nice guys, was that they never fell for "nice girls." By that I meant that the girls they were pulling this "nice guy" routine on weren't girls with whom they had any major commonalities in personality or interests. They liked them either A) because they were good looking, B) because they had found the opportunity to be this girl's support system and liked feeling needed, or most likely C) both. That, more than anything, revealed where their actual priorities were. They weren't trying to form relationships with girls they could relate to as equals, because that would have required more confidence and more risk. They didn't want to have to work at building a relationship, they wanted a loophole. And as the commenter above noted, they wanted to live out hat Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy, where dating a fun, attractive girl would solve all of their problems.

    But if girls wanted to date fun, attractive guys instead of them, then those girls we bitches. Yep, real nice.

    As a final note (and I apologize if this is getting too long), I do think that romantic relationships can grow out of friendships. It's not a guarantee, and it till requires a clear statement of desires and a lot of work to switch the paradigm of the relationship, but it's possible. The thing that "nice guys" miss, however, is that for a friendship to become something more, it requires mutual interest/attraction. The other person doesn't just suddenly realize they want to date you because you're so nice to them. When there's mutual interest you can sense it and, in my experience, it becomes part of the subtext of the relationship, until someone takes the initiative to make it explicit. And if you aren't feeling that interest coming from the other person, then you either need to make the decision to take the risk and ask them out, or admit that maybe this isn't the best match and move on. It'll save everyone in your social circle, including yourself, a lot of headaches.

    Now, we just need to start figuring out how to socialize guys to want to do this from the start...

    1. John, you also made some really great points. I especially love your input not only from the perspective of a man, but also as an educator who sees this playing out on a regular basis.

      I definitely agree with you about friendships turning into romantic relationships. That is very tricky territory and it requires some delicacy when trying to transition from a platonic relationship to a romantic one. But the most important part, as you noted, is that both parties be on board with the transition. It isn't fair to either party for one person to be enjoying a friendship while the other is resenting the first person for not loving him/her.

      Honestly, one of my best relationships transitioned smoothly and slowly from friendship into love, but the key was that we both searched the other and saw the change reflected back. And we took the steps together and we talked about it. Without communication and candid reflection, a relationship will never change.

      "I learned pretty quickly in college that this was a stupid way to live, and really unfair to my female friends and crushes." I love this! Thank you for sharing. I think it is very important that we work on socializing young people to understand the disturbing practice of resenting friends for not giving something they don't know you want.

  3. don't go away from this thinking I'm beating up on heterosexual males.

    No, just the unattractive ones. Is that an improvement?

    Fail. Better luck in future posts.

    1. Nice Guy syndrome is not something that happens only in unattractive men. In fact, I see it in many objectively attractive men. Men that I find attractive end up in what they call the "friend zone" all the time. So do women. It is a part of life and we need to learn to address this in a healthy, constructive way,