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Jan 09 2013

I was a Nice Guy™

There was a piece in The Atlantic that caught my eye yesterday about the phenomenon of Nice Guys™ – men who attribute their lack of appeal to the opposite sex to a cognitive flaw in women that makes them claim that they want a nice, respectful partner, but then go on to date jerks who treat them like shit. More broadly, this is part of the “nice guys finish last” complex of memes that defines attractive masculinity in terms of emotional indifference and machismo, against which sensitive and caring men cannot hope to prevail.

There has been, over the years, a concerted backlash against this idea, as described in the article:

The notion that self-proclaimed “nice guys” might not be as nice as they think they are isn’t new. The Nice Guy™, as the figure is oftenreferred to, has been an object of sustained feminist critique over the past decade: for his less-than-flattering depiction of the women he claims to treat so well, for his passive-aggressive approach to picking up women, and for his underlying assumption that sex is an exchange—that if you’re a “good guy,” the women you’re good to should fall in love with and have sex with you…if not out of desire, then out of pity or obligation.

The author of the article then goes on to express a modicum of sympathy for men who buy into the “Nice Guy” mythplex, because there is real pain and frustration going on, and the popular critique does nothing to address it. If you’re not familiar with the Nice Guy™ phenomenon, or the feminist critiques thereof, I suggest you read the article before continuing (and definitely before commenting). I have to confess that when I first came upon the phenomenon thus named, and the way it was described by feminists (mostly women), I was strongly off-put. But there’s a reason for that…

I used to be a Nice Guy™

I’ve always been a guy who had a lot of female friends. Ever since I was a kid, I used to hang out with girls, at least as often as I would with other boys. As I got older, my sexual interest in women began to infiltrate all of those relationships, to the point where my life was just a series of crushes, one spilling inexorably into the next. Thought it is a characteristic that would go on to be extremely helpful to me later in life, my eccentricity and interest in a wide variety of things made me a textbook dork for most of my high school career, never fitting in any one place, always bouncing between social groups.

I wasn’t, I guess for the usual reasons (whatever those are), particularly sought-after by women. Despite my great passion for the opposite sex, I found very little by way of recpirocation, at least that I knew about. That lingering awkwardness carried itself into the first romantic relationship I did have in my final year of high school, a doomed-from-the-start 3 month affair with a perfectly lovely flute player from my youth symphony. The shock of having someone interested in physical intimacy with me loomed so large in my mind that I was unable to be myself or to behave honestly. While the mutual interest faded quickly (due to a combination of my own weirdness and the fact that we weren’t a great match), the bitterness stuck with me for a few years.

After a year spent in a different doomed-to-fail relationship in my first year of undergraduate (this time I ended things, and for what at the time seemed like noble reasons), I embarked on a long journey into my own bruised psyche to try and figure out what it was about me that made me so undesirable while everyone else had girlfriends (author’s note: most of my friends at the time were single). It was an endless pattern: I’d meet someone, we’d hit it off, I’d eventually work up the courage to ask her out, and then I’d get rejected. In my feelings of dejected misery and frustration and need for self-affirmation, and because there was a whole intellectual institution created around it, I embraced the “nice guys don’t get laid” myth wholeheartedly.

And so it was that I spent a good chunk of my late teens and early 20s poring over “Pick Up Artist” literature (I have an anthology of “Interviews with Dating Gurus” CDs sitting on my bookshelf to this day) and writing knowing tracts on the reasons why it was necessary to “treat ‘em rough to get the muff” (yes, these are words I literally said out loud and in print, more than once). I practiced getting phone numbers at bars, I played at being ‘an alpha’ in social gatherings, and yes, I “negged”.

I won’t comment on my “success rate” except to say that ultimately I wasn’t any happier under the new ‘system’ than I was under the old one. Whatever problem it was in my life that I thought would be solved by (marginally) more sex and approval from women, I was clearly way off the mark. Something had to change, and it clearly wasn’t up to someone else to change it. Now far be it from me to pretend as though I was fundamentally unhappy until I became a feminist and then all of a sudden everything was great – that’s a fun story but in my case it would be total fabrication. My life is better now than it was then, but it would be a stretch to attribute that to some kind of feminist epiphany.

Bringing this back to the top for a minute, I want to try and explain why I’ve never liked the anti-Nice Guy™ argument. During this whole period of time, I still had female friends. Lots of them. Many with whom I still have a very close relationship. I didn’t view them as potential “conquests”, nor was I waiting for them to dump their asshole boyfriends and see that the right guy was waiting right under their nose the whole time. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t have some relationships like that, but it would also be unfair (I think) to describe me as someone who saw women as sex objects only.

That being said, despite my ability to view women as more than objects, I still bought into the Nice Guy™ mythology hook, line, and sinker. It made sense, in a fucked up way, that women wanted guys who would stand out from the crowd and protect them and exhibit behaviours X and Y and Z. Indeed, some of the women I knew confirmed this for me. And when my ‘tactics’ worked on someone I met at a club, it was just more proof to incorporate into my overall theory of unlocking the secrets of the mythological ‘woman’ creature. It was just about figuring out how their brains worked, so that I could get one of them to like me (somewhere out in computer-land there exists the outlines of four chapters of a book I was going to write called “Men are from Mars, Bitches be Crazy” – the products of my search).

And so when I see the critique of the Nice Guy™ expressed as a predator, skulking in the shadows and waiting for the slightest dropping of the guard before he pounces (and if rebuffed, going postal and lashing out at all womankind), I have mixed feelings. I recognize some of myself, but find other parts totally foreign to my experience. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen - I have no difficulty whatsoever believing that men behave that way – but it’s not a necessary component of the criticism of the Nice Guy™ phenomenon.

The way I see it, the key to understanding what is wrong with the Nice Guy™ approach comes down to a single word: entitlement. The Nice Guy™ isn’t necessarily a bad person*, he’s a guy with a really fucked up view of what he is supposed to get from the world. Specifically, the Nice Guy™ is supposed to be rewarded for being a decent person – listening to others, being pleasant, imagining that he would never cheat – with ‘a woman’. The role that this woman plays in his life varies from Guy to Guy – my ‘woman’ was supposed to validate me and assuage my nagging self-esteem issues (I must be all right – I have a WOMAN!). Whatever it is, the Nice Guy™ sticks with what he thinks is a winning strategy – putting out a sign that says “Nice Guy Yard Sale” and expecting the customers to flock to him.

Of course when that doesn’t happen, the response from the Nice Guy™ also varies from Guy to Guy. In some cases it’s anger. In my case, I suppose buffered a bit by the women in my life who did approve of me (albeit platonically), it was momentary dejection and fevered self-recrimination, followed by endless vows that this time I would stop seeking the approval of women (that’d show ‘em!). These would be followed by abundant rationalizations, which would last until I was distracted by a new crush, and the cycle would begin anew. Maybe this is behaviour that is unique to me – I don’t think it is.

A few things happened to shift me out of this pattern. First, I moved to a new city and my life quickly filled with things to do. I was working, I was writing, I was meeting new people, I was playing music – things were hectic and I was happy. Second, I started reading feminist blogs, which helped me put words to a lot of the problems I had fitting into the gender role that I assumed I needed to play to be “successful”. Third, I figured out that the key to my happiness and contentment had little or nothing to do with whether or not I was romantically involved with someone – I had to learn to be happy on my own.

Part of this, I’m sure, was just part of a regular growing up process. However, more than a little of it was the result of me directly confronting some of the things I had come to believe in my younger days. I was able to put aside the monolithic ‘a woman’ and recognize that the problems I’d had in previous relationships weren’t because of “women”, they were because I had been involved with people who weren’t a good fit for me. There were tons of guys I didn’t fit with well, but I didn’t notice because I wasn’t trying to date them! And there wasn’t a “female behaviour” that I had once complained about for which I couldn’t find a perfect “male behaviour” analogue – I knew of guys who played mind games, I knew of guys who were superficial, I knew of guys who said they wanted X but kept ending up with Y – suddenly my complaints about “women” looked really stupid. The fault wasn’t “women” – the fault was people.

So let me, in closing, spare a few words of sympathy and explanation for the Nice Guy™. As the author of the Atlantic piece notes, there are a lot of forces that conspire to make us fundamentally unhappy. Among the biggest of those is the ever-present insistence that we are supposed to be “with someone”, and that failure to partner up exposes us as being unworthy of love. Affection and companionship thereby become less valuable than the status and reassurance that comes from “having someone”. We obsess over what “the opposite sex” wants, and often don’t have time left over to figure out what it is that we want, until we perhaps are ’successful’ in getting linked to someone else, after which point we realize that person isn’t capable of fixing what’s broken inside us. So we fall out of love and look for the next affiliation, having learned little.

In the face of that, the rage and frustration and seething hatred evinced by the Nice Guy™ makes quite a bit of sense. The feelings of entitlement, the threats to self-esteem, the abundance of available (and externalizable) stereotyping about “women”, all collide to form a world in which “women” are a solvable puzzle, but a fundamentally irrational one that makes inconsistent claims about how it can be deciphered. In the absence of a contrary message, or contrary evidence, this resentment builds into an epic mythology in which the protagonist is the victim of a conspiracy to deprive him of the affirmation he so desperately needs.

It’s very much an open question what will happen to me over the rest of my life. I am, after all, not yet 30 years old and these ‘revelations’ have come rather late in life. To be sure, I thought I had it ‘figured out’ at 23 too, so who knows what the next long-winded navel gaze will contain. What I do know is that until we are able to talk about and confront the assumptions and beliefs that underlie the Nice Guy™ phenomenon, naming and shaming are not a sufficient method to resolving it. At least it didn’t work that way for me.

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*A commenter on Reddit points out how problematic this phrasing is. A “bad person” is defined by their behaviour and the impact it has, and my behaviour was indeed harmful. It’s not accurate to say I wasn’t “a bad person”; perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I wasn’t intentionally malicious, but failed to recognize the malicious consequences of my actions.

51 comments

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  1. 1
    Dunc

    Yeah, that all sounds horribly familiar to me…

  2. 2
    Lou Doench

    This resonates pretty well with my experience. Especially this part;

    As I got older, my sexual interest in women began to infiltrate all of those relationships, to the point where my life was just a series of crushes, one spilling inexorably into the next.

    I call that chapter of my life “The ’90s”

  3. 3
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    When I first start talking with someone who is coming from a place of privilege or unspoken assumptions about a group of people, I’ll usually start off by trying to reason with them in a kindly way. The problem is that the vast majority of the time, that’s dismissed. Does vitriol work better? Not always, not immediately, but I think it creates more of a lasting impression. It shows the seriousness of what’s being discussed. This isn’t just an academic discussion, but someone’s life. Every person who is arguing for maintaining the status quo may not be an asshole or out to actively hurt anyone–in fact, I imagine the majority of people view themselves as fundamentally good people–but that doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting anyone.

    The person who has bought into the cultural narrative and is furthering its promotion is causing harm, by perpetuating stereotypes and encouraging the dehumanization of The Other. Every time a young Nice Guy or a PUA views women as some monolithic creature that can somehow be understood, whose great collective vagina can be unlocked by the right code, he is doing harm. The PUA community in particular relies heavily on rape culture, which is one of the most widespread, harmful facets of sexism in the world today.

    A white person who relies upon racial stereotypes for interacting with POC is exhibiting racist behavior, even if xe may not (and probably doesn’t) view hirself as a racist. A man who relies upon gender stereotypes for interacting with women (and is actually trying to manipulate them for sexual/emotional satisfaction based on those stereotypes) is exhibiting sexist behavior, even if he may not (and probably doesn’t) view himself as a sexist. All of these gender stereotypes feed into the larger misogynistic culture and are used in a myriad of ways to oppress, hurt and degrade women. They might be seen as tools to the Nice Guy or PUA, but they are also cultural weapons.

    Women may help perpetuate the ideas that the Nice Guy narrative is based on (internalized sexism is hardly rare). The Nice Guy may view himself as pitiful or deprived–blind to his own male privilege which is what gives him that sense of aggrieved entitlement–but no one owes him anything. When he is basing his behavior on sexist assumptions, some people are going to respond to that with anger. Many of the people who respond with anger have been victimized by those sexist assumptions. The fact that some Nice Guys don’t believe they’ve hurt anyone doesn’t change the fact that they’re perpetuating a system and ideas that do hurt people.

    I think that there are ways that we can dismantle all of this and build new, non-toxic masculinities. I think that there are ways to show young men buying into the Nice Guy/PUA narrative that they’re causing harm. Sympathy and multiple approaches to changing someone’s mind are all good things. However, the righteous anger of the oppressed is a valuable tool as well and shouldn’t be laid aside lightly.

  4. 4
    Randomfactor

    I was a Nice Guy™–albeit I don’t remember ever going to the “bitchez be crazy” end of the spectrum.

    Nowadays I’m a nice guy who realizes that sometimes the “target demographic” of women who might be interested in a romantic relationship…just doesn’t exist anymore.

    (A side request? Ed and PZ have a link at the bottom of their comment sections allowing folks to sign in if they haven’t already. If you and the other FTB contributors would add that to your page, I wouldn’t have to hunt up one of their threads in order to sign in, then navigate back to the original blog. Yes, there’s a WordPress login in your banner–which takes me to a dashboard page and is just as inconvenient.)

  5. 5
    Jackie the wacky

    I was friends with “Nice Guys” and I was their chill girl. (Yes, I was on the receiving end of their creepiness too.) Most of those guys never grew up enough to change. I (thankfully) did. Those guys are not my friends anymore. Really, they never truly were.

  6. 6
    grignon

    Man, the reproductive imperative causes some strange behavior, dunnit?
    I call my nice guy period my acting career; I was always auditioning for the role of boyfriend (or one night stand).

  7. 7
    Patrick Regan

    It’s like you magically reached into my brain and pulled out my experiences. I didn’t get quite as deep as you. I never got into PUA culture or things like that. But I remember seriously thinking about trying a new ‘system.’ Like you I slowly grew out of it. Blogs like BlagHag and Greta Christina really helped.

    I’m bookmarking this post, thanks for writing it.

  8. 8
    flex

    It is common to think of people as less complex than they really are.

    I’ve been privileged to be an observer rather than a participant in a large number of relationships. In many cases by choice, although I can’t deny occasionally falling into the “but I’m a nice guy” trap. (I used pity to get laid only once, and it left such a bad feeling that I have never done so again.)

    One thing that I have noticed, and that you touched on, is that even though I’ve read claims that what our modern culture is lacking is defining stages of life like many non-western cultures have, it appears to me that these stages do exist within our culture. At least in the middle-class western culture which I’m a part of.

    I first noticed this immediately after high school when a number of my friends got married. In a couple cases it was clear that the marriage wasn’t due to a mutual feeling of desire to spend the rest of their lives together, but because it was the “next step” in what they considered life to be about.

    There are, in fact, a number of ritual stages which American middle-class society expects to go through. I would classify entering formal schooling, graduation from high school, getting married, and having children as been four of the most important ritual stages which define status. Not that there are not other paths, but it appears to me that a large number of people look at life as a race to reach these stages and acquire the status they associate with those stages.

    Let me be clear that when I say marriage, I’m not confining it to a civil or religious ceremony, but using the term as a short-hand for relationships which are apparently stable for greater than two years (as an arbitrary cut-off point). Even within my life-time the stigma which was associated with two people living together unmarried has largely vanished, which is a fascinating and rapid change in society (which I’m lucky enough to have personally benefited by). I recognize that my usage of this term in this fashion is unorthodox, and I normally would not do so, but I’m prolix enough as it is, and I’m only using it this way for this comment.

    Interestingly enough, it also appears that the least-defined stage often generates the most anxiety and leads to a lot of dysfunctional behavior. As I see it, the stage which is most poorly defined is that of marriage. To pass the ritual of marriage a person must find someone else willing to share that ritual.

    There are plenty of strategies to find a partner, and some of the strategies which are successful do so by de-humanizing the partner. Certainly not all strategies are de-humanizing, but between the cultural pressure to get married and the fear/insecurity people have about how to approach this ill-defined stage of life, some strategies which re-enforce a poor self-image are very effective. Immoral perhaps, but still effective.

    To be sure, the claim of many of these PUA’s is not to establish a long-term relationship. However, I’m skeptical about those claims as few of them avoid entering long-term relationships at some point.

    Will the changes currently sweeping through our culture end up re-defining marriage and long-term relationships? They are, that question has already been answered even if some members of our western society deny it. However, I see no indication that the underlying cultural pressure to form long-term relationships is going to go aware. People seem to like them, I’ve yet to study a culture where one facet of adulthood is an expectation that some long-term relationship between two people will eventually be established.

    To return to the topic of the OP, the ‘nice-guy’ strategy appears like it should be successful to a lot of people. After all, it is generally not an active strategy, but a passive one which theoretically would avoid the pitfalls of irritating a potential partner. However, as you wrote, it is a strategy of entitlement, the strategy of waiting for a person to notice you because you are entitled to be noticed. It doesn’t work well, people are far more self-absorbed than the ‘nice-guy’ thinks, and the root of his problem may be that he is self-absorbed too. You can’t expect people to notice you. As Gilbert wrote over a century ago, “If you wish in this world to advance, Your merits you’re bound to enhance. You must stir it and stump it,and blow your own trumpet. Or trust me, you haven’t a chance.”

    Once a long-term relationship has been established, the next ritual, children, soon follows. But there are clearly-defined procedures on how to reach that plateau.

    Mind you, I don’t expect my observations to be shared by others, and I probably spent far too much time writing this out. But it served the purpose of entertaining me for a couple hours this morning. Which means that the,

    tl/dr summary is: don’t bother.

  9. 9
    Anne C. Hanna

    Thanks for this post, Ian. I’ve never really been entirely satisfied with my understanding of how “Nice Guys” view the world, but it’s generally very hard to get a properly self-aware explanation from them, for obvious reasons. So it’s very helpful to get an analysis from someone who has been there and gotten past it. Do you have any thoughts on how women who encounter individual “Nice Guys” (as opposed to the broader societal phenomenon) might be able to respond to them in a way that helps to nudge them out of that mindset rather than further confirming it? (Not that it’s anyone’s responsibility to do so, necessarily, but it’s always satisfying to be able to leave the world a better place than you found it, if possible.)

  10. 10
    heinadada-chipsahoy

    The best part (and by that I mean “worst”) of the “Nice Guys” phenomenon for teen/early 20s girls like me (i.e. dorks/geeks/nerds who were very similar to the dudes in questions) was that they complained at us about how “all women” (i.e. hot, non-dork/geek/nerd) rejected them while wholly and thoroughly ignoring us. As such, it’s very hard for me to feel any sympathy at all for “Nice Guys.” Thanks for this. I think I’m getting closer to nuanced feelings on the matter.

  11. 11
    Crommunist

    Do you have any thoughts on how women who encounter individual “Nice Guys” (as opposed to the broader societal phenomenon) might be able to respond to them in a way that helps to nudge them out of that mindset rather than further confirming it?

    I’m not sure about this one, to be honest. I know lots of people, both male and female, who keep interested would-be-partners “on the hook” – feigning interest or lacking the ability to be confrontational and make their lack of interest clear. No, nobody owes anyone else a clear signal of disinterest, but it is often the merciful option. Then again, I know people who have received the clear sign of disinterest and hang around anyway, so maybe the whole thing is a wash.

    The advice I give my friends is to be clear in their own mind that this person is not interested in being “just friends”, and often it’s not possible to save the “friendship”. Sometimes you have to own up to the fact that this person is NOT a friend to you, even though you might like being around hir. Saying “but I still want to be friends” is asking for a mutual respect and camaraderie that often simply didn’t exist in the first place. The other option I guess is to ask the other person to lay the cards on the table and decide whether or not ze can be honest with herself and maintain the friendship even with the possibility of romantic involvement off the table.

    Then again, in my own case, many of my close friendships started with the possibility of romantic interest. In some cases, once that possibility was off the table, I wasn’t interested in pursuing anything else. In other cases, I stuck around. Friendships are another weird phenomenon that deserve a lot more exploration than they get. The word “friend” is a ludicrous catch-all that is supposed to describe a wide variety of different relationships that have nothing in common except mutual acquaintance and (in most but certainly not all cases) lack of romantic content.

    I think, in this case, part of the solution has to be men confronting and dispelling the myths about what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour, and what are and aren’t accurate beliefs about sex and relationships (and women – namely, that they aren’t a monolith).

  12. 12
    Crommunist

    @heina

    I remember arriving at an realization about the PUA “advice” that I had been trying to master. It occurred to me that it was calibrated to work on a very narrow subset of women, and in many cases it was absurd to try the ‘techniques’. Part of the problem, I think, is that the range of “women” that we had psychological access to were similarly stereotyped in popular representation. It literally didn’t occur to me for the longest time that a) women could be just as sexually confused and anxious as I was, and b) there were women out there who didn’t have their shit entirely together and still had growing to do. Of course spending time around women cleared those misconceptions up eventually, but they were planted pretty deep.

    So yeah, the myths about how “women” are generally suck all around. I would say so too do the ones about how “men” are.

  13. 13
    Anne C. Hanna

    I’m not sure about this one, to be honest. I know lots of people, both male and female, who keep interested would-be-partners “on the hook” – feigning interest or lacking the ability to be confrontational and make their lack of interest clear. No, nobody owes anyone else a clear signal of disinterest, but it is often the merciful option. Then again, I know people who have received the clear sign of disinterest and hang around anyway, so maybe the whole thing is a wash.

    This is an interesting point. I wonder if one problem in the development of the “Nice Guy” might be the fact that, when they’re young and inexperienced and prone to doing the wrong thing, they’re also approaching young, inexperienced women who don’t know how to recognize the signs of interest, make a forthright analysis of whether they themselves are interested, and then give a straightforward “yes” or “no”. I was certainly one of those women in high school and college, and, since I wasn’t interested in dating anyone myself, it took me a long time to recognize (and admit to myself) when a guy was interested in me and even longer to get up the nerve to tell them “no” straight-out. I wasn’t *trying* to keep anyone on the hook, but I did it accidentally by letting them hang around with me and being friendly to them and denying that it was anything other than just friendship they were after. So it kinda sucked for everyone.

    As far as I know, the guys I did this to managed to recover eventually and find other partners without turning into “Nice Guys”, but that’s probably not true of everyone. I’m not really sure how to fix this, but I suspect the root issue might be something like our general societal reluctance to be open about sex and relationship. If they’d felt comfortable saying straight-out, “I want to be more than just your friend,” or if I’d felt like it was okay to ask them, “What kind of relationship are you looking from for me, friendship, sex, romance, or all of the above?” then it would’ve been a hell of a lot easier.

  14. 14
    Sarah Maddox

    I can’t assess your experiences, but I totally agree with your point that the core issue is entitlement. The culture teaches men to feel fundamentally entitled to the attention of *attractive* women as a reward for “good” behavior. These feelings are pervasive, and most men I know have expressed them at one point or another. The bedrock assumption here (usually unconsciously and innocently made) is that women are on some virtuous pedestal from which they judge “good” behavior and then reward it accordingly with their sex commodity. Men are owed sex/love/attention as part of a transaction, rather than engaging in a relationship based on mutual attraction between equals. Women’s capability to be just as fickle and physically-based as men are in their feelings of attraction to mates is ignored. Women aren’t seen as having unique desires and attractions of their own, like men, but rather as gatekeepers to sex who reward those who pay for it in some just, predictable way. The humanity and agency of the woman is secondary to her role as one who doles out sex to those who “deserve” it, rather than those she is attracted to.

    *And of course “good” behavior is only appropriately rewarded when the woman giving attention is conventionally attractive. If she’s overweight, underweight, or in any way unlike the average female beauty norm, her attention is not the reward being sought. It’s the attention of the hot ladies that is sought. Again, an unconscious assumption that goes with this whole phenomenon.

    I know your point is to go easy on the guys that buy into Nice Guy and friend-zone myths unknowingly. I think we’d all agree that the assumptions behind the myth are usually unconscious cultural attitudes and not calculated, intentional, misogyny. But they are still awful assumptions that need to be pointed out.

    Also, for those familiar with pop music, Taylor Swift definitely engages in the female version of Nice Guy syndrome in her song lyrics. Call it Nice Girl syndrome? It also dehumanizes sex/love and treats it as a commodity for those who prove themselves “worthy”. Bad News.

  15. 15
    robertbaden

    I suspect this isn’t a problem with just guys. I have seen something similar among women friends.

  16. 16
    Crommunist

    I suspect this isn’t a problem with just guys

    You’re probably right, and I have definitely seen women exhibit the same up-front behaviour. What I haven’t seen is the anger and widespread outward-directed blaming that follows rejection. But just because I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

  17. 17
    Crommunist

    I know your point is to go easy on the guys that buy into Nice Guy and friend-zone myths unknowingly

    I’m not sure that is my point. I generally try to avoid telling others how they should or should not feel about/react to things. My point was more that I think the stereotype about the Nice Guy™ obscures some of the relevant facts, and that a more nuanced analysis is possible and necessary if we want to stop that behaviour.

  18. 18
    badgersdaughter

    I was evidently a female “nice guy”. I was sweet, smart, sensual, and kind, and I believed I was a wallflower who men passed over, and I blamed the stupidity and shallowness of men for the fact that I was unsuccessful in love. The female version of this mindset includes an additional, ugly dimension–the obvious conclusion that the woman “isn’t pretty enough.” It took thirty years for me to finally grasp the reality that men really are often attracted to women who don’t fit the lingerie model look, a reality that somehow escaped me through three long-term relationships. (I’m now married to a man who loves my body just because it’s mine and not with demeaning conditions and complaints. I’ve grown up in a lot of ways.)

    I also had primarily friends of the opposite sex when I was growing up. As I have always felt super comfortable in my femininity, it was sometimes a bit weird, but it was good to relate to them in a low-pressure way. Other girls dated their way through the group; I was the “friend”. Yes, I got tired of being the “friend” and I had frequent crushes on my “friends”. It wore me out emotionally and for the duration of each crush left me unwilling to accept interest from men who really were interested, assuming I noticed they were interested.

    Looking back, I can see that I mistrusted my own ability to be attractive, belittled myself and my body hatefully, sharply discounted or flatly ignored signals from men in whom I wasn’t interested, attached undue importance to perceived signals of rejection from men in whom I was interested, had pleasantly hopeless crushes on unattainable men, put up with abuse just to “save a relationship”, blamed failures on myself (instead of thinking about where, if anywhere, the blame truly lay), and built mythologies around what it meant to be a partnered or unpartnered human being.

    It took a long time. A long time. I wish I was where you are now when I was 30.

  19. 19
    Uncle Ebeneezer

    The advice I give my friends is to be clear in their own mind that this person is not interested in being “just friends”, and often it’s not possible to save the “friendship”. Sometimes you have to own up to the fact that this person is NOT a friend to you, even though you might like being around hir. Saying “but I still want to be friends” is asking for a mutual respect and camaraderie that often simply didn’t exist in the first place.

    THIS. It’s also very important from the other side. After many frustrating years similar to yours, I came to the belief that, for me, my friendships, and dating were better seen as two separate spheres that sometimes overlap but don’t always have to. Online dating was great because I could really make clear that I was looking to date not make new friends. Ideally you date someone who ends up fitting into both spheres, but it’s better to be clear what you’re looking for. It would be hard to take this sorta stance in regular meatspace introductions, because there is often-times an unrealistic assumption that the fall-back position is for people to be friends, when as you say, that’s just not always the case. In fact the more you date, the more you see, that those cases where things don’t work out romantically but you remain friends, are the outlier cases. Anyways, I found that with everything stated clearly up-front, many of the girls I dated that I met online, totally understood and were in agreement (especially as I, and they got older, more realistic about our goals in dating, more appreciative of candor, and generally less interested in games and wasting our time.) One of the best things I did was learn not to click the “Friends” button, in what I was looking for, online. It allowed me to find girls who were on the same page as I was (which is really the whole point) and when I least expected it, stumbled on an awesome woman that I married.

    Great post. I had been seeing the Nice Guy articles over the past week, and I had mixed feelings about them. But I was very reluctant to chime in among feminist friends because frankly, I wasn’t sure what exactly my feelings were, and I didn’t want to create a feeding frenzy. You put into words alot of the things I had been mulling over, with great clarity. And good on you for digging into this stuff at such a relatively young age.

  20. 20
    Emmy

    Seems to me that a lot of women who are repeatedly rejected in this way try to “fix” themselves (lose weight! wear makeup! don’t be demanding! flirt better!).

    Previous commenters have hit on the odious part of the Nice Guy – entitlement. “I was nice, so you have no right to reject me like that. It’s not ME, it’s WOMEN.”

    There are a lot of cultural factors at work here – we teach girls to be nice to others. With boys, I think we stress treating women well, specifically, but it’s not clear what that means exactly. For many men, it means doing nice things. Listening and understanding the person they’re interacting with is not so often emphasized.

    A more extreme example of the entitlement thing: I was in a liquor store once. A much older man approached me and told me I looked beautiful. I said “Okay” and walked away. He followed me and asked how I was doing. “Fine” and walked away. He followed me and asked my name. “Sir, I’m just trying to buy beer.” His response: “Well, excuse me, I’m just trying to be nice, ask how your day is going, tell you that you look nice! No need to be rude!” and stormed away. That was him being a Nice Guy – following me around, making conversation I clearly wanted no part of, etc. That’s what Nice Guys always sound like to me – men who refuse to accept the clear “no” and move on to someone more appropriate/interested.

    Another example – on public transit, I read books. I do not make eye contact. This is because I don’t want to talk to people or have to fend off attention. Open seat across from me, and what do men do? Sit down next to me “That’s a big book, is it interesting?” etc. I’m using ALL of my body language to say “leave me alone”, and it’s often not enough. They are usually polite – except that they started by violating the Don’t Talk to Me sign I’m attempting to wear.

    A high schooler, a college guy – they can have some leeway. We’re all confused when we’re younger. Maybe they watched too many romantic comedies, where if you REALLY pursue the girl, she sees your true value. But as adults, men, try to understand the women you’re addressing, instead of assuming a response and getting angry when you don’t receive it. Understand that we might say no for reasons that do or don’t have anything to do with you.

    I would like to hear if/how Nice Guy/Girl syndrome afftects the LGBT community.

  21. 21
    Crommunist

    Seems to me that a lot of women who are repeatedly rejected in this way try to “fix” themselves (lose weight! wear makeup! don’t be demanding! flirt better!).

    There’s a lot of “fixing” that men are supposed to do as well. I’m not sure how strongly gendered this particular issue is. I think it just becomes easier to blame women as a monolith for this because you’re going to find a lot of people, men and women, who are willing to agree that “girls are crazy”.

    Previous commenters have hit on the odious part of the Nice Guy – entitlement. “I was nice, so you have no right to reject me like that. It’s not ME, it’s WOMEN.”

    And part of that may be a perceived lack of agency, or at least a lack of respect for/appreciation of that agency. The idea that not every “compliment” is welcome from every person seems alien to me, even now though I know better. I love it when someone smiles at me or says they like what I’m wearing or whatever. Then again, I don’t live in an environment where I face that on a regular basis, so it’s rare enough that I can handle even the unwelcome stuff. If everyone treated me as though the concept of “personal space” was an optional luxury, I’d probably feel very differently.

    I would like to hear if/how Nice Guy/Girl syndrome afftects the LGBT community.

    Indeed, except I imagine it would look very different among gay cis men than cis lesbians. There’s going to be a lot of variance within that ‘community’.

  22. 22
    Edward Gemmer

    I think it can be a lot simpler. “Nice Guys” really don’t know how to get what they want, which is typically some sort of sexual relationship. It isn’t as if “Getting a Girlfriend” is a required class in school, and feeling comfortable with sexual relationships is a lifelong process that some people start off better at than others. When you really, really want something, and have no clue how to get it, frustration, anger, depression, and whatever other emotions you’d expect come into play. The “Nice Guy” stuff comes in because guys who are often “successful with women” are often impulsive and selfish. Whether women are more attracted to impulsive selfish people or impulsive selfish people are a lot less likely to care about the ramifications of going after women (or both), the end result looks the same.

  23. 23
    Alessandro Masi

    Yeah, this pretty much describes me, right down to some pretty eerily similar details.

    From the mid 90s to mid 00s, I was exactly like this. Jumping from one crush to the next, constantly being rejected, always assuming it was because women didn’t like the Nice Guy™. I went through long periods of self loathing at my inability to “get” anyone.

    Like Crommunist, I’ve been a feminist for a long time (though I had a brief period in university where I stopped calling myself “feminist” and started calling myself “humanist” instead… it was a thing). Also like Crommunist, I started learning tips from PUAs, reading The Game and going online. Ugh… What at first seemed like some really good advice for how to socialize and confidently express interest in women quickly sent up red flags in my head about the really, really misogynistic culture these guys were advocating for!

    I would finally mellow out by my late 20s. I moved to Italy for a while and then back to Montreal where I kept an active social life, a job, and part-time studies. I’m much happier now than I ever was, and I look at those who continue to advocate for the Nice Guy™ myth as a sign of their immaturity about how they view relationships. But this myth is repeated and reinforced every day through our TV, movies, comics, our conversations, our very culture.

  24. 24
    Crommunist

    “Nice Guys” really don’t know how to get what they want, which is typically some sort of sexual relationship

    I thought that for a long time too, but at least in my own case it wasn’t sex for the sake of sex that I was looking for. I thought that “having a girlfriend” would solve all my emotional issues (oh man does that look hilarious in retrospect).

  25. 25
    Christopher Stephens

    I’ve also had mixed feelings about the feminist “Nice Guy” trope. It’s absolutely true that lots and lots of guys cross the line into entitled douchbag territory, and that those guys need to be educated, and possibly even mocked, as the case may be.

    But I’ve known a whole lot of self-identified nice guys (including myself) who wouldn’t ever say that they’re entitled to a girlfriend, but that they still really want that romantic and and sexual affection. I never really thought that my problem was women finding nice guys totally unattractive; that always seemed absurd to me. I figured that it’s more likely because I wasn’t particularly good-looking and had the worst social skills. The problem is that some feminist folks hear someone say “I’m a nice guy, but I don’t have a girlfriend,” and jump to the conclusion that he feels totally entitled, but it’s perfectly possible that he’s just sad about it. And to a guy who really wants romantic affection but doesn’t get any, being told that you’re an entitled misogynist because you call yourself a nice guy feels pretty shitty.

    So, huge honking feminist that I am, I tend to avoid using the specific words “Nice Guy” when talking about the entitlement delusions that so many guys have, and that rightly needs to be discussed.

  26. 26
    Crommunist

    But I’ve known a whole lot of self-identified nice guys (including myself) who wouldn’t ever say that they’re entitled to a girlfriend, but that they still really want that romantic and and sexual affection.

    And I think the challenge is learning to identify where our behaviours and expectations are influenced by those assumptions we may not have cognitive access to. You can be sad about being single AND have unchallenged entitlement assumptions – those two things are not mutually exclusive. There are a lot of things about attraction and compatibility that we assume to be true that are, in fact, based on a whole bunch of subconscious misogyny and simple misinformation about other people.

    It’s a question of separating criticism of a given set of behaviours from the criticism of the attitudes that undergird those behaviours – a tough thing to do without leaving people feeling threatened and attacked.

  27. 27
    Crommunist

    I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shoutout to my girlfriend/partner who has been instrumental in helping me reflect upon what relationships mean and how to engage in positive, open communication. A lot of insights that I have learned from her are scattered throughout both the OP and my follow-up comments.

  28. 28
    smrnda

    Before anything, you deserve a lot of credit for being able to be the Nice Guy (TM) and have enough capacity for critical thought and introspection to learn enough to give up the Nice Guy myth.

    I sometimes wonder if the Nice Guys are really witnessing women end up with jerks or if that’s just a confirmation bias. The jerk with the girlfriend stands out, or the Nice Guy, full of self-pity, views any other guy with a girlfriend as a jerk and will find some reason to think he’s no good even if it requires a ridiculous level of exaggeration.

    Perhaps another thing is that you could say some men feel entitles to sex from women for whatever reason. You could look at that guy as the stereotypical player or pick up artist. But the Nice Guy thinks by being less overt about his sexual interest, he’s entitled to much more – it’s not “I bought you dinner now you should have sex with me” it’s “I bought you dinner and didn’t ask you to have sex with me so now you need to marry me.”

  29. 29
    Crommunist

    I sometimes wonder if the Nice Guys are really witnessing women end up with jerks or if that’s just a confirmation bias

    It certainly raises the question: why does anyone date shitty people? I’ve known male friends with truly terrible girlfriends, and I’ve known vice versa. I noticed the versa way more often because often I was trying to replace that jerk at the time.

    Perhaps another thing is that you could say some men feel entitles to sex from women for whatever reason

    The way that resonates most strongly with me is that there was nothing obviously wrong with me, and therefore people should be interested. I see this narrative a lot – “I’m a nice guy, I’m funny, I’m whatever; how come nobody wants me?” Well, what attracts you to other people? Do you just glom on to every person who’s not obviously terrible? Is that actually your selection process, or are you looking for someone who has certain affirmative qualities that appeal to you? If it’s the former, you’re probably just running into a string of people for whom it’s the latter. I’ve heard this described in terms of someone being “sexually available, but not sexually available TO ME”, which is where the entitlement thing might play a role.

    I do see this lament for “just wanting to be with someone”, which I think should be a red flag if it ever runs through your mind. What is it you think that person is going to do for you? Are there steps you can take to get that thing in the absence of another person?

  30. 30
    stakkalee

    Great article. On the subject of Nice Guys and entitlement, Dr. NerdLove also had a great article about it. It’s worth a read.

  31. 31
    GeekMelange (formerly thepint)

    I wonder if one problem in the development of the “Nice Guy” might be the fact that, when they’re young and inexperienced and prone to doing the wrong thing, they’re also approaching young, inexperienced women who don’t know how to recognize the signs of interest, make a forthright analysis of whether they themselves are interested, and then give a straightforward “yes” or “no”. I was certainly one of those women in high school and college, and, since I wasn’t interested in dating anyone myself, it took me a long time to recognize (and admit to myself) when a guy was interested in me and even longer to get up the nerve to tell them “no” straight-out. I wasn’t *trying* to keep anyone on the hook, but I did it accidentally by letting them hang around with me and being friendly to them and denying that it was anything other than just friendship they were after. So it kinda sucked for everyone.

    There’s also the additional problem that as women, a lot of the cultural indoctrination we receive is VERY HEAVILY weighted towards telling us that above all, we have to be nice! and saying a straightforward “No, I’m sorry but I’m not interested in you romantically,” no matter how honest and how much trouble it would save both parties, is usually a gigantic red flag that women are told we are not allowed to do because it’s just too mean. Instead we’re supposed to find some other way to say “no” – “I just want to be friends,” or “Not right now,” or “I don’t know,” anything but a hard “NO.”

    I mean, it would be absolutely fantastic if more people seeking relationships could be more comfortable stating their intentions and wishes upfront and responding to overtures as such, but there are serious problems caused by cultural indoctrination for both men and women. Men are told by culture that they’re supposed to be the initiators – lots of undue pressure there. And women are told that not only must they be passive in receiving said male attentions, they have to take extra care in not hurting the feelings of said men when making a rejection, which can end up leading to the whole “but she wasn’t clear about it!” thing.

    And as it’s been pointed out, for some women, saying “no” can result in some pretty scary behavior on the part of the guy you’re rejecting, so being “unclear” or “soft” in giving your rejection isn’t always because you’re not actually unsure, it’s because you’ve learned that being clear about your rejection can actually get you in more trouble.

  32. 32
    freemage

    Kudos and a heavy dose of ‘likewise’ on this piece. I will note a few additional factors, drawn from my own NG days:

    1: Nice Guys often (not always) actually FAVOR going after seemingly unobtainable women–those already in relationships, or with whom a real relationship is impossible for reasons of distance, etc. This self-sabotage is a subconscious trick that keeps them from ever considering the possibility that it’s some factor in them that is causing things to fail.

    2: I know you talk about culture broadly, but it’s also worth noting that there’s a specific source of much of this sort of thinking–the films of John Hughes and his imitators. A good deal of his work expresses the notion that ‘good things come to those who wait’–the quirky friend who hangs back and provides support to the girl in the bad relationship ultimately ‘wins’ her.

    3: I can’t agree more with the notion that ‘being with someone’ as a goal unto itself is one of the more toxic ideas in our culture right now. In addition to driving the desperation factor up for those not in relationships, it heavily encourages getting into, and staying in, lousy relationships, and even abusive ones. When I finally did get a girlfriend? It took about a year for it to be clear we weren’t really compatible, and were growing in totally different directions–it took ~6~ for me to actually end it, because neither of us was willing to be ‘without someone’. If I could get those 6 years back, I’d cheerfully spend them ‘alone’ (meaning with the friends whom I often blew off because I was always trying to focus on ‘strengthening my relationship’).

    4: My advice for people I encounter now showing signs of this sort of thing is, “Decide that you’re going to go solo for awhile. Go stag, or with groups of friends, to movies you want to see, events you think you’ll enjoy, and generally live for your enjoyment. If that prospect scares you, then consider that maybe it’s because you need to build yourself up as a person so you can enjoy the pleasure of your own company.” In addition to getting them out of the desperation mode, it can often lead a person to becoming someone that other people do, in fact, find attractive.

  33. 33
    serena

    For what it’s worth, I’m a woman and I’ve found these ‘revelations’ to be useful in facing my own insecurities, privilege and expectations. We can spend years ‘friendzoned’ and quietly cultivating friendships in the hope of being ‘noticed’ just as well as men I think, and it’s worth it for anyone to learn about this subject.

    TY for the article =D

  34. 34
    freemage

    Serena: One difference, at least that I’ve seen, is that women who engage in this conduct generally don’t fall into the entitlement trap–they may mistakenly think this approach will somehow solve their relationship difficulties, but they don’t end up so frequently holding men as a class in contempt for failing to notice them.

  35. 35
    smrnda

    I though it would be worth adding in response to #29, I recall a guy once saying ‘why do women go out with such asshole?’ I didn’t know the guy well enough to determine whether he was a Nice Guy (TM) or not, but I did ask him, does he really think men are making better decisions on what women they should be interested in? He at least agreed that men were pursuing women who were bad for them as well, so sometimes it’s just a question of seeing things only from your perspective. It’s kind of how I deal with people who are convinced that unqualified women and minorities get promoted ahead of more qualified white men – if challenged, most of them will admit they’ve encountered plenty of white men who were only advanced due to nepotism.

    Just had to throw it out, but for people lamenting the fact that they aren’t with somebody, there is the song “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby” by the Smiths. It was perhaps the gentle kick in the ass I needed back when I was young :-)

  36. 36
    Jazzabelle

    You’re definitely right about one thing: the whole “Nice Guy” thing really does come down to feeling entitled, whether to a person or to be treated a certain way…just for being nice.

  37. 37
    Adam

    I have mixed feelings about this article, though mostly positive. But then again my experiences as “a nice guy” did not seem to run to the same “depths” as yours.

    One thing I think is worth noting in this discussion, based on my own experiences and what I’ve read of yours, is this: I think that most of us fall into the “Nice guy’s finish last” attitude in our teenage years, when the opposite gender becomes much more of a focal point in our lives, as a rationalization for our lack of success with them. I think most of us would agree that most teenagers are not at their most self-aware part of their lives.

    Nor are our attitudes about sex and gender as sophisticated as they one day may be. With some shame I admit that at 16-18 I was more interested in having sex and being able to tick of the “have had a girlfriend” box on the list of cultural expectations for a teenage male, than I was in a relationship with an actual person.

    What about those who persist in such attitudes through past their 20s? Well, some people don’t grow up and there’s no excuse for it.

    With that statement made as a something of a disclaimer, my recollections of my “Nice guys” days do not seem to stem from entitlement (though I may not have been aware enough to recognize it). For me it was never “Why am I not rewarded for being a decent human being?” but rather “Why are those guys rewarded for not being a decent human being?” It may seem like the same question inverted but I’m not sure it is.

    I never studied pick up artist tricks or listened to lists of “things that women (that monolithic group) are attracted to.” I had close friends who were women and always tried to in general be a good friend as the situation changed and treat them with respect, whether or not I also happened to find them sexually appealing. However, I just couldn’t understand why so many guys who seemed to go out of their way to be jerks seemed so successful. I could understand why most of their women I knew didn’t find me attractive simply because I was nice. They were all different people with different tastes and those tastes didn’t seem to include me. But why did so many of their tastes seem to include total jerks. Not to say it was any particular stereotypical type of jerk but just guys who seemed to not care how they treated people.

    In short my question was not “Why not me, I’m such a nice guy.” but “Why that guy, he’s a dick?”

    Maybe that is the same as entitlement, or perhaps just jealousy, I’m not sure.

    As I grew older I grew to understand that it was less about about niceness versus dickishness, and more aboiut confidence. I’m wary of making generalizations of the form “all women want quality x, y and z,” but I think it is a reasonable assumption that self-confidence is an appealing feature in any person. I have never had much of that, and struggle with it to this day. Guys who are jerks tend to have a lot of it, usually in the form of arrogance. The key point is that it is , my problem not theirs. I realised that it’s not that women “are bitches who only like bad boys” but if I don’t like me people can see it, and then why should they like me either.

    End of rambling post. Sorry bout that.

  38. 38
    DeepThought

    I call bullshit on this whole “Nice Guys have a sense of entitlement” trope. Anytime someone makes a demand or a request or a complaint which makes you uncomfortable, you can always make the charge of “entitlement”. The libertarian assholes and rich plutocrats do the ame thing; after all, who are these “entitled” whiners who imagine they have a “right” to a job and decent healthcare?

    The mistake the Nice Guys make is actually believing what (most) women say they want in a relationship. Unfortunately, in a free society the real world distinguishes nicely between what people say they want and what they actually want. If what women were saying were actually reflective of reality, then Nice Guys would be in high demand. The moral of the story: don’t let women decide for you what being a man is about. Define it for yourself. Develop your own passions. And, if after all that, no woman wants you, who cares? Their loss.

  39. 39
    lucindapoe

    The Nice Guy typically isn’t just a sexual predator. Typically they do have a sort of dual personality going on where part of them really does just want to help, but part of them also wants to be rewarded for that help. It isn’t that we automatically revile all Nice Guys.

    The first part of the problem is it’s very hard to create an honest FRIENDSHIP with someone who, at least in a secret corner of their heart, wants to bone you and might be motivated to do the stuff they do for you out of that desire. Women already have a big enough fear of rape. We don’t also want to put up with an unstable friendship. Someone isn’t a very good friend if I feel guilty or hesitant or wary about complaining about some stupid little thing my boyfriend did, JUST TO VENT, because it will either hurt their feelings, or validate the Women Only Want Jerks ideology.

    The second half of the problem is that it’s nearly impossible to tell REAL Nice Guys and “Insert Niceness Coins until You Receive Sex” Nice Guys. And there ARE both. I’ve been friends both. And I’ve had the ticking timebomb that is the latter go off on me, too. I don’t blame anyone who wants to avoid THAT nightmare from happening. If that means treating every Nice Guy like a predator Nice Guy? Well… it’s not ideal, but bitches gotta do what bitches gotta do.

  40. 40
    DeepThought

    @lucindapoe:

    The Nice Guy isn’t a sexual predator in any sense of the word. He’s “Nice” because he’s letting himself be taken advantage of.

    “part of them also wants to be rewarded for that help” And what is so terribly wrong with that?

    “The first part of the problem is it’s very hard to create an honest FRIENDSHIP with someone who, at least in a secret corner of their heart, wants to bone you and might be motivated to do the stuff they do for you out of that desire. ”

    No, it’s impossible. And of course it’s just fine if he does all sorts of stuff for you that you want, but you would of course never do anything for him that he wants, like boning him.

    “Someone isn’t a very good friend if I feel guilty or hesitant or wary about complaining about some stupid little thing my boyfriend did, JUST TO VENT, because it will either hurt their feelings, or validate the Women Only Want Jerks ideology.”

    Guess what? He’s your friend, not your emotional tampon. And who cares if you hurt his feelings? He’s just a man, right, and our feelings don’t count. Right? Let’s just reiterate what you just said. “I don’t need to give a shit if something I say will hurt my friend’s feelings.” And it’s not YOUR fault that you’re not good friends?

    “The second half of the problem is that it’s nearly impossible to tell REAL Nice Guys and “Insert Niceness Coins until You Receive Sex” Nice Guys. And there ARE both.”

    The difference is that the REAL nice guys aren’t sexually attracted to you and the other kind are.

    Any men who are reading this, when any women EVER asks “Can’t be just be friends” the answer is ALWAYS NO.

  41. 41
    Timid Atheist

    “part of them also wants to be rewarded for that help” And what is so terribly wrong with that?

    If he says up front, I will help you if you have sex with me, then nothing is wrong with that. Expecting to have sex without communication of a desire for sex is where the entitlement comes in.

    Any men who are reading this, when any women EVER asks “Can’t be just be friends” the answer is ALWAYS NO.

    That is, of course, up to the individual. I can see why someone would not want to be friends with someone whom they’re attracted to, but who doesn’t reciprocate. I don’t think anyone would want to be friends with someone who didn’t want to be their friend without sex.

  42. 42
    Crommunist

    Any men who are reading this, when any women EVER asks “Can’t be just be friends” the answer is ALWAYS NO

    What a pathetic and sad life you must lead, where you’re incapable of seeing anything of value beyond the tip of our own dick. As I said in the body of the post, many of my most valuable relationships are with women to whom I’ve been attracted at one point. Following your “advice” would have left me without some of the friendships that have gone on to define my life, and would have definitely made me incapable of being able to function in the romantic relationship I’m in now. Rejecting those people forever on the grounds that they are in the category of “women who aren’t interested in fucking me” would have been worse than cutting off my nose to spite my own face – it would have been cutting off my nose to spite someone else’s.

    Also, thank you for choosing the handle ‘Deep Thought’. I adore irony.

  43. 43
    Slyder

    This is such a great article.

    What women are attracted to is confidence. Confidence whether you are alone and single, or paired up in any type of relationship. Being successful with women and being confident has nothing to do with being nice or being an asshole. It’s all about being comfortable in your own skin, and being unapologetic for who you are. So you get rejected asking a woman out. Is this going to destroy your cofindence, or is it more of a, “That’s too bad… moving on.”

    Game theory as described in books like “The Game”, or the “Art of Sudection” have their palce as they train men to approach women with routines… but really what it comes down to, for most men, is after doing this with women for a while they realize, “Hey… women want to talk to me… I can make them laugh sometimes… I’m an alright guy…” Bam.. confidence shoots up… and more success is had becasue you aren’t looking at your toes every time you talk to a girl. You are smiling, are funny and have something to offer.

    It is, in effect, why some real pieces of shit do well with women, but nice guys who don’t act like themselves.. becasue they are being “nice” will never have any luck. (Suffice to say if your normal personallity is to be guy smiley all the time, all the power to you… if that is in fact you).

    In any case sucess has nothing to do with where you fall on the “nice or not” spectrum, but more to do with where you fall on the “confident in who you are” spectrum.

    Also… I’d have to agree with the post above me. To be incapable of having a friendship with a girl becasue she dosen’t want bang you is stupid. Women make the best wing men…

  44. 44
    SallyStrange

    No, it’s impossible. And of course it’s just fine if he does all sorts of stuff for you that you want, but you would of course never do anything for him that he wants, like boning him.

    If boning is the only acceptable form of repayment for favors then this person is definitely an entitled douchebag. Who is also in denial about the fact that basically he wants a prostitute–a prostitute who will accept “help with moving” or “shoulder to cry on” as payment.

  45. 45
    cartomancer

    I’m not sure I’m the best person to give any kind of generic “gay man’s” perspective here, because although a lot of this has certain resonances with me, my experiences have very much been my own. I cannot generalise because I have only ever known three other gay men as anything more than very distant acquaintances, and none of them has ever mentioned anything of this phenomenon to me. Gay literature and culture, inasmuch as I dip into them occasionally, do not seem to mention it in any way, shape or form either. But I could just have missed it.

    The usual cliche of gay male culture (in my Merrie England at least, as far as the magazines present it) seems to be that sex is freely available for all who want it, but everyone struggles to find a boyfriend because gay men in general just want the sex. There is something of the notion that the pretty, attractive men get all the sex they want, where everyone else has to try a lot harder, but that is not really a good parallel to the “Nice Guy” thing, because the default assumption here is that gay men are shallow and only want to sleep with the pretty ones (usually young and/or muscular, if we’re going with the stereotype) , not that they say they want something else but then don’t act on it.

    The problem as it is most often articulated in gay men’s media is that it is hard to find a boyfriend because “everyone else is just after sex”. The plaintive sigh from the sensitive gay man is usually “where are all the men like me who want a proper relationship?” As such the complaint is not “they don’t go through with the operant cliche like they say they will” but rather “sadly the operant cliche is all too true”. The other crucial difference, it seems, is that it is far harder for gay men to demonise the source of their frustrations as some kind of evil, uncooperative, “other”, because they themselves belong to the group too.

    In my own, very limited experience, however, I have seen certain elements of the “nice guy” thing. I wanted to start a relationship with a gay friend at university – Tim, the only gay friend I had there – and he, too, kept saying that all he wanted was a boyfriend for cuddles and intimacy and soppy romantic stuff. Except he didn’t seem to make any progress towards that goal. He ignored all my romantic gestures and continued to have one-off sex with a string of conventionally attractive young men, making me exceedingly jealous and depressed in two different and unpleasantly synergistic ways. It seemed for all the world that his professed “I want a nice guy, where are all the nice guys?” rhetoric was at odds with his “I really want to sleep with the muscular, conventionally masculine ones as often as possible”. It was immensely frustrating.

    Except, without this framework of heterosexual cultural expectation to fit it into, I just thought that was Tim being all over the place, not gay men in general. I did feel that I was doing all the right things, so why did he not respond, and perhaps there was a certain sense of entitlement there – I’m doing all I can to be the sort of man you say you want, so why do you keep telling me, flat-out, that you’re not interested in me? He was, admittedly, very honest and said that he just didn’t find me sexually attractive (which stung rather, though wasn’t a huge shock, as nobody ever has), but there was still a sense that I’d been doing everything right and following the script and taking his professed desires and feelings and dreams into account – which was how all my other friends secured their partners, or so they said, – so why, in my case, hadn’t the spell worked? Eventually I blamed myself, and chalked it up to being an awkward and sexually repulsive person in general. Or perhaps to not having tried hard enough. I was too down on myself to think that he could possibly be at fault here, and think of blaming his fickleness. Were I possessed of much by way of self-esteem I can imagine I might well have sought someone else to blame – possibly even the cliched “all gay men are only after sex” idea.

    That was four years ago now, and as I too approach my dreaded thirtieth year I am still trying to come to terms with the notion that I can be happy and fulfilled on my own, and don’t need a partner for it. It is perhaps a little harder in my case than in most, because I had my identical twin brother by my side for the first eighteen years, and for the last twelve I have been deeply and painfully in love with my best friend James, whose lack in my life I feel constantly, to make up for which I find myself craving another partner until my James and I can finally be together. I have never had another relationship besides my love for James, and it can be hard coping with the notion in the culture generally that being with someone is a key validating experience, especially as all my friends have been in relationships for the best part of a decade and are currently getting married with disturbing synchronicity. Those aspects of the culture seem to affect everyone, regardless of sexuality. Or at least they have affected me.

  46. 46
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Anne C Hanna

    I wonder if one problem in the development of the “Nice Guy” might be the fact that, when they’re young and inexperienced and prone to doing the wrong thing, they’re also approaching young, inexperienced women who don’t know how to recognize the signs of interest, make a forthright analysis of whether they themselves are interested, and then give a straightforward “yes” or “no”.

    The short answer is going to be a ‘yes, this does contribute’ I’d say. I flirted with ‘Nice Guy’-dom for most of my teens and early twenties, and a significant factor in my conviction that ‘girls only want to date assholes’ was the fact that I didn’t recognize the signals being given by the girls who were interested in me (a fact which I found out significantly later, after the interest had cooled). I don’t blame them, as I was and am pretty oblivious to many types of social signal, but my lack of ability to idnetify interest when it did occur didn’t help my mindset at all.

    Crommunist and robertbaden

    You’re probably right, and I have definitely seen women exhibit the same up-front behaviour. What I haven’t seen is the anger and widespread outward-directed blaming that follows rejection

    I think this stems a lot from the entitlement thing that you (Crommunist) mentioned above. Think about the movies: Every time, the everyman and/or slightly nerdy guy winds up with the model-looking female lead, who he has pursued throughout until she throws over her handsome/rich/athletic/whatever boyfriend for the everyman. Meanwhile, the everywoman is shunted aside, gets either no romance at all or settles for whatever man is left. It’s not every movie/show, but those are the stories that are heavily embedded in our culture. So for the everyman, he thinks “Everything I’ve ever seen tells me that of course I’ll wind up with the attractive female of my choice, I just have to go out there and be a Nice Guy,” and when that doesn’t work, it’s like there’s something fundamentally wrong with the world, because that’s not how it’s ‘supposed’ to go.

    badgersdaughter
    This is kind of what I was saying. In women, it tends to manifest with more of the self-loathing and less of the acting out in ways that harm others. I think that the cultural factors I mentioned above have a big influence on this.
     
    IME, it happens in the gay community too, but more like what badgersdaughter describes than the classical ‘Nice Guy.’ (For the record, I’m bi, so yes, I have had experience in both straight and gay dating scenes).

  47. 47
    NoAssume

    I am also not sure how useful ‘entitlement’ is to analyzing the whole Nice Guy thing and over the years discourse on Nice Guys has increasingly focused on those who actually DO feel entitled.

    -IN decreasing level of awfulness:
    - Guys who carry a load of misogynistic resentment, often end up as MRAs or MGTOWs.

    - Guys who feel like they are owed a Great Debt from Womankind

    - Guys who think that an individual woman should owe them sex for nice-ness.

    *** here is a big dividing line. Below this line is much less horible****

    -Guys who think that they should be entitled to finding somebody who will love them back

    - Guys who don’t feel entitled in a meaningful way, but who think that for some reason the whole dating thing is being unreasonably hard for them, and they don’t see anything that they themselves are doing wrong

    - Guys who don’t have any even slight entitlement stuff, but who do tend to use the highly inefffective Nice Guy techniques.

  48. 48
    bobby

    This is essentially all right on, and I wanted to write something very similar about my own experience, kind of disappointed this beat me to the punch.

    What I try to keep in mind about my own nice guy tendencies is that they are mostly born out of deep insecurities in myself and not something the woman is doing wrong.

    So when I am shyly trying to pursue someone and I approach them “as a friend” at first, I try to be prepared for the fact that maybe that it is all it will be. And that that needs to be OK. And that if I pull away from her and don’t pursue friendship with her after she is explicit that she wants friendship, then I am being a bad person and contributing to a cycle of men in HER life that only want sex or relationships, thus decreasing her support network, and become just another man who she can’t trust or who won’t be a friend to her and a part of her community. Which is fucked up.

    I think the nice guy thing is born out of being taught that being nice and friendly and agreeable and chivalrous and just being yourself will ultimately make a woman realize how great you are and also equal dating sex and marriage, and it’s just not true, and people get really insecure and bitter about that. It’s not the woman’s fault that she’s not attracted to you or you don’t have chemistry or she like’s someone else more. Stop basing your happiness on what women think of you and how successful you are at relationships. Embrace being alone. Love yourself. Be happy without. Be GENUINELY happy without.

  49. 49
    Domingo

    Crommunist

    Interesting read. I don’t agree with all your premises, though.

    I don’t think entitlement plays a part in this for the Nice Guy. It seems that no one thinks that Jerks have a sense of entitlement and they DO.

    There also seems to be a general lack of understanding about why a man becomes angry and bitter.
    The pattern goes like this. Some guys have trouble meeting women in the first place. They don’t have the right clothes, aren’t into sports, don’t have the right car, no movie star looks, not enough money, whatever. Finally they meet a woman they’re attracted to and they become friends. The guy finally makes his move and asks her out on a real date. “You’re a nice guy but…” okay, no sweat. He still hangs out with her. Then she starts telling him stories about jerks and the stupid things they are doing to her. This goes on until the jerk finally dumps her. Then she cries on the nice guy’s shoulder and says “I just want a Nice Guy”, then she goes on to detail a list of traits that the nice guy she’s crying to has. This is confusing. A few weeks later she has a new boyfriend. In a short time, he starts hearing bad stories about THIS boyfriend. He cheats on her, breaks up with her. Cries on the Nice Guys shoulder and says “I just want a Nice Guy.”

    The first time this happens, the Nice Guy chalks it up to bad luck. Not every girl is going to want to date you right? Even rich guys get shot down once in awhile, right? Unfortunately, it happens again and again. The Nice Guy hears a list of traits, he has or acquires the traits the woman says she wants. He keeps doing the right things and keeps ending up in the friendzone and the jerks keep dating.

    At some point, the guy thinks, “well hell, I look as good as the last idiot she dated, and I have the other traits she outlined too. If she puts up with that crap, why not give me a chance?” Of course she doesn’t which puts him into a spiral. He has very few options in the first place and the few options he has are telling him “no.” That hurts his confidence, which makes him frustrated, which leads more women to reject him, which lowers his confidence even more. He thinks “You mean I’m worse than the guy that cheated on her and the guy who verbally abused her and the guy who…” which lowers his self esteem even more. He says the jerks get all the women and watching the jerk succeed and him fail makes him bitter, which causes the few women he can actually meet to reject him more, which makes him angry and bitter which…

    By the time you read him on the internet saying that “all women owe me sex” or whatever he’s saying, he’s lonely, frustrated, bitter, and feeling the entire female population is against him. It’s not pretty and the only cure is for women to start dating him and that’s not likely to happen.

    A woman doesn’t owe any man anything (except the landlord, a check on the 1st of each month). Ladies, just be honest with guys. You don’t want to go out with him, fine, that’s your right, but if he really is your friend why not tell him WHY you don’t want to go out? You DON’T owe him this, but he’s your friend, and it would help him. “You should shower more” or “You don’t compliment me enough” or “You’re not rich enough” or whatever is wrong with him. That way, the next girl will have a better candidate and it breaks the cycle.

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your article and I’m glad to see you’re thinking about this stuff at an early age.

  50. 50
    LG

    Very good article. It really helped crystalize many thoughts I’ve been having, said some things more succinctly, and provided some insights I had not seen before concerning this issue.
    I’m in my 40′s now and still struggling with this. For some time now, I realized that the nice guy syndrome is a form of pathological narcissism. It has so many of the charatceristics(black and white thinking in the form of nice guys and jerks, dreams of ideal love, low self-esteem, need for narcissistic supply in the form of approval seeking, need to feel special i.e. better than other guys and more deserving of a relationship). But many guys with severe narcissistic issues still seem to get women, although they don’t form the most satisfying relationships with them and the relatiosnhips are short-lived most of the time. For the eternally-single, self-proclaimed nice-guy one aspect of narcsissim seems to rise above the rest – entitlement.
    He basically lives on one dream “One day I’m going to meet that special girl and it’s going to be PERFECT” And some how the Gods will make this happen for him, without much effort on his part. You’re right, is IS a f’d up sense of what the world owes him. Not only does he not have to put much effort into finding this girl(which is why he forces this dream on girls he meets incidentally in the social settings in his life who aren’t attracted to him or aren’t compatible with him), but this relationship will basically be trouble-free. So everytime he meets a potential mate and he sees issues(things are scary, I have to take risks, I have to make myself vulnerable, she likes dogs and I don’t, I wish her tits were a little bigger) he assumes this can’t possibly be that relationship he’s sure to get one day.
    There were always realities like “You know, some people die, either as children or adults, before they ever have sex or a relationship” available to me. But somehow those things never seemed to dent my sense of entitlement. Just a basic unwillingess to deal with reality’s ugliness? Still figuring that one out.

  51. 51
    Ajanson

    I don’t know if I can agree to this Nice Guy TM bashing. Though I don’t fully understand whom you consider to be these ”nice guys”? There are certainly guys who are like ”I’ll be nice just to get laid and if the woman doesn’t want me = she’s a whore who goes out only with criminals and other scum”. But… I’d think that the majority of ”nice guys” aren’t like that. I’ve read some feminist blogs and I tend to think feminists like to generalize things too much (but so do we all). Not only in the nice guy aspect but I also read about this ”mansplanation” thing i.e. man explaining you things that you already know just because they see that you’re a female and think that you are dumb, and like with ”nice guys” it’s also not that clear cut- in many examples of that thing, for example, women who received such treatment mentioned that this was done to them by an expert in his field – maybe the guy just thought (made an ass-umption) that since he works in a certain sphere, he would know better what to do with this or another problem, or were just generally trying to help and would give their (even if incorrect) advice disregarding if was dealing with a male or female.

    But to return to NICE GUYS. I consider myself to be a nice guy well… just because I am a nice guy. I’m polite, I don’t stab or beat up people and don’t steal their money (and that goes for both sexes), but I don’t think I’m nice because I want to suck up to my male boss or want sex from my female friends. I’m just the way I am, that’s my upbringing. Once I had a drunk girl in my arms going on a rant about how great I was and how other men she had before were such jerks and how I was special etc. and I clearly knew what her intentions were and just said- girl, you need a nice few hours of sleep and then we’ll talk in the morning, if you still want it. And I’m not telling this to score any points (and what would be the reason here, on internet), and I have never bragged about this episode in public.

    The bottom line is- I don’t see my every crush as a potential sex object or something that would make me ”complete”. True, maybe it was like that a few or more years ago when I had puberty and all these things, but I still suck at relationships. I have friends of opposite sex but still no luck in serious relationships. I understand that it could be due to other factors- me being not that great looking, boring etc. I understand that. But I just want to tell to other guys that probably read this same blog and think ”wow, I guess I’m such a jerk” even though it might have no basis in reality to stop and think whether they are really guilty of something or it’s just they need to improve in some areas or maybe it’s just bad luck.

    Otherwise a person might project all these feminist complaints onto himself and become a women hater even if he wasn’t one before…

  1. 52
    No More Mr. Nice Guy | Meddling Kids

    [...] just read a great post on the subject from Crommunist, I have decided to discuss my own background as a Nice Guy, and how I saw through my own [...]

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