Nice guys – an admonitory rant

By request, my standing rant on the claim, “women don’t want nice guys, they always go for bad boys” (usually uttered by the self-described “nice guys.”) This is on a short list of things many ordinary, decent people say that fill me with wrath. My instinct is to say, first of all, that it’s flatly untrue, but the terms “nice guy” and “bad boy” are so subjectively defined that that would be a worthless argument. My real objection is that it’s misogynistic.

Inevitable second-paragraph disclaimer: this post is going to be pretty heterocentric, since I’ve only ever seen it as a phenomenon between men and women. If there are any queer analogues, I’d be interested in hearing about them.

The “women don’t want nice guys” lament is misogynistic because it blames women for the speaker’s inability to attract them. It frames “not wanting to date me” as a character flaw. Now many of the nice guys would instantly protest this: they didn’t mean to imply that women are fundamentally flawed or unable to act in their own best interests… it’s just that all women seem to choose inferior men… um, I mean, their criteria for partners are misguided and superficial… um, I mean…

Exactly.

Nobody actually rejects another person because they’re nice. They may reject them because they’re timid, or insecure, or unattractive, or boring… but none of those equate to “nice.” Nice is a good quality! It’s like rejecting someone because they sing too well, or because their eyes are too pretty. The other big problem with the “I’m too nice to date!” lament is that it shields the man uttering it from considering what his actual problem might be, and fixing it. Nobody makes a resolution to be less nice… or if they do, they’re using “nice” as a synonym for “timid” or “unassertive.” Let’s keep our positive words positive and our negative words negative, okay?

So, “nice guys,” let’s put to rest insulting cliches and look at what’s really going on here. You have had the experience, over and over, of wanting girls who didn’t want you back. First of all, I hope you know this isn’t unique to you. Unrequited love, or lust, or infatuation, is one of the great human constants. And almost all of us feel like it happens to us more than to other people. The people who successfully find love and sex and romance are the people who are able to take disappointment without becoming whiny or resentful.

“But it really does happen to me more than to other people!” Well, maybe so. If that’s true, there might be two problems: you’re not trying hard enough, or you’re not making yourself attractive. You do have to actually ask girls out in order to get a date. Sometimes you’ll ask and they’ll say no. That sucks. Ask again (not her; a different girl.) Faint heart never won fair lady, and all that. And whatever you do, don’t play this game.

I just wrote a whole post on being attractive. If you read that and think, “But that sounds like so much work! I want someone to like me just the way I am!” then please extend your wrist for a well-deserved slap. Your friends should like you just the way you are. Your family should love you just the way you are. But your romantic partner should like you, initially, because you turn her on, because you make her want to be closer to you. Nobody owes you their attraction. Here’s a little secret: I can pretty much guarantee you that, at some point in your life, a girl has harbored an unrequited crush on you. You either didn’t notice or didn’t count it because you didn’t find her attractive. I’m not blaming you for that: no one should date someone they’re not attracted to, either out of pity or out of desperation. But it should be obvious that this works both ways, so do what you can to make yourself as attractive as possible.

Finally, maybe what’s happening is that you see women dating men who you perceive as jerks, and you think, “I would treat her so much better!” You may be making unwarranted assumptions about what she considers good treatment. Plenty of women will happily forego hearts and flowers for a man who gives her a sense of adventure and excitement in life. Me, I tend to date people who offend and irritate other people with their outspoken opinions. I’ll take verbal sparring over sweet nothings any day. I’m sure there are people out there who think, “Why is she dating that asshole?” The short answer? I like assholes. (Of a particular kind.) Point is, don’t make assumptions about what a woman wants from a lover. If you’re a naturally sweet, romantic guy who will bring her flowers and never forget her birthday, well great! There are plenty of women who will appreciate that. But don’t assume that that means you’re every woman’s ideal. People have “types” in personalities as well as looks.

There are, of course, women (and men) who are pathologically drawn to lovers who treat them badly. They have their own problems they need to sort out: dating a “nice guy” like you isn’t going to magically fix them, so the best thing you can do is walk away. If you are pathologically drawn to women who treat you badly, you also have your own problems you need to sort out.

The world doesn’t owe you a girlfriend just for being a decent person. You have to get out there, make yourself as attractive as possible, and roll with the punches, just like the rest of us. If you can do it with good grace and without becoming bitter, it’s a pretty safe bet that eventually you’ll find the love you’re looking for.

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5 thoughts on “Nice guys – an admonitory rant

  1. I am totally going to print this out and give copies to all of the ‘nice guys’ who are pissed at me for not dating them.

    My problem with a lot of ‘nice guys’ is that if I even get the slightest hint that they will do whatever I say, then I will not date them. Yes-men are NOT fun.

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  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karpman_drama_triangle

    The most classic version of this I see pretty often is reflected in the Karpman drama triangle (see above). Girl rants frequently to male BFF about her relationship woes. Guy invests time and energy into supporting friend and starts to feel more emotional connection… develops feelings (sees self as rescuer). Guy has only ever heard NEGATIVE aspects of girl’s bf because she only comes to him about the unhappy side of the relationship. Personally, I could see how that is confusing for all parties. I see everyone as innocent in the dynamic, perhaps a little blind but still innocent.

    “Nice Guy” often has some childhood issues related to mom, likely parentification of child as emotional support for mom due to frequently absent father. Subconsciously this links to “if I emotionally support mom I get the love, affection and care that I need.” Later in life when this is no longer useful this manifests itself as codependency like symptoms… so he will repeat this relationship pattern a lot until he starts addressing that association. We all have a tendency to repeat relationships that feel similar to the ones we had with our primary caregivers unless we gain the awareness to make changes as needed. So as annoying as the “nice guy(s)” is to experience I hope there is some compassion left for them in the world. I’ll say that your rant about it is much more gentle than others I have read.

    I just want to thank you for not using the classic “women aren’t vending machines where you put nice in and get sex back” line. It is very invalidating, since often the guy in the “nice guy” role is not solely focused on the sexual aspect of the relationship as much as the emotional bond/companionship aspect of having a relationship. I also want to thank you for not using shaming as a method of communicating your ideas about this topic, since I see that a lot online and know from guys that it creates a lot of defensiveness and actually makes it more difficult for them to connect with the emotional aspects of themselves required to resolve this pattern for themselves.

    In working with clients who have repeated that pattern a lot in their lives I can say it takes a lot of careful peeling to get to the real emotions driving that impulse, often hidden under layers of anger and resentment. There is often a lot of core shame (feeling like they aren’t good enough or just good in general/worthy of love so they have to work or rescue to earn it), guilt (wanting something someone doesn’t want to give them) and history of emotional invalidation (how they feel is never right/ok). All of which are being recreated by their continuing to behave in that cycle of how they pick partners. Personally, I think awareness of those driving emotions is very important when addressing this issue to create real progress. I just don’t see it very often, especially online. So I really appreciate your non-attacking approach to this complicated issue.

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