Nice Guys are one of the few topics guaranteed like circumcision and feminism to get people to argue. Seriously, post about the prison-industrial complex and there are two responses, post about Nice Guys and the thread is raging for the next three years.
I think the fundamental problem with Nice Guy discourse is that it confuses two completely different things.
The first is that sometimes there are people who lurk around having a crush on someone in their general direction without actually doing anything about it. If a man does it, we call it being a Nice Guy; if a woman does it, we call it normal. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a problem with this strategy. According to the Law of Conservation of Fuckery, every time the other person is romantically interested in you, they’ll have no idea you have a crush on them, and every time they aren’t interested in you, they’ll know and end up awkwardly trying to tell you they don’t have a crush on you without outright saying “I know you have a crush on me, but I don’t like you back,” since that’s considered rude in most cultures.
Therefore, this strategy is both rude and quite ineffective.
However, people using rude and ineffective dating strategies is not actually a social justice issue. I don’t think it’s that much of an issue in general, to be honest: most of the people who lurk about having a crush on someone are shy and deeply insecure about their attractiveness, and I’m not sure that there’s anything we can do to make people less shy and deeply insecure. Even if there were, yelling at them about how they’re being Nice Guys is… probably not it.
The second group is that there are people who identify as Nice Guys and are also legitimately assholes.
The prototypical form of this belief, as far as I can tell, is the following: “I am a nice/cute/successful/romantic guy [delete as appropriate]. Women say they want nice/cute/successful/romantic guys. And yet I do not have a girlfriend/the girl I wanted to date rejected me/I am forever alone! It must be because women do not actually like nice/cute/successful/romantic guys, but in fact like jerks, and the problem is that I am TOO GOOD and TOO MORAL a person to give women what they really want.”
I can certainly see why some people would like to believe this, because they get to feel really good about themselves and they don’t have to change anything, and also you get to believe the person you’re jealous of is a jerk, which is something people pretty much always want to believe. However, it is also both misogynistic and incorrect.
The biggest problem is that it assumes that women are a collective hivemind. There is no single thing that all women in the world like. There is no single thing that most women in the world like, even, except maybe “my partner is male.” There are lots of women in the world, and some of them will feel the need to go chase after jerks. I don’t know, maybe they have a Saving People Thing, or they believe they don’t deserve any better than a jerk, or the jerk is really fucking hot. That doesn’t mean that all the women who don’t chase after jerks also like them.
Also, it assumes that human relationships function in a much more transactional model than they actually do. Even if Person X says they want nice, successful, romantic, cute people, and you are a nice, successful, romantic, cute person, it doesn’t mean the only two options are “Person X dates you” and “Person X is lying about not wanting nice, successful, romantic, cute partners.” For instance, they might not be attracted to you. They might only want to date people they find interesting, or that they share political beliefs with, or that have similar sexual desires to them. Maybe they don’t like your smell. The right of people to say “no” to relationships they don’t want is sacred– even if they’re saying “no” for reasons that they don’t explain, or that seem stupid. It is… shitty, in the extreme, to criticize people for not wanting to date one. Rape-culture-y, almost, because it assumes that there are Good Reasons and Bad Reasons not to want to date someone and if you don’t have a Good Reason your ‘no’ is unreasonable.
Note that I’m being agnostic here about whether women actually do like jerks more than men do, or like jerks more often than they admit. I think that’s kind of an irrelevant point. I do, however, think that the Nice Guy point of view is likely to be extremely biased. First, because self-report of niceness is unlikely to tell the truth about how nice someone actually is; second, because people have an incentive to believe that people that they’re jealous of (i.e., who are dating people whom they have a crush on) are jerks.
I would like to make it clear that if this is not about you, then it is not about you. If you’re a #1-type Nice Guy but not a #2-type Nice Guy, I give you permission to ignore all the nice guy stuff. It isn’t about you.
Photo– Ken and Nyetta/Flickr.
Image– A bit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scrolls? Meditations? This make sense to anyone else? Oh, forget it.