Friday, 21 November 2014

Sympathy for the Nice Guy

     I have been thinking about the whole Nice Guy pathology. That's where some guy figures that the way to get women to fall in love with and have sex with him is to be the devoted, generous, kind friend she can rely on, the shoulder she can cry on about all the cruel jerks she's dated until finally she realizes that here, right in front of her, is the perfect guy she's always wanted.
     It's a lovely narrative, of course, and if it plays out that way then all's well. Maybe. I mean, a relationship founded on that kind of formula might turn out to be a little inauthentic, but most relationships encounter difficulties anyway and all's seldom completely well even in the healthiest relationships. So it's not necessarily a disaster if the Nice Guy formula actually works out, which I suppose it does sometimes.
     The real problem is when it doesn't. When the Nice Guy invests loads of effort into being so nice she couldn't possibly fail to recognize how wonderfully perfect he is, and still somehow she doesn't fall for him. Then, it's so easy for him to become angry and resentful. He's done sooo much for her, and she doesn't even appreciate it, the ingrateful bitch! And then we see that the "Nice" guy isn't really genuinely nice, but he sees niceness for sex as a quid pro quo, and she's not keeping her part of the .... bargain? There was no bargain. That's not what "nice" means.

     All of this has been talked about a great deal lately, and rightly so, but I don't know if that argument by itself is going to sink in to the Nice Guy. It just rings a little hollow to someone in his shoes. And that's because Nice Guy is really hurting, is really lonely, is really feeling that he's the victim of an injustice, and telling him he's being a jerk (even if he is) is unlikely to be effective.
     I've been there. Well, maybe not quite the same place, but close to it. Before the phrase "nice guy" took on its current meaning, I always tried to be one, as distinct from the kind of aggressive jerk who takes advantage of women for sex. I was very sensitive to the stereotype that men are always after sex, so I was always careful to keep any attraction I might have felt a closely guarded secret, so as not to make anyone feel awkward or uncomfortable. Only if I got some sign or clue that a girl might be receptive to an advance did I consider I'd have permission to make my feelings known, and of course I was wary of letting my wishful thinking mislead me about ambiguous signals, so my default assumption was that girls generally were not interested in me. (I had not yet recognized that expecting the female to make the first move was no more sensible an arbitrary convention than having the male do it, and even less satisfactory if I was the only one following it.)
     I really did (and still do) value my friendships with females as rewarding friendships with equals, and I'm glad that many of them felt comfortable enough to talk to me about personal problems. It isn't that I wasn't romantically interested in any of them, because if I'd had a hint that was an option, I certainly would have been willing and indeed eager to explore the possibility (and in fact did on a couple of occasions). It's that romance was genuinely not the objective or motivation for these friendships; I was not just being nice to them in the hopes they might eventually give me sex. 
     And yet, at the same time, I really did long for a romantic relationship. I experienced all that painful loneliness and unfulfilled desire, just as much as anyone does in their teens and twenties, and it felt terrible. It felt even worse when my female friends would talk in front of me about how all men were jerks and then add "Oh, not you, Tom, you don't count!" I didn't? That was supposed to be comforting how, exactly? I wasn't a jerk, or I wasn't a man? Or is it only jerks you're attracted to? Or... what? Seriously, what was I supposed to take away from this?

     I know how I was wrong then, of course. I should have been a little bit more open. I should have been more willing to acknowledge that yes, I found girls attractive for their bodies as well as their minds. Since then, I've had my heart broken enough to know it won't kill me, and I've inadvertently broken enough hearts to know it's not anyone's fault, so if a woman tells me she's not interested, that's sad for me but I'll get over it and we can still be friends because I know she isn't to blame for me being hurt (assuming she knows me well enough to trust I won't resent her for it).
     But the fact that I was inexperienced in how to think about and deal with that pain doesn't mean the pain wasn't real. And it really was unfair and frustrating that these lovely young women always seemed to be attracted to guys who treated them with less respect than I did, and never seemed to even consider me as an option ("You don't count"), and so yeah, I really, really do understand why so many Nice Guys feel hurt. It really does hurt, and it isn't fair.
     That's the problem, the kernel of truth behind their complaint that is so very real and so painful and so genuinely unfair that any amount of lecturing Nice Guys to wise up and recognize that women don't owe them anything is going to run into the barrier of "But you don't know how I feel!"

     Dude, I do. I really, really do. You want her. You want her real bad, and not having her feels like the worst thing imaginable. But try this experiment: make yourself not want her anymore. Just decide that you can live without her, that someone else out there might make you happier. In fact, pick that someone else, maybe someone you find less attractive now, and see if maybe you can discover her inner beauty, and make yourself be attracted to her instead.
     Not that easy, is it? Turns out, we don't have a lot of control over whom we find attractive. It's not your fault. And here's the thing: it's no easier for women. Doesn't matter how nice someone is to you; if you're not attracted you're not attracted. End of story. So it's not their fault they're not attracted to you, and it's not your fault you are.
     You may be a very nice guy, and very handsome, and do everything right, and still end up lonely. Or, fate may have made you unattractive and unpleasant, and yet someone still falls for you for some inexplicable reason. It happens. There are lots of things that fate inflicts upon the undeserving. Get past it, and be nice and respectful to people without expecting anything in return. It's not a reliable way to get others to sleep with you, but it does make it easier to sleep with yourself.