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July 11, 2005

Nice guys

Judging by the comments in the "Aquarium" thread, folks have a lot to say about nice guys and the women who (do or don't) love them (enough).

No doubt there's some truth in perennial complaint that some types of niceness get short shrift in the dating market. Some people do seem to be drawn towards abusive partners. Who knows why? Past abuse, low self-esteem, bad judgment, personal idiosyncrasy, and bad luck probably explain a lot. Inequality is another major culprit--power imbalances invite abuse. Machismo is almost the antithesis of nice, and traditional femininity often requires women to indulge, ignore, or exalt men's bad behavior.

It's also true that the dating scene often rewards confidence, persistence, good looks, and conspicuous consumption over more substantial attributes. As John Emerson argued in the Aquarium thread, there might even be an inverse relationship between these qualities and niceness. I'd be curious to know if that's true. Thad suggested offline that some self-described nice guys may have difficulty recognizing the social nuances that make an approach seem charming rather than obnoxious. As a result they may be more reticent to approach women and more apt to perceive other men as being obnoxious.

However, guys who attribute their dating failures to niceness per se are often being self-serving. It's comforting to attribute to excessive niceness what might be better explained by shyness, awkwardness, or other less flattering interpretations. (I'm equally suspicious when Maureen Dowd complains that she can't get a date because she's too intimidating. Frankly, there are more parsimonious explanations.)

Often, the self-proclaimed nice guy wants special credit for just for being nice. It's as if he wants you to exclaim, "Oh, you poor fellow. What a burden it must be to treat women as you'd like to be treated. Above and beyond, old chap. Above and beyond!" I'm all for niceness, but I consider it a basic moral requirement for all humans, not a special bonus feature.

With certain notable exceptions, nice guys don't feel compelled to tell you how nice they are.* In my experience, most of the men who explicitly attribute their romantic failures to their own niceness are playing some sort of unendearing head game. Note, I'm not talking about acting nice, considering oneself to be nice, or valuing niceness in others. I'm talking about guys who tell you how nice they are and go on to complain about how women (read: you and your friends) don't appreciate nice guys (read: me). The subtext is that if women (you) weren't so stupid and hypocritical you'd appreciate nice guys (beg to blow me).

At worst, self-proclamations of niceness come across as vaguely menacing. The logical inference is that the speaker doesn't believe that women want to be treated well and that he might just drop the whole nice act. After all, if he thinks women like being treated badly, he might feel entitled to give them what he thinks they want.

*No offense to present company. Internet discourse is different from face-to-face interactions. We all have to describe ourselves a little more explicitly in a written medium. Maybe self-described Internet nice guys are unfairly getting tarred with the same brush as the guys who feel the need to go on about their niceness in real life.

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Comments

"Harm" means harm to the women, in case the non-nice guy turns out to be seriously very not nice. The woman's agency comes when sexiness is prioritized over niceness.

Part of the resentment of inept, self-described "nice men" comes when the harm done by not-nice men is ascribed to Men or Patriarchy or Male Privilege, so that they get lumped in with the unnice, confident, sexy guy they resent.

I think that the unnice guys I know of are worse than the unnice guys other people here are talking about. But the dynamic is the same.

I'm not just talking about guys who are shallow, politically unaware, promiscuous, unfaithful, etc., but the more predatory and abusive types which are not really rare, even on college campusses.

self-proclaimed nice guys are the worst! there's so much secret contempt for women bound up in the statement that he's just too nice to get laid by stupid women.

unfortunately, contempt for women because they won't sleep with him is a pretty self-perpetuating phenomenon.

now, a guy who makes me think other women are stupid for not getting him first -- that is a genuine nice guy.

I think that the unnice guys I know of are worse than the unnice guys other people here are talking about.

Or not.

Chris Clarke's link is the sort of thing I was thinking of. The guy was apparently very charming and fluent.

The "anti-social personality" is usually very sociable -- just predatory. The folk term "anti-social" for a loner is something completely different.

Nancy, in a matriarchy would people have a more pisitive attitude towaard bad boys than I have suggested?

John: I don't think you can say there's much of a correlation between being an outwardly "nice guy" and being non-abusive in a given situation, unless you either do some post hoc recategorization of who's "nice" or redefinition of what's abusive.


"Harm" means harm to the women, in case the non-nice guy turns out to be seriously very not nice. The woman's agency comes when sexiness is prioritized over niceness.

SEE! I hit the nail right on the head - do I understand Emerson's attitudes about women or not? Booyah!

John, that's the point. Abusive and vile guys are often super-nice at first.

Which I suppose you're saying so what's the issue? You have a problem with women who date men that abuse them, but women often get into those relationships because we're supposed to date "nice" guys.

The guys I'm thinking of are not super nice. They're flamboyant, impulsive, dramatic, exciting, and very forward with a big schmooze. Sweeping off the feet, etc. Sexy bad boys. The nice guys I'm thinking of don't have that stuff.

Nancy, again -- would a matriarch say something different about predatory, sexy bad boys than what I have said? Wouldn't she say, "Don't go there"? I understand that I can be accused of blaming the victim, but isn't that a bad choice?

Lindsay --

I agree with you that people who call themselves nice are not to be trusted (along with people who call themselves honest). It's just self-serving and meaningless. I would like to add some observations:

1) I have a couple of close friends who are always referring to this person or that as "nice" and when I meet them I find that they are pure evil but they act really "nice," which means I guess they are extra social and smiley and superficially fun and polite. So I guess point number one is that I am surprised to find that a lot of people are fooled by narcissisitic sociopaths.

This has caused me to comment to these friends more than once that "nice is useless." I would frankly rather befriend grumpy unpleasant smart honest decent impolite interesting people.

Which is part of why I like the French.

2) I have noticed that the "nice" self-apology is just as common in business as it is in dating. In my field, everyone I have ever encountered who is not successful openly announces that their failure is because they "are just too nice." They "aren't willing to fuck over their friends." In the few instances when these "nice" folks went on to be powerful, they stopped being nice and were just as nasty as the successful people they derided in the first place.

It's easy to act nice when you're weak and can't get away with being a dick.

3. "The nice guy" is a character that guys play, a niche to be occupied, for the purposes of dating. It accomplishes over a period of years what non-nice guys can do in an evening. I'm not deriding it as a method. It requires that you use a laddering strategy, similar to what does with long-term bonds, so that different investments come due each year in sequence. Start early, plan for your future.

I had another point but I forgot it.


Part of the resentment of inept, self-described "nice men" comes when the harm done by not-nice men is ascribed to Men or Patriarchy or Male Privilege, so that they get lumped in with the unnice, confident, sexy guy they resent.

Yeah well you still haven't gotten it Emerson. Self-described nice guys are almost never actually nice. Because they usually have skeevy attitudes about women, like you do.

OF course as I noted, the bar for "nice" is set very low for men. You think you're a nice guy because you've never beaten a woman.

You don't have to actively beat women to be a flaming sexist. Clinging tightly to the double-standard as you do - you seem to believe that men have the right to get sexually involved with anybody they wish, but any woman who dares to consider sexiness over any other qualities should not only expect a nasty and violent death, but probably deserves it.


Nancy, in a matriarchy would people have a more pisitive attitude towaard bad boys than I have suggested?

Who knows? Who said anything about a matriarchy? Not me.

Oh, and while you men are sitting around the campfire telling tales about all the women who got what the so richly deserved by going with a sexy man who was not nice, let us consider some of the very nice men who killed their wives:

http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/11/12/peterson.verdict/

Rabbi Neulander
http://www.courttv.com/trials/neulander/

Minister Shackleberg
http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/news/040811/slaying.shtml

QUOTE:

Leo Campbell, a longtime friend of the Shackelfords, said the minister liked to go to church and Sunday school and he liked to farm. Campbell blamed the minister's illness for the events this morning.

Ed Shackelford remembers his cousin as a "good guy."

"He'd help anybody that he could," he said. "He would go out of his way to help someone."

Nancy, you said something I said came from patriarchy. That's why I asked.

I think that we've established to the satisfaction of most here that nice guys are just as bad as bad boys, if not worse. Which was what I was trying to argue against, so I guess I screwed up.

I've known the right things to say about these questions for many years now, and often I have said them, but yesterday, for whatever reason, I said something different.

I don't accept Nancy's extrapolations of who I am into the cliche territory she resides in. Others are free to do so.

If there's anyone who thinks that anything I said here was of any value, you're welcome.

I have spent the entirety of my adult life (which isn't that long, say 10 years, but still) around women in abusive relationships, and from virtually every one of them, I have heard the same thing: "I never saw it coming."

The pattern of behavior seems to be fairly consistent across the different cases. The man is a "nice guy" until the woman is in deep, and only then turns into the abusive asshole that he really is. To be sure, "not seeing it" is sometimes a result of willful ignorance or selective seeing on the woman's part, but at least as often, it is a case of deceptiveness on the man's part.

The whole dynamic of the abusive relationship is built around this pattern. In most cases, abusiveness only works if the woman is already in a position where she genuinely feels like she cannot get out of the relationship. I say most cases because there are some women who, often due to a history of childhood abuse, find comfort or (incomprehensibly to those of us on the outside) safety in abuse, or feel like they deserve it. But these women are the exceptions; exceptions that are often born of a history of the more common pattern.

It requires a high level of ignorance, misogyny, or both, to blame the woman for getting herself into an abusive relationship.


Clinging tightly to the double-standard as you do - you seem to believe that men have the right to get sexually involved with anybody they wish, but any woman who dares to consider sexiness over any other qualities should not only expect a nasty and violent death, but probably deserves it.

Well I at least expected you to quibble with the statement I made above. So you actually seem to be copping to holding a double standard.

We live in a patriarchy. A patriarchy is:

(1) A social system in which the father is the head of the family and men have authority over women and children.

(2) A family, community, or society based on this system or governed by men.

The absence of patriarchy does not automatically equal matriarchy.

There's nothing I've said that indicates I reside in cliched territory.

But it's already been established you're not a fan of empirical evidence. Normally I wouldn't make an issue out of that - most people operate on pure prejudice and unexamined beliefs. I just expected better from someone who runs a web site so heavily devoted to philosophy.

"Clinging tightly to the double-standard as you do - you seem to believe that men have the right to get sexually involved with anybody they wish"

I did not say that. I don't live that way or think that way, and the guys I'm thinking of don't either. We're sort of lame, boring guys.

My response to that was included in "I don't accept Nancy's extrapolations of who I am into the cliche territory she resides in."

I'm not keeping up with the comments war. Just writing to say that I felt naked after reading this post. I've always pitied myself for being the "nice guy" and bemoaning all the jerks that get girlfriends, but upon reading your post, I think the truth is more like you described (too shy and awkward, and while the ones who rejected me liked me, they just weren't that into me). I've even had that horrible thought (but not said) that I might as well try being a jerk and see how that goes (never put into practice, well, any more than usual). Seriously, ouch. Put the mirror down, it burns us. I suppose I will now have to do a bit of introspection and re-evaluation about this little lie I tell myself. Yeah, that'll be fun.

Good site though, I enjoy it.

The guys I'm thinking of are not super nice. They're flamboyant, impulsive, dramatic, exciting, and very forward with a big schmooze. Sweeping off the feet, etc. Sexy bad boys. The nice guys I'm thinking of don't have that stuff.

See, these are exactly the traits that our culture deems as "nice", it would seem to me. The typical nice guy whine is that he's romantic, he would do things for a woman, etc. And abusers are the kings of roses and Say Anything moments in the beginning. Not to say that all romantic men are abusive by any means. But the "nice guy" thing is a good cover for abusiveness.

"Clinging tightly to the double-standard as you do - you seem to believe that men have the right to get sexually involved with anybody they wish"


I did not say that. I don't live that way or think that way, and the guys I'm thinking of don't either. We're sort of lame, boring guys.

So what does that mean -
you think that both men AND women should consider niceness as the primary indicator of whether or not to have sex with a person?

And therefore any man who gets involved with a non-nice woman because she's really sexy should expect to be murdered?

And you believe that nice women who are not so sexy have just as much right to resent men who put sexiness over niceness as nice men resent women who behave that way?

Is that what you're saying, and you actually don't have a double standard for male and female behaviors?

Couple quick thoughts:

1) One thing to bear in mind that the sort of flashy, sexy bad guy JEmerson describes is usually pretty interesting at first. They'll flatter her, talk to her, feign interest. It's kind of hard to blame a girl for not going after the self-described nice guy in the corner of the bar who sits there, drinks his beer, and never acknowledges her.

It's not like they start out as uncaring assholes. And it's not as if it doesn't take some experience to see through the act; something which a girl might not run into the first couple guys she dates.

The nice guy could try, you know, not staring into his beer hoping to be noticed.

2) One of my friends once described a conversations with a bitter nice guy, who had a plan to one day, when all the girls that had rejected him came back to ask him out (privilege? think so.) he would turn them down to show them who's boss.

I think my comment was something along the lines of "If he's a typical nice guy, then the reason we're not dating him is that he's neurotic as hell."

They're flamboyant, impulsive, dramatic, exciting, and very forward with a big schmooze. Sweeping off the feet, etc. Sexy bad boys.

Amanda, to me those words don't describe the "nice guys" who don't get the girl, who tend to be cautious, shy, lacking in confidence, and not very fluent or ept.

When a guy of the flamboyant type schmoozes me up for something (non-sexual), I almost immediately distrust them completely, and I've never regreted doing so.

By now "nice" has been redefined several times here.

The nice guy could try, you know, not staring into his beer hoping to be noticed.

Agreed.

The nice guy could try, you know, not staring into his beer hoping to be noticed.

Well, I tried to describe how I eventually got to the point where I could actually do that and not come off like a total freakshow in the other thread.

Nancy, John never said anyone "should expect to be murdered." You're finding normative statements where normative statements weren't made. His complaint was, as far as I can tell, about some women being attracted to predictably abusive men, and then overgeneralizing about all men based on their experiences. (I see no reason personally to think that never happens, nor do I see any reason to think it happens at all often. I'm completely agnostic on that point. I can't read minds, and I don't really pay a lot of attention to people's romantic lives if I can avoid it, so I'm doubly ignorant on the factual status of the claim, though that's neither here nor there.) But he never once said that those women "should expect to be murdered" or really anything of the sort. If you're going to disagree, at least disagree fairly with things he actually asserted, not to attitudes you simply ascribe to him.

And therefore any man who gets involved with a non-nice woman because she's really sexy should expect to be murdered?

The risk is greater for women. An aspect of patriarchy, if you want to say it that way. I never did say that women deserved to be murdered, but just that there is agency involved when an evident jerk is chosen, and that really does happen.

The reason I use the examples of murder and nightmare marriages is that I am thinking of women I know whom that happened to. I didn't dig them out of nowhere in order to bully women.

And you believe that nice women who are not so sexy have just as much right to resent men who put sexiness over niceness as nice men resent women who behave that way?

That makes sense. Dan Savage pointed out way back when that most people who write to him about the shallowness of "looksism" are very intent on findign someone much better looking than themselves.

The mopy nice guy might actually be quite good looking, but without the dramatic, exciting, sexy flair. Looksism is only part of the story.

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