My name is Ozy, and I was a Nice Girl ™.
I had tangled, unbrushed hair that fell limply to my shoulders; my skin was a pizza crust of acne; my glasses were unflattering; I wore stained and torn clothes. I slouched and spoke in monosyllables. I’d spent the last fourteen years reading instead of learning to socialize, which meant that I was familiar with the complete works of Plato, but not with the fact that other people were not interested in the complete works of Plato. In middle school, I’d had my first major bout of depression, which meant that I was too busy not killing myself to have friends. In fact, I spent several days in middle school without saying a single word to anyone and once was invited to a sleepover by a girl who forgot that I was coming and went over to her friend’s house instead.
In short, as high school began, I was ugly, depressed, and about a decade behind on social skills. I outline this not to incur sympathy but simply to explain where I’m coming from. When I talk about creepy people and Nice Guys ™, I talk about myself.
High school began with rather more social success: I was forcibly befriended by a cheerful, outgoing girl who liked vampire novels and bad TV. I trailed along behind her like a shadow to sleepovers, parties, water polo. In exchange for tagging along during her entire social life, I gave her unswerving loyalty in the face of all the complicated friendship dramas of high school.
Although at that point I had figured out I was queer, I went to Catholic school; a friend’s sister, when told a girl had a crush on her, said that “lezzies are disgusting.” So the only option for sex (and I did want sex—I have always been very high sex-drive, and masturbating to slash fanfic was getting old) was for me to get A Boyfriend.
Every boy I knew was assessed for the crucial signs that he liked me. Asked to borrow a pencil? He liked me. Looked at me? He liked me. Said something to me about what we were studying in class? Ohmigod he so totally liked me!
Of course, once I had determined that a boy liked me (which generally involved him existing in my general direction), I then decided that I was going to get his affection. Of course, this didn’t involve actually talking to him or anything. Instead, I would stare at him longingly. I would drop my pencil to get him to pick it up. I would time when I changed out my books and ate lunch so I could see him. I would “happen” to sit next to him in class. If we were outside of school together, (for instance, for a play) I would put on makeup, do my hair and wear a short skirt, and then wait near him for him to initiate a conversation.
My friend mentioned above had a harem of gamers, most of whom wanted to date her but were too shy to say anything. I was in love with all of them at one time or another: I laughed at their recitations of South Park quotes and quietly watched them play Brawl for hours on end and—yes—listened to them talking about the girls who wouldn’t date them or wouldn’t give them any more than a kiss goodnight.
One time I planned to randomly kiss a boy (we’d exchanged about ten words at this time) and say “your move.” I’m cringing writing this. Thankfully, I chickened out, so I don’t have to wear a bag over my head for the rest of time.
And then there was the time I (as a former middle-school rebellious pagan) did a spell to make the guy I liked break up with his girlfriend and date me (I’d never actually spoken to him either).
All I wanted, I told myself, was a nice guy who liked me and showered regularly—it didn’t matter if he was smart or entertaining or attractive. And I would treat him like a king, far better than those other girls: I’d have sex with him whenever he wanted, I wouldn’t require all sorts of presents to keep dating him, I’d compliment him constantly.
Most of my Nice Girl ™-ness was innocuous, if probably rather disconcerting to the boys who were finding themselves stalked by a girl in badly applied eyeliner. I was creepy, but harmlessly so. However, whenever I read the more misogynistic ends of the pick-up artist or men’s rights community, I cringe. Because if I had found that gender-reversed when I was sixteen or so, it would have made sense to me. Of course boys like assholes, that’s why I can’t get laid! Of course American men are fat, entitled and worthless, that’s why they treat me so badly! There’s nothing more seductive than an explanation in which it’s all someone else’s fault.
Instead, because they claimed that all women could get laid whenever they wanted (and that clearly was not true), I had discounted their explanations pretty quickly and instead drifted through life being confused and vaguely resentful.
The takeaway here is that being– a Nice Guy ™ is not a guy thing—it’s a people thing. Specifically, Nice Guy ™ is what happens when you get someone who is not sure how this whole “relationships” thing works exactly, who is petrified of rejection, and who doesn’t fully understand that people of the other primary gender are actually people and not some kind of complicated relationship-granting automation.
I think for a lot of people it’s a normal developmental stage on the path of figuring out how relationships work, and there’s nothing wrong with that (you get amnesty about any relationship mistakes you make before the age of 18). The problem is when some people of any gender get stuck there.
Note: I know I referred to myself as a girl all the way through this, but I am still nonbinary. Thanks!
I think one of the biggest problems with talking about Nice Guys™ (I’m using the term gender-inclusively) is that there are several different kinds of people who fall under the Nice Guy™ umbrella. Admittedly, some forms of Nice Guy™ will evolve into other forms of Nice Guy™, much like Pokemon, but if you don’t know your Charizards from your Charmanders, you’re just going to end up confused.
Therefore, I will now break down the four types of Nice Guy™ I have observed in the wilds of both meatspace and the Internet.
Stage One Nice Guy™, or the Pseudo-Nice-Guy™
A stage one Nice Guy™ is a person who for whatever reason behaves in a typically Nice Guy™-ish way, but without actually having the characteristic personality traits of a Nice Guy™. By “behaving in a typically Nice Guy™ way” I mean not asking people out, befriending people and then expecting romantic relationships to happen by magic, expecting all the problems in your life to be solved by Twoo Wuv, “joking” about how if the person they liked dumped their partner and went out with them everything would be perfect, observing that women only like assholes/men only like bitches… all that stereotypical shit. Not all people who do that are true Nice Guys™!
The stage one Nice Guy™ is usually somewhat socially awkward and highly afraid of rejection; they may be prone to some pedestalization of people they want to date, but not to extreme levels. Although their traits may pattern-match to those of the true Nice Guy™, they are usually not any more sexist or objectifying than the average person. They often make quite good partners if you don’t mind making the first move.
Stage Two Nice Guy™, or the Objectifying Nice Guy™
This is, in my experience, the most common type of Nice Guy™. According to this type, the people they want to sleep with ought to work according to a formula, and if the Nice Guy™ fulfills the formula, they ought to be able to date the person they desire. Common formulas include being nice, being physically attractive, being rich, and being willing to treat one’s partners “like a princess” or “like a king.” The stage two Nice Guy™ rarely asks people out, because they are still terrified of rejection; besides, as long as they fulfill the formula properly, people ought to be coming to them.
Many pick-up artists are stage two Nice Guys™ who acquired a new formula that involves actually making the first move.
Stage Three Nice Guy™, or the Entitled Nice Guy
The stage three Nice Guy™ deserves a relationship, and they are pissed the fuck off that they haven’t got one. Of course, they’re not going to ask people out or anything, because they just know that everyone despises them for being so nice and so successful. They have done everything right according to the formula, and since they still don’t have the romantic relationship of their desiring, clearly the problem must lie in all those people who are running about refusing to sleep with them.
It may be somewhat difficult to figure out the difference between a stage two and a stage three Nice Guy™. The big difference, I think, is in the response to being rejected. A stage two Nice Guy™ will respond by beating themselves up and trying to figure out what they did wrong; a stage three Nice Guy™ will get very angry. How dare someone not recognize how awesome you are and reward it with sex!
Stage Four Nice Guy™, or the Misogynistic Nice Guy
I say misogynistic, because I have only seen straight men ascend to this form. The stage four Nice Guy™ knows why he can’t get laid: because women are BITCHES and SLUTS and WHORES and FAT and UGLY and ENTITLED and he DOESN’T WANT THEM ANYWAY and he is going to get a woman from ASIA where they are OBEDIENT and know how to TREAT A MAN, or maybe a SEXBOT, and oh god he is so alone. Many of them infest or even write the more obnoxious pick-up artist or men’s rights activist sites.
One of the most common Nice Guy™ complaints is that women like jerks preferentially to liking guys who are nice like them. I think this notion is common enough that it deserves a little examination.
First, while some women do indeed dig jerks, so do some men, although in that case it’s usually called the “why men love bitches” problem. Admittedly, men tend to believe women like jerks for Mysterious Ladybrain Reasons, and women believe men tend to like shallow bitches because they have great tits, but that’s only minor cosmetic differences in the general trend. It’s not even reserved to the straights: a whole lot of queers have managed to fall hopelessly in love with homophobes. The digging of jerks isn’t a gender problem; it’s a people problem.
There is some scientific research on whether men or women like jerks. Unfortunately, most of this research ranges between mostly useless and completely useless. “Mostly useless” are the studies that ask people whether they’re attracted to jerks: that’ll get you what people think they’re attracted to, but that’s not always whom they’re really attracted to, as everyone can attest who’s ever seen someone swear up and down that they want a nice, reliable boyfriend with a good job and then proceed to chase after every brooding boy with a Daddy-doesn’t-love-me haircut and a guitar in a ten-mile radius. “Completely useless” are the studies that show that jerks (the disagreeable, those who have Dark Triad traits) have more sex partners, because that is almost certainly because people keep dumping them for being assholes.
Therefore, we are left with the anecdotal evidence for people dig jerks. There are a couple different explanations; more than one of these is probably in play in any given situation.
(Please note that none of these explanations are “women naturally dig jerks because EVOLUTION!” That is a terrible explanation. First, human children need a shitload of caretaking. It makes literally no sense for evolution to select for women to be attracted to men who are more likely to run out on them and leave them stuck with the kid, because the kid would be less likely to survive to adulthood; instead, it’d favor nice, reliable men who would help with the childrearing. Second, a disagreeable adult is likely to produce disagreeable children, which is a major net negative, because humans are social creatures and getting along with other people majorly increases your chance of survival. Third, the “sexy sons” hypothesis is begging the question: if women sleep with jerks because jerks are sexy and they want their sons to inherit the jerkishness and be sexy, how did jerkishness become sexy in the first place?)
The jerk has other good traits
I will admit, whenever I hear people complain about someone dating a complete asshole, I tend to assume the asshole looks something like Andreja Pejic.
Extremely hot female models aside, there are a lot of reasons why someone might date an asshole: she’s smart, he’s rich, she’s funny, and (yes) he’s hot as balls. I know the one time I ended up in a relationship with a Grade-A borderline-abusive asshole, he was an extremely cute feminist mathematician who taught me to stand up for myself and talked to me for entire days at a time, which made me overlook the whole “explosive rages, calls my friends Judas” thing.
As an aside: can we collectively promise ourselves that, if we ever find ourselves describing a relationship as “really good, except”, we will break up with that person immediately? The thing that follows the “except” is always completely fucking horrible. “It’s really good, except zie screams at me when I do things wrong.” “It’s really good, except sometimes he withdraws all my money from the bank and spends it on gambling, cocaine, and sex workers.” “It’s really good, except she thinks dressing up as Harry Potter to go to a con is silly and childish.”
They are both jerks
I think this is behind that whole Hot Chicks with Douchebags thing. It is actually, in fact, Douchebags with Douchebags. The douchebags are mating with their own kind! It should not be inherently more surprising that an asshole dates an asshole than it is that everyone I’m dating can recite all of Space Core’s dialogue from Portal 2 and hold in-depth discussions of the relative merits of turning the moon into a giant death ray.
Also, you may have not noticed that the person you want to date is an asshole because crushes can make people way non-objective like that.
The non-jerk has a thing for jerks
There are a lot of reasons why someone might have a thing for jerks! Some people absolutely love fixing broken birds—they’re the sort of people who will adopt a three-legged dog with diabetes just because it neeeeeeeeds them. Other people have some kind of bizarre possibly-Twilight-based idea that jerks are sexy. Still others have low self-esteem and think that jerks are all they deserve.
At any rate, if someone has a thing for jerks, it is probably a sign that you should not date them, because they have some serious growing-up to do.
The jerk is nice to them
This is what’s behind that stereotypical jock who throws nerds into lockers but still gets to date the hot chick. It’s not that she’s turned on by his locker-throwing-into ability; it’s because he doesn’t throw her into lockers. He remembers her favorite flavor of ice cream and always smiles at her when he gets a touchdown. Admittedly, this is somewhat shortsighted on her part (if someone is nice to you but not to the waiter they are not a nice person), but still fairly reasonable.
In fact, some people actually feel special when someone who’s normally a dick is nice to them: it feels like you’ve earned something.
It’s an emotionally abusive relationship
I hate to mention this one, because if your friend’s in an emotionally abusive relationship and your big reaction is “why is s/he dating that jerk instead of me?” you are earth-shaking levels of asshole. But nevertheless it is a possibility.
The jerk is not actually a jerk
Many Nice Guys™ have a skewed idea of what counts as “being nice”: as we shall see in a future post, a lot of times they interpret pedestalizing or supplicating behavior as being nice, and when a guy refuses to pedestalize or supplicate to women, they consider him an asshole. This is not being an asshole to women, though; it’s just treating them like a normal person.
In particular, there’s a certain kind of flirting I usually call the “performative asshole,” which can be done by men or women. (My girlfriend calls it Dom Flirting, and it’s true that performative assholery is pretty common as a means of signaling dominance in non-kinky spaces.) The performative asshole is a particular kind of flirtatious banter that involves friendly teasing, sometimes saying things that are often genuinely insulting (“I don’t know why I let you hang around. Must be because you’re cute”) with a smirk and a sense of irony. The key is that everyone involved knows that the performative asshole is not doing it seriously. You know it’s performative assholery because the other person will smile or laugh, instead of getting horribly offended. Performative assholes can be attractive for a couple reasons: they’re confident, they’re funny, they don’t take themselves too seriously, and they treat you as an equal and a friend.
Finally, some people will tend to think a person is a jerk because the “jerk” is dating someone that the person wanted to date, regardless of whether the “jerk” actually researches cancer cures in between volunteering at a library and saving orphaned puppies.
The majority of Nice Guys™ (once again, used gender-inclusively) are suffering from a common delusion: that the dating world is even remotely logical.
Unfortunately, this is not true. I’m sure everyone can think of an ugly, stupid asshole with a string of partners as long as your leg, and a sweet, intelligent beauty who could walk into a bar full of sailors of the appropriate gender just on shore leave and still not get a date. The dating world is fundamentally unpredictable and unfair, and a whole lot of who is romantically successful is based on sheer, stupid, random luck. Whether all your friends are paired up. Whether you skipped getting coffee and so didn’t meet the cute girl reading Sartre. Whether you happened to live across the way from the hot mathematician who plays the bongo drums. Whatever.
I think the distinguishing trait of Nice Guys™ (as compared to Pseudo Nice Guys™) is objectification. After all, without objectification, all you have is people who, for a variety of reasons ranging from the legitimate to the idiotic, adopt a dating strategy that’s unlikely to work and occasionally leads to awkward situations (for instance, attempting to politely reject someone who won’t actually make a move). However, people using ineffective dating strategies that occasionally lead to awkward situations is not actually a social justice issue; if it were, I’d have to be leading the Great Campaign to Get People To Stop Falling In Love With Their Fuckbuddies.
True Nice Guys™, as opposed to stage one Pseudo-Nice Guys who just happen to have a passive dating strategy, seem to regard dating as more or less like ordering something from a vending machine. If you put in the right sum of money and press the right buttons, then a relationship will be dispensed for you. This belief is, of course, incredibly objectifying: you’re not treating the people you might date as people, you’re treating them as objects that function according to a simplistic set of rules.
Nice Guys™ also generally regard people of the appropriate gender as being more-or-less interchangeable. When a boy texts you X, he will always mean Y. Always tease women, because that turns all girls on ever. But in the real world people are different. The most viable seduction tactic for me is to have a four-hour conversation with me, in which you explain to me several things I didn’t already know; the most viable seduction tactic for someone else is going to be dancing all night at a house club, arguing with them about NPR, seeming to be broken and in need of fixing, or wearing eyeliner. You simply cannot reduce the multiplicity of people’s turnons to “women like this and men like that.”
However, there is definitely a gendered difference in what inputs people decide the vending machine really ought to operate on. (For this bit Nice Guy™ is going to indicate actual dudes.) In general, Nice Girls™ tend to do What Men Want, and Nice Guys™ tend to do What Women Want. (I haven’t meant any Nice Guy™ Queers, but I would be entirely unsurprised by the existence of, for instance, a Nice Butch™ who does What Femmes Want. Objectification crosses all sexual orientations.)
Unfortunately, most of the Nice Guys™ and Nice Girls™ appear to be gathering their ideas of What Men Want and What Women Want from some unholy amalgation of romantic comedies and Disney movies.
In my experience, Nice Girls ™ tend to perform femininity. I had more than a few moments in high school where I was like “all right, I’m here, I’m wearing a skirt, I put the gunk on my face, now where are the dudes hitting on me?” Unfortunately, you cannot actually get a date with a guy by wearing a skirt in his general direction.
Similarly, other Nice Girls™ will act stupider than they are around guys, pretend to need help carrying things, or artificially speak in a far higher voice. Teen magazines like Seventeen are, in my experience, primarily directed at Nice Girls™ who don’t understand how relationships work, so things like “compliment his headphones—boys love electronics!” or “wear gold eyeshadow to appear flirty” will seem like good advice that is unlocking The Secret To Boys.
Most of the advice girls get about dating boils down to be passive harder. “Guys like the chase!” “Play hard to get!” “Here’s some body-language techniques to show him you’re interested!” Cosmo‘s whole weird thing about, like, smiling at him in the correct evolutionarily-programmed way from across the room and then he’ll come over and hit on you and he won’t even realize you did anything. However, while playing hard to get and smiling at him from across the room may have its uses, it works very badly if your problem is that your desired paramour has no idea you exist.
Why do women get this particular useless advice? Probably some combination of assertiveness being masculine (so women who make the first move are unfeminine), slut-shaming (if you actively pursue your sexual and romantic wants you’re clearly a slutty slut slut who sluts), and women as sex objects (so women’s big job in the sex/romance business is standing around and looking pretty).
Nice Girls™ do have a slight advantage in that they are more likely to be hit on and thus get a relationship, which is one of the major cures for Nice-Guy-ism. However, I do think it’s a mistake to conclude from this that being a Nice Girl™ isn’t painful the same way being a Nice Guy™ is painful. One of the problems with “be passive harder” advice is that you never get a clear rejection: is it that he doesn’t like you, or that he just hasn’t asked you out yet? And the silent rejection of being completely ignored can be just as harrowing and self-esteem-destroying as the blatant “no.”
Nice Guys™, on the other hand, tend to use a couple of different inputs to the Great Dating Vending Machine. Some, especially older Nice Guys™, will tend to rely on their success: after all, they have a good job (often, for some reason, in IT), a college degree, a nice respectable middle-class lifestyle, some spending money… why, they just can’t understand why they wouldn’t be able to get any woman they wanted! Nice Guy™ rants on the Internet often point out the great injustice that is the unemployed DJ down the street getting laid more than they do, when he clearly has no prospects in life whatsoever.
However, for most Nice Guys™ that I’ve met, the input was pedestalization.
I had a very revealing conversation once with a Nice Guy™ online, who pointed out that he had brought a girl flowers every date, paid for dinners, and not even asked if she wanted to have sex. In short, he said, he was incredibly nice, he had done everything that women say they want, and he had still gotten dumped! I had to stop myself from responding “dude, I would dump you too.”
In general, Nice Guys™ tend to go for that white-knighting shit. They are so nice. They buy you things! They sing you romantic songs! They do every clichéd gesture of romance! They held you while you cried into their shoulders! They do you all kinds of favors and don’t ask you for anything in return! Don’t women get off on that? (Nota Bene: Roosh V’s Compliment and Cuddle is, unintentionally, the single best description of this mindset. Particularly since he seems to think that the attitude described therein is what feminists recommend for men. Roosh, you fail feminism forever.)
Let me be clear: I don’t blame Nice Guys™ for falling into this shit. I blame the culture that taught them that pedestalization is romantic and that all girls love Prince Charming riding in to save the day. Every damn Hallmark holiday in which you show your love for your unique, special partner who is like no one else in the world through buying the same expensive shit everyone else is buying. Every damn Tumblr macro about how you should put your girlfriend up on a pedestal and save her from the evils of the world. Every damn romantic comedy about earning the love of a beautiful woman, often via stalking. Pretty much anything having to do with diamonds.
Nevertheless, I have to be clear that pedestalization does not work. In general, people do not like to be supplicated to. Being like “I have done everything you want, Mistress! I ask only for the touch of your lips!” works well in BDSM scenes and fairy tales, not so much in real life. And while some women like all that Hallmark shit, a lot of women don’t, and ignoring the desires of your partner in favor of the desires of All Women Everywhere rarely ends well. Most people don’t want to be a plaster saint: they want to be treated as a person by their partners.
Many Nice Guys™, having realized that supplication and pedestalization don’t actually work as well as could be hoped, go to the complete opposite and start degrading women. After all, they figure, if women don’t want to be treated like princesses, they must want to be treated like dirt! Many misogynistic pick up artists take this route, which is why I classify many forms of PUA as a type of Nice Guy™-ism. The actions are different, but the mindset is the same.
To be fair, even misogynistic PUA often works better than supplication, partially because they approach tons of women, and partially because some of their strategies work for reasons other than the reasons that they think it works. For instance, the famous “neg” may be taken as friendly and flirtatious teasing, blunt honesty, a sign that he’s interested in her despite her imperfections, or even a straight-up compliment.
However, both degradation and pedestalization are the completely wrong. Gender egalitarianism ought to deal with the degradation/pedestalization problem the way sex-positivity deals with the virgin/whore dilemma: it doesn’t say virgins or whores are better, it says that the whole conversation is stupid because you can’t meaningfully judge people’s worth based on how much sex they’ve had. Similarly, the proper response to the pedestalization/degradation dilemma is neither “women are princesses” nor “women are ugly bitchy sluts,” neither “women are elves” nor “women are orcs”; the proper response is “I reject the entire premise of this conversation.”
Women are people, which means they are everywhere on the elf-orc spectrum. The proper response to women is not to worship at her feet nor to push her into the dirt, it’s to treat her exactly like you’d treat a person, except that this person usually has boobs.