Although it’s currently offline, I took a good look at the recent Nice Guys of OKCupid Tumblr. (Update: you can view the full archive here—> https://sites.google.com/site/niceguysofokc/ (thanks to Artificial Angels for the tip)
If you’re not familiar, you can get a sense of the purpose of it by reading this Jezebel article by Hugo Schwyzer.
Needless to say, it’s not about changing the way people think or communicate so much as it’s about mocking a specific man, the archetypical Nice Guy.
While I found some of the profiles disturbing, some were simply very sad and gave little indication that the authors were, as Hugo suggests, demanding sex in exchange for being nice guys.
As Ally Fogg notes in a recent post:
“…many of the entries come across as more self-pitying, bitter or pathetic than those above. Those are not attractive qualities, but they are sadly common among people who are at an extremely low ebb emotionally, or struggling with depression.”
I should be clear: I don’t really have anything to say to the people Hugo thinks he is addressing. If your only goal is sex, and you can’t be bothered to initiate it in an honest, straightforward and ethical way (read: not pretending friendship or shoulder to cry on) with other people interested in the same thing, this post is not for you or about you.
But I’m not so sure that everyone tagged with the Nice Guy archetype only cares about sex and is a terrible human being.
Read this OKCupid journal entry (click here) for example, which is filled with assumptions about the Friendzone and other myths that I find troubling, but doesn’t suggest to me that the self-identified Nice Guy is demanding sex in return for being a shoulder to cry on. I read it as a plea from someone with low self-esteem and social awkwardness (I’ve been there, trust me) for a chance to prove he can be a good partner. Hopefully he’s done some emotional work since then, because his perspective in that post (circa 2007) might not make for good qualities in a relationship, but I’d argue that it doesn’t suggest he’s some raging jerk either.
His Nice Guy journaling actually made me think back to when I taught middle school (I was a sub, but mostly worked 7th & 8th grade at one place). I’m fairly socially adept and I think this translated to male students because I’d often get questions about how to relate to girls. Typical complaints included “girls only want to date the jerks” and “I’m nice, I don’t make comments about their boobs and I help them with homework so why don’t they like me?”
Now, if a 12 year old said that to you, would you declare him a sexist/misogynist jerk? Offbase, yes. In need of some education and a readjustment in perspective, absolutely. But my experience was that middle school age boys were in a development stage where they were learning how to be transactional. At that age I noticed my male students were very focused on concrete actions. Opening a door for a young lady, for example, was considered the hallmark of a nice guy. Now, before you burn me at the stake please note that I consider opening a door a nice thing to do for anyone regardless of your potential interest in them. But it’s a simple transaction, not a Symbol Of How Good A Person You Are. There are much more important indicators, like setting good boundaries and giving someone support and space when they are having a hard time. To be clear the female students at that age were transactional too, and honestly some of the things they said and did were similarly troubling.
And that transactional approach to friendships and relationships is precisely the problem. Not only is it a developmental stage (and one that I think probably belongs in middle school and no further) but it is also reflected/reinforced in the mainstream media we consume. “She’s looking for a gentleman who holds the door for her and if you do you’ll be rewarded” ads constantly remind us. Or the movie that slips the standard “Guy Buys Woman Diamonds and She Falls For Him” script into a conversation. (Sidenote: for an interesting reminder on the oddity of scripted interactions, check out this great post)
Yesterday my roommate and I were getting pizza and talking about NG of OKC when, by some strange chance, one of those self-proclaimed Nice Guys happened to be sitting at the table next to us. He overheard the conversation and piped right in with some self-righteous nonsense about how girls Always Date Jerks. I challenged him, because I dislike when people are intellectually lazy, and asked him Which Girls but he didn’t really have an answer for that. There was a little more conversation and he provided further talking points about How Women Don’t Like Nice Guys, and my roommate and I basically called him out on it and let it go (we were both not in the mood to spend an hour arguing with the college age fellow). My roommate afterwards commented that he didn’t hear an original thought from the guy in the whole conversation, which I’m afraid I’d have to agree with, though maybe if we’d given him a chance and some time we’d have heard one.
It triggered a memory for me though. When I was teaching middle school one of my students tried to explain that he was practicing being less of a nice person because that’s what girls seemed to go for. I’m not sure how I responded (I hope gracefully and in a helpful way) but I do remember being very surprised.
If I had the chance to respond now, I’d tell him that transactions are not a guarantee that someone will give you a chance nor should you feel entitled to anything in return (this is a value that all humans should practice, regardless of gender). Instead, they are ways you can foster good connections with people. You should be good to the people in your life because you want to be good to them, not because you expect something in return. Hopefully they’ll see fit to do the same but those two things aren’t automatically connected.