On “Nice Guys”

As of late, I’ve been seeing a lot of backlash against supposed “nice guys.”

A few examples:


Allow me to preface the remainder of this post by saying that I consider myself a feminist, in the sense that I subscribe to the theory men and women are equal, should have equal protections under the law, and deserve equitable treatment in society. I realize that I’m skating on some thin ice, and my objective is not to antagonize, but rather to temper an argument I’m concerned is growing out of control.

I understand the “nice guy” backlash. Kindness isn’t superficial. It’s a core element that some people have and some people don’t.

Some men call themselves nice because they bestow kindnesses on others for the purpose of getting laid. Some men call themselves nice as a scapegoat and as a euphemism for being shy, socially awkward, or unattractive.

The men described in the preceding paragraph are not nice. I don’t like them and I’m not defending them.

We’ve all heard the saying, “nice guys finish last.” More often than not, it’s a consolation for the nice guy who got dumped, rejected, overlooked, fired, or otherwise faced one of life’s many disappointments when a seemingly less nice guy did just fine for himself.

And you know what? It’s not entirely false.

Sometimes a man is legitimately nice, but he is unlucky, lacks a skill set, or just plain isn’t attractive to the woman he’d like to court.

And that’s disappointing.

I could wax hypothetical on this topic all day, but let’s get down to something concrete--my own, selfish motivation for writing this post.

I’m single and I consider myself a nice guy. I do volunteer work regularly. I hold the elevator for strangers. I let people pull in the road ahead of me at red lights on my morning commute. I do my best to compliment colleagues on jobs well done.

None of this means that I deserve sex.

That said, I’m as disappointed as anyone when a woman rejects my advances. And I’m human.

It’s not fair to judge a whole class of people based on how they act in their worst moments. I’ve had girlfriends curse me out with very little provocation when they were in bad moods. I’ve had friends stand me up for dinner because they carelessly forgot our plans. I've had parents of my students lambast me because they're angry and trying to protect their children.

When inconsiderate, belligerent, or entitled behavior become recurring patterns, they’re not aberrations--they’re defining qualities. And when these actions are so severe that they actively hurt another person, then you can’t brush them off. At minimum, if in a qualified sense, they make the perpetrator a jerk.

All of that said, if I get rejected and choose to have a few a drinks and vent my frustrations to a friend, I don’t think that I compromises my status as a nice guy, sans quotation marks. It's not the most constructive choice. It's not necessarily healthy, physically or spiritually. But sometimes that’s the catharsis I, as a human being, might need in order to externalize my hurt feelings and move on.

I’m particularly troubled by the attacks on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in (500) Days of Summer, Tom Hansen. I very much like the film. I identify with the character. Moreover, I remember one particularly ironic conversation in which I discussed the film with a woman I had dated briefly and pined for for months after.

The irony?

She identified with Tom, too, by way of a busted relationship from her own past.

Films are open to anyone’s interpretation, and I can’t claim to have the definitive one. But I don’t read Tom as a wolf in nice guy’s clothing. I read him as a nice person who has a normal human reaction to one of life’s great disappointments—and then carries that reaction a bit too far, a bit too long. Not in ways that are destructive or mean, but in ways that are a little pathetic and certainly damaging to his own psyche.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve never reacted similarly.

Here’s a stark reality I think “nice guys,” nice guys, and haters alike should all hear.

We define these categories and we divvy real people into them.

These categories are bullshit.

I’ve never met another human being who acts with 100 percent consistency in all conditions at all times. The “nice guy” paradigm getting thrown around the interwebs does address a problem. But it also creates one when it demonizes nice and “nice” people alike.

Some further truths, as I see them.

People who let their anger define them are, by and large, jerks.

People who think sex is transactional are jerks.

You should do what’s right. Acknowledge that you’re going to make mistakes. And that other people will, too.

You should apologize if you do something wrong and it will help someone else feel better—not because it will make you feel better, or, worse yet, because you think it will help your chances of “tapping that” later.

If you can forgive someone, do it. It will feel better for everyone involved.

If you can’t forgive, the world will have to accept that, too. After all, you’re only human.

We are all human.

Except this guy: