All the right friends in all the right places
So yeah, we’re going down, they got
All the right moves and all the right faces
So yeah, we’re going down
It don’t matter what you see, I know I could never be
Someone that’ll look like you
It don’t matter what you say, I know I could never face
Someone that could sound like you
One Republic, All the Right Moves
What makes someone a nice guy? I often speak about Alphas and Betas, cads and dads. Is it as simple as that? Is that even a valid construct? In our culture, we tend to reduce nice guys, simplify them to the point where we’ve stripped them of all dignity. Is it true that nice guys finish last? And if so, why?
A while back I found an essay online called Ode to the Nice Guys, written by Fu-Zu Jen, a Wharton undergrad in 2003 (link here). It’s remained active and viral for all these years, so it clearly has struck a chord. But with whom? As I skimmed it for the first time, I found it heartwarming in a Hallmark card kind of way, but as I read it through carefully I found myself feeling more and more defensive. She might as well have called it Ode to the Eunuchs. She begins:
This is a tribute to the nice guys. The nice guys that finish last, that never become more than friends, that endure hours of whining and bitching about what assholes guys are, while disproving the very point. This is dedicated to those guys who always provide a shoulder to lean on but restrain themselves to tentative hugs, those guys who hold open doors and give reassuring pats on the back and sit patiently outside the changing room at department stores. This is in honor of the guys that obligingly reiterate how cute/beautiful/smart/funny/sexy their female friends are at the appropriate moment, because they know most girls need that litany of support.
To give her credit, she observes and acknowledges that by women LJBFing the best men, they’re having sex with the worst men:
[Girls] continue to lament the lack of datable men in the world, and they expect their too-nice-to-date male friends to sympathize and apologize for the men that are jerks. Sorry, guys, girls like that are beyond my ability to fathom. I can’t figure out why the connection breaks down between what they say (I want a nice guy!) and what they do (I’m going to sleep with this complete ass now!). But one thing I can do, is say that the nice-guy-finishes-last phenomenon doesn’t last forever. There are definitely many girls who grow out of that train of thought and realize they should be dating the nice guys, not taking them for granted. The tricky part is finding those girls, and even trickier, finding the ones that are single.
Tricky indeed. And of course, as I’ve learned from many of the men who comment here, the nice guys aren’t so keen to take up with those girls, the ones who grow up and grow wise well into their 20s. They’re past their sell date by then, like so many day-old bagels being delivered to a homeless shelter.
Usually, the explanation given for this sad state of affairs is female hypergamy. Women are always looking to trade up, and their top choice will always be a man who displays social dominance and a history of sexual success with women. There’s no question that female hypergamy plays a role in mate selection, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. That too is reductionist. The truth is, women seek a whole variety of traits when seeking a long-term partner, including:
- Economic Capacity
- Social Status
- Ambition and Industriousness
- Dependability and Stability
- Size and Strength
- Robust health
- Willingness to demonstrate love and commitment
(Source: The Evolution of Desire: Strategies for Human Mating, David Buss, 1994)
Obviously, not all of these requirements can even be assessed much less insisted upon for short-term mating, and when mating is so short-term as to begin and end within half a turn of the earth, female hypergamy is very much the law of the sexual landscape. When sexual gratification is delayed, it is both natural and possible for women to consider a wider set of traits.
Research also demonstrates that women prize kindness in men. Last month the British Journal of Psychology published a Canadian study (link here) that showed online dating profiles to 300 volunteers. Some of the profiles were altered to demonstrate kindness and altruistic interests. The women showed a strong preference for those profiles, even where the clues were fairly subtle. Dr. Pat Barclay, author of the study says:
This suggests that women are attuned to generosity, and that altruism serves a purpose in mate selection. If a man is kind and generous towards others – even strangers – then there’s a good chance that he’d make a good and generous parent.
Dr Viren Swami, a specialist in interpersonal attraction from the Department of Psychology at the University of Westminster had a similar take:
Our research has found ‘agreeableness’ to be particularly important to whether people are attracted to each other. Altruism could be regarded as one component of agreeableness.
It’s been suggested that men deliberately play up their altruistic tendencies as a way of demonstrating that they’re not just after sex. I think that sounds like a good strategy as long as it’s not completely fabricated. A man’s being eager to reassure women about this is probably a tip-off that he is a man of good character, and wants that to come across in his profile.
Interestingly, while men valued signals of kindness when looking for a LTR, they found it off-putting when looking for something short-term. One researcher hypothesized that men don’t want their hookups distracted by other interests, but I’d venture a different idea. I think it’s much harder to f*ck over a woman when you know from the start that she is kind. It feels just a bit crappier if you can’t pretend she’s a cold-hearted wench.
I’d been thinking about all this for a while when blogger Matt Savage came by last week and left a comment. He has a really good post on his own blog Modern Savage called Why the Ode to the Nice Guys is Complete Crap (link here). He sources a variety of interesting articles by and about nice guys, and his view is interesting because he doesn’t dismiss the problem by attributing it to female hypergamy:
We often see this argument that most women want Jerks and not Nice Guys, hence, the age old debate of Nice Guys vs. Jerks. This is misleading and often perpetuated by the Nice Guys themselves. They’ll have you believe that since they are not the ones getting the women and because they label themselves as “Nice” then all those other guys getting women must be the opposite, Jerks. Of course, we all know that this is ridiculous. There are plenty of good guys out there who are neither jerks nor spineless Nice Guys. There are some guys who are just, well, Good Guys!
He ends by making an appeal: Please don’t feed the nice guys!
Finally, to all those bloggers out there, passing along the “Ode to the Nice Guys”, please for the love of humanity STOP! This type of behavior should not be encouraged. These guys need to learn how to grow a spine and live life for themselves, not aimlessly rambling along trying to please every woman that crosses their path. Seriously, they are having a hard enough time getting women as it is, they do not need people filling their heads with nonsense.
A man should not be “Nice.” He should have goals, passion, convictions, identity and a sense of self. Sometimes a man needs to put himself first.
This got me thinking that “nice” is a terrible adjective. No one wants nice. Nice is what you say about your ugly friend who you are trying to set up with someone out of their league. Nice is kind of vanilla, it’s boring. Nice is faint praise. I like being called smart, feisty, funny, wonderful, awesome, sexy!, etc. but I really don’t think I’d be too pleased if someone describing me resorted to nice.
Jessi Fischer is an MA candidate in Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University and writes a great blog called Sexademic. She wrote the post Good Guys Make Bad Lovers and Other Stupid Stereotypes (link here). I really like what she has to say about the stereotype of the nice guy:
Underlying the alpha and beta male mindset is that hot sex is incompatible with kindness. We think nice girls can’t be sexual or that sexual girls are bad and bitchy. Is this just a logical fallacy rooted in demonizing sex? If sex is bad then all sexual people are bad people?
Let’s drop this sexual construction like the bad habit it is. Sure, some jerks are good in bed. But lots of perfectly nice people can fuck like madmen. There is no real correlation between social kindness and sexual satisfaction. The only sure thing we can say about bad boys is that they have more sex partners, but a high number of sex partners does not equal sexual skills.
Part of me wonders if there is a self-fulfilling prophecy at work with nice guys. Does self-conception impede sexual engagement? As in, seeing yourself as the nice guy could create sexual anxiety that causes you to fumble and not get into it?
And from her follow up post Kindness and Hot Sex Are Not Mutually Exclusive (link here):
Niceness is not incompatible with hot sex. Selfishness is. Manipulative behaviors are. But niceness? There are few things on earth nicer than satisfying sex. Orgasms are nice. Enjoying another person’s body is nice.
People will protest time and time again that bad boys do get laid more and women go after them. Fair enough. Still doesn’t mean the sex is good quality. So what is the appeal of these bad boys? Why do they (self-reportedly) have more sex partners?
Well, being an outgoing person will get you laid more. Why? The first step of sleeping with someone is meeting them. So if you have an active social life it stands to reason your sex life will be more active. Then there is the confidence factor. Really, be genuinely confident in yourself and people will follow suit. Our self-conceptions can cock/box-block us at every turn.
Everyone has different sexual desires. Compatibility makes for hot sex above all else. Not a bad boy attitude, not overwhelming attention to your lover. Compatibility.
A very different kind of blogger, Athol Kay writes the blog Married Man Sex Life (link here). He felt his pulse start racing the first time he saw his wife, but was displeased to see she had a boyfriend:
Things are going a little less than perfectly between them, and I work that angle fairly firmly. I make it plain that I think he’s a jerk, he doesn’t seem to be good for her, and she’d be better off with a nice man. Which in retrospect is funny in that my words were “hey I’m the nice guy you should be with”, but my actions were actually pure jerk. She laps it up.
The point is, if I had been nice, I would have never had married [her]. Being nice is a very important aspect of your personality, having no nice in you just means you’re an asshole. Adding in a little of the jerk/Alpha Male trait is the key to building attraction though.
When was the last time you made it plain being “just friends” … isn’t an option you can live with? Just don’t phrase it in the form of a question to her. Make a statement.