Tag Archives: respect and boundaries

Nice Guys Finish Last

I don’t have a lot of experience with dating and relationships, I’ll admit that right off the bat. I’ve been asked out by guys a total of two times in my life— or at least, after grade school, when it actually counted. In both cases we had been friends first, though in neither case was I actually interested in a romantic relationship. One of the guys was a pretty nice guy. The other one was pretty much a Nice Guy. And here I’ll explain the difference.

Most people have probably heard the saying “Nice guys finish last.” It’s something that Nice Guys take to heart. It’s practically their motto, right behind “Women only want jerks!” You see, the reason they can’t get dates, they tell themselves, couldn’t possibly be any personal failing of their own. It’s women’s problem that they can’t see what a fine specimen of man they are.

(Here’s a hint for anyone who read that last paragraph and was nodding along: if everyone you meet seems to have the same problem with you, maybe it isn’t them that has the problem.)

Nice Guys often befriend women, going by the adage that a good relationship comes out of a good friendship. Of course, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with forming a relationship out of an established friendship, but entering into a friendship with a romantic relationship as your primary goal seems a bit dishonest.

These Nice Guys will always be their for their special friend, to comfort her when her heart is broken by “jerks,” to listen when she’s having a problem, to offer hugs when she’s in need. And in return, they feel as if they’re owed something. Be it sex, be it a date, whatever: they’re entitled to it for being “such a good friend.”

This is patently bullshit. Being a good friend entitles you to good friendship in return, and nothing more. In fact, there is nothing that entitles anyone to a woman’s (or man’s, for that matter) affections. Romantic feelings aren’t exactly something that can be demanded: they have to develop naturally. As much it may suck to feel those kinds of affections for someone who doesn’t return them, that’s just a part of life.

In my case, the Nice Guy was a fellow student in one of my classes. I was a freshman, and he was a sophomore. We struck up a friendship while chatting after class one day, and since it was latish evening, we decided to head to dinner together. For the next few weeks we would eat together after class, or sometimes on the weekends, often chatting for hours about our common interests. Sometimes I would invite him up to my dorm room, but we never did anything but talk.

From early on I was anxious that he was perhaps expecting something more out of this relationship than I was, but since he hadn’t brought it up, I didn’t either. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that he asked me out.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” I insisted, in the time-honored tradition of “letting a guy down easy” (because if a woman were to simply say “No, I’m not interested in you that way,” she’s a bitch). “I’m just not really interested in dating at all.” All true, but actually not really any of his business.

“I’m pretty disappointed,” he said, which isn’t unreasonable: it’s natural to feel a little bummed when you’re rejected. “I thought we had a lot in common.” I shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just not interested.”

“You know,” he replied, “You’ve pretty much succeeded in destroying any attraction I had for you.”

That, my friends, is the hallmark of a Nice Guy. Now that I had spurned his advances, I was no longer of any use to him. After that moment, we were no longer friends, because what is the use in talking to me if it isn’t going to lead to anything more? (Well that and I’d kicked him to the curb once he’d truly shown his colors.) I can’t say I’m terribly disappointed that I never saw him again.

As for the second time, with the guy who was actually nice? We were friends for a long while beforehand. We hung out together, alone and in groups. We played games and watched movies together, we spent time in each other’s dorms. When he asked me out, I told him the same thing as before, “Sorry, but I really have no interest in dating.” The difference this time was, while he was disappointed, he respected my agency in my decision. He didn’t push. He didn’t tell me I was suddenly completely unattractive. While we don’t talk nearly as much as we used to now that we’re out of school, we are still friends.

And that’s the difference between being a Nice Guy, and being a nice guy.

I Just Want to Get to Class

Yesterday I read the post I Just Want to Go for a Walk by avflox on BlogHer, a nice piece explaining a woman’s perspective on being approached by unknown men in a public space, and how some behaviors, no matter how well-intentioned, can come across as annoying at best, creepy and threatening at worst. It finishes off with some advice for men who consider themselves “the good ones,” how to approach a woman without presenting as threatening and entitled. Pretty good stuff, as far as I’m concerned.

And then there were the comments. Several from defensive men, insisting that this sort of profiling is “unfair,” and that though some men may be jerks, it’s unfair to stereotype an entire gender based on the actions of a few. A position I agree with! But rather irrelevant, considering that that isn’t actually what the article was about. It isn’t that women must assume that every man, if given the chance, will assault her. The thing is, any given (singular) man could, and for many women, it is all about calculating risk and keeping herself safe. Because society teaches women that they must be vigilant about preventing rape (instead of teaching men never to rape).

A few years ago, I was studying abroad in France. I had a lateish class, and since it was November and up north, it was more or less pitch black as I headed out of my dorm and towards the campus. As I was walking, a man approached me and asked me what time it was. Since I’m notoriously bad at reading analog watches, I floundered a bit and finally just showed him my wrist. “You don’t speak French?” he asked in English. “No, I do,” I replied in French. “I just can’t tell time.”

But he wanted to practice English with me, so we fell in step. I was kind of annoyed, because really, I had to get to class, but it was a pretty short walk to campus, so I didn’t make a big deal of it. Since it was 2008, and the election results had just been announced, he asked me how I felt about Obama, and stuff like that. We made mild conversation for a minute or so, talking about our respective countries.

And then he said “I want to see you again. Can I come to your bedroom?”

Suddenly everything was on edge. Even though I knew it was probably a quirk of language that the request had come out so creepy, no amount of translation error made the question acceptable. “No,” I said. “No, how about somewhere else, maybe.” I didn’t really want to see him again at all, but I’ve been conditioned to not be so rude as to say so. He persisted. I told him I was usually in the lobby of the dorms, and that we could meet there (open, lots of people, authorities and a phone nearby). He asked for my phone number. I actually started to give it to him— not because I wanted to, but because he’d asked, and I felt obligated. But then I regained a little bit of sense, and told him I didn’t have a pen, or a notebook, and anyway I really had to get to class, maybe we’d see each other later. Then I ran up the stairs.

For about a week I was terrified to go sit in the lobby (the only place in the dorms that had wifi access), for fear that he would be there, and see me, and want to talk. I didn’t ever end up seeing him again, but the possibility always lingered in the back of my mind. It made me nervous and hyperaware. It made me uncomfortable. I don’t think this man had any intention to assault me: no, I do believe that he merely thought I was interesting and wanted to talk to me again. Maybe we could have become good friends. I don’t know. But the moment he failed to respect my right to privacy, that was the end.

So I would implore men who want to talk to women: be respectful. Keep her perspective in mind. You know in your heart that you mean her no harm, but she has no way of knowing that. Go ahead and say hi, but give her space. If she wants to talk to you, let her make that decision on her own. As beautiful as you may think she is, and as much as you may want to get to know her, she doesn’t owe you a moment of her time, and above all it’s important that you respect that.