As the now-defunct but, in its heyday, hilarious Tumblr “Nice Guys of OKCupid” taught us, men who assume the moniker of the Nice Guy are often not that — not at all. In fact, a Nice Guy (as opposed to just a lowercase nice guy, as in a member of the male gender who is kind) is a man who self-defines as treating women well, while expecting that his mere existence as a Nice Guy requires that women respond to him romantically and/or sexually.
The Tumblr was littered with self-described good guys espousing beliefs such as that there are circumstances in which a person is “obligated” to have sex, that women are “superficial and disgusting,” and, most frustratingly, that Nice Guys are often relegated to the dreaded “Friend Zone.” As demonstrated by these icky assumptions and beliefs, Nice Guys are often just the opposite of actually, real world nice.
Much has been said about the Nice Guy stereotype and the creeping, creepy misogyny, or at least essentialism, it often embodies. Men who call themselves Nice Guys, especially on dating sites and in other online forums, also often refer to women as heartless and cruel for choosing partners other than themselves and for daring to befriend men with whom they do not plan on sleeping.
And in this “Friend Zone” assumption — that women deliberately use Nice Guys and then dispose of them in a no-man’s land of friendship – lies one of the biggest, most upsetting problems with the whole conception of the Nice Guy as it plays out in modern dating. These men believe that sex (or, in slightly less offensive cases, romantic relationships) is a kind of currency for their good deeds, paid out upon receipt of services such as a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear about a previous failed relationship, or any of the other things women “use” Nice Guys for. But then, these evil, cold, heartless women say something like, “You’re such a good friend,” leaving the Nice Guy forever embittered and resentful.
Comments on “Nice Guys of OKCupid included statements like, “Sick of girls saying they want a nice guy, but completely ignoring the nice guys when they are right here” (followed, of course, by a “yes” answer to the question, “Do you feel there are any circumstances in which a person is obligated to have sex with you?”) Another example from an OKCupid user: “I am so tired of these fake *** girls complaining that men are ***** and jerks and how they just want a nice guy who treats them right. Well that nice guy has been under your *** ****** nose this entire ******* time holding your hand.” Of course, that user also thinks there are occasions when sex is obligatory.
Look, these guys might have been jerked around by a woman once or twice. But the assumption that your so-called “niceness” alone means a woman is obligated to fall into your arms, totally without agency or the right to choose her partner based on her own preferences, is not only ridiculous — it’s plain old sexist.
First of all, no matter how “nice” you are to me, Nice Guy, I never, ever owe you sex. I never owe you anything, except respect for your boundaries. And I’ll warrant that sometimes these boundaries are crossed — women looking for non-sexual affection will, yes, occasionally seek it out from men they know have romantic feeling for them. This isn’t nice, but I’ll acknowledge that it does happen. And we shouldn’t do that; we shouldn’t use you anymore than you should use us.
But here’s what offends me the most: the idea that my friendship is a trifle, unimportant and unsatisfying. Because yes, I have told men that they are good friends, good people whom I respect and appreciate and enjoy. And you know what? That’s high praise. Just like I’m not going to sleep with you just because you listened when I talked about my ex-boyfriend, I am not going to call you a friend if I don’t want to spend time with you and build a deep, lasting, and yes, platonic relationship.
The thing is, there are actual nice men out there. Tons of them. I know a whole lot of men who would never call themselves a Nice Guy on a dating website, but who are respectful, interesting, funny, smart, and fun. I have had romantic feelings for some of them and no such feelings for others, but I have had nourishing and important friendships with many, many truly great men. So I’m not necessarily looking at all of you dudes who think you treat ladies well. You probably do. But the Nice Guys, the ones with the axe to grind with every woman who has ever chosen not to sleep with them — these are the ones who need a wake-up call.
So, Nice Guys, do you want to really earn that name? Then stop acting like being friends with a woman is a burden you have to bear, and start understanding that friendship is meaningful and important. In other words, learn to love the Friend Zone.