As a feminist blogger, I am privy to all sorts of phenomena that most people notice but don’t necessarily have a name for. There’s misogynist bingo, slut-shaming, the madonna-whore dichotomy, and a million others. But out of all of them, one always rises to the top of my list of most annoying and most frequent: The Nice GuyTM Syndrome.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this one, The Nice GuyTM Syndrome the phenomenon in which a self-proclaimed “nice guy” laments about how his close female friends – for whom he harbors feelings – never want to have a relationship or sex with him. “Why does she always go for the jerk?” the “nice guy” laments. “I’m such a NICE GUY!” Often in these situations, the woman has no idea what his feelings are. Other times, they know but don’t reciprocate, preferring to carry on a friendship than a relationship.
This, apparently, is totally unacceptable to them. There are memes devoted to the dreaded “friend zone.” There are angsty chain Facebook statuses that are posted passive aggressively time and time again. One of them reads, “A woman has a close male friend. This means he is probably interested in her, which is why he hangs around so much.” Right, because no one wants to be friends with a woman unless she’s having sex with them eventually, right? The status continues to compare a woman just wanting a friendship with a man to a job interview in which the potential employer says, “You have a great resume, you have all the qualifications we are looking for, but we’re not going to hire you. We will, however, use your resume as the basis for comparison for all other applicants. But we’re going to hire somebody who is far less qualified and is probably an alcoholic.”
See? Super, super nice.
The insidious problem with these “nice guys” is that as much as they think they like or love the objects of their affection, they certainly don’t respect these women. Instead, they stew bitterly in a sense of their own entitlement, waiting indignantly for something that was never promised to them.
I’ve been in a committed relationship with a nice guy for three years. Not a Nice GuyTM, but a guy who was (and is) actually nice. Let me try to demonstrate the difference.
You’ve Got a Friend In Me
When I transferred to my alma mater four years ago, I immediately fell in with a fantastic little group of friends. There were eight of us, six guys and two girls. From orientation, we were basically inseparable, and I fully credit the best times of my life to these wonderful people.
Of the six guys, five of them were straight. I briefly dated one of them, but when things didn’t work out we went back to being friends. Almost as soon as that happened, another one of the guys, John*, told me that he was incredibly attracted to me if I ever wanted to hook up with him. I told him that I wasn’t interested, and we moved on with our lives. We had become best friends, and we were set to be roommates the following year, and he assured me there would be no hard feelings.
Clearly, everyone is barely tolerating each other until the sex starts.
That summer, John and I talked a lot. He was a really attractive guy, and more importantly, we were best friends. We talked almost every day, he could crack me up, and I started to develop a crush on him too. We started getting a little more flirty, and I decided that when I saw him over the summer, I would take him up on his previous offer and make a move.
But then I met The Bass Player. The Bass Player was a member of a pretty successful band who was just starting to get big that summer. After seeing them play a show in Vancouver, BC, I caught a ride with the band back to Seattle, where I was living for the summer. Yes, you’ve probably seen that movie, and yes, it’s a total cliche. Had I bothered watching that movie to the end, I probably would have seen it coming. The Bass Player and I did not end up in a relationship, I fell for him anyway, and ended up totally brokenhearted when he acquired a serious girlfriend while on the road.
During that brief fling, I told John everything that was happening. He gave me advice (mainly he gave me a hard time for being such a groupie, because that’s just what friends do), and we stopped flirting. There was no weirdness when we saw each other during that time. He didn’t act as though he had been robbed of his birthright. He acted like my friend, because he was my friend, and valued that bond.
When The Bass Player told me that he had a girlfriend – which left me dejected and more than a little drunk in the middle of Manhattan – John was the first person I called. He didn’t tell me “I told you so”, he didn’t throw it in my face that I could have been with him and he would never do that to me. He told me that he was sorry, and the guy was a jerk that didn’t deserve me. Again, he did that because that’s what friends do.
Real Nice Guys Don’t Finish Last
A month later, John and I moved into one of our college’s two room doubles. Early into that living situation, I drank enough that it was the stuff of legend, burst into his side of the room singing and yelling like a lunatic, and the rest…well, the rest is not fit to print.
We remained friends with benefits for a while, then decided that the charade was ridiculous. We finally admitted that a relationship was what we both wanted, and we have been living together as partners ever since.
That relationship never would have happened if he had been condescending, or acted as if my vagina was the currency with which he needed to be paid for being my friend. Whether we were friends or something more, we were equals. He never changed the way he treated me simply because he was attracted to me. He genuinely liked me and cared about me, and had I never been with him romantically, I have no doubt in my mind that we would still have ended up close. Friendship is one of the most sacred bonds there is. And if you can’t respect a woman enough to love being her friend, what makes you think that you respect her enough to be her date?
Friendship is not a tool to manipulate women into sleeping with you, guys. Out of the five straight men I was close with in college, I ended up with one. I’d like to think that the other five still value me as a positive part of their lives. As someone else in the vast feminist blogosphere once said, women are not machines that you put friendship tokens into until sex falls out. If you can’t handle that simple fact, you probably aren’t ready to date anyone.
So stop listening to women because you want to sleep with them. Stop measuring the worth of your female friends in terms of whether or not they’re willing to hook up with you. If you have sincere, romantic feelings for a woman you’re friends with, be up front with her. And if she doesn’t feel the same way? Value her anyway. Be her friend. Because the most valuable people we have in our lives, regardless of gender, are our true friends.
And is that really the worst zone to be in?