It's a man who spends time with a woman, buys her things, and compliments her to the point where it's suffocating, but more out of the hope of eventually getting into her pants than from genuine friendship. Then, when a sexual relationship never develops, he gets bitter and angry because he feels all the "nice" things he's done have earned him sex.
It's a toxic relationship for both the man and his ostensible friend, and in a staggering coincidence, it's the basis of my hilarious new novel that you can buy right now. But this personality type wasn't created in a vacuum. Here's how it happens. I watched a lot of Frasier in my formative years to soften my intimidatingly stunning athletic ability, and if there's one lesson it teaches about relationships, it's that being passive is more effective than being honest. The show's longest-running plot, from the first episode until the end of the seventh season, is that Niles is attracted to Daphne, but is too cowardly to do anything about it.
Instead of just saying, "Hey, I'm into you, want to have coffee, and also here's a joke about opera? He does everything you can think of that, without a laugh track, would be off-putting.
In the rare instances he considers being honest, disaster almost strikes and he's portrayed as smart for continuing to repress his feelings. Continue Reading Below Advertisement Then, right before Daphne gets married, fate brings them together and he finally works up the nerve to confess his love. And she loves him back, of course, because you don't spend seven years building up a plot point only to just throw it out.
So Daphne ditches her groom, and together she and Niles live happily ever after. If you're unfamiliar with that storyline because you're young or, ugh, a Friends person, this is a trope that's in, oh, roughly half of all pop culture involving relationships.
The message, over and over again, is that if you're too shy to tell a woman that you're attracted to them, you just have to hang around, and eventually a situation will arise that will let you sweep them off their feet. It may take years, but if you're a good friend or a fun co-worker, romance will inevitably bloom. True love is a video game boss, and you just have to grind experience points until you're ready to confront it. Female characters never have any agency in this.
They're always charmed when the dude says that he's loved her ever since he first saw her gutting cod in that cannery eight years ago spoilers for Fishing For Love. Because what kind of lesson would these shows be sending if patience and hard work weren't rewarded? So much of pop culture equates seduction with a chore, like cleaning out the garage. You just have to quietly put the hours in, without fuss or complaint, and eventually you'll complete the project.
Persistence is considered more important than honesty. When it comes to pursing a woman, there's a fine line between persistence and harassment, but not in pop culture -- if two characters are "meant" to be together, a "no" is just a more dramatic "yes" in the future. Despite the stereotype of men being willing to hit on any woman with a pulse, some men would rather wrestle a lion than approach a woman.
Everything about dating is exhausting and terrifying to them, for reasons we'll get into later. So all these stories about meek guys stumbling into perfect relationships reassures them that they were right to not ask out that woman they like like to dinner or a movie or the new Hollywood executive's office-themed escape room today.
The idea that women will eventually find their lengthy secret crushes cute if they cling to them is an anxiety-reducing godsend.
So they keep waiting and waiting for the "right" time. But that time never comes, because their life isn't being written by a hack. So they get bitter and frustrated, because they don't just feel rejected; they feel ripped off, like they were owed love, but it was somehow denied them. And they feel that way because And in many ways, they often do.
They'll decry harassment in its most commonly associated forms, like unsolicited dick pics and not shutting up about David Foster Wallace. They'll support feminist policies like abortion rights and access to birth control. They mock bros who catcall women and lonely boys who scream death threats because Lara Croft is wearing the wrong-colored shirt in the new Tomb Raider.
Society is starting to do a decent job of teaching Nice Guys to see women as people instead of conquests. But society also does a terrible job of teaching men that sex is a fun cooperative activity, not a reward women dole out as they see fit.
Continue Reading Below Advertisement So while many men from generations past thought that the female orgasm was a myth and that a clitoris was an African insect, most Nice Guys readily accept that a woman's sexual satisfaction is important.
But in getting that message across, we've accidentally started telling men that while it's wrong to try to seduce women in most situations, when sex does happen, you'd better be goddamn incredible at it. Think about how we mock men who break sexual mores, have differing political views, or just plain aren't likable, possibly because they're uncultured Friends fans.
They probably have a small penis, they don't last long, they can't find the clitoris or make a woman orgasm. They aren't good at sexually satisfying women, and this implicitly makes them a bad person.
How many jokes about Donald Trump have you seen where the punchline is that he has a tiny dick? Nice Guys, who are usually sexually inexperienced and remember, there's an entire genre of pop culture that shames guys for being virgins will laugh along when people joke about how a politician who said something idiotic about women's rights must have the sexual dynamism of a lethargic banana slug. But internally, they'll be thinking, "Oh my god, is that me too? Nice Guys are taught that they need to respect women, which they inaccurately interpret as endlessly deferring to them.
But then, if sex ever occurs, they'll be humiliated if they do anything other than give a woman multiple Earth-shattering orgasms. We treat sex like DC treats their film universe, in that we seriously overstate how incredible every single outing will be. This is a subtle, nasty way of reinforcing the dated idea that women are sexual gatekeepers who can bone whenever and whomever they want, but ration it for profit like a Mad Max porn parody villain.
A man's worth is still wrapped up in how often he can gain access. Nice Guys just think that the key involves excessive flattery and unwanted gifts instead of trapping a woman in a hotel room. If some guy started joking about how a weird, off-putting woman must be terrible at giving head, they would rightfully be chastised for reducing her role in society to a sex act. But we still think it's appropriate and hilarious to reduce weird, off-putting men to people who couldn't sexually satisfy a woman if their lives depended on it and Nice Guys think their lives do depend on it, as we'll see.
Go search for "small penis" or "clitoris" on Twitter, and once you've filtered out a shocking amount of porn, it's an endless parade of people slamming men they've deemed inadequate members of society. We're linking men's self-worth to their sexual skills, then shaming them for a lack of it. That's not surprising -- it's been done to women somewhere between most and all of history -- but it leaves Nice Guys thinking that they don't have any value or power.
Continue Reading Below Advertisement That's how the resentment and the anxiety builds for Nice Guys when the woman they think they're wooing continues to treat them as the platonic friend she thinks he is. He thinks he's done everything right, that he's shown he's interested in the woman as a person instead of inappropriately insisting on sex like whatever celebrity is currently in trouble for doing that as you read this. Then, when sex never happens, Nice Guys don't just think that they're being rejected; they think they've been judged to be inadequate as men.
And nothing makes you hate another person more than thinking that they consider you inadequate. This is made worse by the fact that Remember The Year-Old Virgin? An entire movie about how being sexless makes you a depressing loser doomed to an empty life?
That's the fate Nice Guys fear most. They're told that mere friendship with a woman simply isn't good enough -- if they're not getting laid, they have failed. Why, they're basement-dwelling virgins who are going to die alone, of course. That's the go-to way to instantly dismiss someone as a loser whose opinions are irrelevant. I'm not saying you should be more sympathetic to death-threat-sending assholes, but think about the message. If a terrible person is lonely and sexless, then implicitly the opposite is also true -- being lonely and sexless makes you a terrible person.
And it's a message that society drives into men and women, and the protagonist of my very affordable book endlessly. But shouldn't that motivate Nice Guys to just suck it up and ask women out in a proper, respectful way? Right, just like how you're motivated to not be nervous before a big exam or job interview -- a fact which does not actually stop many people from getting butterflies and accidentally telling the interviewer that their greatest weakness is "the amulet.
Men are told over and over again that their value is wrapped up in having a woman in their life. That's how we get men who, given the choice between asking a woman out and facing a firing squad, would think long and hard about whether they were ready to meet their maker. Continue Reading Below Advertisement That's partially because we do a bad job of portraying good relationships as low-key. There's an obsession with finding "the one" via grand romantic gestures, because there's little storytelling potential in couples getting groceries and then falling asleep in front of a baseball game because they're both exhausted from work.
You only learn about those aspects of a relationship by being in one, but you can't be in one if you're too anxious about the prospect to even try. Again, women have felt this pressure forever. There are thousands of terrible rom-coms about women who have great careers in either publishing or baking and sassy, loving friends, yet are supposedly missing something in their sad lives for not having a generically handsome man.
But it manifests for men in subtler ways. How often does pop culture portray a guy getting rejected as normal and mundane, and how often does it play it as hilarious and humiliating? There's no comedy or drama in politely asking someone out, politely being told no, and both people moving on with their lives.
Continue Reading Below Advertisement So Nice Guys see countless stories wherein women vent about creepy encounters they've had with men who interrupted their days, and it freaks them out.
That venting is understandable -- I'd be angry too if I was constantly getting harassed about my chiseled good looks while trying to run errands. But Nice Guys end up under the impression that every encounter ends in either a sweeping success or a reminder of why mace was invented.
They think there's no margin for error, because there's a constant fear that failure will end in loneliness and humiliation. There's a brutal contradiction. Nice Guys are told that they need to meet new people, but also that if they fuck up even a tiny bit, they will be mocked. And that makes it tough to just ask someone if they want to see a movie and then chat about why Friends sucks for a couple hours.
This is usually said after their crush had the gall to date someone who actually asked her out instead of the guy who bought her so much unrequested coffee that she could have paid her phone bill by reselling it. Maybe he even, gasp, gently pokes fun at her sometimes instead of endlessly flattering her from below a giant pedestal! Continue Reading Below Advertisement This leads to guys complaining that they're in the so-called Friend Zone, a limbo of unrequited love where they and the Peanuts gang gather to gripe about how unappreciated they are.
This is such bullshit! Every single one of those statements is polite code for "I don't want to fuck you. Why don't they just come out and say it? Well, if men watch women in a non-creepy way for long enough, they notice that women have been encouraged to let men down gently. Maybe it's while making office lunch plans, or maybe it's when being hit on at the bar.
If it's the former, women have been taught that creating conflict and upsetting someone is a sin that makes them look mean, or at least that Steve from Accounting will be mopey all goddamn day if you insist on Thai.