I insinuated in an earlier post that one of the ways that men can help the gender equality movement is in helping to explain douchebag behaviour. This post is about my experience of being a ‘nice guy’, some of the experiences of those around me and a bit about how I stopped being like that.
A later post will address the subject of possible directions we might take about ‘nice guys’. I might write a little about the relationship between the ‘nice guy’ mentality, the ‘men’s rights activist’ and the ‘pick-up artist’ in a post later.
It might surprise most people but in many ways girls and women have always been a bit inexplicable to me. I am not naturally good at knowing ‘what women want’ nor ‘how women think’. Of course all women are different. No woman thinks or behaves exactly the same. However there are a set of social cues and culturally encoded gender behaviour that I missed out on. Not knowing why, I felt like an outsider at a same-sex girls’ school.
But let us be honest here, it was not just girls. I found other humans and their social behaviour a strange mystery when I hit puberty, regardless of gender. I remember when I was at a mixed school before high school plotting out social networks trying to work out where I, depressed and friendless, fit in. Boys in my class used to do things like pretend to ask me out as a joke because the idea of going out with me was so laughable, apparently.
I used to have the most intense, emotionally devastating crushes. Year-long obsessions with no remit. Intense loneliness. There was something vaguely shameful about how unsuccessful and awful these feelings were for others. They would be exciting to begin with, until I realised just how oblivious my crushes were to me. Obviously this was worse when I started getting even more intense, even more devastating crushes on girls in the homophobic environment where I already did not fit in.
The message in books, movies, fairytales, music, television, magazines is about the supremacy of romance, sex, marriage and families as an organising principle for life and success. Most pop songs are written about relationships. In movies boy meets girl messes things up with girl makes things up to girl they get married live happily ever after (often with kids in a house with a white picket fence with an SUV). Magazines tell you what ‘he’ or ‘she’ really want. Fairytales have Prince Charming sweeping Cinderella/Rapunzel/Snow White off her feet and eventually living happily ever after.
The lesbian and gay narrative is a little different but still familiar. Things have changed but back when I was in high school, most of the gay novels I read were about ‘guilty hot sex’ between closeted early teenagers in high school, a triumph over the adversity of being outed and somehow achieving acceptance and of course true love, hot sexy sex, a relationship and happily-ever-after which in this case either involves two large dogs and a turkey baster or clubbing and ‘His & His’ bathrobes, or something.
There is also a narrative about failure in there too. Dweebs and dorks who can not for the life of themselves ‘get the girl/guy’. There is that awful song ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ by Wheatus that happened to come out in my final year of high school.
Suffice it to say that I never fit into the dominant success paradigm. I was a failure.
I went to university, expecting that finally I would meet more open-minded people and that things would magically change. I guess they sort of did- I kissed and had sex with a bunch of people (half of them women) who I did not end up dating despite everything. My peers were not just in serious, long-term relationships (some for the first time), they were loud about it. There was quite a bit of boasting about sex (and moaning about not getting any for gasp a week) and excessively public displays of affection. They were in love and I was not.
Over time my frustration got worse and worse. What was wrong with me? Even ugly, fat, stupid people with terrible personalities had relationships. I was the only person who did not seem to even be able to get a girlfriend. I mean it is sort of true- there are a lot of awful people with few redeeming values that seem to somehow happen to get into a relationship.
I blamed myself for being inferior and inadequate and having something wrong with me. I mean, look, I was pretty OK looking, smart, interesting, I could hold a conversation, I had nice clothes and I was a nice enough person. Certainly I was a better catch than a lot of those other people out there. So what the hell was wrong with me?
Was it women? They were inscrutable and completely incapable of being understood. I really did not get how they communicated, the cues they used to signal whether they were interested or not. Many of them seemed kind of crazy or unpleasant. But there were nice ones too. They just all seemed to be taken or uninterested. Half the time by people who just seemed pretty ordinary or at least not so different from me.
One of the big misconceptions is that the ‘nice guy’ mentality is about entitlement. About being (white) (at least middle class) (educated) (nerdy) (socially awkward) male and ‘expecting’ that a woman will fall into your lap just by being ‘nice’, which has been revealed to be just normal behaviour.
“Want a medal for actually just being a normal human being I guess?” is the usual snarl.
It might be for some, but for most of the people I know who had the same difficulties, entitlement was not the problem. It was crippling loneliness, frustration feelings of failure and wondering what awful thing set you apart from the rest of humanity. Attempts to better oneself were met with, well, no change in the scenario whatsoever. A sense of complete invisibility. I remember being drunk and screaming over and over again “I am dead, I do not exist”.
A social equivalent to the Cotard Delusion.
I mean, of course there was plenty wrong with me, I know that now. The emotional problems that led to me feeling unloveable, unloved and lonely but also at times aloof and afraid meant my perception and reactions were completely warped.
Women who were actually kind of ok but that I was for some reason or another not attracted to did hit on me but I was not interested or did not even notice. Men did not count because I was not that into them. I would bail pretty quickly if a situation scared me and then that would ‘not count’ either. Even if I was loved I did not notice or realise because I did not have the ability to feel that love.
I was selfish and needy and a lot of that came from a deep, deep anxiety. I would do a lot of very stupid and emotional and sometimes quite hurtful things. I did not have the emotional capacity to manage not just my own problems but support someone else- something required for a healthy relationship. My communication style was not appropriate- I would suck things up until I exploded. I would alternately ignore and be all over people sometimes because I did not know how to behave properly. And believe me I felt embarrassed and guilty often about my behaviour.
One of the biggest things actually was how awkward I felt about being into women. People seemed to regard it as odd so I was sort of only semi-open about things and I was sort of freaked out by lesbians anyway and incredibly awkward about all of that stuff.
And as I was soon to learn, my core beliefs about relationships were all completely wrong.
As I have intimated in the past, the three things on my journey that snapped me out of this nonsense and got me onto a better track were:
Realising that ‘a relationship’ is not the same as ‘a good relationship’ was one thing. That many people pretend that it is the same thing and boast about it out of insecurity was another. That there are much worse things than being single. That I was capable of selflessness, love and being loved. Of course that I needed to learn how to moderate and control my emotions, and learning how to do that. Having a more stable sense of identity (until recently still very much in the works).
Realising that the person you are with is not just playing some sort of abstract ‘dating game’. They are a person with hopes, fears, emotions, desires. They get sad, angry, happy. They might vary in their desire or ability to share those emotions and things that are personal about them with others. Most people- male, female or other- are at least somewhat guarded in their approach to early dating for reasons of personal safety. Which can make people seem opaque, impossible to understand, even cold at first if you do not realise that that is what is going on.
Realising that making something work with an actual human being, someone who when you get down to it thinks not that differently to anyone else, who you like, who likes you, is actually a lot of work, and that not everyone achieves this. Even people who are seemingly ‘happily married’.
And that most of the ‘advice’ that people give about relationships is a load of complete rubbish.
Many young men go through that ‘nice guy’ phase. Loneliness, romantic failure, invisibility, frustration, neediness in the setting of a culture that emphasises romantic and sexual prowess and that may have rejected us in the past. Most of us grow out of it, as I did, in their early to mid 20’s when they finally mature, have a real relationship, see the consequences of bad behaviour in themselves and others and/or introspect at length.
For that matter, a lot of women go through a ‘nice guy’ phase as well. It was certainly fairly common among women who are attracted to other women who I know and I hazard a guess, a similar phenomenon happens among heterosexual women too.
A select minority do not grow up. These are the people who do not take a hard look at themselves and gain insight and deal with some of their emotional problems. Some portion of them are incapable of it due to major mental illness or intellectual disability or severe past trauma I suppose. Many are surrounded by toxic sycophantic knobgobblers who encourage and reinforce bad behaviour and unhealthy ideas.
Then such men in particular start blaming other people and feminism, get angry, go to ‘pick-up artist’ or gym-junkie pyramid schemes and generally behave like twats. But unless they are sociopaths and possibly even then, there is still that niggling suspicion of deep wrongness and a horrible and weird emptiness.
Worse yet, deep unresolved insecurities can lead to abusive behaviour and also being a target for abusive behaviour. Those who live in constant fear of being cheated on, being abandoned, those who bottle up anger, those with chronic emptiness, those who see their partners as not a fellow human but as an achievement find relating in a healthy way very difficult.
Relationships are not easy. There is no quick fix. Meeting someone who you mutually click with is rare. One has to be in the mindset to meet someone. Being psychologically healthy helps but it is no guarantee. Relationships will not make you happy or fix you. Many people are deeply unhappy in their relationships.
Our aims should be, instead of acquiring ‘a relationship’ like another achievement to be unlocked, to be happy and healthy, to have a strong sense of self, to be connected to others and to do things that have meaning to us.
An intrinsic feeling of being connected to others, of being understood and cared for. This is what I was lacking. This was the core of my insecurities. I stumbled through and found some sort of solution and contentment for myself. Controlling my behaviour and tackling my emotional issues was most of it.