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Nice Guy syndrome

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Nice guy syndrome is a widely discussed romantic theory among some geek men.

Theory

Nice guy is a term in Internet discourse describing an adult or teenage male with a fixation on seducing women by being nice to them, most stereotypically by providing a woman with emotional support when she is having difficulties with another male partner.

There are, broadly, three schools of thought about Nice Guys™:

  1. that they are are victims of women's irrationality or cruelty, in that women say that they want "nice guys" but in fact preferring to have relationships with "jerks" or "alpha [alpha males]"
  2. that they are using a failed seduction strategy and need to learn or be taught to be alphas or seducers, see Pick Up Artists
  3. that the Nice Guy strategy of "doing things for someone so that she will have sex with me, because women do or should reward niceness with sex" is a sexist construction, of which more below

The terms Nice Guy™ and nice guy syndrome are used to describe men who view themselves as prototypical "nice guys," but whose "nice deeds" are in reality only motivated by attempts to passively please women into a relationship and/or sex.

Criticism

Feminists and others have criticised many aspects of Nice Guy Syndrome, mostly arguing that in some ways Nice Guys (often now called "Nice Guys™" with a trademark symbol to distinguish them from men who happen to be nice people) are not actually good friends or nice to their interest.

Criticism as a relationship strategy

There are some aspects of the Nice Guy™ pattern that may be due to inexperience:

  • romantically and sexually fixating on one person ("oneitis") before they express any mutual interest in you is simply a relationship mistake to which many people are prone and may improve with time, experience or self-examination
  • Nice Guys™ seem to regard a man's relationship with a woman as successful or valuable only if it is romantic or sexual in nature, i.e. friendship is failure
  • Nice Guys™ may view a relationship with a woman as the only possible source of happiness in their lives

Feminist criticisms

Some aspects are due to the different socialisation of men and women:

  • women are culturally trained to be gentle when rejecting men sexually, thus "you'd be a great boyfriend for someone else" and "you're like a brother to me" may be signals that the woman knows of the attraction and is trying to gently let the man down and encourage him to find other people he is attracted to, rather than callous obliviousness

Some aspects suggest that Nice Guys™ view women in essentialist or sexist ways:

  • nice guys seem to expect, at some point, sexual "payment" for their kindness and generosity; that is, their niceness is self-interested
  • the self-interest is deceitful: if the man does not reveal his attraction and expresses willingness to support his friend with her problems, that it makes sense for her to treat his friendship as genuine and take the offered support
  • the implicit trade of "niceness" (emotional support) for sex is a sexist generalisation that women want closeness and men want sex, so they can trade one for the other
  • Nice Guys™ regard women as in some ways moral guardians: that women should choose the nicest men for sex in order to reward them for doing the right thing
  • some men continue to think of themselves as "nice guys" even as they spend their time using misogynistic slurs to describe their alleged best friends and dear loves
  • some "nice guys" consider themselves heroes for not raping women or hitting them (see Feminist cookie)

Some aspects suggest that Nice Guys™ view themselves in essentialist ways:

  • the insistence on being close friends and mutually emotionally involved before expressing any romantic or sexual interest may involve some distrust of heterosexual men's sexuality as inherently dirty or predatory

A feminist position on relationships and seduction strategies

Underlying feminist criticisms is the position that no one is owed love or sex, not for being a nice person, not for being a feminist, not for any other reason.

Loneliness and unfulfilled desires are tragic and painful but feminists argue that consent is the only ethical relationship underpinning, and that requiring mutual consent for relationships and for sex will mean that some people do not get their romantic or sexual desires fulfilled at any given time.

Positive aspects

Some Nice Guy™ analysis recognises problems with the structure of heterosexual relationships, including:

  • the expectation that the man must always be the initiator and aggressor.
  • the expectation that men and women can't be emotionally intimate, only physically intimate
  • the reality that some men like and are suited to close emotional relationships that aren't considered masculine

Some feminist men identify themselves as former Nice Guys™.

See also

Additional reading

The cold hard truth of it is, when you’re hearing “I just want to be friends”, “I like you but…” or the equally dreaded “it would ruin our friendship”, you’re not being thrown in the Friend Zone. What you’re hearing is generations of social pressure telling women that they can’t risk being direct for fear of offending someone. The words may be “You’re just such a good friend to me,” but the intended meaning behind it is “I don’t want to sleep with you.”

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