Photos and Words of Patrick Calder

I live in Washington, DC with 1 cat named Pixel, 6 cameras, 3 computers, 158 movies, 286 books, and 1 bowling pin. I own the Design Foundry and pretend to be a graphic designer by day.

Please keep in mind that this post is more than 3 years old. Opinions change. Tastes change. Everything changes. I may still agree with or like this, or I may not. But everything is kept up here for archival purposes.

Nice Guys / May 23, 2010

Being a “nice guy” is like being an alcoholic, in that you’re never really cured. There’s always that little bit of something in the back of your mind, waiting to jump out and take over your life again. So I speak from personal experience, but hopefully at a distance. It certainly feels like a drastic change occurred in my life within the last few years. And there’s plenty of evidence to support that. But I’ve been feeling like maybe I’m in a unique place, able to see the issue from both sides.

For the sake of less arguments, let’s define what a “nice guy” is. You’ve met them. You know them. You’ve listened to them talk, and talk, and talk. If you’re a woman, you think they’re your sweet, vaguely clueless friend. If you’re a man, you’re friends with them; but you find yourself shaking your head a lot at what they do. And if you are them, you have a justification for everything I’m going to say, anyway.

The “nice guy” label doesn’t come from a good place. Although these men probably are pleasant overall, the name has nothing to do with desirable personality traits. It comes from what is a common refrain, when discussing male/female interaction with these men. “Women don’t want nice guys. They want assholes.” Or “I’m a nice guy, so women never want me.” You know you’ve heard this dozens, if not hundreds of times. Most likely among guys talking to guys. If it’s a guy talking to a woman, I promise you he has a crush on you, but doesn’t think he has any real chance; but maybe if they can just convince you…

Those discussions always proceed with great amounts of logic and reasoning. Always with the logic. Like many things in my life, I always felt safe retreating to logic. “Well… if you look at it in this common sense way… A + B = C, then I’m right, even if it didn’t work out.” And while I was almost certainly correct, it was completely beside the point. I was trying to use logic as a defense in human relationships, which are at their core, completely illogical.

The nice guy will eventually tell you where he has firmly positioned himself in the whole scheme of relationships. “I don’t even try anymore.” “I don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy.” “She wasn’t what I was looking for, anyway.” “I just can’t meet women, because of X”.

And the nice guy is going to do this…. over, and over, and over and over… the nice guy telling you about their dating life at 25 will sound pretty much the same at 30, and 35, and…

Why are we like this? I would guess a little bit of conditioning, and — if current science is to be believed — a little bit of biology. Second point first, ‘nice guys’ are almost always geeks to some extent. While they may not wear a pocket protector, the personality quirks are still there. Often with a strong leaning toward Asperger’s-type traits.

But the conditioning part is what interests me most about all this. “Why did I think about men, women, and relationships in this way?” In general, everyone you’ve met shares the same large cultural reference pool. So it’s probably not a question of strictly ‘what’ you’re exposed to. I had the same interests as anyone else. And to some extent, they even matured as I got older. But especially when you’re talking about the sexes and how they interact, there was always a certain amount of unflattering naiveté. Like I was looking at the world through a Norman Rockwell painting, or Disney colored glasses. Women are great, but you put them on a relatively chaste pedestal. Dating always leads to something more involved when it goes well. Sex is great, but it’s walled off in it’s own little world. I would like to say it’s a sort of junior-high point of view of the adult world. But I’d guess junior high kids today are less clueless than I was.

Many years ago, when I first started questioning the “Women don’t like nice guys” mantra, I said that maybe it’s not ‘assholes’ they want so much as confident men. Confidence is absolutely an attractive trait. Real or faked, it gets me better results in both business and personal life, regardless of whether I actually know what I’m doing. But… like everything else… I don’t know if this is really so clear cut. Confidence is a symptom of a personality that is outgoing, that takes initiative. You’re not sitting back examining life, but you’re actually participating in it. You’re engaged, good or bad.

Those kinds of traits absolutely run contrary to the mental process of a nice guy. These men don’t want to exert themselves on someone. “I’ll just tell this person I’m interested in about myself, and if they’re likewise interested, they’ll let me know, and we’ll…” …whatever. It sounds so mature, and logical. But relationships don’t start out like you’re drafting some mutually beneficial contract. Looking back, every person I consider important — every relationship, male or female, that means something to me — initially flared up in my life like a struck match.

What about sex? For nice guys, it’s this great thing that will come about after you’ve established a relationship with someone. While you’re by no means celibate or ashamed of sex, it’s not part of this early connection with someone. It’s a secondary, or tertiary stage. This one is harder to discuss intelligently. If relationships — as I said earlier — are completely illogical, sex is completely insane. Sex is hormones coursing through the blood telling you to do ridiculous things that probably even violate the laws of physics. What on earth made nice guys think this blood/sweat/magic thing can be left out of the discussion? A romantic relationship doesn’t lead to sex. Sex is part of a romantic relationship. Leave it out, even initially, and you’re leaving out a vital ingredient. The unspoken promise of sex, the looks, the hand on the other person, the holding, the actions themselves. Some female friends recently stated that while yes they wanted nice men, (presumably with a looser definition than mine), they wanted nice men who would put them over the arm of the couch and fuck them. The idea that women want to have sex isn’t shocking. But the sheer directness and central nature — that struck out at my dormant “nice guy”. Every woman I’ve asked about this has agreed with the main point, without question. Even better? The women who made the initial comment are the geekiest, most intelligent, uber-nerdy, (honestly… Asperger-ish) women I know. Apparently there are no “nice women”.

How do I think of life and relationships now?

Life is chaos. Try to simplify it and make it manageable and understandable, and you’re actually stripping out the things that make it worth living. If you dive into the chaos and let things swirl around you, it’s fascinating what you will see and experience. A hour of unexpected, new, exciting things is worth many times even the most enjoyable pre-planned day.

Relationships are similar. Don’t go in with a plan. Just go in. Interact in every way that comes up. Say every stupid thing that comes into your head. Forget everything you’ve ever seen or read, because every human relationship is unique. If there’s a connection, seize it immediately. And if not, that person still fits in your life somewhere.

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