Nice Guys finish… somewhere

Judging from the xkcd forums I am probably the only person alive who has read today’s xkcd Friends comic in a particular way, so I thought I’d fill it out.

Firstly, you have the Nice Guy position. The Nice Guy position (it’s by far most expounded by men interested in women, but I have heard it other ways), goes something like this: women say they want nice men who look after them. (How women say this varies, some Nice Guys say they hear it direct from their female friends, others say that they got the memo direct from feminism itself. This bit has always seemed a bit weird to me. I can’t recall ever saying or ever hearing other women saying that they had persistent problems finding men who aren’t mean to them.) But they don’t behave like this: take me, a Nice Guy, for example. I am so nice to women, I hold them when they cry, I listen to them when guys cheat on them, I pick them up from parties drunk at 4am and put them to bed. And they all say you’d be such a great boyfriend and then they go off and date other guys. (Or, in many forms of this argument: they go off and date my polar opposite, Jerks who are mean, abusive cheaters.) Nice Guys finish last.

And most people reading the comic seem to be reading it as essentially damn straight, this happens to me all the time, I am the totally bald stick figure guy (TBSF Guy), you nailed my life down dude, just, man, I wish women were as honest about their innate preference for Jerks as dark-haired stick figure girl (DHSF Girl) is and would stop lying.

I see the comic as a bit more subtle than this. See, there’s also a long running criticism of Nice Guys (as opposed to men who are nice), and it goes something like this: no one owes you sex or a relationship. You offered what looked like intense loving platonic friendship to your romantic interests and she took it for intense loving platonic friendship. (Or in the occasional case, she is not a nice person, she realised you would do anything for her and played you for a sucker, it happens too.) If you want sex or a relationship, ask for it and risk rejection, don’t try and buy it from someone and especially don’t be angry about how you did your bit by being a friend, where’s the sex?

I won’t go into this in great detail here, it’s done the rounds several times — check out Alas A Blog: Defenestrated On “Nice Guys” and Shakesville: Explainer: What is a “Nice Guy®?” for longer versions of this and ensuing all-in comments threads where Nice Guys and their critics go head to head — but I see the comic as essentially making this critique too. TBSF Guy is the "friend with detriments.". The last panel is how TBSF Guy sees the situation (it is not literally quoting DHSF Girl), but is actually irony. It’s TBSF Guy who never respected DHSF Girl. The couple of panels before that say this pretty plainly to me, although to a lot of readers they seem to boil down to no relationship is as great as you think, women should settle or alternatively this is, was and ever shall be the male experience of women, life sucks and then you die. My reading is this experience of women is contingent on you bringing this baggage with you.

The issue isn’t of intense personal interest to me: I haven’t been single since I was eighteen and don’t regularly require my friends of either gender to help me through romantic crises. I know that for some people this experience of relationships continues but my experience was it tailed off sharply after about twenty two for many people, because the men involved realise that there isn’t only one perfect woman in the world for them and that therefore they can expend their emotional energy in more than one place, and the women involved realise that there isn’t only one perfect male friend in the world for them and don’t accept devoted attention from male friends anymore. (Possibly the only less heard contribution I have to this discussion is that women have trouble saying no to a lot of things: friendship is one of them. I suspect some of the you’d make someone a great boyfriend stuff is a insufficiently strong attempt to say essentially I don’t want this friendship to be as strong, please go and find someone else to spend emotional energy on. Please.)

I proceeded to have an interesting conversation with Donna and others on IRC about the point-of-view: essentially, it’s male point-of-view. While the comic is criticising a man it’s still not about how DHSF Girl thinks, but about TBSF Guy thinks about her (and, if I’m reading it correctly, how he should instead think about her). xkcd is often like this, which is fine, but does anyone have a pick for similarly themed comics, without ongoing storylines (just because I cannot for the life of me get into comics that require me to read regularly) by women? It would be fun to read them too.