I’ve been thinking about Nice Guys.
I used to be a Nice Guy. I like to think I’m still a nice guy, but I think I’ve done enough to ditch the capital letters. Nice Guys, for those of you who never go on Tumblr, are that species of male who… well, let me show you with an illustration from when I was at music college…
It’s about 2:30am on a Friday morning and I am wasted. I’d agreed to meet my friends in a club on Thursday night, but they’d arrived about an hour after me, and I’d spent the intervening time necking drinks at the bar. When the club kicked out and we’d stepped into the fresh air, all the drinks hit me at once. My reconstruction of what happened next is based partly on my blurry memory but more on what my friends (who have never let me live it down) told me afterwards.
So we went to a late-night diner place. I don’t remember much about it, except the toilets were down a steep spiral staircase and I was convinced I was going to fall to my death. I found myself seated next to a young woman called Emily, which was fantastic because (as usual) I hadn’t had the courage to talk to a woman all night. But she would have to talk to me, and a cornered woman is clearly the best kind of woman.
“Sooooo…” I began, smoothly initiating the conversation. I have no idea what I said, but evidently the conversation kept stalling because my friend tells me that I attempted to restart the conversation with another “sooooo…” about once a minute. And, when this failed, I resorted to telling her she was beautiful. Sooooo beautiful.
After she’d heard “You’re sooooooooo beautiful” for approximately the 400th time, the young woman stood up, switched places with another of my friends, Buffy, and started a conversation with him. And this precipitated a meltdown from me.
“Oh no!” I exploded, “I’ve blown it! I’ve blown it! Now Buffy’s gonna get her. Buffy, don’t, mate! I’ve blown it! This is so unfair. Nice guys never get the girl!”
I actually said this. I can’t remember what words I used, but I know I essentially asked Buffy to give her back, as though it wasn’t her choice to make. My voice escalated to full-on bawling.
“Nice guys never get the girl! I’ve blown it!”
And that is what it is to be a Nice Guy. I was Nice to the girl in the hope she would give me what I wanted. When she didn’t, I was angry. Niceness comes with strings attached.
I don’t know when people first started talking about Nice Guys as a social phenomenon, but they were rampant in my Christian subculture 15 years before I ever heard the term. While Nice Guy-ism is clearly not exclusively Christian (and Christian versions of Nice Guy-ism are doubtless influenced by secular ideas, like Friend Zoning, which became mainstream via Friends), I don’t think Nice Guy-ism could exist without a background culture that values female sexual purity and punishes women who deviate from it too much. In the US and the UK, that background culture comes from Christianity, and it’s hard to imagine Nice Guy-ism without it. Nice Guys are angry at women for having sex with men who aren’t them. I was an evangelical purity culture Nice Guy, so I was angry at women for having sex outside of marriage (instead of waiting to marry me).
I was at a Christian youth camp in Arkansas, listening to a sermon on sexual abstinence, about 5 years before the late-night meltdown I described above. It was late at night, and the service was being held outdoors under a huge metal gazebo with open sides.
“Girls,” intoned the Texan preacher, “he’s gonna make his move to get what he wants from you. He’s going to whisper in your ear all the things you want to hear. But girls, when he tells you he loves you…”
Here the preacher’s voice slowed to a crawl.
“…he only wants one thing.”
I remember thinking “I’m not like that! I don’t want to defile you! I just want to love you!” (I think this makes me some kind of Nice Guy hipster, because I was saying #NotAllMen before it was cool.)
With that, I’d learned to hate my own gender.
I mean, clearly it wasn’t just one sermon which made me think that. Those ideas were not new to me—they were the wallpaper of Christian teachings about relationships—but this was the evening it all fell into place. Men were evil scumbags, girls were precious floaty things to be protected, and I was one of a handful of true gentlemen on the planet capable of truly loving them.
Being a Christian Nice Guy was weird. I still watched rom-coms aimed at teens and schlocky TV shows, and of course when I watched them I fell in love with the lead actresses, as you are supposed to, but I resented them for not keeping themselves pure. Even the kissing scenes in stuff like Smallville seemed morally questionable to me, and I judged those actresses for the same scenes that made me love them.
Not long after the late-night meltdown, I sat on Brighton beach with another non-Christian friend, who remarked, apropos of nothing, “Look at all these hot women going out with cunts“. I knew exactly what he meant. Since that night in Arkansas, I’d set myself to be Not Like Other Guys. Thus began my career of attempting to get with women by pointedly not attempting to get with them, and then resenting it when they didn’t want me.
I don’t know what proportion of infamous Internet Nice Guys identify as Christian, but it’s interesting how the ideas behind this concealed hatred for women map perfectly onto evangelical culture. Chivalry, politeness at all costs, old-fashioned gender roles, and the demand for sexual purity. This is evangelicalism’s vision of how a True Christian behaves, and it works equally well for people in WWJD bracelets as it does for douchebags in fedoras.
Next time, I’ll show you how another preacher showed me a Better Way…