On "Nice Guys" and the Dangerous Fantasy of Friend Zones.

I stumbled upon an article on Twitter today entitled 13 Reasons Why Nice Guys Are The Worst – it was link bait, one of those Buzzfeed links perfectly titled to troll for clicks, and it got mine. I'd seen a handful of anti-"nice guy" posts floating around the web, and I was curious what this was all stemming from.

The article itself couldn’t have been more of a Buzzfeed standard: a collection of web comics, meme art, and GIFs designed to be scrolled down in two or three minutes and instantly forgotten about. This is a website that makes its living off articles like “22 Reasons Katy Perry Is Better Than This Puppy” and “39 People Who Now Believe In Unicorns,” so I wasn’t expecting much. But it stuck with me. 

The collected pieces all centered around a certain theme: that “nice guys” have created a false narrative, one in which they show up and are dependable, caring friends, but girls “friend zone” them and go after guys who don’t treat them as well, because they are “too nice.” (boy, lots of quotation marks in that sentence) Women are devalued for their insistence on treating their male friends as just that – friends. 

My first instinct was defensive on behalf of my brethren. I don’t think I’ve ever referred to myself by the term (I certainly hope I haven't), but self-identifying as a “nice guy” isn’t the worst thing in the world. As endorsements go, it's awfully pedestrian – just a bland bit of back-patting, really – but it comes from a good place. Someone recognizes the pain caused when women are treated as objects/accessories/nuisances and consciously moves to the other camp. I endorse that.

The problem with it is not the decision but the story that gets invented to go with it. It divides men into two camps: “nice guys” and “jerks” (or “douches,” “bros,” etc. Whatever the kids are calling it these days). Nice guys do all the right things for girls – give 'em support, provide a listening ear, help them with whatever they need, while jerks probably just wear sunglasses indoors all the time and talk disparagingly about their girlfriend’s chest with their friends. You know how jerks are. 

Teen movies teach us that the girl eventually rejects the jerk to end up with the nice guy. Other guys are always Matthew Lilliard, and we’re always Breckin Meyer. But that’s not a real world choice, that’s just a fantasy. If things were really that straightforward, girls really would pick the “nice guy” every time, and not just because Breckin Meyer is handsome in an accessible sort of way.

The problem is more insidious. The deeply-held belief that you are the right choice for someone because you've always been willing to listen to her problems creates a world in which relationships are somehow merited by the amount of dedication already put in. That is, your niceness “earned” you dating rights. 

The pieces in the article – some explicitly, some unwittingly – all argued that this story is just as sexually aggressive a notion as standard bro-tactics. After a quick exploration of the hundred of “friend zone” memes online, I’m inclined to agree. There’s a sense of entitlement to these posts, a “how dare they?” tone I found discomfiting.

When I clicked back to the article, I was suddenly struck with recognition: these comics aren’t just vocalizations of frustrations – they’re revenge fantasies. They’re attempts to subvert a narrative that has characterized women as villains simply by behaving as normal human beings.

Not much of a nice guy thing to do, after all.