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Antidote - Essays

Natural Disadvantage
April 3, 2000

Audio File   Why nice can be all wrong

by Jandro

This girl has been calling me recently. It seems she got my number from a mutual acquaintance. The girl asked our friend if she knew 'any nice single guys'—which rather surprised me. I often feel like womankind has a perverse craving for jerks, while nice men are handled best with six-foot poles and sterilized gloves. And I know that in the treacherous World of Dating, I suffer from a frightful natural disadvantage. After all, as my friend said, 'you fit her requirements perfectly.'

Text BiteShe's quite right. I think I must have been born nice; I certainly don't recall choosing to be this way. Half the time I can't even explain what being nice means. I understand it is related to politeness, empathy, honesty, and other such calamitous behaviors. How did I ever inherit these mediocre traits? An evolutionary regression is my best guess, a defiant recessive gene disinclined to remain hidden in my chromosomes. Or perhaps I was corrupted during my excruciatingly long and happy childhood. Whatever the case, I fear pursuing the question is futile.

What I do grasp with utter clarity is that nice guys must fight a bleak battle to stay off the endangered species list. To be nice can be a man's ruin. Few things can damage one's reputation as thoroughly as the indictment, 'Oh, he's so nice.' Some women have been callous enough to say this to my face (they meant it as a compliment, of course), consigning me with those miserable words to the dreaded friend bucket—a fate akin to involuntary early retirement. Being good enough for friendship, and endowed with endearing niceness, apparently disqualify me from romantic considerations.

Wherefore this cruel paradox? I've frequently toyed with perfunctory explanations. The ingenuous answer is to blame the misguided stereotype that all nice guys are boring geeks who have to be agreeable if they want to meet women—as well as its corollary: men who are witty and audacious aren't nice because they don't have to be. But I like to think most women don't fall for this fallacy. Perhaps, instead, they assume nice guys are too good to be true; surely some evil secret is lurking beneath that tranquil surface.

And why do women tolerate the stellar treatment they receive from jerks? Do they believe it is a fair tradeoff? Good sex, witty conversation, fancy dinners followed by thrilling nightclubs, all this and more in exchange for a barrage of lousy manners, thoughtless insults, and daily arguments about nothing. Not a shabby arrangement. Not when one adds other incentives, like the ecstatic thrill of his inconstancy. Or the delightful suspicion of being on the receiving end of his crafty deception. Maybe they think the jerks are going to change. Women will play a waiting game, wagering their jerks will turn nice before they turn eighty.

Last year I decided becoming a jerk was the soundest strategy to save me from a lonely middle age. I made a pledge: no more mister Nice Guy. Alas, it has been a daunting task. I have been hindered from the outset by a string of innate defects. I find it difficult to lie; I generally prefer to be forthright. I'm protective and caring. I tend to anticipate needs and fulfill them. I have the annoying habit of listening well. Chivalry is my mother tongue. I have concluded, grudgingly, that I may be hopeless.

As if that weren't enough, the competition I have faced is formidable. I'm a feather-weight learning to fight in a land of three-hundred pound giants. Jerks have been Text Bitetraining to be jerks since they were toddlers. They looked up girls' skirts in grade school. In junior high they had one girlfriend at school, one in the neighborhood, and they were playing home-physician with their cousin in her parents' walk-in closet. At twenty, they had managed every trick in the portfolio. Lying, cheating, scheming, seducing. Every one. By the time they reached thirty they had refined their skills to a cruel art. I knew a guy who broke up with his girlfriend because she developed a nasty rash on her forearm. How am I ever going to top that?

Not to say that I am entirely guileless—but the minor transgressions I've been responsible for were unintentional and I cannot honestly take credit for them. Nor did I derive pleasure from them. When I was in college, I decided to break up with my girlfriend after concluding that our incompatibilities grossly outweighed our physical interests. I reasoned a quick detachment would cause the least pain and promptly called to deliver the news. My solicitous speech was greeted with much anger and tears. She was so upset that I became conciliatory, in an attempt to soften the blow, but I only confused her into thinking I was retracting my decision. A day later I returned with renewed resolve, only to find myself backtracking at the first sign of crying. I knew I was hurting her more by wavering, yet I didn't know what else to do. This lovely cycle continued for a few weeks; longer than was necessary for me to acknowledge my total incompetence in all matters not nice, and to learn that a conscience is a difficult thing to shed.

Still, in the shadow of adversity, I carry on with my struggle. I devour self-help books. I visit a hypnotist, a psychiatrist, and a voodoo doctor. I watch countless French films to bring out the colder, more cynical me. I attended my first NGA meeting last week. 'Hello,' I told the group, my head bowed and my eyes on my matching socks, 'my name is Jandro and I have been a nice guy since 1981.' I also ponder more desperate measures. I avidly follow the progress of the Human Genome Project, praying they'll soon discover a cure for the filthy gene accountable for my wretched state.

Sometimes, though, I feel like renouncing this noble crusade to find my egocentric, brutish side. An inner voice tells me I must accept who I am and be content. I should take advantage of the opportunities presented to me—perhaps give this girl who's been calling a chance. We've had a few conversations on the phone, and I feel I'm starting to know her better. Maybe we could go out for a cup of tea, or a walk in the park. The problem is, I just can't seem to get too excited about her. I don't know...if only she weren't so damned nice.

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