Essay

“Nice Guy” and “Bad Boy” Aren’t Your Only Options

“Women say they want nice guys, but really they go for the bad boy.”

This narrative is based on two really dumb ideas⁠—the sort of ideas that are obviously dumb when you they’re stated directly, but that can slide into your thinking unnoticed when they’re merely implied.

The first dumb idea is that women, as a category, all think the same way and want the same things. That isn’t the part I want to focus on right now, so I’ll just share this delightful cartoon and move on to dumb idea number two.

The second dumb idea is that there are only two ways for men to behave toward women. This is an example of a popular kind of dumb idea called “false dichotomy.” If you want to get people to agree with a dumb idea, just find an alternative that sounds even worse and tell everyone they have to pick between your crappy idea and that even crappier idea.

In this case the crappier idea is the caricature of the nice guy who never gets laid. He pretends to be friends with women he finds attractive, in hopes they’ll deign to have sex with him. He laughs at any joke a woman makes, not because he finds it funny but in an attempt to curry favor. He bleeds himself dry providing support and companionship without getting anything in return. (Side Note: the only “thing in return” that counts in this scenario is access to a woman’s genitals.) He’s a pandering suck-up who sacrifices dignity and self-respect for scraps of sex.

After this straw man is set up and then demolished, the “nice guys finish last” narrative presents the glorious alternative. Usually, that alternative is a stinking pile of misogynistic dating advice that’s nearly as worthless as the nice guy approach.

The story is that what while we may have heard lots of women say they prefer partners who listen to them and give a shit about them, this is actually a lie designed to test men. Really what women (all women) want is a bad boy. He is firm and uncaring. He is competitive and controlling. His obsession with projecting confidence betrays his essential insecurity. He disparages and undermines women, hoping that if they feel bad about themselves they’ll look up to him. He refuses to be friends with women who won’t have sex with him, and never invests emotionally in the ones who will⁠—maintaining power by not caring. He treats relationships not as connections between individuals, but as a team sport with all men on one team competing against all women on the other.

This is not a great recipe for finding happiness in sex, love or life. The only way it looks like a good idea is if the only thing you’ve got to compare it to is being a pathetic nice guy.

But those aren’t the only two choices!

You can be caring and supportive and also have boundaries. Doing nice things for others and helping them out can feel good⁠—so long as you aren’t betraying yourself in the process. Learn to pay attention to your feelings and needs and you’ll be able to give without expecting anything in return, and then say “no” before you start feeling taken advantage of.

You can have dignity and self-control without being controlling of others. In fact, it works much better that way. So long as your ego depends on controlling people around you, their choices can directly impact your self-worth. Learn to treat other people as sovereign agents who get to make their own decisions and don’t owe you anything, and you won’t have to be threatened by others not being under your control.

You can have non-sexual friendships with women and not be bitter about it. First you need to fully recognize, down to your bones, that women are people and not just walking goalposts to use for scoring sex. Once you’ve got that sorted, being friends with a woman stops feeling like a failure to score, and you can enjoy having a biking buddy, fellow cheese snob, or trusted lifelong companion to enrich your life.

If you disentangle your self-worth from the number of women who have touched your genitals, you can stop feeling angry at women for teasing you. Then you can be the tease who flirts shamelessly with everyone without meaning anything by it. You can be the picky one who only considers connections with rare and special people. You can be the gregarious fucker who’s always ready to go but genuinely doesn’t mind when other people aren’t.

You can get to know women as human beings⁠⁠—with no agenda to score points from their bodies⁠—enjoy their companionship and conversation and the experiences they have to share, and sometimes discover a mutual interest in turning those experiences toward the erotic.

I promise you: any of those options will bring more sexy joy to your life than either being either a toadying nice guy or a brittle, manipulative bad boy.