Nice Guys vs. Bad Boys: We’ve Got to Talk About This Differently

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

goodvevil mlakner

I recently did a blog about my 13 year old son’s thoughts on respect. It made one small (in my opinion) mention of my son’s perception that “the boys at school that are not respectful to girls are mostly the ones that have girlfriends.” I thought that was a very small part of his insights but that is what most of the comments centered on. Having been out of the dating pool for 6 years now I was surprised to find that the “Girls only date bad boys”/ “Women only like assholes”/ “nice guys always lose” discussion is still going on. And that it was stuck in the same place it had been when I was dating. Men talking about it as if it’s something women are doing *to* them. Women frustratedly explaining that being pissed that a woman isn’t having sex with you means you aren’t actually a “nice guy.” And around and around we go.

Here’s what this old married lady thinks about it. An old married lady who BTW is married to a man who rates so far away from bad boy/asshole or even being assertive that he could hardly speak in my presence for the first 15 years I knew him. And unlike Raj he doesn’t drink, so no help there.

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So here’s the thing. This isn’t about you. This isn’t about how women are doing this terrible thing that leaves you alone. This is about a terrible system that is leaving many people in bad situations. This isn’t about women thinking to themselves “Oh that’s a nice guy…but I’d really prefer an unhealthy relationship with that asshole over there!” This is about a system that brainwashes almost everyone to some extent.

One big problem I see in how people approach this is in the over emphasis of false dichotomies. First you have the women vs men dichotomy, as if they are opponents in this issue. Then you have the bad boy/asshole vs nice guy dichotomy as if all men fit into one box or the other. Then after creating this shallow dichotomy, you assign winners and losers as if both “sides” are in the same game. But they’re not.

The issue of women choosing men who are perceived to be anything from aggressive to abusive is created by the system. It’s not women’s evil secret plan to punish you for not being the jerk they have asked you not to be. It’s complicated, but here are a few things to consider.

Not all “bad boys” are jerks. Women live in the same media filled, culturally influenced world you do. If you are feeling the pressure to be hyper masculine, they are feeling the pressure to want someone who fits that stereotype. Some women feel in some part that their value is determined by the men they can get. That doesn’t mean that they want jerks, that means they want the man you may feel pressured to be. We are all taking in messages every day that tell us that aggressive/bold/daring equals masculine and that attracting masculine attention is the measure of femininity. Some women are caught in between society’s messages and what they truly need in a partner to be healthy and happy.

“But what about the guys who really are jerks?” you may ask. In a society that has as high a rate of domestic abuse as we do, we are going to have children who grow up to be drawn to abusive dynamics. People who are drawn to abusive partners may be playing out abusive dynamics they grew up with. Gender is not the point here, the point is what happens in your family as you grow up has a deep, often unconscious influence on you. This means you may be absolutely unwilling to be with someone who even raises their voice when they are angry. On the other hand it may mean that you keep coming back to people who treat you like crap, or it may mean that you become someone who treats people like crap. Or both.

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You may still be saying “But why do they always go for the jerks? They should have figured it out by now.” and my question for you is, if every woman you are interested in is interested in men who are nothing like you, what are you doing to examine why you are drawn to the same kinds of women all of the time? Because there are plenty of women who have no interest in jerks.

If you aren’t finding any of those women, then you have as much of an issue of being drawn to the wrong people as women who are only into jerks. I don’t say this from some high and mighty place above anyone. I say this from the perspective of someone who, until I got married, ALWAYS picked unavailable men. Never jerks, but always men who were not interested in me, or who lived thousands of miles away or who were gay…you get the picture. I even spent some time in the “why do guys always go for the girls who treat them like crap?!?” camp.

That’s right, there are plenty of men who always choose women who treat them badly. Having a bad partner picker is not gender specific. We all have our dynamics to play out. It’s not until we become aware of them that we can begin to change them.

I’m always surprised to hear men who in any other situation would demand that you not put men in such limited boxes…go straight into nice guy/bad boy dichotomy as if there are only two kinds of men. There is a continuum, and along that continuum there are infinitely varied and complicated men. Everyone has some mixture of light and shadow, some areas where they are good and some areas where they are screwed up. So while it would be great if you would stop judging women for not being interested in you, maybe it’s also time to consider not sentencing other men to a two box judgment. Yes, some people are assholes, some people are even abusive, but how does it help you to focus on that in this context? If you want to focus on assholes and abusive people, I suggest focusing that energy on the system and how we can change it so everyone has a better chance of growing up healthy. You can start by not putting someone in the asshole box and writing them off as a stereotype instead of a person. You can also take some time to think about what defines someone as a “jerk” and where do those characteristics come from?

The first guy I fell in love with was an “only likes girls who treat him like crap” guy at the time. I suffered over that for a long time, but one night he hurt my feelings intensely and I got bitchy with him. His whole attitude toward me changed. We’d been friends for 7 years. The first time I was anything but totally nice to him, he suddenly treated me like he was interested. I realized that night that I could have him. This guy who I wanted, who I thought I was in love with, I could have him. All I had to do was treat him like crap. It was suddenly clear to me that it wasn’t him that I wanted. What I wanted was a good relationship with him. I wanted a romantic relationship that was as healthy as I thought our friendship was, not a train wreck with him in a starring role. What I wanted was an impossibility based on how he was wired and where he was in his life journey. Eventually, he did end up with a really great woman who treats him well. The interesting thing is that very time I spend time with them I am so thankful that it’s her and not me. The dynamic that works for them wouldn’t work for me.

So I’m asking you to consider that maybe the “assholes” are not getting what you want. If what you want is a healthy relationship, then you have to find a healthy person who is a good fit for you. Even if the person you want (the one who is only interested in assholes) decided to be with you, it wouldn’t be the relationship you want because that person isn’t set up for a healthy relationship. When they are, they will be drawn to healthier people and dynamics. They still may not be drawn to you.

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Part of the problem with the “women only date assholes” complaint is that often women hear it from men they aren’t attracted to that they don’t think are nice. It seems that for many men it is much easier to feel like they were rejected because they are something good, instead of facing their fear that they are not good. This is part of the system we need to change, because someone not being attracted to you does not necessarily mean you suck. It means that you are not a fit for them. Once people can accept that they may not be a fit for someone they are attracted to, without feeling like it’s a failure, the need to keep screaming about “women only date assholes” will stop.

It’s not all on men of course, a lot of the ways women tell men they aren’t interested are meant to “let them down easy,” so instead of saying “I’m just not attracted to you.” They say “I’m sorry, I’m attracted to someone else.” That is part of the system. Women are trained to “be nice.” They are put in the position of not wanting to hurt a “nice guy’s” feelings. But that is only half the problem. The other issue is that a woman, who doesn’t take the blame onto herself for the “I’m not interested,” is risking abuse. That’s right, the women you think only date assholes are very possibly trying to avoid having men be assholes to them.

It happens all the time. The idea that ‘a man’s self worth is wrapped up in his ability to get women’ makes some men mean when a woman says no. Add on top of that this stupid idea that the media spreads that what women really want is someone who will chase them and you now have a situation where saying “I’m not interested.” doesn’t work. Saying “No, thank you” most often gets you either called a bitch (or a slut, which is interesting…why does saying no get me called a slut?) or a guy who doesn’t take the no seriously.

How many books are there out there that tell men that women really want them, they are just playing hard to get? How many movies are there showing that when men don’t take no for an answer that the women eventually give in? This is part of the system we have to stop. In the meantime women have learned that saying “No, thank you.” is not effective. They have learned that taking the blame and saying they are with someone else or attracted to someone else is their best bet to get out of an awkward situation with as little abuse and awkwardness as possible. Change that and more women will be willing to say “No, Thank you.” instead of “You’re a really great guy, but I’m still hung up on my ex.”

—Photo mlakner/Flickr

But She Wants It!

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

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We’ve been talking about looking at women respectfully around The Good Men Project. The Good Men’s top post right now is about a dad who is thinking about how he will explain to his son that, “It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning. It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing.” Then in a really great discussion today among a few of the writers, one man explained that he’s confused by what he is supposed to do when confronted with a woman who is dressed in beautiful or sexy attire. My understanding of what he said was that he feels like women work to get attention for being attractive—but he is not supposed to look too much or compliment them on that attractiveness. This is a man with a Ph.D. in psychology from one of those really impressive schools and decades of working with gender roles. If he’s confused, I’m betting almost everyone is.

I think the problem is that we confuse the system with the individual. We confuse the unhealthy wants with the healthy needs. Our culture teaches and enforces that a woman’s value is in her ability and willingness to be attractive. It’s so universal, that when you meet a little girl you compliment her on how pretty she is, or how cute her dress is. I caught myself doing this not long ago and I know better. It’s an easy default when you don’t know someone. It’s the easy opener, it seems nice and it doesn’t ask them to talk to you except to thank you as if you’ve just done something for them.

I want to challenge you to think of complimenting women you are not in a relationship with as you would think of force-feeding candy to a diabetic. Yes, they may want the candy badly sometimes, even if they know it’s making them sick. You are not being kind or noble to give it to them. I know it feels good, as if you’ve done something positive. You think “I made her day.” It’s comfortable to say something “nice” about something so shallow, so accepted. Most women will find cheap pleasure in the complement or pretend to. So either way you don’t have to be mindful of what you are saying, you can just roll out the ‘old compliment them on their looks’ thing and move on. If a woman has any reaction but gratitude you get to say she’s being a bitch and feel superior because you were only being “nice.”

The problem with that is, you are not being kind. Everyone has an innate need to be valued and so often women are told the only value they have a chance of achieving is with their ability to attract male attention. People need to feel seen. Women and girls are often trained to believe that the only way to be seen is to be attractive to the eye. Men, you can related to this, right? Men and boys are often told they only have value in how well they provide, in how invulnerable they are, in how successful they are.

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Some people are probably saying “But some women like it! Why shouldn’t I give it to them if it makes us both feel good?” If you only care for your own “good feeling” then I hope you’ll spend some time thinking about why you would feel good doing something even if it feeds into someone’s unhealthy attention-seeking.

Other people may say, “But it does make her feel good.” This is where the analogy to candy comes back. You can get pleasure from being complemented. You can get pleasure from eating candy. You can get pleasure from using hard-core drugs. Pleasure is not an indication of health.

For some women, compliments on her looks are like having a candy bar. Not good for her but not that harmful, if she’s not having too much. For some women compliments on her looks can be like a candy bar every day for a diabetic, slowly and maybe silently damaging and undermining their health. For some women, compliments on looks are like crack. They hold a serious high at first, but eventually they are brought down to doing anything to get the next compliment, the next bit of attention. They need them just to try to feel somewhere near OK for just a moment.

Now I bet quite a few of you are going “WTF? Over dramatic much?!?” That’s OK with me because I’m not one of the women for whom compliments are an addiction or a disease. I got lucky, I was never abused as a child and I was always in the middle. I was never the pretty one, never told I was worthy because of how pretty I was. Nor was I ever the girl who was told she was ugly, sold the illusion that if she was pretty she would be worth something. I look around at the women around me and I feel like the one in a war zone who managed to not get hit by anything too serious. This isn’t personal to me, I get to be the reporter on the inside without being one of the badly wounded.

Since I’m not one of the badly wounded, I don’t have a personal story to share with you about seeking compliments while hating myself for doing so. But I sure see and hear enough of those stories. There are the stories from my girlfriends, most of whom have many times starved themselves in unhealthy ways, sacrificing their bodies in attempts to be attractive. There are the stories told by the bodies of the women I see around me who have taken their complement seeking to the extreme of plastic surgery. Sometimes to the extreme of living a life with not one part of them OK as it is. I see these women and they have covered themselves in makeup and fake tans, covered their smell with perfume, covered their eyes with contacts, covered their hair in dye and products, covered their body in things to change their very shape. Not one part of them is allowed to just be, not one part of them is OK as it is.

Do you want to play into that?

I am sure there are some of you who are saying “Well, if they say they like it, why should I believe you?” You are absolutely right. If you know someone well enough to have talked to them about this and they have said that they find compliments to their looks healthy or no big deal, respect that. But if you don’t know someone, I’m asking you to consider that even if they seem to be seeking attention and compliments, it may not be as simple as you think.

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I’m not sure how many of you know this, but there are women who dress attractively not to be noticed by men but to avoid being harassed. Women who do not conform to society’s idea of attractive are, in different ways and amounts, treated badly. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “more attractive/gender conforming = more privilege” but there are times when not being what society says women should be gets you abused or harassed. Sometimes it has to do with how much you weigh, sometimes it has to do with not wearing makeup or not shaving your legs, sometimes it’s the clothes you wear. On rare occasion not conforming to the expectation that you will do your best to be attractive puts women in danger of being assaulted.

Often it involves people telling you what you should be doing with your body. “Hey! Smile for me, it’ll make you beautiful!” or “Women should always wear jeans, they look sloppy in track pants” Sometimes it involves things like, “Let’s punch a fat person to see if they have feelings!” These are real examples BTW. If women don’t want that kind of attention they may not wear casual clothes to run to the store again, and the next man may say, “if she didn’t want attention why did she dress up to go to the store?” It’s a lose-lose situation for women.

It’s a lose-lose situation for men, too. Chances are that if you compliment a woman you don’t know on her looks you are very likely either irritating her or playing into dysfunctional dynamics she has going on. So what is the solution? How about if you just make it a point to never compliment a woman on her looks unless you know her well enough to know she is OK with it coming from you? You may even find that once you take that option off the table, you find much more interesting ways to engage a woman in discussion. If you have no interest in engaging her in discussion…don’t talk to her.

Once you take complements off the table, you may just find many more interesting ways to engage a woman in discussion.

I know this is complicated, any time you have someone who seems to want something and then says they don’t it’s confusing. It’s often confusing for the women who are doing it too. But I don’t think they are alone. I think that some men have a similar issue. Only for men it is not wanting to be desired for money. They truly do not want to be wanted because they have money. Yet the car they drive, the clothes they wear and the things they do are often an advertisement for the fact that they have money (even when they don’t). Does that mean that it’s healthy or acceptable for women to be with them for their money? I don’t think so. I don’t buy “she was asking for it” and I don’t buy “he was asking for it” either. In any situation. We all have the responsibility for our own actions.

How you treat people is about who you are. It is NOT about who they are or what you think they want or deserve.

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I’m interested to know if you can think of other areas men do this? Leave a comment on something you do or that you’ve seen other men do that advertises themselves for something they do not want to be valued for. I’m looking forward to a thoughtful insightful discussion.

Photo B Tal/Flickr

The Ugly Way Home

Originally posted here at The Good Men Project.

 

There is a story going around facebook about a rickshaw driver named Bai Fangli. When Bai retired at age 75 went home to his village and discovered children who could not afford to go to school. So he returned to the city and continued working for 15 more years, living in simplicity that would be shocking to most people in the United States. He wore only clothing others threw away and ate food that others had discarded, not because he couldn’t afford to buy food and clothes but because he felt that giving that money to the children was a better use of it.

There is an interesting phenomenon in the United States. The higher someone’s income the less they tend to give to charitable causes. When higher income people do give, they give very little to causes that help the down and out. They tend to give to the arts, or a college instead of to food pantries or homeless shelters.

There are different theories on why that is. Some people assume that wealthy people are jerks so it makes sense to them that even with the tax deduction, they wouldn’t give at the same rate as lower income people. Even I am cynical enough to wonder how many higher income giver’s donations begin with a discussion with a tax person about tax breaks.

There is evidence that may go against the “Jerk Theory.” This NYTimes article, points out that Paul K. Piff found that if you show people a sympathy-eliciting video that the disparity between higher income and lower income giving disappeared. One theory to explain this is that being wealthy insulates you from seeing suffering, while the lower your income the more suffering you see around you. They even did further research and found that people of higher incomes that lived in diverse income neighborhoods gave more than people with the same income who lived in homogeneously wealthy neighborhoods.

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The unique makeup of my neighborhood means that there are three ways you can get to my house. One of them is through an expensive neighborhood, one is near an apartment and a strip mall and the other goes along the area in our town known for homeless people, and prostitutes. That route then goes past a mobile home park so trashed it wishes it was a rundown trailer park.

When I drive through the expensive neighborhood I notice how small and plain my house is. When I drive past the strip mall and the apartment complex I notice how generic my neighborhood is. I make it a point to drive the ugly way home.

There are days when I drive past a homeless person and it hits me how unnecessary the crap I just bought at the store is. There are days I drive by a woman looking so hopeless and broken I cry. There are days I drive by the trailer park and see so many people suffering in so many different ways that I feel hopeless about our country and how many people fall through the cracks. Most days it makes me feel helpless in the face of such deep issues. There are no easy answers for the people there, no quick fixes or ways to save them.

Some days when I drive by I remember that when I was born my mom brought me home from the hospital to a somewhat nicer trailer park. After my biological father left she needed public assistance and food stamps to help make ends meet while she worked as a waitress. Then I count the blessings that I can bring my sons home to a safe place.

Driving the ugly way home isn’t comfortable. It brings up emotions, it brings difficult questions from my sons, it reminds me that things don’t always work out ok.

I’m no Bai Fangli, but when I drive the ugly way home I notice how huge and safe my home is. I come home with my heart open, my gratitude engaged and a renewed focus on figuring out what it is I am meant to do in this world to help people who are suffering.

Privilege

How do you see the privileges that you enjoy?

If it’s something you are born into like white privilege or cis privilege or economic privilege it seems that seeing it is much like a fish seeing water. We have no idea it’s there unless it is taken away from us.

One way this happens is with the privilege that comes with being able bodied, because if you live long enough you will eventually learn what it is like to be unable to do things that you have always taken for granted. You may never truly understand what it would have been like to never be able bodied but you may begin to understand.

Another way that you can see the water you were born into is to get to know someone who does not have the same privileges as you. You can do this by getting to know someone personally and learning about their life and really being mindful of the ways people behave toward them and the opportunities that you may have had that they did not. You can also begin to see the water by really seeing the stories of people. This is the magic of media. This is why it matters when people share their stories. Will I ever truly understand what it would be like to be unable to marry the one I love and worry that they would lose our home and children if I died? Of course not. But watching the stories of people who live those fears and deal with those inequities does show me my privilege if I let it.

If I can put myself in other people’s shoes, even a little bit, I can begin to see the water I was born into.

For me, identifying and really being aware of the ways in which I do not have privilege have helped me understand others lack of privilege. They may be different privileges but once I could see the ways in which I did not have the same rights and opportunities and most importantly identify how that made me feel, I could more fully have compassion and understanding for that feeling in others.

When I run across people who are part of a group for whom privilege is withheld and society finds it acceptable for them to be treated “differently” who do not see they are doing the same thing to others it’s very disheartening. How can you cause suffering in others that you have known the pain of?

I think that part of the issue for those who hold some privileges and not others is that they can have an attitude of entitlement, as if in this other area they are entitled to treat others badly. What they do not understand is that while they are possibly harming those they treat shabbily, they are without a doubt harming themselves with their attitudes and behaviors.

The key to being happy is to be a compassionate person with an understanding of the interconnected nature of all of us. Each time we treat someone else badly it causes us stress and suffering we may not even notice because that too is like a fish seeing the water it was born to.

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