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

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Thank You Notes and Gender Roles

Originally posted at The Good Men Project as Do Men Ever Send Thank-You Notes?

 

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Our small family (myself, my husband and my two sons) have a reputation in the larger families (mine, my husband’s and my ex’s) for being bad about sending thank you cards. My sons are generally known for being exceptionally smart, respectful, fantastic boys, and my husband is known as a generous and helpful man. But in this one area, all of the families are united in their disapproval.

 

Years ago a family member sent gifts to my sons for Christmas. When the gifts came, I had the boys (ages 2 and 5 at the time) call her to thank her in their sweet tiny voices and genuine enthusiasm. Months later I found out there was a huge scandal in the family because she was upset that we had not sent a thank you card. I was shocked. Who would choose a thank you card over hearing those sweet voices? I can’t imagine being upset for months about not getting a thank you card. But even more confounding was that it came with two distinct types of disapproval. The disapproval for me was about my mothering and the disapproval for my then husband was connected to him not getting me to live up to family expectations.

 

All of the major players in our families have made hints and even demands. They’ve used diplomacy and downright guilt to try to get us to make the boys do thank-you cards. The disapproval over the cards is aimed mostly at me, even though my husband has never written a thank-you card in his life—even when his mom was the boss of him. Yet everyone also seems frustrated with him, not because he isn’t writing thank-you cards, but because he, like my ex, does not “make me” do “my job.”

 

When my husband was single, he never once wrote anyone a thank-you card and his family took it in stride. His family was lucky for the most part if he got gifts for them on traditional gift-giving holidays. If he did show up with gifts they were given in the bag from the store. If he was being extra fancy there might be an extra Target bag tied around it so there was less see through.

 

My husband sucks at expectations. He sucks at “shoulds.” If you tell him that he should call someone back, he will automatically have a block against doing it. What he rocks at is random acts of kindness and generosity. According to him, he “pretty much always” missed getting gifts for his family for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and birthdays. On the other hand, he once spent almost two years designing and building a custom art piece light fixture for his mom.

 

I have joined him on many covert surprise gift giving missions just because he got an idea for something a friend would love. I once came home to find he had somehow planted a tree in our yard. It wasn’t for a holiday, it was because I had described how much that kind of tree reminded me of my Papa. He doesn’t usually do anything really special for Valentine’s Day but he once drove 50 miles with a giant glass vase of roses in his lap (to keep it from spilling) just to bring it to me on a random work day.

 

I get that my family and in-laws believe that if we make my sons do thank-you cards every time that they will learn… something. I’m just not sure what they want them to learn if they do not expect them to write thank you notes when they are grown. We work hard teaching them to do things mindfully, to do things because they are kind and sincere. That is a lesson I expect they will take with them into manhood.

 

We do send thank-you cards on occasion. Just not, it seems, enough to satisfy The Family. Thankfully my husband is much less sensitive about his family’s expectations in that way than my ex was. He does feel bad for missing birthdays and not doing thank you cards. But he doesn’t feel any shame for not being able to control me, a concept he finds ridiculous. He feels equal responsibility for sending thank-yous, and we are equally bad at it. We’ve only been married for 6 years, there’s still time to send out the thank-you cards right?

 

If you expect thank you cards with such determination that not getting one causes you suffering, or if getting a gift on a set date each year is more important than receiving a thoughtful show of love or affection when the feeling strikes, you may be missing the point of giving. I am at peace with our families values and actions in regards to gifts and thank-you cards. I also think that my ability to accept gifts as my husband naturally offers them, instead of being angry that they aren’t on a schedule, is a gift to both of us.

 

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What I’m curious about is, why does it seem that mothers are expected to make boys write thank you cards, but men are not expected to write them? What is going on in our gender training that creates this odd dynamic? I have seen articles about job searches that encourage men to send thank you notes after an interview, do we expect men to be thankful for job interviews but not for personal gifts? Why in this day and age is there still an expectation that a husband should be able to control his wife in certain areas?

 

I would love some insight into this, please leave comments about your experiences and your thoughts on our expectations of men and boys in regards to gifts and thank you cards.

 

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Photo courtesy of author.

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