Nice Guys or Not

So, a while ago I covered a post by Richard Carrier where he delved into what he thought of psychology as a preface to a review of a book by Robert A. Glover that his commenters had asked Carrier to look at.  So what was that book about?  Well, Nice Guys and how men can and should avoid becoming Nice Guys.

Now, I’ve talked a bit about Nice Guys before (here, here and here, to use Carrier’s way of linking such things), but the general thrust of that characterization is that it refers to men who say that they set out and try to treat women nicely and with respect and yet never get dates or relationships, while men who don’t seem to treat women as nicely or with as much respect seem to be far more successful.  This spawns the reply that they aren’t really nice guys, but are instead “Nice Guys”, people that are obviously only being nice in order to get something and lack success at it because women can tell that they are only being nice for those selfish reasons.  With the rise of “incels”, this has morphed a bit into focusing on the fact that many of these men have bad images of women, with the assertion that these men, then, are really sexist and misogynist and women can tell, which is why they can’t get dates, with the men responding that men who seem worse still manage to get dates and the women replying that those men really are better than them, and so on and so forth.  As noted in my own posts, things aren’t really that simple, and in my experience it’s been the case that the men who end up hating women the most seem to have gotten that way because they didn’t get what they thought they deserved, and didn’t start that way.

Both Glover and Carrier — at least if we can believe Carrier’s interpretation of Glover — really do think that there’s something wrong with the men who are Nice Guys and that they need to do something to overcome that.  And in some sense that might not even be wrong.  But for me the problem seems to be less that there’s something wrong with them and more that the way society structures getting relationships is what causes the problem.  Simply put, we really don’t have a good way for people to meet each other, and it has gotten worse as society has become more modern and feminism has influenced the world.

Think about this:  how do we meet people in order to form romantic relationships?  We’ve always had a few options, but for the most part those have been fairly limited.  The most common one in the olden days that is still used today is meeting through your normal social circle.  Outside of that, people tended to meet in bars, although that could be somewhat sleazy.  Later, we’ve added things like Internet dating and things like Speed Dating.  But again a lot of those things are indeed limited.  We don’t really have much that’s dedicated to finding a long-term romantic relationship.  And so if someone has problems using any of these things — doesn’t have a large social circle (like most introverts) or doesn’t like to drink — then there doesn’t seem to be any real way to compensate for that.

Add in that the methods that would compensate for that have been ruined for most people by extroverts.  Internet dating would be wonderful for introverts who aren’t great in social situations, but it gets swarmed by extroverts so that, in general, women who are at all appealing who join those sites get swarmed by men, so much so that they can’t keep up and have problems filtering out those who are interesting from those who aren’t.  When I was doing Speed Dating, I found that at least in the younger age group the women were filled by women who were certainly attractive enough to get dates on their own but who seemed to be there because they were hoping to meet someone better than they normally attracted and because they found the experience fun.  This meant that they didn’t match with a lot of the men who were less attractive but who might have matched with almost everyone.  And the bad reputation of blind dates and fix-ups is largely spawned by people who either had friends who didn’t know them at all or who could have met far better people than their friends set them up with, whereas people with less options would certainly appreciate that more (I wouldn’t have minded if my friends picked someone even remotely compatible).

So the problem with how dating works in our society in general is that they work really well for some people — usually the more socially adept — and okay for most other people, but if you really struggle with those methods there’s really no other way to go about it … and any other way to go about it once it becomes acceptable will be swarmed by the people who don’t actually need it.  So for those who need other options society doesn’t really give them much help, presuming that they should be able to succeed just like everyone else does.

So for these people, a big thing for them is to try to do what everyone else does or at least says will lead to success in the hopes of getting successes.  And the advice that is always given is very general, which leads them to think of dating as being general:  the way to approach dating in general is indeed the best or only way to go about it.  Most dating advice, for example, doesn’t talk about leveraging your best qualities to appeal to people who are interested in those qualities.  For example, speaking from the male side women do not really get advice that says “If you’re intelligent and interested in intelligent guys, definitely tailor your look to present an intellectual image instead of the typical ‘sexy’ image and try to go more places where intelligent guys might go than to bars”.  The general advice is indeed to go to bars and follow the “typical” standards for looks, which may not be the best way to meet people if you aren’t on the top end of physical attractiveness and if you are looking for specific traits.

And more relevantly, for men one of the most common pieces of advice is “Don’t start out looking for a sexual relationship.  Try to be friends first and then try to move that to a sexual relationship”.  Which, you will note, is one of the defining traits of the “Nice Guy”, that he starts from a friendship but really wanted a sexual relationship, and so never really wanted to be her friend, and so he’s not a nice guy but is instead a Nice Guy, and so is really a bad person, despite the fact that his approach is pretty much what he was told to do by people who were ostensibly trying to help him.  Note that this is one of the things that PUAs mock the most, and so if they drifted towards their advice would at least stop them from becoming that sort of Nice Guy.

The other huge complaint against them is that they expect to do these standard things and it will work for them all of the time, when things don’t work that way in real life.  Again, in my experience it is less that they expect to be able to, say, have sex with any woman but the bitterness derives from two issues.  The first is that they expect, all other things being equal, that doing the “right” things will result in them being more successful than those that do the “wrong” things, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  The second is that they expect that if they do the “right” things they’ll actually have some success.  They didn’t necessarily want to be “players”, but they wanted to at least get some kind of relationship, and yet it didn’t happen.  It becomes difficult for them to not blame the advice they were given and, by extension, those who gave it to them and who are now blaming them for the advice not working (often with comments about basic hygiene that don’t apply).

Before I get into Glover’s and Carrier’s attempts to explain all of this, I will add that one of the big problems is the societal idea that men are more shallow than women and women judge more often on things other than looks.  In the past, when women were dependent on men for financial support, attributes other than looks were as or more important for women.  A responsible man who was not unattractive but not incredibly attractive but was responsible and had a good income would indeed be considered appealing for women who were less desirable in their own right (see pretty much any Jane Austen novel for examples of this sort of reasoning).  As women came to rely less on men for financial support, then they were more able to select on looks and less on things like responsibility.  However, the societal image never changed, and so men who in the past wouldn’t get rejected because they weren’t really good looking or were a bit boring were suddenly now being rejected, but society never really said that they could indeed get rejected for that and provided advice on how to work around that, or to just live with it if they were really unattractive or happened to really like being boring (I would probably fall into the latter category).  Instead, it said that there had to be something more serious wrong with them if they weren’t having success.  On the flip side, men always selected for more than just looks, but less appealing women could also console themselves with men just being shallow, and so were never really blamed personally for not being able to attract a man, and in modern times attempting to do that would be opposed by feminism itself.   So if a man is unsuccessful, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something deeply wrong with them.  Maybe the women they’re encountering are just shallow, and so are themselves making a mistake in rejecting them.

Anyway, Glover, as summarized by Carrier, jumps onto the tack that these men are just messed up mentally and that explains their problems, and so they need to learn to overcome what they were taught by society and learn to live more for themselves and accept themselves and their masculinity for what it is.  Carrier flips to the other tack and insists that they have embraced toxic masculinity and that explains their issues, and also that it encourages them to not listen to women which would solve their problems.  Carrier criticizes Glover for not providing any science, but the science he provides himself is this article, which is very poor.  It tries to make a correlation between some potentially related things that were considered part of traditional masculinity with increased mental issues, but if traditional masculinity is commonly under attack in society then we’d expect that people who adhere to it would have more mental issues as they themselves would feel under attack, which is consistent with their note that while minorities have had an increase in their mental health white people in general had at least a slight decrease, both men and women (although it’s worse for men).  And Carrier doesn’t in any way demonstrate that these Nice Guys actually started out adhering to that idea and that they didn’t decide to return to it because it looked more successful to them.  So his appeal to “science” doesn’t seem like all that great an appeal at all.

So let’s get into general speculation.  Given my experience — which as someone who would fit into the “Nice Guy” label but who hasn’t fallen into that trap would seem to be pretty valuable — I don’t think that Glover’s assertions that it’s about abandonment or being taught the wrong things or to listen to much to women by women are the right way to go.  On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to me like it’s the result of men starting out with toxic masculinity and then not listening to women either.  From my perspective, it seems to start from men trying to act naturally and noting that it doesn’t seem to work for them, and then trying to find various perspectives and methods that they can use to have more success.  They usually start out listening to women first — or, rather, to society which is often the same thing — and when that fails fall back to more traditional or to PUA ideas, and if anything ever works they stick with that perspective, and if it doesn’t they become incels and just rant at everyone.  The “luckiest” failures end up like men:  unwilling to change enough to fit into those models and willing to accept that not getting a sexual relationship might be the consequence of that.

Of course, feminism rears its head here as well, with Glover blaming feminism for at least part of the problem and Carrier denying it:

There is no empirical study showing that causal chain exists (feminism —> messaging that men are useless and bad —> men trying to prove themselves useful and to hide being bad). It is entirely a figment of Glover’s imagination. When we look at what is actually going on in his own examples of men he claims have been affected by this, it becomes clear the problem is that these men haven’t been listening to feminism or women at all, and have instead invented fictitious witchery in their place.

I’ve already talked about how feminism could have inadvertently contributed to this, by noting that it attacks traditional masculinity which may cause problems for some men, and noting that its impact on society allowed women to be more shallow even as society didn’t acknowledge that they could be making shallow assessments of men.  But on top of that, feminism contributes to it by changing what it means to make a failed approach.  In the past, a man who made a failed approach might be someone who was reaching for a ring that was clearly beyond his grasp, approaching a woman who was clearly out of his league, and those are about the only cases where he’d be mocked for doing so (he’d get beaten up if he approached someone who already had a boyfriend).  But with feminism, a notion was added that if he approached someone who wasn’t interested them he might well be sexualizing her or harassing her, which then would make him a bad person.  This, then, would contribute to the hesitancy of some men to approach.  Which, then, also blunted the best advice given to shy men that if they were interested in someone to approach them and ask instead of trying to reason it out by observation, since when the worst that could happen is that she said “No” and if she unkindly rejected them that would probably say more about them than about the man, now the man might be harassing them to do so and making them uncomfortable which might be reason to think of them as sexist and misogynistic.  Scott Aaronson opined on this at one point, and the reaction of feminists proved rather than disproved his point.

Still, the big failure that I lay at the feet of feminism is that it tried to reform femininity and relationships but never really came up with a changed model that could actually work.  It tried to change things for women, but came at it solely from the perspective of women — and it seems the perspective of some women — and put the kibbosh on attempts to reform society from the perspective of men by opposing men’s groups (which, to be fair, might have been sexist groups more often than not) and so never really managed to reform society as a whole, which is responsible for at least some of the problems that we now face.

Ultimately, both Glover and Carrier follow the societal trend of blaming men for their lack of success here instead of trying to help them, in different ways.  But men being blamed for their lack of success — especially when women generally aren’t — is one of the key components that would take a simple “loser” to someone who hates women and perhaps society in general.  As society lurches towards an idea that all things should be based on empathy, it should be no surprise that most people feel none for the people they don’t understand.

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