The Rise of the Planet of Nice Guys

Love and Sex

The Rise of the Planet of Nice Guys

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

Ishould have seen it coming. I’ve been hit with that line many a time, sometimes with the force of a light slap that makes you refocus, often with the strength of a punch that knocks you out. I have bartered sleep, appetite, and sanity to the point that I looked at the mirror and saw somebody else’s perception of me reflected through the twisted fractals of my own reality. What do you tell someone you love when they tell you, “But I’m the nice guy.”

Of course, I know you’re the nice guy. I knew it when you spent three hours in the dead of the night to drop me to my doorstep. I saw it in the food you woke up early to cook for me, when you told me to snap out of a break-up, when you chose my company over a party you would have definitely been the life of. But when you state that you’re a nice guy on a contract that I don’t remember signing and ask me to date you in return, I don’t know what to tell you.

I agree, that you are a nice guy. I’m just not attracted to you. And even if that means that I have a propensity for bad guys who will break my heart, I still retain the power of exercising that choice.

It’s not just you, I haven’t been attracted to many other nice guys that I’ve known in the past. There was the nice guy I met in college, who was high on the idea that first love is found in the first few weeks of a brand-new college. We went through small talk and big talk like camels on sand dunes, the ups and downs unnoticed in a consistent flurry of words.

When he told me he loved me I told him thank you, but I love the drummer with the long hair who smells of pot and problems. He asked me what was wrong with me; then, if I would consider him. I said he deserved someone who wouldn’t have to, they’d know he was the one. The sand dune collapsed on itself soon after and I felt the blister-shaped consequences of my trek for many years. He showed up at my window drunk and angry, pretended I didn’t exist, found opportunities to sneer at me any chance that he got. He was a nice guy, but his niceness was not unconditional.

So by the time I met the third nice guy, I knew that this caveat existed. I became wary of kind gestures from every man I met, even if they were products of genuine human decency. I began to only speak to men that I liked and men who I knew would never like me, eliminating the in-between in its entirety.

You want to unravel zones? Let’s do this. How about the fuckzone I was put in when I walked up to you thinking that we were friends?

But through the cracks in my caution, the third one slipped in. I broke up with a man I loved, and there he was with the drinks and the patience to put up with my prolonged whining. He was at the movies with my friends, he slipped strawberries into my takeout dinner, and I was a little less bereaved every day. Until one day the man who broke my heart walked back in with some sellotape and we tried to piece the remnants of our long and serious relationship into a workable model again. The nice guy was jilted, walked out, and hasn’t spoken to me since.

It doesn’t affect me like it used to because I’m a hardened player of this lopsided game. Any nice guy pretending to be a friend cannot hurt me by his loss if I don’t need any more friends than I already have. And I don’t. I have girlfriends who swoop in with alcohol and advice, and male friends who act like brothers and bouncers with equal ease. I would have added these erstwhile nice guys to the list of these dependable people had they not pouted and parted ways the minute they realised that their kindness was not about to be reciprocated with sex. As it damn well doesn’t have to be.

When a nice guy turns sour and throws a passive-aggressive tantrum in your direction as a final bid for attention, what he is actually upset about is the loss of a hypothetical future he assumed he had with you. Even if that hypothetical future comes at the cost of a present you were perfectly fine with. Where you saw a friend, he saw an opportunity. I have been on the receiving end of enough tirades of this sort, heard the dreaded F-word (friendzone, of course) enough times, and placated enough man-children that I really liked to the point that I was done.

You want to unravel zones? Let’s do this. How about the fuckzone I was put in when I walked up to you thinking that we were friends? What about all the nice things I did for you too, as friends are wont to for each other? Or are your deeds greater than mine, just like your attraction, agency, and priorities are greater than mine? And what about that crucial choice, open to all men and women, to say no?

As this piece that calls bullshit on the friendzone phenomenon points out: “Respecting that choice is crucial, because the notion of the friendzone isn’t limited to awkward conversations and encounters. It also reinforces a culture wherein women who don’t welcome male advances are punished for it. Often the woman who is ‘friend-zoning’ isn’t just blamed by her ‘friend’, but is also shunned by peers… In reality, the friendzone devalues the very thing it references: friendship. Its view of sex suggests that platonic friendship is some sort of penalty box, rather than a relationship one should feel thankful and excited for.”

More often than not, this volley of anger I feel is rationalised and put away in my brain where I store all the other frustrations of my life that will turn into an aneurysm in my old age. I just focus on the nice things the nice guys did for me once. If that doesn’t work I tell myself that the Nice Guy is an oxymoron and carry on with my life.