The First Reader and I started out our day with a small conversation, but it was more of a running topic we’ve mulled over together for years, now. Probably from even before he and I got together. The topic is something along the lines of ‘nice guys finish last’ and (get your minds out of the gutter!) how being too nice is a bad thing sometimes.
It’s not just the whole ‘nice guy’ thing. His hypothesis is that girls like bad boys better than nice guys. I’m not entirely sure it’s an accurate conclusion. I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that, and it has a lot to do with the maturity of the people involved in the relationship. But also, niceness as a parent is not always a good thing. Sometimes you have to be ‘mean’ to your kids to get them to do what they are supposed to do, like taking away their phone until they wash the dishes and even (gasp!) wipe down the counters.
So where’s the line? Obviously I’m the nice one in our relationship, you all know the First Reader is a card-carrying Curmudgeon. He’s the drop of acid to my sweet, we’ve said that before. But I don’t think that he’s a Bad Boy, either, partly because he’s a mature man with a level head and even keel in life since I’ve known him. I do find his cynicism appealing (or I wouldn’t be with him!) in no small part because I’m aware that one of my main character flaws is being too nice. He balances me.
I am too nice. I trust too easily, and I accept people at face value. I am not prone (or I wasn’t, at one point in my life… ok, for much of my life) to looking deeper and suspiciously at motivations, or verifying that I’m being told the truth. I’ve had to learn how to do that through deep wounds given when I wasn’t on my guard. But I’m still too nice. If someone asks me to do something and it’s within my power, I’m a lot more likely to say yes than no. I don’t ruthlessly push my kids to do their chores/get good grades/go get a job. I try to catch myself with the kids – parenting is not the same as friendship. And even if it were, you still need to have boundaries with friends or you’ll get walked on.
Which is part of why I object to the notion that nice guys are not what girls want. I did, this last time, wind up with a nice guy. Sure, he’s got a roguish sense of humor. But that’s not more than fun – deep inside he’s an honorable man with a strong sense of commitment and loyalty, and that to me is a jewel worth cherishing and clinging to. Perhaps it is because I’ve had to learn harsh lessons that I went for the nice man. The man who didn’t casually hurt me or lie to me. Maybe it’s just the young and immature women who turn away from the nice men. Looking for drama is just going to end in tears, but they don’t know that… yet.
I do agree with part of my dear husband’s theory on male-female dynamics. Women prefer men, not milksops. I want a partner, not a yes-man. Some of the moments in the last few years that really ratcheted up my respect for him a few notches were when he looked at me and said ‘no!’ when I suggested something really hare-brained. Like wanting to take on an even heavier class-load (one that would have required the dean’s approval to take on). He supports me most of the time, and when he doesn’t, it’s a reasoned and rational thing. That’s being a man. A bad boy is a whole ‘nother mess.
And perhaps that’s why we find so many young women growing into womanhood as a mess. They never learn to look for the steady man. They want the element of drama and danger without thinking through what that means, day in and day out. It takes work to build a solid relationship, and the media feeds them full of love-at-first-sight, happily ever after riding off into the sunset. The solid man who can walk at their side doesn’t meet up to the illusion of the Bad Boy who offers exciting adventures. And it’s not just media. So many young ladies are growing up in broken homes without the model of a father they can look up to. I did have that. I have a great Dad. My parent’s marriage dissolved when I was a teen, but there was no acrimony for me to flinch away from and learn bad habits concerning men from. My daughters… two of them won’t consider marriage, because of what they’ve seen. My son tells me with all seriousness he will never get married. I have hope for him – I’m walking shoulder to shoulder with a partner he can learn from now – but I can absolutely see why they feel the way they do, and why. And it’s something that young women in the post-modern era have to struggle with and learn to self-analyze more deeply than most of us do until we’ve had our noses rubbed in our flaws.
Which brings me to something else: it’s not safe for young men in the dating arena any longer. They hear this myth, that nice guys always lose the girl, so they try to be edgy and aggressive and that lands them with accusations of having taken it too far, or simply that they fear those accusations… It’s not been that long since I read the heartbreaking story of a young man who had exchanged indiscreet photos with his girlfriend, and when the school officials sicced the cops on him, he killed himself. I’m not advocating that sexting should be tolerated – I caution my younglings about it – but that his fresh bright life was snuffed out over a misstep in a learning process? That was tragedy. And boys are being taught that they can’t trust girls. That they must fear them. The relationships are warped and stunted from the beginning.
Sigh. It’s hard to see friends I cherish trying to find their mate, with all these obstacles in their path. The best I can do is remind my kids to do their chores, and to give them a measured reasonable consequence for not doing them. And remind them, again, that love isn’t all roses and kittens. Love is hard work, but so worth it. It’s not nice. Love isn’t nice. Love is saying no when your mate is headed in the wrong direction that will hurt them. Love is rolling over in the night and listening for their breath, because you know they will die, someday, and praying it’s not today because you’re not ready. Love is sad and hard and ultimately rewarding. It’s not often adventures, and it’s more boredom and daily routine than it is drama. But you don’t want a Bad Boy when you’re in it for the long haul. You want a man, my dear girl. You want a man.