Sympathy for the Nice Guys of OkCupid

The now-defunct Tumblr is a portrait of loneliness and romantic frustration.


What comes to mind when you think of a "nice guy"? Someone who dedicates his life to the betterment of others? Someone friendly and respectful, with a great sense of humor? Or maybe someone who is sick of "fake ass" females, who believes that contraception is wrong, and who thinks that women have "an obligation" to keep their legs shaved? If you chose the latter, you'll be pleased to meet the Nice Guys of OkCupid, the subjects of the now-defunct Tumblr of the same name that has attracted coverage in Jezebel, the New Statesman, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Guardian. The site was deleted from Tumblr's servers last weekend, but new moderators are now planning to relaunch it.

A catalog of images of some of the dating service's most embittered and insecure users, superimposed with less-than-woman-friendly statements drawn from their profiles, the message of the site was simple. Are you a man who blames your dating problems on the fact that you're too nice? Chances are you're an asshole.

The notion that self-proclaimed "nice guys" might not be as nice as they think they are isn't new. The Nice Guy™, as the figure is often referred to, has been an object of sustained feminist critique over the past decade: for his less-than-flattering depiction of the women he claims to treat so well, for his passive-aggressive approach to picking up women, and for his underlying assumption that sex is an exchange—that if you're a "good guy," the women you're good to should fall in love with and have sex with you...if not out of desire, then out of pity or obligation.

Jeff Fecke summed it up thusly in a 2007 post for Shakesville: "A Nice Guy® is a guy who tells you, in a bitter, resentful tone, that women don't date 'nice guys,' they only date 'bad boys,' and because he's 'too nice,' women only view him as a friend." But as Alisse Desroiers commented in a post last year for Feminspire, "If these guys were genuinely nice, they wouldn't be saying things like 'the bitch stuck me in the friend zone because she only likes assholes.'"

The Nice Guys of OkCupid featured all of these mind-sets in spades, taking what had been a somewhat abstract cultural critique and making it concrete with real life-examples and shareable images. There were complaints about "falling into the friend zone" (a term which refers to the idea that women divide men into platonic friends and romantic prospects, and that once you fall into one category, you can't jump over into the other) and about how "shallow and superficial" American women are. There was bitterness over nights spent talking, texting, and holding hands, with no physical or emotional pay-off. Then there were reams of professed political views that, if not definitively "not nice," are certainly not popular with many people on the liberal left.

See, the site seemed to say. You're not single because you're 'too nice'. You're single because you're a jerk. And indeed, that tone of self-righteous mirth has been reflected in much of the journalistic response to the site. But spend enough time scrolling through the pages of the Nice Guys of OkCupid, and that mirth begins to transform into something else; something a little sadder, and more akin to sympathy.

Critics of the Nice Guy™ are right on at least one thing: Nobody "owes" you sex, no matter how nice you are, how much money you spend on them, or how close a friendship you have.

But to dismiss OkCupid's embittered "Nice Guys" purely as misogynists who are pissed off that they're not getting the sex they believe they are entitled to is too simple a reading.

What these men lack in their lives isn't just sex, but all the things that sex stands for in our culture: intimacy and connection with other people, affirmation of our own value and desirability, and love. (And no, no one owes you love either, but that doesn't make it stink any less to go without it.) As one OkCupid "Nice Guy" wrote, "I have never had a girlfreind [sic] because they all seem to not look past the fact that im a little over weight [sic] ... i hope to meet someone who can accept me for who i am and instead of playing with my heart actually tell me the truth."

These desires for intimacy and affirmation aren't unique to heterosexual men. Nor is rejection. Most people have fallen for someone who just hasn't liked us back in the same way at one point or another, whether we're male or female, gay or straight, conventionally hot or not. Being "friend zoned" isn't always a matter of trying to manipulate an unwilling party into having sex with you, and drafting angry online dating profiles when they turn you down. Sometimes it's just the process of discovering that someone you connect so well with in every way doesn't feel the same way about you. So, why do these guys turn to the Nice Guy™ narrative to explain their predicament? Partly because they're been weaned on Hollywood love stories where the geeky best friend gets the girl just before the credits roll, and on tough love self-help that urges men to act like douches if they want to get laid.

Partly because, if you're someone who hasn't had much luck in the romance department, it's less heart-breaking to fall back on the idea that you're "too nice" (or smart, or intimidating) than that you're too insecure, or that people just don't find you sexy. And partly, yes, because on some level they've bought into the idea that men's "niceness" can be exchanged for sexual access.

But if it's wrong to assume that if you treat someone nicely enough, they'll eventually fall in love with you, surely it's also wrong to conclude that if someone is a serial sexual reject, it must be because they're a jerk.

Life is more complicated than that. Sometimes, the person you fall for won't fall for you in return, no matter how nice you are to them. Sometimes their reasons will be superficial, other times they'll be deep seated: either way, you will have to accept it. And sometimes, people who make all the same missteps as the Nice Guys of OkCupid will find love nonetheless, however questionable their "niceness."