My previous post “The Harm In Being Nice” generated a great deal of feedback. Thanks to everyone who posted, IMed, e-mailed, voted, and threatened. Although some people missed the point, just about everyone contributed something positive to the discussion.
I’d like to address some of the issues raised in the subsequent correspondence. I tried to address the phenomenon of why women would want nice guys as “just friends” as opposed to a more serious relationship. I argued that when a guy is loyal, considerate, emotionally sensitive etc. the woman would have the primary effect of a relationship without the commitment, employing the metaphor of “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.”
This was just my attempt at explaining a phenomenon. Obviously, relationships are as complicated as the participants. Many people suggested contributing factors as “two sides of the same coin,” but the complexities more closely resemble AD&D dice. However, I couldn’t very well write about relationships with disclaimers every five sentences.1 That’s what followups are for.
Most people responded to the following scenario: woman breaks up with guy using the ever popular “you’re really nice, but…” line. Most of the time, this completely ends the relationship. My theory applies more to women who don’t want to date someone, but still want to maintain some friendship with the guy. I’m not saying that women should just continue dating someone just because. It’s possible the woman has her own legitimate reasons for not wanting to marry a guy, and she has her own reasons for not articulating them. I was taking the woman at face value: 1. that she thinks the guy is nice and 2. she just doesn’t “feel” it or see it going anywhere and that is why she is ending the relationship.
There could be any number of reasons why a woman wouldn’t want to continue dating a particular nice guy. She might not like the way he looks, they could have incompatible career goals, etc. Sometimes men come on way too strong which is also a turnoff. I also must stress that “niceness” is not a substitute for “personality.” Simply going through the motions of politeness just means you’ve been trained well – but it doesn’t say anything about who you are.2 Niceness might not cause a breakup, but niceness alone will not lead to marriage. If I may get biblical, sur mera must be followed by ase’ tov.
Can mixed friendships exist as healthy relationships? I think so under certain circumstances.3 Being able to talk to the other gender is not only useful for advice or different perspectives, but it also trains people to view the other gender as “people.” As early as high-school (perhaps earlier) the Orthodox world indoctrinates men and women about the dangers of temptation.4 The intent is admirable – to prevent rampant immorality and various other forms of sinning – and for the most part it succeeds (or at least better than the alternative). There is however an unintended consequence. By constantly emphasizing the avoidance of temptation, one is in fact placing temptation at the forefront. If every time I look at a woman I think, “must…avoid…temptation,” then I am really looking at the woman as a sex object to be avoided, rather than as a person.5
On the other hand, there can be downsides as well (aren’t there always). The hurt of the rejection will be proportional to the feelings felt by the rejected person. If these feelings are too strong, then a person might not be able to “get over” the rejection while maintaining a friendship. To use another personal example, there was a woman whom I liked and dated, and we broke up in the typical fashion. When I found that maintaining contact was too difficult for me emotionally, I withdrew. Recently, I was able to speak to her about a personal event,6 and she provided very useful insights.
As I mentioned, relationships are complicated and no single theory will account for all cases. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it and see what patterns have effected our own personal lives. For yet another perspective, see this salon article which comes courtesy of Dr. Manhattan.7
On that note, the poll results are in. With a whopping 68 people voting:
49% – Stay nice – just stop being such a wimp (33 votes)
43% – Stay nice – Something good will turn up eventually (29 votes)
6% – Get a complete attitude adjustment – might require mental reprogramming and/or lobotomy (4 votes)
3% – Stay nice – might not work for you, but why should everyone else lose out? (2 votes)
The clear majority says I should stay nice, with some discrepancy as to how or why. Some are pure optimists, while most voted that I should develop some sort of spine. I will start by not letting a silly internet poll determine my behavior. (I’ve been getting better at being nice without becoming a doormat and I will continue to do so).
I’ve also tracked down one of the people who suggested the lobotomy, and I’m looking for the others.
The final 3% of you are just selfish bastards.
1. And really, who reads footnotes?
2. Ignoring for now how long someone should give as a chance to “be him/herself”
3. Yes, I have seen When Harry Met Sally.
4. For more details and what some people are doing about it see End The Madness.
5. Before people start yelling at me about this, I’m not saying that we should let everything go. I’m just saying that there can be unintended consequences. When I was in Gruss a few years ago, R. Miller gave us mussar that married couples were too friendly with other’s spouses. He did not elaborate as to what “too friendly” meant, but I can assure nothing major happened. I think that this mentality reinforces how the people were raised in treating interactions with women as primarily being sexual.
6. The “.5” from the last post found this website.
7. Who ironically lives in the Bronx now.