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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 24 November, 2014

Lisa McInerney: Hey guys, you don’t have to be arrogant to be attractive

Women do like nice men – and to say otherwise, as an anonymous column did last week, is a real disservice to the good guys.

Lisa McInerney

THERE WAS SOME controversy earlier this month about an anonymous ‘Single and the City’ column published in the Galway Independent, in which a chap calling himself ‘Galway Player’ (stop laughing, you) advised male readers to “see women for what they really are: something to be enjoyed and used”.

Naturally, this didn’t go down too well with sensible people, who pointed out that Mr Player’s sentiments were of a kind that contributes to, at best, a stressful, uneven dating scene and, at worst, modern day rape culture. Of course, the idea that women are snooty creatures that need to be knocked down a peg or two to pander to male sexual expectations is ludicrous. By that logic, there’s no consensual casual sex happening in Ireland at all.

It’s redundant to suggest men “grow a pair” when dealing with “illogical” women who should remain disposable until such a time as the man finds “one [he] can half put up with”; on the social scene in any major city you’ll find men who grope, insult, and abuse women in their misguided adherence to ‘alpha male’ principles. In short, the human race is not in danger of extinction (or at the very least, mass genital atrophy) because of a lack of bad boys.

The wider issue, outside of Mr Player’s ill-thought out argument that one suspects he cobbled together from reading the back of self-help books in Charlie Byrne’s, is that this old ‘Nice Guys Finish Last’ argument really needs to be retired. It’s absurd to suggest that non-responsive women are threats to a man’s virility, and it’s sad to assume there’s something inherently emasculating in platonic friendship.

“Firm foothold in pop psychology”

The concept that men have to be arrogant, insensitive and brutish to be sexually attractive has a firm foothold in pop psychology. This idea that nicer men just don’t achieve as much romantically was particularly popularised in the ’90s, but reached its zenith in 2005 with the success of The Game, an account of journalist Neil Strauss’s involvement with pick-up artists. It was a book both zealously loved and loathed, in which Strauss documented the psychological tricks employed by these pick-up artists on the US dating scene.

A number of the recommended romantic traits made sense – that guys should be confident, funny and interesting when presenting themselves as potential partners – but underlying logic was easily skewed by desperate readers. Instead of taking positive pointers, the popular trend was to use the theories not as a way to modify undesirable behaviour, but to excuse bad.

Does it not make sense to wonder if it is a simple case of ladies preferring the advances of men who actually appear to be attracted to them to the scowling complaints of so-called friends who conceal their true intentions? I mean, come on, lads. The object of your affection isn’t psychic – how can she possibly respond to your romantic feelings if you are sulkily hiding them?

Many women would feel uncomfortable making a play for a man who’s never hinted at wanting a sexual relationship, pretty much because old dating traditions still place the onus on guys to make the first move. Ergo, if he hasn’t made the move, many women will believe it’s because
he has no romantic interest. And no, that’s not fair. It’s not fair that men should, in this day and age, still feel that they have to make all of the moves and that they have to be the ones to let the guard down and risk rejection. But that’s the way it is, at least for the time being, and Mr Player’s platitudes don’t help redress the balance.

It’s funny how much of modern dating advice purports to tell uncertain dudes what women want. On one hand, women are supposed to like bad boys, men who’ll walk all over them, make them feel inadequate, and push them down a desperate path where they’re constantly trying to prove their worth. On the other hand, women are supposed to like funny men, men who make them laugh, and the guy’s sexual attractiveness isn’t supposed to matter. Which is it? An amalgamation of the two? Disfigured, emotionally-damaged comedians? That seems a little specialist for the combined sexual preferences of half the world’s population.

“Seedier ramifications”

Then there’s the seedier ramifications of the ‘women don’t like nice men’ trope. That all nice men are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing, secretly harbouring ever-more-frustrated desires to sleep with their female friends, is an alarming thought… and one that does a real disservice to guys. It presents a hypothetical dating landscape in which men who show interest are heartless, and men who are friendly are bitter liars. Which of course isn’t the case. One can’t assume that all confident guys are jerks and all gentlemen are pansies.

Recent studies present better, less hysterical news for both sexes. For example, one 2010 study headed up by Dr Pat Barclay – ‘Altruism as a courtship display’ – showed that women found men who were presented as kind and selfless more attractive than ‘neutral’ counterparts.
Whether you approach it from a biological angle (women prefer generous, gallant mates) or a social one (women can’t bring sociopaths home to meet their mammies), it makes sense; everyone prefers to surround themselves with decent people.

If there was a piece of advice that suited all those unlucky-in-love nice guys who might be in danger of believing the ‘be bad if you want to get a girlfriend’ line, it’s that they should stop pretending to be a friend if they expect to be paid in sex. There’s nothing nice about that. And
really, can there be any doubt that men who “see women for what they really are: something to be enjoyed and used” are unlikely to see many women at all?

Read previous columns on TheJournal.ie by Lisa McInerney >

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