If nice guys were actually nice, they wouldn’t have problems getting dates and keeping girlfriends.
– Marle, commenting on Nice Guys, March 5, 1:10p.m.
There’s a dinner party anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, that the British philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked why he gave up philosophy and replied that he “preferred fucking.” This same Bertrand Russell also said, in regard to sexual desires, that men were attracted to women’s appearance, while a woman was more attracted to a man’s “character.” This was a self-serving statement, of course. On a moment’s reflection you can understand why a man with status and power would ascribe his success with women to “nobility of character,” rather than, you know, “status and power.” But here’s the rub: Bertrand Russell was a nice enough fellow. I haven’t studied his biography, but in his writing he comes across as humane, fundamentally decent, and not without humor. (To Nietzsche’s remark “Going to woman? Don’t forget the whip!” Mr. Russell quipped that if Nietzsche had tried that, nine out of ten women would have gotten the whip away from him.) Point is, it’s human nature for any man, even a deep thinker like Bertrand Russell, not to think too deeply about what may have attracted a woman to him, other than his inherent goodness. (Of course, this blindness applies to both genders.)
And yet – pace Lord Russell – there’s a real problem with ascribing men’s romantic success to character and turning a blind eye to important factors such as social dominance: Doing so stigmatizes men who are romantically rejected. And you know what? It is very hard for a man to graciously accept a rejection of his sexual interest if being rejected brands him as a loser with a defective character.
(And no, I’m not excusing boorish behavior here. What I’m saying is that dropping the “involuntarily celibate = creepy loser” mentality would do a lot to make the sexual arena less fraught because men would feel less of a need to validate their worth by being “successful.”)
We’ve all seen the way in which people, men and women, will discount flaws in a romantic partner if their sexual attraction to that person is strong enough. This is unfortunate. What is less obvious is that way in which people will impute flaws to those whose romantic interest they don’t wish to reciprocate. Yet for the woman who is not attractive, she at least understands that being rejected is not her fault. A woman who is obese, for example, usually understands why she is being rejected. But for a man who lack confidence – and in the sexual arena “confidence” seems to be overvalued – his lack of success is attributed to his character. This comment by Esau over at “Hooking Up Smart”, while I don’t agree with all of it, captures some of what I’m trying to say here.
(Yes, I’ve been making some “ev bio” assumptions here: Men like looks, women like power. Some feminists have challenged the truth of these assumptions, arguing that scientific conclusions are unduly shaped by pre-existing assumptions about gender roles. While many of my own experiences seem to confirm some of the less sally-happy tenets of ev bio, its claims about sexuality should be subject to continued scrutiny, of course.)