Tuesday, 22 October 2013

'Just good friends': Why women must stop condemning 'nice guys'

Friendship takes courage. Friendship, takes patience, and it means being disappointed, hurt and heartbroken just as much as being in a relationship does. Maybe more so, because friends are like family. They are your tribe, and yet they are as distant as they are intimate. They cannot be controlled through the magnetism of eros. Friendships are more than the sum of their parts. They are children, and they must be allowed to run free, to develop according to their independent instincts.

When it comes to friendship, talk is cheap. It is easier to talk a good game in the context of friendship rather than in relationships. In sexual relationships, intimacy requires you to cash out your promises. You know intuitively through someone's closeness to you, the real nature of their attraction and their commitment. In friendships, the whole process of imtimacy and shared love is a slower burn, it proves itself over the piece, and there are few immediate forms of gratification. This means that friendships can be exploited. It means it is easier to betray someone, and lie to them, and that your hurt will be longer lasting.

Now that I am in the process of being a recovering 'people-pleaser' I realise the extent of the damage I have caused by being nice. By being a doormat. I never did any of it out of malice, and often it sprung from a basic human empathy and a desire not to come off cruel. But the result was a desperate dishonesty, and leading many people in my life up a garden path that led to places I did not know.

You don't have to be nice to avoid being cruel. You can be honest without being blunt. Those that pride themselves on their directness are often just people who lack, or who can't be bothered developing, the necessary charm that comes with functional human social skills. To be be cruel and superior is not a virtue. But neither, unfortunately, is being nice.

Both spring from a lazy dishonesty, however well intentioned or justfiable. Whatever causes these behaviours, they are dysfunctional and they are morally equivalent.

Most men who play the nice-guy card are not manipulating anyone. Not consciously anyway. To argue that is insidious, and a form of outright misandry masquerading as a kind of progressive feminism. The nice guy role comes about first and foremost from an inability, or lack of desire, to play the role of a traditional male authority figure. I am suspicious of people who seek to demonise men who act the nice guy, because underneath that seems to be a latent desire for a strong father figure, a need to put men back in traditonal roles, to entrench them deeper in the destructve value systems that have created many of the pathologies we all profess to hate.

Having said that, playing the nice guy is only a hair's breath away from passive aggression. It often comes from an inability to make peace with one's own sexuality, to integrate what seem to be demonic and overpowering needs. Needs that don't fit into the personality disorder that is modern masculinity. This constant battle between potency and decency. The paradox of strength and power, mixed with the chastity of honour.

Masculinity has always been a kind of schizophrenia, and the experience of being a man is almost always a trauma of sorts. Because to be a man is to be caught on an axis of needs and ideals, the conflict of equally intransigent archetypes and normative demands.

Nice guys are much of the time just guys who have failed to negotiate these choppy currents in their subconscious. To demonise them, to apply scaremongering, and condemn the nice guy is to further entrench the pathology. Because by condemning, the sense of frustration and confusion only worsens. The original problem, like most probems of gender, came from hyper-normativity, narrow and blinkered social conditioning that defines men according to a limited and very violent set of empty virtues.

Rather than condemn, and assume the intellectual posture of liberal revisionism, perhaps we should seek to understand the nature of the beast, for it is certainly a beast. Under every mask of a nice guy lies a labyrinth of aggression, sexual shame, abuse and rage. But most of the time, the nice guy act is not a way to express these destructive forces in some twisted manipulative way. Most of the time, the mask is worn as a way of not beocming a victim to these latent personalities, of not being sucked into the fires of what have become shameful masculine impulses.

Women who profess friendship to men, without offeing a compassionate undestanding of male sexuality are just as bad as men who think friendship is a back door way to getting laid. Friendship that is offered on the condition of male chastity, with an undercurrent of judgement and condemnation around male sexuality, is abusive.

All friendships have sexual and erotic dynamics. The way men behave with each other only needs to be obsereved briefly to know this. One thing that proves my point is the way that really close men will validate each other's sexuality. This is done in body language, but it is often done explicitly, through 'gay jokes' or outright compliments. Men know that each man needs to feel validated in his sexuality, and that if he doesn't receive that validation, there will be a trust deficit.

If women want to be friends with men, they have to understand how men create friendships. The trust that creates male friendship is a trust that puts sexuality and sexual validation at its heart. Gay men know this more than any one else. Validating a person's sexuality, while laying down firm boundaries of mutual respect and trust, is an art. It's an art, but it is also very possible.

Yes, men need to develop new ways of foging friendships across the many sexual divides of modern gender relationships. There are so many ways that men need to grow the fuck up, and no one is denying it. But to cast suspicion on archaic behaviours is merely to entrench them and make them more abusive.

In my closest male friendships, I feel sexually validated. Of my two closest companions, one is as gay as the day is long, the other is a rampant medieval sea-beast. But none of them want to fuck me, and I want to fuck neither of them. It doesn't stop me feeling empowered sexually as a result of the friendship.

Mutual sexual empowerment is the key to understanding male bonding.

If women want to forge that kind of solidarity with men, then maybe they need to get used to the fact that sex is going to be there, and it is going to take centre stage. Navigating around that fact is not easy. But to demand anything else from a man, is as abusive as demanding that women play the role of chaste little virgin for male convenience.

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