There has been a lot of discussion lately about pick-up artists (PUA), men’s rights activists (MRA), so-called “nice guys” and the infamous “friend zone”. I keep seeing posts tagged with #notallmen and #yesallwomen. While I love lively open discussions, and I think these are very important subjects, most of the rhetoric disturbs me at the very core of my being. It’s like there is a war going on and it’s a war that can’t possible have a constructive outcome. It makes me wonder how men and women ever get together. It makes me wonder how our species has managed to reproduce. The fact that it has and continues to happen is equally disturbing because it suggests that we have a system based on power, control, manipulation and inequality… which is exactly what we have. Fighting only reinforces this kind of system and tends to benefit the dominant class. Healthy male-female relationships cannot be achieved through fighting. It seems to me that this should be obvious. This is one situation where there should be no doubt that we are in it together. We all want the same thing. I probably shouldn’t speak for everyone but I believe most people want connection, companionship, love and sex. These are things which we CANNOT get on our own. In the case of heterosexual relationship, these things require men and women working together; so why all the fighting? I’m starting to think that you are all just fucked in the head.
So I’m going to try and be a voice of reason. I’m going to try and interject some compassion and understanding into the conversation. Granted, the only perspective I feel comfortable presenting is my own but hopefully the fact that I have dated both men and women will lend some credibility to what I’m saying. Still, it is the perspective of someone who has experienced this culture as a male. My hope is that women and people who have traversed gender identity will feel comfortable adding their perspective to the conversation in the space below.
First off I want to say that I don’t know very much about pick-up artists or men’s rights activism. My take on the pick-up artist stuff is that it exists because it works. It just seems so gamey and contrived that I can’t see anything real or sustainable coming out of it. I have no interest in that. The men’s rights movement seems to have been born out of a sense of loss but I believe that it is the loss of something that was neither real nor sustainable in the first place so why should I care? I realize that is probably not the most compassionate response, and the truth is I do care, just not as much as I care about other things.
What I do know something about is the “nice guy” archetype and the “friend zone”. One could say that the friend zone has been the story of my life. It’s a pretty common story. It is the story of two people who like each other but one wants something more and the other doesn’t. It happens more often than not. I’ve been on both sides of this equation; or should I say inequality. My guess is that two people feeling the same way and wanting the same thing is so rare that we might not even recognize it when it happens. There are countless books and movies, songs and poems, of unrequited love. I’ve written at least half a dozen songs on the subject myself. In fact the first song with lyrics I ever wrote, probably thirty years ago, long before the term “friend zone” made it into mainstream consciousness, began with the line:
There goes another sunny day
Can’t believe it’s raining again
Just when I thought things were going my way
You said you’d rather just remain friends
It was a painful time in my life but what’s sad is that the words ring just as true to me today. I continue to fall for my friends who want to be “just friends”. I know that you are not suppose to fall in love with your friends but I honestly can’t imagine falling for anyone else. How could I fall for someone that I wouldn’t want to be friends with? I don’t date in the traditional sense because I find it awkward and artificial. Perhaps one day dating will merely be considered a remnant of a patriarchal society. Also, I don’t find dating necessary to meet people. I meet people all the time and I can pretty much tell who I’m attracted to within a few minutes. I could just jump into bed with them right away, which in the past that has been my modus operandi, but I’ve learned that if I want something real and sustainable I need to get to know them, find out if I actually like them, you know… as a friend.
It’s this approach which makes the friend zone possible. It means I place a higher priority on friendship than sex and this does places me squarely in “nice guy” territory. Frankly, that pisses me off. Not that there is anything wrong with being a nice guy but it’s a stereotype and it diminishes my humanity. It’s like dismissing the talents of a star football player because he’s a “jock”. It still takes a lot of hard work to become good at a sport even if you have an aptitude for athletics. The truth is that I can be as big of an asshole as the next guy, something anyone who has really gotten to know me and spent enough time with me will attest. My aptitude for kindness is not innate. I was not born with it. It has been forged through my experiences. It’s because I have witnessed and experienced the damage caused by power and control that I reject these things. It is only through suffering that I have come to put my faith in kindness.
I don’t recall exactly how long it took me to come up with the next line for my song but I suspect it took some soul searching. I had a lot of pain and insecurity to work through before I could come up with a compassionate, loving response.
That’s fine, just as long as we’re together
Sometimes that’s the way it should be
Lovers come, then they go and are gone forever
I can see it’s a friend that you need
In the song it appears like this response is immediate but in reality these situations tend to go more like this…
I snagged this comic from imgur.com where it has recieved over a million views. I think it’s brilliant! It perfectly captures a clearly painful subject in a comical and artistic manner. It was created by a young woman who goes by the name mamamantis on tumblr. She seems pretty cool, that is to say I think we have a lot of common interests. We even have the same incense burner. We could probably be great friends so I hope she doesn’t mind that I use her comic as a jumping off point to discuss my views on the friend zone / nice guy phenomenon.
I know a number of women who have posted this comic and identify with it’s righteous indignation. I can relate to the anger being felt. That feeling that you owe somebody something simply for them being nice to you. I mean, that you owe them anything beyond being nice to them. That’s totally unfair and fucked up. I’ve experienced this from the other end. I’ve had people expect something more from me simply for having sex with me. All you get for having sex with me is that you get to have sex with me. I know that might make me an asshole in some people’s eyes. I realize that sex is not just sex to some people but that’s a subject for another post. This post is about how sometimes friendship is more than just friendship.
Let’s face it, the whole construct of the “friend-zone” is a male invention. It was introduced into the lexicon by men and has been used by men to hurt and subjugate women. Women have every reason to be pissed off about it. Still, the situation which has produced the idea of the friend-zone is the result of progress made by women. It wasn’t that long ago where the idea of unmarried men and women being “just friends” was unthinkable. Unless we want to go back to those days we’re going to have to learn now to deal with this new situation. The culture has changed but that doesn’t mean that the people involved have. Men and women behave differently in this situation for what I believe are cultural differences but the emotions behind that behaviour are purely human.
What I see in the comic above is two people who are experiencing hurt, fear and anger. To overcome this it’s not enough to change the culture, we need to evolve as human beings. We need to open our hearts and our minds to the idea that we are all just people. We all want and need the same basic things and none of us can do it alone. We need each other. There is no one else out there to save us so we need to work together. I believe that we can heal the world, one healthy relationship at a time.
So it pains me when I see friendships devolve into hatred over hurt feelings. It pains me when I see the prospect for romance dashed by fear. I don’t know how the story between our two super heroes turned out but I would like to think that they both went home, did some soul searching and personal healing, and came to the conclusion that they really do like each other. I would hope that they would realize that their friendship is strong enough to handle a little sexual tension. I would hope that the guy would realize that friendship is not a consolation prize but is actually pretty damn awesome in it’s own right. OR maybe the woman realizes that it took a lot of guts to ask her out. She could have been more sympathetic and understanding when turning him down. Maybe he wasn’t trying to make her feel guilty but was simply feeling hurt and acted like a dumbass. It might even be possible she comes to the conclusion that this guy really does like her for who she is and isn’t just after her for her body and that is really what she wants in a romantic partner. I know that last scenario is pretty unlikely and may only happens in the movies but all of these outcomes have to be better than what usually happens.
What probably happened was the guy went back to his buddies and in a typical male showing of support they said, “Fuck that bitch! She wouldn’t know a good guy if one bit her on the ass. Now let’s get drunk!” And the woman went back to her friends who said, “Men are pigs! All they think about is sex and they will do anything to get it. Who needs ‘em, let’s have a drink!” This might do wonders for the alcohol industry but it doesn’t do a damn thing for improving relationships between men and women.
When it comes to human relationships we need to think beyond the cultural narrative. Every real relationship is unique. It is a magical combination of the two people involved and only the two people involved. It stands outside of time and space. We all come to a new relationship a product of our past experiences. We all have baggage. We all have hurt. But we can’t expect the new relationship to be better if we can’t let go of the past. The goal of each relationship should be to make it the best it can be. We can only do this if we are free to be the best that we can be. We can’t do it if we are playing a role. We can do it if we are expecting the other person to fit into some preconceived mold. We can’t do it if we think of relationships as something to be boxed up and labeled.
That said, I’m going to continue to use labels and common vernacular in my writing because I’m trying to communicate an idea and people have a hard enough time understanding what the hell I’m talking about.
So guys: You need to realize that there are countless reasons why a woman might not want to date you besides being a bitch and hating nice guys. I have heard them all and even if they don’t make sense, they are valid. There is no point in arguing. There is no appropriate line of persuasion. Dating is an art of attraction, not conversion. Rejection hurts but it’s her right to reject your offer if it’s not what she wants FOR ANY REASON. You need to be prepared for this because it can go one of three ways; she can accept and you take the relationship to the next level, she declines and you remain just friends, OR one or both of you go to your dark place, act out in anger and everything goes to shit. That last one is a very real possibility and you are the only one who gets to prepare for it. Don’t be the one to fuck it up. She might react with anger. Even if it seems like all the signs are there, you are springing something on her that she might not want to hear. She’s being forced to see you in a different light and it might make her uncomfortable. She may feel lied to because in a sense you have been lying to her. If you have developed feeling for her, you have to tell her, but you don’t get to control the way she reacts. If you are prepared, you can react with the best part of your personality. If you continue to be the decent guy that she apparently thinks that you are, the relationship, whatever it may be, can continue to flourish and grow.
To the gals: If you are going to have a mature healthy relationship it is going to be with someone you consider a friend. It’s going to be with a nice guy, who just might act like an asshole sometimes. The idea that sex and friendship are mutually exclusive is bullshit. The best sex in the world is between people who love and trust each other; even if it takes a while to transfer that love and trust to the bedroom. It can be scary. There is a risk involved. The friendship will never be the same and the romance might not work out. That’s still not the end of the world. People can still be friends after having sex with each other. Sometimes clearing the sexual tension is what it takes to get to a purely platonic state. Of course if you have absolutely no romantic or sexual interest in the guy by all means, DO NOT DATE HIM. You always have the right to say no and no one can make you feel guilty about it. Now if you react like a fiery banshee and kick him in the balls, you might have something to feel guilty about. If you are a nice, attractive and friendly person it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that your guy friend might be into you. Even if you have done everything possible not to lead him on. Even if you’ve totally just been yourself and treated him like a normal human being he still might fall for you… in fact that’s kind of exactly what nice guys find really hot. I know it sucks. You just can’t win. I wish that there was a pill you could take to make you unattractive to men but so far none has been developed.
We all need to do better. It’s way too simplistic to say that all men are assholes or all women are bitches. In fact it’s pretty inappropriate to call anyone and asshole or a bitch. We are all complex individuals with many facets to our personality. Some are really amazing and some… not so much. We all fuck up. The people who try the hardest probably fuck up the most.
We need to realize that we are at a point in time where the old rules don’t apply and the new rules… well, the new rules are still being figured out. None of us really knows what’s going on and that’s a pretty unsettling feeling. The upside to all this is when we realize that we are all in it together. Having a problem where the solution is to come together rather than fight is a pretty good problem to have in my book.
That’s why I found it so disturbing when I saw this meme on my daughter’s facebook page:
I feel like it needs a response and I’m not quite sure how to do that. It’s that frustration which has led me to write this post. Perhaps my daughter just posted it because it sounds good and has a cute dog on it but I ‘m still concerned that she is identifying with what I see as a pretty destructive message. It’s not the denial of the “friend-zone” which I find harmful although I do think that the friend zone is real. People do compartmentalize their relationships in their brain and for whatever reason, some people get designated “just friends”. I do it myself all the time even although I really try to keep an open mind. What troubles me is the suggestion that kindness is not real. It troubles me that kindness is being seen as a tactic to get sex. Kindness is pretty much the opposite of manipulation. This meme looks to me like propaganda from the power and control camp as a way to discredit kindness but I actually doubt that is where it came from. It think it comes from the aforementioned confusion and a general lack of understanding about how kindness works. In a way, I find this meme encouraging because it suggests that men are practising kindness in their pursuit of sexual relationships. I think that is a good thing. The problem is not with kindness. The problem is with our expectations.
I actually feel like I’ve made a pretty good life for myself living in the “friend-zone”. I’ve been more or less single for nearly a decade now. My sex life may not be what it was in my late teens and early twenties but it’s still quite active. I also have some of the most amazing friends a guy could ask for. Almost all of my closest friends are people that I once dated or have been with sexually. Most of the people I have sex with today are my friends. I see no reason why sex, romance and friendship can’t go together. All it takes is trust. That comes from honesty and understanding… oh yeah, and kindness.