Keeping Nice Guys Nice

I was caught off guard tonight and made a graceless rejection, a myopic move intended to remove myself from a conversation executed without regard for the collective female future. An amateur mistake.

I was tired and minutes away from home when a young-looking guy asked me about the slogan on my tote bag, a conference giveaway. We struck up a conversation and he asked me where I lived. I told him, learned that he was staying nearby for the next six weeks, wished him luck in that time and turned away — all in quick succession, to avoid what I thought might come if I didn’t talk fast enough to throw him off. He ignored this natural cutoff and called out to my back, “stay in touch?” I turned around and, walking backward, gave no response but a smile that said “no.”

Minutes later, I realized that this conversationally awkward, physically unremarkable, nice guy had done everything by the book and still was inexplicably rejected. Would he be as friendly to the next girl who caught his eye, as confident in talking to her, as genuinely interested in the slogan on her tote bag? Probably not. I had discouraged his niceness.

This brought me to a question I’ve been pondering as I studiously avoid courtship and hear my friends’ tales of similarly eschewing the dating world or of vainly attempting to catch an appealing eye. (The grass is always greener.)

What is the proper etiquette of talking to a pop-up suitor whose immediate attraction you do not return? In a bar, in the subway, standing on line somewhere, this issue comes up. With about 90 seconds of interaction, you can tell if a guy is a good one or a creepy one. Sometimes talking to the latter is actually more enjoyable, if only for the story and, of course, the gratifying feeling of superiority. (If a guy consistently dances too close or keeps coming back after rejections or tries to buy you drinks till you’re double-fisting, he can justifiably be put in his place. It is always a pleasure to leave these guys in the dust, whether it’s straight up telling them they have no chance or turning your attentions to a less outrageous — a less aggressive, diamond-in-the-rough type — friend of theirs. Successfully calling a guy on a tactic from The Game produces a very satisfying expression of shock.)

The more difficult moral question is what to do about the nice guy who doesn’t really excite you. If a prospect can’t keep up a fast-paced conversation, I am bored, even if he is clearly a good guy or ridiculously attractive. (I once went out with someone who was like Jon Hamm’s character in 30 Rock — an exceptional physical specimen who apparently has floated through life in the bubble of his good looks, failing to pick up even good conversational skills. Okay, we went out twice.)

Is it our responsibility to reward “good guys” for being good? Will they, feeling defeated by one too many harsh rejections, succumb to the much-easier tunnel-vision cockiness? I’m somewhat scarred from the experience of a sweet, smart, understated boy complaining to me at a high-school party that only assholes get the girls only to watch him morph into a brash player in college (clearly, I didn’t say anything helpful).

I’m currently uninterested in dating. But I still like talking to guys. It’s interesting to meet new people and it’s character-building to enter new situations with an open mind. So a few weeks ago at a bar I ended up giving a boy my number. He was very sweet, struck up a conversation, made sure I wantedto dance and said he would leave immediately if I ever wanted to stop (in contrast to his nearby friend embarrassingly gyrating on everyone). When we danced he didn’t grope. He was nice and I wanted to encourage that behavior generally, have him pay it forward although I’m not interested in being the recipient. I didn’t give him my number out of pity — it was out of hope that he’d continue his gentlemanly behavior with the next girl. I’m not sure if I undid my somewhat muddledly reasoned work by telling him, when he texted the next day, that I wasn’t dating right now and wanted to leave it at the fun we had dancing last night. But I’m trying out the concept that a number, a neat kiss, or a genuine thank-you is an inducement to keep up the good work, a token of appreciation for appropriately running game. The results are still out. The experiment continues. TC mark

image – Brendan Burton

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