08 December 2008

I can see that we are gonna be friends*

I've been thinking a bit over the weekend about this strip of the webcomic xkcd, which is a witty observation of the male phenomenon often called the Nice Guy (so named for his predilection for uttering some variation of the following:  "I don't understand why women won't date me, I'm such a nice guy.")  In lieu of being straightforward about his romantic intentions with women, the Nice Guy pretends to be magnanimously making friends with them, only revealing his ulterior motive periodically to denounce her boyfriends as jerks.  It's pretty easy to see why this guy is an annoyance, not to mention the fact that someone with such an inflated self-image already has a relationship with the person of his dreams, and doesn't need another one.  In college I had the voyeuristic pleasure of reading the blog of a friend's friend who fit this caricature like a glove and marvel at how unaware he seemed to be of this fact. (Of course, he's probably a bigshot TV producer now, and therefore gets the last laugh at me).

Nonetheless, this makes me a little uncomfortable because I don't really understand the impulse to draw these great lines between friendship and romantic interest. Back in my evangelical bubble days, men and women were strictly segregated, and it was generally understood that they have no reason to truck with each other except for the biblically-mandated mating hunts.  I never quite understood how this worked.  "I'd like to spend the rest of my life with you, but you're not my friend."  Or, "have my children, but don't speak to me."  In the the world of evangelical gender relations, men are beset by a litany of Man Problems that they certainly shouldn't trust women to be of any help.  The women, I guess, were kept around to be baby machines.  (I wonder now what the women were told; I'll have to find someone and ask someday.)  I have to admire their faith in the power of marriage; these people truly believed in miracles. 

Then there is the equally ornerous inverse of the Nice Guy you find in popular laddie culture, who subscribes to the "ladder theory" of interpersonal relationship.  This guy, by contrast, studiously avoids becoming friends with women, claiming "once she thinks of you as a friend, she won't put out."  They advise their younger charges in the backslapping jock fraternity on ways to stay out of this mythical "friend zone." 

All of this is fairly nonsensical to me.  I persist in the fairly peculiar belief that women are people, and as such are not dramatically different from men-people.  Not having had the experience, I can't really say why two people decide to take their relationship to that special plane, but I've always imagined that, were there sexual tastes inclined differently, they would still get on well with each other.  What makes the Nice Guy so odious, I hope, is his dishonesty, not the radical idea that men and women can't be acquainted without thinking about sex (though perhaps he never truly believed this, anyway). There is understandably some tension between single hetero members of the opposite sex, but it's nothing more honesty and less adherence to pop psychology can't dispel.

*I'm breaking my vow to only write about sex and dating issues on Valentine's Day.  Well, it's only two months away, so maybe this can count for this year's entry.