Monday, 18 June 2012

Too Nice?

Poppets, I am a bit nervous about this particular subject. Such a can o' worms. Such a conflict between the world as it is and the world as it should be. I'd rather tell you about the party I went to on Saturday night. Apparently given very bad lighting, a dress she has to stick on with double-sided tape and the absence of her husband, your old auntie gets chatted up a lot. Of course I am way too advanced in holiness to think that was awesome, but actually it was pretty awesome. (Needless to say, Auntie mentioned Unkie when the conversation turned to "And why do you live in Edinburgh?")

Anyway, the party is still too fresh in local history for you to tell you all the amazing insights I gleaned, so I will hang it up in the cellars of my mind to be seasoned and preserved and just get on with the painful topic of niceness.

Can a nice guy be too nice?

Hitherto I have written about soi-disant "nice guys" who are actually passive-aggressive b*stards. They are easiest to spot in advice columns because they like to write letters like this: "Dear Abby, I'm a nice guy but I think I should't be because apparently all women like men who treat them badly."

Such "nice" guys lack self-knowledge, and men who lack self-knowledge are alarming. But to ignore Mr Seething "Nice Guy" and to move onto truly nice guys, is there such a thing as being "too nice"? And incidentally, by "too nice" I mean "too kind."

Frankly, I do not think men can be too kind. I think they can be boring, of course. But kindliness does not mean dullness, just as abrasiveness does not mean excitement. True kindliness includes kindliness to oneself, which is something that some men lack when they are dealing with women. Women tend not to respect men who do not respect themselves. However, putting women down is not exactly evidence of healthy self-respect.

Sorry to mention them again, but men who are involved in the pick-up artist movement believe in technique called "negging." "Negging" is paying a girl a backhanded compliment so as to stand out from all the men who pay her proper compliments and to knock her from her pedestal of self-confidence. The p.u. artist idea is that every real woman is longing for some guy to re-establish the proper order of creation in which the man is boss and the woman obeys him and thinks he is marvelous.

Yes, go ahead and make those gargling noises of disgust, but we have a eensy problem in that a lot of women are actually like that. Why do so many fourteen year old girls defy their parents to date some guy their parents despise? Why does such a girl want to please her boyfriend more than she wants to please her parents? Why do women do such stupid, shortsighted things "because I love him"? And why do I get so many letters from readers, Nice Catholic Girls who go to church and know the rules and want to live up to them, who admit to having slept with their boyfriends or now-ex-fiances? Okay, sure, they did it because they wanted to, but my hypothesis is that a big reason they wanted to was because they wanted to please those boyfriends and ex-fiances. They wanted to give that which wasn't really theirs to give yet.

Simone de Beauvoir was feminist royalty, but I read somewhere that she used to buy Jean-Paul Sartre fancy notebooks while she bought cheap notebooks for herself. She wouldn't marry her American lover Nelson Algren because she was so attached to Jean-Paul Sartre, who left control of his intellectual legacy to the mistress he adopted as his daughter. Jean-Paul never married Simone, of course. The whole "open relationship" was his idea, and apparently when he suggested it, he didn't think she'd agree. But she did and the upshot was that she spent her life as his high priestess, editing his work, and insisting on being buried in his grave despite the Algerian mistress-(ahem) "daughter," and it's all very depressing.

Saint Edith Stein wrote about both masculinity and femininity, noting that they were adversely affected by the Fall. Since the Fall, masculinity has had a tendency to tyrannize over women and femininity has had a tendency to let it. But nature, twisted after the Fall, is both healed and perfected by Grace, which is to say that the Incarnation ushered in a new order. This new order recognizes the truth revealed in Genesis that women are, as much as men, made in the image and likeness of God. Both Saint Edith and Blessed John Paul II underscore the dignity of Woman, offering Our Lady as the exemplar.

They don't put it like this, but Eve was a wimp, submitting to the snake, whereas Our Lady is a heroine, crushing the snake with her heel. Our Lady didn't listen to snakes but to God, and instead of falling for tricks, she responded to an invitation to become the Mother of God.

In light of this, I would say that to fall for negging and to admire men who push you around and to want to submit to them in whatever way to make them like or love you is to be in cahoots with the Fall and not to be in line with the Gospel.

Meanwhile, I haven't got a psych degree or anything like that--just my wee M.Div/STB--but I will go out on a limb and suggest that the women who are most likely to fall for guys who insult them are women who are emotionally unhealthy and who are so used to being insulted that they think it is normal. They might also be so lonely that they are amazed by and grateful for any masculine attention, no matter how negative. (I certainly know women like this.) But emotionally healthy women are irritated by men who insult them and will flee them for men who are honestly kind to them.

Update: I have just had a horrid memory of a woman who clearly loved the young man abusing her in public and so put up with it. The kicker is that the woman was the young man's mother. They were in front of my counter at one of my government jobs. I think the woman must have forgotten some essential paper, for the young man told his mother she was a waste of space. I snapped, "That's no way to speak to your mother" and the woman, whose head was bowed and who looked very ashamed, looked at me and then at him.

"Yes," she said. "That's no way to speak to your mother."

"Waste of space," muttered the young man rebelliously.

The woman gave an unhappy giggle.

Some women love men despite their bad behaviour. Not because. DESPITE.


Incidentally, my husband is one of the kindest men I know. And he is kind to everybody.

16 comments:

TGWWS said...

Perhaps this is a very foolish question, but--

I tease people. A lot. Banter, re the previous post. And I love it when a guy comes back with the same sort of teasing. But where does the line between teasing/banter and "negging" lie? Is it in the intention with which the comments are made? or in the way they are received? or ... ?

Mustard Seed said...

Thankfully I have never experienced this "negging" phenomenon, though I'm glad to be forewarned of it... the line between good-natured teasing and a diss is pretty thick from what I've seen. And if a guy manages to land right on the line like a controversial tennis ball, I think a girl is more than entitled to say "ouch!" and see just how quickly he scrambles to repair what he just said. Because if the guy is a gentleman, the last thing he'll want to do is offend.

For example, after I once threw a football poorly, a funny guy friend of mine razzed me that I wasn't strong enough to throw well because I'm a vegetarian. He said it with a smile on his face, and it was so preposterous that I knew it was intended affectionately. :)

Seraphic said...

Weak vegetarians, nothing. Check out my all-time favourite: "If you did something about your clothes and your hair, you could be really quite attractive."

Jam said...

And then there are trad men who say things so condescending you can only hope it's unwitting (e.g.: "It's nice to meet such a surprisingly sensible female!"). This I've encountered. Not "negging".

Jo said...

I am also often confounded with discerning the line between good-natured teasing and negging, per TGWWS's comment. Why do men do it? It is so frustrating! I have also learned the truth about the dangers of negging the hard way, having dated someone who used his negging habit as a foundation for other forms of disrespect later on. When I was younger I often fell for negging because many people around me took me too seriously or thought I was unapproachable, and negging [falsely] seemed to be a refreshing change of attitude.

The problem is that often well-meaning young men tease without any awareness that their 'teasing' might actually be hurtful (even if they have been told so before). It is very important that they be made aware in a very DIRECT way-many times women tell such men off in a half sarcastic fashion out of fear of being "mean" or a "spoilsport," etc. When I'm faced with a teasing remark that is upsetting, I do my best to tell the offender straight away that I am genuinely upset, and usually truly good men will amend their behavior. But the questionable teasing sometimes returns, and one wonders if it's just an unconscious bad habit or if it is an indication of a more serious problem of lack of respect. Words can be incredibly hurtful, even against our will. In the past I have received teasing from good friends that I know was genuinely good-natured and meant to be a complimentary kind of humor, but even with this full knowledge I was still very upset/hurt by this teasing, and there was very little that I could do about this internal reaction. It is very important to not get caught in a serial negging situation, because doing so can easily be setting yourself up to continually get pushed around, in larger ways. I think the only way to really know if borderline 'negging' is good-natured at its roots is to directly discuss it with the person in question, and put the issue to rest expediently.

Charming Disarray said...

That negging thing is ridiculous. Men think it works because what actually does work is teasing, like Mustard Seed's example. Teasing shows that the guy has confidence and wants to make you laugh. It's affectionate. But there used to be a guy in my circle of friends who was constantly commenting on and critiquing the girls' appearances. I'm pretty sure now that he was negging because I have a vague memory of his sister saying he read that stupid book that those guys like even though I had no idea what it was at the time. We all kind of just assumed he had serious emotional problems, tried to help for a while, and then just started avoiding him. Last time I ran into him, after not seeing him for about two years, he said, "Well, I've seen that skirt before!" So charming.

american in deutschland said...

I think the actual hook of negging is that it's supposed to prey on a girl's (natural or socialized) deep discomfort with a "bad" interaction, or one that doesn't make sense -- she has a deep drive to go "fix" it and smooth things over, and that is when the guy switches tack, either pretends he meant no such insult, or continues with the back-and-forth, positive-negative game until he has her confused, off-balance, and eager to prove to him that she's not easily upset or a "bitch."

I think I had this happen to me online once. And I WAS confused, suspicious, off-balance. I reacted with anger and then *couldn't make myself* be "rude" enough to not respond to his "apology," although after another minute or two I did, because I caught on. Then I felt misused and violated for the next day or so. There wasn't any chance, of course, that he'd get the reward that lots of men think is the goal of hitting on strange women -- but he did want to talk about his sex life with his previous gf. Yup. This kind of guy is a real catch.

Not a Gamer but otherwise Informed said...

A popular online PUA dictionary states an example of a neg:

"Y’know, I just saw a girl wearing the EXACT SAME dress/outfit a little while ago." (That outfit one sounds very familiar to Charmig Disarrary's anecdote.)

Seraphic said...

Ugh!

Charming Disarray said...

"And why do I get so many letters from readers, Nice Catholic Girls who go to church and know the rules and want to live up to them, who admit to having slept with their boyfriends or now-ex-fiances? Okay, sure, they did it because they wanted to, but my hypothesis is that a big reason they wanted to was because they wanted to please those boyfriends and ex-fiances. They wanted to give that which wasn't really theirs to give yet. "

I think a big part of this, in addition to wanting to please their boyfriends, is also the reality that men in modern society are now conditioned to expect that women will sleep with them, and if one woman doesn't, another will. The choice isn't just "Should I do this thing which is wrong but which will make him happy" but "Should I do this thing for the man I love or lose him completely." Facing a possible future alone is much scarier than just facing temporary celibacy. It's more than just temptation or wanting to please, sadly. I think women have to be incredibly brave to face the modern dating market; much more than women in the past, who could chose living a chaste life without having the worry that in doing so they would actually be reducing their chances of finding someone to marry.

TGWWS said...

"The problem is that often well-meaning young men tease without any awareness that their 'teasing' might actually be hurtful (even if they have been told so before). ... I think the only way to really know if borderline 'negging' is good-natured at its roots is to directly discuss it with the person in question, and put the issue to rest expediently."

Yes. This, what Jo said. One hates to do it, but sometimes it's necessary!

sciencegirl said...

Once my friends and I were at dinner, and we started discussing "negging" and how dumb it is. A few minutes went by, and one of our very nice NCB friends threw out his arms and exclaimed "You're all idiots!!!" then looked at us expectantly.

It got a big laugh.

I love kind men. It's wonderful.

amlovesmusic said...

" I think women have to be incredibly brave to face the modern dating market; much more than women in the past, who could chose living a chaste life without having the worry that in doing so they would actually be reducing their chances of finding someone to marry."

Ugh, yes, SO TRUE!!! That is what is so frustrating to me right now. It's hard enough to find someone who is compatible with you mentally, someone you find attractive, and someone who shares your faith. And you would THINK that someone who is Catholic would also value celibacy......unfortunately this is not always the truth. It's a wonder that any NCG's find a husband these days.

It's also hard to even find girlfriends who share your views. I find that I share the same views with most of my girlfriends on everything except.....you got it.....sex. I think they like me as a person, but some days I feel like they are whispering behind my back "oh, how sweet.....a girl who won't have sex....guess she'll be staying single with THAT attitude!"

It's a good thing I am decently happy being single right now

Anonymous said...

It's interesting long ago when in grad-school, I did a series of experiments where I dated a number of women and would treat some very well, others moderately well, and to some I was a rat-bastard to put it simply. Invariably, the ones I was the worst to, were the ones who would almost literally do anything to say with me.

After nailing that down I would transition from being the "rat-bastard" to being nice to her, to see interest wain - if I reverse trend it would improve a bit, but after the better part of two years, I learned that you can never be to much of a rat-bastard. It really is as simple as that - but if you are "nice" you can kiss your butt good-bye.

So before you rant and rave that it isn't true ladies - be honest since each of you can point to the guy that was "too nice" and how you fell hard for the guy that was the worst to you. You have no one to blame but yourselves. Guys aren't stupid - we learn. Some quicker than others.

So while I see the who PUA stuff as useless, there is a grain of truth in it, and while I would never say I'm anywhere near that - I always have several women in the wings, and some who are up and coming.

Heck, you can see it in the book women are so hot and bothered about these days. Men learn ladies, and some learn quickly. Personally, I love the system - I can do what I want, when I want, and always have women waiting for me to call and jump at the chance.

So gnash your teeth all you want - you reward men like me. And I than you for it...

Seraphic said...

Ah. The way to prevent women from giggling behind your back about your "nineteenth century" views is not to hare them. When people indulge in sex talk at work, which is so unprofessional many workplaces discipline people for it, it is probably just best to say nothing and if pressed say, "Well, I don't feel comfortably discussing such a personal subject!"

Part of the problem of our age is constant conversation about sex. It's inappropriate and disrespectful--to sex as much as to anything else!

"I never gossip about sex behind its back" might be a good response!

Jackie said...

C.D. said,
" I think women have to be incredibly brave to face the modern dating market; much more than women in the past, who could chose living a chaste life without having the worry that in doing so they would actually be reducing their chances of finding someone to marry."

Co-signed; Charming D. speaks the truth. My fiance (now ex-fiance, I should say) cheated on me. When I wouldn't do it, he found some other girl who would. Good riddance to him!

But. There has not been a single guy-- Catholic or Christian-- who has not pressured me for sex. In my experience, they try to use debating tactics to break down your beliefs. It's incredibly disappointing, I must say.

This blog has been most helpful, Seraphic. I would *love* to be married -- but only to a truly good and kind man. Until then, I will live the best single life I can. As my mentor, a Benedictine says, Don't let the devil steal your joy. >:^)