The nice guy paradox

A friend of mine asked me the other day how I made so many female friends. He saw me with two or three different women in the course of a few months, and (I gather) made an untoward and hasty assumption about the depth of my intimacy with these women. This is a common refrain. I have many female friends, but the vast majority of them are just friends.

It has also happened that women that I have become intimate with have been intimidated (and even scared away) by the fact that I have so many female friends. They too make assumptions, and probably feel threatened—or at least not valued as much as they would like—because I am friendly with so many people. I’m open about my friendships, and I don’t hide much about my life from the new people I meet. I never really saw the point of being secretive or distant. It just isn’t my style.

There’s an old saying: ‘men use love to get sex, and women use sex to get love.’ It’s an oversimplification of course, but it contains a kernel of truth.

Another saying, phrased as a rhetorical question, asks ‘why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free?’ This started out as a humorus explanation of why men are often reluctant to commit to a single woman, but instead indulge in comparatively promiscuous relationships.

Well, the other night, as I was preparing dinner for her, a female friend of mine wondered out loud “how is it possible that you’re single, Michael?” This, too, is a tired old refrain.

It occurred to me though that I knew the answer.

The nice guy paradox is that while women always say they want to be with a nice guy, the nice guys often end up with many female friends, but no committed partner. Jerks, on the other hand, seem to be able to write their own checks when it comes to women.

In the original view of the analogy about cows & milk, buying the cow represents committing to a single woman, and the milk represents sex. The parable asks, why should a man commit to a single partner when he can have sex without commitment?

A new viewing of the analogy recasts it from the woman’s point of view. As in the original version, buying the cow is analogous to committing to a single man. But here, the milk represents love. Why should a woman enter into a committed relationship with a man if he is already giving her love?

This insight illuminates some of my past experiences. It helps to explain why the asshole technique works. (Of course, the original explanation from supply and demand still holds.)

I love all of my friends, and I don’t plan to change who I am just to improve my success in the dating game. However, I’ve become more and more aware of the importance of not giving too much of myself to people whom I’ve just met.

This isn’t about playing games or pretending not to be interested. On the contrary, I think it’s very important to express interest openly and directly. What it is about is putting oneself first, and not giving another person more love and openness than one gets in return. This may sound trite and obvious, but for some reason it has taken me a while to let the lesson sink in.

Being a man is fun, scary, wonderful, and fascinating. One of these days, I’ll figure it out!


Putte said...

I miss you back here in Sweden Mike! Not many thinks like you. Big Hugs!

Michael A. Lowry said...

I miss you guys too. I’m coming to Sweden 9-20 March. Will you be around?