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Chapter 3: relationships: Sex

What Nice Men Never Tell Nice Women

The nice man has learnt not to say everything; that’s why he seems so nice. There’s a lot going on in his mind that he’s not quite allowing himself to express. He loves you too much: he’d rather be kind than entirely honest – and feels, perhaps quite rightly, that he cannot really be both. Such is the condition of the nice man.

The nice man is intent on not being the lad or the bad boy. He had enough of that macho rowdy behaviour at school and never wants to be exposed to it again. He is tender towards his mother and his little sister. He likes women a lot, as friends and not just as lovers.

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This makes it hard for him to live with the sides of himself that seem very focused on some awkward priorities. He’s very easy to shame.

For example, when you’re in a restaurant and you’re explaining about your aunt’s recent operation (the doctors had to sew the whole tendon back together), half of his attention at least will be on the waitress, bending over to collect some bottles from a box by the door, or perhaps one of the other diners.

He’s haunted by the idea of a rapid meaningless encounter – possibly with one of your very best friends.

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When you say that all those porn sites are revolting and humiliating for women and what no-hopers those who go there might be, he agrees wholeheartedly – then, with some guilt, spends many absurdly exciting hours on them when you’re out.

The nice man is democratic, egalitarian and deeply sympathetic to the feminist agenda – and yet in sexual fantasy, he loves the idea of being tyrannical, bullying and really very rough. He himself can’t understand the disjuncture between competing parts of his nature; he is spooked by the drastic switch in his value-system that occurs the very second after orgasm.

The nice man is your brother, your father, your friend.

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The nice man doesn’t feel that he can be loved and reveal the true sources of his sexual excitement.

Without noticing or meaning to in any way, you are silencing him. It takes very little to keep the nice man quiet – he picks up on the slightest hint of your displeasure and censors himself accordingly.

Maybe you’re by now thinking the nice man isn’t really nice at all. He’s just a fake and a phoney.

Far from it: he truly is nice. It’s just that niceness isn’t what we might think it is. Niceness isn’t about having no harmful desires inside oneself, it’s about knowing how to keep these very quiet. Niceness is, to a crucial extent, about secrecy. It’s an achievement of repression. Nice guys don’t not have bad thoughts: they’re just unusually committed to keeping them at the level of muffled feelings rather than statements or actions. The nice man wants to do everything to avoid paining those he loves with the more troubled sides of his imagination.

Of course, there is a price to be paid for all this niceness. There’s invariably a degree of buried resentment – and distance – whenever we aren’t able to be fully ourselves. This could get rather dispiriting, across decades.

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It’s clearly very hard for the partners of the nice to take on board the darker sides of their lovers. But if they are robust enough to dare to give them some attention, the result can be an extraordinary flowering of the relationship beyond anything yet experienced. However close we may be to someone because they have been nice to us, it’s as nothing next to the closeness we’ll achieve if we allow them to show us, without shaming or humiliating them, what really isn’t quite so nice about them.

Out there, in the politer corners of society, nice guys are – without saying a thing, that’s not their style – waiting for nice women to start to gently take the weighty burden of their ‘badness’ off them. And, of course, vice versa too, for no gender has any monopoly on the sense of being bad.

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