It’s been about six months or so since I addressed that perennial bugbear of nerd dating, the Nice Guy, and after some of the comments I’ve seen, on the blog and elsewhere, it seems like as good a time as any to revisit the topic.
Y’see, there are certain myths and misconceptions when it comes to dating that seem to have become axiomatic amongst men and chief among them is the classic “Women like assholes”. It’s the cry amongst the hapless Nice Guys that women only like assholes and therefore ignore the Nice Guys who would, like, totally treat them with respect man…
Meanwhile, other men will tell you over and over again that you need to be the Alpha Male, that you need to be dominant and prove you’re her social superior. Preferably by insulting her and pretending you don’t give a shit about her.
“Nothing to be done about it,” we hear. “Society tells men they’re supposed to be powerful, this is how powerful people act. Women like power and status.”
Meanwhile, Nice Guys continue to put the blame on everybody but themselves and the cycle continues.
So let’s talk about that for a little, shall we?
Where Does This Myth Come From, Anyway?
If you were to listen in on men’s conversations when the subject of dating issues, you would think that assholes – and their close cousin, the Alpha Male – has some sort of mystical, mesmeric power over women; the hint of douchebaggery and Ed Hardy clothing acting as the alchemical formula to getting more ass than a man in a car chase that plows through an ass cart and crashes through a plate ass window.
And yet, if you were to ask women – and believe me, I did – it’s all bullshit. Now maybe women don’t necessarily want passive Nice Guys with their senses of entitlement and passive-aggressiveness, but that doesn’t mean that they want some dickbag who patronizes her, insults her and generally treats her like crap, right?
So… what gives?
Well, it’s about exposure, mostly. You see assholes with hot women. They’re staring at you from the covers of the gossip magazines and the front pages of TMZ with the latest arm candy. They dedicate shows to horrible people who do nothing but party, act like coked out hamsters, pick fights and fuck. We see people in power acting like assholes, asshole celebrities who seem to be famous strictly for being famous (or for fucking famous people).
And of course, the guy who’s busily banging away at the girl you like – you know, the one who seems to be the source of all of that drama she keeps coming to you with, the one who couldn’t possibly treat her the way you would – he’s definitely an asshole.
Tally it all up and you could be forgiven for thinking that being an asshole is the common denominator.
What About Being An Alpha Male? Chicks Dig Alphas, Right?
In the primate world, the alpha male is the dominant ape in the herd who stands at the top of the informal hierarchy by dint of his strength, health and overal fitness. These are all favorable factions that influence his potential survivability, which in turn mean that his children are more likely to survive to pass on their genes. Because of the way ape sociology works2, the alpha male has the most access to food and the females. The apes below him in the hierarchy, the Betas, have a greatly reduced access to sex, food and basic dignity. The Alpha keeps his position via intimidation and furious violence. Betas who piss off the Alpha do so at their own risk.
I’m sure you can imagine how people might see this reflected in humans.
In fact, there are plenty of people who try to map the idea of Alpha and Beta behavior into the dating realm. Nice Guys aren’t having sex, therefore they’re the Betas. Assholes are having all the sex; ergo, they’re the Alphas. So, if Nice Guys are Betas and assholes are Alphas, then it makes sense to try to emulate that behavior, right?
The problem of course, is that the idea of the Alpha Male having access to all the females and the Betas having none goes right out the window when you’re dealing with humans. But hey, it sounds like a simple, easily digestible solution to solving the world’s dating problems, right? When you take a bunch of people with a shaky grasp on evolutionary psychology who try to apply the concept of Alpha onto the convoluted morass that is human sexuality and sell it as advice, you end up with the vague idea that being “alpha” means being “dominant” or “socially superior”.
Just how this so-called dominance is supposed to manifest is, in itself, a subject of great contention amongst the sages of the dating world. Some will tell you that it’s all about being unreactive and proving you don’t need or care about her as much as she needs or cares about you. Some will tell you that it’s about staring down or squeezing out the other men around the woman you’re interested in. Some will say that it’s about keeping her insecure in the relationship and always having to please you.
In other words… you’re supposed to act like an asshole.
So Why Do We Think It’s True?
The reason why it’s become accepted that women like assholes is due to a logical fallacy known as the defective induction.You see women with assholes repeatedly and you assume that this is universally true… no matter how many women you see or know personally who’re dating perfectly decent individuals.
Now spread that out amongst frustrated men who’re angry about the fact that the women they like are dating jerks. As they carp and moan and commiserate about how unfair life is, they’ll all agree that it seems as though women prefer to date assholes instead of nice guys like them, which provides seeming confirmation. After all, if their friends are noticing this too, surely this means that there’s something to it, right?
Well, there’s a reason why the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data”. And don’t call me Shirley.
Humans are complex beasties, sexually. There’s a hell of a lot going on under the hood that we’re not even vaguely aware of or even able to control on a conscious level, and these are all things that lead up to answer the question of “Will I fuck this person or not?”
For example: women have a natural attraction to high levels of testosterone in men. Outward indicators of high levels of testosterone: wide jawline, body hair, even behavior such as competitiveness and risk-taking will trigger a response in women. If a woman is ovulating, her reaction to high testosterone is even more pronounced. However, this reaction isn’t binary or constant; a women who are at the waning phase of their menstrual cycle tend to prefer less masculine men; that is, men with lower levels of testosterone.
Men who are less “alpha”, as it were.
And all of this is before we get into the psychological aspects that help define who and what we’re attracted to.
But “Hey, we’re all really fucking complex machines” doesn’t sell a lot of books. And then frustrated nerds and Nice Guys give up and start trying to act like dicks without understanding just what it is that women do find out about assholes. As far as they know, as long as they emulate the traits of an asshole, they should be getting tail too. And so, like a Pacific Islander cargo cult that thinks that building an ersatz air strip will lead to goodies raining from the skies, frustrated nerds, pick up artists and Nice Guys start acting like cocks in hopes of getting laid more often.
And surprise surprise, when they’ve quit being passive and anxious and actually start standing up for what they want and making demands instead of pleading… they have a little success. And that little success is far more than anything they had before, which further confirms that “women love assholes”.
- Not terribly surprising. There’s Tumblrs for just about everything now. It’s like Rule 34 mutated, escaped into the wild and started breeding with imageboards. [↩]
- With the exception of the Bonobos, who are the sexual equivalent of the really smart kids who wreck the curve. [↩]