I’ve noticed a troubling trend on TV lately where male characters who are, for lack of a better term, douchebags are given a backstory in which they used to be incredibly nice people, but then learned that being a jerk with money would make women more interested in them. For instance, on New Girl this week, we learned that Schmidt used to volunteer as a candy striper, but was told by some guy in a suit that the way to date hot girls was to be rich. It was established a while back on How I Met Your Mother that Barney Stinson was once an idealist who wanted to join the Peace Corps until a womanizer in a suit stole his girlfriend, thus beginning Barney’s transformation into a somewhat terrible person. I really dislike this as a plot device, because it’s attempting to justify a male character’s bad behavior based on a stereotype that women are just a bunch of shallow gold diggers.
This trend of nice guys turning into jerks is disturbing enough on television, but it’s infinitely worse when I notice it creeping into real life. I’m noticing more and more that the guys I know who used to be funny, nice and genuine are bro-ing it up. Gone are the sweet stories about what they got their mom for Mother’s Day, or the normal conversation about how they really want a puppy but don’t have the time for it. Now it’s all, “Well, then I called the conference organizer and I was like, ‘Do you have any idea who I am? I’m a big deal!’ And then of course he apologized and fixed everything, because I’m super important. Have you seen my expensive watch I’m wearing? I bought it with the huge bonus I got from work, and the girl who sold it to me was totally into me. But I don’t really have time for dating right now, or for family or pets, or anything, because I am so important.”
Interspersed with the bragging will be a patronizing question or two about my life, and then it’s right back into the story of their own awesomeness. I was at a bar recently and a guy spent a good 20 minutes trying to explain to me what management consulting was, how important it made him and why this meant I should definitely give him my phone number. I find all the bravado extremely unattractive. If you’re a guy in your twenties, unless you are Mark Zuckerberg, you’re probably not actually that important. (Plus, Facebook is not what it once was, so even he might not be that important.)
Of course the arrogance, while grating, is tolerable. It’s when you throw the insults and the misogyny into the mix that I get really frustrated. A guy actually attempted to have the “Are Women Funny?” conversation with me recently, and made the argument that as long as a woman is sufficiently hot, she doesn’t need to have a sense of humor. Couple that with telling me I probably only got a position at work because of my gender, and you have me ready to head home by way of the animal shelter so I can adopt the dozen cats that will be my new companions, because surely I am done with men. (I’m kidding, of course. My building only allows two cats per apartment.) I don’t know if guys started reading The Game again, or if Barney’s legendary Playbook is now in stores, but the conversational tactics being utilized by guys I used to think were decent people have definitely taken a turn for the worse.
All of this behavior is terrible, and also terribly unattractive, but there must be a reason I’m seeing it happen more and more. There’s a saying that nice guys finish last, and a general belief that women like bad boys, and I think too many men are taking this to heart. I can’t speak for all women, but I personally think that nice guys are great. Actual nice guys, guys who are kind and caring and considerate, are the best. The problem isn’t being a nice guy, the problem is that ‘nice’ has too often become a synonym for ‘boring.’ Here’s the thing: being an arrogant jerk is not equivalent to being interesting. There are pretty much infinite ways to be interesting – have a hobby you’re passionate about, be well read, have a really cute pet, speak fluent Elvish – the list goes on, but “being mean” isn’t on it. Negging isn’t a substitute for having a personality, and neither is bragging.