The Nice Guy

A nice guy, finishing last.

Although I do not endorse every XKCD strip (, many of them point out an irony of our postmodern world, and proceed to poke us in the eye with it.  The comic here is one of them.  The three characters need some initial explanation:

  • The Nice Guy is merely trying to nurture a relationship with someone he is actually in love with.
  • The Jerk is the typical strong-willed, over-confident guy who wouldn’t dream of committing to an actual relationship; he’s too busy having a good time with the next woman.
  • The Woman is a normal young American female, raised by our current culture of entertainment and sex.  With this constant emphasis on having a good time, the Woman of course chooses to date the jerk.  He offers more of the pleasures of life.

(Of course, not all people fit into exactly one of these three categories, but without some categories, we can’t discuss trends in our society.  I know that not all Nice Guys are as innocent as the one here, not all women want to date jerks, and so on.  But I’ve seen the scenario depicted here enough times to know that it’s real and common.)

While there have always been men fitting the Nice Guy profile, the above scenario didn’t play out nearly as frequently as it does today.  A hundred years ago, Nice Guys got married like almost everyone else, because society guided everyone in that general direction.

Marriage rates today are lower than at any other time in American history.  While it is true that divorce rates are lower than they were in the 1980’s, they are still higher than any time pre-1940’s.  These are connected for the simple fact that those who do not marry cannot become divorce statistics.

Instead of a culture that guides young people down tried-and-true paths in life, what we have today is best described as anarchy:  no rules, no expectations, and no guidance (except from Hollywood—and their “guidance” is not not worth the celluloid it’s printed on).  The strongest men get their first pick of the women, but have no intention of settling down.  Women go along, because the Jerks are the most manly men around, and that makes women feel good, at least for a time.

So how does this scenario turn out?  While young people may play around with love for a time and then get happily married, other possibilities are becoming more common:

  • The Woman has been hurt by so many Jerks that she simply gives up, becoming cynical or bitter in the process, and ends up alone.  At the very least, her ability to trust other people is reduced permanently, creating yet another rift our society does not need.  (Women’s hearts are not designed to withstand multiple painful breakups.  Why did we stop protecting them?)
  • The Jerk eventually ages and runs out of women he can fool.
  • The Nice Guy ends up alone, having failed at the only strategy he seemed to have left (i.e., trying to contrast himself with the Jerk).

Would anyone argue that this sytem produces more happiness and satisfaction for a greater number of people than our former ways?