Nice Girls Finish Eventually

The first time I kissed someone I didn’t like, I was nineteen. A guy from my creative writing class asked me to get coffee and I thought, “Yay! A friend!” After coffee, we went to the grocery store and got stuff to make tacos and I thought, “Wow! A friend who likes to cook!” Later, we went back to his house, made and ate the tacos, and I was, like, “It’s cool for the first time you hang out with a new friend to last three or four hours, right?” After dinner, his hot roommate came home, and I thought, Oh dang, maybe I should have eaten, like, one less taco just in case, you know? But it wasn’t until the hot roommate, upon seeing us sitting on the couch, was, like, “Well . . . I’ll leave you two aLoNe” that I realized, Oh. This has been a date the whole time, hasn’t it?

In my defense, I hadn’t been on many (any?) dates up to that point. I assumed casual dating would be different from the pseudo-relationships I’d had in middle and high school, but I wasn’t sure how. I hoped it’d be more than just making out during the end credits of Garden State in my parents’ basement or asking friends of friends to ask if the person I liked liked anyone and if that “anyone” was me. I assumed, when the situation arose, I’d figure it out.

In my classmate’s defense, we had absolutely been on a date. If someone had recounted the entirety of this interaction back to me—he asked me out, we got to know each other over coffee, he asked if I wanted to have dinner, we went grocery shopping together, we went back to his place, made dinner, kept talking—and asked, “Is that a date?,” I would say, duh, obviously. After he put his arm around my shoulder, he asked if he could kiss me and I remember thinking, It’d be mean if I said no.

My sister and I often do a sort of group therapy with each other where we laugh and scream about the people we’ve hooked up with to varying degrees just because we “felt bad” and didn’t want to hurt their feelings. To be clear, while some of these incidents do have overlapping elements with more insidious violations of boundaries, they are not one and the same. I feel lucky that I’ve never been made to feel scared or in danger, and I’m sad and angry and embarrassed that my reaction to not ever having been assaulted is “I’m lucky.”

But the space between a mutual sexual encounter and one that is nonconsensual is littered with a lot of “at leasts.” Sure, I danced with a guy I didn’t want to at that bar, but at least it made him leave me alone. Yeah, I let my Tinder date kiss me good night even though he reminded me of someone I babysat. At least that was all he asked to do. When my classmate who was kind and funny and fun to hang out with asked if he could kiss me, I said okay because I thought it’d be rude to tell him no. So, I leaned in and, though it made me like myself a little less, I thought, At least he won’t think I’m mean.

Somehow, a casual acquaintance thinking I was mean was worse than existing in a state of cognitive dissonance in which I did datelike things while convincing myself that he, like me, did not think this was a date. I figured it was polite to go along with whatever he wanted to do as long as he asked nicely, which he did, so really we were both just minding our manners.

To be clear, he didn’t dramatically misread the situation. I didn’t decline when he wanted to sit closer. After I said he could kiss me, I didn’t lean away or say that I didn’t think of him that way or slide onto floor and become a pile of plasma waiting to be absorbed by the carpet. I am so cowardly when it comes to confrontation, so terrified of people I barely know thinking I’m rude or unlikable, that I will make small concessions with my body like it is a restaurant and I don’t want a bad Yelp review. Dinner included a nicely cut avocado. Kinda made mouth into a butthole shape when we kissed but did let me kiss. 3.5/5 stars.

At some point in my life, I absorbed the notion that pleasure is optional for me. That faking pleasure is the “nice” thing to do. That saying what I do or don’t want is mean. That I must swallow my discomfort to preserve the comfort of the men around me.

I am too bored by the idea that “nice guys finish last” to give it any more space than this sentence. I think it’s far more damaging to be gracious to men who’ve been told kindness to women is not a requirement of, say, dating women, but a trait that should be immediately rewarded. The nice guy moves over and makes room for you on flights, trains, and Ubers, but probably still needs to be asked in order to do so. He listens or at least looks like he’s listening. He’s chivalrous—you’ll know because he’ll tell you. He doesn’t always think of himself first—he’s still thinking of himself, just not first. He is often doing the bare minimum when it comes to, not just romantic relationships, but any relationship. I mean, he doesn’t regularly ask his friends how they are. And look! He held a door! Or said “thanks” to a waiter! Or acknowledged your feelings once! Of course, not feelings like “I think we’d be better as friends” or “I’m not interested in dating you.” But why would you turn down a Nice Guy?? What more could you want from a partner than someone who will do the dishes when you remind him to do the dishes? What could be better than a relationship where goodness is transactional? Where men’s kindness is an achievement and women’s bodies are an earned congratulations?

Meanwhile, I’m doling out parts of my body like they’re each a consolation prize. Sorry, you can’t have all of me, just the parts you ask for politely. Nice girls do what they are told. Above all, nice girls don’t make things uncomfortable or unpleasant.

A few years ago, I was home visiting my family and saw the guy from my creative writing class at a coffee shop. I was waiting for my drink when I noticed him in a corner booth with a few other people. I didn’t go say “hi,” obviously, do you know me at all? I don’t think he noticed me or if he did, even remembered me, which was a relief and, in the moment, maybe a tiny bit of a disappointment.

Is it worse to be remembered as mean, or be nice and forgotten entirely?

Adapted excerpt from She’s Nice Though. Reprinted with permission from the publisher HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins. Copyright © 2022 by Mia Mercado.

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