It was a cold and dreary evening in early November on the wet side of Washington. Us guys were sitting around playing cards because that’s what we did back in those days. World of Warcraft hadn’t been invented yet — it wouldn’t be invented for about a year, and even then it would be called “Ultima Online.” So us guys were sitting around playing cards. And some of our friends who happened to be girls wandered in. This pleasant occurance wasn’t unusual. We were varying degrees of nice guys and it was easy for women to come chill out with us.
Tonight, however, something was amiss. One of them had just broken up with Sam. We all knew Sam — he was the nicest, sweetest, cutest math nerd in a twenty mile radius. He was totally Criminy from Sinfest, but without the glasses and probably a bit more self-confidence. So we were a bit surprised that these events had transpired, but we were nice guys so we didn’t say anything. Besides, her friends wouldn’t have let us get a word in edgewise.
“Oh my gosh, he’s just a total sweetheart!” one of them was saying, reflecting our naive perspective on the situation, “How could you break up with him?”
“Well, we just didn’t mesh,” the other explained, while telempathically projecting that she was bored by how boy-next-door nice he was. “But he’s available now if either of you want him.”
“What, and catch this kind of grief from you two when I break up with him?” replied the third.
“Yeah, no, absolutely not,” said the first one with granite authority, “dating nice guys is a losing game because chances are that you will break up, but when you do it’s always ‘oh he’s such a nice guy’ and you’re always such a bitch.”
“Conversely,” continued the third, “you can date a whole string of assholes, and break up with each and every one of them with impunity. In fact, all of your friends will be glad you came to your senses and broke up with the jerk — every single time.”
“See, it’s nice to hang out with nice guys, but you don’t ever really want to go out with them. Nice guys are too dangerous,” the first one concluded.
“Oh, so is that why we can’t ever seem to get a date? Because we’re too nice?” asked one of the guys now that the issue of Sam had been abstracted and apparently resolved.
“Yeah, that about sums it up,” replied the third while the other two nodded.
This was the moment in my life when I first realized that using the adjective “nice” on the whole of a person was really the most tactful way to say “their abject lack of ego around which their personality has fallen flat makes it impossible to use any adjective more more precise than the generally flat four-letter n-word.” It’s just the next natural step beyond “dependable,” which usually ends up meaning “I appreciate that you’re boring enough to not constantly flake out on me for dumb reasons, especially since I do it to you all the time.” And as strange as it is to think of quasi-complimentary words having unseen baggage, they most assuredly do. And just as baggage which becomes unseen may have “What’s that supposed to mean?” asked of it when the person who was expecting it hears that the airline regrets that the baggage will be vacationing in Lisbon, one shouldn’t be surprised if a trite compliment is cautiously rejoined with “What’s that supposed to mean?” instead of merely “Thank you.”