The following is part of a series of questions and answers that I did on a Reddit self-improvement forum in Jan 2013. This was a question from user shakedown_st. Answer has been edited slightly for clarity.
Also, for reference: The safe/unsafe chart.
Q: Hi Anna, thanks for doing this AMA [Ask Me Anything] on our little subreddit.
I made a post that garnered a lot of attention here. There is one part that a lot of people, particularly women, seemed to take issue with and I’ll highlight it here.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation: It’s 3:52pm. You have plans to lift in the gym from 4pm to 5pm. All of a sudden your crush calls you up on the phone crying. She got into another fight with her boyfriend and instinctively called you because you’ve always been there for her during those times. You’re a sensitive guy, and girls like that, right? So you think, I need to be there for her right now. Maybe now she’ll realize I’m the guy she’s supposed to be with. You think you can skip this one workout and make it up on an off-day or something. You tell her everything is going to be okay and that you’ll be over to her place in 10 minutes.
Cue cycle of Forever Alone.
Let’s rewind to 3:52pm. You’ve been working on self improvement for two or three weeks now. You’ve read No More Mr. Nice Guy and the posts in the sidebar. You’ve started to see things a little differently — recognizing patterns in your own behavior that needs to change for the better. You’re about to tell her that you’ll be over there in 10 minutes, when you suddenly catch yourself. No, not this time. “That’s tough Jessica. I understand you’re going through a difficult time right now, but I’m running late to the gym. Afterwards, I’m headed out with Ryan and Chris for a jam session. I’m sure you and your boyfriend will get through this, but unfortunately I gotta go.” As a classic forever alone nice guy, it is almost impossible to wrap your head around this…But you are a better and more attractive man in this second scenario, than you are the first. And you are not being an asshole either. You are just a busy man with obligations, hobbies, interests that you love doing and that take precedence over some girl’s emotional distress.
I was honestly thinking about your blog when I wrote this. That the guy in the two hypothetical situations represented the ‘bad safe’ vs. ‘good unsafe’ respectively. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I’m going to start by saying that I have not clicked on your link and read the responses, because I want to give an unbiased response.
I totally see how you came to the conclusion that not dropping everything for a girl would be the more attractive thing to do. Your interpretation of what it means to be “independent and confident” is on the right track, but my first reaction from reading your Jessica example was, “If I was Jessica, I would think you’re a dick.” But that is because I assume Jessica is a good person and a good friend. The problem with the Jessica example is we do not know what kind of a person Jessica is. Let me give you two versions.
Jessica #1: You consider her a good friend, and she considers you a good friend. You guys hang out together. Sometimes you initiate the calls/messages, and sometimes she does. One time your car broke down and she offered to pick you up and help you get parts at the car store. One time she missed class for a week because she was sick, and you offered to share all your notes with her. When you guys hang out and get food, you either pay for your own portions, or take turns paying. These are all things that show that the friendship is mutual. People who care about each other do things to help each other, regardless of gender.
Jessica #2: You consider her a good friend, but she only seems to call when she needs something. She calls when her boyfriend is being an asshole and she needs someone to talk to. She calls when she’s feeling vulnerable and knows you’re going to validate her and say nice things to make her feel better. Whenever you call her to hang out, she says she’s busy and that you guys can hang out “next time.” There never is a next time unless it’s on HER terms. When she calls you and says she wants to hang out, you immediately say yes because you want to spend time with her. Whenever you spend time out, you offer to buy her coffee, dinner, whatever it is. She lets you. You think that you can eventually win her over because you’re being so nice and you do everything she wants you to. Sorry pal, Jessica is a bitch and is using you. You give, give, give, and she just takes. She’ll never want more from you. You are her emotional-crutch-non-boyfriend who she only calls when it’s convenient for her.
Okay, so let’s go back to the Jessica/gym scenario that you received criticism over. If you do what you intend to do (say sorry, I’m busy, can’t help) and it’s Jessica #1, then you’re being a huge asshole and not a true friend. And, if your only intention for hanging out with Jessica is to one day hopefully get in her pants, then your intentions are not pure and you’re a dick. If you genuinely enjoy spending time with her, and really wish for more, but you’re also okay continuing to be friends with her because she’s a cool fucking person, then there’s hope for you. I will go into that later.
If it’s Jessica #2, then yeah, I would be totally okay with what you did (sorry, can’t help, busy). It would have been best if you didn’t get yourself in a situation like that in the first place, but hey, it’s okay, guys who don’t know any better do it all the time (i.e. your typical friend-zoned nice guy). But since you did, and you now realize that you’re being used, blow her off. I would even be more direct about it. “Sorry Jessica, it’s not possible for me to hang out with you anymore. This friendship/thing between you and me is pretty one-sided and really not working out for me.”
Now let me give you a scenario that could work out well, assuming that you’re both decent human beings who care about one another. Jessica calls, crying, and says she really needs to talk. Ask her what happened. Talk for a few minutes, commiserate with her, then say, “Jessica, I’m kind of in the middle of something right now, but I’ll be free to meet afterwards to talk more if you want. I should be done in about an hour.” She should be understanding about this. Real friends understand that other people cannot drop everything they’re doing whenever they have a problem. It’s just not reasonable. Okay, so right there you have conveyed that you are indeed concerned about her well-being, want to talk it through with her, but you also have other things going on in your life that you must attend to (because you have a life. You’re independent/good unsafe). You are not dropping everything for her, but you will still be there for her (because you’re kind/mature/caring/good safe). Get it?
Okay, so then you meet in an hour. She tells you how her boyfriend broke up with her and that she feels like crawling in a hole and not ever getting out of it. You sympathize with her. You listen. You’re being a good friend. You are a good friend. After a few hours, you can tell she feels better after talking about it. You say, “I have to get going, Jessica. I really hope you feel better soon.” If she’s a decent person, she will understand and should say something along the lines of, “Thanks for being here for me.” You leaving shows that again, you have a life, and are happy to help her, but you have a life. You have shit to attend to.
Now – what does the typical friend-zoned nice guy do? Stay with her until she says you can go. Call, text, check in on her to see if she’s doing okay. Bombard her with niceness and sympathy until she realizes “Oh my god, Jason’s the one for me.” Yeah, sorry, that will never happen. That’s not how attraction works. That’s how you will be forever friend-zoned. What do you do instead? Well, you live your life. She calls to hang out, but you’re going to the beach with other friends that day. Do you cancel plans with beach friends to hang out with Jessica? No. You tell her, sorry, you’ve already made plans. You could also invite her to join if you want to. What if she calls and you’re genuinely doing nothing? Then hang out with her. It’s fine. It’s fine to be available; the problem starts when you are TOO available. She calls. You always say yes. Don’t you like.. have a life? It should not revolve around her. Do not let her monopolize your time. It is really not very exciting to date a guy whose entire life revolves around a woman. What is exciting is being with a guy who is a little unpredictable (at least in the initial attraction stages). A guy who has his own life, interests, hobbies, etc. I don’t give a fuck if your hobby is sitting by the window looking at the sky. Of course it’s better to have real, more active hobbies, but it’s still something you like to do with your time, and it does not involve a woman.
As always, doing these things doesn’t guarantee that she’s going to reciprocate your feelings and fall in love with you. She might genuinely only like you as a friend. However, what this will do is make you appear to be a more independent and confident person, increasing your overall attractiveness factor. This, subsequently, could result in her looking at you in a different, less-platonic way.
Oh god, I could go on about this topic for hours. In sum: Don’t be the on-call non-boyfriend. Do your own thing, be kind and caring, but also have your own life. This is what being good unsafe is about.