I Thought I Was a Nice Guy

The Long, Long Road to Self Love

Marcus Chewning, Writer

“Marcus is the type of guy to actually get to know a girl.”

It was my senior year of high school, and at this point in my life, I felt pride in the statement one of my classmates gave. I also felt a tinge of resentment. If I was such a great guy, why had I never been in a ‘serious’ relationship? The answer did not dawn on me until way after graduation.  

There was a girl at this high school who, for the sake of privacy, I will refer to as Yen. Over the past year or so, I had become acquainted with Yen to the point where one could refer to us as “school buddies.” I, of course, did not view her as such. I was head over heels for Yen, and though I tried my best not to show it, she probably already knew. I had never had a friend quite like Yen, someone who would call me before school to make sure I showed up because there happened to be a test that day.

I thought I was in love with her, and I was, but in a twisted sense. It was not her exactly, but rather, I was love-stricken with my idea of her and the attention she provided me. I could not get enough of it. As someone who failed his first year of high school and came close to dropping out on numerous occasions, I remember looking forward to going because of her. In high school, it’s easy to feel like a pebble cast among many in a vast, ever-flowing river. For me, it felt as though Yen saw me, noticed me, the pebble, even if it was a quiet hour spent together during lunch.

Sometime after graduation, I resigned myself to the fate that Yen and I would never see each other again. Well, that is until a year after graduation when I finally enrolled in college. I was dead in the middle of the fall semester, walking towards the English building, and there she was. The same but different. We walked by each other like mere passing strangers, but I felt something I never quite felt before. It felt strangely good, like the meaning to a chapter of my life dawned on me past its conclusion.

It was at this moment that I think I saw her for the first time. Not as this perfect angel once placed upon a pedestal, but as a real person with flaws, emotions, and motivations, with a life wholly separate and distant from my own. I do not know what went through her mind that day. Maybe I never mattered that much to her, or I did; either way, it is okay. 

Despite my accepting outlook now, I still remember, in high school, the early feelings of rejection. It felt like a betrayal of the highest order, not only by Yen but by the world. I knew of peers who would treat women with little to no respect, but it never seemed to halt their conquest in finding one. So why was I, the ‘nice’ guy who took the time to “actually get to know a girl,” refused at the gates of happiness? 

In retrospect, I realize I was not a nice guy at all. Such a shocker! In a way, I was worse than the peers I thought myself better than. I had donned the mask of the gentleman friend when my intentions pointed towards otherwise. It was me who was, in fact, the betrayer. What I had done was unfairly place the responsibility for my happiness on the shoulders of another person and not my own. What I was looking for was not somebody I could love, but a savior to lift me from the pits of my deep-seated self-hatred. The question I then should have asked myself is, how do I expect myself to genuinely love someone or someone else to love me when I did not love myself?

I hated myself, but I found I did not feel that way as much when I talked with Yen or was simply in her presence. Afterward, I would find myself feeling empty, lonely, and longing. I wanted something more. I wanted her to be more than a friend, and I thought her friendliness was indicative of mutuality, but it was not. I accepted the rejection, and we continued to be friends, though, somewhat awkwardly. Partly because I still could not in my mind rack with this harsh reality. 

Why not? I thought to myself. Am I not good enough? Have I not done all the right things? What I did not realize then was life is not like the movies, where the supposed nice guy, through the sheer grace of perseverance, wins over the heart of the lead woman and leaves the abhorred friend zone. Being nice is not a personality trait; it is the bare minimum. She was not obligated to return the feelings of love and affection I thought I had felt for her. I did not realize it at the time, however.   

My sense of entitlement was under attack like a child whose parent refuses to buy them the one treasured toy they found on a random store shelf. But I was not a child. Even more importantly, Yen, and women as a whole, are not lifeless pieces of plastic to be used at the behest of someone else; they are people deserving of respect and self-autonomy. 

The idea of niceness and being owed something because one is nice is exceedingly dangerous. It can often lead to situations where, in the case of rejection, the rejected party can react with verbal, physical, and even sexual violence, which most particularly affects women. It is for those very same reasons why women are largely socialized to be polite in their interactions with men. Instead of, I do not know, maybe teaching men to be better human beings. Nobody is obligated to take on another person’s insecurities.

The late, great entertainer Eartha Kitt once said, “It is all about falling in love with yourself and sharing that love with someone who appreciates you, rather than looking for love to compensate for a self-love deficit.” I thought that through the love of someone outside of myself, I would, in turn, feel similarly about myself when the road goes both ways. It took me a year mostly away from the outside world (would not recommend) and multiple therapy sessions (would recommend) to even accept such an idea, nevermind beginning to embody it.

To this day, I struggle in this pursuit of self-love and possibly will be for the rest of my life. I have grown to accept that it is an ongoing journey. I do not say any of this to gratify myself as being some male feminist hero, nor do I wish to be flagellant. I still have much more maturing to do. Even still, it is through this life lesson I am now aware that it is not the job of someone or something else to give my life meaning and fulfillment. Only I and I alone can do that.    

My ultimate hope in sharing my story is that others who may need it come across it and realize their life is worthy because it is theirs alone. Nothing, whether it is a significant other, family member, friend, school grade, money, sex, or drugs, can ultimately validate your existence but you. I wish you the best on this arduously courageous journey called life. Live and learn, empathetically. That is all.