Nice is not a compliment.
I recently got a text from a former f*ck buddy. In it, he told me about his work, what he’s been listening to lately, and how he’s “seeing a girl on the weekends.” I responded that I was happy for him and that I hoped she was good to him.
“She’s nice,” he said. As I cringed, unable to instantly respond, he sent another text, “I think that’s important.” Nice.
Last spring, almost six months after finding out that my husband had cheated on me, we met up at a café in Paris. I had not forgiven him and it wasn’t meant to be a friendly chat but rather, one of business: We had to discuss how we were going to handle our divorce, who was going to pay what, and if it would be easier to get divorced in the U.S. or France.
At one point, for a reason I still don’t know, I asked him about the 21-year-old he had left me for — 27 years his junior, mind you. He paused, took a drag of his cigarette, and smiled that sort of smile that comes with people who are newly in love.
“She’s nice,” he said. “She’s easy, so it’s easy to be with her. She’s simple and uncomplicated. It’s nice.” Nice.
I have heard this adjective used often — far too often. I haven’t heard it just from exes, past lovers, former f*ck buddies, or even on that rare occasion when you run into a one-night stand and you’re forced to make small talk as you inquire about their relationship status. I've also heard it from both male and female friends. I’ve also, in my life, used the word “nice” to describe someone, knowing full well what I meant when I chose the adjective "nice."
Nice is not a nice word. It’s far from flattering. It offers nothing substantial. But nice is safe.
Someone who’s nice isn’t going to rip your heart from your chest and stomp on it before your eyes.
Someone nice isn’t going to throw a dinner plate out the window in the middle of a fight.
Someone nice isn’t going to run off to Myanmar at a moment’s notice and text you when they land that they’ll be back — someday, but they’re just not sure when.
Someone nice isn’t going to stand up in a boat, and rock it back and forth until you’re both in the water. Someone nice wouldn’t dare to do such a thing.
I have never loved someone I described as nice. They've all been so much more than that.
Nor have I ever been loved by anyone who would call me nice. I’ve been called complicated, complex, a firecracker, too independent for my own good, feisty, defiant, and even scary.
I’ll never forget the night I was lying on the floor with my ex after a heated argument had ended in us having sex on the floor. He reached out to me and put his hand on my bare chest, reaching around to find my heartbeat.
“You scare me sometimes,” he said. I turned to look at him and asked him why. “Because there’s an element of danger in loving you.” I laughed, thinking he was being melodramatic. When he found my heart, he pulled himself closer to me and put his ear up to it, listening to the way it raced, as post-orgasm hearts tend to do.
“I guess that’s better than being called 'nice,'” I said, rolling away. I guess a nice person wouldn’t have rolled away; a nice person would have lay there and let him listen to their heartbeat longer.
So when he sat across from me in Paris that night and called the new girl in his life “nice,” I immediately thought of that night.
When I got the text the other day from a boy I met in Barcelona and read the word “nice” as the description for the new lady in his life, I wondered if it would be easier, at least in regards to relationships, if I could just be nice.
If I could be the type of person who stands on the shore hoping the waves will steady themselves instead of being the one in the middle of the ocean creating them. If, when people asked my past loves to describe me, could all of me could be encompassed into that one word: Nice.
But then I came to my senses: I don’t want to be nice.
Nice is agreeable. Nice is appropriate. Nice is polite. Nice people say “yes” when they mean “no.” Nice is flat and mute; it has no extremes, and even the color of gray that would represent the word “nice” would be the dullest gray to ever exist.
Nice has no life, no embodiment. Nice has no soul.
“Who the hell wants to be described as ‘nice,’ Amanda?” asked my friend Jules, after the topic came up earlier today. She then proceeded to list off all the people that would never be described as nice.
Will we remember Senator Elizabeth Warren as nice? No; we’ll remember her for persisting. Will we remember Amelia Earhart as nice? No; we’ll remember her a fearless pioneer. Will we remember Gloria Steinem as nice? No; we’ll remember her as a champion for women’s equality.
There are thousands of adjectives in the English language. Thousands. And while not every one of them can be used to accurately describe me, or any of us for that matter, the one that absolutely destroys me is the word “nice.”
I’m not nice. I don’t want to be nice. And, when you really think about it, you don't want to, either.