by Jon Coumes
Nobody has read Don Quixote, at least past the windmills—nobody but the translators, Cervantes, and me. Every trope you’ve ever known about the book or the character has hailed from the first hundred-or-so pages. After the man of la Mancha gets beaten off Rocinante by those pirouetting arms, he disappears from our collective consciousness. So it should not have been surprising when a couple chapters on I found something I’d never heard about: the greatest takedown of a ‘nice guy’ I’d ever seen.
Anybody who’s been on the internet for awhile, especially at nerd-haven Reddit (God love it) or any male-dominated forum, will know about nice guys. They listen to their women friends’ problems and man troubles, going out of their way to be nice and compassionate—so they will report—and, surprisingly, are rewarded with the friend-zone instead of sex. Then they get on the internet and rail against their love interests, against girls who date bad dudes, and against all women, all the time. Genuinely compassionate guys exist, sure, but by definition, none of them are complaining about how unrewarding their lifestyle is on the internet. The problem with the nice guy’s modus operandi is at least twofold. First, it’s unfair to demand that ‘niceness’ produce amorousness, and second, it’s more than a little emotionally manipulative to try to be the shoulder to cry on and then to be the rebound. Buzzfeed has a pretty excellent rundown on the whole deal.
Anyway, back to the novel. Windmills behind them, Quixote and Sancho happen upon a bunch of friends headed to the funeral of a well-loved scholar, Grisóstomo, and they decide to join the party. The men explain that Grisóstomo fell in love with Marcela, the most beautiful woman in the district, and pledged his love, his goodness, his wealth, his art, and his soul to her. She, in turn, cruelly spurned him, preferring to live as a reclusive shepherdess, and he died of a broken heart. When the funeral begins and the attending start decrying the heartless wench, she shows up to put a word in:
You all say that heaven made me beautiful, so much so that this beauty of mine, with a force you can’t resist, makes you love me; and you say and even demand that, in return for the love you show me, I must love you. By the natural understanding which God has granted me I know that whatever is beautiful is lovable; but I can’t conceive why, for this reason alone, a woman who’s loved for her beauty should be obliged to love whoever loves her. What’s more, it could happen that the lover of beauty is ugly, and since that which is ugly is loathsome, it isn’t very fitting for him to say: ‘I love you because you’re beautiful; you must love me even though I’m ugly.’
Why do you think I should be obliged to give in to you, just because you say you love me dearly? Or else tell me this: if heaven had made me ugly instead of beautiful, would I have been right to complain about you for not loving me? I was born free, and to live free I chose the solitude of the countryside…I have never given any hope to Grisóstomo or fulfilled any man’s desires, so it can truly be said of all of them that they were killed by their own obstinacy rather than by my cruelty.
Marcela’s speech lights on every point. She hits back against the invective that gets poured on girls who ‘friendzone’ the nice guys, she points out the hypocrisy of nerded up dudes expecting hot ladies to like them just because, and she attacks the basic nice guy premise: that love should beget love. If Cervantes could poke holes in the nice guy ethos four centuries ago, we should be able to dispense with it now.