Category Archives: Television

The Un-Happy, Happy, Happy Truth about Freedom of Speech

There’s this little show called Duck Dynasty. I’m sure by now you’ve all heard of it. The patriarch and inventor of a certain duck whistle, Phil Robertson, made remarks during a GQ interview that have caused a huge stir. In fact, I’m just going to link to that interview so you can read it for yourself.

Back? Okay. Now we can talk.

Here’s the thing. Phil Robertson is welcome to his own opinion. He is welcome to believe whatever he wants and say whatever he wants. First Amendment. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion.

But that’s where it gets complicated. The First Amendment allows you the freedom of speech, but it does not protect you from the consequences. You can SAY whatever you like, but that doesn’t mean there is no price to pay for what you say, when you say it.

Phil Robertson made these remarks on an interview for Duck Dynasty, which means that he is not spouting anti-gay or selective history comments on his own time and dime. No, he’s doing this under the auspices of the show. It’s a work-related interview. And his employers are not happy.

When Phil Robertson and his family signed a contract with A&E, they willingly allowed cameras into their lives and to script certain things to create a show. This, in effect, makes them employees of A&E. They have WILLINGLY ceded control of their lives to A&E, for a not-at-all-small sum of money, and they agree to let A&E script/edit the show as A&E sees appropriate. This means that what they say and do under the show’s umbrella makes it a product of A&E. But again, they get money for it, so their acceptance of the money means they agree to the terms and conditions of their contract.

This is very much akin to just about any work situation, except that most of us make a lot less money and don’t have a camera inside our home. When I worked at Culver’s at the ripe old age of 14, I made an agreement in my contract that I would not slander the company and I would not disclose procedures of food preparation or ingredients for two years. When my friend K worked at Bath and Body Works, she signed a non-disclosure agreement as well, which meant she could not mention the name of the store on any of her personal social media forums. All employers have something. I am very careful not to complain about my job here on this blog or on Facebook. Once, I made a remark about getting an article rejected, that was critical of the unnamed reviewer, and then I deleted it. You have to be careful in public. You don’t want careless comments to turn around and hurt your career.

I’m fairly certain that this is not the first time Phil Robertson has said crazy things, as a newly-resurfaced 2010 sermon can attest. In fact, I am certain that A&E made specific cuts to protect the family and to protect the show and the show’s image. Now, however, Phil has gone off script. He has made inappropriate public remarks while at work, and now work wants to collect. In fact, if work doesn’t collect, they may face legal action from anti-discrimination groups.

It’s like the case of Angus T. Jones (the kid from Two and a Half Men). While still a contracted, salaried employee of the show, he decided to air his newly-found beliefs and made disparaging remarks about the show. Child, you can’t do that. Not as an employee. The honorable thing to do would have been to gracefully resign and THEN say those things.

If Phil Robertson and co. are unhappy with the constrictions of their contract, they should bow out gracefully and find another broadcaster that will let them do their thing.

Freedom of speech is not endangered, THANK YOU, SARAH PALIN. Phil Robertson is not a martyr for freedom. He’s an old, ignorant man who made crazy remarks, and now his employers are having to take action to prevent further damage to their moneymaker, and to their own image.

The point I’m trying to make is simple: you can believe and say whatever you want in this country. But if you signed a contract and you embarrass your employer, don’t expect to keep your job.

*I will not get into those remarks. I won’t. I can’t. That black people comment almost killed me, as it was. Seriously, we JUST GOT DONE talking about Paula Deen. This is not removing any of my prejudices about the South.*

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Filed under Celebrity, Culture, State of mind, Television

5 Women By Whom Aaron Sorkin Can Be Inspired

My doctoral exam is eight days away (less, by now), so I’m obviously expending my emotional energy on Aaron Sorkin. Of course I am. I’m on Season 1, episode 9 of The Newsroom, and I am so emotionally split on it. The news aspect is done really well–I find it fascinating to see how news is vetted and made, and how the personalities fit together. I’m also drawn to the finely depicted masculinities present in the show, especially with great performances by Jeff Daniels and John Gallagher, Jr.

I think you can guess where my issues with the show lie.

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Isn’t it just hilarious that Maggie Jordan, a college-educated, white, blond woman, the only representative for young twenty-something women on this show, is also constantly falling, dropping, and tripping, suffering from panic attacks, and doesn’t even know what LOL stands for? I’m dying laughing in my corner (sarcasm font). Also: doesn’t it seem absurd that a 26-year-old woman who owns a cell phone and went to college and works in news has somehow missed what LOL means? Unlikely. She either watches no TV or internet miscellany or she is beyond hopelessly naïve. I don’t buy it. Also also: why are we turning the young blond woman into the punching bag for weak and poorly drawn women everywhere? It feels slightly nasty to me.

But maybe it’s a weak link? What about Mackenzie McHale, the executive producer and former love interest of the protagonist Will McAvoy, who spent 26 months embedded in the Middle East with marines, who has been shot and lived to tell about it? Well, let’s see. The first episode is promisingly awesome. She threatens Will that she “owns” him for an hour every evening as his executive producer and pulls together an awesome, revamped show in short notice. But the second episode finds her dropping a board and accidentally emailing a confidential message to the entire newsroom. Oh, and she loses her sh*t at Will in every other episode.

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It’s so feminist, right? A successful, strong, and gutsy 30-something woman with career moxie spends most of her on-camera time giving longing glances and expending jealous energy on her ex-boyfriend. Hm. I think I rejected this plotline in a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Oh, wait, there’s MORE! Isn’t it just hysterical that Sloan Sabbith, our representative smart lady with a doctoral degree in economics is completely socially inept and is often treated like “one of the guys” by our noble male protagonist? Hilarious! Even more so because she doesn’t have ANY feelings! Just like a guy! Because it’s feminism!

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Ha ha ha. This sounds kind of familiar…where have I seen it before?

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Oh, right. The Big Bang Theory got there first. Way to be, Sorkin.

Listen, I KNOW that women like these three mentioned are out there. There is some basis of truth in these depictions. What I find so disheartening is that these are the three MAJOR women characters, and they are balanced by far more heroic, noble, less flawed, interesting male characters. If you’re going to make the women into screechy, ditzy klutzes, then you need to balance with men who are themselves klutzy, awkward, inept, I don’t know. Which leads to CBS comedy. Blurgh to that plan, too.

I want to like The Newsroom. Really, I do. I think Aaron Sorkin can make his show great by writing his women better. It can be done. And it’s been done before. Let me introduce you to five delightful, complex TV women who can elevate the quality of Sorkin’s show with their complexity, delicious smartness, and overall awesomeness. Even better, these women I picked are ALL currently on network TV (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW). So this means cutting out Peggy Olsen, the women of Orange is the New Black, the women of Game of Thrones, Liz Lemon, and the women of Happy Endings. But I wanted to make a very specific point. You see, the networks get slammed so very often for not having the “quality” and edginess that a cable company can infuse into its show. But I am trying to show that certain network shows CAN and DO get it right, over the privilege and affluence afforded to shows like Sorkin’s.

So, without further ado, 5 of the smartest, most complex, interesting, human women on Network TV:

5. Dr. Mindy Lahiri, The Mindy Project: Most people I know have written off The Mindy Project as girly TV. It’s a shame, too. The first few episodes are kind of rough. In its pilot season, TMP had to work out the kinks in friendships, relationships, and overall chemistry. But let me commend the show in its portrayal of a woman who is a smart and successful OB-GYN. She is also obsessed with romantic comedies, and the show spends its time satirizing the stereotypes to which she aspires. Ultimately, Mindy learns more about herself throughout the journey. I have hopes for this show. Granted, it’s only been a season, but I’ve laughed hard and rooted for Mindy harder.

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Seriously, Mindy. I’d let you be my gynecologist.

4. Cecelia “Cece” Parekh, New Girl: You might be wondering why I picked Cece over Jess, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl du jour. Trust me, Cece doesn’t take any guff. She’s a model who possesses a lot of self-awareness about what it means to be seen as an object by men. She makes jokes about her model roommates and is an awesome wing-woman to the off-the-wall and so-quirky-it-sometimes-hurts Jess.

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In the above photo, she talks Jess out of a cowboy ensemble for a blind date, instead swapping outfits so that Jess looks flattering and confident in a black dress. Of course, “best friend” is not the only role Cece gets to play. She often gets to play “straight man” in an ensemble comedy that plays well off diverse styles of humor.

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Cece’s dry wit helps her stand out in the network lineup and makes her far more than “just a pretty face.”

3. Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife: Alicia Florrick went to law school, met her husband Peter, a rising politician, and then promptly quit the law upon getting married or having babies in order to support Peter and her children from the home. 15 years later, Peter’s infidelity scandal tears the home apart, and Alicia goes back to work in order to make something of her life. That’s all in the first ten minutes of the first episode. Wow.

But Alicia proves that there is more to her than disgraced wife or longsuffering mother. She is a fine attorney in her own right. She learns to battle in court and stand up for clients whom she believes can use her legal expertise. And she tries valiantly to abstain from wielding Peter’s still-present influence at the State’s Attorney’s Office (and occasionally slips the ethical line, which is always interesting and disappointing, but HUMAN).

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Alicia accurately shows how difficult it can be to balance work, family, romance, and free time, but that a well-balanced life is incredibly rewarding. Not to mention the joys in a fulfilling career that one is good at. At some point, the show did launch into a love triangle that I did not find terribly interesting, BUT it was a minor focus and did not define Alicia in the show. She is herself, and that is such an awesome thing.

2. Diane Lockhart, also The Good Wife: I realize it’s a bit of a cheat to place TWO women from the same show on this list. But I don’t care, because Diane? Rules my world. She is a take-no-prisoners attorney and second-wave feminist. She has a biting tongue and accepts no nonsense in the courtroom.

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Having come of professional age in an era populated by men, Diane made difficult choices and has never looked back. She ultimately proves a valuable mentor to Alicia and sets an example of professional integrity. Neither does Diane let romance define her, but shows that she has learned to develop many facets of her personality.

If you know me, you can guess who my number one favorite Galentine on Network TV is, right? Right:

1. Leslie Knope, the ORIGINAL Khaleesi, Parks and Recreation: I’m going to try and not go overboard on why I love Leslie so much it hurts. What started as a spin-off of The Office turned into a glorious comedy about the joy of living, working, love, and friendship, even through the best and worst of times. Leslie is a government employee deflected at every turn by incompetent or uncaring peers and community who want to wade through the 9-5 with the minimum amount of work. Leslie, however, wants to make a difference in her town, the fictional Pawnee, Indiana. She never lets the discouragement get to her, and she determines to make her goals, come hell or high water.

So, why love Leslie Knope?

Because she wants to move like a cheetah.

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Because she is a cheerleader for her best friend, Ann.

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Because she is sophisticated with a hint of slutty.

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Because she likes powerful depictions of awesome ladies.

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Because hoes come before bros, ovaries before brovaries.

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Because she can send up a sexist stereotype like no other.

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Because her stripper name is Equality.

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Because she knows when love is right and when to fight for it.

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Because she refuses to be subdued in the face of defeat.

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Because she wants to smell Joe Biden.

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Because work has to come third.

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Because winning is her destiny AND her dream.

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And finally, because if anyone can do it…

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it’s the Khaleesi herself.

Your move, Sorkin.

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Filed under Culture, Feminism, Television

Why (Some) Nice Guys Finish Last

If you’ve ever seen a “chick flick,” “rom com,” or whatever term you deem for a romantic comedy aggressively targeted at women, you’ll often find, in addition to the ludicrous career choices for women (shoe designer, fashion designer, baker, editor at a magazine, handbag designer, you get my drift…), a designated “nice guy” who gets friend-zoned by everyone, including our heroine du jour. Until, of course, a series of misunderstandings and maneuverings land him in bed with the heroine until she ends up with the standoffish but muscular Mr. Right, or (gasp) our Nice Guy ends up being the hero. Wow! Did anyone see that coming???

Okay, so unless that previous paragraph was not enough evidence for you, I admit that I mostly hate chick movies. I have my select few that I adore (apart from my Jane Austen period films, which I don’t count, because they far outstrip most chick flicks). I could pull apart the many tropes that I detest, but I’d like to include one that transcends the chick flick and actually has been seen in other entertainment genres, as well as real life. Ladies and gentleman, I’d like to talk today about the Nice Guy.

We’ve all encountered him at one point. He’s a seemingly decent fellow, stable, dependable, etc, who just can’t seem to “get” the girl of his dreams. Now, by “get,” I don’t mean understand (because if we really understood the objects of our fantasies, they would stop being the objects of our fantasies, amirite?), but rather obtain, win over, other adjectives that imply a he-man conquering of the she-lady. He bemoans to his friends, male and female, “Why doesn’t anybody like me? I’m a nice guy!” And sometimes, he is able to have a relationship, sometimes with the object of his desire. And some women oooh and awww over what.a.nice.guy he is, and wonder why nobody dates him. But yet, their lack of interest in dating him should set off signals about the Nice Guy.

I know a lot more single women than I do single men. It’s a strange phenomenon, really. But for whatever reason, I know lots of great, attractive, professionally successful women who are single and unattached. Not so many guys, however; it seems that when a nice, eligible man is “on the market” so to speak, he finds a partner relatively quickly. My personal theory somewhat dovetails with the pilot episode of Sex and the City, in which the women wonder why there are tons of great single women and not tons of great single men. Miranda Hobbes’ theory is that the [insert undesirable adjective] guys are just as ungrateful and demanding as the hot jerks.

MirandaWhile that is a bit cynical for my taste, she makes an interesting point. The world is not simply made up of hot eligible bachelors and ugly jerks. Rather, those qualities are interchangeable, and we are not promised a fairytale ending. What I also find interesting about this observation is that there’s a subset of guy who’s not necessarily falling over himself to date a beautiful woman—he puts that impression out there, but may be just as selfish and ungrateful as the man who can by society’s standards more legitimately think highly of himself. And that brings me to the Nice Guy phenemonen.

You see, while a Nice Guy puts himself out there as the alternative to the Hot Jerk, he’s not really a nice guy for the sake of it. No, it’s a carefully constructed act, one that makes him seem desirable and attractive, particularly to catch the eye of a woman he’s lusting after. In other cases, he suffers from incredible moral superiority until the stank of his holier-than-thou act drives him away from sane and reasonable people with normal flaws and quirks. In this way, the Nice Guy differs from his counterpart, the Gentleman, a man who is friends with women, and who may just want to date someone, but is actually a great friend.

For example, let’s look at everyone’s favorite Friend, Chandler Bing. Yes, Rachel was the prettiest, yes, Joey and Phoebe were funny, yes, Monica was neurotic, yes, we all HATED ROSS, but Chandler is a cool guy who ultimately stole all our hearts. Why is that?

First of all, when Friends began, we all saw Chandler as a loveable, nerdy loser who could never say the right thing to a woman he wanted to sleep with (unless, of course, that person happened to be Janice).

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Thankfully, Chandler demonstrated a quick wit and an acute self-awareness that transformed from awkward to endearing as the years passed. If he was desperate, he didn’t hide behind a façade of what a great guy he was—rather, his painful honesty made him a relatable figure to those of us who watched.

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And then, when Chandler hooked up with Monica, one of his best friends, he worried that dating would ruin their friendship. Thankfully, their ability to laugh at themselves—and each other—plus a sense of who they were kept them from the “We were on a break!” roller coaster of Ross and Rachel.

Not all Nice Guys are Chandlers, unfortunately. There are varying degrees of Nice Guy, but the three I’m going to talk about today irk me for very specific reasons. Obviously, this is very biased, so feel free to add your own changes or suggestions in the comments.

Bachelor #1 for me would have to be…Aidan Shaw of Sex and the City. Yes, I chose Aidan. I can’t stand that guy. Years before I started watching the show, I heard tons of female acquaintances oohing and ahhing over Aidan, and what a great boyfriend he was. I will admit, Aidan has redeeming qualities, several more than many of the other guys Carrie Bradshaw dated. Aidan often seems like a fairytale, when compared to the alternative.

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Although, in the words of Pitch Perfect’s Fat Amy:

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I spent a lot of time during Sex and the City wanting to punch either Mr. Big or Carrie Bradshaw in the face, depending on whose level of selfishness was greater. And that alternated constantly.

Ahem. Back to Aidan. When compared to the iceberg that is Mr. Big, Aidan seems like The Perfect Boyfriend. He is a furniture designer with a dog and quirky long hair and jewelry. He genuinely wants to be with Carrie. But here’s the problem: it’s a certain kind of Carrie that she puts forth and he lets himself believe is the real Carrie. To develop this analysis a bit further, I need to split Aidan into his Season 3 and Season 4 incarnations, because there are some interesting shifts that may prove my point about his being a Nice Guy in the end.

Season 3’s Aidan is portrayed as an Aw-Shucks kind of guy with the hair and wardrobe to match.

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Charmed by Carrie’s deceit at being a designer so she can buy his expensive chair, he asks her out—but only if she’s a non-smoker (to his credit, he is upfront about his dealbreakers). Carrie panics and lies that she doesn’t really smoke. And Aidan chooses to believe this. Dude. A woman who is pulling out a cigarette during a casual conversation is not a casual smoker. Politely make your excuses and leave. But no. Aidan does later catch Carrie sneaking a smoke on their date and gravely notes that they have a problem. At the end of the episode, we see Carrie sticking on a nicotine patch, musing that she hopes he’s worth it.

To add to that, he likes the country and he has a dog, while Carrie is a fashionista who likes herself. A lot. She also ends up having an affair with Mr. Big, so there’s that. Her nervous, jumpy behavior should give Aidan the hint that All Is Not Well. Of course, when he finds out that not only has Carrie been smoking but cheating on him, he ends the relationship for very valid reasons.

Enter Season 4 Aidan. He knows how he feels—angry and hurt. Yet, he hooks up with Carrie and agrees to try their relationship again. Let’s also note that Season 4’s Aidan has been upgraded to better clothes, better hair, and a lither physique:

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But there’s a particular episode when he and Carrie have moved in together in which he treats her terribly. He slaps on a nicotine patch and makes all sorts of crazy gestures when he hears a voicemail Mr. Big has left. Now, mind you, Aidan has every right to be upset that Carrie was unfaithful. But if he’s still upset, he needs to not be dating her. He can’t be living the past if he’s willing to try out the future again. Carrie is not at all blameless in this story arc, but I don’t want to go there at this point. The point is: Aidan should never have signed off on a relationship he still had doubts about. End of story. And that’s why I was never Team Aidan. Knowing better and still choosing poorly does not make you Mr. Right.

Let’s move on to Exhibit 2, shall we? Meet Ross Geller. Yes, I realize he’s kind of an easy target. Nevertheless, the showrunners poised him to be the hero in Friends without fully realizing that in the end, it would be the prettiness of Jennifer Aniston (because she wasn’t really able to exercise her comic talents until Horrible Bosses, lesbihonest) and the wit and charm of Matthew Perry that would make the show an enduring hit.

But seriously, folks, Ross Geller is kind of a boob.

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The first season finds him wondering why his wife left him (answer: she’s a lesbian and he did not read the numerous signs). And then, his high school infatuation, Rachel Greene, walks back into his life, having run out on her own wedding. And for the entire first season and a half of Friends, we get to witness the delightful tango of Nice Guy pursue Object of Desire. Ross does things for Rachel, but Rachel doesn’t realize it’s a ploy for her to respond to Ross’s overtures with gratitude sex. Unlike Chandler, who listened and sympathized with Monica’s problems with no other expectation of return than the bounds of friendship would ask, Ross schemed to excite Rachel’s gratitude as a means of awakening her desire for him. Eventually, it actually worked.

And then Ross has to Schrute the whole thing up. To be fair, though Rachel is not blameless, either. During a really huge fight, in which their relationship kind of seemed to be ended, Ross had revenge sex with the girl who worked at Kinko’s (or some other post office/copy shop of sorts). When Rachel wanted to patch things up, he guiltily and uneasily agreed. Of course, Rachel found out about the copy girl, and accused Ross of cheating on her. And this  is where his iconic reply comes in:

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Yes, instead of admitting that he might have been a pre-emptive schmuck and misunderstood their fight, Ross defends himself and throws his own mistake back in Rachel’s face. Way to go, guy.

Of course, Ross spends the rest of the series trying to get back together with Rachel, and there’s all sorts of back-and-forth shenangians that wore us all out by the time the show ended. I never forgave Ross for being a manipulative jerk in the guise of a nice guy. Also, never forget the spray-tan incident.

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It’s time to move on to Guy #3, the one who inspired this post in the first place. Leonard Hofstadter, I’m looking at you. I can’t stand you, dude.

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Don’t look at me like that. You know what you’ve done. Leonard, in my eyes, is the perfect trope of Nice Guy. He does all sorts of boyfriend-y and friend-y things for new neighbor Penny, including getting her TV back from her old apartment and facing down her ex-boyfriend, being nice and listening to her many, many guy problems, inviting her over to eat dinner with the guys and switching out one of their routine dinners-out to the Cheesecake Factory, her place of employment.

But are Leonard’s motives innocent? I argue no. Because there are subtle moments when Leonard acts out his resentment that Penny is not eager to go out with him, especially when he can’t seem to work up the nerve to ask her out. He behaves passive-aggressively, especially when Penny obliviously accepts his gestures as markers of friendship—which on the surface they seem to be!

Leonard: if she’s not responding to your boyfriend gestures by becoming your girlfriend, then she’s just not that into you. By now, Leonard and Penny have gotten together and broken up and gotten back together again. But I just can’t seem to get past Leonard’s whiney, mopey, douchey behaviors.

On a separate note: Ladies. Do not feed the bad behaviors! If a guy is constantly offering to do amazing things for you, pause. Ask yourself, “Is he just a great friend, or is he trying to get out of the Friend Zone?” Beware. It can be a fine line. If you think there might be strings attached, do not take up those offers. Don’t take advantage of a Nice Guy just because he offers himself up. You will find yourself in an endless loop of obligations and resentment and regret and drama. And no one wants that.

Guys: don’t think that acting as a friend to enchant a woman is going to instantly win you relationships. Be a friend first. If you are at all a decent fellow for no other reason than being a friend, chances are some lady’s going to notice and reciprocate. Remember: we all liked Chandler better than Ross, because Chandler liked his friends and Ross liked himself.

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