The advice column world has always been dominated by women….most of the popular, syndicated columnists are female and I’d wager that most of the writer-inners are as well (though maybe only by a small margin). But there’s one demographic of men that never seems out of reach (or out of touch): the bitter Nice Guy. They’re always lurking, complaining to the columnists about all the wonderful, giving things that they do for women and how they’re walked all over in return.
They typically describe all women as shallow, dishonest and ungrateful (for the presence of the nice guys in their lives), which makes me wonder why they’re complaining about not being able to get any women at all.
There are a few consistent characteristics I’ve noticed that may help us (and them) distinguish between kind men of integrity and character and walked-upon nice-guys ever bitter about “finishing last.”
1) Their chivalry is generic and directionless: seeing a woman? Better bring a bouquet of roses and open her car door. Then if you don’t go on a second date you’ll have evidence that it wasn’t your fault, because you clearly did everything you could.
2) They’re convinced that they’d be better off as a “bad boy,” because the women who come crying to them for support and help Monday are apparently all in the sack with bikers and pirates from Friday through Sunday. They generally write, with bitter half-sarcasm, that they’re thinking of taking up smoking/drinking/swearing/tattoos/verbal abuse to attract women. In short, they want to be with women who constantly need a shoulder to cry on and, worse, are drawn to being treated badly…..?
3) Related to, but slightly distinct from number 1–their “niceness” knows no bounds. But not in a good way. Most of these men make no distinction in their relationships (or lack of relationships) and the actions that they deem “nice” are often totally inappropriate for the “level” that they’re at with someone. For example, moving to a different city to make dating more convenient for a woman they’ve dated casually for a few months (no, really, this happens). This gives the impression that the guy has no life of his own to which he is anchored, and that he’d do this kind of thing for any old stranger on the street, which doesn’t exactly make a girl feel special. Then, when things don’t work out, it’s all, “You’re so ungrateful and evil, after all I’ve done for you!” when really….it was his own decision to make too big a sacrifice for an untested relationship.
What would be a giving act of love in a serious, long term relationship is alarming and vaguely creepy with an acquaintance. And what would be a romantic, thoughtful gesture from a boyfriend is pushy and over the top from a first date. And it conveniently leaves the guy always three steps ahead of the woman–anything she does (besides fawn) will be construed as ungrateful, because he’s already gone ahead and done more than she asked for or wanted.
It’s often bewildering to these “nice guys” that women are drawn to men who ignore them, but at the other end of the spectrum, there’s no compliment in being chosen by a guy who’s not at all choosy. Like a university, you have to reject a certain number of applicants, not only to make sure those who get in meet your standards, but because they, too, are making an investment and deserve some sort of assurance about what quality of experience they can expect. No one who thinks they can get into Harvard is going to be satisfied with the community college.
Also, there is value in valuing relationships differently, and you can do this without abandoning social graces: hold the door for and say please and thank you to strangers. Call people you’ve been on a date with and would like to see again. Make your time and emotions available to those who mean something to you–don’t force false intimacy by sharing secrets and confidences with people you don’t know at all. Drastically change your life situation only for someone you love, and who loves you. And know how to recognize the difference. These guys tend to lay everything on the line for a virtual stranger. They do this repeatedly with everyone they meet. Why, then, are they surprised when it backfires?
And now, the letter that brought on this rant: today, the advice goddess gets to the heart of the nice guy issue:
Can you help a nice guy become a bad boy? Being nice is a curse, and not just with women. I do volunteer work, and always hear stuff like “You’re the only one we can trust, so stay and guard the door while we’re at a party with people we don’t trust. Clean up for us, too, because we won’t want to when we return tired and drunk.” I know a cooperative spirit can be mistaken for weakness, but I feel like Cinderfella. Still, I don’t want to stop being the guy my ex called “the brick” (because I’m always propping somebody or something up). I just want people to think I’m bad so they won’t try to get away with so much. When I’ve tried acting like a bad boy, I’m told I come off angry or antisocial. Maybe I should start smoking or get a motorcycle…maybe a tattoo? — 55 Years Of Too Nice
Sure, all you need to change everybody’s opinion of you is a smoking habit and big scary tattoo — and since you’re always mopping up after people, perhaps a skull crossed with a couple of Swiffers?
You call yourself a nice guy, but you’re really a “nice guy,” an approval-seeking, conflict-avoiding suckup. In “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Dr. Robert Glover clarifies the difference. The “nice guy” might seem generous, but he actually isn’t; he gives to get. He thinks he just has to hide how flawed he is and become what others want him to be, and he’ll be loved, get his needs met, and have a problem-free life. This is unlikely to happen, as he’s passive-aggressive, chronically dishonest, and brimming with “toxic shame.” Thanks to a lifetime repressing his feelings and denying his needs, he’s filled with rage, especially at women. Women, on the other hand, do love this guy — to wash and wax their cars while they’re on dates with guys they are sleeping with. And whaddya know, all it takes is calling him “the brick” instead of “a tool.”
Yes, the bad boy does have allure. He’s masculinity on steroids: arrogantly confident, aggressive in bed and out, unpredictable and untamed. He’s fast cars, alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. And he’s sometimes in jail for using the latter to hold up the 7-Eleven.
Many women are drawn to him, but those who have it the least bit together hold out for a guy they can get conjugal with without first being cavity-searched by the guards.
You’re right to want to change, but the answer isn’t trading in your wallet for one you chain to your pants and slouching in a doorway with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth. People will warm to the real you or they won’t, but they’re unlikely to be fooled by the fake you, “nice” or “bad.” After 55 years of people-pleasing, don’t be surprised if you need to mount an archeological dig to figure out who you really are — what you like, want, need, and actually care about (even stuff that seems not so nice to care about). After you do, work on accepting yourself, faults included. Glover’s book should help. Finally, be who you are, and have the guts and the self-respect to expect a thing or two from people — beyond what time they’ll return from the party so you can stop staring at the door.
This guy is a textbook case. And it’s not because I derived my “textbook” definition from this letter alone (I didn’t). Guys who think that going slightly criminal will work better for them than being “nice” probably have a lot more issues than they even realize. People don’t try to get away with less because they think you’re “bad.” And being “nice” doesn’t mean doing everything people ask of you. The way to get people to stop taking advantage is not to scare them away from asking, but simply by not agreeing to DO every degrading task they ask of you.
Carolyn Hax mentioned a few weeks ago that people who enumerate their strengths (from “I’m an excellent judge of character” to “I’m a nice guy”) are usually ones who seek out these strengths to cover up real or perceived weaknesses–in themselves, or ones they fear in others. She added that a real strength should come so naturally you take it for granted. That is, a REAL nice guy–an honest, kind, respectful and reliable person of integrity–won’t talk about being one, because he won’t be doing it on purpose. He’ll just be being himself.