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July 11, 2005

Nice guys

Judging by the comments in the "Aquarium" thread, folks have a lot to say about nice guys and the women who (do or don't) love them (enough).

No doubt there's some truth in perennial complaint that some types of niceness get short shrift in the dating market. Some people do seem to be drawn towards abusive partners. Who knows why? Past abuse, low self-esteem, bad judgment, personal idiosyncrasy, and bad luck probably explain a lot. Inequality is another major culprit--power imbalances invite abuse. Machismo is almost the antithesis of nice, and traditional femininity often requires women to indulge, ignore, or exalt men's bad behavior.

It's also true that the dating scene often rewards confidence, persistence, good looks, and conspicuous consumption over more substantial attributes. As John Emerson argued in the Aquarium thread, there might even be an inverse relationship between these qualities and niceness. I'd be curious to know if that's true. Thad suggested offline that some self-described nice guys may have difficulty recognizing the social nuances that make an approach seem charming rather than obnoxious. As a result they may be more reticent to approach women and more apt to perceive other men as being obnoxious.

However, guys who attribute their dating failures to niceness per se are often being self-serving. It's comforting to attribute to excessive niceness what might be better explained by shyness, awkwardness, or other less flattering interpretations. (I'm equally suspicious when Maureen Dowd complains that she can't get a date because she's too intimidating. Frankly, there are more parsimonious explanations.)

Often, the self-proclaimed nice guy wants special credit for just for being nice. It's as if he wants you to exclaim, "Oh, you poor fellow. What a burden it must be to treat women as you'd like to be treated. Above and beyond, old chap. Above and beyond!" I'm all for niceness, but I consider it a basic moral requirement for all humans, not a special bonus feature.

With certain notable exceptions, nice guys don't feel compelled to tell you how nice they are.* In my experience, most of the men who explicitly attribute their romantic failures to their own niceness are playing some sort of unendearing head game. Note, I'm not talking about acting nice, considering oneself to be nice, or valuing niceness in others. I'm talking about guys who tell you how nice they are and go on to complain about how women (read: you and your friends) don't appreciate nice guys (read: me). The subtext is that if women (you) weren't so stupid and hypocritical you'd appreciate nice guys (beg to blow me).

At worst, self-proclamations of niceness come across as vaguely menacing. The logical inference is that the speaker doesn't believe that women want to be treated well and that he might just drop the whole nice act. After all, if he thinks women like being treated badly, he might feel entitled to give them what he thinks they want.

*No offense to present company. Internet discourse is different from face-to-face interactions. We all have to describe ourselves a little more explicitly in a written medium. Maybe self-described Internet nice guys are unfairly getting tarred with the same brush as the guys who feel the need to go on about their niceness in real life.

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Comments

Thad suggested offline that some self-described nice guys may have difficulty recognizing the social nuances that make an approach seem charming or obnoxious and therefore be both more reticent to approach women and more apt to label other men as acting obnoxious.

If I can make the same point from the other side: It is damn hard to figure out the social nuances that separate the charming from the obnoxious. Like all social aspects of social awareness, it *so* context dependent. It becomes even harder when you factor in the possible false consciousness of the woman being approached: "yes, she thinks this is charming, but is he *really* benign? How can she tell?"

I think there's value in separating the simply "nice guy" from the "doormat" in real life (non-internet interactions), as well.

I've known a lot of men who fit the first category, and a fair percentage of them also fit the second.(I rather suspect the doormat population is what many women are thinking of when they dismiss "nice guys" as "boring.")

Just my opinion, of course.

To follow up on Anne's comments, at risk of repeating what I said in the other thread:

I was once one of those "nice guys", though I like to think that I didn't whine about it as much as some apparently do. It took some age and experience for me to figure out the real problem. My belief that women didn't really want nice guys was rooted my own lack of self-esteem. I used to be a lot more self-conscious than I am now, and so I'd compensate for that by holding the women responsible.

By now, though, I've gotten over all of that, which is not to say that I'm the smoothest guy around now. It's just that I know what I'm worth, and if a particular woman isn't interested in me, for either dating or sex, I just move on. Sure, I might be disappointed because rejection is never easy, but I now realize that I have choices, too.

Well said Lindsay.

One of the nicest, sweetest guys I ever knew was a coworker of mine. He was beautiful and sexy, and he hated to tell anybody anything they didn't want to hear - he was nice the way women are supposed to be nice.

Everybody was crazy about him - and wanted to fuck his brains out, including me.

He was married to a woman who was not nearly as nice as him. In fact, some people thought she was a bitch.

I always think of him whenever I hear somebody claiming that men have to be jerks or women won't want to fuck them. What a piping hot load of self-serving bullshit.

I am honest enough to know that nice is a codeword for something like "I'm not sure what it is about this guy I don't like, but I'm not into him" or perhaps even "I know what it is about this guy I don't like but am unwilling to hurt his feelings even more by telling him while rejecting him" as opposed to the problem really being that I am too nice.

But I still hate any sentence that has both the words "nice" and "friends" (as in let's just be...) in it.


This really is an excellent post. I'll be referring friends and nice guys to it.

As usual, I gape with envy at your ability to summarize the issues at hand.

I adamantly deny the inverse relationship between "niceness" and sexiness. My current bf wowed me because he was both so very, very nice in a real way (not in the "nice guy" way which means I haven't bitchslapped no one at least recently) but also hyper masculine. I am tired of the link between "niceness" and femininity. I realize many people buy that dichotomy, but it's inaccurate. You can, as I said in the last thread, be very butch and have not a mean bone in your body.

My bf and I are, I hate to say, great examples. Both of us are characterized by friends as pushovers, but there's no doubt whatsoever that on certain issues at least, I am unmoveable. Not nasty, just unmoveable and no bullshit. My bf rolls when I won't and won't when I do. Weird dynamic.

Long story, short moral. "Nice" is #3 on the most variable adjectives ever written. It means nothing--I always tell people I loved my bf because he's so nice, but my version of nice is not the one up for debate. He was also smoking hot.

Re: abuse. Like I said in an earlier comment, abusers, as a general rule are extremely romantic and charming in the beginning. (I can't believe you provoked me to be out on another issue that I struggle with, but whatever.) I was hit in a relationship once and he used to tell me that I was so wonderful blah blah. One night I told him I was unhappy with how he had dragged me into a town I hated, a life I hated and then he punched me. I forgive him--we are still vaguely friends, but it is a perfect example--he overwhelmed me with romance intially and then slowly trained me to accept abuse.

Tons of questions, but the answers are hard to face. I don't, at this point, expect your male readership on the whole to be honest. But I will say that I am heartened by how many men do in fact stand up and speak truth.

As for "nice guys", it strikes me as male privilege asserting itself--I've done X and Y and I deserve X amount of pussy.

I've had a great deal of fortune in recent years in finding women who are looking for a "nice guy", even with the plethora of faults that some of us are heir to, but I remember a time when that wasn't the case. I came to the conclusion at the time that many women are simply willing to give in to someone who pushes them long enough, and there are enough people pushing that the ones that don't will end up coming in second place (or further down than that). Nice guys don't push, and suffer for it unless they end up in the company of stronger-willed-than-average women, or serendipity smiles on them and provides them with no competition with the pushier sort for a while. It may be an age issue; I've seen it less as I grow older, though I still see it happening.

I tend to agree that those who go on about "nice guy" problems with potential dates are likely to not be as nice as they proclaim, but on the other hand, I can attest to the bewilderment and frustration involved. One of my more surreal relationship experiences was standing up for a female friend in whom I had some interest, confronting a mutual friend of ours who had (at least from my perspective) more or less sexually assaulted her one night. I had somewhat strong words with him after she complained about it to me... and a day later she came back to me asking me not to push the issue, that she could have stopped him if she'd really wanted to. By the end of the week, they were an item.

I was a little shellshocked, but refrained from commenting.

That was the most extreme example I've been personal witness too, and fortunately a few months later I ran into someone who became my first serious relationship, but it caused me to realize how much that sort of thing had been playing out around me for the previous few years in lesser ways.

All the women above who mention a nice guy they wanted also are quick to point

I think the comments above reflect the following principle:

If a man is independently sexy, then his being nice is good.

If a man is not independently attractive, then being nice will not push the scales back over to him being attractive.

This strikes me a pretty intuitive, and it places niceness with a bunch of other categories that are nice bonuses, but not essential.

I think the problem is that when a woman turns down a "nice but not that attractive" guy (of which I assume there are many) for an "attractive but not all that nice" guy (of which there are presumably many as well), then the rejected guy concludes, erroneously, that it was because of his niceness. Rather, it was because he wasn't particularly attractive.

And when women say they want a "nice guy," what they really mean is that they want a "hot, nice guy."


Sad to say, I think my brother is an example of a guy who is not really a nice guy but thinks that women who leave him prefer jerks over nice guys - says his mistake was treating them too well, and they just can't deal with it. I can't tell you how many times he's told me about some girl he had been dating going back to an old boyfriend who treats her poorly, and he usually attributes some mental deficiency to said ex-girlfriend (real nice, huh?). And I suggest to him that he himself may be looking for the wrong things in women if this keeps happening over and over (have to try to be tactful with the sibling).

On the other hand, I can also speak from experience as someone who had a thing for bad boys for quite a while. In my case, I'm a girl who did what I was supposed to do growing up (good grades, rarely got in trouble), and I think I was attracted to guys who gave me a window into vicarious badness and perhaps coolness (particulary if they were involved in bands or some other artistic endeavor). The guys I dated were smart, good looking, and liberal. They also tended to be very self-centered, mostly in a way that does not leave permanent psychological scarring on me. The last in the line of bad boys was more malevolent than the others, and is definitely in the category of guys who know how to prey on women experiencing self-esteem issues, and it made me reconsider my tastes. I think I was able to start looking (successfully) for a good man as opposed to a bad boy or a "nice guy" when I realized that I was interesting enough on my own and did not need to borrow whatever qualities I had been looking for in bad boys before, and that I deserved to find someone who was healthy and well-rounded, and that I didn't have to fix.

I have been repeatedly informed by friends and girls I have dated that I am a "nice guy". Usually, in the "finish last/you deserve X amount of pussy" sense of the term. Though, I resent anyone who trivializes my personality in that way (I am nice for the reasons we all ought to be: pussy and deserts be damned). One memorable comment from a friend was the following: "You know what your problem is? You are everything girls SAY they want."

All talk of personal experiences aside, I would like to offer an explanation for the stereotyped distinction between the "jerks" girls might always seem to be with, and the nice guys. Along with an explanation for why the nice guy does not "get any", so to speak.

People often talk about two kinds of interests in a relationship: emotional/psychological, versus sexual. Assuming that this distinction holds (I think it is relatively quite accurate), then perhaps the reason nice guys "finish last" is the following: The sort of characterists that might move an average girl sexually are going to be the things that were valuable, say, when we were still bashing stones and sticks, as it were. What Drives one wild emotionally/psychologically are those things which are more recently developed evolutionarily speaking (intelligence, kindness, humor etc).

Now this is all hard and fast, but assuming the above is roughly accurate, why might girls seem to like "jerks" more often than nice guys? Well, because characteristics that are attractive sexually (like confidence, boldness etc.) means that someone who is a "pure" jerk is more likely to talk to girls, pursue them etc. Meanwhile, someone who is pure nice guy is less likely to pursue women. I think the kind of nice guy who doesn't get anyone is too much of a pure nice guy (no confidence etc), hence, the lack of pussy.

I do not think it is because of low self-esteem, bad luck or whatever, that women will go for the pure jerk before the pure nice guy. It is not some rational decision, or irrational decision. It is some sort of evolutionary story, which I think is similar to the one that I briefly (and poorly) sketched above.

One brief argument for the above: if sort of distinctions I have been drawing are not based on some evolutionary story, than what has been discussed above should hold for women as well: there should be female "jerks" and "nice guys". It surely does not.

sorry about the grammar. As a poet once said:

Awkward grammar appalls a craftsman.

Oh, Brendan, now you've done it.

[Snip evopsych stuff]

One brief argument for the above: if sort of distinctions I have been drawing are not based on some evolutionary story, than what has been discussed above should hold for women as well: there should be female "jerks" and "nice guys". It surely does not.

Say what again?

There assuredly are both female "jerks" and "nice gals." The behavior won't map uniformly across the gender divide, but the female jerks are definitely out there.

Chris, you are wrong. There are certainly girls who are nice, and girls who are jerks. But in the technical sense there cannot be "nice guys" and "jerks". I tied these concepts into the sort of people girls might find attractive, following the distinction between emotional/psychological vs. sexual. In the latter case, there cannot be female jerks because the evolutionary sexual role men play is different from the one women play. In the former case, there is probably going to be more similarities between nice guys and girls, but there are still going to be differences: ones that probably stem from the different sexual roles (though that is a HUGE perhaps/possibly/I think/sounds reasonable).

The big difference, though, I think is in the sexual roles.

Ahh yes, the old nice guy saw.

Anyway, Brendan was right about one thing when he said "You know what your problem is? You are everything girls SAY they want."

Jedmunds rule of relationship advice: Don't ever listen to women when it comes to romantic advice. It's like asking the warden how to bust out of prison. (Sorry if that seems to adhere to a certain destructive paradigm.)

But otherwise I don't feel like jumping into this particular fray again.

In the latter case, there cannot be female jerks because the evolutionary sexual role men play is different from the one women play.

The sexual role men play is different from the one women play, but not in the sense you want to say. What you are talking about has nothing to do with evolution, and everything to do with historical/social norms. And what you talk about, has nothing to do with sexual roles, but instead has something to do with dating patterns.

Oh, and Brendan, an unasked piece of advice, don't start debating evolution with Chris Clarke - he actually knows something about the subject.

I have never understod the whole concept that being a nice guy in any way should mean that you deserve sex.

A couple of years ago, I was trying to score a woman, while at the same time helping her with her studies (not at the same time - either partying/trying to score or helping). At first she was in doubt if I was helping her thinking I could demand something from her, but as I told her, I would like to get together with her, but that had nothing to do with me helping her - I was helping her because she was in the need of help.

If you are helping/being nice just to deserve sex, then you are not really helping/being nice.

The woman is BTW a very good friend now, so while I didn't get together with her, I gained a good friend, whose friendship I treasure.

Krisjtan,

I brought up sexual roles and sexual attraction to explain dating patterns. In turn, I think there is an evolutary explanation for peoples sexual roles and sexual attraction. Hence, an evolutionary explanation for dating patterns. More specifically, about a certain aspect of dating patterns. That is why I said the "evolutionary sexual role" rather than "sexual role", which would presumably encompass social, historical, and cultural roles.

You might think that my attempted explanation of dating patterns fails because my evolution story fails. Fine. You seem to think it requires only a historical/social explanation. But we had well developed sexual behaviour patterns long before society or history. Of course evolution cannot do all the work, but I think it does a lot of the work in this case.

As for advice: then let Chris remove my veil of ignorance.

Woops. "Brenda" indeed.

Kristjan,

Kudows on that second post. I think you are absolutely right.

One should be a nice because there is value in the welfare and happiness of others: not because you might get something out of it.


You might think that my attempted explanation of dating patterns fails because my evolution story fails. Fine. You seem to think it requires only a historical/social explanation. But we had well developed sexual behaviour patterns long before society or history. Of course evolution cannot do all the work, but I think it does a lot of the work in this case.

As for advice: then let Chris remove my veil of ignorance.

The evolutionary psychology explanation is a complete and utter failure.

But it is beloved of people who believe in male domination of the world because it biologizes inequality.

But hey, go ahead Chris, explain what an utter failure EP is. It's nice to sit back and let somebody else rip it to shreds for once.

I've always thought that this issue (too nice to get laid) has to do with people not telling the truth.

Most women will try to let a guy down easy if she's not interested, and "You're a nice guy, but I just want to be friends" is a lot better than, "You're the most tiresome person I ever met."

Also, I suspect that a lot of the "nice guys" would be "bad boys" if they knew how to make themselves attractive to women.

I've heard my boyfriend give the "nice guys never get laid" complaint before, and the explanation I gave him applies to at least a subsection of nice guys/doormats, I think.

Jerks are aggressive. If a jerk sees a nice piece of ass, he'll think it's his right to get some. If a jerk think you're ugly as sin, he'll tell you so. As loathsome as I find your stereotypical jerk, you know where you stand with him.

Your average "nice guy" (in quotes because I'm describing a type, not out of sarcasm), on the other hand, will wait to express interest in a girl until he's absolutely certain that she's interested back. Maybe it's because he's passive, or scared of rejection, or just thinks it's rude to be so forward, but he'll wait, send some subtle (and often overlooked) signals, and then wait some more. And then when the girl runs off with a jerk who doesn't treat her as well, he'll scratch his heads and wonder what he was doing wrong that the jerk got the girl he wanted.
A "nice guy" ends up placing the burden of courtship on the girl (this is not to say that the burden of courtship is rightfully on the guy-- ideally, it's a mutual thing), and in doing so, substantially reduces his chances. Girls who might be interested in him may be equally shy and not initiate, or they might not be interested enough to make the first move but wouldn't respond negatively if he did.

I think it ties in with everyone describing jerks as "charming", too-- if you see someone and just go for it, you're going to get a little more used to talking to women, and you're going to figure out what to say. And you'll probably learn to give off at least the illusion of self confidence. And I know I find self-confidence very attractive.

Obviously this is a drastic oversimplification of the attention-getting rituals between men and women, but it's as good a theory as anything else.

Fantastic, Lindasy. I love it.

Back in the day when I was in a sorority, someone had to say at least one positive thing about everyone who came through the house during rush, no matter how wretched the girl in question was. Girls who managed to make no impression on anyone were invariably described as "nice." It's a generic term for "I don't find you particularly interesting, but you aren't awful in a way that makes me want to be more creative" in rush and in life.

But when it comes to self-described niceness, I wholeheartedly agree that it's usually self-serving. The self-proclaimed "nice guy" in my mind right now is my good friend's ex, who was, like many of them, rather socially inept and lacking in confidence. He also hacked into her email and her friends-only Live Journal when they broke up to keep tabs on her and is currently posting rather graphic stories about his casual sex in his own LJ in the hopes she'll read it and become wildly jealous. But he still calls himself a nice guy in every other post. He's about 35 and still finishing last. Can't imagine why.

Or maybe my long-ago boyfriend who wanted to teach until he had kids so he could stay home with them and just be a dad. He loved to go on about his nice qualities. He was also an emotionally manipulative douchebag who used to threaten to stop being so "nice", as you suggest might happen, when I wasn't appreciating him enough.

So when I hear "nice guy" from anyone other than my mother, I figure the guy is a) vaguely creepy (when self-described) or b) so difficult to know anything about on even a basic level it isn't worth my time to try (when heard from others).

And, oh, Brendan. I may not be awake yet and I was always a history/gender studies girl, but I'm pretty sure you've spouted quite a bit of crap. It's related to evolution that a girl is more likely to end up with the jerk who talks to her than the nice guy who has problems doing that? It's about sexual rather than emotional relationships? It's awfully difficult to have either if you're hanging out in the background, which in your scenario is all nice guys do, while the jerks swoop in.

I've always relied on simply charging in and doing whatever, and I've never had any problems. I like to think of myself as at least superficially a nice person, though.

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