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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

I have lived in South Beach for 6 years now and I hold that more than anyplace I have ever been, this little city is the natural environment to a kind of muscled up, hyper agressive, superficial jerk who are nonetheless very successful with women. Miami Beach seems to draw these kind of men. These are the type of men who are openly contemptuous of women in front of the women they are dating. Moreover, a sizable percentage of women who come to this little island to party are quite clearly only interested in precisely this kind of man. They would feel somewhat embarrassed to even be seen talking to any other sort. All the cocaine is a great help to these lovely relationships.

Now I don't mean to suggest that this adds any insight to the issue of "nice guys" as postulated by our blog host. There are, of course, at least as many women who find this hyper aggressive type just as distasteful as I do. I just always thought this was a fascinating phenomenon and this seemed like a good place to mention it.

I had a friend (well, not really a friend, but I knew him well) who was a self-described nice guy who never got the girl.

He was also overweight, loud, and often obnoxious. He drank too much, was chronically failing school, and generally had poor hygiene.

I'm just saying.

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

Let's start with the notion of the circular argument. You claim support for your hypothesis in the non-existence of "female jerks" and nice gals,* and then counter the allegation that such women do indeed exist because of the necessary ramifications of the hypothesis you've based on their non-existence.

You don't even need to know anything about the subject to debunk that. And Evolutionary Psychology is rife with such arguments, though they're usually concealed a bit more.

* Which sounds like one of those ill-considered 1970s Saturday Morning action cartoons:

"Female Jerk and Nice Gal
fighting for a better world!
It's Female Jerk and Nice Gal
protecting all the boys and girls
When danger rears its ugly head
one kicks its ass, one bakes some bread
it's Female Jerk and NICE GAL!!!!!!"

I had a friend (well, not really a friend, but I knew him well) who was a self-described nice guy who never got the girl.

He was also overweight, loud, and often obnoxious. He drank too much, was chronically failing school, and generally had poor hygiene.

Have we met, JoJo?

Meet the Whimpster: the Manipulative Asshole in Sensitive Clothing.

Eli, the existence of such people is not an excuse for you to be a dick. There are more options than just those two.

Dude you totally decyphered the subtext of my post, which was, of course "ergo it is ok for me to be an asshole!"

I posted it b/c it seemed to describe a lot of the guys I've known who made the nice guy claim and I hadn't seen anyone else post it.

Anyway, back to work for me.

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.

Bingo. Except that men are brought up to think that, with the exception of a few movie stars, (physical) attractiveness in men doesn't exist, as women aren't sexual agents.

They're also brought up to think that, if they want a woman enough, are persistent, and don't do anything abusive, then they are entitled to her attention, affection and body, and that her lack of attraction is a sign of moral failing - she *should* be attracted to him simply because he's "nice," and if she's not it's a failing on her part.

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.

Will you marry me?

"Nice" is the wrong word. Girls like nice guys. They don't like ass-kissers and push-overs who are overly nice to make up for insecurity. It's kind of creepy and boring and suggests low confidence and desperation. Isn't it this simple?

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.

Well said, Lindsay. This description certain held true for me in my younger years, before I learned to swim in the deep water with the sharks.

My own hypothesis is that "niceness" on the part of guys seeking dates often includes elements of desperation, worship, and emotional baggage that make women uncomfortable, perhaps even more than the undercurrent of malice that Lindsay describes.

Personally, I found that my success on the dating market improved dramatically once I was able to stop elevating women to some romantic ideal in my imagination that had little to do with who they were in reality (I was the knight in shining armor; they were the damsels in distress), and more to do with my own emotional immaturity.

Like others, I'm not trying to describe every nice guy here -- just the kind of "nice guy" I was when I was 18.

I've always figured it this way, and your post confirmed it, that girls prefer honesty. That means that the mean guy is a little more trustworthy because he at least is honest about his aggression. The nice guy is just hiding it, and hidden aggression is more menacing because calculating.

NMMNG:

I think that describes a lot of otherwise fine men. It's certainly very similar to my general outlook when I was in my early to mid-20s.

Fact is, the world of dating and sex can be a cruel one, for both men and women, gay and straight. Once you learn this lesson and grow a thicker skin, you find that you do much better.

I remember once being told, years ago, that I was "trying too hard." At the time, that concept bewildered me. Trying too hard? Wasn't I supposed to demonstrate my interest? Well, yes, but as others have pointed out, to do so too vigorously sends off unhealthy emotional signals. It's counterintuitive, but I found that when I dampened my interest to a certain degree, I got more dates.

People often say I'm a "nice" woman. I'm just not pretty, thin, or young.

It's hard to find dates if all you have is "nice", male or female. It's unfortunate that both sexes often use "nice" as a disguise for manipulative behavior.

I've found a real test of "nice" is having a volunteer date at the animal shelter (or other volunteer experience). If he will even agree to go, and then can interact appropriately with other volunteers and do the job at hand with a cheerful manner -- then he probably really is nice.

If he will even agree to go, and then can interact appropriately with other volunteers and do the job at hand with a cheerful manner -- then he probably really is nice.

And almost certainly not allergic to animals.

Chris,

You are totally right, that it follows from my "theory" that female jerks and nice girls cannot exist. My brief argument was supposed provide independent support. Namely, it makes a prediction, that we would not find nice gals and female jerks. A prediction that I think holds true.

When I responded to your post, I should have said that if I was wrong, then we should find nice girls and female jerks who are just like their male counterparts. I hoped it was intuitive that we do not find all the hot guys constantly falling prey to female jerks, because they are more extroverted, confident etc. Although it is a sad truth, a guy is still more likely ask a girl out that vice versa.

By saying that nice girls and female jerks cannot exist, I was merely using my theory to support my argument, and was actually misrepresenting my own argument! So yes, it was, to say the least, a circularity error.

But with the above correction made (what is supposed provide support is the apparent lack of nice girls and female jerks) I think my argument stands.

Nancy,

I think evolutionary psychology can be put to good use. Though, I am an ardent opponent of people who believe in male domination.

JerseyExport,

I said that hanging out in the background is all a "pure" nice guy would do, but I doubt any such people actually exist. "pure" nice guys and jerks are the two extremes along a continuum, between real guys fall.

Lindsay, as many have already noted, this is a seriously nice post. You explode a pervasive myth that desperately needs to be exploded.

I thought I'd add this, connecting it to your previous post, and perhaps explaining why that post got so many comments on "nice guys"): "nice-guy syndrome" is only possible within the context of male privelege. The psychology of it works something like this: "She picked him for superficial reasons, ignoring the fact that he was a jerk underneath. If she only took the time to get to know me, then she would want me." In other words, it's a way to blame the woman for lack of social/romantic success, accusing her of a superficiality. Furthermore, this accusation of superficiality allows the "nice guy" to rationalize (or simply dissmiss/ignore) his own superficiality. "If only she would get to know me" also means, "I don't know her," but it's quite rare that a "nice guy" says this about a woman he finds unattractive, or only moderately attractive. This is something men say and think about women who are out of their league, so to speak. The full expression is not usually that women pick jerks over nice guys, but that attractive women pick jerks over nice guys. Women should choose men for their personalities, and are to blame for all of the male woes when they don't, while men should feel free to pick women solely for surface reasons. If this isn't male privelege at work, I don't know what would be.

Nancy,

I think evolutionary psychology can be put to good use. Though, I am an ardent opponent of people who believe in male domination.

Of what use is a scientifically bankrupt theory? Other than as a political tool?

And what is all this blather about nice and jerky women? There are both kinds - because humans and human social interactions are exponentially more complex and variable than the beliefs of evolutionary psychologists.

"Nice" almost always has more to do with a perceived easy way to reject someone rather than whether the person is really nice. As one commenter noted above it is a way to tag someone whom you feel neutral about. Itis about how you perceive or your reaction to someone more than the real personality or worth the "nice" person

The other thing to take into account is the "fairness" of the general shallowness of our species. We venerate cultural ideals of beauty and attractiveness and some people just don't get it. If a guy is being rejected because he is "nice" it might be she is just overly shallow and not worth the nice guys time in the first place. Of course we are all shallow to one degree or another otherwise there would be couples made up of the popular guy and the dumpy obese girl. You have to know yourself well enough to know when you are just reacting some unreasonable expectation you have of a romantic partner.

Finally there is the nice person themself who may or may not be a manipulative jerk, shy or whatever. He may have some social shortcomings and he needs to understand himself well enough to recognize that and to work through it.

I really dreaded coming back to this topic.

I was the guy who got the other thread going when I reacted to Amanda's ""nice guys" who think they deserve to have sex with supermodels", which probably describes some guys(in fact, apparently is a campus type) but struck me as highly excessive and unfair in a general discussion of the whole topic. However, I probably overreacted somewhat.

A relatively neutral way of restating what I was trying to say is that the sexy "bad boy" is wired into the American psyche, M and F. One thing I read traced it back to Hollywood, which in its formative years was run by extraordinarily abusive misogynists. Supposedly one casting director decided to start casting Clark Gable, previously a villain with all the bad-boy tricks, as the hero, producing a sexy bad-boy/ good-boy leading man. (So the story goes.)

In my observation, some of the traits of sexiness (lightheartedness, boldness, and confidence) are especially easy to attain for certain kinds of narcissists, who even if they aren't malicious are self-centered and don't care personally about their various conquests.

Sometimes it seems that getting burned by a guy like that has become part of the coming-of-age process for many young women.

I still don't think that the thing I was talking about was imaginary or a projection of misogyny or personal inadequacy. I think that it's a widely-recognizable pattern, which some guys perhaps overgeneralize.

And while nice guys shouldn't feel entitled, there is a definite prioritiziation happening when a woman chooses an exciting unnice guy over an unexciting nice guy (or nobody at all, a nice woman). So there's agency there, and some of the harm has to be credited to the woman. All of this is in the context of male privilege and American pop culture, but a choice was made. Lumping the predators and the self-professed "nice-guys" into one Male Privilege bag strikes me as unfair, except to the extent that the "nice guys" are fakes and really unnice.

I now seem to have become a spokesman for inept, mopy, unsexy guys, which biographically is about half fair. (This kind of thread has an inevitable slide into confession.) Being the loser in one of these choices is bad for one's morale, and by processes of generalization from life experience which may be unjustified, leads to doubts about the whole scene.

I have also come to the conclusion that being self confident and bold or however you want to term it is about communication pure and simple.

"I am attracted to you and will not weep uncontrollably if you reject me."


Now if more people of both sexes would be able to do this there would be a lot more happy people with silly grins on their faces on Monday morning.

"(or nobody at all, OR a nice woman)."

And while nice guys shouldn't feel entitled, there is a definite prioritiziation happening when a woman chooses an exciting unnice guy over an unexciting nice guy (or nobody at all, a nice woman). So there's agency there, and some of the harm has to be credited to the woman.

I'm confident you would reject what this formulation seems to boil down to, John. "Harm" = "choosing not to have sex with?" Is this the "blueballs" line writ large?


And while nice guys shouldn't feel entitled, there is a definite prioritiziation happening when a woman chooses an exciting unnice guy over an unexciting nice guy (or nobody at all, a nice woman). So there's agency there, and some of the harm has to be credited to the woman.

I'm confident you would reject what this formulation seems to boil down to, John. "Harm" = "choosing not to have sex with?" Is this the "blueballs" line writ large?

No that isn't what he means. Based on what I've learned of Emerson through his postings I'll bet you anything he is saying that if a woman chooses sex with an exciting but non-nice guy and she comes to harm, she should blame herself.

Because choosing an exciting non-nice guy can only end in violence and possibly death for the woman.

Yeah, Emerson loves to trot out one of the patriarchy's favorite boogey men.

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