Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dating Notes from a Former Nice Guy

Photo credit: anitapeppers from

I used to be a Nice Guy. Not kind, generous, open, and honest. But "nice." The one many of the dating experts warn you about. And yet, too often, you still fall for because ... well, he's just so damned nice.

So, here's what was true about me. I was desperate to be liked. I was afraid of hurting anyone. I was friendly and agreeable. I listened well. And once I had my first girlfriend, I didn't want to be alone.

Except that, I also wanted "space" a lot of the time. I shared my thoughts and ideas, but not really what I was feeling. I was afraid of conflict, and the possibility of loosing someone as a result of conflict. If I was upset with a girlfriend, I'd stuff it until I couldn't take anymore and then would blow. Not violently, but more of an unleashing of a litany of wrongs she had done - and which I'd kept tally of, but hadn't mentioned until then. I took almost everything that happened in the relationship personally, even though often whatever it was had nothing to do with me.

I was, throughout my teens and 20s, depressed more often than not. I had no idea how to ask for what I needed, and was afraid that if I did start asking sometimes, I'd be considered "needy" and ultimately get rejected. The joke is that although I presented myself as almost selfless, and generally did give a lot - both in my relationships and in the community - I also was pretty needy emotionally. However, instead of getting those needs met directly, I'd occasionally suck energy from folks through over the top ranting, or I'd get my needs met through sideways asking that probably was more manipulating sometimes.

Now, the thing is that despite all of that, I was fairly well liked. I had a good circle of friends, got along well with co-workers and classmates (when I was in school), and generally was a productive, engaged member of society. But something was off. I wasn't quite real or authentic. And as a result, many of my relationships and dating experiences weren't so great.

What happened? Well, a lot of things. I began a serious yoga and Zen meditation practice. I had a long term relationship crumble in a way that exposed many of my "Nice Guy" flaws. I decided that I'd use my online dating experiences as opportunities to take risks. And eventually, I committed to being myself, and letting the chips fall as they may.

Let's consider the Nice Guy in more detail now. Here's a good list of traits, from an article exploring the nice guy stereotype.

They believe that if they are good, giving, and caring, that they will get happiness, love and fulfillment in return.
They offer to do things for a girl they hardly know that they wouldn’t normally do for just anybody else they know.
They avoid conflict by withholding their opinions or even become agreeable with her when they don’t actually agree.
They try to fix and take care of her problems, they are drawn to trying to help.
They seek approval from others.
They try to hide their perceived flaws and mistakes.
They are always looking for the “right” way to do things.
They tend to analyze rather than feel.
They have difficulty making their needs a priority.
They are often emotionally dependent on their partner.

Now, say you're out on a first or second date. And perhaps you're wondering how to discern the difference between a mature, kind man and a Nice Guy.

Here are some questions to consider.

What happens if you disagree with him on something? Does he rush to agree with you?

Does he seem "too perfect"?

Is he overly quick to offer to help you with some issue that no other person who barely knows you would? Or is he overly giving right off the bat?

Is most of your conversation about ideas and intellectual interests?

Does he seem to be seeking approval from you a fair amount of the time?

These are all questions based on the traits above. Here are a few more, based upon how I used to be.

Does he paint himself as the underdog much of the time, in order to seek sympathy?

Does he struggle to make eye contact with you when talking about anything more serious?

Does he shut down, go quiet, or change the subject when emotional topics are brought up?

Of course, none of these alone mean a whole lot. But if you've got someone who fits several of the patterns these questions are getting at, then chances are you're dealing with a Nice Guy.

I could say more, but I'll stop there. Thoughts? Anything to add?


  1. This is very informative! Thank you! I have nothing to add, except maybe a cautionary tale about how I met, got together with, and fell for a Nice Guy (TM). First off, I'd never been with one before. More importantly, my parents, who are both healthy balanced people and had a healthy balanced marriage, always told me to go for a guy that loves me more than I do him. They said this type of imbalance needs to be present to ensure that the man would care about me, support me, and treat me right. Well when I met my Nice Guy, by my parents' standard I'd hit the jackpot, because that man was all over me. My parents were happy for me too. My perfectionist mom kept saying things like "well he doesn't look like much, and he lives out in the sticks, but he likes you a lot and will take good care of you"... You guys already know the rest. My mom was as surprised as I was by how things ended. None of us saw that coming.

    Would you say my parents were wrong with their advice? Mom swears that's how she'd picked my dad. She had to choose between dad and a guy seven years younger who worked at the local radio station, was super good-looking and was kind of the town celebrity. Kind of like those alpha males that EMK always talks about. My dad was nerdy, low-status, low-income, but was very smart and really liked mom. She went with Dad and never regretted it. But my dad was confident and had his s**t together. He was assertive too, had a backbone and had no problem pushing back on things that were important to him. I've heard people say many good things about my dad throughout his life and after we lost him, but no one ever called him a nice guy. Because he wasn't.

  2. It sounds like your mother boiled down a set of strong contrasts between your father and that other guy into a single, defining trait. When the reality is more complex.

    I also wonder if the insistence on a man being the one who loves a lot more is kind of dated. Even your mother's focus on the ex "taking care of you" feels a little old fashioned to me. Nothing wrong with a guy who takes care of the woman he's with of course. I'd like to think I do a good job of that myself. But it's not a one way street in many of the ways it used to be, such as financially. Furthermore, there isn't the kind of divorce stigma present anymore that often kept folks together when everything else had fallen apart.

    Perhaps finding a man who was highly devoted to a woman mostly meant that she'd have a provider for herself and her children. That she'd not be abandoned and left to struggle in a culture that offered her limited options for taking care of her own needs (and children if there were any).

    Your parents' marriage sounds like it had a lot of positive pieces to it that went beyond the single piece of your father being more in love with your mother. Those other pieces are worth paying attention to.

    Love is highly important, but it's not enough in my opinion. In fact, I don't think it was enough in the past, under the old conditions. I'm guessing a lot of women, for example, settled for having a partner that loved them because it was so much better than the other alternatives.

    1. Thanks Nathan. Oh, I didn't word that right. My mom always had her own income - actually, due to the fact that her position came with more/higher bonuses, she often made more than dad. By him taking care of me, she meant more along the lines of in sickness and in health, that type of thing. That a man like that wouldn't bail on me when things get tough. The most recent examples of what she meant by one spouse taking care of the other, is when Dad got sick a few years ago, and was told he only had a couple of years left. They lived in a one bedroom apt in a low-rent building. First thing Dad did was find a paralegal and get a legal separation from Mom, so they would each get their own studio apartment. He then helped her move, so she wouldn't have to worry about having to move out of their shared apartment after he passed. When he died, he had $114 in his checking account, so we didn't care if the account got stuck in probate, as it was practically empty. Back when he was healthy, he used to buy groceries, make business calls, pay bills. When his health got worse, he taught mom how to do all those things, made sure she knew all the account numbers and phone numbers for everyone they had any kind of business dealings with. He showed her how to write a check, which she previously didn't know how to do. (She was very independent "in the old country", but not as much here.) And of course in turn, she took care of him when he was too sick to get around, and was with him till the last minute holding his hand. That's the kind of care my parents meant. More along the lines of mutual support than care. Of course it has to be mutual. They knew me; they knew I'd support my SO. But they also wanted me to find an SO that wouldn't let me down when I needed help. Still looking.

      "Love is highly important, but it's not enough in my opinion."

      I agree. Love could mean anything. Nine times out of ten, rather than a deep close connection, it means physical chemistry that is bound to wear out very quickly. My ex and I used to joke about how, 18 months in, his chemistry would wear off and then everything would fall apart. Turns out we were only off by a few months. So, yeah, going for a man who loves you more, or a lot, or what have you, is a gamble, you have a good point there.

  3. "That's the kind of care my parents meant. More along the lines of mutual support than care. Of course it has to be mutual. They knew me; they knew I'd support my SO. But they also wanted me to find an SO that wouldn't let me down when I needed help. Still looking."

    Yeah, this is a big one. It sounds like they really worked well together, which is such a key, especially when things are more difficult.

    Obviously, seeing if someone is mutually supportive like this is mostly about time together and seeing what happens. But you can pay attention early on and notice how the other person responds to challenges.

    1. Thank you. You're right. My bar is pretty high; I've been spoiled by my parents' example.

      But, back to your original post, IMO a "nice guy" will definitely not rise up to the challenge of working well together when things are difficult. At least, that's been my experience. It's almost like the "nice guy" is more concerned about how he looks to the others, whether he still comes across as the "nice guy", etc than he is with doing the right thing. Doing the right thing is difficult and not always pretty, and may be misinterpreted by the people around him (like when my parents officially separated), and "nice guy" just cannot take that risk.

  4. "But, back to your original post, IMO a "nice guy" will definitely not rise up to the challenge of working well together when things are difficult." I agree with this. In both of my long term relationships in my 20s, I struggled to step up when things got hard. And more often then not, part of the problem was that I just couldn't be honest about how I felt about what was happening, out of fear of rejection or bringing on more conflict. So, I stonewalled in silence or only addressed smaller issues that seemed less threatening.

    After the 2nd of those relationships fell apart, I began to realize that while I wasn't fully responsible for what happened, I had a big stake in it. My whole approach changed as a result, including being much more willing to address issues head on, and take the risks associated with being honest and doing things that sometimes run counter to what I personally want for the sake of the relationship. Life's a hell of a lot better overall as a result I have to say.

  5. And now on a completely different subject... This was posted today on Moxie's. Nathan, I just wanted to let you know that, IMO you certainly do NOT fit into any of these categories, and that I for one benefit a lot from your advice. Thank you.

    "I’ll say this: nobody gives dating advice because they just want people to be happy. Sorry, nobody is that altruistic. If they’re not getting paid for it, they either are trying to level the playing field for themselves or have a burning desire for attention or bragging rights. Those are the only reasons why anybody would devote themselves to disseminating dating information on a regular basis without getting paid for it."

    *scratches head*

  6. Well, Moxie's posts tend to be more revealing than even she seems to realize. Both her main posts, and also comments in the response section. She's spent so many years in the online dating world, analyzing all the pitfalls, that she often can't see beyond that.

    Lots of people write blogs about dating. Some of them are more advice oriented, and others are just sharing experiences and seeking support or insights. The majority of them are done for free and have very small audiences. Altruistic motives may or may not be part of the equation, but the level of sinister or cynical motives is a hell of a lot lower than she's painting.

    Same is true with the dating situations she's always posting. The majority of them are just run of the mill experiences that happen when two strangers attempt to connect, and it doesn't work. Certainly, some folks could behave and learn how to handle themselves better, but a lot of the drama about some awful person who is out to get you is just nonsense.

  7. Great post Nathan! I really appreciate your insight. I started dating a guy that I still think is really awesome. But he is a nice guy & on our first date told me directly that he's a "people pleaser" & that he has been forced into relationships & jobs, which I asked how is that possible.. lol.. almost all of the things you wrote I answered "yes" to about him. We had a very intense, instant connection mind, body & soul. We were on the same page about what we wanted in a relationship. But I could feel that I would scare him sometimes when I would tell him that any type of neglect would make me leave. He didn't text me enough & one day I got upset. I apologized & let him know I was in the wrong but I think it scared him a bit. Yet he & I still were really excited to be together & still had a great connection & he was really excited that we were on the same page. One night I had an amazing 2hr conversation with him on the phone. The next day I didn't hear much from him & then when I saw him the following day he was in a very bad mood & wouldn't really talk to me about it, except mumbling about how he saw his friends & they said a girlfriend of theirs changed, that he's insecure, that he has to go out of town for work for 2 mths... our connection was all of a sudden very weak. He wouldn't really talk to me except saying that he has problems with his friends & work, but would still tell me I'm his fantasy. But because he was so edgy towards me, I asked if he still wanted to be with me. He snapped at me "of course" & said "we got that settled". But his energy was so harsh with me, it didn't feel like he meant it. I even told him he can be in a bad mood & that doesn't mean I'll reject him, which he appreciated. I didn't hear from him for the next 5 days, so I texted him. After he responded I asked if he still wanted to see me. He said he's not ready for a relationship. I let him know I appreciated his honesty & was still nice to him yet let him know it was confusing to me.

    ... so when it comes down to it, sounds to me like he's a nice guy, doesn't know how to say what's bothering him to avoid conflict so instead lets it boil inside, and then because he's afraid he can't be all that he wants to be for me, rather leave out of fear of rejection. Does it sound that way to you as well?

    I still really like him & want to let him know that maybe we can get reconnected once he gets back to town. I think part of his problem is that according to society's standards he's not "ideal". He's short, a little chubby, and more on the nerdy side. I'm the opposite. But to me, he is ideal. I think glasses are sexy! Do you think he would appreciate if I sent him a card in the mail letting him know that I think its good he's making the effort to fix his personal issues & that he is in my thoughts?

  8. Great post. Some of my 20's behavior matches up with yours, though I never considered myself to be a nice gal. Though I was also married in my 20's, so it's a bit different. I appreciate getting some perspective with dating though. I've definitely dated this guy. And I'm trying very hard not to replicate those bad communication behaviors I had when I was younger (e.g. bottling up things instead of expressing them in healthy ways).

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