How can I help a friend not be a Nice Guy?
April 7, 2011 12:17 PM   Subscribe

How can I help a friend avoid the "nice guy" trap?

A very dear friend of mine, 30 or so, recently moved to The City from rural Indiana and reentered the dating world. I saw him right after a second date with someone from "the Internet;" he was frustrated that nothing was moving forward, and said something along the lines of "girls just don't like nice guys!" which caused me to react pretty strongly as I think that mindset is pernicious and a trap.

This guy is a close friend and I hope he can find people to get especially friendly with. He is not pretentious, does not own a fedora; nothing of that sort. He's just been out of the loop for a god long while. What can I say when he expresses this sort of sentiment that would steer him true?
posted by jtron to Human Relations (48 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
He needs to evaluate the type of girls he's seeking out and determine if they're the ones who are most inclined to like bad guys. If so, he needs to approach a different kind of girl.

If he's approaching all kinds of girls, well, he just needs to stick it out until he finds the right one.
posted by litnerd at 12:21 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

It is completely untrue that girls don't like nice guys. I really don't understand how this is still a common thing to say. I tend to think of it as an excuse - the problem's not with me, but with girls in general, of course.

Encourage him to go on more dates. When nothing moves forward after meeting someone online it probably doesn't have anything to do with how nice or not the person is; people aren't always compatible. I wouldn't try to debate him about the nice guys versus not nice guys thing. Just support him in his dating quest.
posted by amicamentis at 12:25 PM on April 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

Girls love nice guys, but they also love for things to be exciting, especially early on. In my experience, some "nice guys" form attachment too quickly, profess their love too soon, and don't allow room for the mystery that makes the beginnings of relationships fun. When I see girls I know dating jerks, its not that they are attracted to jerks; they are attracted to the unpredictability of jerks.
posted by halseyaa at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2011 [12 favorites]

girls like nice guys. Girls just respond strongly to confidence.

I saw him right after a second date with someone from "the Internet;"he was frustrated that nothing was moving forward

So he was frustraited that she didn't lay him? Did he try to kiss her? The second date is often too early for a lot of people to take someone home.

Tell his ass to calm down. Self pity is the opposite of confidence. And It is a massive pet peeve of mine and a lot a girls like me. Nice Guy syndrom is often a sign of assholery.

"I'm such a nice guy- why won't any of those bitches let me fuck them?"
posted by Blisterlips at 12:29 PM on April 7, 2011 [61 favorites]

See if he will elaborate on why he feels that way. Is he confusing boring with nice and exciting with badboy for example? Help him manage his expectations about finding anyone too quickly. Does he have interests that might veer towards more down-to-earth women? I'm thinking that a group that volunteers to cleanup litter vs. an adventure sports group. I think women in the first group would be more likely to be into "nice" guys, whatever that means to him.
posted by soelo at 12:30 PM on April 7, 2011

Best answer: This looks like a handy resource. This in particular sort of sums up the problem from my perspective.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:32 PM on April 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Women like nice guys. Women don't like boring guys. Sometimes nice guys are also boring and don't realize that it's not the niceness, it's that they're bland. When I mean boring, I mostly refer to not having or professing any strong opinions about anything, including making plans (what do you want to do tonight, "oh I don't care, whatever you want," etc.), or being too quiet/not having anything to say. I feel like everyone wants to see that the other person has a passion for something and many nice guys are maybe too afraid to show that. I prefer "nice" guys in that I like being treated well and respected, but I don't like guys who don't seem to care much about anything or if they do, never have anything interesting to say about it, or make me feel like I have to do all the work because they don't act strongly about anything.
posted by elpea at 12:33 PM on April 7, 2011 [47 favorites]

Every time I have heard a guy say this, it has been one of two situations.

1. The guy believes that "being nice" is performing a set of behaviors. (Maybe paying for dinner, opening doors, etc.) And if he performs those behaviors, then he's entitled to X (the girl being into him, the girl having sex with him, etc.) Then he is angry that he performed the behavior and didn't get what he was then entitled to, and starts in on calling people bitches and whores. That is a turnoff.

2. There is has been a reason that girls aren't into him that he doesn't want to change, or thinks he can't change. (Usually, to be blunt, it is his appearance or his social skills). And he believes that if he is "nice, that should compensate enough for anything else. And if a girl cares about anything else then she is shallow. Ironically, these guys don't usually go for girls who are nice but really unattractive.

So, is your friend in either of these categories? If he's in the second, can he take hearing what it is about him that's turning women off? Does he have the impetus to fix it?

If he's in the first, it might help to talk with him about not falling into the trap of trying to buy people's affections, whether that's with "nice" actions, or money, or whatever. Both men and women fall into that trap.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:34 PM on April 7, 2011 [107 favorites]

wow, ashley801 completely nailed this one. and i'm not saying that just to be nice :-)
posted by facetious at 12:36 PM on April 7, 2011

"Nice guy" types suffer from two delusions:

1. Every other guy out there is getting laid like crazy. This is because "nice guys" sit at home watching xtube and dreaming that every other guy out there has the life shown on porn. They don't! Don't be deluded!

2. They really really want to be with someone, when they don't. They are scared. So they do things like ask out women who are 20 years younger than them or otherwise unavailable.

3. Everyone else out there has magical success with dating. No, we don't.

Here was my dating success formula when I was single:

a. I believed I was attractive despite my flaws.

b. I asked someone new out every month, but appropriately. I met someone on the bus, I hunted down new acquaintances on facebook, I used OkCupid. It took several months but I met someone.

c. I did most of the asking out.

d. I dated a range of ages on either side of me.

Took until the 7th or 8th try to meet someone that it clicked with. When I went on ONE or TWO dates with someone and it did not work out I did not let it get to me. It's a numbers game.
posted by ElisaOS at 12:39 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm skeptical when a guy uses this as an excuse. It always sounds like a deflection of insecurity to me. And whenever I've heard it, I usually think "You're actually kind of self absorbed, dude".

I think that women prefer nice guys. Maybe he's assuming too much out of a date and that is causing him to blame the lack of success onto someone other than himself. He also might just be boring.
posted by dobie at 12:40 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I saw him right after a second date with someone from "the Internet;" he was frustrated that nothing was moving forward

Yikes! Two dates!? Tell him to chill out a little. He is not being a "nice guy" in that respect. Like, at all.
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:51 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

"But I'm a nice guy!" = Insecurity. I think actual nice guys wouldn't whine about this.

Self-proclaimed nice guys are always frustrated about something but rather give the easy excuse of "but I'm nice" instead of actually figuring out what they are doing wrong. It could be anything from appearance to social cues to their belief systems... but if they keep pegging themselves that "girls just want bad guys / some other dumb cliche" they will never fix their core problem that drives most girls they are interested away.

Confidence and being engaging are pretty key attraction points for women. Being a nice guy doormat isn't very attractive to most women... they will either consciously or subconsciously manipulate the man because of his passive behavior...unless they are extremely lucky and meets a woman that won't (highly unlikely, but I've seen this happen in rare rare cases).

The qualities of "nice guys" aren't very apparent to women right away. They may actually be caring, loyal, giving, etc but these attributes aren't really noticed or appreciated until you are in a relationship for a while. But because they put up an annoying front, women walk away and these guys tend to be frustrated that they aren't getting dates despite actually having qualities women want. Jerks "seem" to get women because they show qualities women appreciate right away - confidence and interestingness. But quality women will date them for a while then walk away once they realize they aren't caring, loyal, etc.

It's like poker -- don't show your hand all at once. Be interesting, women aren't interested in someone that tells you their life story right away, but rather if you give them parts of the stories as you know them. Women tend to pick up on social cues and tend to do this without realizing, but desperate men just dump it all out instead of pacing themselves.
posted by xtine at 12:53 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is your friend confusing 'nice guy' for 'pushover'? I'm not sure if this is something you could answer or solve even if you did know, but perhaps he is being overly submissive in the hopes that his date will like him more. Common symptoms are agreeing with everything she says, over-complimenting her, making her decide where they go all the time, etc. He thinks he's being nice; SHE thinks he is weird and dull and too doormatty.
posted by amicamentis at 12:58 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The guy believes that "being nice" is performing a set of behaviors. (Maybe paying for dinner, opening doors, etc.) And if he performs those behaviors, then he's entitled to X (the girl being into him, the girl having sex with him, etc.)

Ashley801 gets at a good point. One thing I'd add to it is that guys who complain about this vastly under-estimate how common being "nice" is in the way they imagine it. Offering to pay for dinner, opening doors, driving the girl home without groping her -- most guys know this is the baseline for early dating behavior and do it. It's part of the cultural tradition and isn't anything special to learn. Despite what they may have heard from the Pick-Up Artist scene, it isn't like most of these "bad boys" are telling the girl to take the bus, asking her to split the check and trying to give her a digital examination under the tablecloth.

The thing is, being nice is just the minimal standards for a woman on a first date to consider opening her mind to romantic possibilities. But it's everything else that happens on the date that matters. You know, where your personality comes out and the guy distinguishes himself from all the other nice guys who have bought her dinner and not asked her what kind of condoms she likes during the salad course. It's in this area where these guys fall off because they can't relate to women or have strange social issues. Unfortunately, they don't realize what's happened and, as Ashley 801 says, get frustrated because they acted the part and haven't got the outcome they expected.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 1:00 PM on April 7, 2011 [18 favorites]

As you can see, when you bring up this point, you're going to get a lot of people defending women's preferences as if What Women Want must be eminently rational.

The fact is, neither gender is perfect. Neither gender has rock-solid faculties of rational decision-making. We're all a little messed up.

Women, like men, often don't make the best choices in life. Women, like men, can be superficial and attracted to a type that isn't perfect for them. And the ways women and men tend to be attracted to not-so-great partners might vary based on gender.

So, I find the blanket assertion that there is no phenomenon of "nice guys finish last" to be unconvincing.

But for these purposes, it doesn't much matter whether "nice guys finish last" has some truth to it. So what if it does? That doesn't help him do what he wants to do in life.

I'd tell him this: there isn't one "guy" that "girls" like. Those are just fantasies, apparitions. In reality, each person (female or male) is an individual. Some might conform to your stereotype of what Men or Women are like, but no one person is Men or Women. They're just people. Give them a chance. OK, so you went on a couple dates with women who weren't into you. This does not represent some universal truth about What Women Want. It just wasn't a good match. If you're nursing a theory that "Girls" like "Bad Boys," not "Nice Guys (like me)," that's a defeatist attitude. And a defeatist attitude is not the path to success in the world of dating. Keep putting yourself out there with openness and honesty and a positive attitude.
posted by John Cohen at 1:01 PM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: What elpea said, like 100 times.

It's not much fun when the guy seems too afraid of what you'll think to propose plans or offer an opinion or crack a joke. Passive behavior, waiting for you to put forth an idea or opinion so that they can react appropriately - it is a fun killer. Friendly conflict is so important in generating interest. "Nice" guys tend to be too afraid to challenge and risk disapproval.

(But it is generally accepted that I am single because I am scary, so I might run into this more often than some.)
posted by griselda at 1:10 PM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

Every part of "nice guys finish last" is vague. What is a "nice guy"? Is he calling himself a "nice guy" or is someone else? What does it mean to "finish last"?

It's a poor starting point for an AskMeFi question and you might get better responses with specific examples of his behavior and what he's looking for. Otherwise, you're inviting people to extrapolate and stereotype.
posted by grammar corrections at 1:12 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to offer an opinion from the other side of the fence with regard to "nice guy syndrome"...

A guy has several female friends. They talk to him about their relationship issues. They complain about their boyfriends. He hears a litany about boyfriends who are rude, uninterested, overly jealous, underly affectionate, controlling, and generally jerks.

The guy does not have these traits. In fact, his female friends often tell him that they wish that their boyfriends were more like him.

Then, it happens. One of his female friends finally dumps her loser boyfriend and is single. The guy decides to make his move and tells her that he is romantically interested. Of course, he is instantly friendzoned.

A very short time later, the female friend is in a new relationship. Soon afterwards, the gys is hearing the same complaints about the new boyfriend that he used to hear about the old.

Conclusion: This woman is attracted to jerks.

Repeat the experience with several women. Conclusion: Nice guys finish last.

This is where the "Girls Don't Like Nice Guys" syndrome has its genesis. It's not that guys think that being nice = blowjobs. It's not insecurity. It's not about being a pushover.

It comes from being rejected by women who have told you that you have the qualities that they want in a boyfriend, and from watching those women continually take up with guys who mistreat them in similar ways.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:15 PM on April 7, 2011 [9 favorites]

Best answer: i wish i could star Ashley 801's comment ten times!

in that same vein, amanda marcotte's nice guys: finish first without pickup gimmickry just went up over at the good men project today but should already be considered essential reading for dudes. (the comments on it are illuminating as to what kinds of guys consider themselves "nice guys")
posted by lia at 1:15 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Been married forever, but the following works for dating, job hunting, turning acquaintances into real friends, whatever: what you can tell him is he needs to narrow his filter and make it clear that he's doing his own evaluation, as well. The formulation "girls just don't like nice guys" paints him as something to be judged then picked up or dropped.

The hard truth is people are stupid, and tend to work harder to associate themselves with people or things if they appear (or are actually) more difficult to obtain. Your friend needs to fake being more unavailable because he's awesome and in demand and super engaged until he really is unavailable because he's awesome and in demand and super engaged. Then he gets to show someone how he's explicitly choosing to share or forgo some awesomeness for a particular woman's company.

The "I'm super available and will do anything you want" posture is really just signalling his time isn't worth much. Forget the girls: he should just go be awesome. Someone will want to share. Doesn't move forward with a particular girl? Her loss.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:18 PM on April 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Women like guys who are nice to everyone, not just the people they want to have sex with. If you're a guy who is genuinely nice, and not just a "nice guy," you'll be appealing.

As touched on above, "nice guy" is often code for "pushover" or "boring" or "clingy." Those are the kind of guys who finish last.

I have no idea if your friend is any of the above, so I don't feel right giving a lecture on how not to be that way. However, I'd tell him what I wish I could tell my dejected single self from several years ago: Rejection is not an evaluation of your attractiveness or dateability. It feels like it, but it really isn't. In the end, only one person needs to like you. Two, if you count yourself.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:32 PM on April 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

DWRoelands: I would ask the guy in that situation if the *only* difference between himself and the awful boyfriends is how nice he is. No difference in appearance, social skills? No other differences in personality, that favor the awful boyfriends? Some women (and men) are absolutely drawn to jerks, but assuming that's the case when you haven't looked at all the factors seems like mistaking correlation for causation. The friends of the guy in that situation may tell him they wish their boyfriend were like him. Nobody is going to tell the guy in that situation, "I wish my boyfriend were like you on the inside, but looked like himself rather than you on the outside." Or "I wish my boyfriend were nice like you, but not socially inept like you." Because that would be horrible and hurtful.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:34 PM on April 7, 2011 [24 favorites]

It comes from being rejected by women who have told you that you have the qualities that they want in a boyfriend, and from watching those women continually take up with guys who mistreat them in similar ways.

That doesn't seem to be applicable here. The OP's friend is meeting women through online dating services, so he is clearly not friends with them first. I think it's important, in online dating as in regular dating, to remember that every person out there is an individual with individual desires, and that a single man or woman wont be sexually or physically attractive to every person they meet, or even to the majority of them. That's kind of the point of dating - if we clicked with everyone, then we'd just marry the first eligible person we met.

Personally, I married a nice guy, but then again I'm an ugly girl and everyone knows ugly girls finish last.
posted by muddgirl at 1:35 PM on April 7, 2011

It comes from being rejected by women who have told you that you have the qualities that they want in a boyfriend, and from watching those women continually take up with guys who mistreat them in similar ways.

Man, I really hate this trope. It sure gets trotted out a lot so it must happen, but damn.

Someone who complains about relationship problems (the same bad behavior over and over) to "a friend" instead of approaching their SO like an adult and dealing with the jerky behavior at the source is not someone desirable for dating. Not being able to date that person? Sounds like the guy has been done a favor. Both people in that scenario like attention too much to do what is best for them.

A real nice guy with integrity would also look for a partner with integrity, and not just an available person of preferred gender which represents the path of least resistance. That's passive and lazy.
posted by griselda at 1:39 PM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Maybe ask him what he thinks being "nice" means?

The biggest problem with starting to be a "nice" (ie, passive-aggressive, resentful) guy is that is ruins your character. You start out feeling a little insecure and a little resentful and kind of wishing you had a date, and you end up a horrible, embittered misogynist who creeps out every woman he meets.

Here is my experience with "nice guys". YMMV.

The ones I know are working class/lower middle class white guys without a lot of strong community ties--ie, no union, no church, no music scene, no really close D&D/sports/whatever group. They don't know where to meet anyone, never mind women.

They want a relationship (just let my plurals be mixed up here) with a girl who understands them and will love them. They are not--at first--actually believing that they are entitled to date supermodel heiresses. They talk big because they are insecure and afraid and lonely, and they don't want to be seen as failures. They don't have a supportive, caring social network to make them feel worthwhile regardless of their dating history.

They are engaging in theater - "oh, I will be all dramatic and this will work sympathetic magic or attract attention or something, and I will get a girlfriend".

I have some sympathy with nice guys, because I've seen a couple of them who meet girls at the last possible moment and once the insecurity and fear was gone, they could be decent people. Honestly, several of my best friends are reformed nice guys.

So about your friend: talk to him about what he thinks niceness is. What does he think a relationship should look like? What kind of time does he want to spend with a girlfriend? What does he think a good relationship between a man and a woman looks like? Why?

Honestly, I have a couple of other guy friends who are so sweet and goofy-looking and weird (and I would totally, totally sleep with them casually if they were into it...but they're not, me being basically a butch queer woman) and it does make me frustrated that they have so much trouble dating. I wish I could write them references. I do think that some men lose out in the dating pool because of dumb expectations about masculinity, and some of those fellows turn into nice guys.
posted by Frowner at 1:50 PM on April 7, 2011 [12 favorites]

Here's my $0.02. Girls really do like nice guys. (Nice meaning genuinely kind, treats people well, polite, etc.) But girls (and boys too, perhaps) will often say, when rejecting someone, "Well, he's nice, but..." What they're doing is picking one good quality which they really do like (nice) and contrasting it with all the unspoken not-good qualities (boring, ugly, weird, indecisive, just no attraction for some reason, whatever.) Then guys get fixated on the "nice" because that's the quality that's named, and they blame that. But nice is not the problem - it's the one thing that might have kept all the rest of it from being a problem, if all the rest of it wasn't so important. So this is really the wrong way to be thinking about it.

And, totally what elpea and Ashley801 said!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:58 PM on April 7, 2011 [14 favorites]

It seems like the frustration might be stemming from being out of the loop and pressure to just be with someone. Tell your friend to date but not worry so much about the outcome. He's putting himself out there, which is half the work.

You might already be doing this, but offer to take your friend out for a night out, like a concert or something. Don't worry about dating, just try to have a good time. He's new to town so he might not have a network of friends lined up. Introduce yours to him if you'd like.

Once he's comfortable in town it'll show when he goes on dates, and that should go a long way. It took me a while after moving to get comfortable dating, so maybe that's what up.
posted by hellojed at 2:03 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ashley801 has it. No woman who is happy and healthy is going to turn a guy down just because he's nice.

Perhaps you could talk to your friend about what he perceives to be his good qualities, including what makes him such a nice guy, and his shortcomings, and how he's working on those. Speaking from my own experience with self-proclaimed "nice guys", it seems they subscribe to the belief that being nice should supersede all of their shortcomings, often because they view their only shortcomings as "shallow" or superficial aspects of themselves (such as physical appearance, career, status, etc.).

This belief leads men wrong in so many ways. For one, the underlying belief that nice should be good enough for any woman. Being nice is in fact a minimum standard for many women, and quite frankly, it's insulting when a man thinks a woman should be eternally grateful simply because he was nice to her. Perhaps this needs to be pointed out to your friend.

On the other side of the coin, it also seems to me that many "nice guys" have resorted to being nice simply because they don't believe they have anything else to offer. This often results in overdoing it and becoming a boring, spineless doormat, because being nice is their major "selling point." "Devoted and loyal" is just as bad. It can devolve to clingy and obsessive. Maybe talk to your friend about everything that he does have going for him. If it's not much, he might think about developing some hobbies or side projects that he'll be able to make interesting conversation about. Passion and expertise are extremely attractive qualities, and a genuine boost in self-esteem couldn't hurt.

"Nice guys" also tend to judge certain women's desires as "shallow" through gross oversimplification. For example, "Women just want guys with money," or "Women only want to date bad boys." They fail to realize that there may be more to guys with money than their account balances - guys with money may also be ambitious, driven, hardworking, responsible, and intelligent... qualities that increase the likelihood of financial success. Or that bad boys might also be exciting, interesting, adventurous, and brimming with confidence. In this sense, your friend may be projecting his own insecurities, regarding qualities or things he lacks, onto the women he is unsuccessful with.

And for some reason, erroneous belief that nice conquers all seems to inspire men to aim way outside of their league. What kind of women is your friend going for? Is he emphasizing physical attractiveness when he himself is lacking in that department? Perhaps it could be pointed out (tactfully) that it's not fair of him to accuse attractive women of being shallow when he also prioritizes physical beauty.

Best of luck. It's really great of you to step in and help your friend out. The "nice guy" path is a lonely road to bitterness.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:05 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think that, in general, a lot of people in this thread are forgetting about the folks Frowner mentions: "Honestly, I have a couple of other guy friends who are so sweet and goofy-looking and weird (and I would totally, totally sleep with them casually if they were into it...but they're not, me being basically a butch queer woman) and it does make me frustrated that they have so much trouble dating. I wish I could write them references. I do think that some men lose out in the dating pool because of dumb expectations about masculinity, and some of those fellows turn into nice guys."

A lot of people here seem to think that "nice guy" means a very particular thing, e.g., The guy believes that "being nice" is performing a set of behaviors.. It doesn't. As grammar corrections states, "nice guy" is extremely vague and means different things to different people, most of whom assign certain thoughts or traits to their brand of "nice guy" even though they aren't necessarily in a position to know one way or another.

Bottom line: a lot of people who self-describe as as "nice guys" aren't necessarily nice. Some "nice guys" are nice, but smell or are ugly or have bad social skills. Some "nice guys" are insecure and that's pretty much unforgivable (nevermind that insecurity is a mental state and god knows MeFi loves therapy, but in questions of this context guys who are insecure are pretty much derided as pariah).

What do you think of your friend? Is he nice? Is he sincere? Is he interesting? Does he have interests? If no to any of these, maybe address that with him.

Do you know anything about his past dating history? Have you seen him interact with a SO or date? Did you notice anything that might be off-putting? Let him know.

Otherwise, as others have said, dating is a numbers game.. tell him to keep at it. If he gets to #7 or #8 with nothing, well, then maybe he can start looking at what he might be doing wrong. Until then, it's just a crap shoot whether it is him or not.

What was especially helpful for me was remembering that I was allowed to be disinterested, too. After a date I would consider how it went and what the outcome was - in her eyes - and would often get a little dejected. Then I realized that a lot of times that *she* didn't seem interested, I wasn't actually interested either.. so why lose sleep over that?
posted by mbatch at 2:06 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

What was especially helpful for me was remembering that I was allowed to be disinterested, too. After a date I would consider how it went and what the outcome was - in her eyes - and would often get a little dejected. Then I realized that a lot of times that *she* didn't seem interested, I wasn't actually interested either.. so why lose sleep over that?

That's a really good point. I think sometimes with dating we can get a little caught up with the "game" aspects of it - we want to win, and winning means progressing on to the next stage of the relationship. But this often means that we force ourselves to progress with someone that isn't a good fit.
posted by muddgirl at 2:11 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the "nice guys finish last" phenomenon mostly comes down to matters of heuristics. As social animals, we've evolved tools that enable us to take advantage of community knowledge and values -- the ability to form conclusions about something's desirability or dangerousness without having to personally experience it ourselves. There's a lot of this that governs attraction, and two in particular in the case of "nice guy" syndrome -- 1) people care about what their friends, peers, even strangers think of a potential partner because the tendency to put stock in what other people think/do is a building block to be able to learn and teach, and 2) valuing things more that are more challenging to get because if you're able to get it and others aren't, you will face less competition.

It's pretty easy to see how these things play into the nice guy dilemma -- dudes who worry about nice guys finishing last by definition feel that they are less desirable (if unfairly) and thus tend to give off that impression to women, and they tend to be unchallenging and overtly available, further diminishing how much a woman is going to value them. And here's the thing there's a lot of sense to that strategy, despite the popular notion that women would be happier if they settled down with "nice guys" instead of chasing after "bad boys." What we're calling "nice guys" are available and unchallenging -- they'll always do as a fallback. At least in the early stages, isn't it worth it to chase after the guys who value themselves and are in turn valued enough to be able to afford to be challenging and fickle? You can always fall back on a nice guy.

So the lesson to be learned is that you don't have to stop being a nice guy to stop being a "nice guy." You just need to start valuing yourself enough to be valued back, and in most cases, that actually involves doing something tangible to improve your sense of self-worth. This does't (necessarily) mean get a better job or go to the gym -- broadening your interests and engaging more in the world around you usually does the trick, and is more rewarding in its own right.
posted by patnasty at 2:17 PM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies, especially those which I marked as best answer! I probably shouldn't have assumed that everyone would be starting with the same frame of reference about what is meant by a "nice guy" but things seem to be going smoothly enough.
posted by jtron at 2:29 PM on April 7, 2011

I think the problem really isn't the idea that women don't like "nice guys" its that there is a widespread habit of women not taking the initiative early in relationships in the US. So guys who are not sure what to do fall back to doing things that they think "women would like" in the hopes that the women would relieve them of the burden of having to be assertive with absolutely no information feedback as to whether or not the woman is interested. Unfortunately the same force also creates the widespread habit of women not letting a guy know she's not interested and not refusing dates so as to not "hurt his feelings." Hence the frustration for all around.

Those people we call "bad guys" are really men who quickly take the initiative. Unfortunately for women who might be interested in more, the reason that they can so easily take the initiative is that they really aren't interested in getting much other than laid, so it is psychologically easy for them.

So how to fix? Well, I think you start dressing awesome, hitting on women you like right away and taking the initiative to invite these women to places after dates where the two of you might be alone and then basically checking the signs once and making a move. Fearlessly, you must then take some rejections, but it pays off in the end.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:39 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Crazy, the following article just appeared in my twitter feed, I felt it was worth a link here:
posted by pazazygeek at 3:00 PM on April 7, 2011

Best answer: As dichotomies go, "Nice Guy vs. Jerks" isn't very useful.

Tell him to focus instead on "Exciting vs. Dull" or "Confident vs. Cowed" or "Energizing vs. Soporific".

Above all, remind him that these traits are just matters of behavior, rather than Platonic Truths (as it were); he can be labeled an X Guy or a Y Guy, but really, these identities are just constructed from demonstrations of X or Y behavior.

If you really want to be helpful, and don't mind forcing him to really take a look at things, get him to specify The Five Most Fun and Exciting Things he did with the last girl who dumped him.

If he finds himself unable to find convincing answers to that question, and then acknowledges this, that's half the battle.

It then becomes a matter of learning to behave in new and and different ways.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:09 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Unfortunately the same force also creates the widespread habit of women not letting a guy know she's not interested and not refusing dates so as to not "hurt his feelings."

Actually IME the problem is not being given the opportunity to refuse dates, because the putative "nice" guy won't ask. He might hang around and look increasingly plaintive and drop hints which I can negate with counter-hints (but which he can discount because hey, it's not a no). If he's really determined he may escalate to outright snivelling and whining (and I wish I were being sarcastic there, but I'm not). BUT HE WON'T ACTUALLY ASK SO I CAN NEVER SAY NO.

(Yes I have thought of saying a pre-emptive "no" to clear the air. That only invited verbal abuse and poison-pen letters so I'm not doing it again.)

You say your friend is on a dating site... this suggests that he is actually asking women out on dates. He's not just sitting there waiting for them to come to him, is he? On the off-chance he's doing any of that, he should do less of it.

However, all of the worst problems I've had with "nice" guys is their unwillingness ever to take decisive action. One hopes that after the first step of asking for a date, decisive action on his part would be blended into the give-and-take, yes?
posted by tel3path at 4:31 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Niceness without confidence and strength can come off as weak and stupid(regardless of gender)- although there is probably more social cost associated with this for men. Particularly in a city, i suppose this could be an issue where density kinda dictates a little less of your usual 'niceties.'

Don't underestimate cultural miscommunications, including non-verbal. I don't know how big the city is he moved to, but there could be some serious culture clashing going on.

I also wanted to add, that I have met many self-proclaimed "nice guys" who seem to me to be just men that do not fit the stereotype of masculinity AND are insecure about this discrepancy. In some cases I was left thinking that they in fact wished that they were players- deep within their subconscious.

Not that this is necessarily the case for your friend. I guess I'm just plus1 for the 'up the confidence' pile.
posted by abirdinthehand at 4:35 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's easy for "nice guys" to end up in "the friend zone" (hate both expressions, but they'll do) precisely because they are pleasant individuals. I especially have a problem meeting men online only to discover that, while they are awesome people, I'm not attracted to them. (Not because they are nice. Just because that's life. Being nice just makes it harder to weed them out.) So a "nice guy" I'm not attracted to will get further than a total jerk I'm not attracted to, simply because we will have a fun time hanging out and I'll be tempted to keep it going.

In this scenario, I am inevitably passing up the "nice guy" I'm not attracted to in favor of a "nice guy" I am attracted to. Not a jerk. It's unfortunate for the NGINAT, but the reality is that if he keeps meeting women, he will eventually find a woman who thinks he's both nice and attractive.
posted by Sara C. at 4:53 PM on April 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

I was a Bitter Nice Guy for a very long time. Hell I might still be a Nice Guy, but I've tried to drop lots of the bitterness. What cured me? That Heartless Bitches link. A few MeFi threads, a few Something Awful threads (impossible to search for without paying), a Lorne article, etc.
The trick was just doing my own thing and pursuing my own interests. I also tend to disengage with someone if it seems they're not interested, which may be going too far in the other direction. But I spent alot of time being clingy and obsessive, and it wasn't good. I figured I needed to focus on my own stuff, and do what I wanted. If a relationship comes my way in the midst of that, that's cool.
Plus I watched Swingers and followed the 3 Day Rule. Silly, but it helped.

The bitterness does come from constant 'You're such a nice guy. You'd be the perfect boyfriend. To someone else' and the feeling that you're missing out on something. The whole 'girls only date jerks' thing is stupid, though. A girl I had a crush on introduced me to her boyfriend and he turned out to be geekier than me. Fat guys, thin guys, nice guys, assholes... they all get dates.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:55 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: There's a lot of great analysis of various flavors of nice-guy-syndrome here, and in previous threads on the topic. When it comes to practical advice for how to interact with your friend, my own suggestion would be to emphasize two things. This is based mostly on anecdotal experience with friends in an academic field rife with lonely, awkward men who often draw similar conclusions.

First, there is a sense in which his perception is objectively true. It's not true that "women don't like nice guys," but it *is* true that short term dating success isn't nearly as well correlated with ethical behavior as one might hope. The fact is that people often choose to date others based on criteria that have little to do with niceness. (Where you can define "success" and "niceness" just about any way you like without changing the truth of that statement.) The same is, of course, true with regard to success in all manner of other endeavors. The only reason dating is different is that people are surprised by it.

This also gives rise to spectacular outliers that can be misleading. You only need to meet one sociopath with plenty of dates to jump to the wrong conclusion: "this insane, abusive nutter gets more dates than me, women must really like such people." When, in reality, there are lots of nice guys who *also* get more dates than you, and lots of not-nice guys who get fewer dates, and you don't notice either, because they don't go out of their way to be noticeable. There's a world of difference between the statements, "women don't like nice guys" and "women sometimes like guys who are not nice." Try to point your friend toward the later.

Second, assuming your friend is the meek and awkward kind of nice guy, rather than the skeevy, arrogant, intimidating kind of "nice guy," it may be worth pointing out that nice and shy are two very different traits, and shouldn't be confused. Shy people who are also nice often conflate the two. Nice people don't get fewer dates, but shy people really DO get fewer dates, for reasons that are obvious.

That isn't necessarily a problem which needs to be solved; if "fewer" is also "enough," then that's fine. The goal isn't to get more dates than your not-very-nice colleague, it's to get as many dates as you feel you need to be a happy and fulfilled person. But, if you're not getting enough, the good news is that one can learn to behave in a less shy way.

It sounds silly to point out, but the way to get more dates is to ask more people out on dates, and to make your intentions obvious when doing so. For those of us who naturally shy away from rejection, this isn't easy, but it's possible, and it gets easier with practice. Expect to be rejected, and try anyway. (And then provide the woman a graceful exit from the conversation, and don't bring up the topic again. And for goodness sake, don't do it in a situation where there's an institutional power imbalance in your favor.)

Though it's less likely than most shy men expect, the truth is you do lose some potential friends this way. Sometimes you even get laughed at or feel humiliated. Mostly you have awkward conversations, and you feel bad about making the person who's turning you down feel bad for turning you down. But, all things considered, the worst possible outcomes aren't all that bad, especially compared to a life of lonely resentment spent whining to your friends that nice guys finish last.

Obviously, this advice doesn't apply to everyone. It's only good for the genuinely shy people who are so worried about upsetting or offending potential dates that few even realize they're interested. There's a whole other group of self-titled nice guys who don't lack in initiative, but instead are doing something else off-putting, for whom this advice is not only inappropriate, but probably damaging.
posted by eotvos at 6:09 PM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

The thing that sums up the Nice Guy thing to me is that they think if they sit up and beg (or hold out her chair or pay for the dinner or whatever his trick is), he'll get a doggie treat automatically. Dating does not work like that. You can't go in with that sort of expectation that nice = I get sex.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:46 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

The problem with DWRoelands' situation is this: a guy who hangs around with a woman, is a good friend and sweet, but then pounces as soon as she's NOT a nice guy. That's creepy, not nice. Waiting for a woman to be single and then asking her out as soon as she is makes it feel like the only reason you were a friend at all was that you thought you were a boyfriend-in-waiting. This isn't nice.

Even if that's not how the "nice guy" viewed it, that's how it can feel from the woman's POV. Thinking someone was only acting as your friend because he thought he might get to date you when you break up with your current boyfriend is a serious turnoff.

My experience with self-professed "nice guys" is very much as other posters': the niceness of the nice guy is not sincere. It's being "nice" with an expectation that the act will earn something.
posted by galadriel at 9:11 PM on April 7, 2011 [9 favorites]

My take is that there's a difference between being nice and being kind. I, at least, love kind men. And the kind men I know and date don't necessarily think of themselves as such; they are just lovely, considerate people who will go out of their way to help you. (Also, be not boring!)

If I think of a guy as 'nice', I think he's inoffensive but not very interesting. And guys who describe themselves as 'too nice' actually usually are offensive.
posted by carolr at 12:24 AM on April 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think DestinationUnknown really nailed it on the head.

When rejecting a guy, girls will say "he's really nice, but..." and then a shrug.

Other girls know the rest of the sentence is something like "he's got weird habits, an overbearing family, OCD, some anger issues, a fixation on his ex-girlfriend, gross feet" whatever.

Guys might hear this and think the rest of the sentence is "but I don't want to date a nice guy" or "but nice guys aren't exciting".
posted by amicamentis at 6:26 AM on April 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

Just tell him some girls won't be attracted to him and that some women will. Is he attracted to ALL women? Would he sleep with any woman just because she was nice?
posted by anniecat at 11:35 AM on April 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think it bears mentioning that the age of the women he's dating might play a role. Younger women (whatever that is...but generally in the have fun, just dating phase) look for more excitement, so-called bad boys, so-called less boring men. As the desire to nest increases, suddenly the once-boring date nice guy becomes the "stable" marriage material. Having had several bad boy seeking female friends back in the day when in our twenties, it is remarkable how many of them are married now to guys who they never would have dated ten plus years earlier.

So tell your friend to at least attempt to surmise whether someone is a casual dater or is someone who's actually looking to couple up. The latter might prefer the "nice" guy...whatever that is.
posted by teg4rvn at 12:17 PM on April 8, 2011

There's an excellent book called "No More Mr Nice Guy" by Robert Glover that addresses this problem. Anonymously give him a copy and give him the opportunity to follow the actionable steps therein
posted by PFL at 1:22 PM on April 11, 2011

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