Come on baby, don't fear the nice guy?
January 5, 2017 11:58 PM   Subscribe

I'vei decided to date again, after some self-reflective time off. I think that I might be sabotaging myself out of dating men who are nice. How can I change this? Snowflakes inside.

Pertinent details I'm a woman in her late 20's, and I am attracted to sarcastic, selfish, unavailable men. I grew up with a father who didn't know how to show me that he cared. I sometimes had to work hard to get his attention (like pretending to be interested in baseball) to spend time with him. It took time in therapy to sort out that the type of man I always go for likes me right off the bat, but withholds that fact, and teases me, or is brutally sarcastic. I feel very uncomfortable with men who say how they feel. I've been on dates with fantastic, intellectual, funny, good looking men who tell me how great I am, and how much they like me and I run from them. I feel comfortable "working" for attention in a way, and while it's not something I have to do, it definitely feels like a comfort zone.
I got out of a serious relationship a little more than a year ago, and I have finally realized in the past week that my ex was an awful person. He had anger issues and thought every guy that talked to me (coworkers, bartenders etc) were trying to hit on me, or secretly liked me and he didn't know how to handle his own assumptions, so he would scream at me in private. I only have come to terms with it this past week. I'm in therapy, so that's helping. I've been on a couple of dates with a lovely man who I met at work (in in the service industry) a couple of weeks ago. He is the epitome of a nice guy, and he is genuine, and we clicked instantly. Everything should be great, right? He has been telling me that he thinks I'm amazing and he's complemented me on everything one could be complimented on, and while it's nice, I'm terrified to know that he thinks so much of me right away. I normally would find some excuse as to why I didn't want to date him anymore. In fact, I've already thought about the fact that we get along so well that it may be more of a friendship than an instant chemistry attraction, which I usually look for. I find him attractive and fun,intelligent , and a good conversationalist( all of the good things), but I'm not sure if I'm talking myself out of this because I'm scared beyond my wits, or if I really do just see friendship potential. What questions should I be asking myself to sort out my feelings? How can I change my old patterns while still being true to myself? Any input would be great. Thanks in advance!
posted by Champagne Supernova to Human Relations (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have no suggestions as to how you can change, sorry, but as a nice guy I can at least congratulate you on the question, which shows you are on the right track trying to do something about it.

The line that stood out for me was "...we get along so well that it may be more of a friendship than an instant chemistry...". In my experience this is completely inverted. If you get along really well then that's (to me) a sign that it really could be a fledgling relationship, rather than an animal one-night-stand chemistry attraction.
posted by tillsbury at 12:49 AM on January 6, 2017 [21 favorites]

What if you try not to overthink it, and just date him for a while, say a couple months, and see how it feels. If he is mean or crosses your boundaries, of course dtmfa. But for the first month or two, maybe just... try to enjoy the nice parts and not stress about patterns or whatever, just go day by day.

It's ok if he likes you more than you like him. It's ok if he's more demonstrative than you are. It's ok if he's more sure than you are. Especially in the first couple months it's rare for relationships to be balanced- you're just used to being on the small end. Try being on the big end. Enjoy his affection, enjoy your chemistry.

Just as long as you don't lie to him. Be kind, have fun, and take it day by day and see how it feels. Trying out a new pattern is a decent way to see if it might be a good pattern. Give it a chance, you can always break up with him later if it still doesn't feel right after a couple months.

Nice guys are AMAZING and in the long run waaay healthier for you. Once you don't have to be a neurotic mess about managing some dude's insecurities and anger, and you have a loving, supportive, kind partner, your whole life will get better- you will be more confident and calm wherever you go, compared to if you were in a toxic relationship. It's well worth a try. Good luck!
posted by spraypaint at 1:37 AM on January 6, 2017 [19 favorites]

Getting along well is not at all a sign that this can't develop into a romantic relationship! That's just what your emotional habits tell you. And those habits will take some time to wear away.
Some of the best and most exciting romantical relationships start off exactly like this.

If you enjoy dating him, date him for a while and give yourself time to get used to the situation, and see how you like it. It's not at all odd that your established patterns are kicking in, but those weren't formed in a day and they won't be dissolved in a day either.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:57 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

I too lean toward being attracted to mean, unavailable people for whose attention I need to work! It sucks.

A couple of years of therapy helped me a lot, not because it helped me identify the pattern but because it helped me get rid of the feeling - the feeling that "winning" this attention "proved" something about me. Basically, I found a way to have the satisfaction that I thought I would get from mean people (if only they would love me!) for real in other parts of my life. Because I am more confident that I am an okay person, reasonably interesting, etc, it has really tipped me over into seeing all that "I like you but I'm going to be mean" stuff as the power game that it is - it makes me laugh or it annoys me now, but it has lost its old compulsion. (I still find mean unavailable people in fiction and movies really compelling as characters...that may be forever.)

Honestly, I think people are right to say that you can give the guy you're seeing a little more time as long as you don't let it get serious if you're not feeling it. But mainly, try to identify what you wanted to get from all those mean men and find a way to get that somewhere else.

Also, there is a third way, relationship-wise - you can find people who have a streak of meanness and sarcasm in their personalities that they don't aim at people in their lives. People who say mean things about movies, or can be kind of sarcastic about life, rules or institutions. Or people who are not super demonstrative but when they are emotionally present they are loving. There are people who have some elements of the mean and withholding in their personalities, but expressed in healthy ways in a basically affectionate, emotionally present style.
posted by Frowner at 4:54 AM on January 6, 2017 [27 favorites]

Niceness alarms me when it's from someone I don't know well, because I fear it's not genuine, is based on a projection rather than my actual qualities, and could be manipulative. I've also seen what happens when the limerence fades and the nice guy realizes I'm just an average person and dumps me.

I'm only saying that to point out that you're not completely nuts to be cautious of niceness, sometimes it's a facade for something else and sometimes it's based on a temporary feeling. But it sounds like you have a good feeling about this new guy and you enjoy being around him. Take it slow and get to know him.

Do some thinking about what you want in a partner. What does a good relationship look like? Do you know anyone who has a relationship that you admire and respect? What are your deal-makers? What are your deal-breakers? Give it some serious thought and when you have some answers, apply it to your life.

Being true to yourself doesn't have to mean never changing patterns that are keeping you from happiness.
posted by bunderful at 5:07 AM on January 6, 2017 [11 favorites]

If you've only been on a couple dates, and the guy is already showering you with compliments about how amazing you are, maybe you're feeling uncomfortable because he doesn't know you well enough to say that yet, and it feels rushed. I'm really projecting here, because I recently had a relationship where I dealt with precisely that from a guy who was seemingly nice, but turned out to be a Nice Guy(tm) instead. (Lots of boundary-stomping and other manipulative behavior, combined with tantrums, seriously, when I pushed back.)

I'd tell him that you appreciate the compliments, but it's a little much for you so soon, and you'd prefer to slow down a bit and enjoy the process of getting to know each other. His willingness to actually listen to you and do that will tell you whether he's genuinely as nice as he appears.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:12 AM on January 6, 2017 [22 favorites]

I've been thinking recently that the basis of connecting and feeling that Thing is partially about the ability to recognize emotional states in another -- being on the same wavelength, or whatever -- and that has everything to do with what sort of traits, states, and emotions you've learned to recognize in the past. We feel like it's Real when we've seen some version of it before.

But it's not the past. This is a new guy. He may or may not be a Nice Guy, he may or may not be just a nice guy, but whatever he is, he's his own person, and the rules you learned for interpreting and connecting to men might not apply to him. And, truthfully, it sounds like maybe you don't want to (and shouldn't want to) be with someone to whom those rules do apply.

So you have to learn new rules. You can and should put in a conscious effort with this guy so long as it feels right and good -- and this might just be another way of saying, "be present for him and yourself." But you can also watch others. Seriously, even tv shows, and especially books, can show you how to connect to and interpret signals from types of people you haven't actually encountered in your life before. (Though I think you need to consume media with some deliberate purpose for it to be really effective? Or otherwise like...a LOT of media, but I assume you have stuff to do too.)

Learning new responses is an active process. Basically I think you can supplement your in vivo work with stuff you do on your own. Stuff like meditation and yoga (for me) also really help me be present for the actual people in my life, as opposed to the patterns that already live in my head.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:30 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you have a tolerance for self-help books, Women who Love too Much offers some insight.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:37 AM on January 6, 2017

I think I'm a nice guy. I've been married for 44 years, so I feel like I've passed the test and have some perspective.

I think it can be hard to trust the nice guy when your experience is that men are untrustworthy. It can be hard to trust that their expressions of affection are genuine when such expressions are a novel thing to you. The only thing that can build trust is time and experience. You need to push through an issue or two without running away, or you will never get where you want to go.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:06 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

I do think it is perfectly fine to enjoy being teased or to like sarcastic people; it's only the selfish and unavailable parts that have to be avoided for your own safety. And even "unavailable" -- enjoying the feeling of working for a reward, liking guys who play hard to get because of the sense of accomplishment when you do get them, these are tastes that have been mainstream for heterosexual men for centuries to the point where women are flat-out told that if they want a man, they have to play the game whether they like it or not.

but then again, men don't feel that pressure and obligation to comply, so men who play the game that way are probably more likely to be secret dicks than compliant pleasers, I suppose, as you have found. it is a great pity.

anyhow so since it isn't any more healthy to force yourself to appreciate people you aren't attracted to, I think there is a compromise position even though it's harder to find -- guys who are sarcastic the way you like, but who are just as self-aware as you are: the ones who can and will pull back early on and say, hey, just so you know, I talk like this out of habit and it's just the way I relate to people, but I tease you because I like you, if I ever hurt your feelings let me know and I'll stop. something like that. men can be bitchy without being mean and that's how I like them; it's ok if you do too in spite of trying not to.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:55 AM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I also grew up with a father who was primarily distant and occasionally effusive, who I always felt I had to work hard to please and often would fall short (either getting scolded or failing to get his attention). I felt more attracted to emotionally distant men with occasional peaks of anger or passion than to men who outwardly seemed emotionally open and kind. I dated a number of lovely men who were sweet and adoring but I didn't feel the same way about them - I regret wasting their time. And I dated a number of men who seemed sweet and adoring but only if I behaved the way they wanted me to (I married - and divorced - one. I don't recommend that). Remember that your gut is there for a reason. Listen to it.

You don't have to date every nice guy who comes your way. Not being into one nice guy or a bunch of nice guys doesn't mean you don't like nice guys. You just don't like *those* nice guys. Which stinks, but there are a lot of people in the world, and you will all meet other nice people. The main thing, I think, is to actively avoid the guys who you know are bad news. Don't mistake that feeling of "this feels familiar/comfortable" for the feeling of "this feels good, this makes me feel happy".

And one last thing, that I don't think anyone else mentioned: the right nice guy will not overwhelm you with OH HI YOU ARE AWESOME I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU to the point of making you want to run away from them (I know that feeling so well). The love of my life gave me the time and space to get to know him, to let me get excited about him, and matched my intensity. It was not a game, it was a courtship. He gave me steady, manageable (not overwhelming), positive attention. YMMV, but that meant the world to me.
posted by pammeke at 8:39 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

My hackles go up when I read or hear the phrase "nice guy." Not only because of all the connotations with Men's Rights Activists or PUAs, but because being "nice" shouldn't be special. It's the bare minimum standard of interaction. If we want to talk about a kind guy, a thoughtful guy, a conscientious guy, a principled guy...those are better and more worthy of our attention. But I cannot and will not acknowledge the false dichotomy of Nice Guy/Asshole. You don't have to, either. We each contain multitudes. Unfortunately, some people contain abusive tendencies and disrespect, and that's no good for you. It is good that you know that and are working through this knowledge in therapy.

That said: in your particular situation with the coworker, it seems like the best course would be to assess whether

1) You enjoy being around him

2) He turns you on

If yes to both, I'd say keep hanging out, check in with yourself periodically about whether you still enjoy being around him and/or if he still turns you on, and don't be too stringent about his role in your history and patterns. Just take him for who he is, and take the relationship--whatever it turns out to be--as its own thing.
posted by witchen at 8:44 AM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]

The attraction has to be there instantly in my opinion. Sorry.

Nothing wrong with dating sarcastic guys you are attracted to who don't immediately lick your shoes.
posted by xammerboy at 9:57 AM on January 6, 2017

I've been doing a workbook (yes I am obsessed with workbooks right now, they are very helpful for me) and it's called "Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents." My father sounds somewhat similar to yours, emotionally very distant and the sort of person whose love was quite conditional. This book has been really instrumental for me in seeing that my father's (and my mother's) issues were Not About Me or something inherent to me and who I am, which in turn has improved all of my relationships because now I'm realizing that I don't have to impress someone or act a certain way to get attention or approval from the people in my life. If you tend at all toward processing through writing, I would hugely recommend taking a look at this book, I think it was maybe $11 on Amazon.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 12:11 PM on January 6, 2017

I would suggest turning away from "he's so nice, how do I convince myself to fall in love with him" and turning towards making kindness (not necessarily "nice" at all times at all costs, ie pushover) a basic requirement in a relationship instead.

You avoid dating mean jerks by not dating them, not by trying to trick yourself into dating someone you're not really into, just because he's not a mean jerk. It's not easy to find someone you really connect with who also meets all the basic requirements, including not being a mean jerk, but it's worth the wait.
posted by randomnity at 2:47 PM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think you are looking for a good man, not a nice guy. They may exhibit similar behaviors at times but the differences between them are on the inside and they are fundamental to who they are as people.

A good man isn't needy. He wants to be with you but he doesn't crumble when you're apart. A nice guy depends on you to feel good about himself.

A good man is complete and whole as he is but knows that, with the right partner, his life can be richer and fuller. A nice guy needs a partner to feel happy.

A good man leads his own life and is looking for a partner who does the same. A nice guy makes you the center of his life, or he needs to be the center of yours. Or both.

A good man is comfortable being alone. A nice guy becomes anxious when he has to spend time by himself.

A good man sees you for who you are. He is curious to know everything about you. A nice guy sees you for he needs from you.

A good man wants you to see him for who he truly is, flaws and all. A nice guy works overtime to hide his flaws and gets defensive when you notice them.

A good man accepts you as you are right now. Maybe you work out long-term, maybe not, but he has no intention of changing you. A nice guy wants you to fit his vision of an ideal woman.

A good man says what he means, means what he says, but doesn't say it in a mean way. A nice guy will say anything to keep the peace or get what he wants.

A good man will tease you in a playful way. A nice guy will tease to hurt or manipulate you.

When a good man pays you a compliment it is a offered as a gift without strings or expectations. When a nice guy offers a compliment, you wonder what he's after.

A good man behaves as a gentleman because of who he is and what he values. A nice guy tries to be a gentleman because it scores points with you.

A good man tries to improve himself and he takes responsibility for this. A nice guy is looking to be rescued.

A good man enjoys being a man. He is never embarrassed or apologetic about being a man. A nice guy is never sure what being a man means or how to go about it.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:12 PM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

Thanks everyone. I've been able to sort though my feeling better, and this is what I've come up with. I just don't want to date this guy, there's a lack of chemistry between us. There nothing wrong with him per se, but it feels very forced on his end on how much he wants us to be a couple. I will take all of this advice in, and use it in the future so that I date someone who is kind and I have zing-y compatible feelings towards!
posted by Champagne Supernova at 12:04 AM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Any time a guy is too nice (pouring it on thick) or too eager to be in a relationship when he barely knows you, it's a red flag. Often they are trying to "lock you down" into a relationship so they can drop the facade and be who they really are... some version of super-lame, manipulative, nuts or outright abusive. Your instincts with this guy are steering you right.

trinity8-director's compare-and-contrast for recognizing a "good guy" vs a "nice guy" above is volumes of truth.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:16 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

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