On the ride home from a date spent struggling through a conversation with a guy I had very little in common with, he turned to me from the driver’s seat and asked, “So, want to do this again some time?”
I was genuinely confused by his suggestion.
He had spent the majority of our dinner at Applebee’s talking about his workout routines and the caloric content of the menu items; I was a Gender and Sexuality Studies student writing my thesis on how gender stereotypes contribute to eating disorders. It seemed like a horrible match.
“Honestly,” I said, “I’m not sure if we’d have much to talk about.”
“Do you mean all of that was for nothing?” he asked, taking me aback. “This always happens.”
“And what girls don’t realize is, I’m actually a nice guy,” he went on. “Most of the guys you dated before, you know, were probably just trying to pop you.” (I still cringe at that phrase.)
The unfortunate thing is, he actually succeeded in guilting me into a second date. At the time, I wasn’t well versed in what a self-identified “nice guy” (also sometimes known in feminist circles as Nice Guys™) actually was: someone who feels entitled to women for his supposed kindness.
I now know that Nice Guy™ behavior– which is based on one’s sense of superiority stemming from one’s “nice guy” status and usually accompanied by indignation when women reject the “nice guy” – is actually a telltale sign that someone is not nice.
While others may exhibit similar behavior, regardless of gender or orientation, “nice guys” are typically men who date women, since the entitlement they feel has misogynistic roots.
Since my first run-in with Nice Guy Syndrome™, I’ve encountered more “nice guys” who use similar arguments to advocate for themselves – statements I now view as red flags.
Here are a few popular claims made by “nice guys” and what you need to know if someone says them to you.
1. ‘You Owe Nice Guys a Chance’
“Nice guys” might claim that they deserve your consideration for being so nice.
We hear this not just from “nice guys” themselves, but also from other people who give us relationship advice. If only you would just give that nice guy a chance, popular wisdom goes, he might surprise you.
The pop culture trope of the dogged nice guy doesn’t help either: Movies and TV are full of “nice” men who finally obtain the leading lady’s affections through perseverance once she realizes how nice he is (think Ross in Friends or Lenny in The Big Bang Theory).
But even if someone actually is nice, you may not want to date him for a number of reasons: You have nothing in common, you’re not attracted to him, you don’t really want to date anyone, and so on.
All these reasons are valid.
Being nice is not a ticket to a date with a person of your choice. And if he believes it is, he doesn’t respect your autonomy – which is not nice.
2. ‘Nice Guys Finish Last – Because Women Like Bad Boys’
“Nice guys” often evoke notions of fairness when they complain about being passed over. One guy I met on OKCupid even told me it was “unjust” that women didn’t respond to his messages.
Sending messages out into the ether is a struggle all OKCupid users can relate to – but most of us don’t consider this paucity of replies “unjust” because we don’t feel entitled to a message in the first place.
As the Tumblr Nice Guys of OKCupid demonstrates, there’s a notable correlation between guys who call themselves “nice” in their profiles and guys with misogynistic entitlement complexes.
Like many of OKCupid’s nice guys, this online dater complained that he gets overlooked while less-nice guys who don’t deserve women’s affections are more popular. This is a widespread stereotype: women like bad boys.
The belief that women like jerks contains hints of misogyny because it stems from the stereotype that women want to be dominated and controlled. While some women may date men who are domineering because our culture prescribes that this is what they should want, “nice guys” often make this accusation against women who aren’t seeking out jerks.
More often, they’re saying “women like bad boys” to discount other reasons women might pass them up. Accusing women of rejecting them just because they’re not jerks is a convenient way for them not to examine themselves.
Regardless, the assumption that people should be awarded dates according to how nice they are, with good people getting many and jerks getting very few, simply doesn’t reflect how dating works. Human beings are not rewards for kindness.
Sometimes, nice people struggle with their love lives. Sometimes, not-so-nice people have an easier time. This may seem unfair, but the whole concept of fairness is irrelevant when personal choices are concerned.
You do not have to be an equal-opportunity dater.
3. ‘Nice Guys Get Stuck in the Friend Zone’
Some men complain that women only want to be their friends when they would make such great boyfriends (better boyfriends, they often point out, than the “bad boys” their friends date).
Once again, pop culture reinforces this belief. The dogged “nice guy” in shows like Friends and The Big Bang Theory is often a friend mistakenly overlooked as a romantic prospect.
Viewers are supposed to think it was dense of the woman to not realize that the love she sought was in front of her the whole time.
And even when the nice guy accepts his “friend” status, he is often rewarded for his patience when she realizes he was what she wanted all along (think of Gordo in Lizzie McGuire).
Stories of friends who get together can be sweet, and unrequited crushes on friends are always painful, but there are plenty of valid reasons not to date a friend. Someone who is a great friend for you may not be the best boyfriend for you, and that’s okay. And even if he could hypothetically be a good boyfriend, you may just not feel that way about him, and that’s okay too.
If someone harbors any hostility toward you for “only” wanting to be his friend, he’s probably not the best friend or boyfriend. Your friendship is not a consolation prize – and the idea of being relegated to friend status hinges on the notion that he was expecting more in the first place.
And his friendship is not a bargaining token. It should be given freely without expecting anything in return except mutual friendship.
4. ‘Nice Guys Are Rare Gems’
“Nice guys” usually oppose themselves to “most guys.”
Like the “nice guy” from my Applebee’s date, they think other men are just trying to manipulate women into sex, while they are the saviors who actually care about women.
The irony is that many of them use this supposed caring to manipulate women into sex or dating.
There are plenty of men who respect the women they date, and they’re rarely found talking about how nice they are. They assume it’s a given that they won’t pressure anyone into sex or otherwise mistreat them. They don’t think they deserve a badge reading “Nice Guy” for that basic courtesy.
Kind men aren’t as rare as so-called “nice guys” would like you to think. They’re just not shouting from the rooftops that they’re “nice guys.”
5. ‘Nice Guys Are Nice for Even Noticing You’
Many women are taught that because of their appearance, race, ability status, or other traits, they are undesirable, so people are doing them a favor for paying any attention to them at all, even if they’re disrespectful or abusive.
“Nice guys” exploit this belief to manipulate women.
For example, a “nice guy” may tell a fat woman she’s lucky to have earned his affections when he could date someone thinner – and that she should put up with his disrespect because she can’t do better.
This tactic isn’t limited to any demographic, though; “nice guys” will use any trick to convince you they’re nice for dating you and you’re lucky to date them.
But you’re never lucky to date someone who feels he is above you.
There are people out there who will not act like they’re doing you a favor and instead will feel as lucky to be with you as you feel to be with them.
6. ‘Practicing Basic Human Decency Makes Me a Nice Guy’
Our culture over-classifies men as nice guys, and the effects of this undue admiration are dangerous.
Our low standards for men manifest in a number of ways: In addition to applauding men for taking on parenting duties that are expected of women, we praise them for sexual conduct that should be mandatory, not praiseworthy.
I remember seeing a movie called Fish Tank with a guy I was dating in college. In one scene, the main character – a teenage girl – was partially undressed and asleep. When her mom’s boyfriend tucked her in, paused as if considering doing more, then left, my date turned to me and said, “Oh, he’s a good guy.”
I was confused. If refraining from sexual assault makes someone a “good guy,” what do regular guys do?
If my date’s own behavior was any indication, believing that basic human decency makes someone a “good guy” means that men can get away with a whole lot before becoming bad guys.
I learned this later that day, when we were hanging out in my room.
We started kissing, as we’d done before, and when he reached for my shirt button, I told him I wasn’t ready for that – something I’d told him before. After I thought that was settled, I saw a lascivious grin on his face and realized he had unbuttoned my shirt without me noticing. After I pulled away, he apologized.
“At least you stopped,” I reassured him, confused myself about what was and wasn’t acceptable.
“I guess it’s just a guy thing,” he replied.
It made sense, really. If someone who cares about consent is a nice guy, someone who doesn’t is just a guy.
Men deemed nice guys for refraining from sexual assault are all over the media. In Animal House, when a girl is about to sleep with one of the protagonists but then passes out drunk, a devil and angel appear on his shoulder. “Fuck her brains out!” the devil yells, but he opts for the angel’s position and takes her home. The implication: Not raping is angelic. Another implication: It takes willpower not to rape.
Men who praise other men for not raping hold an attitude that may actually make them more likely to be sexually abusive: that sexual assault is an impulse, and resisting it requires moral fortitude.
A truly nice person does not have the impulse to rape. He views sexual assault as a crime and a trauma, not an unfortunate slip-up, and certainly not as a “guy thing.”
When we praise men for practicing basic codes of conduct like consent, we make failure to adhere to these standards the norm.
7. ‘Nice Guys Are Nice’
Because they hold all the beliefs above, “nice guys” are not kind people.
They manipulate, objectify, and sometimes abuse women, all while using their “nice guy” status to excuse their own behavior.
And at their extreme, “nice guys” can be violent.
Last year, a 22-year-old man killed several people and himself because, like many “nice guys,” he found it unjust that women did not show him interest.
“I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me,” he complained in a video he taped before the shooting. “Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, but never to me.”
While it’s unclear what other factors contributed to this horrific crime, he impeccably fit the profile of the “nice guy.” He described himself as an “ideal, magnificent gentleman” who deserved the attention of women who went after jerks instead.
While most ramifications of the “nice guy’s” attitude are less extreme, this incident demonstrates how the beliefs held by nice guys can be hurtful at best and truly dangerous at worst.
Whether Nice Guy Syndrome™ manifests as arguing with a woman on the way home from a date, touching her without her permission, or committing a violent crime, it dehumanizes women.
In a “nice guy’s” world, women are merely rewards for decent behavior, and the standards for decent behavior are very low.
One tell-tale sign that someone’s not a nice guy is that he tries to use his “nice guy” status as leverage to get what he wants or evidence that he deserves it. He may simply complain about a dearth of messages in his OKCupid inbox, but he could also be capable of worse.
I learned this the hard way. I didn’t feel empowered to stand up to “nice guys” because I felt guilty for hurting their feelings. But they don’t deserve our guilt.
You always have the right to say “no” when someone tries to pressure you into a situation you don’t like. If he makes you feel like you owe him anything, the shame is on him, not you. Despite what he says, he doesn’t have the moral high ground.
Fortunately, genuinely nice people know this.
You’ll know you’ve found a truly nice guy when you feel no obligation toward him and no remorse for rejecting him. He will demand no explanation for your decision not to date or sleep with him because he respects your autonomy. He’d rather make sure you feel safe than make sure he feels desired. And when he is desired, your desire will be genuine, not something forced out of you by manipulative lies.
These guys are worth waiting for, but they don’t deserve a badge of honor. They’re simply offering you basic respect. And despite what “nice guys” might say, you deserve that respect and owe nothing in return.