I have never believed in the idea of the ‘nice guy’. Mainly because I don’t believe that anyone is nice.
Generous, kind, big-hearted, wise, spirited, elevated — yes. But nice? Nope.
That we talk about ‘nice guys’ and ‘nice girls’ is unfair. They don’t tell us anything at all. It’s probably why we often resort to this bland description as a default for it saves us having to go into messy detail. It’s a way of avoiding being expressive, and leaves us with an easy cop-out or polite way of saying we are less than impressed. Something that is ‘nice’ is not negative but it’s not exactly positive either. However, despite the valueless nature of this strange word, we have still managed to create, build up and sustain The Nice Guy.
Honestly, I don’t even know his origins. Something tells me it was somewhere in a low budget sitcom. Bad boys, weaklings, villains and kings have existed in literature dating back to antiquity, but I am wracking my brain trying to think of anything from the ancient world that vaguely resembles The Nice Guy.
The Nice Guy, however, didn’t always have quite such a bad rap. Studies on this very subject in the 1990s and early 2000s, notably the qualitative research of Edward Herold and Robin Milhausen , investigated university-going women’s perception of the ‘nice guy’ in terms of sexual success and dating potential. This study and others focused its research on assessing those qualities in men that women found most desirable. Laurie Jensen-Campbell et al.  defined ‘niceness’ as prosocial behavior, agreeableness and altruism and found that “female attraction was an interactive function of male dominance and agreeableness”. Furthermore, they also found that male agency characterized by “cooperative, altruistic tendencies” was preferred over agentic behavior based on “competitive, selfish tendencies”.
It must, however, be noted that these studies are somewhat outdated and researchers such as Geoffrey C. Urbaniack and Peter R. Kilman  also freely acknowledge the possibility of results being influenced by social desirability bias — a response bias in which respondents answer questions in a way they think will be viewed positively by others.
But these challenges aside, what makes this research (at least intuitively) unconvincing is the proposed definition of ‘niceness’ as described above and summarized by Anita McDaniel  as “kind, attentive, and emotionally expressive… considerate, cooperative, generous… and sympathetic”. The Nice Guy, we know can hardly be described as having these qualities, he only has the appearance of possessing them.
Critique of the nice guy phenomenon is typically traced to two publications — a self-help book called No More Mr. Nice Guy: A Proven Plan for Getting What You Want In Love, Sex & Life by Robert A. Glover, published in 2000, and the website called heartless-bitches.com which began posting nice guy rants in early 2002.
The former has as its premise that the “nice guy syndrome” is in fact an acute case of self-loathing stemming from childhood conditioning in which boys were taught to avoid conflict and please everyone. Glover writes that this is rooted in the idea of ‘toxic shame’. He explains, “Toxic shame is the belief that one is inherently bad, defective, different, or unlovable. Toxic shame is not just a belief that one does bad things, it is a deeply held core belief that one is bad”. This all culminates in dishonesty, passive-aggressive behavior and a constant need to blame others. Glover goes further and says that even if The Nice Guys are manifesting traits of care and concern “They’re not really trying to protect anyone from harm, they’re just trying to keep their world smooth and under control”.
The writer, ‘JC’, over at heartless-bitches.com writes “Women don’t want nice guys. In my experience, with friends, partners, and other interactions, they like *KIND* guys. The difference is a subtle one, but it’s important.”
Another writer on the site explains that “The biggest problem is that most Nice Guys are hideously insecure… Nice Guys are always asking HER to make the decisions. They think it’s being equitable, but it puts an unfair burden of responsibility on her, and gives him the opportunity to blame her if the decision was an unwise one.”
I had no knowledge of the existence of either Glover’s book or the self-described heartless bitches, but I did know Aidan Shaw — The Nice Guy boyfriend of Carrie Bradshaw. He is supposedly simple, down to earth and comfortable. He treats Carrie right — unlike the jerk, Big. He even forgives her infidelities, see — so nice. But the reality is that he never truly forgave her, and instead of ending the relationship for good, Aidan acted out some weird revenge complete with emotional manipulation and continuous judgment. Plus, the whole smoking thing irks me — he gives Carrie an ultimatum: cigarettes or him. That your partner is concerned about your health is admirable, but the cigarettes were a metaphor for making Carrie conform entirely to his world and a way of exerting control over her. It’s also uncomfortable when Carrie asks Aidan to place a nicotine patch on her back and he slaps it on really hard, with a wicked look in his eye — it’s deliberate, it hurts her. To top it all off, he is also later seen smoking cigars. So… not so nice after all.
The bottom line is that there are no Nice Guys, only a nice guise.
This façade is exploited for a free pass in engaging in all manner of douchy behavior ranging from smaller inconsistencies to emotional and or psychological abuse. Self-described, former-Nice Guy, Nick Notas says, “I was anything but nice in my relationships. I was emotionally manipulative, insecure, and a downright asshole”.
A perfect guise also increases the likelihood of men not showing up when they are needed. This could be in terms of support be it emotional, spiritual or financial. It also extends to cases where they are needed in alerting others to their bigotry and hypocrisy or indeed in alerting you to your own bad habits — those serious flaws in the way you deal with yourself, him, or others. In Glover’s words, “Self-respect, courage, and integrity look good on a man”. Glover is wrong there — they look good on anyone.
As for the guy who isn’t trying to be The Nice Guy but is actually just ‘nice’? Well, it could be that this fellow is easy-going, pleasant and intent on building a healthy relationship. In that case, the worst possible thing for him to do is to become an imitation of The Nice Guy who hides behind a veneer of meekness and reliability instead of actually just being agreeable, generous and reliable.
I’ll say upfront that I don’t know the exact intersection between Nice Guys, incels and or the manosphere’s ‘beta male’ (honestly, I’m a bit terrified to find out). But I do know this: wearing the badge of The Nice Guy is no honor.
It has become increasingly clear that building an identity on being “nice” is dubious at best and destructive at worst. Clinging onto the notion that you are “nice” (or indeed clinging onto any other identity) is a sure sign of abdication from the constant re-evaluation and self-correction we must all undergo in order to lead fuller lives filled with meaning and purpose. To put on the mask of niceness is to willfully ignore any kind of introspection as well as to deny any of the responsibilities each of us owes other human beings.
We cannot continue hiding behind personas and identities in a deluded attempt at avoiding confrontation with ethical dilemmas and avoiding the selection of a moral code we choose to hold ourselves accountable to. Evidently, being nice does not cut it.
So to the good ones out there: please leave your niceties behind. But do bring along strength, kindness, good humor, love, support, intelligence, compassion and virtue with you. We need to stop pretending that The Jerk and The Nice Guy are the only options that exist, lest we create a self-fulfilling prophecy (!)
I, for one, believe that there are good men out there who bring with them exceptional character instead of some devalued and distorted “niceness”. Good men we can trust and with whom we can share a journey built on partnership and mutual respect, coupled with a yearning to make an adventure out of a life underscored by sound values and a willingness and ability to explore the subtle, exquisite, hidden depths of love.