Ethics and Morals, Musings

The Peril of Niceness

The First Reader and I started out our day with a small conversation, but it was more of a running topic we’ve mulled over together for years, now. Probably from even before he and I got together. The topic is something along the lines of ‘nice guys finish last’ and (get your minds out of the gutter!) how being too nice is a bad thing sometimes.

It’s not just the whole ‘nice guy’ thing. His hypothesis is that girls like bad boys better than nice guys. I’m not entirely sure it’s an accurate conclusion. I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that, and it has a lot to do with the maturity of the people involved in the relationship. But also, niceness as a parent is not always a good thing. Sometimes you have to be ‘mean’ to your kids to get them to do what they are supposed to do, like taking away their phone until they wash the dishes and even (gasp!) wipe down the counters.

So where’s the line? Obviously I’m the nice one in our relationship, you all know the First Reader is a card-carrying Curmudgeon. He’s the drop of acid to my sweet, we’ve said that before. But I don’t think that he’s a Bad Boy, either, partly because he’s a mature man with a level head and even keel in life since I’ve known him. I do find his cynicism appealing (or I wouldn’t be with him!) in no small part because I’m aware that one of my main character flaws is being too nice. He balances me.

I am too nice. I trust too easily, and I accept people at face value. I am not prone (or I wasn’t, at one point in my life… ok, for much of my life) to looking deeper and suspiciously at motivations, or verifying that I’m being told the truth. I’ve had to learn how to do that through deep wounds given when I wasn’t on my guard. But I’m still too nice. If someone asks me to do something and it’s within my power, I’m a lot more likely to say yes than no. I don’t ruthlessly push my kids to do their chores/get good grades/go get a job. I try to catch myself with the kids – parenting is not the same as friendship. And even if it were, you still need to have boundaries with friends or you’ll get walked on.

Which is part of why I object to the notion that nice guys are not what girls want. I did, this last time, wind up with a nice guy. Sure, he’s got a roguish sense of humor. But that’s not more than fun – deep inside he’s an honorable man with a strong sense of commitment and loyalty, and that to me is a jewel worth cherishing and clinging to. Perhaps it is because I’ve had to learn harsh lessons that I went for the nice man. The man who didn’t casually hurt me or lie to me. Maybe it’s just the young and immature women who turn away from the nice men. Looking for drama is just going to end in tears, but they don’t know that… yet.

I do agree with part of my dear husband’s theory on male-female dynamics. Women prefer men, not milksops. I want a partner, not a yes-man. Some of the moments in the last few years that really ratcheted up my respect for him a few notches were when he looked at me and said ‘no!’ when I suggested something really hare-brained. Like wanting to take on an even heavier class-load (one that would have required the dean’s approval to take on). He supports me most of the time, and when he doesn’t, it’s a reasoned and rational thing. That’s being a man. A bad boy is a whole ‘nother mess.

And perhaps that’s why we find so many young women growing into womanhood as a mess. They never learn to look for the steady man. They want the element of drama and danger without thinking through what that means, day in and day out. It takes work to build a solid relationship, and the media feeds them full of love-at-first-sight, happily ever after riding off into the sunset. The solid man who can walk at their side doesn’t meet up to the illusion of the Bad Boy who offers exciting adventures. And it’s not just media. So many young ladies are growing up in broken homes without the model of a father they can look up to. I did have that. I have a great Dad. My parent’s marriage dissolved when I was a teen, but there was no acrimony for me to flinch away from and learn bad habits concerning men from. My daughters… two of them won’t consider marriage, because of what they’ve seen. My son tells me with all seriousness he will never get married. I have hope for him – I’m walking shoulder to shoulder with a partner he can learn from now – but I can absolutely see why they feel the way they do, and why. And it’s something that young women in the post-modern era have to struggle with and learn to self-analyze more deeply than most of us do until we’ve had our noses rubbed in our flaws.

Which brings me to something else: it’s not safe for young men in the dating arena any longer. They hear this myth, that nice guys always lose the girl, so they try to be edgy and aggressive and that lands them with accusations of having taken it too far, or simply that they fear those accusations… It’s not been that long since I read the heartbreaking story of a young man who had exchanged indiscreet photos with his girlfriend, and when the school officials sicced the cops on him, he killed himself. I’m not advocating that sexting should be tolerated – I caution my younglings about it – but that his fresh bright life was snuffed out over a misstep in a learning process? That was tragedy. And boys are being taught that they can’t trust girls. That they must fear them. The relationships are warped and stunted from the beginning.

Sigh. It’s hard to see friends I cherish trying to find their mate, with all these obstacles in their path. The best I can do is remind my kids to do their chores, and to give them a measured reasonable consequence for not doing them. And remind them, again, that love isn’t all roses and kittens. Love is hard work, but so worth it. It’s not nice. Love isn’t nice. Love is saying no when your mate is headed in the wrong direction that will hurt them. Love is rolling over in the night and listening for their breath, because you know they will die, someday, and praying it’s not today because you’re not ready. Love is sad and hard and ultimately rewarding. It’s not often adventures, and it’s more boredom and daily routine than it is drama. But you don’t want a Bad Boy when you’re in it for the long haul. You want a man, my dear girl. You want a man.

38 thoughts on “The Peril of Niceness

  1. “Nice” usually means “does not argue with me, and agrees if asked.”

    A lot of people, when I calmly do not follow along with them or correct a factually false claim, have screamed to the effect that they thought I was “such a nice girl.”

    I try to be good, and I try to be kind; when I fail, I fall into “nice.”

    A whole lot of “nice guys” will sit there, never say a word of disagreement… and sabotage the crud out of anything the gal wants that he doesn’t. You flat up ask, and it’s “oh, honey, that’s a great idea”– but you actually DO something, and….blah.


    It’s the girl version of the guy’s “hot/crazy(or bitch)” angle– where guys will observe that they always go after the women who are either insane or horrifically nasty people, because they’re “hot;” generally, “hot” tends to line up with “sexually available.” Amazing how that doesn’t tend to line up with mental stability or being a good marriage prospect….

    1. That’s a way to look at nice guys that hadn’t occurred to me. We were actually talking about a mutual friend who was disappointed to discover that the girl he’d been dating regarded him as a nice guy but didn’t want to keep dating him. I feel bad for him because he’s a sweet man, and would be a catch for the right girl. Which this one was probably not – but it’s really sending the wrong message to ‘nice guys’ that the only way they can woo is to be not-nice. I don’t know.

      1. Definitely agreed.

        It just burns my biscuits– folks are taught to classify possible mates on a line that has little or nothing to do with if they’d be any good! It would be like if I picked my husband because he’ll tell me I’m wrong– not because he’ll tell me I’m wrong, and PROVE it, when I am wrong!

        1. it’s the pendulum effect. In the rush to not teach girls that their main role in life is to be married and have kids, so that’s what we teach them, we have gone the other direction and teach them absolutely nothing about marriage and kids. Marriage even more than children, come to think of it.

            1. Well, that’s certainly part of the problem! Poor socialization, mass-produced education, and abdication of parenting. That’s about, um, three posts right there just to hit highlights.

        2. Children are not taught to *Love.* I learned from friends, who taught me what it really is. It means really wanting the best for the person you love, even if you don’t get what you want for yourself.

      2. I come at this from a much more advanced age than either of you, and am more cynical as a result. All my life, I listened to women complain how they wanted “guy who: remembered important dates/events; treated them well; etc.” Well, as a teenager, I set out to be that kind of man. Over time, I “discovered” what they really wanted, was a “man” they could “reform” into that kind of person. Never mind that I had/have plenty of faults that needed “reforming,” I was never “good enough to even be considered.”
        Over time, I stopped hoping to find anyone, after only _three_ adult women acted as if I *could* be good enough. I wasn’t the right one, for two, and screwed up my relationship with the third, from lack of experience. Too many “guys” see what women really want, and pretend to be other than who they really are, until they marry. Then, they revert to their real personality, because they’ve “made the sale,” and the wives discover that no one reforms/changes unless they *want* to. Which most men see no need to do so; Therefore, the women get little sympathy from me.
        I agree that immaturity is at the heart of it all, on both sides. Which results in children never having good role models.

  2. When I was young I was a nasty piece of work. I straightened up, went to school . married (50 years) and now in my 70’s I’m not nasty but I am a Proud Platinum Card carrying Curmudgeon. I’ve seen to much, done much. or as they say- Been there, Done that, bought the T- Shirt and can now use it to check the oil on the car. Life is change- we grow, we mature and if we are very lucky, in today’s 5-/50 divorce rate we are happy. My wife now has AD and I find myself doing things I would never have thought of before. I do, Gladly because I still have her. Do you have any idea how hard it is to put on eyebrows- on someone else? LOL I love your rambling blogs, especially since they allow
    me to ramble along. You are a Good neighbor..

    1. And I’m happy to have your comments, too. I ramble all over the place, it’s nice to know I have readers who are willing to follow the aimless meanders!

      And I have some idea – I was a face painter! – but I am sad that you both are facing this path. I know that as time passes I’ll be there, taking care of my beloved, I just have to convince him it’s a labor of joy and love, not a burden.

  3. I wonder how much of the ‘bad boy’ image that girls/women seem to want is simply a ‘rogue adventurer’ and they can’t distinguish between the guy who rides/races motorcycles, drinks/smokes, gets into the occasional bar fight but has a college degree (yeah, I’m looking at you, Dad) and the guy who rides motorcycles and deals meth in the bar because he can’t hold down an actual job for very long and who insists that he is the one in charge.

    Though I must say I’ve seen some women move from one relationship to another, always with guys who have ‘respectable’ jobs but whose demeanor is always very controlling, and then they complain about always attracting the wrong guy.

    I think these problems have been around far longer than we realize, but they’ve been exacerbated by the broken homes kids are being raised in and the constant media attention paid to them. The Brady Bunch may have been somewhat groundbreaking in showing two divorced people with kids coming together as one family, but it was still very much along the lines of Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver and My Three Sons. Most of the TV I see advertised now (about the only things I get to watch anymore are on the Disney Channel) are anything but family friendly. The half an episode I saw years ago of The Fosters everyone seemed dysfunctional. The Good Wife seems intentionally mis-titled. Even the stuff on Disney seems to pander to broken adult relationships or dysfunctional parent/child relationships with shows like Raven’s Home and Jessie.

    1. That discernment is a big part of it – and you need the maturity to know better. Which is why, not so long ago, you sought counsel of your elders by gaining parental permission to marry.

  4. The men in my ancient lineage had only two functions: kill the saber-tooth tigers, and get the women pregnant. That was it.
    And that’s where the theme of good girls liking bad boys was imprinted.
    Technology has forced men to become more highly skilled; not only were the saber-tooth tigers eradicated, but most of the other lethal aspects of the environment are gone as well.
    Which is not to say that there is no place, ever, for a manly growl. Rarely, the frolicking cubs feel that they don’t need to comply with the wishes of the Sweet One. On those occasions, they may need to see the red glint in the eye of the Fierce One, and feel the rumble of his carnivore breath in their face.
    But if that was ALL I had to contribute to a family, I would be a bad choice.

    1. No, there was a third function. You had to go out every day (week, at least!) and drag home a carcass for the pot. And that’s where the girls go wrong. They look at the meanness and the sex and don’t look for the steady provider.

      1. RIGHT!
        And even -I- forgot about that third function, in mt pursuit of the timely post, so it’s no wonder that ‘providing for the family’ is so often overlooked.
        Ummm….none of what I just wrote, except for ‘RIGHT,’ has any relationship to reality.

        1. no, no. Providing for the family is boring. It’s background noise. Especially in our modern era where it’s not even ‘who hunts best’ it’s ‘who sits in a cubicle best’ and ugh, who wants the best cubicle guy? My First Reader works with his hands and his brain and I’m very proud of what he does, but I have to admit it wouldn’t be as attractive if he, say, sold insurance.

  5. I think the real issue is that so many people equate nice with weak. The nice guy is the one who gets sand kicked in his face because he’s too nice to kick the other guys ass for doing it. Strong is then misinterpreted as being a “bad boy” because the bad boy doesn’t take crap from anyone. The face that he is also a grade A certified jackass seems to be ignored.

    You can be a nice guy and not take any crap, it’s called being a man. John Wayne movies are a fairly good example, in general, of that attitude. The real men are the kind that will do their own thing and leave you to do yours, but if you threaten them or their family you’ll find out exactly how much of a bad boy they are.

    My advise to your son, from a guy who found the love of his life at 33, is this: Do your own thing, live your life and stand up for what you believe in. Fight for those weaker than yourself and be a gentleman in all things. Enjoy being YOU. The right person will come along and the will fit into your life without forcing it. The one you should marry is the one that is your best friend, so be friends long before being involved. I guess that would be good advise for your girls as well.

    1. Marry your best friend– that’s what his grandfather told my husband, too.

      Seems to have been a good tactic, even if he DOES have terrible taste.

        1. My wife know I can be a stone cold raging bastard if the situation calls for it but she still says I’m a nice guy. She and I were friends for four years in college before I decided, before we graduated, that if I was stupid I would let her get away.

  6. Yep. I’m 15 years older than she is. Caught some flack in college about being an older student “What’s he doing here? He’s too old for college.”

    I handled it with grace and style by replying “And you are obviously to stupid for college, so why are you here.” Yeah, the girl that said that though I hadn’t heard her. She hated me for the rest of the time I was there, it made me laugh.

    Been together going on 13 years now. Still my best friend.

  7. The ‘nice guy’ discussion always reminds me of a line from C S Lewis. When Susan asks if Aslan the Lion is ‘quite safe’, Mr Beaver responds: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

  8. “Nice” does not equal “Virtuous”

    Civility, honor, integrity, humility, courage, and the like are usually awfully nice to have around, but in execution, at any given time, they won’t seem very nice.

    This seems like one of those philosophical “define your terms” issues to me.

    1. it’s very much a defining terms conversation. Nice is too loose. But most people don’t take the time to think through what they’re saying when they dismiss a man as being ‘too nice’ for them to want to date.

      1. While I know this kind of language shift is endemic to humanity (See villain, frex in Studies in Words) I can’t help but suspect that quite a lot of it is intentional in the left-run wordsmithing institutions.

        Especially when someone not part of the Kool-aid drinkers makes a pop-culture creation that goes in the opposite direction.

        See “Phineas and Fern” with Candace and Jeremy’s relationship, and note the portrayal of “nice guy” (pleasant, well-mannered, kind to puppies) who is also virtuous (strong, capable, patient, chaste, brave) who encourages Candace to be her better self. And it’s this latter characterization that has her Mom saying “I can see why she has a shrine to you in her room.”

        The original meaning of “virtue” (arete) is strength.

        So spot on with: think through what they’re saying when they dismiss a man as being ‘too nice’

        Too weak? Too milquetoast? Too compliant with a matriarchal system to ever be able to provide for his kids?

        Or “too likely to expect me to live up to standards I want to benefit from but don’t share .”

  9. I just got told I was cold this week… or they thought I was cold. I guess because I stay away from drama and walk away from it. I learned early in my life that drama doesn’t mean happy. Anyway, I did marry a nice guy who was also a strong man that I could respect. If he said, “no” then I knew that it wasn’t good for me or him. Since his death, I hoped that I was a strong partner for him too. I think women are too worried about getting all that they need from a man instead of looking for what they need from inside (and working for it.)

  10. Catching up my reading and came to this one. A topic worthy of discussion, Cedar!

    I think women need/want a man who is a straight shooter but has a sense of adventure and derring-do. One who pays attention to them, but is “his own man”, rather than subservient to their whims.

    The nice guy isn’t a challenge, so is underappreciated. The bad boy is the challenge that makes the pulse race. He keeps them off balance.

    What is the difference? How are the two merged? A man with a sense of honor (defined many ways) that respects all people, including himself.

    That is enough of a sketch to write a whole book of discussions about 😉

  11. BSBP reminded me of one of the reasons women will go for the “bad boy” over the “nice guy”– miscalibration of the “can take care of me” sensor.

    As I mentioned before, “nice” gets used to mean folks who aren’t a threat on even a disagreement level– the “bad boy” on the other hand, will do stupid stuff like pick fights, which means he’s demonstrating the ability to stand up for something.
    Even if it’s a stupid choice…..

    One of the “meanings” of the beauty and the beast story is a pretty obvious one, but isn’t mentioned much, even though it was demonstrated very well in even the Disney version– Beast was dangerous…but not to Belle. He started out scary, but not really a danger.

    A gal’s gut can understand the flutter of recognizing someone is dangerous– and it’s up to decent raising to teach her when it’s “and that’s attractive” vs “and so you kill him with fire, even if he’s cute!” (There are a LOT of characters I really like were them being dangerous is part of the attraction– and I am sane enough to know I’d be running, screaming “AAAAAH ONE WINGED ANGEL AAAAAAA!!!!” in any even vaguely similar situation.)

  12. My husband is a good man. He’s also quite nice – to me, to his friends – and polite to strangers, until the situation calls for other actions. And then, well, he’s survived 18 years of civil war, and not by playing it safe and staying uninvolved.

    Polite does not mean pushover. Nice does not mean milksop. It means that he’s very strong in who he is, and determined to remain civilized as long as the situation safely allows. I’m not sure so many boys are being taught that, these days – especially not be the role models on television or in the movies.

    Then again, many girls aren’t being taught how to be a strong lady, a velvet glove over an iron fist, either. Which is a shame; a strong man deserves a strong lady. And how many women know how to be Maureen O’Hara to John Wayne in “McClintock!”?

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