The Nice Guy Paradox

Joanna Psaros

30 September 2021

Can you tell the nice guy from the ‘Nice Guy’?

In my final year of high school I dated a Nice Guy. Patrick* was a sweet, slightly nerdy boy with a penchant for video games and indie rock- and he made me feel special. Until he didn’t.

Patrick had never had a girlfriend before, and he’d constantly tell me how much he loved me. He loved me so much he’d write love notes and buy me flowers for no reason. He loved me so much he distanced himself from his friends to spend more time with me. He loved me so much that he put me on a pedestal, projected his insecurities onto me, pressured me for sex. Called me a slut. (Afterward, he told me that he only said it because it hurt so much to think of me with other men).

Of course, I didn’t end things. Because Patrick wasn’t like other boys- he was a nice guy. At least that’s what he’d constantly tell me.

“Girls only go for assholes” was Patrick’s constant refrain when reflecting on his history of romantic rejection. It’s a common enough expression, but what it’s really saying is that women are shallow, thoughtlessly cruel, and above all, just too dumb to choose a decent man who’d treat them well. Patrick genuinely believed that he was too nice for girls to appreciate and expressed contempt for all those who had not returned his affection. Such a nice guy!

So what is a Nice Guy?

“The ‘Nice Guy’ believes that because he does the bare minimum of being a decent human being that he is entitled to a woman’s heart, attention and body,” writes News24.

The ‘Nice Guy’ will tell everyone how much he loves women while at the same time being very disrespectful. The ‘Nice Guy’ doesn’t realise he is single not because he is too good for all women but actually because women can see through his nice guy facade.

The darker side of the Nice Guy is his scary similarity with the toxic ‘incel’ movement. The term ‘incel’, or involuntarily celibate, describes an internet subculture made up of men who believe that women deserve to be punished for withholding the sex they believe they’re owed. It’s a terrifying example of misogyny and rape culture at their extreme, and yet elements of these attitudes are insidiously common. Consciously or unconsciously they inform the behaviour of our friends. Our co-workers. Our boyfriends.

For a long time, the Nice Guy trope has been accepted and even celebrated in society and popular culture. Popular characters such as Buffy’s Xander, How I Met Your Mother’s Ted, and FriendsRoss are all examples of Nice Guys sold to us as loveable underdogs, and whose manipulative behaviour is presented as romantic. The consequence? Women being taught to ignore red flags and feeling that they owe Nice Guys the intimacy they relentlessly pursue.

Could he BE any more toxic?

The good news is, it seems like society is slowly abandoning its Nice Guy love affair. The 2020 Oscar nominee ‘Promising Young Woman’ masterfully unpacked the Nice Guy trope to hilarious and devastating effect. The film’s antagonists are not thugs who prey in dark alleys. They’re not even blockheaded college jocks. They are likeable, intelligent former medical students settled down with wives and girlfriends; bona fide nice guys who genuinely see themselves as such despite committing rape and murder. 

Things didn’t work out between Patrick and I. I eventually tired of his emotionally immature, self-pitying antics and ended things to many tears and protestations. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. 

As women we deserve to be with men who are well-adjusted, respectful, and above all, well, nice. Not just those who claim to be. So let’s all break up with the Nice Guy trope for good. 

*Name changed

Girls’ Locker Room Talk: art, articles and entertainment by women, for women (and everyone else)

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