Stories of Men

The fake life of a ‘nice guy’

The fake life of a ‘nice guy’

Are you a “nice guy” or a good guy? And what is the difference?

Well, let’s think back to the things that so many of us were taught right from when we were kids.

As men, many of us have been taught that it’s good to be nice, especially when it comes to women

We’re encouraged to be respectful and friendly. Simple things such as holding a door open for a woman, or moving to the side so that she can comfortably pass you in the street are signs of being considerate and accommodating. They’re signs of being a nice guy.

And being a nice guy is a good thing, right? How could it not be a good thing to show care and consideration to others?

But here’s the question: what is your motivation for being nice? Are you doing it because it’s a reflection of your true values, or are you doing it because you’re expecting something in return?

You see, the problem with being a “nice guy” is that you can end up being the sort of person who is quite manipulative.

Imagine you’re on a date with someone and you’re going out of your way to be nice and agreeable. You’re laughing at all of your date’s jokes, you’re telling her how lovely her dress is, and you offer to pay for the drinks and the meal. Then, at the end of the evening, she tells you that she’s not interested in pursuing the relationship further. How would you feel?

Would you feel angry and resentful that, despite all of your “nice” behaviour, the woman still ended up rejecting you? Would you have an urge to tell her that you’d lied before and that her jokes were actually terrible? Would you wish that you’d told her that her dress looked awful? Would you regret that you hadn’t asked her to pay 50% of the bill you just shelled out for?

If the answer to the above questions is “yes”, then you may be a “nice guy”.

You shouldn’t be too surprised by this. I’m currently doing sessions with a men’s transformation coach and, while we were having a chat, he told me that I too was “a recovering nice guy”. He also told me that 90% of the people he works with, in fact, are “recovering nice guys”.

For a “nice guy”, nothing is given without there being some sort of expectation. You will often do things for others with the covert demand that you are to receive something in return. And, if you don’t get what you’re looking for, you’ll become resentful.

A “nice guy” will do their best to be what they think others want them to be, not because they want to make others feel good for its own sake, but because they are seeking validation in return. 

Everything becomes contractual. Every compliment, every act of generosity, every moment of “niceness” carries with it an unspoken charge.

What makes this particularly manipulative is that you don’t make this clear to the other person. You’re expecting them to pay a bill which you’re not telling them that you’ve invoiced.

You’re pretending to be nice, whereas, in reality, you’re just trying to find a way to have your own needs met.

For another story about pretending, listen to Alan talk about a holiday he went on where his addiction forced him to go to extreme lengths of manipulative behaviour.

Let’s go back to the dating scenario. Why did you compliment your date and pay for her food? It’s obvious that you didn’t offer the compliments because you meant them. It’s also obvious that you didn’t pay for the meal out of generosity.

You were expecting to get something from the woman in return. Whether it be sex, a kiss goodnight or just an agreement to another date, there was a covert contract that you expected that woman to acknowledge when she accepted your “niceness”. So, when you didn’t get what you wanted, you got upset.

Not very nice that, is it?

But what is it that makes someone act in this way? A lot of the time it comes from childhood and the experiences we had growing up.

At school, I would often get picked on because I didn’t set boundaries. I’d let insult after insult go by without reacting. So the kids would get more and more insulting, thinking that I was going to accept it.

Eventually, I’d lash out and end up having a fight with someone to regain the respect that I’d allowed to be constantly chipped away.

This behaviour has also cropped up in my working life. When I was working in Hong Kong on a real estate internship I had a boss who was constantly putting me down. I tolerated it and kept tolerating it, in fact, I didn’t even see it as a problem until another guy I was working with, Robert Camacho, said to me: “Don’t let her talk to you like that”.

He recognised that I was being disrespected before I did. The next time she disrespected me, I finally kicked off and she couldn’t stop apologising. Once again, I’d failed to set boundaries and nip unacceptable behaviour in the bud before it became a problem.

A lot of this also links to people pleasing, which I wrote more about here.

But it’s not just me. I remember being on a plane and seeing a couple whose kid was acting up. She was drinking water from a bottle and spitting it back in. The mother turned to the “nice guy” father and demanded in a loud voice “Can you control your daughter?”

The man shrank in response and whined “Can you not speak to me like that? It’s embarrassing…”.

To be fair, I guess he was trying to stick up for himself but it came across as very passive. If you want to be respected, you need to assert yourself and show conviction.

“Nice guys” don’t do this and so they continue to be disrespected.

But let’s get back to my first question: are you a “nice guy”? If you’re still not sure, here are ten key traits of being a “nice guy”:

  • You put other people’s needs before your own.
  • You don’t set boundaries.
  • You often expect something in return for your “niceness”.
  • You try to avoid outright rejection.
  • You find it difficult to project confidence.
  • You rarely enjoy being in your own company.
  • You’re highly agreeable, often moulding yourself into what you think the people around you want you to be.
  • You regularly seek external validation.
  • You constantly make yourself available to others.
  • You can get passive aggressive.

How many of these traits would you say that you fit? If you’re ticking a lot of them then you may be the “nice guy” this article has been about. Do you think it might be time to start your recovery?

There is hope. Listen to this episode where James talks about moving from seeking external validation as the main helper within his family to setting up a life-changing venture of his own.

Let me know what you think the difference is between being a “nice guy” and a good guy. And what tips would you give to stop being “nice” and start becoming good?

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Stories of Men podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Stories of Men podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

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