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Picture the nicest guy you know.
Don’t say his name yet. Just envision the kind of person he is.
Once you’ve identified this person, consider the other qualities you’d use to describe him. Would you say he’s a tough guy? Maybe call him manly? Perhaps he’s popular with the ladies?
Among my friends, the nicest guy I know is not the most masculine guy I know. He isn’t the type to instigate a fight and I wouldn’t describe him as a ladies’ man, either. Sure, he did well during his single days. He had his charms and his fair share of admirers, but he was also the person I always described as being too nice after yet another woman trampled his heart. Friends would tell him he needed to tap into his latent dark side to overcome his slump. This was when we were in our 20s and had fully ingested the idea that nice guys never got the girl.
But eventually, he did get the girl, and she was better suited for him than the ones he’d pursued before her. And that girl ended up being his wife.
I’ve never talked to her at length about why she eventually chose my friend to be her husband, but from afar, it looks like one of the reasons is the same reason he is one of my best friends: She recognized that he was a nice guy.
I strive for the same recognition in my own relationships. Part of me being a good man to my girlfriend is extending the same kindness to others. This wasn’t always important to me, though. I don’t think any of my ex-girlfriends before her would claim I was the nicest guy they dated, largely because it’s not something I ever strived to be. Being kind, good, and nice were things my sister was taught. I was taught to be a man and I don’t recall there ever being a chapter in the manhood manual that illustrated the importance of treating others kindly. It just wasn’t something that was emphasized.
The saying “nice guys finish last” doesn’t come from a great philosopher, but from a Hall of Fame baseball player and manager named Leo Durocher. The legend goes that during a press conference, Durocher was asked about the opposing team and his exact response was, “The nice guys are all over there in seventh place.” At the time, seventh place in the league was next to last. The press at large ran with that quote, and like a bad game of telephone, it morphed into the maxim we all have come to know. In his autobiography (which was actually entitled, Nice Guys Finish Last), Durocher attempted to clear up his original statements. He writes that other misinterpreted his quote, making it sound “as if I were saying that you couldn’t be a decent person and succeed.”
In Durocher’s defense, the spirit of his paraphrased statement is accurate when applied to most sports. Even in decidedly non-violent sports, like golf, a man like Tiger Woods is praised for having a killer instinct when winning and admonished for his lack of poise when losing. When I played Pop Warner, I very clearly recall our coach ordering the entire team not to smile for the team photo because men don’t smile. We were all between 10 and 11 years old.
Business is also often a world in which jerks rise to the top. In a recent article in The Atlantic entitled “Why It Pays To Be A Jerk,” multiple studies and respected business experts concluded that few people get ahead if they’re trying to be nice to everybody.
But when it comes to romance, is it essential that a man forgo kindness to get ahead? Some studies would have us believe this. A 2014 Newsweek article noted that while women didn’t necessarily think a nice guy was less masculine, they were less attracted to these men.
The sample size used for the study was only 112 students, and like most studies, the context is important. In this study, the subjects were undergraduates. When I was an undergraduate, I too thought every woman wanted a jerk of her own and I acted accordingly.
Being a jerk was wearing thin on many people in my life, but I didn’t realize how alienating this behavior was until a friend told me about a lunch she had with a group of girlfriends. According to my friend, one of the women had brought my name up after reading an article I’d wrote for a woman’s publication. I was flattered and expected to hear some kind words. Instead, I was served an unexpected dose of tough truth. “She talked about how she heard you were kind of a jerk,” my friend admitted.
“I defended you and told them you’re not that bad,” my friend continued. “But you know, you have to realize you don’t come off as the nicest guy.”
I’d never considered how disconcerting my not-so-nice persona was to people I wasn’t dating. If I had to enlist friends to defend my character, being a jerk clearly wasn’t a sustainable way to interact with others.
If I had to enlist friends to defend my character, being a jerk clearly wasn’t a sustainable way to interact with others.
The ironic thing about guys who try to avoid being nice for the sake of attracting women is it flies in direct opposition to what men want in a female. In that same Newsweek study, it was concluded that “men who perceived possible female partners as responsive found them to be ‘more feminine and more attractive.’”
Such wording might give many men pause. After all, very few men want to take on feminine characteristic traits. But if what a man wants in a woman is someone who is “responsive” (read: caring), why is the logical assumption that she wants to be with someone who is the polar opposite?
Who we date reflects who we are and where we are in our lives. The women I dated who didn’t mind when I talked down to people or who laughed at the jokes I would make at the expense of others never lasted long. It got to the point where I might not have been finishing last, but all of my relationships were just...finishing. If I wanted a long-term, committed relationship with a woman who was warm and caring, I had to be that guy myself.
At the height of bachelorhood, being a jerk was beginning to become uncomfortable. Once I turned 30, I decided to see what being a nice guy could get me. The change began affected how I approached everyone, not just the women I wanted to date. I smiled more, went out of my way to be courteous and polite, and adjusted my sense of humor to be more observational instead of personal. When all of this became second nature to me, I noticed that the way I related to other men shifted, too. Being a nice guy wasn’t about outdoing other men or being in a race; it was about running a different race entirely.
But perhaps the biggest and most ironic payoff of my newfound persona is that I eventually got what I was looking for when I was busy trying to be the jerk of some girl’s dreams—a committed relationship with a woman who I can honestly say is one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met. The woman I would like to think I deserve. If I’m done chasing women, I don’t know what place I came in, but it definitely doesn’t feel like last.
For any guy who thinks being nice will only result in a last place finish, do yourself a favor and let that idea go. Be better than “not bad.” Finish on your own terms and treat people well in the process, because regardless of where you end up, you'll end up further ahead than those who were just trying not to finish last.