Too Nice: Examined with Theories

Too Nice

Nathan Justus Clark

Utah Valley University


The report deals with different interpersonal communication theories as they pertain to research done on female preference in dating and courtship. It summarizes five articles that relate to the topic of men that women consider too nice to date. It examines each one of these articles in relation to each other. It does this through the paradigm of both Social Penetration and Relation Dialectics. The findings reveal that when men appear overly agreeable, predictable, and less confident they seem too nice and are therefore less attractive to women.

Keywords: too nice guys, jerks, how to get the girl, dating tips


Is it true that nice guys finish last in dating? Many men repeatedly get stuck in a pattern of being rejected by women who, if they do give them some of their time, ultimately admit that they were turned off to these men because their behavior was too nice. This is a concept that I have come to believe as I have pursued the career of Dating and Relationship Coach. The real question is, what evidence exists to support this claim? The authors of each article have distinct paradigms or theories that influence the creation of each study and the conclusion that each settles on. The following literature review will examine each study and its correlation with two theories from the 9th edition of A First Look at Communication (Griffin et. al, 2015). The studies and theories combined, show that men can, in fact, be too nice when they are over-accommodating and passive with their opinions.

One theory that I will use to examine these articles is the Social Penetration Theory of Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor (Griffin et. al, 2015). This theory states that solid relationships are formed by gradual, orderly, and reciprocal self-disclosure. It uses the analogy of an onion to describe the process of going through three main sections of layers until both parties arrive at the most vulnerable cores of one another and enjoy and care for them. The first section of layers is the orientation section, which deals with the initial superficial judgments and somewhat shallow observations. The next section is the exploratory. This group of layers consists of just getting to know the basics about many areas of someone’s life. The last section of layers, which includes the core, deals with sensitive deep issues that people only share with those that they really trust. The part of the theory that is most helpful in analyzing the “too nice guy” stereotype is the part where the author explains that Altman and Taylor borrow from the Social Exchange Theory, which is the idea that people only proceed into deeper levels of vulnerability when they think that the pros of doing so will outweigh the cons. They measure the pros and cons of any potential relationship by comparing the perceived outcomes, satisfaction, and stability of their past or potentially future relationships with others (Griffin et. al, 2015).

Another theory is that of Relational Dialectics, which involves the complications of personal relationship communication. It focuses on how many contradictions there are, and how there is a never-ending interaction between opposing tendencies (Griffin et. al, 2015). Basically, it says that both certainty and uncertainty are needed for an interpersonal relationship to evolve and mature (Griffin et. al, 2015). The reason for this is that if there were only certainty in a relationship things get boring and the desire to be involved can ultimately go away. If a relationship is mostly uncertainty, then people do not feel stable, safe or secure and may go elsewhere to fulfill those needs. It is the idea that with a solid foundation of certainty and a little uncertainty, novelty, or change; one can experience a fun spontaneous sense of mystery or surprise in their relationship. This sense of mystery or surprise adds the essential element of excitement to the interaction between both people (Griffin et. al, 2015).

To start, Geoffrey Urbaniak and Peter Kilmann have done two studies that I have included in my review. The first, entitled “Physical Attractiveness and the ‘Nice Guy Paradox’: Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last?,” was a study that involved young college aged women volunteers listening to unseen men as they respond to each woman’s scripted questions. After doing so, the women had to state their preference on who they would rather date. One man always gave the same neutral boring responses, but the other man gave some women nice guy responses, others neutral, and others jerk-like self-absorbed responses. The nice guy responses were scripted to sound considerate, and emotionally open. The women were shown pictures of either an attractive or an unattractive man for each type of response given. They did this to see if most of the women participants would overlook the nice unattractive guy and instead go for the attractive jerk. They found that the majority of the women did not favor the jerk, even when paired with an attractive picture. Niceness was the main characteristic women were looking for in a long-term committed relationship, and attractiveness was the main thing women were looking for in a short-term sexual relationship (Urbaniak & Kilmann, 2003).

The Social Penetration theory would look at this study with the view that women who state a preference to going on a date with a man show that they are willing to let down a few layers be vulnerable. It was the Social Exchange part of Social Penetration that Urbaniak and Kilmann use to collect the data of women trying to decide between the pros of the attractive and nice and the cons of the ugly and the rude (2006). The study confirmed this theories effectiveness because when women were presented with an attractive jerk and a nice unattractive man, the majority chose the nice attractive man. According to the theory, they did this because the pros of being in a relationship with a nice man were more valuable than attractiveness because peeling off a few layer and being vulnerable is safer, in a long term relationship with a nice guy.

Relational Dialectics does a good job of explaining how a small percentage of women chose the attractive jerk over the ugly nice guy. It does this by focusing in of the fact that it is commonly the physical attractiveness and the arrogance that is often mistaken for confidence that people gives people a little mystery or novelty in a relationship. This theory also does a great job of explaining the noteworthy increase of women that chose to date the attractive and nice over the unattractive and nice.

Later, Geoffrey Urbaniak and Peter Kilmann did another study with slightly different variables (2016). Instead of defining the “nice guy” as a kind and considerate man, they defined him as a bit over agreeable. In this study they finally got to the heart of what it is women are actually turned off by when they say that a guy is too nice. The experiment analyzed how successful how levels of agreeableness are in four different types of relationships. They were casual dating, one-time sexual, casual sex, and committed relationships. They found that the attribute of being very agreeable was not effective in obtaining the first three relationships, but they also found it to be less effective in starting a committed relationship with a woman (Urbaniak & Kilmann, 2006).

The results of this study are interesting because they do not fit well with the Social penetration theory. The fact that women want men that are less agreeable does not contribute to both individuals being willing to be vulnerable. It also does not go along with weighing the pros and cons of the relationship, because most people would not consider disagreeableness as a pro. Relational Dialectics, on the other hand, does a great job of explaining why women favor men that are not overly accommodating or agreeable. It is the aspect of uncertainty or mystery that a woman sees when her man insists getting what he prefers. However, if she is always the one running the show, and he readily agrees, she will become certain of what is going to happen. That certainty gives their relationship no mystery at all.

Another article provides insight on how and when the nice guy can actually get the girl. After doing research on dating apps the article presents the idea of Contrast Effect. The action of scrolling through profiles of potential dates puts one’s mind in a Contrast Effect or “evaluative, assessment – oriented mindset” (Spielmann & MacDonald, 2016, p. 99). This mindset focuses on comparing between many different options and then choosing the best. Spielmann and MacDonald go as far as to say that people that use this system to discover dates often pass by certain dating prospects that, if presented without the Contrast Effect, they would have most likely been interested in dating (2016). They go on to test and explain that it is also the contrast affect that accounts for the occasions in which a woman has just ended a relationship with a jerk and then falls in love with a nice guy.

The pros and cons side of Social Penetration best explains the results of this study. The reason for this is that the Contrast Effect may sharpen a woman’s ability to see and value the pros of kindness and consideration. On the other hand, if a woman settles for an ugly but nice guy, one could say that the contrast effect blinded her to the con of less physical attraction. Relational Dialectics with its need for certainty can also explain a woman’s decision to switch from the jerk to the nice guy. The main reason being that she is prone to feel more certain and stable with the consistent understanding and validation of the nice guy.

“Nice guys and gals finish last? Not in early adolescence when empathic, accepted, and popular peers are desirable” by Bower, Nishina, Witkow, and Bellmore (2015) looked to a younger audience to test the nice guy stereotype. They had middle school students fill out surveys to report who they had crushes on and whether they considered themselves to be empathetic or aggressive. Contrary to other studies, the results disproved the “nice guys finish last” stereotype. It found that those that reported self-empathy had the majority of crush nominations (Bower et. al, 2015). These results go right along with Social Penetration because empathy is a pro and is necessary for acquiring the trust and willingness needed in order to reveal vulnerable information. Relational Dialectics is less applicable to this study because empathy could be consistent enough to provide one with a sense of certainty, but overall, it does not directly relate to certainty or uncertainty.

The last study included in this review is a personality trait study, which utilizes a refined version of a survey made to be filled out by women. The survey laid out two full date scenarios with two different men. The first was went through the basic polite actions of a date. The second included the gift of a rose when he picked her up, a passionate kiss goodnight, and an assertive statement that he was going to call her tomorrow. After reading these scenarios, the women were asked to rate each man on how much of 10 different positive characteristics the man had. The man from the first scenario was the nice guy and the man from the second was the potential jerk. The most notable traits in which the jerk scored higher on were in physical attraction, strength, confidence, aggression, and excitement (McDaniel, 2005). This leads one to believe that those are the things that the nice guys needs to improve upon in order to really compete with the jerks.

The idea of a woman weighing the levels of these positive characteristics between two different men shows that McDaniel used the factor of pros needing to outweigh the cons before deeper levels of vulnerability can be made accessible. The positive characteristics of the potential jerk that ranked at higher levels than the nice guy were also characteristics that contributed toward novelty, mystery, and uncertainty, thus confirming the theory of Relational Dialectics.

Overall, every one of these articles used either, and most cases both, Social Penetration and Relational Dialectics to form their analysis of the studies that each performed. The theories and scientific research combined provide the all-inclusive deduction that, when women say that a man is too nice, they are not referring to empathy. They see a nice guy as one that is overly accommodating or agreeable. They are the men that lack in assertive intentional behavior. If a nice guy wants to gain the attention and affection of a woman he will need to avoid these tendencies. He will also have to improve physical attractiveness, portray more strength and confidence, and provide a little mystery in the relationship. By doing this he will eliminate his too nice stereotype and have more success in obtaining and keeping romantic relationships.




Bower, A. R., Nishina, A., Witkow, M. R., & Bellmore, A. (2015). Nice guys and gals finish last? Not in early adolescence when empathic, accepted, and popular peers are desirable. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(12), 2275-2288. doi:10.1007/s10964-015-0346-5

Griffin, E., Ledbetter, A., & Sparks, G. (2015). A First Look at Communication Theory. (9th Ed.)

McDaniel, A. K. (2005). Young women’s dating behavior: Why/Why Not Date a Nice Guy?. Sex Roles, 53(5-6), 347-359. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-6758-z

Spielmann, S. S., & MacDonald, G. (2016). Nice guys finish first when presented second: Responsive daters are evaluated more positively following exposure to unresponsive daters. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 6499-105. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2016.02.002

Urbaniak, G. C., & Kilmann, P. R. (2003). Physical attractiveness and the “Nice Guy Paradox”: Do nice guys really finish last?. Sex Roles, 49(9/10), 413-426.

Urbaniak, G. C., & Kilmann, P. R. (2006). Niceness and Dating Success: A further test of the nice guy stereotype. Sex Roles, 55(3-4), 209-224. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9075-2