Is Too Nice about being Nice?
Nathan Justus Clark
Utah Valley University
“Not long ago, I watched my friend Laney, an assistant county prosecutor who spends her days putting criminals behind bars, try to choose between a sweet guy who sent her poems and flowers and petted her cats, and a guy who wore sunglasses indoors and found a way to hit on every woman who came his way. Laney fell madly in love with the second guy. ‘But the first guy adores you,’ I said. ‘I don’t even think the second guy even likes you very much.’ ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘but the first guy is dull.’” (Hollandsworth, 1994, p. 121)
The previous quote does a perfect job of depicting the reason so many men live the majority of their dating life stuck in the friend zone. Many women agree that sometimes they lose interest in a man because he is too nice. Some say that Berger and Luckmann’s Primary Socialization theory (1991) and Deborah Tannen’s Genderlect study (2015), when placed side by side, show that women’s dating preference is initially constructed in the home when they are still children. Upon further study of what homes and society in general have socially constructed through primary socialization, women may say that they are turned off by men that are too nice, but it is not the degree of niceness that they find unattractive; it is the degree of agreeableness and lack of confidence that they are really repulsed by.
First, the idea that men need to be an unkind jerk to get the girl is a myth. Women love nice men. Many studies have shown that considerateness and kindness are among very highest priorities for women in choosing a mate (Urbaniak & Kilmann, 2003). This fact initiates the discovery that the guys that appear too nice actually have quite a bit going for them with their habits of showing they care about the welfare of others. The same study tested how attractive kindness was in men for long-term committed relationships, normal dating relationships, and casual sexual relationships. Although kindness did rank slightly lower than qualities like physical attraction for casual sexual relationships, overall, it remained toward the top of the list for all three relationships in general. This shows that even inconsiderate men must at least pretend to be kind in order for a woman to enter a relationship with him (Urbaniak & Kilmann). Another study focused more specifically on the attribute of altruism, which is selfless generosity or sacrifice. The experiment focused on learning how attractive this quality is in both men and women for both short and long-term relationships. The results showed that altruism was very attractive to both men and women for longer more committed relationships. The results for short-term relationships showed that altruism continued to be extremely attractive to women, but was surprisingly low on the list of what was attractive to a man (Barclay, 2010). Therefore it is even more important for men to be nice than it is for women across the whole spectrum of length and commitment in relationships.
Another definition of “too nice” that was tested focused on the characteristic of being responsive. When the article used this word it was referring to people who are caring, validating, and understanding (Spielmann, 2016). In contrast, this is slightly different from both the kindness/consideration and altruistic definitions of “too nice”. This study ultimately found that responsiveness is very desirable especially for those that have recently been in a relationship with someone that is not very responsive (Spielmann ). Interesting point, but everyone is bound to have some type of relationship with an unresponsive person. That person may only be a classmate but he or she provides a stark contrast to the truly responsive people that can make such good partners for romantic relationships. So, all the nice guys out there don’t have to worry. There will always be enough jerks to highlight their good qualities.
A similar implication of “too nice” that researchers tested was that of being sweet and nice. They surveyed young women to learn what type of men they would like to date. Among their responses were the intelligent, physically attractive, strong, exciting, funny, confident, romantic, and sweet. Out of all these qualities, that of being sweet or nice was the most important with these girls (McDaniel, 2005). This too is a powerful indicator that when women say that a man is too nice, they are glossing over the real reason that they do not like him. A similar audience of young students was surveyed in a different study to examine if empathy could be the magic definition that fit the “too nice” stereotype (Bower, et al., 2015). In addition, this proved not to be what women actually mean by too nice. The reason for this was that everyone that rated themselves as very empathetic were the ones nominated with the most crushes from other students (Bower, et al.).
Conversely, in the studies already referenced, and others, researchers have started to uncover what qualities women are actually referring to when they say that a man is too nice. The first of these is that of being overly agreeable. The same researchers that tested the original “kind or considerate” hypothesis did another experiment three years later and tested women’s romantic interest in men with very high levels of agreeableness, compliance, and modesty. Other attributes that were incorporated in the questions, to learn how agreeable a man is, were those of being tender-minded, obliging, timid, cooperative, and gullible (Urbaniak, 2006). These attributes were mixed with a few characteristics that reflected kindness as well, but including so many potentially weak attributes was sure to show how different this study was from all the previous. The results of the test showed that agreeableness, as previously defined, was either absent or present at differing levels in men. These men also reported their success rates on a whole spectrum of different romantic relationships. The researchers analyzed this data and found that the results indicated that the over compliant or agreeable were typically less successful in all types of romantic relationships (Urbaniak).
By the same token, the Attachment theory shows that agreeableness can come from being an anxious dater. In this theory there are people that act more secure in their dating and people who act insecure. Those that act insecure are typically less attractive than the secure, and either act avoidant or anxious. Those that behave in a more anxious manner when dating are those that come off as a bit less confident and even clingy. They tend to obsess about their partner and are unsure of whether or not they can keep a relationship with them (Brumbaugh, 2010). This goes hand in hand with the words associated with agreeableness in the previous article. Less confidence in one’s ability to acquire and maintain a relationship can easily lead to excessive cooperativeness. This tendency to agree is rooted in the worry that if they do not do what their partner wants, they will not have the relationship they desire.
Another aspect of how regulating one’s agreeability is that of demonstrating confidence. One study found that an increase in confident behavior and communication is sure to help men that are often considered too nice. The study involved a survey that measured how confident people were in their own self assessment. The results indicated that higher levels of confidence, when perceived correctly, did increase one’s romantic desirability. This confidence was also found to intimidate competition in dating and acquiring romantic relationships (Murphy, et al., 2015). Therefore, when a guy agrees a little less often he can avoid the “too nice” trap and become more desirable.
When all is said and done, existing research on the “too nice guy” paradox lacks data on what type of nonverbal communication normally accompanies those perceived as “too nice.” Another area where there is a need for research would be in the female equivalent. There are many extremely nice girls that are unsuccessful in dating, but since this issue is less recognized, it does not come up in any of the articles. While there will always be a need for further research, many women perceive overly agreeable men as less confident and not manly enough, and that is definitely socially constructed by primary socialization (Berger & Luckmann, 1991). The media plays a substantial part in teaching little girls what characteristics they are supposed to like in boys. This social construction is reinforced everyday in conversations and even by this very literature review. Furthermore, most parents teach their sons to communicate in a masculine, confident, and assertive way, and this is sure to influence women’s perception of how a real man communicates and behaves (Tannen, 2015). Because an immediate attempt to change this social construction is unrealistic and even unnecessary, the task at present is to help the “too nice guys” demonstrate, strength, confidence, and an ability to stand up for their opinions and needs. Doing this will assist them in acquiring and maintaining long lasting passionate relationships.
Barclay, P. (2010). Altruism as a courtship display: Some effects of third-party generosity on audience perceptions. British Journal of Psychology, 101(1), 123-135. doi:10.1348/000712609X435733
Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1991). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
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
Brumbaugh, C. C., & Fraley, R. C. (2010). Adult attachment and dating strategies: How do insecure people attract mates? Personal Relationships, 17(4), 599-614. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01304.x
Tannen, D. (2015). Genderlect Styles. In A First Look at Communication Theory(9th ed., pp. 432-443).
Hollandsworth, S. (1994, October). What you don’t know about nice guys. Mademoiselle (pp. 120-123).
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
Murphy, S. s., Hippel, W. v., Dubbs, S. L., Angilletta Jr., M. J., Wilson, R. S., Trivers, R., & … Angilletta, M. J. (2015). The Role of Overconfidence in Romantic Desirability and Competition. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(8), 1039-1052.
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