Why Women Say “You’re Too Nice” or Why Nice Guys Often Finish Last

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It’s not nice to be told that you are “too nice,” especially if you are a man — a young man — trying to win a woman’s favor. Most of those who have heard this wonder why something “good” — being “nice” — is held against them. Often they observe the very same women with other males who are much less considerate, generous, and kind.

Do you have the sort of kindness that is disqualifying? Kinda’ seems unfair, doesn’t it?

Some of these women, it’s true, have poor judgment. They are drawn to men who are exciting but irresponsible or cruel. Perhaps they are unconsciously trying to find someone who reminds them of a parent who was not sufficiently devoted to them. The new prospective boyfriend now gives them a second chance at getting the type of love they couldn’t achieve from mom or dad; who were rejecting, disinterested, or preoccupied with other people and other things.

Even so, the “too nice” indictment doesn’t always really mean you are too nice. That phrase can be just a stand-in for a lack of “chemistry,” an absence of sheer physical attraction, or a feeling of being bored.

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Chemistry Anyone?

Boredom doesn’t sound good, I know, but if you are a Cubs fan and the female of your dreams doesn’t like baseball, or if you are into country music and she can’t bear it, boredom or disinterest can be the result.

Kind and decent young men need to recognize that there just might be something useful in the dreaded “too nice” communication. Something in the blunt trauma of the words “you are too nice” may need to be learned — the hidden meaning behind the statement.

From an evolutionary and prehistoric perspective, consider what qualities a woman needed in a mate: physical strength, power, and courage would have been useful in protecting the female (and the couple’s kiddies) from danger. Forcefulness, self-assertion, and wiliness might also have helped her potential mate to fulfill that function. Additionally, those characteristics signaled that the man was “fit,” both physically and mentally, and therefore able to produce healthy offspring.

The woman who instead chose the “weak” suitor, the one who was passive or hesitant, perhaps found that he could not “make” a living for them or defend the home. Their children’s survival became more doubtful because of the man’s limitations. If so, evolution would not have favored his characteristics, nor those in the female that caused her to make a poor choice of mate. The genes carrying such tendencies would not have been passed on through the generations, having fallen to the law of the jungle.

To the extent that females paired with strong men increased their children’s odds of reaching adulthood, the tendency for women to choose a bold male would have increased over time. And, it is likely that the most physically attractive females (in effect, the ones who looked most “fit”) would have tended to be selected by the most assertive and forceful men, thus linking beauty and a preference for powerful males in our genetic future.

Women, like men, look for signs of vigor and health, even if they do so unconsciously in the mating game. Without these qualities, the chance of passing on your genes by producing children who live long enough to reproduce themselves isn’t that good.

Moreover, a female today may also want a husband who is an admirable role model for her children, someone to share the burden of decisions and making a life together — in other words, an assertive, capable man who can take on the world. However unfair it can be, these same women just might interpret a worshipful, uncertain, passive, overly considerate man to be a potential liability.

“Niceness” isn’t necessarily the equivalent of weakness, but it can look that way. Doubtful young men, afraid of losing favor, often make themselves less attractive by their hesitation. Meanwhile, those top-dog alpha males who act boldly, are frequently admired in spite of having an edge that gives offense.

I recently read a study with a most intriguing title that is related to this topic: Do Nice Guys — and Gals — Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income by Timothy Judge, Beth Livingston, and Charlice Hurst. It was published in 2011 in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Briefly, they found that men who are too agreeable make significantly less money than men who more closely meet a somewhat contentious male stereotype. For the purpose of this type of research, “agreeableness” is consistent with characteristics like being trusting, straightforward, altruistic, compliant, modest, and tender-minded. Those men were also less likely to obtain recommendations for professional advancement.

In contrast, the customary male is prone to “aggressively advocate for (his) position during conflicts.” These more traditional males are also inclined to push their own personal agendas relative to other people and to challenge the status quo. Such individuals tend to be seen as more competent than those who are too agreeable, as well. Moreover, agreeableness impacted “earnings more negatively for men than for women,” meaning that being agreeable hurt female income less. Based on these results, it would seem that women are on to something of practical value when they sense that a man is too nice.

What can you do, then, if you are the aforementioned nice young man?

Find ways to boost your confidence. Learn to face challenges rather than avoiding them. Build your body. Compete. Don’t be too deferential.

Lead. Make decisions. Have opinions. Take a stand. And, whatever you do, do not become worshipful of the woman you are with by the second week of your acquaintance with her.

None of this means you should be callous, hurtful, or cruel. Indeed, courtesy, romance, and thoughtfulness have their place, too, if you want to win the fair maiden’s heart.

Just don’t lapse into a fetal position.

Unless, of course, you are looking to be treated like a fetus.

Fetus (12 weeks old)

The top image is called Some days I just want to curl up in a ball… by Michael Dunn. It is followed by three test tubes of Cobalt Chloride in various stages of equilibration with hydrochloric acid, downloaded by Chemicalinterest. These two photos are sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Finally, a 12 week old Fetus sourced from MedlinePlus.

Leo Durocher, Hall of Fame baseball manager and former player, was quoted saying that “nice guys finish last” in 1948. He was then the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and was referring to the New York Giants. Ironically, he would soon find himself managing those “nice guys.”

Relationship Warning Signs: Fighting the Last War

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Relationship choices are a little bit like the old military saying that generals are always preparing to fight the last war. Military men are apt to focus closely on past mistakes, without realizing the dangers of a new strategy, perhaps inadequate for whatever lies ahead.

In the same way, we try to avoid past relationship mistakes, without being aware our strategy might produce new, unfortunate problems in the future.

Let’s take an example. Suppose your last relationship was with an authoritarian, demanding, insensitive, maybe even somewhat abusive man. Now you want a lover who won’t be like him. Now you want someone who won’t push you around in any sense of the word — a companion less threatening and more accommodating. This might work well – for a while.

But, perhaps gradually, you will notice the same person who gives-in to you is also giving-in to others; not standing up for himself or for you; spending too much time away from you, instead doing favors for his parents or his friends. Perhaps you will conclude he is too passive and, that while he won’t often say “no” to you, you must push him to do the things you want.

Or maybe your last boyfriend wasn’t ambitious and industrious. You had to lend him money or serve as his source of financial support. You got tired of this of course. Now, you only choose to date someone who is hard-working and successful. You pick a workaholic mate and hardly ever see him, and you must do the job of raising the children pretty much on your own, even if the joint bank account is substantial

Or the discarded mate was easy with money and piled up debt. So now you select somebody with a dead-bolt lock on his wallet, cheap in the extreme, frugal to the point of wanting an accounting of every dollar spent by you, and nearly every small purchase the two of you make is treated with the gravity of buying a house.

Or your last companion didn’t pay much attention to you, seemed more interested in being with friends, playing football and computer games. So you target someone who wants to be with you nearly every minute and gets jealous when you even look at another man – a mate who requires an itinerary of your daily activities and seems interested in controlling you more than loving you.

Last but not least, the boring, by-the-book, ever-cautious man who you trade-in for a dashing, spontaneous, risk-taking, unpredictable, funny, charming, devil-may-care partner; later discovering he is reckless, unreliable, and inconsiderate.

The list goes on. The point is, as with so many of life’s offerings, the opposite of what you have is often as bad or worse, only in a different way.

Best to consider all sides of the human mating grab bag and not pick someone at either extreme of most any dimension.

Just like King Midas, who wished for the power to turn everything into gold, sometimes you must be careful about getting too much of what you thought would be a good thing.

Or, as Oscar Wilde said, “there are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

The image above is Oscar Wilde in a photographic portrait by Napolean Sarony from about 1882, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.