First and foremost, I will not be blaming women or men for the Nice Guy Syndrome phenomenon. Mostly because I believe blame is a ridiculous and impossible notion based on cause and effect bias, and also because blame will not solve this issue (or any other). Like crime, Nice Guy Syndrome is a detrimental cultural issue that effects all of society, and we are all responsible for dealing with it.
What is the issue? For those of you who have not read Dr Robert Glover’s masterpiece No More Mr Nice Guy, ‘Nice Guy Syndrome’ describes a cultural and psychological epidemic that grew in the last few decades, mostly due to a misguided reaction to the feminist movement and under-representation of males in child-raising roles. Nice Guy Syndrome is a sub-species of the overall psychological concept of people-pleasing and approval seeking.
A “Nice Guy” is a person, usually a man, who is consistently subservient, passive and indirect. Due to shame about sexuality, masculinity and not being ‘good enough’, Nice Guys struggle with conflict, fear rejection, and try to manage the emotions of the people around them. They are unconsciously manipulative in order to avoid social disapproval.
They have massive guilt attached to anything that could lead – in their minds – to disapproval, which causes them to be almost entirely fake in their persona. For straight guys, this is mostly emphasized in the presence of women, particularly women they are attracted to. Often, these women will be the last to realise.
I should know; I was one. A Nice Guy I mean… not a woman.
While it is up to the Nice Guy to sort out his own issues, he is likely to be surrounded by females who unwittingly enable his condition. Mostly these are women who have no idea about what is happening and are just happy to have a ‘male friend’, and other times it is done intentionally by malicious or psychopathic women who like to use the poor bastards.
So this post is for any woman who has a platonic male friend in their lives. This friend may be legitimately connected to you; or he may be a Nice Guy suffering from toxic fear-based motives. I’d like to help you figure out which one he is…
WARNING SIGNS YOUR ‘GUY FRIEND’ HAS NICE GUY SYNDROME
Go through the checklist below. If your friend has a concerning number of these traits (he does not need to have them all to be a Nice Guy), then you got a problem. Your friendship is probably unhealthy and by continuing it you are enabling an unhelpful pattern of behaviour that will rule his entire life.
Take a deep breath, some of these are going to sting:
1) You are both single and there is no obvious reason that he should not be at least a little bit attracted to you, yet he has never made a clear, honest and direct attempt to engage with you sexually. Or, if he has made a move and been rejected, he seems eager to continue the friendship platonically.
2) He engages in consistent people-pleasing and approval-seeking behaviours. See THIS ARTICLE for more.
3) He goes out of his way to make sure things go well for you and ensure that you are ‘happy’, sacrificing his own needs to prioritise yours (which you may not realise is happening), often to the point where it makes you uncomfortable.
4) It’s rare for him to disagree with you, or if he does and you react with resistance he is likely to change his point of view to suit yours, and simply escape from any potential confrontation. Conversely, he may often try use logic to change your mood, arguing facts to make you ‘feel better’. He will demonstrate an inability to allow you to be upset or have problems. He will always try to ‘fix’ things.
5) He complains about his love-life and externalises the blame e.g. “The girls who want me are unattractive, and the girls I want aren’t attracted to me”. He is critical of women for dating ‘bad boys’ etc., and lacks basic understanding of what is attractive for straight women.
6) He contacts you often, probably more than most partners you have had. If you look closely you will often see consistent clinginess and neediness, combined with attention-seeking behaviour, e.g. sulking quietly while snatching glances at you to see if you’ve noticed.
7) He often demonstrates a ‘victim’ mindset, where things in his life that he doesn’t like seem to be out of his control.
8) He appears to be emotionally unfazed or cold, overly logical and rational, and eager to appear like he does not have any problems he cannot handle. He may appear to have no obvious weaknesses. When he is feeling emotional, the most likely form it will take is sulking and passive-aggressive manipulation e.g. martyrdom, guilt-tripping, hinting and subtlety.
9) He is visibly uncomfortable with compliments and will deflect them, like “Oh, it was mostly luck”. While he seeks to please he is confusingly shameful about being rewarded for his actions.
10) He’s highly judgemental while seemingly oblivious to being this way. This is often expressed through the theme that other people, particularly other guys, are “jerks”, selfish or uncaring. He will have a strong stance against ‘unfairness’, which will usually be related to a belief about how the Universe should be treating him much better because he’s such a good guy.
11) He calls himself a Nice Guy.
12) He lacks masculinity in general, but this is not to be confused with femininity. While being feminine is receptive, Nice Guys are passive. They sit around waiting for things to come to them, with no attempted action, risk-taking, or leadership.
13) Nearly every Nice Guy I’ve spoken to admits to lacking boundaries. You can walk all over them without them holding you to account. They may complain initially, but you’ll get away with doing it again and again. He will not end the friendship or do anything else to force you to respect his boundaries.
14) Perfectionism. High likelihood of stress (though this will be carefully hidden – look for physical symptoms like bags under the eyes and child-like irritability) and burn-out. This varies though; some Nice Guys are over-achievers, while others completely fly under the radar. Some like to be centre of attention (e.g. the class clown) while others avoid being noticed. Both types have the same motive: avoid disapproval.
15) Difficulty verbalising emotion, particular dark emotions like confusion, hatred, and most of all, anger. The Nice Guy will either actively avoid situations that lead to these emotions, or will react like a child (tantrums). He will struggle to articulate how he feels beyond vague words like “good” or “shit”.
16) He gets massively ashamed or panicky when he believes he has disappointed someone or has someone believe he is not good at something. When this happens his main focus is on fixing it.
And for those in sexual relationships with Nice Guys, look out for:
- He never initiates sex unless he gets a clear ‘green light’, or he’s passive about sex (waits for you to make a move).
- During sex he is seriously fixated on your enjoyment instead of mutual connection and pleasure, and will probably show an unusual attachment to giving oral sex.
- Your sex life dies over time, and lacks spontaneity or playfulness.
HOW WOMEN ENABLE NICE GUYS
Nearly every remotely attractive and social woman I know has an ‘orbiter’ or two; a Nice Guy who hangs around them. Some women are aware of it; most are seemingly oblivious to the truth.
After I reformed myself (a work that’s still in progress), I was actually able to meet up with some of the women who had been my ‘friend’ when I was a Nice Guy. I was finally able to have candid and honest discussions with them about what it was like from both sides of the story. This is how I started to learn that they were mostly oblivious to my condition.
Let’s start with the obvious: a platonic, straight male friend, who genuinely has no sexual interest in you, is RARE!
Your ‘friend’ is unlikely to be the exception. Unless he has a partner, is your relative, or there is some other obvious reason he should not find you attractive (e.g. massive age difference), and he doesn’t at least flirt with you, then odds are he is hiding attraction for you
The first way women enable toxic Nice Guy behaviour is simply by being unaware of it, so they allow the ‘friendship’ to develop intimately. Girls will think the guy is not attracted to them, or not interested in pursuing them. The OPPOSITE is true. Odds are he fantasizes about you multiple times per day, and seethes with hidden frustration at how nothing sexual is happening between you.
Nice Guy ‘friendships’ with women are usually one-sided. The guy will become your personal counsellor, mentor or assistant, and you may not be aware of how imbalanced the relationship is.
Are you listening to his problems too, and is he sharing his life struggles as much as you are? Do you give each other equal status and support? Do you prioritise his needs as much as he does yours, and initiate contact with each other equally?
If the answer is No to any of these, then the investment level in the relationship is out of whack. Basically, he’s giving you everything he’s got and getting nothing back (in his mind anyway). He’s been conditioned to consider this to be a ‘normal’ male-female relationship, so he probably won’t identify anything wrong with it (despite massive frustration that he won’t even admit to himself half the time). He sees women as authority figures who outrank him, and will behave accordingly.
The most unhelpful thing women do is convince themselves that the friendship is healthy. They are often grateful to finally have a male friend they can talk to. I’m going to have to kill the dream here I’m afraid.
Make no mistake, most men are not built and trained for connecting in the way women do with each other. When men do it, it’s usually either an act or it’s because they do not speak to other guys very often. If you want a deep emotional discussion without focus on solving problems, then talk to your girlfriends. Very few healthy males are able to do this honestly.
He is NOT your friend!
He is secretly crushing on you and dreams of a romantic connection, while suffering through the friendship in the hope it will become something more. While you’re enjoying yourself, he is in pain. This pain is ruining his life, but he cannot help but cling to it. His only hope is for you to end it.
A few women unfortunately choose to capitalize on this arrangement. They recognise that the man is attracted to them, and use careful teases to take advantage of his weak nature. They will string the man along with “Maybe one day” promises and rare drunken make-out sessions, and he will become their slave, therapist and personal shopper. To those few women out there knowingly doing this, please know that I have nothing but contempt for your behaviour.
To you others, the majority, who simply don’t know better or struggle to let go of the friendship, I’d like to offer you some advice…
HOW YOU CAN SAVE YOUR NICE GUY FRIEND
Firstly, you need to be willing to lose the friendship, possibly forever. It’s the only chance you’ll have at any real and healthy connection with him in the longer run. I can now be friends with women in a healthy way, but I had to disconnect with them entirely first. I had to reset what women meant to me before I could engage with them without toxic motives.
Nice Guy Syndrome is something a guy needs to work on with the support of other guys. While women can of course be masculine and support masculinity, part of the syndrome is worshipping and idolising women, which means having a female supporter, therapist, coach or teacher will probably confuse the issue. Nice Guys have been raised and controlled by women their entire lives, and often lack healthy male role-models.
Overcoming Nice Guy Syndrome is about learning to accept and use the masculine force. Nice Guys are mostly passive, and a little feminine, with almost no true, raw masculinity. They will not be able to welcome their receptive, nurturing feminine side until they have sorted out their beef with masculinity.
There are a number of resources and ideas that can support your Nice Guy friend. Here’s what I recommend:
- Get him a copy of No more Mr Nice Guy by Robert Glover.
- Send him this podcast interview on people-pleasing
- Demand that he stand up for himself, and call him out on all Nice Guy behaviours. When he attempts masculine behaviour, encourage him strongly.
- Get him to come along to Brojo (if he lives in Auckland), or encourage him to find a similar resource locally. Avoid nurturing-focused mens groups as these will likely aggravate and validate his Nice Guy Syndrome. He needs ‘man training’ and masculinity first, then he can work on the nurturing stuff if he needs to.
- If you know of a confident, ballsy guy who does well socially and doesn’t seem to ‘give a fuck’ about what others think of him, petition him to support your Nice Guy friend. Nice Guys are often intimidated by powerful men, until they get to hang out with them and see that they are not a threat. Once that happens, your Nice Guy will become obsessed with having more powerful male role-models.
Thank you for reading.