The Five Types of Men You Will Meet



The word agenticderived from agency—has been floating around in my head after reading Hugo Schwyzer’s recent piece at Jezebel arguing against a couple of blog posts published on the websites In Mala Fide and Heartiste (full disclosure: both guys are on my blogroll).

Schwyzer decries the arguments put forth at those sites suggesting that women like assholes, bad boys, and jerks:

Never mind that the research on what heterosexual women actually want doesn’t bear this out. For years, studies have shown that women do rate kindness as a particularly attractive quality in a man. Along with humor and intelligence, generosity is a particularly valuable trait; as one study showed earlier this month, guys become more selfless (read: less assholish) when in the presence of women they find attractive.

Seems to me that everyone is right; it just depends on the starting point. Instead of fostering the trope that women like bad boys, jerks, and gangsters to the detriment of nice guys; I tend to believe that women, on average, prefer agentic men—men who act. All else being equal, women prefer men who act in a positive direction. But maybe we should put some stock in that common cultural trope attributed to women: “All the good ones are taken.” Women prefer agentic nice guys, but maybe all of them are taken.

Agentic men are straight-forward, assertive, goal-oriented, and principled. They could be perfectly friendly, emotionally available, altruistic, and presentable to parents, but in a society where assertive behavior and competition are watched with a discerning eye, men with end-games outside social norms are more willing to employ their assertiveness.

Being direct, being unafraid to ask for something, taking what you want: these are all qualities that women find attractive – even when it involves the man’s expressions of sexual desire. For a majority of women, their choice of mate is directly related to the resources that mate can provide, and what a man can provide is a function of his action. A nice guy who has access to resources brings two things to the table: he can get “stuff”, and he’s likely to share a lot of that “stuff” with his partner. An agentic bad boy has at least one Ace in his hand: he can get “stuff.” Being more self-centered, he’s more likely to keep a larger proportion for himself, but his woman indirectly benefits from a larger pie. Since women want resources, it would make sense that if given the choice, women would choose the nicest guy possible—as long as the nice guy has access to resources. The problem is that lines don’t form so neatly.

It would be instructive to drill down and look at general examples of the various groups of men. We can compartmentalize men into 5 camps in order from most desired by women to least, and I’ll provide examples of each type:

1. The Nice Guy You Know. Example: George Clooney. Agentic Nice guys. The male equivalent of the Platinum Preferred American Express. Their assertiveness pushes them into traditional alpha male territory which increases their attractiveness, and they are generally in control of most situations. Agentic nice guys smile and exude confidence because they are actually happy and confident. They are altruistic and good-natured towards women because they want to be, not because they feel a sense of shame for not providing. They are internally-driven.

2. The Dick You Know. Example: Don Draper. Pimps. Drug Dealers. Charlie Sheen. Roissy. Agentic Bad Boys. These men fall into the asshole and jerk category, but they’re real and their women know what they’re getting. Agentic bad boys are assertive and exude confidence and high status. Like the group above, these guys are usually in control of the situation. But they often work outside the confines of polite society to get what they want. For the most part, they don’t lie about what they’re doing or who they’re doing it with. In extreme cases, these men behave viciously and possibly abuse their women, but the women come back for more because they at least know what to expect from their man and many enjoy the drama.

3. The Dick You Don’t Know. Example: Tiger Woods. Opportunistic Bad Boys. These guys are the douchebags of the world. The narcissism that begets their douchebaggery oxidizes as confidence and high status helping their attractiveness to women—although situational control begins to erode at this altitude. Their drawback is that they are afraid to expose their true nature for fear that they won’t be accepted by women. Their outward displays of narcissism overshadow their internal wish to do good leading to a convoluted self-image. When the mask is removed, women become bitter because they thought they knew their Dick.

4. The Nice Guy You Don’t Know. Example: Tiger Woods if he weren’t a billionaire. George Costanza as presented on ‘Seinfeld’. Supplicating nice guys. These guys have been trademarked by some; they are the ones who have received 100 “You are such a nice guy” remarks for every peck on their rosy red cheek. Everything they do with regards to women is a reaction to what they think they should be doing and not what they actually want to do; control is out of their hands. Since they aren’t in control, their desires aren’t manifested. This particular type of guy has fleeced himself of his sexuality because he thinks that’s what he should do.  They lie to themselves about what they actually want. They tell themselves they do nice things because they are nice and not because they want to move towards a sexual relationship.

Tony Clink, who offers dating advice:

It’s not because women like jerks. Women prefer polite over rude, and attentive over distracted. The problem is the way nice guys present these positive characteristics. In order to appear friendly and romantic, these ‘nice guys’ think they have to turn off their sexuality. They hide their desires in order not to offend, presenting an androgynous, asexual persona. The first impression they give is one of emasculation, weakness, and lack of desire. At best, they confuse the woman as to whether they even find her attractive. That’s what jerks offer women that nice guys don’t: they’re not afraid to be sexual.

5. The Dick You Don’t Care to Know. Example: George Costanza if he weren’t made-for-TV. When you get this far down the list it doesn’t really matter what’s going on. My main purpose in putting this here is to at least give NGYDK some assurance that they aren’t the dregs. This last group are men who are negative, foul-spirited, and lacking in confidence. “Sour” is a good word to describe them. “Hater” is another. They are petty and don’t at least offer a smile while behaving that way. They seek to tear people down at every turn—not out of some strategy for their own upward mobility, but because they seek company.

Women don’t want bad boys if given a choice. But agentic nice guys sell out quickly, and they usually go to the highest bidders. There are also fewer of these types of guys because our society places curbs on their manufacture—in fact, it punishes agentic behavior early on. The men best poised to capitalize are the men who aren’t opposed to ruffling society’s feathers a little bit in the first place. And nice guys—or the 80% of them who finish last—fall down the ladder because they aren’t willing to compete.

Read Jonatan Bäckelie’s response to this post:

Being in Control vs. Keeping it Together


—Photo Jon Åslund/Flickr


  1. wellokaythen says:

    The tired old saying “all the good ones are taken” is incredibly insulting, if you think about it. It is an insult to every man not currently in a relationship. After all, if he’s not “taken” that must mean there’s something wrong with him, right? What an anti-male crock that is. It is no less insulting than a man saying “bitches are always single.” And just as completely inaccurate.

  2. I can’t talk about this. It brings up every conflict in my life. I’m a very sexual man in an asexual relationship, trying desperately to hold on to my principals. I flirt. I skate around the edges. I tease. I do not engage because that would require me to lie. I tell you that I’m married. You choose to sleep with me or not knowing that I’m not available for more than just this moment. I choose not to sleep with you because I won’t sleep with you if I don’t like you and liking you will lead me to want more. How many women can one man love at the same time? What’s wrong with you guys? Getting “laid” is the easy part. The hard part is all the convoluted crap that comes with it. Gee – I wonder if this is why prostitution is the oldest profession?

    • You should probably check out Dan Savage. He would agree with me that you have every right to seek out your physical needs elsewhere.

      • Ah Jimbo – It has nada to do with my rights and everything to do with my personal view of the world. Good sex has everything to do with feelings and feelings lead to involvement and being involved with multiple partners leads to complications. Savage would say explore polyamory. Sure, I say – as long as we decide that together……….no lad – it’s na easy when you want to be happy AND selfish at the same time. (and no they are not necessarily the same…….

  3. Hunter85 says:

    “…taking what you want: these are all qualities that women find attractive – even when it involves the man’s expressions of sexual desire”

    Does this not strike anyone else as sounding a little off?
    Because I’ve seen this backfire something fierce before.

  4. A couple of things I think are relevant, that I don’t see anyone mentioning above:

    1) Whether or not a guy is assertive or agentic or dominant (three similar but distinguishable things…) in his interactions with other men, or with women he isn’t paired-up with, doesn’t necessarily relate much to how he is with a mate. I mean, how he is generally with a mate, not just how he is in bed. This can play out in a lot of different ways, as, for example, someone who is very considerate to everyone and you only find out when you sleep with him that sex turns him into an asshole — or someone who is very much a diamond in the rough in the rest of his life but treats his partner very gently. To perceive what’s really going on in somebody else’s relationship, you would have to know about these patterns, which is usually impossible.

    2) If you’re female, and you’re looking for a guy who’s serious relationship material, one of the important things you have to know about him is how he interacts with other men. This has a bunch of aspects, and one of them is how he fits into the (to a female eye, or at least, to my female eye) baffling and irrational dominance games some men like to play with each other. I think one of the big sources of confusion between men and women is the fact that many men don’t understand how opaque these male-male interactions are to most women. As a woman, you end up being expected to act on information about your guy that you don’t have, and that is hard to get because he thinks you already know — somehow the expectation is that you were born with the Magic Female Gene that makes all relationships easy to understand. (This is probably the flip side of people believing in a Magic Male Gene that makes you able to repair machines you’ve never seen before and pull money out of your hat.)

    From my point of view, at least, the most desirable guy is one who isn’t too interested in male-pecking-order stuff — for several reasons — but who can hold his own with other men in a pinch — also for several reasons. The “isn’t too interested” matters because 1) relationships can run into trouble when one partner is obsessed with something the other doesn’t understand, and 2) for some reason, guys who care a lot about this often seem to think they can impress other men by being disrespectful toward women, and 3) often, in a male crowd that has a strong pecking-order dynamic, the guys higher up on the ladder tend to hit on women associated with the guys lower down on the ladder — so unless you’re dating the alpha, you have to deal with that, which is a pain in the ass. So, all that being said, a girl wants to stay away from guys who get really invested in the pecking-order thing. BUT, it’s also the case that men who really can’t deal with the pecking-order stuff have a hard time, generally, in life. Which can mean that they come home from being yelled at by their dominant-asshole boss and take it out on their partner. And it can mean that they get depressed and spend their lives playing video games in a bathrobe and expecting their partner to support them — which is no more fun for a female partner than it is for a male.

    So, yes, by far the safest choice for a woman is a guy who, when it comes to male-male conflict, wins without trying too hard. This is probably why 90% of the heroes of romance novels are guys who either inherited money & position or made a killing before the story started — not guys who are struggling when the heroine knows them. And of course, in real life, people who have won without trying are often hopelessly spoiled, so there’s a whole other set of issues that goes with that.

    Not saying any of this is fair, just that this dynamic does exist, and you don’t need some complicated theory about women preferring jerks to explain it.

    • Grins – Gotta hand it to you man – you just spoke the truth – the dynamic does indeed exist and it is complicated and every situation is different to one degree or another and life is not fair and when all is said and done it’s up to the individuals concerned to make it work. So it all comes back to intent. If our intentions are in alignment, our results will most likely also be in alignment. This is one of the benefits of a long term relationship where a couple work through the inevitable issues instead of running away and pouting like spoiled children at the first sign of adversity. It does, however, take two to Tango and no one can make a relationship work all by their lonesome. Most of us don’t start out with all our dicks (ducks?) in a row. Hence the time honored truth that an unexamined life is not worth living………

  5. Here is the deal. “Agentic men” whether they are douchebags or are nice, ask women out. Let me reframe: Agentic men pursue women. I re-iterate, these men, pursue, ask out, and engage women. The non-agentic men get mad at agentic men, but the problem is they sit on the sidelines. They do nothing. They wait for women to pursue them. And that is where the problem lies. I have countless books written for women giving women instructions to “never pursue a man” because you will emmascualte him and ultimately both the man and women will be frustrated with the relationship. (See Dr. Pat Allen.) The problem is, Agentic men are mostly taken. They don’t have long lag times in being single or out of a relationship. People want to wag their fingers at women for “encouraging assholes”, but Chuck is right on the money when he states that women just want a guy who takes action. And let’s be clear. We want a nice guy who takes action.

    • Nah. Your excuse has been debunked ad infinitum. Nice guys take action just as much as jerks. But nice guys get rejected. People wag their fingers at women for “encouraging assholes” because that’s so often what women do, not because all you poor lonely women only have assholes to pick from.

  6. After only making it halfay down the commentss section. Maybe instead of women saying they are attracted to “nice guys” or “bad boys”. They should just use assertive or passive,nice is NOT a requirement. That would allow the guys to be more of themselves while still giving the ladies what they want.

  7. I read this today from twitter (not my words!) and I thought it summed up some of the conversation we have had here:

    “Some men convince themselves that the world is against them, when the truth is they just aren’t happy with themselves. They project their insecurities onto every woman that doesn’t reciprocate interest, and make it about women only wanting thugs and assholes. If you’re a “nice guy”, you don’t really have to profess it. Just be it and women will notice.”

    Quotes are from TAFKAPP79 on twitter.

    I thought this really speaks to what is being said here, and to my experience- all my guy friends that have pulled the “you don’t like me because I’m a good guy” card have all been really insecure, and outraged that I didn’t “reciprocate”. The reason I didn’t reciprocate for the most part? I don’t think I “owe” you sex or a relationship for you being nice to me, and it makes me uncomfortable that you think I do. A lot of these guys just feel like everything is against them and they have no control over the situation. I’ve discussed this with girlfriends many times before, and we all agreed that it is a pretty common experience to have a “nice guy” feel like he is “owed” something in return. Doesn’t sound all that “nice” to me…

    • Jenna, I’ll ask a big favour n behalf of those men. It may not work but a small hope is better than none. Try to in a calm, cool, collected way to point that out to the nice guys. If a “nice guy” does it to you, tell him what you think. I say do it in a nice way to avoid triggering defensiveness as much as possible since that will leave him not listening most likely. I don’t think many of them purposely do it, they need to be told not every woman wants the same thing and acting extra nice doesn’t make a person sexier.

      It’s a confusing world out there for guys (and girls too) and the stuff we hear can be conflicting, one big problem I see is people try to make out there is a universal attraction, ie being nice, being rich, etc. One aspect of the nice guy syndrome is that many have been quite nice but it hasn’t eventuated into a relationship, if you hear x is what women like, when you act X you get no success but you act Y and you do get success then you’d be right in being confused. I hear a lot say when they act like an asshole they get success, but I don’t hear HOW they are being an asshole. Anyone know what exactly they do to be an “asshole”?

      • Yeah, it is a sensitive topic, but maybe next time I’m discussing this with my girlfriends we should all brain storm a better response that is informative, but not damaging. It is a good idea, and probably a little honest will help more in the long run even if it might have a sting at first.

        That is so true about guys saying they “act like an asshole”. My current boyfriend told me he had to “act like an asshole” to get my attention at parties, when really all he did was talk louder and actively seek me out and make it obvious he was looking for me. How is that like an asshole? He thought it was aggressive, which is a total misconception- he was just being assertive. He’s a shy guy, so by being assertive he was actually having an even bigger impact. Kind of like saying “Hey, you know this is hard for me, but I’m putting forward this much effort because I think you are interesting and I want to get to know you”. It was effective, clearly- we’ve been dating happily for five years (that being said, I had tracked him down myself originally and initiated our contact, haha, so it works both ways!).

        • Yep, I hold back and can be shy, sometimes guys get so caught up in what nice is meant to be that they don’t take action. What we think is an asshole move could just be assertive, it can be quite confusing especially when it’s behaviour that actual assholes do. Eg the asshole the party is assertive which can be good, but he’s also got negative behaviour so guys might see this as ALL asshole behaviour instead of just some.

          Teaching people the difference between aggressive and assertive would help, I know I could sure use the training as I don’t want to harm, annoy, or make people uncomfy which for the moment has left me never touching a woman first (yet quite a few touch me on the arm etc without hesitation) and not even asking out people I like (it’s extreme I know). I’d say many “nice guys” simply need more training in socializing appropriately, I think many have good intentions but hold themselves back or try to initiate/mimic what they see is successful which could truly be an asshole move.

  8. I don’t think my boyfriend would fall into any of those categories. He’s sincere and kind and yet also very shy and reclusive. I’m a rather assertive woman myself and I prefer to pursue rather than to be pursued. I usually shy away from really assertive outgoing men, for some reason those qualities just aren’t that attractive. Thoughtful wallflowers on the other hand…they make my little heart go pitter-patter. :)

  9. Nice one…

  10. @collin:
    Ive read all your comments and ive found them poignant and frank; i cannot disagree with a word that youve said.

    Having said that though-and keeping with chucks theme of this article, that of being a man of agency, i must ask:

    Now what?

    I mean, youve made clear your issues, problems, etc. The thing now is: what are you going to do about it? Ive seen julie and steph suggest a number of things to you and you summarily shot them all down. So, it seems to me that you either have better ideas than theyve presented, or, that you dont feel that you need to do anything differently, that indeed its women who must/should change.

    I dont know which, and would like very much to know what position you take.

    Holla back


  11. They’ve suggested I take a 2 month vacation and to move to a smaller city. I’m not sure how those are viable options. Finding a different circle of people to hang out with is a great idea… how? I know many of the “whats” but how and what are two very different things. So a shy guy is just going to randomly go out there and start trying to shove himself into groups of people to make friends? What is irrelevant if there is no how.

  12. Nick, mostly says:

    Perhaps you should, as Sitidos suggested, curse God and die. Or, you know, try and change things. If your current behavior and attitudes aren’t working to help you achieve your goals the world isn’t going to bend to accommodate you.

    But yes, a shy guy can just go out there and start making friends. I’ve seen kids do this when they go through adolescence. They try on new and different personalities to do so. For an example of this, listen to Episode 449 of This American Life for the story of The Mimis.

  13. Collin…if you truly only knew how many women would like to talk to you. As the guy, you need to make the first move. (I don’t make the rules! Blame God or society, I don’t care, but that’s the way it is. Unless of course you want a woman to pursue you. If you want a woman to pursue you, then you have to send women the same signals that a woman would send a man. But then you need to decide, do you want to be the passive energy in the relationship or do you want to be the assertive energy in the relationship.) But back to what I was saying. Women want you to talk to them. Look for their signals. Also, if a woman is not “receptive” to your advances, don’t be crushed by this. This is the difference between Agentic men and non-agentic men. A man of agency is just gonna move on and laugh it off. He’s gonna keep talking and flirting with women. He is not going to think he is a failure. Just say hi. Just look a girl in the eyes. You know why I am telling you this? Because your future girlfriend is waiting for you to ask her out.
    And YES, a shy guy IS going to shove himself up to people to make friends. And girlfriends. That’s how it is done my friend. That is exactly how it is done.

  14. Collin is shy and nice. Even if he were to overcome his shyness, he still has his niceness to overcome. Agency is indeed required of men for the simple reason women don’t ask men out, but agency is not what makes a guy successful with women despite your protests to the contrary. The real deal is that agentic jerks do much better with women than agentic nice guys who are only slightly better off than non agentic nice guys.

  15. I have no idea how many women would like to talk to me… no women ever talk to me! What signals? I don’t know what these “signals” look like. They don’t wave a flag in my face and say, “hey, you, come talk to me!”

  16. Nick, mostly says:

    Oh, but there are signals. Except when they’re not signals.
    Some people do them intentionally. Things like making eye contact, then looking down for a second or two, and then re-establishing eye contact.
    Or making eye contact, smiling, then turning away slightly while touching their hair.
    Then there’s touch the arm!
    Or a host of other body language that isn’t necessarily standard but might mean something or might not because ultimately it’s all a lot of mind reading.
    That’s the problem with non-verbal communication. But if you’d like a primer Google is your friend. Here’s a head start: SIRC Guide to Flirting

  17. Can I make a suggestion? Do you know a reasonably hip older woman, someone who is definitely not in the population you might date, but more like the person you’d like to be married to in forty years when you’re her age? If so, could you talk with her about this? Because I’m getting the feeling that somebody who knew you in person would have more insight about how women you meet are likely to perceive you. I mean, there’s a lot of variation in how shy guys present themselves. It’s really hard for anybody to assess his own demeanor. And it’s impossible to assess someone’s demeanor from blog comments. So this group can provide an ear, and encouragement maybe, but for advice on the level of “You’ve got spinach in your teeth”, you need a face-to-face meeting.

  18. Hmm, this is actually a good idea. I’d love to know what others think of me based on first impression as it would be handy, eg if I don’t smile enough and look intimidating. In high-school I was considered strange, odd, and could never understand why…my only guess is that I use to try talk to people or hang around and lockup, brain would go blank and I’d eventually get frustrated n move on. I guess that could look scary.

    But to Collin, I have social anxiety disorder and found it incredibly difficult to talk to people face to face, ESPECIALLY WOMEN. I spend most of my time alone however these days I am pushing my boundaries with the help of therapy and getting out there into the world, I am in a local club which has older women in it who over the years I have found easier to talk to. It has helped reduce the anxiety because you have a topic of convo already, in my case photography, so you get to learn communication in a relaxed and safe atmosphere. It helps for me with the older women as they are married and there is no sexual/romantic feelings in the way so I can learn how to communicate easier. It’s actually helped me communicate with women of all ages.

    So I suggest finding a club, a hobby or sport that is mixed genders as it can help increase confidence. Shyness I believe can be overcome, first you have to work out why you are shy? If it’s a confidence/self-esteem issue then therapy can help with helping you overcome that. In the last year my confidence has increased dramatically, I was far far more anxious and avoided talking to people but now I am naturally becoming a chatterbox and I LOVE IT.

    I still have work to do though, especially to ask someone out but with practice, patience and persistence (to overcoming the problem, not harassing someone) it will happen.

  19. “A hip older woman”? “forty years”?
    Yeah, asking menopausal women for tips on what single women in their 20s want is a great idea. Probably more important than demeanor (only because this part of it comes first), is your clothing. Find a woman with a good sense of fashion who will help you get a new wardrobe. Your demeanor will change once you feel good about looking good.

    Not to mention women are even more superficial than men they will just never admit it. How you dress is important to them.


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