What happens when a woman who loves so-called “Bad Boys” discovers that the man of her dreams is a total sweetheart? Joanna Schroeder found out the hard way.
Real-life nice guys are the men you meet who aren’t looking for accolades for doing what’s right. They’ll slow down for a turtle crossing the road, even if nobody’s watching. They’ll ask the person serving their coffee how their day is going, and they’ll genuinely want to know. They won’t play games when you meet them, and they won’t put up with your crap or manufactured drama because they know nice when they see it, and picking fights isn’t nice.
Before I met my husband, I dated a bunch of not-nice guys. I peppered in a few nice guys here and there, but I think I was so insecure and unhappy at that time that I either drove those good guys away or grew bored of their niceness. I didn’t see the pattern then, but once I met Ivan and chose to prioritize this genuinely sweet, caring person in my life, there were a few things I had to learn:
1. You need to stop being a jerk, even when you’re in a bad mood.
I’m not a super warm and cuddly person in real life. In fact, people have said that it can be hard to get to know me. This aloofness isn’t something I work toward—in fact, I actively try not to have a cold exterior, but it’s a part of who I am.
Part of being with a nice guy is learning to soften for him, particularly when he needs you to be present for him. This was hard for me. In fact, it’s still hard for me sometimes. I can be a hard-ass, and I can be snappish and reactive and I take zero shit from anybody. When I was with guys who weren’t all that nice, this wasn’t a problem. In fact, I think they sort of liked it. A less-balanced guy might try to charm me into being sweeter, or might take advantage of the situation to create a fight and cause drama.
But a real-life nice guy probably isn’t going to do that. You need to take responsibility for your tone, and realize that you’re dealing with a loving, caring person who doesn’t deserve to be locked out of your proverbial ice castle. Even more, you don’t get to take your crappy mood out on him or you’ll end up hurting him. A nice guy doesn’t have a bad-boy exterior to hide behind when you’re being prickly, so do whatever you can to be kind and warm. This is your partner, who has earned your trust. He loves you. He deserves at least that.
2. Realize that a nice guy is not just nice to you, but to other people, too.
A nice guy who is nice to you but a jackass to everyone else isn’t really a nice guy. Real-life nice guys are kind to strangers, warm with friends and probably give a lot of their time and energy to many people. This can take some getting used to if you’re used to dysfunction and the insular world of the so-called Bad Boy.
My husband, most of the time, is incredibly nice to everybody. He knows the life story of the plumber, the ladies who work in the billing department at work, and will hug anybody, anytime, who wants to hug. He also helps little old ladies across the street, and I mean that literally.
What this means is that you’re going to have to get used to sharing him. He’s probably happy to help his dad fix the broken garbage disposal or let the neighbor use his pickup truck for a run to the dump. He’s probably going to run out to help his brother carry a couch, and he may answer endless text messages from his best friend when he’s going through a messy divorce.
He’s not yours, you know, he’s his own man and he is probably going to spread his love to people other than you. You can set boundaries of time that’s just for you two, and certainly it’s okay to set boundaries about how intimate his relationships are, but helping other people and spending time with them is part of who he is. You don’t get to squash that.
3. A nice guy wants to hear you and support you through hard times, but you need to solve your own problems.
Your genuinely nice guy is probably willing to stand by you through the worst of times, to be there the moment you’re hit with grief over a major loss, or to pick you up off the ground when you’re triggered from a past trauma. He wants to hold you when you need holding, and lift you up when you’re down… but he’s not going to be your crutch, and it’s unfair to try to make him into one. Beyond that, he knows you’re not a child, and refuses to treat you like one.
You will need to learn to solve your own problems if you want to have a happy life with a nice guy. Find a therapist if you need one, reach out for help from people other than him sometimes. What I learned over time with Ivan was that even though he was my favorite source of comfort and solace, he couldn’t be my only resource for support. Every human’s ability to hear grief, sadness, panic or whatever other big feelings are limited, and both you and your nice guy need boundaries so you don’t fall into a trap of one partner being broken and the other being the fixer.
4. You need to become comfortable with quiet, peace and regular old happiness.
If you’ve lived in chaos most of your life, or if you’ve had abuse or a lot of drama in past relationships, you’re probably going to be really uncomfortable with the sense of ease that comes from being in a healthy relationship with a nice guy.
I grew up among some emotional chaos myself, especially when I was young, and I’m also a very active and analytical person. I spent most of my life attracted to movement, change, noise, high emotionality, and people who needed me to fix them. But none of that was ever really good for me. When I would land in a quiet, stable situation I learned to kick up dust to make myself more comfortable, and that wasn’t a good thing for my husband’s emotional state. In fact, it was really bad for him.
As much as I think my husband is the greatest, he’s also not perfect, and it took a long time for us to learn how to sit together in calmness, to smile and relax into happiness, and to cultivate quiet.
If you’re like me, you may need to approach happiness almost as a meditation. Breathe into it, feel that it’s around you and also notice the discomfort you have with it. Notice the anxiety that starts to come up when you feel peace, or when you feel vulnerable, and just recognize that it’s there. Keep in mind that the goal is to appreciate the good stuff that’s right in front of you, instead of planning for the bad that might happen.
5. Finally, you need to stop being afraid you’re going to hurt the nice guy you love.
This seems like a weird thing to say, but one thing you may have learned in your life is that you are dangerous. Maybe you learned as a little kid that part of you was wrong—too spirited, too fiery, too emotional, too strident, too sexual, too loud, maybe too gay. Too something. You were shamed into believing that part of you was made wrong and because of that, you are just going to hurt people around you.
Well, that’s bullshit.
Why? Because you’re an adult now, and you have control over your choices. Yeah, we’re all going to screw up sometimes and make mistakes. We’re going to hurt each other’s feelings. Nobody is immune to that—not you and not him. But those things you think are so bad inside? You can either fix them so you don’t hurt him with careless words, or infidelity, or creating drama, or whatever you tend toward, or you can live in fear. I wouldn’t suggest the latter. It’s lonely.
You get to choose whether you hurt him. So you don’t need to be afraid of that. You aren’t special in your ability to hurt others—we all have that. And we all need to make the choices, every day, that show love and not selfishness or harm.
These dynamics exist among a lot of couples, not just with men. There are women who are genuinely nice, and sometimes their partners aren’t used to that and cause all sorts of problems, too. This is about healthy relationships, regardless of gender or sexuality, and we can all work toward being the type of people who are happy when we’re healthy.
With thanks to Alyssa Royse, for her help with this post.
Photo: Flickr/Nadine Heidrich