One man thinks being the nice guy, and teaching boys to be future nice guys doesn’t work. Here’s why.
Be a nice guy. It was a mantra that I and many other guys were raised with. We should be nice to everyone and particularly to women.
The message was clear. If we are nice guys we will reap the rewards…we’ll be successful, find a wonderful partner and have a great life.
Only it doesn’t work. Many men have worked hard at being a nice guy. The rewards don’t follow. While a man puts his needs and wants aside to be nice, other guys are getting the rewards. And it sucks.
On the surface, “be a nice guy” sounds like a worthy directive. But when we dig deeper it turns out there is a problem. That problem is how we define the word nice.
When it comes to partners, men are taught that being nice is based on two core tenets.
- Put your partner’s needs, wants and desires ahead of your own.
- Don’t cause your partner to experience “bad” emotions.
Those sound pretty good at first blush. However, a closer look shows that how those tenets are implemented isn’t really very nice at all.
It turns out that putting your partner’s needs, wants and desires ahead of your own is a very different thing than being respectful of your partner’s wishes and being willing to compromise.
When I see this pattern play out with a couple in therapy, I often ask the woman this question, “Does he have trouble picking a restaurant when you go out to eat?” More often than not the woman responds with, “Yes! He will never say where he wants to go or even make a suggestion. I’m always left having to make the decision.”
The guy’s perspective is, “See what a nice guy I am? I always let her have her choice.” I’ve had men tell me that they feel it is rude to even say what they might like, much less suggest they actually go there.
At the same time, the woman’s perspective sounds more like this, “Sometimes I just want to not have to make a decision. I’m tired and I’ve been making decisions all day long. He won’t even make a suggestion. Having to take responsibility for it every time is exhausting. And, if he doesn’t like my choice, he still complains. It is like having another child in the house. I want a partner.”
Men end up feeling like they have given, given, given and their partner is still complaining. On top of that, their needs, wants and desires are seldom being met.
But how can they be? When men fail to express their own wishes, they completely disempower women from giving men what they want. Women are left to mind-read. It turns out they aren’t good mind readers (shocking, right?) Men are left feeling hurt and unappreciated.
Let’s look at tenet two—bad emotions. It is true that it is not nice to intentionally be mean or disrespectful to your partner. Take note of the word intentionally.
This tenet too often ends up being implemented differently. Somewhere it morphed into the idea that men should never do anything that ends up with their partner experiencing difficult emotions. Even if it means not fully disclosing important information or avoiding dealing with important topics.
Despite the hope that those situations will magically resolve themselves, they almost never do. The fact that information was not shared or important situations go unresolved comes to light. And guess what…the woman experiences bad emotions anyway.
She feels lied to. She feels disregarded and not valued. The only difference is the guy can use the cover of, “I didn’t want to make you feel bad.” Somehow this is supposed to justify not taking responsibility for dealing with important issues. And it often feels to her that she has another child to be responsible for.
All of this leads to a situation where the man feels like he has done exactly what he was taught to do. He keeps working at it harder, sacrificing more. In return, instead of everything he was promised, he has a partner who doesn’t want to have sex with him, who says he is a child and tries to tell him what to do. He feels exhausted, frustrated, and hopeless.
Meanwhile, his partner can’t understand why all of her requests for him to communicate with her, to take responsibility for sharing in decision making, and to validate her emotional responses go unheeded. She loses her desire for him when he feels more like a child than a lover. She begins to assume that he must not love her.
This often results in the woman saying, or feeling like, If you want to have sex with me, you need to do things like buy me flowers, take me out for dinner, or help around the house. It’s usually some semblance of a list that will supposedly get him back in her good graces.
He grabs at the opportunity. He brings home flowers, takes her out to dinner and folds the laundry. And it doesn’t help. Because she hasn’t really described what she wants. She has described signs of the dynamic she wants. One where he thinks of her, and wants to participate in the relationship in the way she wants a partner. And where he does those things because he is moved to do them, not because she put them on a chore list.
It keeps going downhill from there. He did exactly as she said and once again didn’t reap the promised rewards. Effort seems futile. And from her perspective, he didn’t do what she was trying to ask him for (even if not clearly). Instead, he did the tasks she assigned…like a child would for their mother. Her desire for him as a man goes even lower.
None of it is done maliciously. Women may believe that men are willfully trying to be bad partners. They seldom are. They are acting consistently with the ways society has taught them. They behave the way they are “supposed” to behave. And this is where it brings them to.
Men, we have been sold a bill of goods.
There is a path out of this. It starts with changing the basic relationship tenets men are taught. These are the rules men need to know:
- Your wants, needs and desires are important as are your partners. Learn to voice yours and listen to your partner’s. Respectfully find ways to help both of you meet them in the best possible ways.
- Your job isn’t to avoid causing emotional discomfort in your partner. Your job is to treat your partner respectfully. That means being honest and authentic even if that sometimes means they, and maybe you, have a negative emotional reaction. They are allowed to have their reaction. They are strong enough to have them. And you are strong enough to let them.
These ideas are about respect, authenticity, courage, kindness and strength. They are the foundations that build relationships and allow men to reap the rewards they’ve been seeking. It is time to move beyond what we’ve been taught about being nice.
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