We asked experts what being a ‘nice guy’ really means, and if we do actually hate them
For God’s sake, please stop insisting you’re a nice guy in your Tinder bio
The term “nice guy” gets thrown around a lot. It applies to the men in our Instagram DMs, our Tinder matches, and our dating TV shows – but who actually are they? What does the term actually mean?
Some might be talking about genuinely good guys, some might be talking about men who believe being nice entitles them to female attention. Some believe nice guys finish last, whereas others say they’ll come out on top. Well, whatever’s going on, we basically all have a whole lot of burning questions.
So, The Tab spoke to two experts, Ruby Payne, a relationship expert at UberKinky, and Professor Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), and author of a research paper on “nice guys”, to try and finally get some answers.
There are two types of nice guys – one genuine, and one with ulterior motives
There are two types of nice guys, and it’s important to differentiate between them.
There’s the genuinely good guy, who has no ulterior motives, and is nice simply because that’s the right thing to do. Then, recently, we’ve seen the far more negative “nice guys” emerge (notice the quote marks). They’re the ones you should watch out for.
“Nice guys” are nice, but have ulterior motives. As Ruby explains, they believe that because they’re nice, they’re automatically owed something in return, and therefore will “guilt women into giving them attention because they think they deserve it.” They believe their niceness is enough.
These men are “put on a pedestal for their niceness,” says Ruby. “How many times have you sat at home watching Love Island wondering why a lass in the villa won’t give a guy a chance because “he’s soooooo nice!” Is the bar really set so low for men?”
“Nice guys” are not really nice at all – instead, they blame women for their lack of success in relationships
There are genuinely nice people out there, who people want to spend time with, but these men, who feel entitled to female attention, are not examples of them.
Professor Swami explains that these men say things like, “why don’t women date me, I’m a nice person?” The same men “blame women for their lack of their own relationships”, rather than actually acknowledging “the fact that they are not nice people.” Calling such people “nice guys” excuses this behaviour.
According to Professor Swami, when people describe themselves as “nice guys”, they are saying: “If you behave in this way, the responsibility lies with the woman to choose you as a nice person.” In fact, no such responsibility exists. “Why place the responsibility on women?” Professor Swami asks. “why not place the responsibility on yourself to be a decent human being?”
“Nice guys” often aren’t bringing anything else to the table, except niceness
Ruby emphasises that women don’t hate “nice guys.” However, she says they sometimes don’t choose them, because that’s all they are: nice, with “a gaping hole where their charisma and personality should be.”
Women bring a lot to the table when dating, and have many attractive characteristics, whereas “the bar for the guys is set firmly at nice.”
Some “nice guys”, then, are describing themselves as such to shift “the focus away from a perceived lack elsewhere, to perceived good qualities” in themselves, according to Professor Swami. It’s a self-deprecating “shorthand” for saying, “most people don’t perceive me as attractive, but I’m a nice person, I have nice qualities.”
Genuinely good people are nice to everyone – “nice guys” often aren’t
Most genuinely good people, as Ruby points out, will be nice to everyone, whereas the niceness of “nice guys” often “doesn’t extend beyond the person who has caught their eye”, because they’re only being nice to that person to get romantic attention from them. As Professor Swami adds, nice people are simply decent human beings.
People want to be with nice people because they “make us feel good about life”, and Professor Swami adds that “if at any point someone makes you feel bad about yourself as a human being, they’re probably not a nice person.”
Hugo from Love Island has “all the makings of a good guy”
Hugo from Love Island has been at the centre of the “nice guy” debate for the last couple of weeks, but Ruby believes that although he did not go about dumping AJ well at all, Hugo has a lot of the hallmarks of a genuinely good guy.
She points out that “rather than leaping on Chloe with declarations of adoration or forcing her into an uncomfortable conversation, he respectfully asked how she felt.”
Ruby feels Chloe “was given a platform and space from Hugo to talk about her feelings. And while Hugo shouldn’t be given a medal for treating a woman with basic human decency, I believe he’s got all the makings of a good guy.”
Do nice guys finish last? No – but they do need to be taken off their pedestal
The idea that women prefer a bad boy to a nice guy is “really for those of us in our rebellious teens and early 20s”, explains Ruby, whereas “grown up and secure women don’t love a bad boy; we want the real deal.”
All women really want, she says, is someone who “makes us feel safe and is our best mate, but can also throw us around in the bedroom – is that really too much to ask?”
So it seems that nice guys do, in fact, almost always finish first – and all the research supports this, says Professor Swami.
People (not just men) rated as having nice characteristics – trustworthiness, openness, honesty, and being likely to help others – are always selected, in research studies, and speed dating studies, as who people want to date, with the one caveat being that women tend to rate confident, nice men above nice men who lack confidence.
So the real answer, as Ruby explains, is that “nice guys” don’t finish last, “they just need to be taken off their pedestal.” This idea that they finish last has become “so ingrained into our minds that we believe nice guys are entitled to women, and that women should feel lucky to have found one.”
We never seek out the “bad boy”
Humans are programmed to protect themselves, and so will never choose to be in a toxic relationship, says Professor Swami. Instead, a relationship can turn toxic over time as people change.
There is also evidence that women have internalised this idea that the ideal partner is someone who is bad, to the extent that they may go out of their way to look for bad qualities in a person.
People may also end up in a less healthy relationship because they’re replicating unhealthy behaviours they learnt as children in their adult relationships. And sometimes, they just make bad decisions – they’re only human.
And that’s just it – everyone is complex, and “nice people” are not always nice. Instead, Professor Swami says, “we are nice sometimes, and we behave in nice ways, and sometimes we behave in not so nice ways.”
It’s not about defining people as nice or not, “it’s about negotiating individual behaviours within specific moments”, Professor Swami says. It’s about understanding individual expressions of behaviour and what those expressions mean.
You shouldn’t have to label yourself as good, if you really are a good person
Ruby ultimately advises that people “forget about the labels” of niceness – as Professor Swami says, “if you’re a nice person, you don’t need to advertise that fact, people work it out for themselves.”
Instead, as Ruby says, “show what kind of person you are through your actions rather than how you describe yourself.” She poses the question, “instead of putting a label on yourself like that, how about you just be decent to everyone?”