We’ve all heard, “nice guys finish last.” But is it really true that being too nice works against guys (and gals)? Studies seem to indicate that at least in the romance department, being nice is more of a drawback than a bonus: for one, being seen as easygoing decreases chances of being seen as a romantic prospect. By contrast, being aloof and challenging makes one more desirable, though less likable. Being seen as nice is deadly not just for guys, but girls too. One of my dearest friends, K, was a shy, “nice girl” who didn’t drink or party all through college. And though she was beautiful, complicated, and womanly, and far more than just sweet and virginal, she didn’t get the attention she deserved–and the few dating experiences she had didn’t turn out well.
Even outside romantic relationships, being nice can be a disadvantage if it goes beyond courtesy and thoughtfulness into self-sacrifice, emotionally and mentally. Do you stay at work late on a Friday night because your boss expects you to? End up paying more even though you ordered a side of veggies and everyone else ordered entrees? Find yourself hosting an out-of-town friend whom you’re not sure you actually like? Get hurt when no one seems to care about your opinion, because you’re so easygoing on the outside? Pressured into going to a destination wedding, when you’d rather have stayed home and played with your cat? Then yes, you have “too nice” tendencies.
Although we are all about peace and compassion, being nice to the point of self-sacrifice is not healthy–or fun, for that matter. As the guardian of one very important being (you!), your first responsibility is to keep yourself happy–generous yes, but to the extent that doesn’t make you resentful or drained. Even I feel resentful and drained at times–and I can tell you, no one has ever called me nice unless by a complete and utter misunderstanding. But, being honest about my availability has definitely saved me emotional trauma and physical exhaustion, time and time again. Contrary to normal PD fashion, I’m not going to tell you to pour it all out in a journal and then meditate on self-love because that’s how you stay nice. Here’s how to not be too nice and feel immediately better (and get a new boyfriend/girlfriend too. Probably).
1. Understand the difference between Nice and Conscientious
You are vegan, super aware of sustainability, personal responsibility, courtesy to others, empathy, etc etc. So that’s being nice, right? Wrong! Being conscientious is a moral imperative; prioritizing others’ comfort/will/preference/whimsy over your own, is not. From a utilitarian perspective, it may even be the morally inferior choice. Less metaphysically, “niceness” is about an yielding attitude, whereas conscientiousness is about sticking up. Always be conscientious–but be nice when and however you are happy to oblige.
2. In relationships, go for the person of similar Niceness as you
For a successful, lasting relationship, it’s important–no, critical–to meet someone who is at your level of Niceness. Back to my friend K–with my one-to-one coaching, she slowly broke out of her shell in grad school. She met a few guys who didn’t like her Nice Girl ways, but the one really nice guy she met was just as generous, non-game-playing, and genuine as she was. They’re now happily married. On the other hand, if you self-identify as so-so nice or not nice, you’ll feel stifled by someone who’s overwhelmingly giving.
3. Learn to say no
This is a difficult one for everyone, but it gets easier (trust me). In dating and relationships, this is about not putting up with issues that bother you or diminish you. If someone doesn’t treat you right, don’t excuse him/her–either make it clear to them and give them another chance to fix themselves, or just walk away. As Oscar Wilde said, “Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” It’s also about not going along with it when your heart’s not in it. Ladies, if you’re not attracted to someone, don’t go on a date just to be nice.
On the other hand, saying no to friends and family is much more complicated. With friends, think about their past behavior–do they always put themselves first at your expense? How reliable are they when *you* need help or support? Finally, it’s probably the most difficult saying no to family. But you can be a good daughter, son, sibling, parent, etc, without always putting your individual wish or comfort last. Be gentle but clear about your needs: “I would love to go to the annual family reunion, but I was planning on a vacation with xxx this year.” Sure, you might meet with some resistance at first, but over time your family will begin to recognize your individual needs, too.
4. Cultivate an identity outside of being nice
If you have always thought of yourself as “mellow,” “low-maintenance,” “easy-going,” and “nice,” it will be hard to break away from that pattern. But if you find yourself feeling hurt and maybe even neglected, it’s probably time to cultivate other great qualities as your attributes. Are you ambitious? Intelligent? Adventurous? Artistic? These other, more expansive qualities will balance out your yielding, giving nature, and help you see that it’s not just your niceness that makes you likable and valuable.
5. Let go of the need for approval
On some level, the need to be nice at all times stems from the need for approval. Being counted on as an amiable person can feel gratifying. But once you establish other defining traits (#4), you can derive satisfaction from being appreciated for other qualities. Over time your confidence will grow and you will feel less need to please other people before yourself.
Are you a “nice” guy or girl? What do you think?
Photo: Étienne Ljóni Poisson via Flickr