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Why Nice Guys Finish Last

I recently made an important observation about relationships. I apologize in advance for the sweeping generalizations, but in this explanation I'm going for clarity through economy of words. Of course this doesn't apply to everyone, or apply all the time, but I do believe it's a real factor in relationships.

First, the inflammatory and hyperbolic conclusion: Nice guys finish last because they listen to women. Women drive away nice guys, despite their oft-stated and even honestly believed preference for Nice Guys over Bad Boys.

I'll clarify and illustrate this principle by sharing some personal experiences. I'll use the names Katie and Kyle, and write in the present tense, though the experiences I drew from span several relationships.

Katie is likable and popular. She's very busy, with people always inviting her to do things. Kyle meets her and is smitten. He joins the thrall of people inviting her to do things. This is difficult for Katie. She doesn't like saying "no" to people, she doesn't want to disappoint them. She's very conscious about making people sad, and tries to mitigate this by saying "maybe" to most invitations. This way she can avoid the disappointment of refusal, and can avoid the higher expectations of commitment. (This strategy is unkind and causes substantial anguish, but that's not the topic I want to pursue here.)

This is a competitive situation. The most persistent will succeed and will win Katie's time, because eventually she will say yes to a few things. For Kyle this is quite troublesome, even if the others are not suitors but merely friends, because he desires a disproportionately large share of her time. Katie, it must be mentioned, has no particular desire for the trappings of a relationship. She's already busy and popular and having a great time… and a relationship would mean saying "no" to everyone else. "No" isn't comfortable.

Kyle is a Nice Guy. An over-the-top Nice Guy. So much so that Katie is uncomfortable letting Kyle do Nice Guy Things because she's not reciprocating, and feels as if she's taking advantage of him, and doesn't want to encourage him. None of this discourages Kyle in the slightest, because he is pig-headeda glutton for punishmentwell, a guy … determined and confident.

This Nice Guyness makes Kyle aware of Katie's distress and he backs off a little, as a nice guy should. The competition swoops in, and many things that he wanted to do with Katie, others do with Katie. Kyle is dissatisfied and suggests he ought to be more aggressive.

Katie says she doesn't want Kyle to be more aggressive. She doesn't want the pressure. She doesn't want to have to say "no". In other words, Katie has asked Kyle to drop out of the competition.

What is the long-term result? If Kyle acts like a Nice Guy, like a friend, he becomes a friend. One of many. Permanently. Eventually Katie will be interested in a relationship, but not with him. She'll discover an interest in a relationship sometime in the future when a more aggressive man, a Bad Boy, treats her like a woman instead of as a friend. And then it's too late for Kyle. He never knew when she became receptive. She probably didn't know when it happened, either — and even if she did, she wouldn't think of him, because he's a friend.

Katie has asked Kyle to forfeit the future chance of a relationship. She isn't aware she has done this. The nice guy she wants becomes a friend, and the bad boy she doesn't becomes a boyfriend.

Some women understand this process. A good friend of Katie's told Kyle to stop being so deferential and just do it. Treat her as if she's already yours, and she will become yours. It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Be a Bad Boy. This advice is very uncomfortable. Shouldn't the guy be working to discover Katie's desires rather than creating them himself? Wouldn't that be manipulative?

Would it make Katie uncomfortable? Absolutely. But she's going to be uncomfortable anyway — even if Kyle gives up, it's a very small impact to her total number of invitations. The question becomes an estimation. What is the weight of saying "no" to so many people against the weight of having the sort of relationship most women would envy?

In any real situation, the circumstances are complex and the decision is not simple. Setting that aside, however, I think the issues raised here are an important aspect in understanding why nice guys do so often finish last.


P.S. I'm not soliciting advice and I will not entertain speculation on the real-life referents of my examples.

Tiny Island