Are you only happy when you’re making other people happy?
Do you take pride in being “different from most guys”?
Do you believe that if you’re good, giving and caring, you’ll be happy, loved, and fulfilled in return?
If you’re nodding your head, you’re likely a “nice guy.”
At least that’s the theory and life’s work of recovering nice guy Robert A. Glover, author of the 2003 self-help book, No More Mr. Nice Guy!: A Proven Plan for Getting What You Want in Love, Sex and Life. As Glover explains, if a Nice Guy isn’t getting what he wants — whether it’s with friends, at work or in romance — his solution is to simply be nicer. Trouble is, his obsession with approval causes the Nice Guy to act in some not-so-nice ways. For example:
- Nice Guys are dishonest, hiding their mistakes to avoid conflict and saying whatever people want to hear.
- Nice Guys are passive aggressive, expressing resentment in indirect and dickish ways.
- Nice Guys are full of rage, resulting from a lifetime of pent-up angst, which can erupt at unexpected and inappropriate times.
Many, in fact, have lost everything — the house, the wife, the job — resulting from a pathological obsession with being liked. According to Glover, they’re broken, and similar to a drunk hitting rock bottom, they need support. Consequently, the first “Breaking Free Activity” in No More Mr. Nice Guy! (i.e., the homework assignment following each chapter) is to list three people who can support you in your recovery from Nice Guy Syndrome. “Most Nice Guys have a tendency to go it alone when confronted with problems,” Glover tells me. “A big part of our work is in learning to trust other men, release our toxic shame and find out we aren’t alone.”
For more on how Nice Guys stop being so fucking nice, I asked Darrel Way, a 30-year-old carpenter and admin of the No More Mr. Nice Guy Support Group on Facebook (a group obviously inspired by Glover’s book) if he could introduce me to some of his friendly comrades. He was kind enough to introduce me to a trio of them: Bryan, 35, from Titusville, FL; Chris, 37, from Tallahassee, FL; and John, 30, from Davis, CA. Last Saturday then, I gathered the three of them for an impromptu roundtable that quickly became a primer on how, for them at least, a world of “niceties” is no way for a man to live.
What’s the difference between a “nice guy” and a “good guy”?
Chris: A good guy is honest. When he does something nice, it’s not because he expects something back. He does it because he wants to, no strings attached. Nice guys do things not necessarily because they’re nice, but because they want attention or for people to be nice back to them.
Bryan: Being a nice guy means being a doormat, basically. Doing things for women and getting walked on. Needing the external world to validate yourself instead of the other way around.
John: It’s about seeking validation — especially when you’re feeling desperate because you’re not getting what you want in life. So you change yourself to fit society’s vision of a “strong” man. There’s nothing wrong with being a nice person. Every real man has to be a nice guy, too. But the nice “nice guy” isn’t being nice because he wants to be nice. He’s being nice because he wants approval.
Chris: The mentality is, If I’m nice to this person, they’ll be nice back to me. But that’s completely untrue. Just because you’re nice to people doesn’t mean they’ll be nice back. It’s so ingrained in our brains, however, that we subconsciously do it anyway — seeking validation, that is.
Looking back, can you identify when you realized you were a nice guy?
Bryan: In 2013, I was dealing with cancer. My girlfriend kept cheating on me with her ex-husband, and I kept taking her back. I had to do something to change it up. A few days after my last surgery, she picked me up to take me home from the hospital and told me she’d done it again. I said I needed to give up contact with her. That was my defining moment.
John: I read No More Mr. Nice Guy! six or seven years ago and realized I had these characteristics as a teenager. I was constantly frustrated that chicks didn’t like me, I didn’t have friends, and people didn’t respect me.
Chris: I was a nice guy for a long time in my marriage. I thought, If I love her, of course she’d going to love me back. That’s delusional. I lost a lot. This condition has cost me everything: failed relationships, failed friendships and a failed marriage. I was deeply frustrated in my career as a teacher. I’d always do what I could to help the school, and no one wanted to help me back, which hurt my feelings and made me angry because I wasn’t getting validation. I didn’t know I was being so needy. It was really bad.
What was your childhood like?
John: Very abusive and dysfunctional — all the triggers Dr. Glover talks about in the book. There were very few male role models for me. My father was always working. And whenever he was at home, he’d be screaming at everyone. I was very lonely for most of my childhood, feeling rejected all of the time. So the Nice Guy stereotype evolved from that — always needing to please people. I felt that being myself wasn’t okay; I needed to be someone else.
Chris: My mother’s a pathological narcissist and has Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (i.e., when you fake an illness or fake a child’s illness for attention). It got out of hand. My whole childhood I thought I was sick or something was wrong with me. I was a trusting child and naive to a lot of things going on that were damaging and bad parenting. That gave me issues as a child that I took into adult relationships.
What’s been your longest relationship?
Bryan: I was married for eight and a half years and was a nice guy right up until the end. I caught her cheating on me and let it go. We’d split for six months before getting back together. And it kept happening. And happening. I always let her back. Now I’m determined to be happy, even if I gotta be single.
John: My first girlfriend, about three years. It was a very toxic situation, with me endlessly trying to please her and her never being happy enough. I let her take over my identity. The things I cared about — being an introvert, playing video games — weren’t important anymore. I was merely a foil for what she wanted, which was to party and socialize. Maybe it’s nice at first, but then you realize it’s all fake. When she finally did, she flew to Central America to meet some guy she met on Facebook.
Chris: My marriage lasted four years and eventually just collapsed. Looking back, a lot of my behavior was pretty bad, always attaching strings to everything I did. Anger has always been my problem, from the time I was seven or eight. Hurtful words, outlandishly bad behavior — I can see how my wife got tired of that. One day she just said, “I don’t want to be with you anymore.”
What’s the benefit of the No More Mr. Nice Guy Facebook Support Group for you?
Bryan: I get to see that people have the same everyday issues I have, and I get to help them out as far as dealing with issues the same way I’ve dealt with them. It’s a huge thing for me to be able to help people.
John: Being able to share my experience with other men who are on the same page as I am and having that human element. Even though it’s over the internet, it’s made a big difference for me.
Chris: Some of these guys’ stories are heart-wrenching. They’ve lost their families, their marriages, their homes, their children, their dignity. I’ve lost my dignity, too. Seeing that I’m not alone has been very helpful.
Are you passive aggressive?
Chris: Yes, I was needy, jealous and holding on too tight. I’d stuff my fears and anger down, and they’d come out it lots of unpleasant ways.
John: Oh yeah, completely. I was afraid to stir the pot — even if it was for my own benefit — because the tiniest chance of rejection would scare the shit out of me. Whenever I got really angry, I stuffed it inside figuring that it was better to suffer alone than to risk being disapproved of. But I’d eventually explode over tiny things.
How about isolating yourself?
Chris: Absolutely. I’d withdraw from people because I was being nice and they wouldn’t be nice back. I’d go a week or two and not hang out with anyone. I didn’t want to be with my wife. I just wanted to do my own thing — painting models or playing video games.
John: Throughout my childhood into early adulthood, I found it easier to be alone than to associate with anyone else because I had to keep up a facade.
And being controlling?
John: Definitely. I’d get jealous if my ex-girlfriend was going out with other friends and there were guys hanging around. I’d make sure things around the house were arranged in a certain way otherwise I’d get mad. Minor things turned into huge arguments.
Chris: Yes. I was always asking my wife to check in and let me know she was okay at the bar. In context now, I can see how that could be seen as controlling.
What does recovery from Nice Guy Syndrome mean for you?
Bryan: Being comfortable in your own skin. Being able to spot the red flags as soon as they come to light and knowing what you need to do to have the healthy lifestyle you want when it comes to dating people. Drug addiction is a huge one for me. This last woman I dated told me she’d been clean for a year and a half. A couple weeks later, I found out different. I bailed her out of jail, only to find the same lifestyle recurring over and over again.
John: Basically it’s about loving yourself and not needing anyone else to love you. If you’re operating from a place of self love, you’re coming from a place of abundance. If you’re in the desperate, needy guy mentality, you think, This is all I’m gonna get. I better not fuck it up, or I’m gonna be alone again.
Chris: It’s a lifelong process. I don’t think there is a recovery — just a management. It’s so ingrained in me. I can lessen its effects and get rid of most of it, but it will always be there in the back of my head. It’ll be the devil on my shoulder for the rest of my life.