Is there really any greater trope than the mother who just wants to find a nice boy for their daughters? But is it real, or just another figment of our pop culture imagination? And more than anything else, as our definition of the nice guy continues to change — with him, more often than not, being anything but “nice” — is that even something mothers still want for their girls?
To find out, I asked five mothers of different ages — and with kids of different ages — what makes a nice guy to them, where they’re looking for them and what they can teach their daughters about their own dating and relationship mistakes. Here’s what they had to say…
Jill, 65, Arizona, mother of 30-year-old daughter: Nice guys are few and far between, that’s for sure. I think every parent wants their kid to find somebody nice, but specifically for girls… I don’t know if it’s because women are talking about taking more power in every aspect in their lives that’s scaring off the men?
For my daughter, seeing what she’s gone through, she’d set this pattern of having a shopping list. Her last boyfriend was a fill-in-the-blank sort of thing, and it turned out she was for him, too. So I said for the next one, scrap that list and find someone you really care about — they’re probably going to be well-educated, sporty, a dancer or whatever she’s looking for at this point. She’s learned enough to know what she wants.
For me, I want them to be nice, of course. But I also want them to be funny, I want them to romance her and I want them to be a good dad. He doesn’t have to have gone to Catholic school. I’d really welcome anybody who was kind and nice, with good character. We’ve all made mistakes before. I’d just meet him and not judge him but accept him by merit. I don’t know if, 20 years ago, I would have said that.
My first item wouldn’t be that he’s handsome: I find with some good-looking guys — same thing with girls — that they’ve never had to develop anything. They got by on their looks all the time.
At her age and everything that we’ve gone through, she hasn’t had a good one. Not one single good one. But I’m glad she knew the last one wasn’t right. I’m glad she didn’t say, “This is my last chance — I’d better get married.” Because a lot of girls do that. Look at Amal Clooney: At 38, she met George Clooney and is having this fairytale life, and her own life to boot! But my daughter’s friends are starting to get married and having babies. And that has a tick… tick… tick… sort of effect.
I feel like I’ve done everything to give her the tools to choose the right person. She’s going to be happy. Blissfully happy. That’s my crystal ball. In relationships, she’s been up and down, up and down. Now we tell her, “Go and have fun. The next one doesn’t have to be your husband. Just have fun.” And she is.
I hope, certainly, that she finds somebody to marry, but, I don’t know.
Heidi, 36, Canada, mother of 6-year-old and 2-year-old daughters: Despite Canadians’ reputation for niceness, no, I don’t think the boys here are any nicer than in America.
Kindergarten crushes don’t even seem to be on my older daughter’s radar yet — thank goodness! — and she actually prefers to play with boys than with girls. She’s a rough-and-tumble girl and steers clear of the dramatic girls. In my opinion, it’s what I’d choose for her. She seems to be strong-minded and just one of the boys when they’re playing. I think this is a healthy way for her to start building relationships with boys — she’s learned to set boundaries with them when things are getting too rough or not fair to her.
I really haven’t thought of how I’d advise her to find a nice boy when that time comes. I plan on telling her that if a boy doesn’t respect her physical boundaries, then they’re never worth it. And that it’s always good to get to know someone as friends first, because people can act very differently than their true self when they’re just interested in you romantically. But my older daughter is a bit of a pleaser sometimes, so I want to guide her more on trusting her instincts. And that goes for friendships and romantic relationships — which is hopefully a long way away!
When I think of my girls meeting nice boys way down the road, what’s most important to me is that they meet someone that supports them and encourages them to be independent — in their career aspirations, hobbies and to continue to be who they “are.” Times have changed so much, and this will be easier and easier in the future.
Sarah, 44, Oregon, mother of a 14-year-old daughter: My daughter’s kind of boy-crazy right now. There’s major crushes, so we’re having a lot of these conversations.
Her first crush was a boy who’s extremely thoughtful, kind and cerebral. He took it very seriously. They did this “seeing each other,” middle-school thing for a few weeks, but she said he’s so nice, so serious and so worried about doing the right thing that it’s awkward. Fast forward a few weeks, and someone caught her eye who’s kind of a jerk, to be honest. It’s interesting listening to the justifications: “Other people don’t get to see what a nice guy he is,” all these clichéd things.
There’s always some attraction or fascination to the flawed, or someone who doesn’t quite fit the mold, something edgy. That’s what I see with this current guy. He’s smart, athletic and funny with a kind of dark humor. But there’s also a sense of “nobody understands this person like I do.” The bad-boy thing.
Guiding all of that without making her mad or unwilling to share is a fine line. At this point, I’m trying to bite my tongue and say broad things to her about kindness and character, and asking a lot of questions to cause her to think about some of those things. I have a relative who was so involved with her daughter’s relationships that it was a really unhealthy mother-daughter thing, so I keep that in the back of my mind.
I think if we start having to tell her things she doesn’t want to hear, she’ll be less willing to listen. But for right now, she’s taking it in and processing it. Another thing at this age that’s hard for girls is finding self-love and making sure she’s not tying too much of her self-worth or perceived value in whether that person texts her back, talks to her at her locker or laughs at her joke.
You don’t want to see her broken-hearted, but that’s an important part of growing up, too. She’s had a couple of rejections where she liked someone, and it was, “Well, I like you as a friend.” We’re not to the devastating breakup yet, but she’s had boys say they’re not interested, and oh my God, the crying and the questioning of self-worth is the hardest thing as a parent to watch. But you also have to normalize that this is part of life. So we tell her our terrible middle-school rejection stories.
We’re fortunate to have a very open dialogue at this point. We could talk again in three years, and I might say what a simpleton I was back then. I hope the lines of communication can stay open — I’m learning a hell of a lot, I’ll tell you that! I’m learning a lot about boundaries: When to open my mouth, when to keep it closed.
This modern age of devices and texting just accelerates and amplifies conversations and relationships. The amount of texting that goes on between kids outside of school — not even in negative ways, just who likes who — is exhausting. We audit it; we read her phone. That was conditional. Every once in a while she’ll get upset about it. But she knows we’re respectful, and we’re also making sure that nobody’s sending anything inappropriate. We have a good agreement at this point. I don’t know how that will change in the next few years.
Courtney, 33, California, mother of 5-year-old daughter: I see a lot of personality similarities between my daughter and me, so I think about the things that I really want and need in a relationship and imagine she’s probably going to want and need similar things. Without having put too much thought into it, it really starts with her first, to make sure that she loves and respects herself so that she won’t “settle” for a partner later in life.
I think of myself as a teenager and in my 20s, and not really knowing what that meant. Choosing to spend your life with somebody, not totally understanding what that meant. Do you see that person being the father of your children? And accepting you at your best and at your worst? So when the time comes, I see myself as part of that conversation — but not making any decisions for her.
Right now it seems like the boys her age are either nice or kind of savage; there’s no in-between. There are definitely some boys in her life who want to have conversations and be friendly — it’s not just, here’s my weapon and I’m gonna chase after you and you’re gonna scream. They have conversations and form friendships and enjoy each other’s company and do nice things for each other. But then other boys like to chase her down and make her cry. I’m not thinking, like, “That kid’s going to turn out terrible — I hope they don’t get married.” I don’t think about that too much now. But once she’s going on dates and stuff, I’m sure I’ll look at it very differently!
Maria, 47, Texas, mother of a 15-year-old daughter: My daughter isn’t the type to fall in love with a guy at school. She’s just not there yet — she’s so focused on school and her studies, it would have to be someone who’d really shock her with his mind.
Are there very many nice guys at her school? There’s everything, you know how high school is. I know a lot about her classmates, but as a parent, you think you know more than you really do. I remember myself that when you’re in high school, you like the bad boys, the ones who have some weird background or something mysterious going on with them. But then, in your 20s, you come to your senses and look for other things.
I’m from Spain, and young people there have fun differently. We live outside and spend a lot of time in the streets, that’s where we socialize. We can go to the bar — it’s not forbidden for teenagers like it is here in America. In the States, having fun means going to bed with someone. There’s just more stuff to do in Europe — here as a kid you need your mom to take you places and pick you up. My daughter loves going to Europe and riding the subway, going to wherever. There, she doesn’t need me to take her places.
Will I help her find a guy? No! My mom never helped me. That’s something you choose, nobody should choose for you — no, no, no. No! As a parent, even if I think a guy’s bad for her, I’ll have to trust her. I think for me, it’s going to be easier with my daughter than with my 13-year-old son. He’s not girl-crazy himself, but the girls follow him around. The girls now are more dangerous than the guys. They’re very empowered.