The 7 Signs You Are Dating a “Nice Guy”

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "No More Mr. Nice Guy" by Robert Glover. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is dating a “nice guy” like? Are self-proclaimed “nice guys” actually as nice as they say they are?

According to Dr. Robert Glover, author of No More Mr. Nice Guy, many men who claim they are “Nice Guys” are actually far from nice. Glover’s conception of a Nice Guy doesn’t refer to someone who is kind and genuine, but someone who is insecure, people-pleasing, manipulative, and repressed.

Keep reading to find out if you’re dating a nice guy.

Are You Dating a Nice Guy?

Here are seven signs you’re dating a Nice Guy, by Dr. Robert Glover’s definition:

1) He Relies on Your Approval

If you’re dating a Nice Guy, the first think you’ll spot is that they need your approval. Glover indicates that even more so than other attachments, Nice Guys connect their self-worth to the moods, behaviors, and approval of women (be it their partner, mother, teacher, and so on). This may cause a Nice Guy to focus solely on his partner’s emotions and opinions (while ignoring his own), but Glover points out that, somewhat concerningly, Nice Guys place women on such a high pedestal (almost to a God-like degree) that they switch between treating ladies with either intense adoration or resentful fury. 

If you spend time on social media, you’ve probably seen screencaps from dating and social media apps that demonstrate this behavior: 

One minute, a Nice Guy politely reaches out to a woman with adoring compliments. After no response, the Nice Guy changes his tune and lashes out with slurs, insults, and negative generalizations about all women. 

Stop Putting Her on a Pedestal

According to counselor and coach Michael J. Formica, the act of idealizing another person (for instance, in the way that Nice Guys idealize women) actually robs them of their personhood. By making them “perfect,” we fail to see their humanity and begin to view them as an object. 
Here’s how you can stop putting the women in your life—and people in general—on a pedestal:

Embrace imperfection: If we can view ourselves and those around us as authentically as possible, we’ll see the imperfect reality of the world. From here, we can accept others—not as a perfect object—but as human

Stop gushing: Compliment your partner and tell her you love her, but don’t overdo it. According to a study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, subjects felt uncomfortable when they were led to believe their partner perceived them in a far more positive light than they did themselves (some were so unsettled, they sat farther away from their partner after learning of their apparent intense adoration). Instead of something like “You’re the best person I’ve ever met,” try to acknowledge her successes, talents, and the little things she does for you and your relationship.

Work on yourself: Like many of the issues discussed in this guide, idealizing others often stems from childhood relationships or trauma carried into adulthood. By reflecting on your past, taking time to love yourself (flaws and all), and acknowledging when you’re in love with the idea of her (rather than her as a person), you can more easily remove her from that pedestal.

2) He Gets Defensive

If you’re dating a Nice Guy, he’ll likely be very defensive. Nice Guys want to avoid disapproval as much as they want to gain approval. To stave off conflict and criticism, Glover explains that Nice Guys go out of their way to hide their true selves, including perceived flaws (like being late or sad) or everyday parts of being human (like having sexual desires). 

Glover discusses a variety of (conscious and unconscious) tactics Nice Guys use to avoid their “bad” selves, but they can be distilled into one goal: Don’t address problems—fix reactions. According to Glover, Nice Guys have trouble accepting responsibility for their actions. They don’t admit fault or address their wrongdoings when they mess up. Instead, he says Nice Guys want to quickly fix the reactions to their mistakes rather than the problem at hand.

Glover takes us through some of the behaviors Nice Guys fall back on when they’re “found out” or forced to confront their mistakes. To demonstrate this response, let’s say a Nice Guy’s wife asks if he remembered to take out the trash (he didn’t). Instead of owning his mistake and saying, “Sorry, I didn’t. I’ll handle that now,” the Nice Guy might…

Justify: “I already did the laundry today, so what’s the big deal?”

Defend: “I was just about to do it. You don’t need to remind me.”

Excuse: “I’ve just been really busy and I thought we were out of trash bags.”

The Nice Guy may also try to rationalize their behavior by bringing up the other person’s mistakes and flaws, or by blaming the other person for the mistake.

Why We Get Defensive (and How to Stop)

Why do Nice Guys react to conflict or criticism this way? In his book First Things First, Stephen Covey notes that we often respond with excuses and rationalization when what we want to hear differs from what our conscience tells us is right. In the case above, the Nice Guy responds this way because his conscience knows he neglected a responsibility, but he doesn’t want to hear his wife point it out (or take out the trash at that moment).

To deal with this inner tension, the Nice Guy must explain—both to his wife and himself—why he’s acting against his better judgment. According to Covey, these are the best ways to avoid this type of behavior: Recognize how you typically respond to this kind of inner tension—are you an over-explainer? Someone who gets defensive? Listen to your conscience when it’s trying to tell you something. Make principle-centered choices, as strong values keep you on track.

3) He Uses Covert Contracts

Glover asserts that Nice Guys’ “generosity” almost always comes with strings attached.

According to Glover, Nice Guys assume covert contracts work like this:

I do something for you → You do something for me → We both walk away satisfied, pretending our needs and this transaction never existed

A common example of a covert contract is giving a compliment just to hear one back. When you get a new haircut and no one notices, you might compliment a coworker’s hairstyle to prompt a similar compliment. In this case, your kind words didn’t come from a genuine place but from a personal need for external validation. 

Why We’re Manipulated By Covert Contracts

Although Glover says covert contracts often leave Nice Guys disappointed, we do see them “work” to an extent in our day-to-day lives (see our example above). When we hear “I love you,” we’re compelled to say “I love you” back. If a coworker surprises you with a holiday gift and you’re empty-handed, you feel guilty for not giving them something in return. You feel like you owe them despite knowing you never agreed to exchange gifts. What makes us feel this way?

It has to do with what Robert Cialdini—in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion—calls the reciprocity principle. According to Cialdini, this principle is the innate indebtedness we feel when someone does something for us (even if we didn’t need or want that something in the first place). 

Although Cialdini discusses this principle in relation to business and customer relationships, we can apply it to our interactions with covert contracts. Concepts of fairness—like “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”—are so ingrained in our daily lives that we’re already in a position to be manipulated when presented with the “giving” end of a covert contract. Covert contracts can “work” on us because they take advantage of our reciprocal nature.

Glover defines caretaking as spending all your time attending to other people’s needs so that you can avoid your problems, have your needs met, or feel important. Caretaking is, in itself, a covert contract. It’s generosity that stems from neediness rather than love. 

Genuinely caring for someone is not the same thing as caretaking. Nice Guys might think they’re caring, but Glover points out some major differences:

Gives based on the giver’s desiresGives based on the receiver’s needs
Gives to fill a voidGives out of an abundance of love
Gives to getGives to give

4) He Has an Unhealthy Relationship With His Mother

According to Glover, Nice Guys who grew up with emotionally needy mothers remain devoted to them in adulthood. This relationship is normal and healthy in boyhood, but eventually boys must grow up and bond with men to become healthy, masculine adults.

Ideally, Glover says, a boy becomes a man with help from his mother and father:

His mother attends to his needs as a child. It’s her job to discourage dependency—including her own—by ensuring her needs are met.

His father’s job is to be present and actively bond with his son, which guides the boy from a matriarchal sphere of influence into the world of men.

However, Glover noticed many Nice Guys don’t go through this transition. Without a strong paternal presence, both mother and son become codependent. Unable to individuate from his mother, a momma’s boy grows up to be a momma’s man. Glover has witnessed these Nice Guys struggle in future intimate relationships, as their partners realize their attention and devotion lie elsewhere.

Iron John and the Transition of Boys to Men

Glover isn’t the only author to discuss the idea that boys must be ushered into manhood by their fathers. Robert Bly also touches on this topic in Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), a book often discussed as a logical predecessor to Glover’s NMMNG. The book focuses on the development of the “soft male” in the 1950s, while trying to reclaim a masculine identity Bly and Glover agree has been somewhat lost to time.

Like Glover, Bly notes that boys must be initiated into adulthood with the help of their fathers. Unlike Glover, Bly says it’s a son’s job to break away from his mother, as she won’t consciously release him to the dangerous world until he proves he can handle it. With this goal in mind, Bly stresses the importance of initiating a boy into the sphere of men. In many cultures, coming-of-age rituals will do this by 1. simulating a separation between a boy and his parents and 2. teaching a boy to tend to his “wounds” (physical, emotional, or otherwise) in a healthy way.

Similar to what Glover observed in Nice Guys, Bly says a boy who never experiences this kind of initiation may adopt the role of a victim because he has no productive means of dealing with his wounds and overcoming his codependent relationships.

5) He Avoids Having His Needs Met

In their quest to be needless saints that must “fix” everything themselves, Glover says Nice Guys are often poor receivers. When someone tries to attend to a Nice Guy’s needs—emotional, sexual, work-related, or otherwise—they challenge his negative beliefs about his self-worth and cause inner tension.

Glover explains that to avoid these negative feelings, Nice Guys will unconsciously avoid situations where their needs are likely to be met. For example, they’ll seek out needy people, communicate in vague ways, and self-sabotage. And because they rely on covert contracts (assuming no one wants to meet their needs) they rarely ask for help.

How to Help Those Who Don’t Want It

We’ve discussed earlier in this guide how the victim mentality, as well as being a Nice Guy, can cause this type of resistance to support—so, what do you do when a Nice Guy or someone in the midst of the victim mentality doesn’t want your help? Experts have some advice:

Listen to them: According to psychiatrist Mark Goulston, instead of offering advice outright, stop and listen to the person who needs help. You might think you know what’s best for the other person, but providing an attentive and empathetic ear will ensure you understand their needs and where they’re coming from. Goulston says the more a person opens up to you, the less isolated or misunderstood they will feel, which should encourage them to seek out your advice, help, or understanding ear in the future.

Do your research: ReachOut, a mental health resource hub, encourages you to explore options that could help the person you’re concerned about. This doesn’t mean bombarding the other person with information and resources but arming yourself with useful knowledge so you’re prepared if they do ask for your help.  

Be an example: Psychologist Thomas G. Plante agrees that giving unsolicited advice rarely works. Instead, he suggests leading by example. As observational learners, we’re more likely to follow the actions of others than we are to follow their advice. Model healthy habits, including asking for help when you need it.

Get help yourself: Mental Health America—a resource network—notes that trying to help someone who doesn’t want it can be a draining and frustrating process. They encourage you to seek out your own help during this time. Not only will you be in a better mindset to support others, but you’ll also gain insight into how to approach your interactions with those who need help.

Don’t force them to act: At the end of the day, you can’t make someone do something or be someone they’re not. Addictions writer Katherine Schreiber explains that trying to force someone to do what you think they should do only leads to more stress and negative emotions for the other person, including shame, guilt, and feelings of dependency. (This will only work to perpetuate the victim cycle compelling them to avoid help.)

6) He Struggles to Leave Toxic Situations

Dating a Nice Guy can be difficult because he likely won’t stick up for himself or leave toxic situations, according to Glover. Nice Guys are less likely to leave dysfunctional or toxic relationships because they dread loneliness. Rather than leave and face themselves, they work endlessly to “fix” their partner. This keeps them in a state of resentment (remember the victim cycle). So when they do try to end things, Glover says it’s usually in a manipulative, dishonest, or accusatory manner. 

Glover explains that Nice Guys will also remain in a toxic work environment because they’re able to recreate familiar, ineffective relationships. Putting up with a familiar—albeit less than ideal—reality is less scary than making a change. However, it ensures Nice Guys remain stagnant. 

7) He Has Unhealthy Sexual Compulsions 

If you’re dating a Nice Guy, you might notice that he has an unhealthy relationship with sex. In childhood, Glover says many Nice Guys used arousal as a form of distraction from stress and loneliness. Thus, compulsions like porn and masturbation became crutches in times of discomfort.

Glover explains that as children, Nice Guys thought they were bad for being sexual and therefore practiced their sexuality in secret. In adulthood, Nice Guys still feel ashamed of their sexual impulses and habits. Because they’re afraid of getting caught, Nice Guys exert a disproportionate amount of time and energy concealing their sexuality.

The Effects of Sexual Shame

We’ve discussed shame as an integral factor of the Nice Guy mindset, but sexual shame in particular can have serious effects on your mental (or even physical) health. Glover mentions this type of guilt is likely to lead to sexual addictions, but here are a few more outcomes as explained by clinical social worker Rachel Keller:

Decreased sexual arousal or pleasure: Mental blocks can prevent your natural sexual responses from functioning properly. Arousal and pleasure may be buried so deeply beneath a layer of shame that they have a hard time coming to the surface.

Feelings of disgust: When guilt and shame are tied to sex and the body from an early age, you may respond to things we deem sexual with disgust. This includes being repulsed by your body, genitals, or desires. Being disgusted with bodily functions may cause you to ask, “Is something wrong with me?” even if what you’re experiencing is natural.

Psychological splitting: If you actively conceal your sexuality—as Glover says many Nice Guys do—this sexual part of yourself may “split off” from the rest of you, thus enforcing a “bad” self and a “good” self. This will only increase feelings of shame and a need for secrecy, as your “good” self continues to judge your “bad” self.

Problems with communication: Discussing things you’re ashamed of is particularly hard, so trying to work through issues in your sex life in these circumstances often leads to frustration, shutting down, and avoiding the real issues out of embarrassment.

The 7 Signs You Are Dating a “Nice Guy”

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  • Why being a "Nice Guy" isn't actually a good thing
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  • How to know if you are a Nice Guy and how to become an "Ideal Man" instead

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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