Updated: May 7, 2020
One of my guy friends was sharing with me about his ex. She moved from an hour away to the city he lived in a couple years after their break up determined to rekindle things. They had barely interacted that entire time. She didn’t have a discussion with him about it. She just told him she was ready and was moving there to show him.
He didn’t see things working out with her but he was still hanging out with her and er uhhh, taking his clothes off from time to time.
Me: “Why are you leading her on if you know there’s not a future between you guys?”
Him: “I feel bad cause she moved here just for me and I feel obligated to spend time with her.”
Me: “Before she moved did you give her any indication that you wanted to restart anything.”
Him: “No, she just told me she was moving.”
Me: “That’s on her. You have no obligation to hang out with her.”
Him: “I know, but I’m a nice guy and don’t want to hurt her.”
Me: “If you want to be a “nice guy,” then tell her the truth. Tell her that you acknowledge her effort and you don’t see a future between you two.”
Him: Uhhh, you're right.
This is a classic example of “nice guy syndrome” which is essentially self deception. A nice guy is so committed to his identity as someone who is likeable, never disappoints anyone, and looks good to others that he deceives himself and consequently other people. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not intentionally deceptive. He’s not outright lying. It’s just the natural outcome of his unwillingness to break from his nice guy identity into truth-teller or challenger or leader.
Nice guy syndrome shows up in all areas, not just romantic relationships. It’s the guy who doesn’t have strong opinions about anything so just laughs and goes with everything. It’s the guy who drinks too much cause that’s what his friends are doing. It’s the guy who does everything for others and never asks for anything in return then gets silently upset (or eventually blows up) cause people don’t do the same things for him. It’s the guy who avoids conflict like Covid19 but has to control situations through being overly helpful.
The problem with nice guy syndrome is that the people he’s being “nice” to assume that he’s happy with the situation, even when he’s not. This can give them a false sense of security and/or connection and leads to distrust in the long wrong. It’s bizarre when your friends with a nice guy thinking everything is peachy then he loses it on you cause you didn’t do something you never knew he wanted, or he’s trying to control a situation instead of having an honest conversation about his expectations, or you feel smothered but he thinks he’s just loving you. The person in relationship with the nice guy feels confused, irritated, and maybe even betrayed.
I am NOT saying that being a guy who happens to be nice is bad. I AM saying that if all you ever are is nice, you will lose yourself and miss out on genuine connection with others as well as influence. The best way to break free from nice guy syndrome and create genuine, trust-building connection is to get to know yourself and your needs and then practice communicating those needs even when it feels uncomfortable.