The false dichotomy of the nice guy and the jerk and what to do instead
I’ll describe a view I’ve seen many times as a coach and in my regular life. I see it in many variations, but I’ll present just one — the one I can relate to most. Tomorrow I’ll write about a comparable trend I see with women.
The view is a false dichotomy. It goes like this.
A guy grows up learning to treat people nicely and to reciprocate when people who are nice to him. He figures if he treats people nicely they’ll reciprocate.
As he grows up he starts to like women. He decides to treat them nicely figuring it will prompt them to reciprocate, like everything in life suggested would happen.
Unbeknown to him, most women have met many men before him who did the same thing. In some cases where she didn’t like a guy treating her nicely, she had to reject him. In some of those cases, the man treating her nicely didn’t take the rejection, figuring since he was treating her nicely, she should continue to reciprocate. She learned to view a man treating her nicely skeptically. Some women learned to reject men treating her nicely without getting to know them.
So our man treats women nicely and finds them rejecting him without getting to know him. Confused, he looks at other men not getting rejected and sees they aren’t treating the women nicely. He concludes women don’t like nice guys. They must like jerks, he further concludes.
So our man decides to act like a jerk toward women. It turns out women don’t seem to like jerks either. He concludes women don’t make sense and starts to resent them. If he offers to buy her a drink, insisting he’s just being nice and likes doing it and she accepts, taking him at his word, but then doesn’t reciprocate, he may conclude women only use men for their money, however much his behavior doesn’t support this conclusion.Â If he believed she owed him something but communicated otherwise then from her perspective, what is there to reciprocate? He said he liked doing it. According to what he said, he should thank her.
What happened? What could be done differently?
I see two main mistakes on the guy’s part.
First, he turned an observation of reciprocation from some people into an expectation and obligation from someone else. Then the overt appearance of nicety seems more like covert expectation and attempt to obligate leading to judgment when not met. However overtly nice the behavior appears, if he attempts to create obligation, that’s not nice.
Second, and more problematic for his personal growth, he believes that the only alternative to nice is jerk. I wrote about the solution when you have two options you don’t like in “A solution to all ethics problems“:
Create more options.
There are plenty of options besides the stereotypical nice guy and jerk. Confident and assertive, for example, are neither, but often work effectively in meeting people. Confidence and assertiveness don’t come easy to someone who has never had them, but anyone can increase how much they have of them. Humor is another option among many others. My Method helps people transform this sort of thing.
My social skills exercises show some of the infinite ways to meet someone and get to know them without trying to unilaterally oblige them. Needless to say, countless resources besides my page exist.
No matter how one chooses to transform oneself or learn new skills, I think the transformation requires changing behavior, which can be hard.
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