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Nice Guys and Trail Mix

Why can’t I find a good woman? Why are the women I meet into bad boys and not a nice, hardworking, decent guy like myself? I treat women well, I pay for dinner and open doors. I call when I say I will. And two dates later they’ve dropped me like a hot potato and moved on to some jerk who treats them like dirt. What gives? By the way, I’m 32, gainfully employed, not too ugly, and have a good sense of humor. I’ll do whatever you tell me.

Hoo boy. You, my friend, are currently wedged solidly in a very dark crevice in Nice Guy Chasm. Can you feel your arms and legs? Hold on, help is on the way.

What does nice mean to you? Or decent for that matter? Hardworking? It sounds like you have excellent manners; you open doors, pay for things, and do what you say you will, so I think I get that part. But what I’m not understanding is what you mean exactly by nice and decent. I get honest, I get responsible, and kind, but nice? Decent? These are terms my mother used to use to describe the schlub from St. Patrick’s Parish youth group she was forever trying to set me up with, the one that lived in his parents’ basement who dutifully tended to their every whim while maintaining a fairly deplorable level of personal hygiene. I hope this doesn’t describe you.

I read an article a few months ago suggesting that Nice and Decent Nice Guys are really operating out of this seething, bottomless cauldron of rage that they cover up by being ultra-sweet and kind, which only feeds the rage which drives the submissiveness which fuels the rage, etc and they end up locked up in these horrible relationships with folks who only want to treat them badly which in turn gratifies some sort of ancient and lurking childhood secret fantasy to be punished, etc etc.

Too complicated. But consider this; men tend to seek the mother they knew. Women tend to seek the father they knew. You may want to revisit your childhood for a moment to check out what your parents’ relationship was like, because often we human beings imprint our subsquent relationship patterns on that primary parental one, albeit unconsciously. So there’s a chance that your mother treated your father badly or accused him of being too boring, and that he in turn tried to win her love by acting overly conciliatory, or perhaps, more accurately and in your parlance, “nice” and “decent.” There’s also a chance you watched your father treat your mother badly and vowed to never ever do that, but you’ve swung a bit too far in that direction to the point where you neglect yourself in relationships and let the other person walk on you.

Could there also be a cautionary tale in my youth-group-basement-dweller scenario? My hunch is that you are too accommodating not just with the women you date, but in most of your relationships, putting up with less than what you deserve, dancing attendance on the whims of others in an attempt to get them to stay, sacrificing the expression of your feelings for fear of driving people away.

The psychological skinny? You sell yourself waay short by overdoing the Nice Guy routine. And look where it’s gotten you—upside-down in Nice Guy Chasm trying to survive on raindrops and pocket lint, wondering why. You deserve champagne and steak; real, genuine, emotionally honest relationships where you aren’t doing all the work and where the other person is delighted to be with you. How about trying the Real Guy routine, where you’re allowing the other person to make a positive impression and draw you out, and where you pay more attention to your honest reaction to them instead of putting them in a good/bad category?

It’s a tough gig to extricate oneself from the contorted and soul-cramping positions of life way down in Nice Guy Chasm; first, you have to get unstuck. Then, you have to make sure you have the proper climbing equipment, and that you know what direction in which you’re headed. If I was better at climbing metaphors I’d tell you to be sure to check your gear and buy extra carabiners, but hey, I’m just a shrink.

The next time you find yourself on a date, let the silence fall every once in awhile. Don’t get so caught up in the rosy, antiquated trappings of dating etiquette, like opening doors and dumping your jacket across a mud puddle. You don’t have to prove anything, after all. You’re not there to play the role of conquering hero, you’re there just to get to know her better. Try splitting the check. Talk about things that are important or interesting to you. If she gives you a compliment, really listen and thank her. And don’t put yourself down with statements like “I’m not too ugly,” For The Love of God! Wait 24 hours before calling. Or maybe don’t call at all if you don’t want to. Pay attention to how you feel around her. If it’s meant to be, you won’t have to force it along, it will develop and unfold for the most part on its own.

These are just the basic tools for getting yourself pried out of N.G. Chasm. Where you go from there and how you choose to stay out are up to you. Don’t forget to pack snacks.

Dr. Ding Sez

Dear Dr. Ding:

What is it about me that drives men away? I’ve never had a relationship last more than 6 months, and they all seem to end the same way; he tells me it’s not me, that it’s him, and that he’d like to just be friends. I just don’t get it.


My friends all tell me that I’m attractive and that I have a good personality, but that I just haven’t met the right person yet. I’m a professional, I work hard at my job and have nice things, so I know I’m not a loser. I’m a good person. But…I’m 29 years old and don’t want to be alone forever. Help.

Sad Downtown Girl

Dr. Ding sez:

Oh, Girl.

I’ll get right to the point; you’re confusing your self-worth with your external qualities, and your relationships are suffering as a result. You discuss external things like attractiveness, professional status, hard work, and having nice things. You describe your personality, the only internal characteristic mentioned, the only thing remotely close to your spirit, your essence, the very core of your being, as “good.”

Good?

You know what sorts of things are good? Dogs. Dogs are good. “Good dog!” we say when Fido sits prettily for a treat. “That’s a good puppy!” when they manage to poop outside. Other things that can easily be summed up by this word include: a suit, a pair of shoes, jewelry, hair, and possibly a meal. Things can easily be described as good, but people are so much more. You are so much more.

How long have you been trying your damndest to not be alone, to win people over, to work the hardest, to have the latest purse or furniture or hairstyle? How long have you been worrying about being good enough in others’ eyes versus following those glittery, multicolored threads that weave that mysterious tapestry of your soul? I happen to think you’re on to yourself regarding this whole relationship-driving-away/fear of being alone thing. You haven’t spent enough time making yourself happy and reflecting on what you deep-down really think of yourself.

We get a fair-sized chunk of our self-esteem from our accomplishments in life, from the raises at work, from the finely-played frisbee toss, from being able to speak three languages or discern chardonnay from cat piss. But guess what? You can do all that frisbee-tossing and Mandarin-speaking until you’re the perfect shade of Cerulean blue, and it won’t make a damn bit of difference unless underneath all those things you have some sense of yourself as inherently worthy of love that isn’t tied to those very achievements! Holy Paradox, Batman. Without peaceful acceptance of our own intrinsic self-worth we humans tend to endlessly struggle and worry and fret about what other people think of how “good” we are. Men pick up on this, it’s like a low-frequency electronic signal that buzzes “I don’t know who I am! Don’t leave me so I can continue to ignore my own wants and needs and focus on you you you!”

A radical idea: spend the entire next free weekend in your rattiest jeans, oldest t-shirt, and the shoes you wore to paint the guest bedroom. You may wash your hair, but don’t style it. You can pick only one cosmetic to use. Rent your favorite cheesy movies. Hang out with your most oddball or eccentric friends. Compose a poem. Read something heavy by Hermann Hesse and ponder. Hard. Read something light and fun. Giggle. Dig in the garden. Make an elaborate dessert just for yourself. Treat yourself to dinner. People-watch. Do what pleases you.

In other words, spend some time getting to know the real you, not this other-defined good girl who fears she’s as loser because she isn’t in a relationship. My guess is that you will really like what you find; the real you. And the bonus part? People who genuinely like themselves almost automatically attract others to them who feel the same. The take-home message? Stop trying so hard to be good, spend more time being real. Find out what makes you tick. Enjoy your life, and you will find that life smiles on you.

–Dr. Ding

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