A Self-professed Nice Guy Grappling With Self Image
I have subconsciously constructed an identity around the belief of my niceness. It is the only quality that made me feel exceptional with any consistency. Sometimes, I feel exceptionally clever. This perception doesn’t usually survive daily interactions. Sometimes, and this is rare, I feel exceptionally funny. The very next attempt at a joke will almost always bring me back down to earth. Feeling exceptionally nice, however, has proved a very tricky perception to shake.
In high school, my belief in God succumbed to a prolonged crisis of faith. During one of many discussions on the topic, a friend convinced me that belief in God was a good thing for society. Most people, he argued, aren’t as moral as I am and need religion to keep them in line. I am helpless against that advanced level of ego-stroking. My belief in the exceptionality of my niceness is so ingrained that one of the hardest things for me to hear is someone else being described as “the nicest guy in the world”. Even worse is when a friend or acquaintance tells me about the nicest guy they know.
This, safe to say, has had an impact on my interaction with women. My all-boys boarding high school did a fine job of cultivating the perception that girls are exotic creatures that one might catch a rare glimpse of during sports tournaments or educational functions. The gut-wrenching panic of considering approach strategies was well known to me. The indescribable thrill of initiating conversation and having them respond positively was much less familiar. In this high-stakes game, one needed to be exceptional. I could never be mistaken for exceptionally good-looking, charming or funny. I had some luck playing the exceptionally “cool” guy, but this never felt authentic and was exhausting to maintain. I realized it wasn’t nice to act cool. My only recourse was to lean heavily on the niceness. The results have been mixed.
More than ten years later, niceness still often feels like the only card I have to play. My belief in my niceness has become more nuanced, but it persists. This, I believe, is the biggest source of my ego.
I recently found myself deep down a YouTube rabbit hole, watching an excellent video explaining the “Nice Guy Trope” in popular movies and TV by the channel “The Take”. In a nutshell, it tries to distinguish fake nice guys from real ones. The initial trigger for me was realizing that some nice guys weren’t actually that nice: the Ted Mosbys and Ross Gellers. These were guys I identified with; guys that gave me hope that the nice guy eventually gets “the girl”. The video lays bare some of their ostentatious proclamations of love that, on closer inspection, border on creepy stalkerish behaviour.
Even more troubling, however, was seeing that truly horrible people can initially seem quite nice. I noticed that when characters are revealed to be villains, I quickly forget their nice beginnings. Most impactful for me was the example of Fredrick Zoller from one of my favorite movies, “Inglourious Basterds”. The thought that an apparently nice guy can turn out to be a literal Nazi broke me a little.
Intellectually, this was something I understood before watching this video. Somehow, I hadn’t fully internalized the implications. Put in this context, it made me see how terrible an idea it is to make my niceness do such heavy lifting.
I realized it is often difficult to tell the difference between niceness and the appearance of it. That men can, and often do, weaponize niceness to the detriment of women. That pinning one’s entire identity on niceness can easily lead to “Nice Guy Syndrome”, where niceness is a performance that hides ulterior motives.
I realized that there are no unambiguously nice or bad people. That other people being considered nicer than me doesn’t make me any less nice. That niceness doesn’t make me exceptional and that that’s a good thing. That niceness isn’t a personality and there’s a lot more about me that is interesting and valuable. That recognizing I did a non-nice thing shouldn’t necessarily shatter my perception of the self and make me question my entire identity.
I realized that niceness doesn’t determine one’s finishing position and that no matter how hard one tries, it is impossible to write an article on being a nice guy without reference to that tired cliché.
This article was written by Derrick Nyamori, my brother. He loves to sing and plays a number of instruments. Visit his youtube channel, Rhythmic Soul.