Nice guys finish better
April 28, 2002

Scruffy-faced Russell Crowe makes headlines with his bad-boyantics. Meanwhile, a sophisticated Denzel Washington is at homepolishing an Oscar with his wife and kids. He's probably fieldinga lot of good script offers, too.

Nice guys finish last? Washington's family, friends, agents,lawyers and now, accountants, might argue that one a bitdifferently.

God help the man who gets the reputation as a "Nice Guy."Why? Because according to most men I've talked to, being called a"nice guy" is the kiss of death. Mr. Nice Guy is everyone's friendand no one's lover, they say. But a nasty bitterness brews towardwomen who pass over a nice guy's kindness for bad-boy drama.

So, why are nice guys the brunt of jokes and put-downs?Perhaps because there's a thin line between "nice, withself-confidence" and "desperate doormat." Kindness, a good heart and humor play a role, but a quiet confidence is what ultimatelyseparates the men who get walked on from those who are invitedinside.

I posed the problem to my friend "Marcel," although Iwouldn't describe him as a nice guy (he isn't exactly shy, and hekeeps mentioning his devastating good looks and charm). Marcel hada couple of insights: Nice guys seem not to be assertive enough,which can be one reason women steamroll them, and they often don'tspeak up enough to show they're interested.

This becomes an issue when a woman waits patiently for him toexpress interest in her, while the man looks for similar cluesfrom her. Before you know it, they reach a stalemate.

In the case of "Richard," this went on for 10 dates before hegot the right signals. Richard is a 40-year-old professional manwho stays in top physical shape and is on the board of directorsfor a company that organizes Jewish single events. Since he islooking for someone with similar religious beliefs, he haspositioned himself to meet like-minded people in his fellowshipcommunity.

With all that going for him, why would it take multiple outingsto figure out where things stood with his date? He says he tendsto be respectful of the ladies he goes out with, and they tend tofeel relaxed around him. And as a man looking for a long-termrelationship, he "doesn't need to go for the gold on the firstnight," he says.

In this case, on date No. 10 he got the message that she wasinterested in him, and the floodgates opened. But things don'talways end that well.

My friend Kat has had experiences with two nice guys, one whocouldn't spark her flame with a gasoline-soaked match, and theother with whom she had an instant flash of admiration. What wasdifferent?

"Mac's" boyish looks first caught Kat's eye, but once heopened his mouth, her mental radar began to flash "boringevening." His compliments were benevolent but too lavish tobelieve.

"His overcomplimenting, as if he didn't deserve me,eventually convinced me that he really didn't deserve me," sheconfided .

Her other nice guy, "Pierce," performed an unexpected randomact of kindness that earned him a place in her heart. While hehelped another guy change a tire, Kat found herself thinking, "Icould love this guy." Apparently her admiration swelled with thesame PSI as the new tire.

How could kindness be sexy in one guy and deflating in theother? "Because dating is like a dance," Kat explained. "Theinteraction that has to be a progression. When everything's dumpedat your feet in one heap, it eliminates the excitement ofdiscovery."

Similarly, a reader named Lou wrote of the nice-guy paradox,"What I think happens is that nice guys appear too needy or move too fast, while the bad boys have an indifference that is morechallenging and appealing to women. The nice guys are all overthem in a heartbeat while the bad boys are just saying, "Next!!!!!!'"

The element of discovery, the dance of attraction, thesoft-spoken courting. These are the qualities a nice guy can bringto the table. He doesn't have to be "spineless," as Richardwarned, nor does he have to be apologetic, timid, ordinary,humdrum or submissive, either.

And ladies, we need to learn to see past the rush ofmelodrama and momentary excitement that bad boys bring. Oftenthat's all they provide, that and an inevitable heartbreak. A niceguy can lay a rug at your feet, and you can trust that he won'tpull it out from under you - which is important when you'rewearing heels!

Maybe he's not a swashbuckling Casanova adrenaline ride, buthe's likely to be more stable, authentic and genuine with hisaffection. If given a chance, he can be true gold.