Nice Guys Really Do Finish Last

… says a man from the back of the line.

Don’t try and deny it: You love a Nice Guy. The guy who will go out of his way to help you, to bear your blame and pain. He even feels guilty about sharing his problems with you because he doesn’t want to bring you down. You know a guy like this, right?

He’s almost always there for you. He’s articulate, writes poetry or plays songs, and reads classic novels and contemporary books. He’s a hopeless romantic and he only wants the best for you, whether you’re a female love interest or a male best friend.

And he resents you more than he knows how to handle.

“Yes, ladies and gentleman, for the last stop on our tour, step right up and view the the human race’s favorite beast of burden: The Nice Guy. Though lacking the physical strength of an ox or a donkey, this rare specimen has such an incredible capacity for mental abuse that he can actually reverse any situation. Anything.

“Go ahead, try him! Tell him how your boyfriend’s a jerk — he’ll comfort you and tell you how wonderful you are. Yell at him for how much of a pussy he is, and he’ll tell you you’re right and promise to do better. Make him uncomfortable, and he’ll make you laugh! It’s truly amazing, folks. Remember, no feeding the animals.”

He resents you because you can do things he can’t. You can take people down guilt trips, you can flip out, you can manipulate other people’s feelings, and you can do something selfish every once in a while because you deserve something “just for you.”

All these things make a Nice Guy feel guilty, because they aren’t — well, nice. He’s not helping others; he’s helping himself, and he feels guilty about that. Horrible.

He may want to tell somebody to stop kicking him around, or that he needs to feel loved by his girl of choice. But that would be implying that they’re doing something wrong, and he doesn’t want to make people feel bad about themselves. Really. A Nice Guy has plenty of experience feeling bad about himself, and he doesn’t want anyone else to feel that way themselves.

But he wants to make you feel bad.

I want to make you feel bad.

Just once. I want to know that maybe, just maybe, I have that option open to me. I won’t abuse the privilege. I may never even use it again. But I want to see what it’s like. Just like I’ve never shot up heroin or been part of a threesome, I’ve never been outwardly hurtful to somebody.

I don’t want people to take me for granted as their ever-willing constant, sure. But it’s more than that. I don’t want to feel like I have to be that constant. I don’t want to be liked because I’m a Nice Guy. I want to be liked because I’m a writer, because I’m passionate, because I can’t play sports, because I kiss well, because I have a horrible memory and I try desperately to make up for it. Because I’m Sean Woznicki.

I’m a Nice Guy because I’m Sean Woznicki. I’m not Sean Woznicki just because I’m a Nice Guy.

“Wow, good one, Alice! And folks, see the reaction when she told him how pathetic she thought he was? Was it anger?”

“No!”

“Was it hate?”

“No!”

“What was it? Alice?”

“It was … it was an apology. I don’t understand.”

“It’s just the nature of the Nice Guy, Alice. He feels as though somehow he’s upset you, and so he tries to make you feel better.”

“But … but I don’t even know the guy. What basis do I have to call him pathetic?”

“It doesn’t matter. He can’t deny his nature. A Nice Guy always wants to please other people, and always wants to be liked by everyone. Even you, a complete stranger, have to like him or he’s failed. He’s been told all his life that he’s a Nice Guy. He’s been thoroughly trained. And if someone seems to think that he’s not a Nice Guy, then he doesn’t know who he is. It’s all he knows, Alice.”

“He just so … nice. I can’t believe it. He’s just asking for people to abuse him. He doesn’t stick up for himself at all. He deserves whatever he gets.”

“That may be so, Alice, but don’t you feel sorry for the poor beast?”

“… No. He can change. Everyone can.”

“It’s a hard, hard thing to change your nature, Alice.”

Girls, you can’t imagine being involved with a Nice Guy, because you value them too much as a friend. Besides, if you did get into a relationship with them, you’d just exploit their inherent good nature, whether you wanted to or not. And that would just make you feel awful about yourself.

Guys, you can’t imagine your best friend not being there for you — after all, he’s such a Nice Guy. You take for granted that he’s there to help you out, but you don’t think about helping him with his problems. I mean, come on, he’s a Nice Guy. Nobody has a problem with him, right? Why would anyone have a problem with a Nice Guy?

Because you take advantage of me, does that mean that you’re a despicable person? Or just opportunistic? And whose fault is it, anyway? Maybe it can be solved by a simple matter of psychology: I’ve set up a pattern of abuse. People expect me to be nice, they know how I’ll react, and they act accordingly. I won’t change because it’s who I am. Either I have a low self-worth, or this is just how I think I can contribute to the overall well-being of society.

But don’t think I haven’t thought about punching you.

Don’t think I haven’t thought about breaking your heart just for the attention. Sometimes I can feel my hand itch with the urge to slap you, but I never will. You can’t ask a surgeon who’s just put a person back together to perform an autopsy in the next room. You can’t ask a Nice Guy to be mean.

Not intentionally mean. I don’t presume to think that I’m free of all possible blame. Everyone has done a few horrible things — led people on just for the attention, flipped out to make someone feel guilty, demeaned someone because you had a bad day and it makes you feel better. I’ve done enough bad things to people I like.

But there is a difference: You’ll feel initially guilty but quickly rationalize it. You’ll apologize and be done with it. You’ll write it off as a “just for you” moment. You’ll move on because you know it was just a fluke and you do more good than harm.

A Nice Guy will inevitably hurt someone, though he didn’t mean to, and will feel exponentially worse. And then he’ll also keep that to himself because he doesn’t want to bother you with his problems. He lets it all wrap tightly around his insides, all the grief and the guilt and the pain, and he hates the only person he can: himself.

I hate myself.

I wonder why I couldn’t have done better for this friend, for that woman. I get accosted in a bar, mumble something about not liking beer, and then kick myself not for failing a chance to meet a new person — but then feel worse for making her feel rejected, and then for making her think I’m an asshole. But wait, I’m a Nice Guy! I’m too nice for my own good! Let me buy you a drink! Come back!

“Notice how he looks pale and sallow, ladies and gentleman? That’s because he’s sick; yes, the Nice Guy is sick with the ever-present grief that he isn’t doing enough.”

“It’s a sickness, then. It can be cured.”

“It’s terminal, my dear Alice. He’s a dying breed … this one’s one of the last of his species.”

“And you can’t do anything to help him?”

“We’ve tried. But there isn’t any way to cure him. The poor beast will be nice until his final day. He’ll endure all of your hatred, your pain — he’ll sop it up like a sponge — and he’ll go on about his day. He is truly a wonder of nature.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our tour. Please exit out the doors on the left side of the park, near the stands selling bouquets of roses and hearts full of chocolate. We hope you have enjoyed your stay. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Article © 2002 by Sean Woznicki