by Delano Squires
One of my favorite movies about dating and relationships is Spike Lee’s film She’s Gotta Have It. It was released in 1986 but still offers useful commentary on a number of issues, including sexuality, honesty, monogamy, and our perceptions of acceptable gender roles. The movie follows the love life of the protagonist, Nola Darling, as she manages the relationships she maintains with three men. Each man is aware of the other two and each fills a specific role: Jamie Overstreet is caring and sincere, Mars Blackmon is funny and edgy, and Greer Childs is the cocky pretty boy. One of the opening scenes is a montage of brothers reciting ”pickup lines” (e.g., “girl, I’ll drink a tub of your bathwater”) and ends with Nola fondly remembering her first interaction with Jamie, where he initiated this exchange:
“Nola, I don’t want to chance not seeing you again. Whatever you want to do I’ll do, wherever you want to go I’ll take you. Will you see me?”
Now, I understand that this is a movie and the characters here are fictional, but there was something about Jamie’s words that struck me as being somewhat, well, pathetic. I say this fully acknowledging that he was the most genuine of the three men in Nola’s life. In fact, most people would say that Jamie was a nice guy, and some would assume that is why he didn’t end up with Nola by the film’s end. I’ve often heard that “nice guys finish last,” but after watching these men interact with Nola I wasn’t sure whether that is actually true.
I’ve heard a nice guy described as someone who, among other things, treats a woman with respect, keeps his commitments, holds doors, offers his coat when its cold, walks on the outside of the sidewalk, and offers sincere compliments. These are qualities that seem to be universally desired and appreciated by women, which is why I find it strange that a man who exhibits these characteristics would finish last. I did a quick, informal survey on Facebook and Twitter and asked women whether anything would make a man “too nice.” Most respondents didn’t believe a man could be too nice. They characterized the men that finish last as pushovers.
According to Doc Love, a dating and relationship expert on AskMen.com, a woman’s interest level decreases when a man is too eager to please, prematurely emotionally expressive, always available, and unwilling to do or say anything he feels might upset her. Again, it seems as if a lack of backbone, not flawless manners, is what really turns women off.
Another factor that must be considered is the extent to which perception shapes what we consider “too nice.” For example, one friend said she believes a woman with a low sense of self-worth would consider a man too nice if he: treats her well without expecting anything in return, is clear about his intentions and doesn’t play games, and doesn’t overreact when she does or says things that are blatantly wrong. While these characteristics seem like every woman’s dream, a woman’s sense of ”normal” may be disrupted by this type of man if she has become used to being in relationships that are characterized by insecurity, dishonesty, mistrust, and verbal or physical abuse.
This perception problem also affects the way many men assess their own niceness. Given the state of the black male image, where on the spectrum between Lil Wayne and President Obama, we are fed much more of the former, some guys define their niceness solely in opposition to the rudeness and disrespect exhibited by other men. These men would be well served to understand that simply not being obnoxious (e.g., catcalls, invading personal space) is not the equivalent of being too nice.
It is also helpful to consider the second part of the phrase and what it actually means to “finish last.” Some men have the perception that a woman’s lack of interest is equivalent to failure, but that’s not always the case. We should all be cognizant of the fact that, given the vast array of personalities, temperaments, experiences, and preferences, every person we meet will not be a suitable match. All of us can probably think of at least one relationship we are glad we either ended earlier than we might have initially hoped or avoided altogether.
Life is lived moving forward but understood looking backward, so hindsight tends to improve our ability to make sense of the events in our past. Therefore, a man who parts company with a woman who can’t appreciate his respectful demeanor should consider that a major victory. It is much better to walk away with a bruised ego in the short term than to couple with someone who does not, or cannot, appreciate you for who you are.
A wise person will recognize and appreciate the actions of someone who is genuinely kind and caring, but the reason Jamie, Mars, and Greer “finished last” was because they undervalued their own worth, not because they treated Nola too well. Their behavior is not unique to men either. There are also women who, under the guise of being “nice,” compromise their standards, sacrifice legitimate needs, forgo relationship security, and make themselves unnecessarily and prematurely vulnerable. Regardless of gender, we should all learn the difference between service and servitude. This isn’t always easy, but someone should have told the men in the movie that just because she’s got to have it doesn’t mean that you’ve got to give it.
BMWK, do you really believe nice guys finish last? What do does this phrase mean to you?
Delano Squires is currently a graduate student in Social Policy at the George Washington University. His interests are contemporary African American culture and fatherhood, families, and child development. Follow him on Twitter @Mr_Squires.