Nah, I Can't Do It. He's Too Nice.
Excuse me while I piss off a lot of people.
"He's too nice" is one of those phrases that, when spoken, is guaranteed to get eyes rolling, but I say let them roll.
I know firsthand that it is possible to be "too nice" and for that overload of niceness to be perceived in ways that send unintended, and sometimes inaccurate, messages that are problematic.
Before I lay it out, something must be clarified right away. "Too nice" is not code for nerdy, square, boring, or "nice guy"--all subjective adjectives, but none guaranteeing niceness. I've met at least one nerdy asshole in my lifetime. I'm pretty square and have mildly boring interests, but no one (and I mean no one ever) would consider me to be "too nice." In fact, it's quite the compliment when someone calls me "kinda nice." Last, I was set up by a friend on a blind date with someone who was described as a "nice guy." And that's exactly what he was, a nice guy, but not too nice.
So when I talk about "too nice" I'm speaking about how niceness is expressed in its most extreme form. If extreme niceness is hard to imagine, then consider the opposite of the adjective--the difference between mean and extreme meanness.
And because my dating experiences are limited to men, I can only talk about them in this context.
So, hear me out.
First, nice is good. But can we agree that too much of something diminishes the goodness of the thing? Like eating too much ice cream or gaining too many muscles weight lifting, there is a legitimate thing as good-gone-too-far, like being too nice.
I've dated nice guys who were considerate, kind, and genuine to the core. All the things that'd make a nice guy a nice guy, but they had a couple of things that too nice guys seem to lack: humanity and comfort with conflict. In other words, they weren't afraid to be true to who they were or to make waves. In that, I felt safe. I felt like I was dealing with a whole person who was comfortable with himself.
Let's talk about humanity for a minute. Humanity is defined as the quality or state of being human.
What I love most about connecting with human beings is facing a range of feelings, interests, opinions, quirks, flaws, and personalities. This makes us unique and interesting.
The too nice men who I've experienced seem to wear a veneer around their personality that leaves me wondering if a human exists underneath. It makes me question what they're working so hard to protect or to keep hidden. Do too nice guys have feelings and interests? Yes, but many of the qualities that would make them interesting seem purposely suppressed. That's to say that I do suspect that too nice guys have bigger personalities than they express, but it's unlikely that I'd ever stick around to see it surface because of my 2nd observation: comfort with conflict, or the lack thereof.
Comfort With Conflict
I had a friend who could easily be placed in the too nice category who used to give out his email address to anyone who asked for it--retailers, event greeters, whoever--but hated doing so because of the number of mailing lists he'd end up on, which guaranteed junk mail to his inbox. I finally asked, "So why do give out your email address if you don't want to?" He told me that he didn't want to say no. That it was easier to give it out than to disappoint or irritate the person asking. Then months later, he'd create a new email address to escape the junk mail his inability to say no helped generate.
This is a low stakes scenario that begs the question what might occur when the stakes are higher. Discomfort with conflict looks the same to me as the inability to stand up for oneself. If my one-time friend would rather inconvenience himself than run the risk of being seen as "mean" by being truthful with the person asking for his personal information, then questions of integrity, honesty, communication ability, and courage immediately surface in my mind.
I've seen men and women use niceness as a mask to cover one of the most human parts of themselves--their feelings. Masks make me feel so uneasy, which would probably explain why the people whose company I love most, while all friendly, kind, and warm, are people who care little about what others think of them.
So here's why I will not date a man who I consider to be too nice: I feel unsafe with him and unsure about him. If he were challenged to take a stand, he'd falter. If he didn't seem sure of himself, then how could I be sure of him? After all, he knows himself better than I.
Sometimes spoken words sound awful, and I admit, complaining about someone being "too nice" sounds silly. Only, there are times when it's a legitimate charge.
Honestly, I don't know what's behind this complaint when other's say it. I just know what's behind mine. I believe if we tried to define "too nice" the definition would change depending on who you spoke to. I don't know why a couple of my guy friends have at least once been labeled as too nice when I don't think they qualify for that category. I suppose the issue of excess, of too-muchness, is personal.
And to be fair, this isn't to pick on women. It's just that I don't know the male equivalent to "He's too nice." Maybe it's "She goes to church too much"?
Before we judge this complaint, consider what's at the heart of the issue. Is it a lack of feeling safe? Impatience with a facade? Or disappointment that someone cares more about the perception of strangers than about their own integrity?
Sometimes things we say sound bad, but there's truth in it.
Photo credit: Blondinrikad Fröberg via CC Flickr