Why Nice Girls Finish Last

why nice girls finish last
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Why do nice girls finish last? Being “nice” is different than being “kind”, even though the two can look the same from a distance. Being nice is performing acts in order to get something in return. Being kind is treating people with compassion without any expectation of return. Surprisingly, despite the lack of manipulation, being kind will get you far in life while being nice will give you nothing but frustration. Always be kind, don’t waste time being nice. Nice girls always finish last.

What’s Wrong With Being “Nice”?

You may have heard the term “nice guy” or “nice girl.” According to Wikipedia:

The term”nice guy syndrome” can be used to describe a man who views himself as a prototypical “nice guy,” but whose “nice deeds” are deemed to be solely motivated by a desire to court women.

Why are Guys Nice?

Humans feel compelled to reciprocate. Typically you hear this in antagonistic expressions like “an eye for an eye” but it also works in positive interactions as well. If you give me something, I will feel obligated to give you something in return. Salespeople are keen on this quirk of human psychology which is why so many things are offered for free. If you get a free coffee at a cafe, many people will feel obligated to buy a pastry as a thank you. If a beggar hands hands out flowers, most people will feel compelled to give that person a dollar, even if they never wanted the flower in the first place. Even if the flower is a burden.

Nice guys have realized this need to reciprocate, especially among women, and thus sprang “nice” behavior. The thinking goes, this woman won’t give me what I want, so I’ll give her something and she will feel compelled to reciprocate. If I take care of this girl, then she will feel obligated to date me. It’s a trap.

And honestly, in the nice guy/nice girl setting it rarely ever works. The object of affection feels tricked or rushed or confused. But it rarely leads to reciprocation of affection. But then again, maybe if the girl is “nice”, she might just go along rather than cause a stir.

Why Are Women Nice?

While “the nice guy” is a mainstay of popular culture, women are often more likely to suffer the consequences of being “nice.”

Women are socialized to do all sorts of nice things. Part of that, I believe, is because women are following the examples of their mothers. So many mothers are selfless, and many of us love our mothers – or at least feel guilty for all the work they’ve done for us. I know Asian moms use this extortion technique all the time. My mother want me to visit and if I have any excuses, they bring up all the things they’ve done for me. And as an obedient daughter, I bend.

Using moms as a role model, women martyr themselves for their friends, kids, their significant other/spouse, their relatives, their jobs, everything. They cook, they clean, they manage complicated family schedules. If mom was a supermom, their daughters are super-duper moms. And they’re not happy.

The other problem with being “nice” is that the descriptor is usually used when there isn’t a better adjective. People are “nice” when you can’t say they’re interesting, fun, or exciting. Nice seems like a “nice” adjective, but it’s really a stand-in for bland. Perhaps it’s better than being remembered as a terrible person, but more likely than not, the “nice” person isn’t remembered at all.

When you describe someone you admire, nice doesn’t usually make the cut. Courageous, competent, colorful – correct. Nice, no.

What if Women Had Different Role Models?

I think women of the previous generation were more resigned to being doormats. They couldn’t necessarily aspire to more because women tended to have limited financial means and there was limited possibility of meeting someone new. These days, modern women have lots of opportunities to support themselves financially and emotionally, and there are countless apps for meeting someone new. Modern women may be subservient for a time, but they will soon find that their labor leads to resentment.

Of course, women may not have a lot of role models of women who demanded more. Our moms are following the examples of their mothers. We see so many women who kowtow to others – usually men – because they don’t know they can get more or perhaps don’t even realize that they can stop doing things they don’t want. Women who follow the example of men are often seen as too aggressive and we don’t see ourselves in that role.

When Women Are Too Nice

Women in our mothers’ generations often did everything because they may not have had a choice. They got married young, their husband provided, and they were going to stay married. The modern woman can take care of herself, so if she’s going to do all the things her mom did, and she’s bringing in the money, she expects more in return.

But then again she might marry someone who models themselves after the “father” role – bringing home the bacon and being waited on. “Nice” people attract people who will admire or take advantage of this niceness. Nice people don’t go after what they want so they are left with whomever will go after them. And what people want someone whose best trait is their passiveness, low standards, and martyrdom? Manipulative people. Distant people. Con men.

In the work sphere, women take on so much of the emotional labor of a workplace. Of course, spending all their time helping and supporting others takes away time from their actual work, so this is a rogue strategy in order to get ahead at work. And when the time comes up for promotion, the nice girl can’t toot her own horn. No, she’s nice! She feels like someone should be tooting her horn for her. Other people should recognize her resentful passive aggressive niceness. Really, nice girls are quite entitled.

The Problem With Being “Nice”

The problem with “nice guys” or “nice girls” is that you can only control your own actions. If you expect people to read your mind, you’ll generally be disappointed. Even if they could read your mind, it doesn’t mean that they’ll do what you want them to do. If you need someone else to do something in order to make your actions worth it, either state your intentions and get an agreement or don’t do it.

Just like in relationships, you can only control your own actions when it comes to your finances. You don’t have control over results and you don’t have control over anyone else.

So What’s a Nice Guy/Girl To Do?

Well, I’m a lawyer so I’m going to say “Make a contract.” It doesn’t have to be written out, printed, laminated, and notarized. The important thing here is acknowledging the contracts you are making in your own head. You know you’re being a nice guy/girl when:

You do something you don’t want to do hoping for a reward that you have not articulated.

When you’re doing something you don’t want to do, ask yourself, why. What do you expect to accomplish with this action? If you don’t get that result, would you be ok continuing this action? What do you really want and if you stopped doing this hated activity, could you actually move toward getting what you want? Do you like the people you are purportedly doing this action for? Do you like yourself when you are doing this action?

For instance:

  • You’re killing yourself at work, but you do not oral or verbal assurance of promotion, a bonus, or if you’ll even keep your job. Instead, talk to your boss or find a new job.
  • You write blog posts based on what you perceive other people want to read, but no one agreed to read it. Instead, write what you want without regard to what other people want, or investigate what people are searching for and improve your writing so that you’re so good they can’t ignore you.
  • You make yourself into the “perfect” woman and expect all these amazing guys to come knocking down your door. If you become perfect, do it for yourself, not to please a guy. Particularly if there’s no guy even existing to impress.

Game Plan To Be Mean Get What You Want

You need to ask yourself why you’re doing the things you do.

  • If you find your work intrinsically rewarding, then keep on doing it.
  • If you would only do certain activities if you get a certain return, then you have to ask for it OUT LOUD and do what it takes to get the other person to agree. But if what you’re asking them to do sounds hideous to ask (if I am nice to you, then you will work for free), then revise your plan.
  • Even if the other person agrees to your terms, you should always act as if the return is uncertain. That means, if it’s something you really don’t want to do, you really shouldn’t do it. I know everyone says “doing what you love” is terrible advice. It’s true that it’s a dicey proposition to do what you love and expect to make a living from it. But the worst part of doing what you love is that you might not get paid; you still spent your time doing what you love. If you aren’t doing what you love, you better make sure you are getting something worthwhile in return.

How to Stop Being Nice

You don’t get what you want by sitting on the sidelines not causing a fuss.  You get what you want from asking for, sometimes demanding, what you want.

The way to stop being nice is to want what you want more than you want people to like you.

Fortunately, if you’re a lawyer, you already know how to stop caring about others’ opinions. A lot of people hate lawyers. And your opposing counsel probably hates you. And you probably hate some other lawyers. Hate is a pretty typical emotion in the legal world.

What if People Think I’m Too Aggressive?

Before you start worrying about being seen as too aggressive, well at least stop trying to be nice first. Sometimes it’s like people who start lifting weights being terrified of coming out looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. There is a wide middle.

Asking for what you want is a better strategy than hoping for what you want and doing stuff you hate to get there. At the very least, if you stop being “nice”, you won’t have to keep doing stuff you don’t want to do. And you can determine if people like you for you or because of what you can do for them.

If you start to value yourself more, the people who are only there to use you will fall away. And if you are a generous team player, good people will reciprocate and help you. Though you will be used to doing everything, letting other people help you makes them more invested in you and will make them like you more. If you do too much for others, they will start to feel guilty and hate you or they will use you and just justify it.

And if you value yourself, you will have other interests and hobbies. You will have less time to martyr yourself for others. The scarcity will make you set boundaries. You have a life now and you aren’t going to take everyone’s and anyone’s crap just because they asked you to do it. Your time becomes valuable – and so you set boundaries. And actually having a boundary will make you seem more valuable. And then with interests and hobbies, and a personality, you will actually become valuable and interesting. You will be known for something other than your service – you will be known and liked for you.

What if No One Remembers Someone’s Birthday?

It’s still kind to do kind things. The important thing is to do it because you want to do it, not because you think it will curry favor with others.

I performed a lot of emotional labor at my law firm job, but I also realized that I chose to do it. It would have made me feel worse, for example, to do nothing for my officemate who had lost her mother. And it made me feel good that our colleagues were eager to write condolences and chip in for flowers.  I don’t think it got me any further along in my career but being a part of the humanity of my firm gave me great joy. I did these things because of the person I wanted to become, and I knew that I would achieve that end. Marrying what you’re doing with what you want to achieve – that’s how you avoid resentment.

A Typical Story of a Nice Girl Finishing Last

From the stories my male friend told me about his relationship with his girlfriend, it was clear to me that she wanted a proposal. She is in her mid-thirties, they’d been dating for a few years, they lived together, and she was dropping not-so-subtle hints. So feeling like I’m being helpful, I prodded my guy friend to propose. He gave excuses – he clearly did not want to propose. Then one day, I just stopped.

I know our society is meant to make my friend out to be a cad, but he is not. She wants to get married and he does not. My friend is totally happy with the current arrangement.  And there’s no real moral reason he should have to change the situation. He didn’t mislead her. And really part of me feels awkward pushing someone to do something he doesn’t want to do. And I’m not sure his girlfriend benefits from this either. Who wants to marry someone who doesn’t want to marry them?

Our society says he should just man up and marry her. Our society says she can convince him to change by being excellent.

But the truth is you can’t change anyone but yourself. And actually women have more choices now than they give themselves credit for. Stay with this guy who doesn’t want to marry you or set out on your own.

Conclusion – Why Nice Girls Finish Last

I love this quote from the author of Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It:

to get the things that you want in life, you need to take risks. You need to get outside your comfort zone and be willing to deal with other people’s discomfort, because if you spend your life making other people comfortable, you may feel good, but you’re not going to get what you really want

Don’t throw yourself under the bus hoping someone will pity you and give you what you want. Stop being nice, figure out what you want, and then go take it for yourself.

Author: Lisa

A Washington, DC attorney discusses the financial struggles facing women lawyers.

3 thoughts on “Why Nice Girls Finish Last”

  1. I’m so lucky I have a kind but Pitbull of a mom. She was a shining example that you can be selfless for the right people and a relentless, aggressive fighter when necessary. Most women don’t have that type of role model, so we need more. I, too, have chosen to pass on the “nice” guys and have found a good man. They exist.

    Great topic!

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