Don’t be a Nice Guy, Be a Good Guy


Back in 2018, I wrote a summary of the book No More Mr Nice Guy by Dr Robert Glover.

Since then, I’ve met men who have told me that they recognised themselves as Nice Guys when reading that post. 

I’m not saying that all men have Nice Guy Syndrome. No, my point is just that it’s common enough to merit some further exploration.

Trust me, this is important and relevant to your finances. Money is the number one cause of arguments between couples (and divorce is generally a financial disaster).

Real life (and financial independence) becomes a lot easier when you understand yourself and are aligned with your significant other.

Nice Guy Syndrome : is that even a thing??

The Escape Artist did not make this stuff up. Here’s a quick reminder of Dr Glover’s theory.

A Nice Guy’s primary goal is to make other people happy. Nice Guys are dependent on external validation (especially from women) and avoid conflict like the plague. Nice Guys are guided by the following three “covert contracts”:

If I am nice, then everyone will love me and like me (and people I desire will desire me).

If I meet other people’s needs without them having to ask, then they will meet my needs without me having to ask.

If I do everything right, then I will have a smooth, problem-free life.

These covert contracts operate at an unconscious level. They don’t work for a number of reasons, but Nice Guys are convinced they should. Because most Nice Guys believe they have kept their side of the contract, they often feel helpless and resentful when other people (and the world) don’t keep their side of the contract.

Dr Robert Glover

Nice guys have been conditioned by their childhoods and by society to seek approval from others, especially from women. They think that “If I’m nice to her, then I’ll get what I want”. This creates internal frustration since Nice Guys don’t usually get what they want.

Ironically, the Nice Guy’s desire to obtain approval from everyone (especially women), causes him to behave in ways that aren’t very nice. This includes dishonesty (about themselves and their sexual motives) and passive-aggressive behaviour (e.g. sulking or scheming).

Nice Guys were typically brought up without a strong male role model. Perhaps Dad was around but not fully present : maybe he was at work, maybe he was hiding behind a newspaper. Maybe he was not there at all. If their parents split up, Nice Guys were usually brought up by Mum and heard her side of the story…his not so much. Raised by mums and female nursery / primary school teachers, Nice Guys got conditioned from an early age to seek female approval.

Nice Guys avoid conflict.  The one exception to this is that they love to imagine themselves as White Knights, rescuing helpless princesses and other female victims [doncha just love unconscious sexism?!?] from those other evil men (“I’m not like those other guys”) just like in the cartoons and Disney films that they were raised on.

Thanks to advertising and other brainwashing, we’ve been bathed in consumerism from an early age.  If you grew up with a TV in your house (which I did) its inevitable. Is is possible that some of this stuff also conditioned us into Nice Guy Syndrome?

The Patriarchy

Talking of brainwashing, some would have us believe that women in The West are kept down by something called “The Patriarchy”.

This was a thing in The West pre-1950 but now? Those people seem to be confusing the suburbs of middle England with Saudi Arabia.

Allow me to clarify the difference. Here in Surrey, women have for some time been able to drive and to vote. In Surrey, women do not get stoned to death for adultery nor banned from going out of the house by their controlling husbands.

I have however met plenty of Nice Guys who chuckle at the fact that they’re not allowed out without a “Pink Ticket” (ha-ha!) or approval from “The Boss” (hilarious!!) or “She Who Must be Obeyed” (stop, I’m literally dying!!!).

Whoever you can’t say no to is your master. If we learnt anything from Game of Thrones (and I think we did) it’s that its a mistake to give unfettered power to anyone, no matter how attractive (or scary) she is.  Even Jon Snow eventually figured out he had to be the good guy not the Nice Guy. And he knows nothing.

If you are gonna deal with Nice Guy Syndrome, you need to understand these concepts:

#1 : Boundaries

Everyone needs boundaries in every relationship.  Boundaries are what keep you sane and healthy.

TV adverts, Hollywood films and other propaganda tell us that we can spend our way to happiness. They also lead us to believe that, once we’ve navigated our way out of the dating minefield and found our SoulmateTM everything will be bliss and we can just relax and live happily every after with no more games.

Oh dear. I regret to have to inform you that it doesn’t work that way.  You must always have a point at which you will walk away…from any job and from any relationship.  It’s a paradox that the more willing you are to walk away, the less likely you are to have to do so.

If you act like a bitch, then you give other people permission to treat you like their bitch.

Police your boundaries.

#2: Self-worth

The lower your self-worth, the harder you’ll find it to police your boundaries.

Assessing your self-worth accurately involves calibration and self-awareness.  People often struggle to judge their self-worth accurately.

At the low end of the spectrum, people struggle with low self-esteem for reasons that go way back to their childhood.  At the other end of the spectrum, we have those with delusional self-belief.

If you are at the low end of the self-esteem spectrum, then beware!  Guilt and shame are the main weapons that other people will use to manipulate / influence / control you. If they can find your buttons, they’ll push them.

If you’ve murdered someone, then you’ll probably deserve a bit of guilt and shame. But I’m gonna assume for the purpose of this blog post that you’re basically a good yet imperfect person.

If you have low self-esteem, then guilt and shame are to you what Kryptonite was to Superman.  They are powerful weapons that stop you in your tracks.  Other people use these to keep you in your box, to keep you small, to keep you operating in their Frame (see below).

#3 : Frame

This leads us to the concept of “Frame”.  Imagine an oil painting. Frame is the thing surrounding the picture. Its not the thing you focus on but it gives context to the picture.

Your worldview acts as your Frame. Frame is short for frame of reference. It’s the set of assumptions that you operate under. Frame is the personal narrative which sub-consciously guides your choices and actions.

Frame matters everywhere because wherever you go, there you are.  Every time you interact with someone else: your partner, your Boss, a client or a colleague, your frame is influencing the outcome.

Other people will test the strength of your frame with Shit Tests (see below). They will try to knock you out of your frame and into theirs. You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t even try. As long as you aren’t hurting others, stay in your Frame.

#4 : Shit Tests

Shit Tests are things that other people throw at you to see how you cope with challenge.

Other people will test you to see where your boundaries are and how you enforce those boundaries.  In simple terms, the other person is giving you some shit to see how you deal with it.  That way they can see how you react under pressure and who you really are.

Women test men to see how they react. Men test other men to see how they react. And who is to say that they’re wrong to do so?

Think of a comedian that you’ve seen live.  One of the best tests of a stand-up is how they deal with hecklers.  Lots of people can memorise jokes but it takes real talent to improvise in the moment.  Because its hard to fake, its an honest signal of quality.

I know you’re gonna wanna learn more about these Shit Tests. So what better way to learn than with some nice cookery tips?


  1. paullypips · · Reply

    Excellent article, great “Faux Pho” video.
    The whole thing deserves to be read three times to get it to sink in.
    Many thanks TEA!

  2. Chloe · · Reply

    As ever, nice to see comment on this.
    To throw a complication in there, conformity and normalisation are big pressures working against you.
    The public image of a self-actualised person, not a nice guy, is not good. You’re toxic, you’re confrontational, patriarchal. It’s bad PR – Gillette’s infamous advert, in my opinion, was a pure propaganda against self-actualisation. They wanted you to become a Nice Guy – they don’t actually like nice guys either, but those make a lot less trouble and don’t call out the nonsense as much. A lot of media makes sense when viewed through that lens.

    I’ll make it even more gloomy – I wager that large institutions are or have gone that way too. HR polices, Corporate values, mandatory training and more will make your work life difficult if you aren’t on message. I think life in big corporations is going to get increasingly difficult for men who aren’t Nice Guys or anyone who isn’t ‘on message’.

    1. Hi Chloe – always a pleasure to hear from you.

      You are, as usual, on point. Operating in a large corporate hierarchy requires diplomacy and stealth tactics. That’s why the first rule of FI Club is that you don’t talk about FI Club at work.

      People with an natural understanding of human nature and the games that people play, just get it. Generalisation alert : Women have higher emotional intelligence (EQ) and are better at bullshit detection and forming strategies to cope with office politics.

      The guys I really feel for are the nice guys (and girls) with low EQ and low natural cunning. Guys (and girls) that just take things at face value. The plough-horses if you like. Companies will treat them as dispensable.

      Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert tells over-spenders: “Companies are not your friends”. When I first heard this, I was struck by why he needed to say something so obvious. But clearly this needs saying.

    2. At my last assessment with my boss in a medium sized business I was told that I performed my tasks at work faultlessly but that I was in trouble because I wasn’t “living the company’s values”.
      You couldn’t make some of this bullshit up! The world really is getting crazier and crazier and more and more dishonest. FIRE is a survival strategy to maintain sanity in the face of this onslaught of nonsense and manipulation.

  3. […] TEA dips his toe into the Mr Nice Guy/ self-esteem/ self-worth world of sociology and boundaries (23… […]

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