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Do Nice Guys Really End Up Alone?

Why being available can also be seen as boring.

Key points

  • Emotionally healthy and available people can sometimes be perceived as boring.
  • People like to feel excited and often attribute it to sexual attraction.
  • People with insecure attachment styles might be accustomed to more anxiety and lose interest if they are not sufficiently stimulated.

Do the nicest, or even the most attractive, healthiest, and well-adjusted people get the romance they want? Think again. Sometimes it's the more unpredictable, unavailable, or even mildly arrogant or dangerous guy who gets the girl.

Once, in my mid-20s, when a woman broke up with me, she gave me a book called, Nice Guys Sleep Alone. Needless to say, I was hurt, bewildered, and angry. Years later, I found the book, still unopened, in a box as I was cleaning out the garage. Out of curiosity, I opened it and started reading. To my surprise, the book was pretty funny, and it made a good point: Nice guys can be boring. This may seem cliché, but there is good research and data to support the idea.

People like to feel excited and tend to attribute it to sexual attraction.

At the strictly physical level, there's not that much difference between excitement and mild-to-moderate anxiety. The difference lies in what you think about your physical state and what caused it. Psychologists call these explanatory thoughts “attributions.”

Research shows that mild fear and anxiety can lead people to attribute the resulting state of arousal (be it excitement, anxiety, or fear) to the attractiveness of whoever is present or in your thoughts at the time the arousal takes place. This is the “arousal model of interpersonal intimacy” first proposed by Patterson in 1976.

Researchers have dropped people in dentist chairs (Dienstbier, 1979), had them walk across scary bridges, or suggested they were about to receive a painful shock (Dutton & Aaron, 1974), and for most research participants, the effect is the same: They report greater attraction for the person who was present at the time of the arousing event.

Some “players” weaponize this research when instructing people how to pick up men or women in bars, etc. If this sounds manipulative, it certainly is, as put forth in titles like The Mystery Method, which is a modern take on seduction theory.

People who capitalize on others' anxieties and fears to make themselves more attractive are certainly not seen as boring.

A young woman recently asked me if I thought she might be boring. My answer was “maybe.” But this is because she comes across as relatively secure and lacking much in the way of drama and neuroticism. To another secure person, she would probably be a great catch. This is because people with secure attachment styles tend to have more balanced and stable emotional systems.

People with insecure attachment styles, however, may have emotional systems that are not as well calibrated. Those with preoccupied and fearful styles, who have high levels of attachment anxiety, are likely to be particularly vulnerable to emotional escalations in social situations and then to misattributing the cause of their strong emotions.

Think about it: If your friends call you “Steady Eddy” (not always a compliment), you probably don’t evoke much anxiety in others. If you go out on a date and let the other person know right away that you are totally available, not seeing other people, and willing to go join them in whatever they are into—they might not be that interested.

You might consider the following:

  1. Have your own interests and passions that you can share with others.
  2. Have a life and spend time out doing things with friends. Don’t reserve yourself just for dates.
  3. Don’t be afraid to go out and do things on your own.
  4. Don’t change plans with friends to go out on a date.
  5. Stop texting. Do you really want to be in constant contact?

So often, clients tell me about the wonderful person they met—attractive, successful, healthy, balanced. And then they start to lose interest and end up blowing the relationship. And the young, clean-cut, good-looking, healthy med student who gets passed over for the scruffy bar brawler is probably sitting there alone wondering what is wrong with him. And the truth is: Nothing. He is just too nice and available for someone who mistakes social anxiety and mild fear for attraction.

If you are the nice guy or gal, don’t change who you are—which is probably healthy. Just be mindful that those with preoccupied or fearful attachment styles might be used to a certain level of anxiety in their relationships. And those with dismissing or avoidant attachment styles may not be interested in people who are fully loving and available for relationships. Stick with people with secure styles (this gets a lot harder over age 30) or have some idea of what you are getting into by way of the other person’s attachment style.

When I met my wife, I had already figured out that nice guys often do sleep alone. When I asked her out on our first date (it was the late '90s), she told me that she would go out with me but did not want a guy with whom she had to talk on the phone on a regular basis. Being on the right track, I lied and said, “Of course; not a problem.” So, every time I took her out on a date, I made sure to ask her out again for the following week. That way I would not have to call her to make plans. I still remember my delight when, after a month of dating, she asked, “How come you never call me?” And I thought, “Wow! That really worked.” She helped me avoid being overly available and boring despite myself and despite being a “nice guy.”

So, being nice is not really a problem. It’s a good thing. You can be nice, exciting, and romantically alluring, all at the same time.

Facebook image: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

References

Dienstbier, R. A. (1979). Attraction increases and decreases as a function of emotion-attribution and appropriate social cues. Motivation and Emotion, 3(2), 201–218. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf01650604

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