The Perils of Being "The Nice One"

It's a role that can be paralyzing.

Posted Nov 21, 2011

 Lucky Business/Shutterstock
Source: Lucky Business/Shutterstock

When I was in high school, there was another Jennifer Kim in all of my classes. She and I are still friends today. But during those painful, awkward years of adolescence, people simply came to know us as "the nice one" (me) one or "the mean one" (her).

I suppose being "the nice one" is better than being "the stupid one," but it had its own burdens: When trying to differentiate between us, classmates would look directly into my eyes and say, "Are you the nice one?" I would shrug my shoulders, uncertain how to answer. It wasn't that the other Jennifer was particularly mean; she wasn't at all. It was just that I was too nice. Think Disney movie nice—to the point where it kind of makes you want to vomit.

As much as I'd like to admit that I was just a naturally delightful and kind person, I was not. In fact, I purposefully set out to be overly nice and sweet to others. During high school (and most of life), we just want acceptance. People tell us that the best way to achieve this is by being nice to other people: Give compliments, share your food, buy them gifts, etc.

So that's what I did—all the time. The strange thing was that even though I did nice things for people, I still rarely felt like anyone genuinely accepted me or that I was building deeper friendships. Instead, I felt like I was losing my sense of self (not to mention my allowance).

To me, being the nice one meant being the sycophantic one—devoid of personality or opinions. I found myself agreeing with other people more than offering up my own ideas. Being too nice also meant putting other people's needs and desires before my own. I bent over backwards for people who wouldn't dream of returning the favor.

Sure, I was always surrounded by people, but it eventually became difficult to be around them. I felt like I had to constantly be "on" or live up to my label. Most times, I felt like the people I so desperately wanted to like me were the most inane and boring people I'd ever met. And the depressing thing was I was trying to be just like them.

But I was still the nice Jennifer—happy, smiling, and generous, when truthfully, I didn't feel any of those things. Sometimes, I felt jealous of the other Jennifer. She could get away with any kind of behavior, because people didn't always expect her to be nice.

During college, I stopped the niceties. The other Jennifer went to a different school and, for the first time, I realized I didn't have to be so painfully nice. And I wasn't. I wasn't mean, but I stopped going out of my way to do things for people I barely knew. It was hard to make friends at first, because I really wasn't sure who I was—I kept trying to find a label that fit my personality—funny? smart? pretty...?—but none seemed right. I spent most of my freshman year just wandering between groups of half-friends like a nomad trying to find a home.

Ten years later, I still don't have a label to define me. The closest one that comes to mind is "weird" which is not great, but I find that it's still better than being "the nice one."

Follow me on Twitter: @thisjenkim

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