The “Nice Guy” Trope: Poor Underdog or Masked Villain?

Persistence pays off in the end—the mantra of the “Nice Guy” or “I’m not like other guys” trope is commonly seen in media (films, TV, books, etc.) and real-life a little too often. Posed as the underdog, pitying victim of women who choose douchey men over them, Nice Guys expect a badge for common decency and fail to grasp the notion of attraction.

Whether they’re close friends or strangers you met on a dating app, there are a set of formulas they almost always follow—some variations depending on how close you are or have become.

Nice Guy: not to be confused with a nice guy (that is, a male that is nice)-When used as a noun instead of an adjective, Nice Guy refers to people (men or women) who believe basic social expectations are currency for sex.

Urban Dictionary

Nice Guys use niceness as a weapon, treat it as transactional, and expect a reward for being half a decent person. That’s doing the bare minimum then asking for candy as though they deserve it. Nice Guys have a similar set of formulas that they almost always follow. They make it very clear from the start that they’re “not like other guys” and would treat you well (keep in mind, it’s always a comparison between them and other men). They lash out when rejected or beg you to stay, sometimes even go as far as to say they’ll wait until you’re ready for a relationship. A recurring trait in the Nice Guy trope is self-victimizing behavior that highlights their mentality of “nice guys finish last” and “Girls always choose douchey guys over Nice Guys.” Let’s make this clear—people can’t develop feelings they don’t have for others, so let’s stop shaming them for not liking you back because you’re nice. Their behavior also includes the projection of insecurity that includes belittling you or a difference in opinion so much that they oversell themselves by boasting their accomplishments and connections to compensate for self-doubt, attachment issues (+clinginess), and instability.

In books and films, often the Nice Guys (ones who are strangers) fall in love with the physical attribute of the woman off which they base off their creepy love, constant persistence, inability to accept rejection, and stalking. Forget taking into account what you want—Nice Guys project the illusion of their dream partner doing their best to bend you to fit the picture they’ve created in their head. When that illusion shatters, their masks fall, and that’s when you see them for who they are—a masked villain dressed like the poor underdog.

Some famous examples in the media of Nice Guys are Ross Geller from Friends, Tom Hansen from 500 Days of Summer, Noah Calhoun from The Notebook, Duckie from Pretty in Pink, Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, Henry Page from Our Chemical Hearts, Nate from The Devil Wears Prada, Sierra Burgess from Sierra Burgess is a Loser and Knox Overstreet from Dead Poet Society. These are just a few of the many examples. In most cases, for people like Ross, Duckie, Nate, and Knox—they get the girl or at least reconcile with them. It normalizes their behavior by giving them a happy ending that they do not deserve and don’t hold them accountable for their toxicity but rather award it.

Thankfully modern media is slowly catching onto the toxicity of the Nice Guy trope and deconstructing it. Though this is not explored much, Martin from Love, Simon is not rewarded with his Nice Guy (Spoiler: he outs Simon after being rejected by Abby) act. In YOU, Joe Goldberg presents a creepy, murderous side of the Nice Guy act and is successful in deconstructing the trope—not to say all Nice Guys are murderers, but Joe’s character shows us the extent to which it could be stretched. Summer rejecting Tom is another example that his toxicity is not rewarded because he constantly pushed the boundaries she set.

Nice Guys are not victims. So it’s time to stop painting them as the underdog stuck in the social and sexist construct of Friendzone.

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