[Editor’s note: So I’ve started getting enough actual questions to think that answering them would be a good idea. Ask Live Hard is going to be a new semi-regular feature. Got a question? Ask me directly @joelsnape or via the contact form.]
Dear Live Hard,
I think I’m a nice guy, but it doesn’t seem to be doing me any good. Do I have to start behaving like an asshole to get ahead in life or with women? Is it true that nice guys finish last?
Ah, this question. Let’s start with the ‘women’ part, because that really seems to be the thing everyone’s talking about when they bemoan their ‘nice guy’ status. But rest assured, the rest is related.
Here’s the thing: by saying that you’re ‘nice’, all you really mean is that you’ve reached the minimum acceptable standard of behaviour for living in 21st century society. That’s an achievement of sorts – a lot of people can’t even manage that – but to expect it to make you some sort of saint-figure batting away Tinder requests like Neo stopping bullets in the Matrix is, at the very least, insanely deluded. As far as I can tell (I’m not in the best position to comment), most women are constantly being asked out, hit on, catcalled, e-harassed and generally pestered on a scale it’s difficult for men to comprehend. Are they supposed to give every suitor whose LinkedIn profile reads ‘Polite; not an obvious murderer’ the time of day? They’d never have time for anything else.
On the flipside, perhaps you’ve seen men succeed with women by behaving like outrageous arseholes. This is certainly possible: the science of creepy-level NLP, cold-reading and crowd psychology has certainly come along way in recent years, and some of it definitely works – and, to look at it even more depressingly, some of the things that genuine, untrained, horrible arseholes do will, for complicated reasons, appeal to some women. The problem is that this is no way to actually live: relationships are supposed to be about taking on the world together, not winning some sort of zero-sum power struggle, and by thinking about them in an adversarial way you’re actually making your own life worse, not just the unlucky woman you manage to attract.
So here’s my actual advice. Bank the ‘niceness’ – hang onto that, but remember that it doesn’t make you any better than a waiter or mobile phone salesperson – and start to work on becoming more interesting. Do things with your life: things that inspire you, or challenge you, or scare you, or improve other people’s lives. Work on improving yourself, as a person: your work ethic, your passion, your satisfaction with who you are – not stupid little tricks that you can use in a bar. Once you’re happier with yourself, this stuff won’t be a problem. Nice guys finish wherever they finish: but interesting guys will always beat them.