A friend and I were having a wide-ranging conversation about gender and politics, and we were discussing how Jordan Petersen was tapping into a serious deficit of sociability and emotional maturity among young men. She recommended this book, and I found it to be shockingly accurate. It very much overlaps with Jordan Petersen’s work, but without all of the culture war nonsense.
The main thesis of the book is that “nice guys” opperate within a flawed paradigm that insists that they must engage in “covert contracts” (indirectly communicated or entirely unspoken expectations of others), hide their flaws, avoid conflict, and (most importantly) be pleasing at all times—otherwise they will not be loved or happy. The thought of being bold or challenging toward others causes nice guys a tremendous amount of anxiety because they fear that they will not be loved or liked.
Glover traces the source of this to childhood (because of course he does!), where a series of child abandonment situations lead to a compulsion to please and avoid conflict. Abandonment situations are not defined merely as actual abandonment by a parent leaving the home, but include general absenteeism, withdrawn or neglectful parenting, as well as negative situations like abuse. Among the many ways that a child might cope, “nice guys” are those that learned to fear the loss of any and all comfort or love, and so formed the belief that he must always put himself second and please others.
However, the book does a good job of exposing how poorly this otherwise benign thought process actually plays out. Because nice guys think they have to always be pleasing, then end up being very dishonest. They hide everything about themselves that might possibly make themselves unappealing to others. They also create “covert contracts” with people, which are basically strings attached to every nice thing that they do. When their niceness is not reciprocated, they grow resentful and even rageful towards others. This also leads to a cycle of shame and rage, where the nice guy also makes himself emotionally unavailable—one of the biggest things that women hate.
It is obvious that the book is not just about getting better at dating. In fact, Glover makes the point that one of the worst habits of a nice guy is his need to over-analyze and view every relationship experience as a sort of science experiment, wherin there is always a “correct” answer to everything. If only I can figure out the right thing to do or say… That sort of thing.
The book spends most of its pages tailoring the advice towards men that want to know why they are striking out with women, and is written as a personal, self-help guide for them. It includes activities that could be done throughout, and encourages the book to be read by one’s partner as well. Beyond this, though, there is so much wisdom in the book that it goes beyond simply self-help and seems to contain answers to much bigger questions as well.
It does talk about social and cultural changes that have lead to millions of men becoming emotionally insecure over-pleasers—such as fathers leaving small, family-run farms to join working-class industries in the city a century ago, as well as the rise of feminism and the sexual revolution—but unlike Jordan Petersen’s diversions into the world of cultural Marxism and postmodernism, Glover is merely acknowledging history rather than dwelling on it.
While Jordan Petersen fans might be looking for some external paradigm to justify why they feel the world has dealt them an unfair hand and is worthy of resentment, Glover places the responsibility for one’s growth squarely on that individual alone. The very behaviors they think will make them pleasing and desirable to others is precisely what is leading to their unhappiness and loneliness. There might be external factors that play a role, as they certainly did at the early age of development, but there are no external factors that can be blamed for continuing down the wrong path.
Personally, I would be lying if I said none of this book applied to me. I do have an unhealthy tendency to avoid conflict, I often communicate indirectly, and I have an often debilitating sense shame about some things that inhibits my potential. More than anything, though, I found the book’s non-judgemental tone to be a breath of fresh air, and it’s worth a read if only for the benefit of finally understanding why nice guys are the way they are.