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My Eureka Moment For Why I’m Not Into 'Nice Guys'

Dating

If there are two things I think a lot of us heard while growing up that subconsciously programmed us to make unwise choices where our hearts are concerned it's, "He only mistreats you because he likes you," and, "Don't be so focused on whether or not you're attracted to someone that you miss out on a really nice guy."


That first statement? Many of us heard that as children. By the way, a little boy doesn't mistreat a little girl because he likes her. Usually, he does it either because he wasn't taught how to treat little girls or because he's not mature enough to know how to express himself. And little boys who aren't redirected from this way of acting grow up to be men who do the same thing.

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That second one? I'm willing to bet a lot of us still hear that to this day, whether it's from our nosey auntie who's trying to figure out why we're single, the church lady who thinks that since she took that advice it should apply to all of us, or our mom who is waiting for us to give her some grandchildren.

I know I personally heard that a lot while growing up in the church. Whenever a cutie would break my heart, some woman somewhere would either flat-out tell me (or somehow imply) that if I wanted a good man, his looks would have to take the backseat. If I wanted to be treated well, I'd have to settle for someone who wasn't aesthetically-pleasing but was indeed a nice guy.

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And you know what? A couple of times I fell for that totally dysfunctional way of thinking.

I allowed individuals who really didn't know what the heck they were talking about convince me that when it came to love, I either had to choose a fine man or a kind man—both simply did not co-exist.

As a result, I wasted my time and the time of certain men in my life who were as sweet as pie but also weren't what I was fully drawn to. I let how nice (pleasing, agreeable, pleasant) and kind (benevolent, helpful, considerate, gentle and loving) a man was to me make me overlook other things that I wanted. Y'all, at the end of the day, even being with someone just because he's a "nice guy" is a form of settling. And to make a man feel like he's some sort of consolation prize for what I really want? That's not nice. It's mean. Very much so.

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Why am I sharing all of this with you? It's because, ever since I can remember, I have watched women on screens and heard women I know claim that the reason why they've let some really good men get away is because they are "too nice". While there are some women who sadly seem to get off on being mistreated, who seem to think that masculinity and some forms of abuse go hand in hand, I think there are even more women who are actually trying to convey something totally different. The real issue isn't that the good man they aren't into is too nice.

I'll give you a personal example of what I mean. When I think about a particular someone I dated, who I wasn't really attracted to but seemed too nice to not at least give things a shot, once the relationship ended and folks asked me what was up, sometimes what came out of my mouth was, "He was too nice" when that wasn't really the case at all. The real issue was I wasn't attracted, I was bored, he didn't really thrill me—he simply wasn't "it".

But since I was programmed to believe that fine men will dog you and nice guys are less than appealing, I chalked it up to mean that a guy I'm not into must be "too nice", when the reality is simply that I want more than just a nice or kind man.

The reason why I use the word "programmed" is because even my own mom has said to me, virtually all of my life, "I just want a kind man for you." I get that. It's wise to want to be with someone kind. But when I reflect on the men she wanted for me, every single one of them made my stomach hurt. It's not that they weren't attractive in their own way. Not at all. But the thought of spending the rest of my life with them? Listen, marriage is too serious and (is supposed to last) too long to start off not being physically and sexually into your partner. And I wasn't interested in ANY of them in that way.

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Whenever I expressed that, I was basically told that I was being superficial; that one day I would realize that looks aren't everything (sex either) and I'd wish that, rather than being alone, I'd gone for the nice guy. Maybe, but that never really or fully set well with me. There had to be more to it than that.

Then one day, without even really looking for him, I met a man. He's the kind of guy that old and young women, white and Black women, men (including straight men) can all agree that he is quite the specimen to behold. You know what else? He's soooo nice. He's also brilliant, funny, ambitious, generous, spontaneous, fun, good to his mama, a gentleman—the list goes on and on.

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Before you get excited for me, we're just friends. Good friends but still, it's only meant to be platonic (my choice). Yet some people come into our lives to remind us that everything we're looking for does indeed exist. We don't have to settle for one or the other. We can get the whole shebang.

My oh so very fine and kind friend helped me come to the ah-ha moment of my not wanting to be with a man because "he's too nice" was really my way of saying "he's really great in the nice department but what about everything else? Sure, he's mega-kind but that's kind of all that stands out about him." To me.

Understanding that this is what was really going on beneath the surface has helped me to realize that I'm not someone who only wants a good-looking guy nor am I a woman who would rather have a bad boy than a good man. I'm simply someone who desires balance. Be fine and nice. Be super-masculine and kind. Don't be just good-looking and also don't be just a nice guy. BE BOTH.

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Going for someone just because of the physical or sexual is shallow. At the same time, forcing yourself to be with someone just because he's nice is unhealthy. It's unhealthy because it can cause you to think that nice and kind men don't come in the packaging you truly desire. And that is simply not true.

Again, I know some women who turn down nice guys because they aren't very nice to themselves; that's another article for another time. But if, like me, you've been saying "he's too nice" when what you really mean to say is "the only thing I really like about him is how nice he is", I give you permission to reframe your way of thinking and let go of the guilt or second thoughts related to letting the nice guy go and moving on.

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I get it now. It's not that I'm turned off by nice guys. It's simply that I want more—A LOT MORE—than that. Unapologetically so. Nice is A quality that I want in a man but it's not THE only one.

Church ladies, I'll wait until I get it all. Thank you very much.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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