Recently, I sat in a dark bar with a long-term, usually long-distance friend, catching up on one another's lives. As we sipped craft beers, she told me about her new office job, her new apartment, and of course, a new love interest — a man she had been friends with for many years, who'd recently turned into a potential romantic partner. I listened as she told me how they met, more about the longstanding friendship and his many good qualities, before she finally hesitated, then confided, "But . . . he's too nice."
Ah, the "they're too nice" trope. Maybe you've heard it said by friends, or have said it yourself about the person you're newly dating. Or maybe it's even been said about you. Either way, from the outside, the phrase doesn't always make sense. How can someone be too nice? When it comes to a potential life partner, don't you want them to be nice? But as anyone who's been there knows, the feeling is very real and has the potential to fan out a flame before it's truly begun to burn.
But where, exactly, is the line between "so sweet" and "too nice," and what makes the latter unattractive in the first place? The answers to those questions can feel hard to pin down — so we asked psychologists and dating experts to weigh in.
Is There Such a Thing as Being "Too Nice"?
To answer the question, we must first define niceness. Many different behaviors can be considered "nice." But when it comes to what constitutes "too nice" behavior in relationships, much of the research centers around altruism or selflessness — a willingness to behave in ways that are beneficial to another person, at the cost of oneself.
One recent study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences focused on the role altruism plays in our mate choice as humans. The study authors ran three experiments designed to test how a person's altruism affects that desirability. In one test, for example, they put one person in charge of distributing resources toward another person. People who gave all the resources away were considered highly altruistic; those who kept half were moderately altruistic; and those who gave none were non-altruistic. The findings: "Overall, we find strong support that those who behave moderately altruistic are rated as more attractive than those that behave highly altruistically, which was evident across all three experiments is the first of its kind to show us more insight into how it might negatively impact our search for the perfect partner," the study stated.
It may be that we tend to be attracted to people who abide by social norms, and being too altruistic is seen as deviating from those norms, the researchers speculated. Or, we might feel that overly generous people come off as holier-than-thou, they added: "A further explanation derives from the do-gooder derogation hypothesis, in that people react negatively towards those who act morally superior
compared to others."
Erika Davian, a dating and intimacy coach who specializes in working with men with little-to-no dating or sexual experience, shares her own view of why "too niceness" might be an immediate turnoff. "Most of us want someone who we can imagine being a kind partner or parent in the future," Davian says. "But when someone is too nice, it conveys a lack of boundaries. It may be a signal that they are not taking care of themselves and their own needs first."
In other words, too much of anything isn't a good thing, even being nice. Not only can being "too nice" reflect on how much the other person is caring (or not caring) for themselves out of wanting to please their partner, but it can also create a sense of negative expectations. "If a partner is too nice, a potential partner may also be concerned that they may be expected to also forgo their own needs one day, too," Davian explains. Of course, this could also point to a simple mismatch in personalities. A person who's less altruistic may be more likely to see a very altruistic person as "too nice," compared to someone who is also super generous. Which brings us to . . .
What, Exactly, Counts as Being "Too Nice"?
While it's clear that being "too nice" can be off-putting in relationships, when it comes to defining what behavior tips someone over into red flag territory in real life, things get more complicated. That's because ultimately, the line is truly subjective. What we deem "too nice" behavior is often based on who we are as people, our life experiences, and what we're looking for in a partner or partners.
Some people may find someone who's overly communicative, flattering, or financially generous very early in the relationship "too nice," for example. Others may feel the same way about someone who doesn't assert their opinions forcefully enough, or has a more go-with-the-flow personality type.
Hanna, 18, says that her ex's thoughtfulness and gentleness was at odds with her desire for a more playful, teasing dynamic. "I wanted a partner who would make fun of me and be goofy. I would even purposefully be annoying to see if I could get him to stop being too nice," she says. He couldn't, because that's just not who he was. And there wasn't anything wrong with that — but it wasn't what Hanna was looking for, long-term.
Kate MacLean, the resident dating expert at Plenty of Fish, suggests that in some situations, people who are "too nice" might be perceived as being risk-averse. "While there's nothing wrong with people who lean on the mellower side, this dynamic might not work for people who desire a bit more spice in their relationship," MacLean says.
Clearly, there's no one definition of "too nice" — it depends on what each individual is looking for in their relationship. And Laurel House, an eharmony relationship expert, emphasizes that being "too nice" isn't always viewed as a negative, even when it's a dating dealbreaker. While some people relate the quality to people who are manipulative or people-pleasing, others use the term to mean "too nice for me". They may not be in a place to accept the kindness and consistency this person is offering them, for instance. Or, while they appreciate the trait, they may place a high value on being challenged by their partners and sense that the nice person won't provide that.
If it sounds like we're giving nice people the short end of the stick here, remember: what one person sees as "too nice," another person will see as "just right." It's easy to imagine someone who dreams of having a partner who behaves kindly rather than poking fun at them, like Hanna's ex; or who prefers to take it easy or even play it safe, in MacLean's example.
How Do You Know If Someone Is Too Nice (For You)?
For the most part, you can trust yourself. You might feel bad for letting someone down on the basis of niceness, but it's not so different from breaking up with a potential partner because you have mismatched senses of humor. It's not them; it's not you — it's the two of you together that's the problem.
But if you seem to be constantly cutting loose people who are all "too nice" for you, it's worth looking into a little. MacLean suggests asking yourself what each person did to make you feel this way, then considering if you're really giving these people a fair shot, or if you're guilty of making a snap judgment. "It's important to not be immediately dismissive of someone for being 'too nice' and instead, ask questions and get to know them," MacLean says. "Maybe someone is just shy and could be less comfortable openly sharing their POV in the early days of a relationship. Or maybe they are more mellow than you are. That's all OK." These qualities may not be immediately attractive to you, but they also don't have to be instant dealbreakers. If you are looking for a relationship, it could be worth taking the time to dig a little deeper, to see if beneath a person's shyness or mellowness, you really connect.
You could also ask yourself if there's some other reason you shy away from kind partners. Maybe a negative past dating experience has led you to feel as though you don't deserve niceness in a relationship, for instance. If you think you may be stuck in an unhelpful old pattern like this, finding ways to properly grieve and heal from a toxic relationship through therapy and/or self-care may help you change your perspective and attitude.
But Vaishali Nikhade, a psychic medium with over 7,000 readings, who often counsels people about their love lives, urges her clients to ultimately listen to their guts. Sometimes, too nice really is a red flag. Someone who seems too nice could actually be love bombing you, an early warning sign of abuse, for instance. "Although on the surface, you may feel someone is too nice, it's actually your intuition trying to give you a subtle warning that something is off," Nikhade says. "It's only when someone is hiding something or lying by omission that they feel the need to be extra nice. Fortunately, our intuition can see through this cover and warn us to collect additional clues."
If you're the one being labeled as too nice by date after date, you may want to try some self-reflection, says MacLean. Ask yourself whether you're going all in on a relationship after just one or two dates, based on who you hope the person you're seeing is or who you want them to be. This sort of infatuation can prompt you to be overly fawning, generous, or available early on, which could make the person you're seeing label you as too nice. If this is you, try switching your mindset. Be interested to see if you're interested. Let time together, information, and shared experiences open your heart and create a space for them to open theirs.
But at the end of the day, it's important to be yourself, no matter what. Maybe you're simply exceedingly kind and selfless, and maybe you'll end up dating a few people who aren't into that. But the relationship you want is with someone who knows you and wants you. "Be true and be open to them seeing who you are — the wholeness of who you are," MacLean says. "Have real and deep conversations, and make space for them to open up, too, which creates true and potentially enduring connections."
Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last?
The trope of "nice guys finishing last" and women putting the good guys in the friend zone and only dating jerks is as toxic and untrue as it is pervasive. After all, as the experts have made clear, not all nice folks are actually nice. Sometimes, niceness can disguise some truly harmful and off-putting behavior. And even when it's genuine, no one is owed anything — least of all someone else's time, attention, and love — just because they're nice.
For the most part, though, niceness is just one quality that makes up someone's personality. Like other qualities, your particular brand of niceness could be a dealbreaker to one person and a dealmaker to the next. At the end of the day, then, all you can do is try to be genuine — and trust that the right person will find you just nice enough.