If a guy tells me “I’m not a nice guy” should I believe him?

melonbellies asks:

This guy I’ve been interested in admitted to me that he’s not a nice guy. Usually people would say guys wouldn’t lie about something like that. But what if he’s just being humble? Maybe he’s been hurt and is protecting himself by saying this? I’ve asked people who know him and I’ve only received positive feedback about him. I’ve known him for a little and he seems sweet, I do get a sense of sadness from him though.

Demetrius says:

Whenever someone tells you something about themselves that can be perceived as negative, i.e. I’m not a nice guy or I’m a selfish person, assume they have a reason for telling you that, and be wary.  If someone tells you something about themselves that can be perceived as positive, i.e. I’m a really nice guy, or I’m a really generous person, be skeptical. People can tell you who they are and try to shape a narrative, but eventually, people will show you who they really are.

I think that when people describe themselves in ways that are negative, they do it for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a question of semantics
  2. They’re sharing an opinion about themselves they believe 
  3. They’re qualifying future behavior
  4. They’re trying to influence you

It’s a question of semantics

I would never, ever, describe myself using the term “Nice Guy”, mostly because of semantics. I’m not a “nice guy” because I don’t try to please people at my own expense. I try to be kind, but being nice or striving to be a nice guy is not something I do. I’ve specifically told people on dates that I’m not a “nice guy” for that reason. So I can understand the impulse to say “I’m not a nice guy” if you don’t agree with the accepted meaning of that term.

They’re sharing an opinion about themselves they believe

Sometimes people share an opinion about themselves because they genuinely believe it to be true, regardless of the evidence to support that opinion. Sometimes it comes from a place of misplaced confidence, or undeserved uncertainty about themselves. Let’s propose a hypothetical situation: This guy’s last ex was someone he met at an impressionable time in his life, he’s easy to manipulate, and his ex constantly told him that he was a bad person. In that scenario, I can see him truly believing that he genuinely is not a nice guy, despite the votes of confidence from his friends. Maybe he is a nice guy, but lacks self-esteem.

They’re qualifying future behavior

When someone shares a negative opinion about themselves it’s possible that they’re qualifying future behavior. “I know I cheated on you, but what did you expect? I told you I wasn’t a Nice Guy!”. I’m not saying that’s this guy’s motivation per se, but I’ve seen this sort of motivation at play, and I’ve seen it be effective, as sad as it is. Some people think that saying that they’re bad, or that they’ll do something wrong, excuses the behavior later on. It doesn’t, in case you were wondering.

They’re trying to influence you

I was going to say “manipulate you”, but I realized that influence was a much better way to describe the motivation. I think the term influence is neutral, while manipulate only really has negative connotations. Let’s say someone says “I’m always late to things” before they go on a first date and it’s an honest statement. If the goal is to influence people so that they lower their standards when it comes to punctuality, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, you could use it to influence someone so that they lower the bar in other ways. “I’m not good at buying gifts” can be an honest statement, or a statement used to influence someone so that you can avoid buying them gifts. Saying “I’m not a nice guy” can be a statement used to influence you to lower your standards for his behavior.

Let’s get specific about your situation before we close. Knowing the very little I do about your situation, I can’t say for sure what his motivations might be, but I’ll make some statements that I feel safe doing. First, don’t assume that just because his friends think he’s a nice guy, that he is. Many terrible, god-awful, scum-of-the-earth people have friends who will support them no matter how terrible they are. Second, whatever his reasons for telling you he’s not a nice guy doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is the fact that he felt the need to say it. Maybe it’s a matter of low self-esteem, maybe he’s trying to influence your opinion, maybe he truly is not a nice dude. Whatever the reason, he’s got a reason, so look for warning signs that what he said has some weight.

One last piece of advice for you, and everyone. If you’re thinking about dating someone and they make a statement about themselves, positive or negative, ask them about it. Don’t just take negative statements, or positive statements at face value. Ask why they considers themselves the way they do. Ask what makes them feel that way, I can guess at motivations until the cows come home, so it’s better to ask someone, and judge for yourselves their motivations, based on their reason for telling you.

Good Luck Out There.