Better Than He Can: Or, Why Nice Guys Don’t Finish At All

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a rant on this blog, and it just so happens that I’ve stumbled upon a topic that has been bothering me since I’ve started writing romance. And I have to say it, not just for the ladies in the audience, but also for the gentlemen who have stumbled upon this blog.

A few weeks ago–and just in time for the Shawn Mendes concert in Manila–I had posted a rant about “Treat You Better” on my Twitter timeline. The title of this blog entry, in fact, comes from the chorus of the song, where Shawn yelps “BETTER THAN HE CAN” in his whiniest voice. Back then I had complained that this was actually about a “nice guy” who thinks so highly of himself that he expects his girl to dump the chump she’s with just because she can “do better,” without really specifying why or how he is better. As a result, a bunch of us jumped on the song, and got fired up over the underlying message that bad boy-lovin’ girls don’t know any better “than he can” just for choosing to be duped every time.

And I really thought this song was that bad, until I encountered a song from my not-so-distant past that was infinitely worse: “The Actor” by Michael Learns To Rock.

I didn’t realize how much “The Actor” perpetuated the image of the I’m A F***ing Nice Guy, Dammit until I sang it at karaoke night and saw the lyrics. Basically, the premise of the song is about a poor guy who’s about to lose his girl to a famous actor–hence, “I’m not an actor, I’m not a star/And I don’t even have my own car”–and he spends the rest of the song giving a Powerpoint presentation on why The Actor is a bad guy who will stomp on her heart. Fine by me if he wants to warn her away from this guy, but there is nothing–nothing–in this song that would indicate why he would be the better choice than The Actor.

The dirty games and the neon shows 
This is the world that he knows
Watching the stars satisfies my soul
Thinking of him makes me feel so cold 

Really, now, is that the best that you can do?

Let me put this another way: Yeah, guy, you love her, and you’re too shy to say so–but c’mon, why do you spend so much time on the cons (“Can’t you see he’s got dirt on his mind”–oh, really? What are you, a mind reader?) when you should be giving us the pros of why she should choose you? This is Marketing 101, people: you don’t prop yourself up simply by bringing the other guy down.

Which brings us back to Shawn Mendes.

I took another look at the lyrics to “Treat You Better,” and while I still hate the song, it does look like our friend Shawn has more to give from the marketing perspective. Here’s an example:

I’ll stop time for you
The second you say you’d like me to
I just wanna give you the loving that you’re missing
Baby, just to wake up with you
Would be everything I need and this could be so different
Tell me what you want to do

See the difference? Not only does he state what he brings to the table, but he also appeals to the girl’s sense of agency. He knows the odds, and he knows that she won’t choose him just because he’s a nice guy, but look at how he presents himself as a viable option. He can treat her Better Than He Can, but more than that, he will love her, respect her, bring down the moon for her–all she has to do is say the words, and he’ll do it. None of that self-pitying BS that we got from the other song.

Does that mean she’ll automatically choose him? Not exactly. Will her life be better if she chooses him? Who knows. As the song says, any girl may deserve a gentleman, but it’s still her choice.


Let me tell you another story: I once fell head over heels with a person in my religious community who I thought to be the perfect man for me: handsome, kind, God-fearing, you name it. He didn’t reciprocate my feelings, and my behavior when he turned me down was so out of line that the community had to step in. (Now that I think about it, I probably deserved to be held accountable for everything. But that’s another blog entry for another time.) Meanwhile, he was openly courting one of my good friends, and everyone thought that they were the ones who were destined for coupledom. Why? Because he was The Nice Guy, the one who bought her french fries and took her salsa dancing and shared her devotion to the Divine Mercy. Unbeknownst to me, this friend of mine was building up contempt for Mr. Nice Guy, not just because she wasn’t attracted to him, but because he was building up his boundaries around her and she couldn’t escape him–never mind that they had to work together for youth ministry. It all came to a head on Valentine’s Day, when he showed up at midnight at her house with a shit-ton of gifts and she had to state in no uncertain terms that he’d crossed the line. Later on, my friend would tell me that it made her sad to see me witnessing all of this and having their “courtship” rubbed in my face by other people while being held accountable for the same damn behavior that he displayed without recrimination. And while she didn’t say as much, I wouldn’t be surprised if people guilt-tripped my friend into dating him.

This isn’t some brooding, brawny alpha male, mind you. This was a man in a religious community. This was a man who heard Mass every day, taught in youth ministry, prayed in tongues. Everybody loved him. And still he fell into the trap of worshiping at the wrong altar.

(I don’t know where he is now, frankly. The last time I checked–and this was so many years ago–he was in a relationship with someone who was significantly younger than me.)

I look back on this story and I try my best to find something forgivable about the way that guy had treated me and my friend. Sometimes, when I’m feeling magnanimous, I pity him, because he’d put so much effort in treating her right that he didn’t realize that her answer was always going to be “no.” (Much in the same way that he’d said no to me! Ha!) But much of my anger comes from seeing him get all the cookies for being The Nice Guy, even when things were already going wrong. Mind you, he wasn’t abusive; he probably thought he was doing the right thing, for all that we know. That still doesn’t absolve him of all the crappy choices that he’d made, regardless of his hallowed place in that community.

Here’s the thing, guys: You don’t get a cookie just for being “nice.”

This spins back to what I said earlier about choice, too. Guys, when we say “no,” we don’t mean “please guilt-trip us into saying yes.” Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes we’re just not that into you. If you really cared about us–if you really wanted to appeal to our sense of human decency–you would respect our choices, and if it hurts too much to hear us say no, then maybe you might want to step away for a bit? Don’t just assume that we will fall into your laps just because you’re the best of what’s out there. Show us your best, and if we don’t like it, then say “thank you” and move on.

Trust me on this, people. I know. I’ve been there.

Love, Stella

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Stella Torres

is the author of the adult contemporary romances Save the Cake, Crushingly Close, and Nine Years Away, as well as the short story “Be Creative” in the anthology Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Vol. 1.

In her previous life, she has worked in public relations, taught English as a second language, and even attended graduate school (twice!). She has lived in Indonesia, Honolulu, and Quezon City before moving back to her hometown of Los Banos, a few hours’ drive (with traffic) from the heart of Manila.

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