I’ve finally figured the Nice Guy thing out and why it’s such a trap as a relationship strategy. I’ve not talked about Prisoners Dilemma as a framework for a while, so you can read my longer earlier post on that topic, or just plow ahead with this one.
So assuming a basic “Nice or Mean” matrix between a husband and a wife for say completing basic household tasks that need to be done, the matrix would look something like this…
Now it seems fairly obvious that having both husband and wife be nice to each other is the ideal setup. Obviously both being mean to each other is pretty unpleasant too. But the options where one half plays the nice card and gets screwed for it while the other plays the mean card and wins a servant for a day can be…. well tempting, if only for once in a while.
In a real relationship this game is played over and over. It’s slightly over simplifying things to say that a couple coming home from work each day decide to be either nice or mean to each other, but in general it’s true. As even well below average intelligence humans are extremely bright compared to other mammals, both husband and wife learn each others playing strategies very quickly.
The Nice Guy strategy is simple – always play the nice card. No matter what happens, whether the wife is nice or mean, he will just continue to play the nice card.
Very quickly the wife will learn that her husband is using the Nice Guy strategy and will always play the nice card. That allows her to very safely use a strategy called “Whatever I Feel Like” where she on her own whim can either choose to be nice and have a pleasant time with her husband, or simply choose to be mean and be waited on by him.
Over time the husband gets increasingly frustrated with this combination of strategies. He is being nice and she is not. He rationalizes that she should be nice back to him, but she isn’t always or even terribly often, though she is sometimes. The obvious solution to an impartial observer is to tell the Nice Guy to stop his strategy and adopt a “Tit for Tat” strategy. Unfortunately the Nice Guy nearly always refuses this advice. The question that had being bugging me was why. Now I figured it out, read on…
An easy answer is that Nice Guys are simply psychically damaged from some sort of childhood trauma and can’t break free of the early programming. Though that may indeed be true, that helps us little as an actual tool for change. The way I believe it is best understood as an adult is that the Nice Guy gets hooked into a behavioral response pattern to being given a random reward.
Imagine a lab rat in a cage and with a lever on one wall. If every time the lever is pushed a food pellet is given, the rat will only push the lever when it wants a food pellet. The rest of the time it will ignore the lever. If the lever does nothing, the rat will play with it, figure out it’s useless and then ignore it. However if the lever randomly drops a food pellet into the rage, the rat will spend a lot of effort working the lever to ensure it has a supply of food pellets. It’s the same basic principle that addicts people to gambling on the one armed bandit slot machines. You may pull the lever nine times and get nothing, but the tenth time might be a winner, or maybe not until the 100th pull. It’s random.
So for the Nice Guy, the problem isn’t that he never gets what he wants, the problem is that he sometimes gets what he wants. Assuming… well this is a sex blog, so lets just assume he wants sex… assuming he wants sex, it’s not that she never has sex with him, but that he gets it drip fed to him.
Rather than understanding that the Nice Guy strategy is a losing strategy, he mistakenly believes that it is in fact a winning strategy. Rather than altering the strategy he resolves to be even nicer to her. The thought process is that nice does effect her and that by being even nicer that she will reward him more frequently (i.e. “be in the mood”). After all he thinks to himself… on the nights that she did have sex with him he was being nice, so nice must have an effect, so therefore… increase the nice! It’s the same approach as someone buying not just one lottery ticket but dozens in the belief that more chances to win are better.
Ultimately though his being nice has minimal effect on her. He’s always going to be nice, so she can do whatever the hell she wants. She can drip feed him sex once every 2-4 weeks for years on end if she carefully manages his frustration level and thereby avoid a great deal of the more mundane tasks of everyday life. More than likely this is all completely subconsciously done on her part and stems from her overall sexual disinterest in him. If the Nice Guy is putting in endless effort to be nice to her, it’s essentially a totally Beta approach with no Alpha at all. Not good. Not good at all.
The solution is as I said earlier a “Tit for Tat” strategy. It’s in my earlier post and outlined on Wikipedia… (I edited “nice” below to “peaceful” to avoid confusion with the Nice Guy strategy)
Peaceful: The most important condition is that the strategy must be peaceful, that is, it will not defect before its opponent does (this is sometimes referred to as an “optimistic” algorithm). Almost all of the top-scoring strategies were peaceful; therefore a purely selfish strategy will not “cheat” on its opponent, for purely utilitarian reasons first.
Retaliating: However, the successful strategy must not be a blind optimist. It must sometimes retaliate. An example of a non-retaliating strategy is Always Cooperate (aka Nice Guy). This is a very bad choice, as “nasty” strategies will ruthlessly exploit such players.
Forgiving: Successful strategies must also be forgiving. Though players will retaliate, they will once again fall back to cooperating if the opponent does not continue to defect. This stops long runs of revenge and counter-revenge, maximizing points.
Non-envious: The last quality is being non-envious, that is not striving to score more than the opponent (impossible for a ‘nice’ strategy, i.e., a ‘nice’ strategy can never score more than the opponent).
In the end the Nice Guy just has to try bumping back on the abuse and gauge the results. There’s almost no point trying to ask the wife to be nicer and offer up sex more often. Like I’ve said many times talk is near pointless in changing behavior while action is a much faster route and often the only thing that does anything. The solution to not being taken advantage of is simple self assertion. It will feel weird and awkward at first, but it’s never too late to learn.
Give it a whirl. If you were only going to get sex once this month for a hundred hours of domestic service, you may as well just take the month off and see what happens. I have a hunch that the poker machines are rigged to pay out better when you’re closer to the door.