Don’t marry the nice guy

By Emily Kingsley 

From New York.       

Every Thanksgiving, my family loads up our Jeep and makes the seven hour trip to my tiny hometown in Upstate New York. I have deep roots in this town — both sets of my grandparents grew up there and much of my family still lives there.

It’s quaint and picturesque except for the constant reminders of generational poverty — like rows of busted out cars in the front yard of a single wide trailer home whose windows are taped over with clear plastic. Each year when we visit, I feel more and surer that it’s a place I could never live.

This year, on Black Friday, I took my kids into town to browse the gift/hardware/cheese shop where my mom works. I was browsing the selection of dried soup mixes when I got that spooky feeling like someone is standing directly behind you.


I turned around to see a man several inches taller than me with rosy cheeks and a big smile. He wasn’t instantly familiar to me, but his voice sparked something deep in the inner recesses in my brain.

It was a shock when I figured out that I was face to face with my high school boyfriend, Lukas. His eyes were the same, but his cheeks had rounded and his beard and hair were speckled with gray. His frame had thickened with the weight of adulthood and although he looked happy and healthy, his overall appearance was a little weathered.

I don’t feel old enough to have not seen someone for twenty years. But I did some quick calculations and that’s what I came up with. We chatted for a few minutes and quickly caught up. Married, kids, house, jobs. No awkwardness or drama, but no desire to spend more than a few minutes in conversation either.

Later that day, when I was back at my parent’s house, I mentioned that I had run in to Lukas. Everyone in my family had the same response: “He was such a nice guy!”

Don’t marry the nice guy

They were right. He really was the best boyfriend. He was sweet and kind, and he thought I walked on the moon. He had a nice family and loved his parents. He played sports and helped my grandmother rake her yard.

When we started dating, we were both in high school. He would wait for me in the parking lot and drive me home from school in his gold colored Chevy Celebrity. I would cheer for him at basketball games and then we would go to Pizza Hut afterwards to celebrate.

When he went away to college, he wrote me long letters and spent the money from his work-study job to drive home and visit me on the weekends. We played chess and scrabble and went sledding in my backyard with my little brother.

He was probably the nicest guy I ever dated. Which is why I knew I had to break up with him.

He was so nice that when I didn’t call when I said I would, it was no big deal.

He was so nice that when I asked him to cancel his plans so he could drop me off and pick me up at my friend’s house, he would do it.

He was so nice that he let me choose where we ate, what we did and when he could see me.

Don’t marry the nice guy

I broke up with him over the phone in February. It was an epic call with lots of crying. I sat in the linen closet in my parents’ bathroom with my knees against my chest listening to deep, gasping sobs on the other end of the line as big, fat, hot tears rolled down my acne-riddled cheeks.

No, nothing had happened. No, he hadn’t done anything wrong. No, I hadn’t kissed anybody else. Somehow I just knew, deep in the folds of my unformed teenage brain, that it wouldn’t be good for me to continue to date — or even marry — such a nice guy.

It felt great to be with someone who thought I was perfect. It was an ego boost and an experience that I hope everyone has at some point. But deep down, I knew that I wasn’t perfect. I messed up, made mistakes, didn’t follow through or had bad ideas.

I knew that I needed someone who would hold me accountable. Someone that would push me to do better — to be better. Without that, I would become a relationship tyrant. Someone who became so accustomed to getting my own way that I forgot how to compromise or consider others’ feelings.

So it was over. Both of our families were shocked and saddened. After three years of dating him, I felt free and a little giddy to be on my own without the expectation of answering the phone or making it to family movie night every Saturday.

And then twenty years passed.

I spent the next decade dating a variety of nice, nice-ish and not-so-nice guys. I learned a lot more about myself and relationships before I finally locked down my husband Jared about ten years ago.

Jared is a lot of great things. He’s a firefighter, a great dad, a handy problem-solver and the most patient person I’ve ever met. But I wouldn’t characterize him as a nice guy, which is why he’s such a great fit for me.

I have no doubts that Jared loves me as I am. But he also pushes me to be better. He’ll give me the nudge I need to take a class, to book a trip or to sign up for a running race. He gives me the courage to take risks and praises me when things go well, but also lets me know when I could have done better.

He’ll call me out when I don’t do something I said I would do or if I’ve been too sharp with the kids or I’ve been sloppy with some of the daily tasks of running our household.

He doesn’t think it’s cute when I forget my keys or lock myself out of my car. He will come to my rescue, but then he’ll insist that I work on a strategy for not making more dumb mistakes.

I don’t resent him for any of this. In fact, I love him more for helping me believe that I can be better in the future than I am now. And I love him for always pushing back with honesty and kindness, even when he’s giving me feedback that isn’t ‘nice’.

Don’t marry the nice guy


Looking back, I give my 18-year old self credit for breaking up with such a nice guy. It would have been an easy thing to stick it out with him for much longer. We probably would have gotten married, had some kids, maybe bought a farmhouse in our town before I realized that I wanted more — to do more, to see more, to be more.

But we didn’t. And I’m so glad.

I still want to do more, see more an be more. But now I have a willing partner by my side and I know that next year will be more exciting than last year. And the next twenty years will be full of adventures, ambitious endeavors, trips, projects and plans.

All because I didn’t marry the nice guy.

Don’t marry the nice guy

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