Mom Was Right: Nice Girls Finish First

4 ways to keep it classy and still get what you want in relationships.


There was advice going around a few years ago — maybe you remember — about how women need to act like mean girls in order to succeed with men. The logic went something like this. Men love women who are confident and have good boundaries. Mean girls appear to be confident and have good boundaries. Therefore, men must love mean girls.

To understand how this movement took hold among intelligent women, it helps to have the context. In the 1980s and 90s, when I was single and dating, many of us did need to be schooled on how to maintain healthy boundaries with men. As a group, my friends and I had grown up hearing that "there are no more rules" in boy-girl relationships, and to just "be ourselves" with men; and with that, we were drop-kicked into the adult dating pool. We gamely crossed the ropes at The Limelight — eager waifs tottering on Anna Sui platforms (or at least the 8th Street knockoffs), searching for a Bryan Ferry. We stalked cute men outside their office buildings (you couldn't Google him back then), worked our schedules around the guy's availability, and agreed to random dates all the way at end of the Q line because it was convenient for him. Canceling dinner with the boss to accept a last-minute makeout session behind the DJ booth — that possibility actually flickered across my brain circa 1995.


So along came the advice to be a little mean and, well, it sounded like a welcome change from SOP. As a mean girl, you finally had the upper hand. Your actions let him know that the tables had turned and he was low-priority, anxiously checking his Rolex at Temple Bar while you took your time with one last set at the gym. No present he bought was ever good enough. You wanted to marry up, marry rich — girls got very focused on getting the ring. Mean girl behavior passed for assertiveness, and any potential for true empowerment and self-actualization got lost along the way. Perhaps this is why we appear destined to repeat the cycle.


In the current dating scene, many women are still soldiering on with the mean girl approach. But our boundaries are even weaker than before. Somehow the assertiveness training of prior decades has resulted in no more than a fancy attitude and the pretense of aloofness. Women still work their schedules around the guy and offer him everything they've got right up front, but instead of seeming free-spirited, the end result often looks sullen and joyless. What we pretend is a chill game-face often masks an inability to grasp life's steering wheel — and let's abandon any pretense that it's some kind of dating strategy. When girls accept last-minute crumbs with a flimsy bravado, it just means that we don't know how to ask (nicely) for what we need and deserve.

So how can women begin to rebuild healthy limits with men, but in a way that is true to ourselves and emotionally nourishing? Positive celebrity role models aren't abundant, but if you look, there are current examples of women who seem to operate authentically, and who assert healthy boundaries in their relationships. Women like Michelle Obama, Kate Middleton, Amal Alamuddin, and Angelina Jolie publicly model these ideals, and have attracted men who respect and admire their intelligence and independence. These women may be linked to powerful men, but they still navigate life on their own terms, and their partners support their interests and passions.

For those of us who are not royals or celebrities, the good news is that jet-set poise exists independently from a woman's physical appearance, wealth, education or any other superficial qualities. It should not be surprising that A-list men often choose wives who can handle themselves in any social setting, and who exhibit impeccable manners. Elegant behavior rests — not on haughtiness — but on a foundation of niceness. For example:

  • Listening attentively when others speak.
  • Projecting ease and approachability.
  • Recognizing and appreciating the contributions of others.
  • Expressing gratitude for life's blessings and opportunities.
  • Respecting others' differences and beliefs.
  • Being slow to take offense and quick to assume good intent.

Our behavior sets the tone for social interactions, and signals respect for ourselves as well as for others. So in romantic relationships, rather than demanding that a man treat you with respect, you can show him how, by respecting yourself first. Understand that you have a choice in how the relationship is paced, and gently accept that control. What are some limits you could consider?

  1. Even if you believe he is "The One," maintain all of your outside interests and keep all your appointments and promises. Don't drop everything to see him or lose yourself in 3-day "dates."
  2. Wait to have sex until you're sure that he loves you and you can trust him. Trust develops over time, and it may take several months before you know for sure that he follows through on his promises.
  3. Stay in courtship mode as long as you can; entice, tease, and savor getting to know each other.
  4. Recognize the difference between girlfriend and wife, and don't confuse the two roles.

You don't need to look far to witness beautiful women behaving badly; and, yes, many of them have found mates. But wouldn't you prefer to attract a real man, someone who is proud to be your biggest fan and who can't wait to bring you into his life for keeps?  It's nice to know that the mom-approved behavior you learned years ago can help bring that sweetness into your life.

Be the woman he loves, respects and cherishes. For more dating and relationship advice that reveals the best version of you and positively impacts all areas of your life, try Robyn's FREE New Direction Dating Newsletter.