In my little corner of the internet, we’ve been having conversations about the downfall of the “nice guy.” The problematic nature of the “nice guy” is not a new concept. We’ve all heard “nice guys” bemoan their favorite chronic complaint that nice guys finish last. And usually those “nice guys” are so enmeshed in their “nice guy” persona that they completely lack the self-awareness to understand that they’re finishing last because they are, in fact, not nice guys.
Social media has ushered forth a new brand of “nice guy,” and the women of the internet are currently playing a fun little game of whack-a-mole to slap these guys back down. They’re the “Pratfall Nice Guys.”
Allow me to explain.
In cognitive psychology, we talk about something called the pratfall effect. The pratfall effect is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to perceive individuals as more likable and relatable when they make a mistake or exhibit a flaw. If we already see someone as competent, capable, or charming, and then we see them make a blunder of some kind — falling down, getting tongue-tied, or tripping over their own two feet — we see them as even more likable. And, in many cases, we tend to see them as more trustworthy, too.
So, what is the Pratfall Nice Guy?
Pratfall Nice Guys, particularly those with big social media platforms, have learned to weaponize the pratfall effect. They curate an image of themselves as dopey, innocent, wide-eyed, and golly gee, just so naive about the world to gain the trust of women online and to enable their manipulation.
By portraying themselves as clumsy, socially awkward, affable dopes, these “nice guys” exploit our natural inclination to sympathize with and care for someone who seems vulnerable or harmless. They intentionally make minor mistakes, playfully stumble over their words, or present themselves as naive to create an impression of harmless imperfection. This behavior lowers our suspicion and skepticism, making us feel more at ease in their presence, and making it easier for them to manipulate their audience without raising red flags.
They create content that is meant to appeal to women. They do this mostly by either: (1) appropriating women’s trauma as talking points for why “men need to do better” (all while never doing the work themselves, (2) depicting themselves as the “recovered narcissist” or “reformed shitty boyfriend” to separate themselves from the actually bad men, or (3) weaponizing therapy-speak and masquerading as mental health gurus when they have no background or credentials on the matter (and most of them aren’t even in therapy themselves).
As women flock to their pages and their audience grows, we watch as they lean in to the pratfall effect. They take on goofy, dorkish personas, filming Story Time videos where they talk about how their awkward shyness made them blow it with a girl they were into. They upload “bloopers” that, to the trained eye, are obviously staged, to show how clumsy and zany they are. At the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, they post thirst-traps to signal to their female viewers that they are, in fact, very macho and sexually desirable.
The image that is left in our minds is the duality of a man who is alarmingly sexy while also completely childlike and safe.
Because, really, who could be guarded around a lovable goofball who could also throw your back out if you asked him to?
This duality is incredibly important, and here’s why. An interesting thing about the Pratfall effect is that it only works if the person is already perceived as a likable person. When we see a likable person commit an embarrassing error or blunder, we see them as even more likable. However, if we see an unlikable person do the same thing, we see them as less likable.
So, the Pratfall Nice Guys have a bit of a tightrope to walk if they want this tactic to work. They have to make themselves likable first, and then they can enact the goofball persona that builds a sense of trust and safety.
This is why we see them curate platforms that are a bizarre blend of PG and R-rated content.
While carefully weaving this web in the public arena, they are overtly and covertly abusive in their private lives. Often, they use the massive platforms they’ve built as a dating pool, sliding into the DMs of women who idolize them with beguiling attempts at flirting like, “I never do this, but I just had to reach out and try to get to know you.” They invoke their “celebrity” status to make women feel special and unique. Lucky girl, they seem to say, that you of all people have my undivided attention.
Of course, no woman has their undivided attention. This private game they play is happening with women from all corners of the internet, all completely unaware of each other. Behind the scenes, these men manipulate and gaslight, lie and deceive. They exert control over the women in their orbit, using their influence and their “good guy reputation” to keep those women from recognizing abuse as abuse. When women point out that they don’t like how they are being treated, these guys typically begin enacting the narcissist technique of DARVO: Deny, Accuse, Reverse Victim and Offender. They appeal to their goofball nature, asking how anyone could dare accuse someone as naive and childlike as them of being abusive. Becoming wide-eyed and innocent, they suggest that the women trying to hold them accountable are the ones who should really be under scrutiny.
After all, who could dare think anything but good things about the self-proclaimed adorably dorky nice guy?
Eventually, one or more of the victims of these men’s abuse comes forward and speaks out. In response, the Pratfall Nice Guys call these women hostile, aggressive, narcissistic. They initiate smear campaigns, performing character assassinations against anyone who dares question their nice guy persona. They recruit their legions of female followers to defend them and to publicly harass and discredit the women speaking out. And these women do this willingly because they are all hoping to be the next in line to date this affably lovable nice guy.
When they realize they can’t spin the narrative, when the tides have turned too significantly against them, they spiral into self-destructive narcissistic collapse. Some of them deactivate their accounts and leave the internet, being far too proud to just admit their wrongs and take accountability. Others carry on, trying to maintain some semblance of the influence they once had. But those guys’ reputation will always be marked with an asterisk.
It’s time we stop letting the Pratfall Nice Guy build platforms from which to deceive and manipulate women. It’s time we learn to identify them quickly and choose not to engage. There is nothing good that comes from supporting the Pratfall Nice Guy. The women in their orbit are appreciated only to the extent they provide praise, clout, and sexual or romantic opportunity. In the end, they always get burned.
The way we deplatform the Pratt Fall Nice Guy is the same way we deplatform all types of dangerous men on the internet — we stop centering men in women’s spaces. We have to stop amplifying “male allies” and “reformed bad guys” in our conversations about women’s issues. We need to prioritize the voices of women instead. If we do platform men in these conversations, we need to be more selective about who makes the cut. I think it’s a little premature to try to list the qualities of what kinds of men should be included in topics surrounding women’s issues because we keep finding out that even the ones we declare as “good” end up letting us down. But, if I had to name a few green flags of safe men who belong in our spaces, it would be these:
- They are being intentional and deliberate about cultivating a mostly male audience.
- They amplify women’s voices around issues that pertain to us, rather than centering themselves and talking over us.
- They are transparent about the work they are currently doing to learn, grow, and deconstruct their biases against women. They do not attempt to separate themselves from the “bad men.”
- They have healthy, thriving relationships with women in their real lives. The perpetually single men who “want a real relationship but just keep getting hurt by women” are not what we need.
- They are willing to be called in and held accountable when they get things wrong.
I don’t know if even these guys are what we need in our spaces and conversations, but what I do know for sure is that we have no room for the Pratfall Nice Guys.
Those guys deserve to finish last.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.