We’ve all encountered him: the self-proclaimed “nice” guy who suddenly reveals himself to be a needy narcissist, jealous jerk, or passive-aggressive, entitled player. Or, if you’re really unfortunate, some combination of all three.
So how do you tell if the dude you just started dating is genuinely good, or just a dick?
“You want to watch for patterns,” says therapist and relationship expert Julie Hanks, Ph.D., owner and director of Wasatch Family Therapy in Salt Lake City, Utah, and author of The Burnout Cure. “We all behave in unhealthy or manipulative ways once in awhile, but it’s problematic when there are consistent patterns of behavior that don't feel quite right.”
Here are eight warning signs that there’s a not-so-nice guy lurking beneath the surface:
1. He Says Mean Things in a Nice Way
“If he says unkind or hurtful things to you couched in a kind voice, or in the name of ‘I'm just being honest,’ that’s still mean,” says Hanks. “Or, if he makes cutting or belittling comments and then laughs it off by saying ‘I was only joking! Why do you take things so seriously?’ he just may be a jerk in disguise.”
2. He Pouts When You're Busy
“You may be flattered that he wants to spend every free moment with you,” says Hanks. “But how does he respond when you aren't available? A great guy will be able to express disappointment and that he'll miss you. A jerk in disguise will pout and give you a cold shoulder or a guilt trip for choosing someone else over him.”
"If he makes cutting or belittling comments and then laughs it off by saying ‘I was only joking! Why do you take things so seriously?’ he just may be a jerk in disguise."
3. He Keeps Buying You Nice Things...That Really Aren't Your Style
If he's buying you lavish gifts that totally don't fit your look, there might be reason to question his motives. “He may be a jerk who is trying to change your appearance under the guise of generosity,” says Hanks.
4. He Defers to You in All Decisions
This might seem super thoughtful at first, but Hanks says it can actually be a big red flag. “If he always wants you to decide things—where to go, what to do—that is a warning sign," she says. "Healthy people are able to both express their own wants and also consider the input of their date or girlfriend. If a guy agrees with everything you think, or say, or do, he's either not being genuine or doesn't have a good sense of who he is—and may look to you to prop him up or inflate his self-worth.”
5. He Talks Trash About Ex-Girlfriends
This is kind of similar to that advice about never dating a cheater. “If he's really nice to you, but trash talks all of his past girlfriends and blames them for their breakup, he'll probably talk poorly about you and blame you, too, if things don't work out,” says Hanks. There are two sides to every story, and someone who paints themselves as the victim in every break-up they’ve ever had is likely not telling the whole truth.
6. He Keeps Tabs on You
Communicating via little love notes and occasional check-ins when you’re apart can be an important part of a healthy relationship. But if he’s constantly keeping tabs on you, “That could be a sign of jealousy and insecurity—even if he couches it in the name of love,” Hanks says.
"If a guy agrees with everything you think or say or do, he's either not being genuine, or doesn't have a good sense of who he is."
7. He Has Strained Relationships with Other Women in His Life
If he treats other women in his life poorly, or speaks about them disrespectfully, that’s a clear indicator that there’s likely a jerk lurking under that nice exterior. “If he has a pattern of strained, negative, or disconnected relationships with other women, but claims to adore you, proceed with caution," says Hanks.
8. He Shows No Other Emotions
No one feels nice all the time. Failure to express other emotions can be a major warning sign. “Excessive niceness can be a cover for a lack of a secure sense of self and emotionally neediness,” Hanks says. “Healthy adults can express a full range of emotion—happy, mad, sad, scared, surprise, shame—and don't need to hide behind a facade of niceness.”
Ultimately, it’s important to learn to trust your gut. If your instincts are telling you that something about him feels off, don’t disregard that feeling.