The distinction can be subtle at first, then devastating.
Positive attention feels nice. Being desired feels very nice. Experiencing those things from someone you’re crazy about feels very, very nice.
Realizing that same person is making no real effort to truly know you, commit to you, or show you, love? That doesn’t feel nice at all.
When it comes to matters of the heart, there is a crucial difference between someone who is merely “nice” and someone who is kind. And it can be a tricky distinction to make at first because the initial stage of a relationship is often filled with optical illusions. Both of you are putting your best foot forward, there’s a lot of dopamine and other feel-good hormones flooding your brain, and warning signs are often ignored or at least glossed over.
When you first fall for someone, basic displays of human decency can appear almost heroic: They texted me back! They asked how my day was! I made a joke and they laughed! Oh, they are so nice.
It’s easy to be nice to someone; most of us extend that courtesy to total strangers (unless they are other drivers, in which case we curse at them). Kindness, in contrast, requires an investment of energy, care, and attention. Some basic examples to illustrate the difference:
Saying, “Oh that’s too bad” when you tell them you had a hard day? Nice. Asking, “Do you want to talk about it?” or “Can I do anything to help?” when you tell them you had a hard day? Kind.
Giving you a bite of their dessert at a restaurant? Nice. Surprising you with dessert the next time they come over? Kind.
Paying you a compliment about your appearance? Nice. Paying you a compliment about your soul? Kind.
You get the picture. Kindness is taking the extra step beyond platitudes. It involves thinking of another person and what might make them feel good, unprompted. It is outward-facing, not self-serving.
We’ve established that it’s easy to be nice. But it’s also quite easy to be kind if — and here’s the key — you truly care for someone. When you’re invested in a relationship with another person, finding ways to make them happy comes naturally. You don’t do it out of a feeling of obligation, or to avoid conflict, or because it might earn you something in return.
A relationship can get by for a while on “nice,” but over time, the absence of kindness will create a crack that only gets bigger. There will likely be an increasing imbalance in the effort and emotional investment each partner is putting in. The partner who is starved for kindness may then push harder for intimacy and connection, which will likely backfire. Even if things don’t fall apart all at once, it is only a matter of time; without kindness as a foundation, a relationship cannot hold up.
Regrettably, I have been on both sides of this scenario. I have been the superficially nice one who acted unkindly by taking advantage of another person’s devotion to making me feel better about myself. That person ultimately walked away and didn’t look back, and I deserved that.
I have also been the one who spent months clinging to every scrap of nice I could get from someone who seemed to be conducting an experiment titled, “How little effort can I put in before she finally gives up?” So…karma, I guess.
A partner who is nice but not kind to you isn’t a monster; things are rarely that black and white. But they aren’t the right person for you, and giving them more of your time and effort won’t change that. You deserve someone who shows you kindness every day, in small and large ways, just because. You deserve more than nice.