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Thursday, May 9, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'No More Mr. Nice Guy!' A Federal Way psychotherapist wants men to reclaim their masculinity

Seattle Times staff reporter

When you see one of these

:-)

in an e-mail from Robert Glover, your irony alarm wails.

Glover is the author of the self-help book, "No More Mr. Nice Guy!" (Barnes & Noble, $14.95), and yes, the exclamation point is part of the title.

He's a Federal Way-based psychotherapist, an emerging figure in what's sometimes called the Men's Movement as crystallized by "Iron John" and drum-beating a decade ago. And ironically, he's a nice, extremely courteous fellow.

"Every now and then I'll run into a Nice Guy who says, 'My wife just thinks you're Satan, you're a demon. She thinks you're terrible,' " Glover says.

But others thank him for what he's doing: helping men rediscover their masculinity — or in some cases discover it for the first time — minus the hokey rituals.

Glover has started a cottage industry battling what he calls "Nice Guy Syndrome." He defines it this way:

"A Nice Guy is a man who has been conditioned by family and society to believe that he has to be good in order to be loved."

Specifically, Glover believes contemporary men neglect their own needs to please women and gain their approval. They avoid conflict, behave manipulatively, don't say what they want, won't stop things they don't like and don't know how to communicate with or like other men.

In a thin volume that relies mainly on Glover's professional observations rather than research or statistics, he says Nice Guys don't believe they're OK just as they are. So they build up resentment and frustration that make them and their women miserable.

"No More Mr. Nice Guy!" came out of men's therapy groups Glover conducted several years ago. The same themes kept coming up, so he wrote the chapters to speed up his patients' progress, he says.

Now, in addition to his book and regular group sessions, Glover is planning his first "NMMNG Seattle Summer Institute" for five intensive therapeutic days starting July 27 (at $800 a person), and others in cities around the world.

Macho message

His macho message has landed him talk-radio appearances and an upcoming feature in that venerable men's magazine, Esquire (which, it should be noted, has taken a turn in recent years toward the touchy-feely).

"What I found was that a lot of Nice Guys receive most of their conditioning on how to be male from women, either from dependent mothers or single moms," Glover says. "We have a female-dominated educational system. Growing up in the '60s and '70s, most of those guys heard from angry women about how bad men were and thought, 'I'd better find out what women think is good and try to become that.' "

Glover is tapping into the same vein of male self-assertion and anger that has propelled shock-jock Tom Leykis to success. But he says his emphasis is less on over-the-top schtick than on "getting their needs met in general."

A few of Glover's suggestions for recovering Nice Guys:

Start putting yourself first. "You've got to fill your own bucket up before you can pour anything out of it."

Spend time with male friends. "A lot of guys tell me they don't have male friends because their wives complain when they go out with the guys. I think it's essential for healthy relationships."

Learn to get in touch with your feelings with the guys. "We men do our feelings differently than women do, and that's OK."

Learn to set boundaries. "Nice Guys typically complain that people treat them badly, take advantage of them, hurt them," Glover says. "It's the ability to remove yourself from situations that feel bad."

Glover admits that he, too, is "a recovering Nice Guy." A turning point came for him several years ago. He was in the car with his wife, and he says she'd been crabby with him, a little abusive. He let his resentment stew for a couple of days before he confronted her about it.

"She said, 'You're right, I did treat you badly, but it was your job not to hang around me.' She said, 'It's your job to pull off the road, get out the cellphone and call me a cab, but do it with love. ... Don't pull over calling me names saying, You're this, you're that, I'm getting the hell out of here. Call a cab and say, Dear, I love you, but I'm calling you a cab because I can't be with you.'

"And now we have a term for that: We refer to it as 'calling a cab with love.' I use that with the guys I work with," Glover says.

Your irony alarm may be wailing again. Glover's wife not only gave him a push toward his self-assertion philosophy, but actually dictated the terms of his self-assertion.

"I was too much of a victim to think of it," he admits.

Glover says a lot of his male clients are referred by their wives. Some of them never wanted to be with a wimp. "Before, they were just frustrated: 'Why is he so passive-aggressive? Why won't he ever tell me the truth? Why does he appear to be listening to me but he can't remember anything that's important?' "

Or, as one man in Glover's online discussion/support group phrased it: "Maybe it's something that emanates from you, like the fear a dog can smell. To a woman, it's the smell of wuss."

'Nice Girls' too?

That raises the question: Is this really a male issue or just a wuss issue?

Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist and a frequent commentator on gender issues, sees the matter somewhat differently.

"I think that's a genderless problem. You have both men and women thinking, 'Why am I such a nice guy or nice girl? Why am I being taken advantage of?'

"I tend to think guys who go to those groups are either really angry and need a place to express it, or they're men who are very hurt, often post-divorce, they don't know what hit them, they need their confidence back and they're feeling pretty isolated."

But Schwartz, whose books include "The Gender of Sexuality" and "American Couples," isn't entirely skeptical. Among men, she says, "There's consciousness-raising going on. There's this sense of wanting to claim some territory in the feelings, role models, parenting and teaching areas. These are places that have been ceded to women for the past 90 years."

One barometer of a "cultural shift" taking place is a rise in magazines geared toward men, including long-established Esquire and GQ as well as cheekier Maxim and its offshoots.

"They wouldn't be doing it if men didn't want to read it," Schwartz says.

As for the hand-wringing about men learning to communicate with each other, Schwartz scoffs: "Pick up the phone. I think they're noticing there's some really great stuff there that women own, and they want some of it, too."

But it hasn't been until recently that men could say anything about the issue without getting shouted down or laughed out of the room, according to Asa Baber. He's been at the front lines of gender battles for 20 years as Playboy Magazine's controversial "Men" columnist.

"For many years it was really very lonely," Baber says. "There were a lot of years there where most men just retreated into a shell. Most men over the last 20 or 30 years have not wanted to engage in the gender debate. They just shut up."

Baber agrees with Glover that contemporary guys have tended to allow women to define their behavior — especially amid the increased absence of household father figures since World War II and the rise of single-parent families.

Heroic images

"They are trying to make us into super-polite, super-politically-correct people. But I think that's fading. I hear less and less media specials about how men have to behave, da-da-da-da-da-da. Men have been neutralized, men have had troubles, they've been dismissed, but they're also coming back. And 9/11 didn't hurt."

The standard men-are-pigs patter was deflated after the heroic images that emerged from the disaster, Baber argues. But is there really a Men's Movement?

"There has never been, nor probably should there ever be something as monolithic as the modern feminist movement," Baber says. But whether it's a consciousness raising, as Schwartz described it, or something else, movement of some kind seems undeniable.

"In our own slow kind of grubby way, sort of like bears at the end of the winter, we're kind of staggering out there and sniffing the air and saying, 'Wait a minute, we're pretty good guys and we're not just going to fold anymore,' " Baber says.

'Show 'em your power'

Or as another of Glover's online acolytes puts it: "I learned, when taking some salsa and swing-dance lessons over the past year, that the more I lead the bigger the woman's smile. It's true! Spin 'em hard. Take the lead. Show 'em your power. Be the boss. They'll be grateful that you're a real man. A man who knows what he's doing. Women still get to choose if they want to dance with you."

And if there is a physics of relationships, Glover notes that movement isn't without consequences. If you follow his advice, he says, "You and your partner are going to grow in a way that you never imagined, or it's going to blow this thing to hell and the two of you are going to get away from each other because that's what needs to happen. From experience I've found that's about 50-50."

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com.

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