The Allure of Bad Boys

cartoon-bad_boy_navy1-300x289Why do women fall for bad boys?

My students ask that question all the time.

Michael Kimmel, who studies men, asked his women students to choose between the charming rouge, Rhett Butler and dependable Ashley Wilkes.

Do I have to choose?

They groaned.

Are those my only choices?

They pled.

Because the women liked — and disliked — characteristics of both.

Forced to choose, about half opted for each type. Those desiring Rhett wanted his gusto and charisma, minus the philandering. Change – but keep the good parts. One woman insisted,

The problem is that Rhett Butler has never been loved by me. When I love him, he’ll change.

So plenty of women don’t want bad boys — or don’t want them to be very badly. But what about those who do? Women likely end up with hurtful men for various reasons.

Some get bored after making a “win.” One woman explained that at first she wonders, “Can I get this person? Am I good enough?” But after she wins him over she thinks, “Now I know and I’m bored.” Bad boys keep her guessing so at least life’s not dull.

Or, when a man sends mixed signals a woman can spend a great deal of time discerning his intentions. Realizing she thinks about him constantly, she may suppose she’s really into him.

A few are drawn to the drama that surrounds difficult relationships. There are no ruts.

Others simply suffer from low self-esteem and feel they deserve no better.

Some think that men who abuse them out of jealousy are showing great passion. He must really love me to get so upset! As Dr. Regina Barreca over at Psychology Today describes it,

His anger and her fear are seen as ‘proof’ of their love.”

They usually end up divorced in the end – once she gets that he’s just abusive.

Bad boys can come across as self-confident and powerful – even if it’s more bravado than real, and some women feel “special” at being chosen by these overly confident men.

Meanwhile, because our culture eroticizes male dominance, some internalize the notion and find it appealing. These women may not be so happy about the reality of domineering men in the long run. Like a friend of mine who was at first attracted to her ex-husband because of his male dominance. Later, she divorced him because of his male dominance.

Some think women are hard-wired to desire a strong man who can impart superior genes to her children. And so they choose cheating, abusive bullies who end up abandoning them and their children? That aids survival? Or does cruelty just masquerade as strength?

Many say their desires have changed. Their younger selves wanted bad boys, but with maturity they’ve turned toward good men. As one put it:

I did leave the cave man, regained my independence and self esteem, and found another man. To my surprise, this man is attentive, loving, tells me I’m beautiful (in sweats), and spontaneous. He picks flowers, decorates my car, cooks. . . I could keep going on, but I’ll say I feel like a queen!

To all the good guys: plenty of women want you, and more so as they grow and gain understanding. Hang in there.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on December 30, 2013, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. I think the allure of bad boys has to do with the idea that we can change them with our love. We see it in movies all the time. I mean, how did the Beast change? Because he fell in love with Belle. How did Eugene change? Because he fell in love with Rapunzel. How did Edward Cullen change? Because he fell in love with Bella. It’s all over the place. In the real word, bad men usually stay bad men.

    Sometimes I think it comes down to the spontaneous, but you don’t have to be bad to surprise people.

  2. Really good post. As someone who used to find bad boys irresistible- I can say that it gave me a sense of being Sandy in the movie Grease- when a bad boy liked me it made me feel like Olivia Newton John at the end of the movie- from uncool to cool.

  3. Sometimes the type of man a woman marries is not the type of man she actually prefers to have sex with. The dependable family man who will be a good father to her children does not give her the excitement that the “bad boy” can. Unfortunately this can lead to infidelity in the long run.

  4. My downfall growing up was always that bad boy. Thank goodness I grew up. Happy New Year to you and all your loved ones. May 2014 bring you everything you have ever desired and more. Many hugs Paula xxxxx

  5. Happy New Year !! *clink*
    I could be good. I could be bad. I could be ugly. Take your pick ;) Ralph xox :D

  6. Interesting to know !! And Happy New Year :)

  7. “Many say their desires have changed. Their younger selves wanted bad boys, but with maturity they’ve turned toward good men. As one put it:

    “I did leave the cave man, regained my independence and self esteem, and found another man. To my surprise, this man is attentive, loving, tells me I’m beautiful (in sweats), and spontaneous. He picks flowers, decorates my car, cooks. . . I could keep going on, but I’ll say I feel like a queen!”

    To all the good guys: plenty of women want you, and more so as they grow and gain understanding. Hang in there.”

    Well I don’t know if this helps for some of those “nice guys”. I don’t think it helps them knowing some of these women like in that quote and posts, wanted the bad boys and dated or hooked up with the bad boys in their younger years and then matured and wanted a good man after they had their fun or disappointment in their earlier years. Some of these nice guys wanted to meet these girls and be with them when these girls were young as well as they were, and not to be ignored. I don’t it makes them feel better being the consolation prize after they’ve gone through the bad boys and then figure out that they want the good guy and the good guy to be the final destination, while the nice guy didn’t wasn’t getting much dates from such girls probably. So there could be resentment there and what you write doesn’t really help for some. Luckily for me, I don’t fit the “nice guy” description. Not a bad boy either, but my ego is too big to be a “nice guy” and I can be a prick sometimes ha, but enough caring side to not be jerk, bad boy either.

    • Unfortunately, there are plenty of things that both men and women would like to see changed. In addition to seeking change, I try to point out hopeful things for both men and women. I guess it makes some people feel better but not others. I guess I don’t think it’s my job to make everyone feel better but to point out what might be hopeful. People can decide whether they want to feel better or not.

      In another post on this topic I wrote about how the allure seems to be more about fashion sense – Something that people can control–take a look at this: http://broadblogs.com/2013/04/08/bad-boy-allure/

  8. Why is the assumption here that the woman is always “good”?

    I used to be in a relationship with a guy who looked like a walking “bad boy” stereotype–bunch of tattoos, bragged about gang affiliations, etc. And although the relationship was drama-filled, with many loud arguments and both of us threatening violence to the other, I felt considerably safer around him than I did around most people. I had been abused by the mental health system, and as a fellow psychiatric survivor I felt that he was unlikely to hospitalize me against my will. I also felt that his bad temper meant he wouldn’t get scared of my bad temper. I felt I could be “crazy” around him without him leaving me for it, that he would love me for what others didn’t want in me, and to a degree that was true. He confided to me that he got turned on by my yelling at him, just as I told him later that I got turned on when he threatened me. We broke up in the end, in part because he felt the fighting had gotten to be too much for him to deal with, but while it lasted, I was happy in many ways.

    And also–I wish I had the guts to not be anonymous about this–I was the more abusive partner. There were certain kink acts I did to him in bed, after he’d told me not to do them. And also I knowingly did something during a fight that triggered him because of how he’d been abused in the past.

    It was probably easier for me to abuse him precisely because he was a “bad boy”, and I looked like a nerdy college girl.

  9. Yeah I think for some of these guys is not that these women come around to be wanting nice guys as they mature and get older. But never got in the bad boy phase to begin with or this stupid phase which some guys might think and instead focus on these nice guys from the beginning when there girls were young. But whatever, it goes both ways. Some of these nice guys knowingly or unknowingly ignore other “nice girls” who might like these nice guys for the hotter prettier, ‘bad girls” chasing the bad boys, because the nice girls aren’t attractive enough for these nice guys. So it goes both ways. Animosity towards one sex to the other can go both ways. Men towards women and women bitter toward men, which is unfortunate.

    • Yes. It goes both ways.

      And I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, but want to point out (in case I read your point correctly) that some guys like “bad girls” simply because they appear as very confident and attractive, and not simply because they’ve been rejected by nice girls. (And, they’re even more likely to be rejected by bad girls.)

  10. That was my point the supposed good guys reject the less attractive but nice “good girls” in pursuit of the bad girls. They go after the bad girls, because the bad girls are “hot” and desirable physically and these being directed by their little head go after the hot bad girls, thus complaining about being rejected by the bad girls in their pursuit, but in the same sense having ignored the good girls that would have dated them, but these good guys didn’t have interest in.

  11. nice post. Most Bad boys do tend to be abusive towards their girl somewhere along the road. What sucks is that when that bad boy abuses that girl it becomes hard on her to open up to the good one’s out there who are different.
    Speaking from my parents experience My Dad was the bad boy(Casanova/romantic type) while my mother was the innocent girl(Religious type). Out of all the good guys(religious type) out there my mother picks my dad.After getting married with 8 kids my dad was abusive towards my mom which then later ended up with divorce papers.
    Don’t get me wrong I love my parents no matter what but the point I’m trying to make is that woman should look at the obvious picture If your gonna pick a bad boy make sure you understand the consequences it could come with compare to picking a good guy. To other woman that believe bad boys are not always bad. in reality most of the time they are because we men tend to lose our temper.Last of all “anger(bad boy) and fear(innocent girl) won’t last long with love”.

  12. We’re all encouraged to believe that if a guy acts like a total jerk that means he likes you. We go for the bad boys because we are told this at a young age. I remember playing on the playground and this boy comes up to me and pushes me in the dirt. I cried and told my mom and she tells me “Megan he’s doing those mean things because he like you.”(Duh because that makes so much sense.lol)

    So I believed for the longest time to date the ones who are mean and closed off. Those were the kind of guys I kept going back to. I liked the mystery and chase of the bad boys
    but as soon as some of those “bad boys” told me how they felt about me I was no longer interested. They went to from dark prince to average Jo.

    The older I got the more I realized I was tired of this never ending cycle. I want a nice guy who treats me well. And I want my future kids to want the nice guys/girls. Hopefully for most
    its a learning faze and they grow from their experience.

  13. After my divorce at 20 years old, I have to say I was extremely attracted to “Bad Boys”. Not only for just the allure of the concept but knowledge that I could use them with the assumption that they were doing the same to me. Back in my early twenties, I was an outgoing, attractive and 115 lbs woman who was ready to go out and have fun. By my late twenties I realized that a good man was way better than a bad boy, especially as a role model for my son. I gave up on the blind notion that I could change a man to be what I want him to be was over. My husband has stuck by me through health and medical problems with led to weight gain but still tells me everyday that I’m beautiful. Those “Bad Boys” would have left me long ago after I stopped being “arm candy”!

    I’m thankful that I wised up and stopped being so shallow. My son has learned so much from my husband (and myself) on how to treat women with respect, chivalry, love and most of all as equals!!! In turn, my daughter has learned what she should demand and expect from a real man and not give into the whole “Bad Boy” fallacy.

  14. Some women do not like relationships that are too smooth. They prefer having a good relationship with some drama. Having a smooth relationship isn’t always good because partners can get bored because of the lack of newness. This can lead to the separation or cheating. So, with bad boys, you can be sure that there will always be something wrong leading you to argue which is the little change that any relationship need. For some people, this change can be going to the restaurant every 2 months or playing a game that both of you enjoy etc. Also, some women fall in love with men because they only rely on the man’s physic and physical strength which prevents them from considering the most important part of these boys, personality. Finally, by always doing bad things, bad boys are very good at dating and easily making women fall in love with them; therefore, the women who fall in love with bad boys did not really have the choice or did not sufficiently manage their feelings or trusted everything the guy says without some significant reflection.

  15. One of my first serious relationships was with a really patient easy going never jealous nor mad type of guy. We were like best friends always together yet we were complete opposites. Later I came to the realization that he was never going to be affectionate and the sex went from 3xs a week to nothing for 6months. I decided to end that relationship.
    I then got engaged to another guy who was the complete opposite. He was very jealous, controlling a straight machismo. I wasnt use to all that attention, on top of it all he was a romantic and affectionate. He also fit the bad boy image and kept me quessing. However very soon it all turned into mental and physical abuse which lead me to end that relationship.
    2 years later i now I find myself looking for the nice guy again the easy going patient one whos still affectionate but absolutely no more bad guys. Its a waste of time and just like the article states they do end up abusive controlling and extremely jealous. In the end I have no regrets those experiences have made me so much stronger and wiser.

  16. This was such a great article and really hit home for me. When we are younger we definitely enjoy the thrill of being with a bad boy and don’t really take anything else into consideration. After high school I ended up in a bad relationship and it took me a long time to realize this was not the kind of guy that I wanted to be with; controlling, verbally and mentally abusive, and pretty much a downer most of the time. There are good men out there, it just takes a few bad ones to make you open your eyes.

  17. To this day, I still do not know why some woman likes bad boys. My take on this is that, I think woman like tough guys because it make them feel safe and that they will always protect them. I also think women like those dominance and confident men. Some women like sensitive men because those type of men might know what the women is going through and can relate to them. They will always love the woman and cheer them up when they are down. Tough men can be sensitive too, the women just need time to get to know them so they can break them into that sensitive side

  18. My opinion on it is that some women want a bad boy for amusement, others for there genes hoping on wanting their child to have dominant gene thinking their child would not be bullied. Also there is different levels of bad boys from high school kids to adulthood. The adrenaline women get from trying to figure him out that entertain themes. But also its one own definition of a bad boy and exactly what is a bad boy?

  19. Girls love bad boys for various reasons, mostly because their glamorized and hard to get. This keeps women busy and interested, its boring to go for men who dont have drama or are simply always available. I think a major point missed in this article is women go for bad boys because they want to experience bad things. Being a good girl gets boring but were often too afraid to be bad because we know it causes trouble. Finding a bad guy gives us this sense that we too are bad and can indulge in bad things which makes it attractive. Being bad or being with a bad boy makes us feel edgy and sexy rather than boring and doing our everyday “good” activities. Dating a bad boy is like rebelling and defying odds, which in reality we arent actually doing because the bad boys are doing it but its gives us this sense of badassness. Some women enjoy the trouble, chaos and drama bad boys entail.

  20. You know what I find interesting. I know some of the reasons why girls like “bad boys” or the traits that may attract them. Such as a dominant, maybe alpha male vibe, maybe the tatoos, tough guy motto, this controlling way that can make a girl feel a guy loves her, girls having low self esteem. I see “bad boys” differently though or two groups, some can be abusive in some way, many not physical though some, but verbal. And others just jerks, but not necessarily abusive, but just rebellious, getting in fights at bars, doing wheelies on a “motorcycle going 100 mph down a highway” type of “bad boy”. I see “bad boys” like that, abusive, jerks or wild trouble maker, James DEan like guy.

    What I don’t understand though it could be the same reason for women liking “bad boys” is women who are attracted to “Evil, infamous men”. Like for bad boys who are abusive, some can charm or women can be attracted to them, without knowing these guy’s traits as some bad boys don’t show them initially. It’s not till they are attracted to or fall in love, that they see the true colors, which low esteem causes women to stick around even with the abuse and bad behavior. It’s another thing though say for a well know, criminal, gang member, mobster, etc. While many women stay away from such men, it’s weird how a surprising number of women go after such men. I mean you see these dangerous corrupt dictators with beautiful women. But wives and women calling in to prisons or sending letters to frickin inmates ha.

    There’s a stupid show called mob wives, but seriously, some of these women had to know such notorious men before going after them and many did and yet still did or gravitated toward these guys because of it. I don’t know if seeing some power, and dominance and disregarding how violent and dangerous these men are? Bring up the mob thing though. It came to my mind when I was watching the movie “GoodFellas” I love that movie, just the narrative is interesting. But all these wives to the italian mobsters and girlfriends Joe pesci had though he was crazy and murderous. I remember a scene where a gf joked with another wife, how “Tommy” Joe pesci’s character is really jealous and she can’t look at another guy or else he’d kill her.Not just that, but I was watching different episodes on history channel of different infamous mobsters, and the fbi and cat and mouse game and story. Well there was a man, quite well known because he not only was a top member of the italian mob, the various families during that time. But his big mix and influence with politics. The man Sam Giancana, knew of Frank Sinatra and had a big influence with JFK being elected and I think is behind Kennedy’s assassination. Well this man was not only well know for this, but he was in a relationship married a blonde, bombshell, famous female singe from Vegas. I can’t think of her name now. Oh and the last day of Marilyn Monroe’s death, she was staying a one of Giancana’s lodge. Monroe’s been on a date or out with Sam Giancana. So not just regular women, but high profile, beautiful women, dating or being around mobsters.

    These men I feel are on another level, to “bad boys”. I feel mobsters are on a higher “bad level” Mobsters are men like gang members and drug cartels who are extremely dangerous, murderers, It’s one thing for women to be with “bad boys”, it’s another thing to be with well known killers.

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