The Allure of Bad Boys

Why do women fall for bad boys?

My students ask that question all the time.

Michael Kimmel, who studies men, asks his women students to choose between the charming rouge, Rhett Butler and dependable Ashley Wilkes. “Do I have to choose?” they groan. “Are those my only choices?” they plead. Because they like characteristics of both. Forced to choose, about half opt for each type. Those desiring Rhett want 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 not all women want bad boys — or want them to be very bad. 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. Certainly 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.” Usually they end up divorced in the end – once she gets that he’s only abusive.

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

Meanwhile, because our culture eroticizes male dominance, many internalize the notion and find it appealing. These women may not end up too happy about the reality of domineering men in the long run.

A few believe 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). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 11, 2012, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Shelley Greenaway

    why does it have to be one or the other?

  2. After reading this piece on GMP, I recalled your piece on this blog. Specially, I recalled your “Hang in there” that ended your piece.

    Isn’t it so coincidental how Ms. SRW ends her piece on GMP….”Hang in there. “She’s” coming.” I chuckled. Good men are forever being told to wait until….

    Martin Luther King once said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

    I think his quote is so relevant and appropriate here. Because this really IS how nice men see it.

    • Good women feel the same way.

      Unfortunately people have to mature to “get it.” And some never do. I know guys in their 70s who think the only thing that matters about a woman is her boobs.

      • I think it’s a little different for “good women” though. You know it’s an assumption to think “good women” are less attractive or it comes with being less attractive. Sometimes people and society places looks on people’s personalities, like ugly, less attractive people and hot men and women as full of themselves and such. When it’s really an individual thing and probably equal or just as many nice good looking women as ugly women and vice versa and same for men I’m sure. This is only true for nice women is if they are “fat” or unattractive and even if so.

        They may get overlooked and not get hooked up or dates by men or get attention like the hot bad girls. But in the end, since most women or these women ultimately want a relationship anyway and a man who wants one, they are more likely, while getting less attention to have a man who is interested in her to see her as person and want a relationship and not simply try to get in her pants. It makes sense, because if a man wants just that wouldn’t he go after the more attractive looking woman? It’s the man who values more and sees her personality, that will want a relationship. But for men it, he can be good looking and be a nice guy and simply not get anything, relationship or dates or sex. Whereas, the good women will still get dates from decent looking guys the problem is that these women don’t want to just have sex.

        So you see it’s easy to look at it that way, but when you’re a man with the visual, sexual drive a man has and lust and I don’t see what is wrong with wanting sex or just sex. But struggling for it, but seeing other guys who are “bad boys”,and not good to girls, but being “rewarded” for it, then some good, nice guys, but become a little bitter or upset about it. Especially when they are told to hang on and he’ll meet that lady later on in life who is good and wants a relationship and will value him. That;s all good and dandy, while he’s struggled and by such girls and that same girl had her fun and got to have her fun and now he’s the consolation prize to settle with. I don’t see why there’s this black and white thing, where apparently a man can;t be a good guy or nice guy and still want one night stands or friends with benefits, hook ups or non commital relations. You see that’s a problem when a man wants to have women want him and attracted to him, and satisfy his lust. I mean girls got to have their lust satisfied right? And the bad boys too, Why can’t the good guy? I think a guy is a bad boy when it comes to flings if he lies about wanting more to decieved a girl, he brags or treats her like shit after or cheats. A man can be a good guy, want some fun and still be friends after or not be a d bag about things after and not cheat.

      • The good news is that people don’t seem to stay with bad boys or mean girls that long. So it just looks like they’re successful. And the bad boys and mean girls aren’t actually happy inside. I also know a number of married couples who aren’t what society would call attractive — but they are amazingly happy. It actually is possible to fall in love with people who aren’t so terribly attractive, and to be extremely happy with them.

  3. Thanks girls for sharing your rationales to me. I just totally failed to comprehend why women say that she wants “nice, good, caring guy”. When one approaches her. She finds flaws, ostracise him, uses him for her own objectives, demeans his morale and basically rejects him. And deals with one that treat her like dirt, disrespect and sheer disdain. As a result such men understandably get confused at incongruancy of it (wanting a good caring man and dating the opposite character type).
    The sad thing about it is when men ask women to make sense of it. They’ll usually get fobbed off with excuses, say that she “doesn’t know” (balderdash), greeted with sarcasm, accused of being a crybaby, say that he “needs” psychiatric “help” or is an attention seeker.
    As a result of this some men (who were orginally good) will end up having sheer resentment and hostility towards women. Which is a shame (when there a loads of beautiful women out there).

  4. I think that women only go for “bad boys” just for the excitement. Eventually if their bad boy keeps being bad, she’ll realize that there’s nothing more to him and she might want something different. I have been in a relationship with a bad boy before and it wasn’t so fun. I thought he would eventually change his ways and grow out of it, but things just keeps getting worst. It didn’t seem like he was going to go anywhere with his life, that we would get stuck in the same situation over and over. So one day, I decided to break up with him because I felt like I wanted to be someone who can treat me better and someone who wants a future. Bad boys are a whole lot of trouble and sometimes it just isn’t worth the fight.

  5. tiffanyguzman

    I think the romanticized bad boy character that can be changed is shown all over the media influencecs women to be attracted to these kinds of men. I’ve also made this mistake my son’s father turned out to be an abusive, dead beat dad. I thought that he could change andgrow up but I realized he was never going to. Thankfully I learned my lesson to stay away from the bad boy type.

  6. I think that women are socialized to be attracted to the “bad boys”. There are many examples that I can think that influenced me as a young girl. When I was five years old, my favorite movie was Dirty Dancing. Patrick Swayze played tough guy Johnny, whom the innocent young Baby falls for. He drives reckless, smokes cigarettes and her father disapproves. My favorite show on television was Beverly Hills, 90210. Brenda meets bad boy Dylan and she falls for him even though on their first date he explodes and yells at her and throws a potted plant on the street. My favorite Disney cartoon was Beauty and the Beast, where Belle offers to be a prisoner in place of her father. The beast is very mean to Belle and he yells at her and scares her. But eventually, the beast is transformed back into a handsome, gentle Prince. I believe the message of these media sensations was that if a woman is kind enough and really shows her man how much she loves him, he will change into a better person. Without going into my entire history, I ended up in an abusive relationship, where I kept trying to show enough love and be there for him, even when he was hurting me in every way. Eventually, I realized why I was continuing the relationship. Because I thought that if I loved him enough, he would change. Then I realized I can only change myself, and that if he was ever going to REALLY change, it would be up to him. I think these messages are also passed down from our families, because my own parents had an unhealthy relationship and I thought that was normal behavior.

  7. Marquel Benton

    Its really strange how some women can want a bad guy because the bad guys will not be there for long term, they will probably end up in jail or dead or with another woman instead of you. I agree with the part when it says that some women who has low self esteem stays with the bad guys because they feel that they are not worth it. Good guys are way more better because they have goals in their life, they are educated, they know what they want and they will be a great father to their children. Bad guys have NONE of those qualities and if a woman stay with a bad guy, she’s failing with him.

  8. I agree with the statement to the effect that a woman’s early trauma will predispose her to the “bad boy”. It’s a sad situation, because at first they had to survive an unhealthy experience (or experiences) and then as adults choose men that will bring on more pain and suffering. It’s unfair to the innocent children that were harmed, and the pain can go on for a lifetime. I can relate personally to these scenarios, and so I continue to work on myself, believing that the healthier I become, the healthier partner I will be attracted to, and find this to be the case. Some say we choose the exciting “bad boy” because on a deep level, it will bring up the pain from not receiving unconditional love from an available, healthy adult, and give us the opportunity to try to change our past and our deepest hurt. But often the case is unhappiness and repeating patterns. I think I continued to want to stay with bad boys that I was unhappy with because I kept reacting and couldn’t see their behavior separate from my reaction. Once I was able to start to observe how they were in the world without reacting, I had to wonder what the heck I was doing with a guy that treated me that way. They sure can be charming, attractive and fun, but trust, intimacy and commitment are a foundation that must be there for a long term relationship to be healthy.

  9. I agree with most of the reasons why girls like “bad” boys. I would have to say low self-esteem is the majority of the reason why women stay in abuse relationships. Sometimes we do not even realize how low our self-esteem is. All we know about relationships is based off of our own experiences and the relationships we see from our parents. It is just as hard to figure out what exactly we want from our love interests than it is to define what love means because love means something different to everybody and different people want different things. I also think that low self-esteem can relate to boredom and the need for constant drama in your life. Most people who find themselves bored often because they are unhappy with some aspect of their lives. They are so focused on the negativity in their lives and they get used to seeing their lives that way. Because they get used to their lives that way they are used to being abused. If you are used to being abused you may feel like you do not deserve better or are afraid of the unknown. So you look for more drama and abuse.

  10. I completely agree with this post. If my experience is like most girls, I think it has a lot to do with age. When you are young, there is an appeal to the bad boy. Dangerous, exciting and the thrill of the catch, but then you realize that it is only aspects of that persona that you find appealing; it leads to the inevitable bad ending of “I can change him”. But after time, you realize that the aspects you want to add to the stereotypical ‘bad boy’ are the qualities you really want. I think what it comes down to, part of getting older is you no longer desire the ‘bad boy’; you want the ‘good man’.

  11. I agree that the type of a guy a woman wants can depend on age and how mature they are. When they are young they want a bad boy who is adventures and brave and keeps them guessing. This keeps them entertained and guessing what is going to happen next. But as a woman gets older she wants a man who is more reliable, dependable and shows that they love them. A male friend of mine is a nice guy and always wonders why he can never get the girl that he wants. They end up dumping him for some bad boy and I think that he is more mature than most girls our age because he wants a steady mature relationship and is ready to settle down. But the girls he dates just want to have a good time with a bad boy.

  12. Sometimes good guys don’t always finish first. This is because the “bad boy” image comes into play and although it may not be the best relationship to be in, it’s something new. There are various reasons as to why females are attracted to such an image but in the end, that relationship is unlikely to last into the marriage stage of life. For some it could be due to the fact that their parents don’t approve, so naturally, the child will do the exact opposite. Or it they could be seen as an individual who has the potential to change and do well but needs some motivation therefore, a female may see that as opportunity where she is needed rather than wanted. This could lead to a relationship where her lifestyle and personality benefits her significant other so there is a balance of both structure and fun. In many cases, women are seen as an object instead of a human being. Women are people too and they need to be treated as such. Stereotypes inform them that as a “good wife” one must obey their husband so the question is why can’t that idea go both ways?

  13. I have thought about this question so many times and I really see that its true that girl usually goes for the bad guy. Even if the female knew a guy was not so good they would still make an attempt to mess around with that bad guy. I like to think of myself as a good guy because I would often wonder why I could not get the female I wanted and I also wondered did I have to resort to being a bad guy to get a girl. Guys and girl get bored with relationships but I think guys would like it more if women were bad girls who did not care too much about relationships.

  14. This is so true! Why are so many women prone to “Bad Boys!!!…” I am guilty on more than one occasion – like I never learned my lesson the first time!! At the beginning of my dating life, I had a great 5+ year relationship – never argued, bought me flowers, cooked, cleaned (just like the lady who in the end settled for a “nice guy”) oh and bought me a house …. and I left him! For a drink every night at the bar, work part time, lived at home with his parents, younger, wilder kind of a guy. The excitement was fun at the beginning but I slowly realized I wanted him to change and when I realized that is not something I should even ask of him I became very unhappy in the relationship and left. We talk still from time to time. He married (but cheated) and is now divorced after a couple years, just like the statistics. I look back now and wonder what the hell I was thinking?? I had it made right off the bat. The grass (for my situation) WAS NOT greener on the other side! I’m lucky though that none of my “Bad boys” were ever violent towards me (key words), just saying I fight back. I am happy to say that I ventured away from those “bad boys” and would just like to say “good guys don’t ALWAYS finish last!”

    **Also, I agree with you Jeniffer to an extent – I come from a childhood of abuse (towards my mother which I witnessed and my other siblings and I) but that was never my attraction towards “bad boys” – if someone ever dare lay a hand on me – they’d be sorry in more ways then one. I started fighting back when I was 12 years old and was not afraid to dial 911…. Although I understand everyone is different and is in control of what they let happen in their life.

  15. Maria Papayianni

    Having spent the past four years of my young life with a man who is a bad boy I sadly find myself agreeing with a lot of the points raised in this post. My reasons for being with one was that it was fun, I was attracted to the confidence he emanated, I was young, and from hindsight I definitely can see that I lacked self-esteem. I particularly agree with the statement that a lot of women’s “younger selves wanted bad boys, but with maturity they’ve turned toward good men”. I can see that being the case for me at least. Every woman is different in her reasons for finding these types of men appealing. This post could apply for all the good men out there as well. I really don’t understand this phenomenon, but I’d like to think it’s not a gender specific phenomenon. Based on my observations I believe that today’s societal standards praise both bad, naughty women and men. They are the ones considered attractive, and are often characterized as free spirits. No one wants to be a goody two-shoes nowadays…

  16. One of my biggest concerns with women who chose to be with “bad boys” is the events in their life that made them attracted to those types of guys. Statistically speaking, many women who are attracted to “bad boys” have had some degree of childhood trauma. Many have been beaten or saw their mother getting beat. This is all they know and there for the cycle continues. One of the things you wrote about feeling like the abusive man must love them for getting that upset is so mind blowing I cant ever understand why anyone would ever feel that way. Also women who have been molested or rap tend to feel like they lack support and protection by men, which leads to a lot of emotional problems such as depression and most important their self-esteem goes way down. I findl this is very upsetting as a woman who has been through some of these kind of trauma. I feel that women are strong and they can and will overcome rough issues. Its sad to see women with these kinds of men and the worst part is sometimes these women know that they should be with better but just don’t feel like they’ll ever be good enough. The good thing is that there are a lot of resources out there to help women.

  17. I agree with one aspect of this blog, when the author says that women chose “bad boys” in order to have fun. In addition to experiencing this myself, I have known women who are utterly bored with a man who is kind-hearted and just plain nice. Overall, different women are attracted to different things in a man. I do not agree that this goes away with age or maturity. I have known many middle aged and even elderly women who never experienced there “bad boy” fantasy, and would do so in a heart beat if they had the opportunity. Therefore, I believe it all lies in what the woman wants. Some women are 100% satisfied getting married out of high-school, having kids, and living happily ever after. Other women would call this way of life insanity.

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