The (Almost) Final Word on the Allure of the Bad Boy

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About Ali A. Rizvi

Ali A. Rizvi is a writer, physician, and musician who lives in Toronto, Ontario. Having grown up in four different countries on three different continents, his interests are as diverse as the people he has met, known, befriended, and loved through his life. Ali likes being a man, and wants to continue being one for a while yet.

Comments

  1. Thoughtful, intelligent and well written. Thanks fo sharing this!

  2. Working with domestic violence/sexual assault survivors myself (and seeming to be one of the few in the field w/o personal experience myself, thankfullyl), I agree that a lot of women who’ve experienced some kind of interpersonal violence in the past are more likely to seek out men with less than stellar qualities, to put it lightly. However, I think it’s also important to note the influence of popular culture and “traditional values” on how women are raised and what they’re taught re. gender roles, male/female interactions and relationships, etc. I watched an interview with Rihanna on Ellen about 6(ish) months after the incident with Chris Brown, and she was talking about the qualities she looks for in a mate. A man “in control,” a “strong” man, a man who he thinks what he thinks and that’s it, etc. I cringed because taken to the extreme, these are the *exact* characteristics we look for in trying to screen for domestic violence and abuse. Take a look at the current “debate” raging over reproductive health and contraceptives. Men like Rush Limbaugh using his wide reach to target a 3rd year law student as a “slut” and “prostitute,” and he’s still on the air (under fire, admittedly). Women grow up in a society that teaches them that this is how men act (“boys will be boys”), so we can’t be all that surprised when they gravitate toward them. The tragedy is that all of the “good men” seem to get lost in the shuffle sometimes.

    • One more thing re. gender roles: when I’m dealing with a same-sex relationship with DV in it, I am still constantly running into the perception (of both society and the legal system) that men can’t be victims because they’re men and should be able to “fight back,” while women can’t be perpetrators because, well, they’re women and that’s not in their nature. These are very difficult perceptions to break, yet they have such a strong influence on how we interact with one another.

    • SD5289 writes:
      ” I agree that a lot of women who’ve experienced some kind of interpersonal violence in the past are more likely to seek out men with less than stellar qualities, to put it lightly. However, I think it’s also important to note the influence of popular culture and “traditional values” ”

      From what I have read, the tendency of women to enter into destructive relationship has much more to do with a-traditional values rather than traditional values.

      By this I mean that I have read many studies that state that boys and girls fare much worse later in life with unhealthy behaviors when they were raised in fatherless homes.
      Particularly girls who are raised in fatherless homes are much more likely to enter into relationships with abusive men.

      Just another reason why I have a real problem with many (especially politicially active) feminists expectation that they can solve gender issues for both genders by only concentrating on women’s issues.

      • “Just another reason why I have a real problem with many (especially politicially active) feminists expectation that they can solve gender issues for both genders by only concentrating on women’s issues.”

        This goes the other way too. A disproportionate number abusers, rapists and even murderers come from single mother households. So these type of families produce both the victims and the perpetrators.

      • I don’t actually believe I stated that we should only focus on “women’s issues” in my comment. Why would I be reading a site like this one if I thought that were true. In fact, what I was trying to get at was focusing on just “one side” of it limits our ability to actually do something about the issue. Multiple perspectives must be included, and I wrote about the flip-side of what the author here wrote about in order to provide a more full picture as to how these types of relationships seem to come about again and again and again.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/blogs/print/292424
    The article describes the phenomenon. The link explains it. The insistence by various folks that this doesn’t happen confuses some other folks who are told one thing and see another. Either some people (women) are nuts, or somebody’s putting us on. If the latter, why?

    • Didn’t think I’d find myself nodding my head to the majority of a piece from the National Review, but it actually happened with this one. Thanks for the link.

  4. My theory is that many of the women who put up with domestic violence actually view it as a form of love and in some ways actually feel more secure with a man that hits them. These women are afraid of being abandoned and they are insecure about whether the guy really likes them or not. They want to know that their man really really has strong feelings. They interpret insane jealously as attachment.

  5. Thanks for a thoughtful article on the subject instead of your typical “women love assholes so that’s why I am one.”.

    • Thanks Aya, that was exactly the point. I’m not an asshole, and don’t intend to be for quite a while.

      People who view kindness and vulnerability as weaknesses often do so because when they tried to be that way to others — they got burned/abandoned/betrayed. So when others are nice to THEM, they look at it the same way: they simply can’t process it, because they view these people as weak.

      I had parents and siblings who were pretty much unconditionally there for me. That foundation — of kindness and support — really gave me the freedom to be the way I want without fearing abandonment or rejection. That is the EPITOME of strength – which I grew up associating with kindness, appreciation, and support. That’s an amazing achievement on the part of my parents — and historically, it’s taken a lot more to undo that than wanting to please an insecure woman who got the opposite from hers. We’ve all been there.

      So yes — proud to be good, very happy to be a man, and I don’t mind being an asshole about it. :)

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Aya
    The trope that women love assholes is an interesting view. On other sites, for a long time, men have said they’ve given up their nice-guy thing, that which seems to them the best and most agreeable way to act toward women, that which comes most naturally, and gone jerk, to one degree or another. And they report an increase in their social/sexual success.
    Either this is true, or it’s a well-organized standing hoax.

  7. There’s been a lot of lip service over ‘women liking bad boys’ but I have a more interesting question.

    Why do men like bad girls?

    For example, I know a woman who was married to a male relative. The woman is ugly as a sack of squished spiders–inside and out–psychotically violent and financially abusive yet she always has a new beau doting on her and a few waiting in the wings.

    Maybe the better question is:

    Why do humans like bad humans?

    • That’s a damn good question.

    • Why do humans like bad humans?
      If you look at a lot of people who take on the “what could they possibly see in him/her?” attitude notice that the answer is usually something like, “It must be because they _____.” Where that blank is filled in with some trait that is considered to be so great that it overrides all the negative characters of that person.

      For example TB that woman you speak of people would probably think that she must be a great sex partner, a good home keeper, she has money, etc…

      And I truly think that sometimes that really is the answer. That person is bringing something into the relationship that the other person values so much that they are willing to ignore any faults with the person.

  8. So true what you say in your essay….I was once involved in an abusive relationship with the worst, most narcissistic, psychopathic man ever…it took me years to finally get out of his grip….

    My husband is a sweetheart and, yet I find that the relationships that I have with other men in my karate class to complement the one I have with my husband….My karate sensei is uber macho and talks like he is the expert of everything, which I find oddly reassuring even though I know that he doesn’t know everything….Sensei uses every nasty curse word in the English language and he has choice insults for most everybody in his life….as offensive as he is sometimes, I love his candor and the utter lack of political correctness in his speech….I don’t expect him to butter me up or flatter me in karate class…if I do something poorly, then I want to know….if I do something right, then I prefer silent praise…I don’t want applause from him….Sensei is sort of like Stanley Kowalski in a karate go….weird, I guess, but reassuring…

  9. goldenone says:

    The ground seems to be missing, under this conversation.

    Being human is hard to do. There’s plenty of cultural and psychological motivation for getting lost in one form of insanity or another, as I think we all know. Instead of judging women for accepting or being addicted to abusive men, why don’t we broaden the view here a little and acknowledge just how challenging it is to be a really sane, loving human being? For *all* of us? There are many different ways that people (both sexes :) express self-loathing. Women are traditionally identified by their relationships, men by what they do, right? So perhaps a woman self-destructing in relationship is not that surprising, and a man self-destructing by ending up in prison is not that surprising. Both are heart-breaking, of course.

    Suggesting that all women are love-addicted to assholes, as one or two of the comments seems to do, as well as the references to icons like James Bond and Dan Draper, seems dorky to me. The various kick-ass truth-talking women I know, who are moms and hold a job and are married and call their husbands on their shit possibly *too* frequently, indicate that it is just a tad reductionistic to suggest that women want a *bad* man so bad it trumps everything else in their lives. Everyone loves a femme fatale/bad boy, at least a little. We’re human. We’re flawed.

    I hope we all heal whatever self-loathing leads us to self-destructive choices in our lives, from food through appealingly psychopathic partners to dead-end jobs. Here’s a great article on people like people who have *vitality*: http://goodmenproject.com/sex-relationships/the-five-types-of-men-you-will-meet/

    • Thanks for the link – I do think it does come down to assertiveness and confidence, not necessarily douchebaggery.

      Again, I didn’t write this from an accusatory perspective, but an exploratory one – and I haven’t said that “all” women are attracted to love-addicted assholes:

      ***
      “But even though there is scientific and historical evidence for these phenomena, it’s not as simple as saying that all women like assholes. Peter Jonasan, the University of West Florida psychology professor who published the dark triad study, is careful to note that this does not apply to all women.

      Women exhibiting avoidant attachment patterns, low self-esteem, and histories of abuse, sexual trauma, or unstable family backgrounds are more likely to be attracted to men with dark triad characteristics. The stereotypical scenario of the insecure woman with “baggage” or “daddy issues” who opportunistic men frequently view as easy prey is sadly borne out in reality much more than we’d like.”
      ***

      I also addressed the dissonance – that whether it’s men or women, simply asking them what they want in a partner won’t get you the answers because of the expressed desires vs actual desires dichotomy that we all carry and are often oblivious to. We don’t know ourselves as well as we think.

      Based on those insights, it is possible to reverse this behavior pattern over time by addressing the issues of the specific kinds of women that are subject to this behavior (ie building self-esteem, more realistic images of MEN in media, not just women, and so on), and look beyond mere surveys and questionnaires when assessing what people really find attractive. I’ll bet a lot of the women who claim that “kindness” is a top desired trait in a man may in reality find it a yawn-inducing sign of weakness in a man, just like many men may never admit that what they really do want is a romantic, cuddly long-term relationship. As you said, we’re human and flawed.

  10. You know what? There’s no difference between a man labeling women already dealing with shit in a patriarchal society and the comments by men about those women who have managed to achieve despite the odds against them (due to a patriarchal society).

    “Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.” [Gordon Liddy about Sonia Sotomayor]

    This article in a nutshell:

    “Let’s hope that women who were raped, abused, have daddy issues, unstable family backgrounds don’t fuck it up for us ‘good guys’ along with their opportunistic lovers. That would be really bad. Lord knows what sort of children we’d get then.”

    Since when did the almighty Ali become a professional and world-renown scientist and psychotherapist to be publishing this garbage? Just to make himself look great and to try to find a simple formula that “good guys” can use to figure out women? Is it a coincidence that he’s a man? Would a woman who respects herself and understands the struggles of women ever try to simplify things in such black and white? No.

    I don’t see how that approach is any less patriarchal and sexist in nature than the comments that fly out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth concerning contraception and women’s rights.

    Sorry, we’re not dainty little formulas for men to neatly churn out. We’re human beings. The mind has an amazing capacity to differentiate, grow, and expand. That’s why also why not all abused children go on to become criminals. That’s why people like Diana Joy, who was brutally assaulted, beaten, and left in a dark cycle of foster homes went on to create a loving home that took criminal juveniles and made them people – including one woman who is currently legal advisor to the Obama administration. She also started the Unseen Child Foundation.

    And I’m sure she, along with thousands of other women who have undergone and overcome the brutality of patriarchy and sexism, would not appreciate this sort of opportunistic stunt. Sorry Ali, but I am definitely not impressed with your need for five minutes of fame at the cost of an entire gender’s efforts to create equality. You’ve done nothing but label. You want to pass off the blame to others without taking up a personal responsbility to act instead of react and write.

    And that is not going to help solve the crisis that underlies women’s rights.

    • Maha, this article is supposed to be exploratory, not accusatory. It’s an attempt to show PRECISELY that these issues are not black and white. I don’t want to get into what we say to each other when we fight on a public thread because that’s personal, and we’re likely to misrepresent each other and get into a Jerry Springer like he-said/she-said thing.

      Here’s the thing: the line about insecure women with histories of trauma and abandonment being more likely to pair up with ‘dark triad’ men was not a stab at you or anyone else — it was directly from what Peter Jonason wrote in the study.

      The point of the article is very obviously not to blame these women, but for parents and society to (i) recognize the real causes of the eroding of these women’s self-esteem and (ii) to redraft the image of MEN in the media as well as that of women to allow both to re-socialize themselves. Read the last few concluding paragraphs again:

      ***
      “If we express shock at the Brown/Rihanna collaboration while simultaneously thinking of our cultural and hormonal fascination with Twilight, James Bond, and Don Draper as normal, sexism and patriarchy are here to stay for a very long time—with both men and women complicit.

      This is why it’s not just the image of women in the media that needs to change, but that of men as well — maybe even more urgently. Instead of expressing shock at these stories, it may be more useful to have a diagnostic discussion about why they’re not as surprising as they should be. At least as a start.”
      ***

  11. That Guy says:

    Two big explanations, both of which are covered in your article:

    1. “Bad” people are often much more fascinating than good people, who tend to have less drama. There’s the lure of people who are different from what they’re supposed to be. In this case, it’s probably more to do with appearing to be a “rebel” than being a bad boy.
    2. For men and women, there’s the lure of finding someone to save or rescue. Someone who can be redeemed only by the unique love of someone like me.

    Some others:
    1. Self-defined “nice guys” are often bitter, whining, and monotonous in their complaints about how women don’t like nice guys. Being a boring neurotic with asshole tendencies is actually worse than being a full asshole. In other words, self-described nice guys often make themselves less attractive by comparison.

    2. We often look to people who have qualities that we wish we had. Someone who is not very assertive may be especially fascinated by someone who says and does whatever he wants.

  12. That Guy says:

    I forgot #3:

    3. Assholes give the impression of being more authentic, more real somehow. They obviously don’t censor themselves very much, and they give the impression of “what you see is what you get.” They look like fully independent autonomous beings. After all, who would at like that who wasn’t really like that? To many people that seems refreshing in a society where image is everything.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    I believe the “Bradley Effect” is called that after Tom Bradley, once LA mayor, a black man. He was elected by smaller margins than polling showed. From which it was presumed that people who claimed to be okay with a black man wouldn’t admit it, but would vote against him. And people who didn’t like his policies didn’t want to be thought of as racist, so they said they liked him.
    I think we need to allow for, if we can’t quantify, the Bradley effect when we poll folks on issues like this.
    What twenty-year-old is going to say something in a group setting that is against CW? Some, but not all who believe it.
    Note that the NRO article refers to replicable experiments about liking more or less testosterone-influenced physiognomies (always wanted to use that word) according to fertility. Raging against accusations and the patriarchy doesn’t affect the results of the experiments.
    Doesn’t do much for guys who, starting in jr. hi. watched the at least semi-jerks get a disproportionate share of female attention.
    A lot of this is a matter of “believe you or my lying eyes?”

  14. I don’t know how this became a gendered thing with the ‘women like assholes’ trope, when men do the exact same thing–they very often go for assholes themselves. Women even whine about it in the same way and have for a while. Watch the Taylor Swift video, “You Belong With Me” and listen to/read the lyrics. The singer is the female version of the quintessential ‘Nice Guy.’ She’s the good girl who would treat the great man right, but she goes unnoticed. She’s in the friend zone. The other chick is a vamp who’s doesn’t treat him well and couldn’t *possibly* understand him the way she does. (She actually plays both roles in the video). It all goes both ways. I’ve been hearing this story from women for years. When did it become a man only thing?

    • Part of the problem with the imbalance is that, in my experience, it seems that with Nice Guys they are pointed out to be the jerks because they are whining about not getting the girl while the bad boys have no trouble with getting the girl while the with Nice Girls the guy in question is pointed out to be the jerk for no recognizing the great girl that is attracted to him that is much better than the vamp he’s with.

      In short:
      In the Nice Guy – Girl – Bad Boy picture there is plenty of room to pick out all the faults of the Nice Guy and talk about how the Bad Boy is really bad for the Girl while painting her up as the poor dainty little thing that has no responsibility.

      In the Nice Girl – Guy – Bad Girl picture if one where to use the same logic from above they would have to acknowledge that the Nice Girl isn’t as nice as they thinks she is and that the Bad Girl is really bad for the Guy. Well a lot of people love holding guys responsible for women’s behavior far too much to do that.

      In order to be break the illusion that this is a guy thing it would require something a lot of people (even the ones that say they are equal rights) simply don’t want to do. And you say it right here.

      …when men do the exact same thing–they very often go for assholes themselves.
      It would require people to acknowledge that women can be assholes and lot of people simply don’t want to do that.

      • Women have been talking about women being assholes (bitches) for a long time. They’re just as prone to slut shame and talk shit about women as men are. Many men have had no problem admitting women can be bitches (90% of ex girlfriends are terrible human beings). Women and men can both be assholes, and they’re also real people with real lives and real problems, and at different stages of their lives. Assuming the man or woman who’s with the man or woman you want is a terrible person (and complaining about it all the time) won’t get you anywhere.

        • Most of the “nice guys” i know tend to get messed around by a few women, but women who have a lot of importance. Major desires such as crushes, loves, they can hold quite a lot of influence and this can really crush a person’s spirit, it’s what gives birth to the bitterness I believe. Sadly many of the ones I’ve known have had these important females use them, mess them around, get their hopes up and crush them. This probably happens to quite a lot of women too by guys.

          I am unsure of why they use others, maybe they just want attention and haven’t understood fully how their actions can be quite seductive (flirting and giving lots of attention in a romantic way) yet one woman that has done this to guys is totally set back and unsure of what she does that gets these guys to fall for her. I think this happens mostly with teens and the 20′s, people are still unsure of life and themselves so that confusion can really mess things up. The mutual male friends we know have pretty much given up on her and dislike talking to her because it is unfair on them to be messed around, whilst I sympathize with her being unsure I also sympathize with the guys because I know these particular guys have had quite a few women mess them over.

          I truly believe now people need to be more upfront and honest about their feelings, which is why I do that now with people I like and don’t like. I don’t want flirting to be taken the wrong way, I don’t want people to misunderstand. I was once the typical nice guy, angry at the jerks but these days I don’t care that much, my true self is a mix of nice and asshole depending on who pisses me off (hey, I am human).

          I’ve seen first hand that being nice can be bad if you don’t also show the confidence and sexual attraction as well which will bite people in the ass, but I also know not to be nice just for a woman. Just be yourself, if you’re nice then naturally you’ll be nice. I am me, it’s hard to label me but I won’t restrict myself to “nice guy” or other silly labels or change my behaviour just because there is a woman around.

    • Aya, true, but this article is specifically about the kind men certain kinds of women go for – and how the underlying dynamic driving this behavior also relates to abusive situations. What you’re talking about could be a perfectly legitimate, separate article. There’s a lot of discussion in the mainstream about idealized images of women in fashion, porn, etc, but very little about the idealized men portrayed in romance novels any 11 year old can pick up off a supermarket shelf. If you deal with one without dealing with the other, everyone gets screwed.

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ali.
    You mentioned romance novels. My wife and i were traveling and we got some recorded books. One was by Jude Deveraux, “Days of Gold”. Oh, my lord, it was awful. What was worse was the info on the liner notes that Deveraux had pumped out three dozen of this type prior.How terrible to be locked on to that workbench for life.
    But the romantic hero is…awful. How on earth any woman expects to find Edmund/win/gar, sullen, mysterious darkly handsome Earl of Loamshire, cheated of his rightful inheritance and so he makes his living as a pirate….
    Still, it’s a two billion dollar business, iirc, larger than the GDP of some members of the UN. And, unlike whiskey, a bottle of which costs about as much as a paperback romantic hist, the things can be used over again, loaned out to friends and generally spread their loathsome influence exponentially.
    As a friend of mine used to say, “It’s got to mean something because it can’t mean nothing.”
    See the piece on historical romances in “Who Stole Feminism”. Pretty interesting as it applies to feminism.
    As one romance editor said, You have to love this girl. She tames the wild beast in a hundred thousand words or less and I’m still working on my husband after twenty years.
    Poking around a romance writers’ board, I asked the question of what happens when the stud elk is domesticated, the goal of the book, and another stud elk shows up. “That’s another book, Aubrey”. Which means there isn’t much in the process for the stud elk to let himself be tamed.
    But, nah, this has nothing to do with real life. Two billion bucks is a mere bag of shells and means nothing in the grand scheme of men and women.
    Right?
    Right?

  16. wellokaythen says:

    One partial explanation is that many people can keep the nice one around as a permanent back-up plan. If the good one will always be around, then why not take some risks in the meantime and pursue the dangerous one? The bad one could leave me, but the good one will still be hanging around, so why not get some excitement in the meantime? If it doesn’t work out, I can always take a rest with the nice one for a while before I’m ready for the next adventure.

    (This happens with both men and women.)

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