One of the most common Nice Guy™ complaints is that women like jerks preferentially to liking guys who are nice like them. I think this notion is common enough that it deserves a little examination.
First, while some women do indeed dig jerks, so do some men, although in that case it’s usually called the “why men love bitches” problem. Admittedly, men tend to believe women like jerks for Mysterious Ladybrain Reasons, and women believe men tend to like shallow bitches because they have great tits, but that’s only minor cosmetic differences in the general trend. It’s not even reserved to the straights: a whole lot of queers have managed to fall hopelessly in love with homophobes. The digging of jerks isn’t a gender problem; it’s a people problem.
There is some scientific research on whether men or women like jerks. Unfortunately, most of this research ranges between mostly useless and completely useless. “Mostly useless” are the studies that ask people whether they’re attracted to jerks: that’ll get you what people think they’re attracted to, but that’s not always whom they’re really attracted to, as everyone can attest who’s ever seen someone swear up and down that they want a nice, reliable boyfriend with a good job and then proceed to chase after every brooding boy with a Daddy-doesn’t-love-me haircut and a guitar in a ten-mile radius. “Completely useless” are the studies that show that jerks (the disagreeable, those who have Dark Triad traits) have more sex partners, because that is almost certainly because people keep dumping them for being assholes.
Therefore, we are left with the anecdotal evidence for people dig jerks. There are a couple different explanations; more than one of these is probably in play in any given situation.
(Please note that none of these explanations are “women naturally dig jerks because EVOLUTION!” That is a terrible explanation. First, human children need a shitload of caretaking. It makes literally no sense for evolution to select for women to be attracted to men who are more likely to run out on them and leave them stuck with the kid, because the kid would be less likely to survive to adulthood; instead, it’d favor nice, reliable men who would help with the childrearing. Second, a disagreeable adult is likely to produce disagreeable children, which is a major net negative, because humans are social creatures and getting along with other people majorly increases your chance of survival. Third, the “sexy sons” hypothesis is begging the question: if women sleep with jerks because jerks are sexy and they want their sons to inherit the jerkishness and be sexy, how did jerkishness become sexy in the first place?)
The jerk has other good traits
I will admit, whenever I hear people complain about someone dating a complete asshole, I tend to assume the asshole looks something like Andrej Pejic.
Extremely hot male models aside, there are a lot of reasons why someone might date an asshole: she’s smart, he’s rich, she’s funny, and (yes) he’s hot as balls. I know the one time I ended up in a relationship with a Grade-A borderline-abusive asshole, he was an extremely cute feminist mathematician who taught me to stand up for myself and talked to me for entire days at a time, which made me overlook the whole “explosive rages, calls my friends Judas” thing.
As an aside: can we collectively promise ourselves that, if we ever find ourselves describing a relationship as “really good, except”, we will break up with that person immediately? The thing that follows the “except” is always completely fucking horrible. “It’s really good, except zie screams at me when I do things wrong.” “It’s really good, except sometimes he withdraws all my money from the bank and spends it on gambling, cocaine, and sex workers.” “It’s really good, except she thinks dressing up as Harry Potter to go to a con is silly and childish.”
They are both jerks
I think this is behind that whole Hot Chicks with Douchebags thing. It is actually, in fact, Douchebags with Douchebags. The douchebags are mating with their own kind! It should not be inherently more surprising that an asshole dates an asshole than it is that everyone I’m dating can recite all of Space Core’s dialogue from Portal 2 and hold in-depth discussions of the relative merits of turning the moon into a giant death ray.
Also, you may have not noticed that the person you want to date is an asshole because crushes can make people way non-objective like that.
The non-jerk has a thing for jerks
There are a lot of reasons why someone might have a thing for jerks! Some people absolutely love fixing broken birds—they’re the sort of people who will adopt a three-legged dog with diabetes just because it neeeeeeeeds them. Other people have some kind of bizarre possibly-Twilight-based idea that jerks are sexy. Still others have low self-esteem and think that jerks are all they deserve.
At any rate, if someone has a thing for jerks, it is probably a sign that you should not date them, because they have some serious growing-up to do.
The jerk is nice to them
This is what’s behind that stereotypical jock who throws nerds into lockers but still gets to date the hot chick. It’s not that she’s turned on by his locker-throwing-into ability; it’s because he doesn’t throw her into lockers. He remembers her favorite flavor of ice cream and always smiles at her when he gets a touchdown. Admittedly, this is somewhat shortsighted on her part (if someone is nice to you but not to the waiter they are not a nice person), but still fairly reasonable.
In fact, some people actually feel special when someone who’s normally a dick is nice to them: it feels like you’ve earned something.
It’s an emotionally abusive relationship
I hate to mention this one, because if your friend’s in an emotionally abusive relationship and your big reaction is “why is s/he dating that jerk instead of me?” you are earth-shaking levels of asshole. But nevertheless it is a possibility.
The jerk is not actually a jerk
Many Nice Guys™ have a skewed idea of what counts as “being nice”: as we shall see in a future post, a lot of times they interpret pedestalizing or supplicating behavior as being nice, and when a guy refuses to pedestalize or supplicate to women, they consider him an asshole. This is not being an asshole to women, though; it’s just treating them like a normal person.
In particular, there’s a certain kind of flirting I usually call the “performative asshole,” which can be done by men or women. (My girlfriend calls it Dom Flirting, and it’s true that performative assholery is pretty common as a means of signaling dominance in non-kinky spaces.) The performative asshole is a particular kind of flirtatious banter that involves friendly teasing, sometimes saying things that are often genuinely insulting (“I don’t know why I let you hang around. Must be because you’re cute”) with a smirk and a sense of irony. The key is that everyone involved knows that the performative asshole is not doing it seriously. You know it’s performative assholery because the other person will smile or laugh, instead of getting horribly offended. Performative assholes can be attractive for a couple reasons: they’re confident, they’re funny, they don’t take themselves too seriously, and they treat you as an equal and a friend.
Finally, some people will tend to think a person is a jerk because the “jerk” is dating someone that the person wanted to date, regardless of whether the “jerk” actually researches cancer cures in between volunteering at a library and saving orphaned puppies.