Psychology, Society

Why So Many Women Choose “Bad Lads”


“Tenderness” ©2012 by Andy Vickers

Do you know how painful it is to see someone you love, as in feeling a connection, a harmony, kind of love, with an ex-husband who she decided to go back to, someone who is weasly, scruffy, wiry, just plain nasty looking?  Then someone else who showed signs of feeling the same way as you did for her, who always seemed to be about to get a little closer but then backed away again, who you then see with an arrogant, self-centred man.  When you spend your life trying to be a good person, well presented, passionate yet caring and loving, it’s agonising.  And depressing.

This is when you also tend to hear the five words that plunge an icy dagger through the hopeful heart of any decent, good, romantic man:  “can we just be friends?”

I’ve spent much time thinking about the reasons, I’ve read psychological journals and books on philosophy, I have questioned whether there was anything inadequate about myself, I’ve compared myself to others in the same, sinking, boat.  I now have an answer to the question someone asked me last year – “why do women always want the bad lad types?”

This may take a while so I’ll wait for you to go and make a cup of tea.  You’ll need it.

I’m writing this particular paragraph after stumbling home from the pub so you’ll have to bear with me.  What happened tonight was not the first time nor will it be the last (and no, it didn’t involve sex, unfortunately).   I went out with friends, in one pub I was flattered that a woman behind the bar being chatted up by three showy youths looked away from them and smiled at me at the moment I happened to glance round at her – leading to the three yoofs to look round, evidently thinking “who the fuck is she smiling at.”  Ha, age and experience boys, age and experience, and being tall, well dressed and handsome helps too…

But…  later, after a number of women had been looking at me across a number of pubs then being distinctly uninterested when I was close enough to talk to them, I saw someone who I’d seen many times before, someone who was older than me, someone who was very attractive; not showy, but beautiful, well dressed, tall, down to earth.  She kept looking at me but I couldn’t get to talk to her because of the people she was with.  I thought, I’ll be able to talk to her, I’m sure of it.  She was talking to a scruffy bloke with a shaved head and tattoos but he was married, she wasn’t so I took it to mean she wasn’t actually with him.  Then it all fell into place, her friend was married to the bloke and her boyfriend, who was exactly the same kind of bloke had just walked in.  I had to go and find a place away from everyone else because I actually had tears in my eyes.  If she was with someone like that, loudmouth, arrogant, scruffy, probably aggressive by the look of his body-language, then what hope was left?  None.  I choked back what was left of my drink and went and bought chips.  On the way out of the chippy a very vulnerable looking girl of about eighteen smiled at me and thanked me for being a gentleman for holding the door for her.  I was certain that she’d be going home to a pratt in a tracksuit too.

Now back to the bit I wrote while not inebriated and teary…

The Disclaimer

Firstly it’s not “always” but today a lot of women do reject men who are compatible with them; that they have the kind of harmony with that forms the basis of a strong relationship; the man could even be spectacularly good in bed but she won’t discover that because she’ll be with someone else…  who will be a disappointment.  There are also many women whose compatible type is the kind of man who is either macho and arrogant or “showy”, they tend to be loud and showy themselves.  Finally many of the psychological reasons can apply to men who seek out women who are bad for them too, this article’s lean towards the feminine is due to the original question.

As for the rest there are a number of main reasons and theories:

The Genes

Firstly there is the idea particularly proposed by Arthur Schopenhauer that people always choose a partner based on a subconscious process he called the “will to life” which priorities seeking qualities that would create ideal children to further the species and that this usually precludes the chance of happiness, it’s either being happy or producing normal, beautiful, healthy and intelligent offspring – and the offspring always wins, which is why all relationships where the people are happy together fail and all marriages are miserable.  The idea is that, for example shorter women would go for taller men, slightly boyish women will go for feminine men and so on.

This doesn’t take into account men who are what most women would, even subconsciously, consider to be ideal baby-making material; average height, well-built, strong, healthy, intelligent, a good temperament yet are consistently rejected.  It also doesn’t account for women who meet, have kids with and stay with men who are likely by these standards to produce less than perfect sprogs.

I’m not convinced that it’s that simple and that the psychology of relationships is far more complex.

The Friends

There are many people who feel a powerful desire for approval from their friends and even strangers above all else, they choose a partner based not on compatibility, on harmony but on whether that person is someone other people will be impressed by, or someone who will make them appear attractive and successful by virtue of the fact that they have attracted such a popular partner.  Often they’ll be out with friends and they’ll see a group of men who are very self-confident, assertive, loud, popular.  Women tend to be attracted to that showy type when in situations like this, if their friends also fancy the same men then it will make the man more attractive to her.  The same is true for why some go for self-centred, arrogant but well-off men.

The Media

Films, TV, magazines and even adverts show that the rugged, violent, bad types are exciting and sexy.  These men are always good to the women and only use their aggression towards them to very exciting, sexy, orgasmic effect, throwing them around and turning them into breathless quivering wrecks.  They’re never selfish and fall asleep after sex, they never just want to watch the football, never hurt them and the women inevitably turn them into romantic, lovable rogues – who will still beat someone to a pulp if necessary.  According to Hollywood it is also only the stubble-adorned, chisel-jawed, tattooed, rough men who are, to not put too fine a point on it, well endowed.  After all, other parts of the body are bigger and stronger in aggressive, self-assertive, toned men why not their penis?  This is also a fallacy, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Any man, even a gentlemanly, considerate man can be good in bed – some women say they’re even better because they give the woman what she wants rather than taking what he wants.  But the myth remains – Good=Passionless,  Bad=Breathlessly unbelievable sex.  This is probably what one woman on a TV dating show meant when she said “I want a proper man, a man who knows how to be a man.”  Huh?

So many TV shows today are basically the same – Twilight (which was once referred to as “one girl’s choice between bestiality and necrophilia”) and the new Beauty and The Beast for example; the misunderstood “bad” male who is so sexy and exciting, the female character falls for him because she can see the good inside and has rough exciting sex too.  Vampires, werewolves; the ultimate bad boys.  Many women see that and want to live out the closest thing they can have to the fantasy.  Vampires don’t exist but sullen, rough, tattooed, violent men do.  Do I need to mention Fifty Shades?

Much fiction involves the romanticising of violent men one book on Amazon includes a discription of the man being so attractive because “he’s scary and hot”.  Song lyrics include “He has a black heart” “Daddy I’ve fallen for a monster/somehow he’s scaring me to death/he’s big and he’s bad/I love him like mad/momma he’s the best I ever had” (Stushi, Black Heart), “I need a man who thinks it’s right when it’s so wrong…” Lady Gaga – The Edge Of Glory and many more.

Of course the internet has much to say on the subject including articles of how to get the attention of a bad boy and advice for lads on how to be badass.

At the subtler end of things many adverts show women being impressed or smiling and giggling when her bad-boy partner is bad to her in some way.  This gives the impression that it’s fun and impressive to be selfish or hurtful, that it’s a desirable behaviour for men to demonstrate and for women to want, and is very different from just pretending to do such things, for a laugh.

The other end of the spectrum is of course the Sex and The City fantasy of being swept away by the rich, charismatic usually much older man who will give her everything she’ll ever desire.  According to Hollywood (and the Twilight-related Fifty Shades of Gray (Ok, I mentioned it)) they’re also amazing in bed too, apparently money can do that.  TV shows like that also perpetuate the myth that good, kind gentlemanly men are only desirable if you want to settle down and have a family (because although they can get you pregnant they can’t do it in any, you know, exciting way.  And it’s the babies the friends will be impressed by anyway, not the husband who is little more than a sperm bank.)  The only exception to this being comedy films where a woman can fall for a socially awkward but kind man but that’s just comedy, right?

The Show

Much of the time women will be with the bad type because they tend to be expert manipulators.  In a bar or at work they will be all well presented, confident, charming, funny and popular, they tend to be the centre of attention and in bars particularly women, studies have shown, tend to only notice the men who are creating the biggest show.  These men will be the ones who just walk up to women and start flirting, because they expect all women to be attracted to them.

Once a woman is with such a man he can revert to being untidy, selfish, violent or whatever negative traits he has.  Some women would walk away, some will try to change him, make him better, some are too afraid of being single again that they’ll stay and use confirmation bias to convince herself and others that the negative traits aren’t that much of a problem, that the fact that he’s so popular and exciting make up for it.  In the supermarket this morning I saw such a type – he was with a very attractive, well dressed girlfriend at the checkout, he was wearing a bright green vest and designer sunglasses, showing off his muscles and leaning on the till, chatting up the young sales assistant while his girlfriend packed the groceries.  She will probably have rationalised this by thinking that she was lucky because he was leaving with her.

The Culture of Personality

One contributing factor to the bad-lad preference could be that, as explained in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain our current society has moved from a culture of character, where people were appreciated based on their unseen good deeds and good character to a culture of personality where the admirable traits are charisma and magnetism – traits that are common to extraverts and many of the bad-lad types do have that extravert nature, the ability to be the centre of attention, and as such they are seen as desirable.

The Past

There are those who have a predetermined idea of how things are going to work out, they live out a constant narrative, a negative fantasy of their own lives as a drama, they know how things end; they can’t have a decent partner, they always get let down.  This is the type who will say to me “I never meet any decent men” – this is why I’ve felt so inadequate for so long.  One of the reasons for this is that many people (men too) are terrified of getting what they really want and losing it, so therefore they choose a lesser option that would be less painful to walk away from.  Many expect to be let down and live out that narrative too – encouraged by songs such as the Taylor Swift one which contains the words “I can see it ending before it begins…” and the many other songs that come out on a weekly basis all following the same basic formula of being in love with but let down by a man who ends up being a shit.  You often see this in couples who argue constantly, the arguments confirm the belief and the drama and the achievement of the internal expectation actually generates a feeling of satisfaction or sometimes even (subconscious) pleasure in the mind.  The narrative is obvious when, for example, a woman says that all men will fail to complement how you look, or even myself slipping into thinking that all women only go for bad-lad types – I’m getting better, honestly, read the disclaimer earlier.

As explained in this article about what the author calls the wave the idea of someone good and decent, caring and available getting close to the vulnerable soul of someone who had been hurt previously causes a kind of unescapable panic that in turn makes the person (man or woman) to create a distraction, a ruse, to keep that person away like a bird protecting a nest.

This is the most complicated, psychologically, and the most baffling.  I knew a woman who firstly said that although we got on really well, could be good together, it would never work because I’d not had a family so could never understand that her son was the most important thing in the world to her.  I explained how I could understand that and it’d be fine.  She then changed her reasoning and said that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her, that she was too wild for me, when I told her that wasn’t the case she then just became, over the weeks, more distant and eventually stopped talking to me.  Later I’d seen her out with the stereotypical loud, showy type who I’m sure would be a good family man, and then a year later I met her and she said “I’ve done nothing wrong, I don’t know why you stopped texting me.”  It was the other way round but in her mind, her narrative, I’d let her down, as she always expected to happen, right from the start, in reality and as I hadn’t let her down, she’d made it happen, blocking out the fact that she’d not replied to me.

This basic pattern has repeated a couple of times – I’ve said I wanted to spend more time with someone, then later she’s said “this isn’t going to work and you don’t seem to want to see me anyway” despite frequent invitations for nights out, cosy nights in and so on.   Then there’s the one who keeps you, physically at arm’s length, so that to even try to have any kind of contact you’d virtually have to rugby-tackle her  – she then says “you don’t seem interested in being more than friends, you’re not… physical.”

This type often make excuses not to get involved with you – like “these things always go wrong, you always end up in a rut” – in this case you say you don’t want to end up in the rut, tied down to a mortgage and kids either and she then, once you’ve proved you want what she wants, she still walks away, leaving you confused.  Then within a few months you see her with exactly the sort of man she once complained about, and looking miserable, she turns out to be married and in the exact kind of unhappy rut she described.  Which is what she expected to happen.

This type will convince herself that the media images etc above are true and that life will be more exciting with a bad type when in reality she’ll often simply be masking a hidden fear that she doesn’t deserve a man who is both exciting and good.  And yes, again the issue of who’s better in bed rears its head.

Being Comfortable With Now – Self-Sabotage

As this article in Lifehacker points out it’s often just that even though people want happiness they don’t expect to get it, it isn’t what normally happens to them.  People are often less comfortable with things happening that aren’t what they expect and are more comfortable with not getting what they want so they resign themselves to that fate.  Getting what you want means change and risk so people will self-sabotage themselves in order to remain in their comfortable current state even if that means, counter-intuitively, being sad.

The Defiance

Another type tells people that they are a strong, independent person and will often go for a type of partner that will challenge that in order to prove it.  This type will repeatedly go for the same bad-for-them type in a self-destructive pattern, and never be aware of it, some people reading this will be thinking “that’s not me.”  These are the ones singing along to “I am what I am” or “young hearts run free” loudly in bars.

The Unavailable

When I go into a pub with a friend who happens to be a woman all of a sudden women who in the past haven’t looked at me start looking at me with the shy smiles – this is the attraction of the unavailable (a form of negative pattern, the same as believing that they can’t have what they want or that they’ll be let down – by having a relationship with someone who’s cheating on someone else.)

The Reassurance

There are the ones who just want reassurance that they’re still attractive even though they’re either in a relationship with a bad-lad or other inattentive type or will go back to such a relationship once she’s put a decent man through the wringer.  This type makes a decent man think that she’s interested then walks away with an excuse such as “this can’t work out because…” “I need to stay with my ex for the children’s sake”, or “I’m just not ready for another relationship right now.”

The Negativity

Lastly there’s a type who have a preconceived notion in their mind of what type of partner they can have, they choose based on what they consider to be their level.  They have an idea of what they deserve based on their opinion of themselves.  This is one of the reasons why where I live you see so many attractive, well dressed women with scruffy, dishevelled, tracksuit trouser wearing, lank-haired men who always seem to avoid holding hands and often walk along with their girlfriend in a kind of headlock rather than an affectionate embrace.  This type of man is also often the target of women who feel that the only way they can be loved is by taking a misunderstood man who needs looking after and making him better.  These kinds of vulnerable women are also preyed upon by self-centred men so the pattern continues.  Some women will actually do the opposite of this and go for a very dull and sensible type for the same reasons.

I have noticed this effect in myself.  As your self-esteem and self-image improve the kind of partner you find attractive changes.  You can notice this in TV shows, people in shows you once said “I don’t fancy her” suddenly seem attractive.  This works both ways and for both sexes, presumably the person you didn’t fancy last year was someone you thought was either above or below your level.  You have no choice, it’s the subconscious (negative) ego that’s making the judgement.

It’s not a new phenomenon though, through history there have been examples of hibristophilia – women mainly who go for really bad men, like hundreds of women who are engaged to American men on death row.  Two Australian sisters left so-called boring marriages for men in prison, one was attacked by her new husband as soon as he was released with a hammer, the other’s husband tried to bite her ear off and pull out her teeth with pliers.

Utterly Facebooked

Another part of both the peer pressure and past narrative issues is the effect that social media has had.  There is a perverse pleasure which is posting on Facebook or Twitter that “yet again I’ve been let down”.

It goes something like:
“Sharon X… is really happy right now ;)”
“Lucy B…  why, tell us”
“Sharon X… Just am ;)”
a week later…
“Sharon X…  had an amazing night last night.   ALL NIGHT!!! ;)”
“Lucy B…  OMG!”
“Sharon X…  won’t walk for a week!!!”
“Milly C… You’re so lucky! ❤ xxx”
“Sharon X…  posted a link from YouTube – [insert generic love song here]
“Sharon X…  is in a relationship.”
“Sharon X… thinks Gary is the most amazing man  xxx”
“Sharon X…  Gary’s taking me to [insert club/restaurant/European city here]
“Lucy B…  Oh, you’re so lucky Shaz.”
“Gary Y…  Sharon’s the best thing that’s happened to me, I swear to you all I’ll never do anything to hurt her.”
Time passes…
“Sharon X… posted a link from YouTube – [insert generic heartbreak song here]
“Milly C…  OMG Sharon, what’s happened.”
“Sharon X…  Gary was with Susan last night. :(”
“Lucy B… His Ex? What a shit. xx  {{hugs}}”
“Sharon X…  Doesn’t need men, they’re all just bastards.”
“Sharon X… posted a link from YouTube – [insert generic “independent woman” song here]
Time passes...
“Sharon X…  Just wants a man who isn’t full of shit.”
“Lucy B… No such thing :(”
“Sharon X…  I know, I never meet anyone decent.”  Except the dozens who she has, in real life, been “just friends” with.
Time passes...
“Sharon X…  is really happy right now ;)”
Rinse and repeat.

The bits that are important are the approval of her friends when she begins the relationship with her hunky boyfriend and to a much greater degree the sympathy when it all goes wrong – another example of the dreaded confirmation bias.  The collective, virtual, hugs and “oh, it’ll be alright” feel good, if it’s also the expected outcome then that completion of the narrative also gives the same buzz as completing any other planned task, or a crossword, such events cause our primitive brains to deliver a dopamine surge – ooh, happy!

Sometimes all that people do is, without saying anything else, change their relationship status to “it’s complicated” and possibly then back to “single” just to elicit some kind of response from friends.  I even found myself thinking of doing that recently but didn’t.  I originally titled this blog post “Longfellow was in a complicated relationship” instead.

Another thing that happens is women on Facebook posting “inspirational message” images saying things like “having someone who loves you as much as you love him is everything” and saying “one day, I hope” which gains replies of “he’ll turn up soon hun x” and so on.  Usually this is what they say they want but what they believe they’ll get is often the opposite.  Getting the sympathetic comments is the main objective and this display of the desire for this fantasy reinforces the reaction when the “wonderful new relationship” turns sour.

The Aftermath, The Damage

I used to react to being let down/rejected by being annoyed, saying “typical, they always want the bad ones” but I’ve realised that it wasn’t them I was annoyed at but myself, I was feeling “why can’t I be attractive like those bad types”.  Now I know differently and accept that it’s not me that has the problem.  Unfortunately it doesn’t make the situation any easier to deal with.

What they don’t know is what damage it causes; the emotional pain of becoming deeply attached to someone, to feel the harmony, the empathy, the deep care for someone, the desire for that person, the unconditional and as such true love for them only for them to walk away with the only reason being that she expects things to go wrong.  You become part of her narrative, one of the good ones she lost, or you become forgotten, one of the good ones she never meets, or you are rationalised into history because you weren’t right for her, you walked away, you’re the one she scared away or the one who wasn’t interested.

You find yourself in tears at the slightest reminder because you loved her and she hasn’t done anything to diminish that love, walking away hasn’t changed the essence of what you loved about her.

But it doesn’t matter, does it, it’s not part of the script.