Why are ‘bad boys’ so appealing?

In the context of dating, “bad boy” conjures images from the ‘50s—the guy with the motorcycle, leather jacket, cigarettes and thick air of mystery. He’s the guy parents didn’t approve of, the one friends tsk-tsked about while they secretly swooned. But in reality, every generation has its own version of the “bad boy”—or, rather, many versions of him. And plenty of women will be attracted, for the wrong reasons and with disastrous results.

First, let’s be clear that this isn’t about a man who is unconventional, risk taking, and doesn’t even own a button-down shirt. Being a “bad boy” is never about appearances. Instead, it’s about a man who’s “bad” because he’s “bad” for you, and you probably already know it—whether because he’s a known womanizer, engages in dangerous, illegal or immoral activities, is physically or verbally abusive, or any number of other reasons that tell you deep down you should not be wasting your energy on this guy.

So why do women do it?

To begin with, to be fair, sometimes it’s difficult to see the bad boy for who he really is. Say you’re dating a guy who just can’t hang onto a job; you’d like to think (as he likely does) it’s because he’s simply too talented/artistic/misunderstood to get along with his employers. But maybe the truth is that he has a poor work ethic and larger-than-life ego…and is used to finding women (like you!) who will happily take care of him until the perfect job appears. Eventually—but the sooner the better—you’re going to have to figure out if the guy you’re dating is an eccentric late bloomer or just a guy with an oversized sense of entitlement.

Another reason some women are drawn to these guys is because they believe they can fix them. A classic example is the woman who’s convinced she’ll be the one who turns a world-class womanizer into a committed monogamist. This could be because she’s naïve, or it could be that he’s just so darn charming. In spite of his reputation, this kind of bad boy is an expert at making whomever he’s with at the time believe she’s the one. But it’s that very charm you have to watch out for, because you might be one in a long line of the “most beautiful and interesting” women in his world. Of course, you shouldn’t always take someone’s reputation at face value—the stories of his womanizing could be coming from someone with an axe to grind or just a passion for gossip—but if the signs are there, don’t ignore them. You’re simply putting off the inevitable heartache of finding out the hard way that you’re not his one and only.

Finally, some women are attracted to bad boys simply because they are bad boys. They love the thrill of stepping out of their comfort zone, shocking their friends or even rebelling against their horrified parents. In this situation, the wisdom of dating this guy depends on your motive. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with taking a walk on the wild side if your expectations are realistic and you just want to have a good time (within reason; of course you should walk away if he ever involves you in a dangerous or inappropriate situation of any kind). On the other hand, just trying to get a rise out of disapproving family or friends, is a downright terrible reason to date someone. It may well work in terms of getting them riled up—and even getting you a little extra attention, which can hold appeal of its own—but if you get serious about this person and he’s truly wrong for you, you’re the one who will pay the price, not them.

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