The Love-Hate Relationship of Women with the Infamous “Bad Boy”

It is a contentious, yet conventional wisdom that ‘bad boys’ tend to be particularly charming and attractive and, hence, get utmost female attention. On the flip side of it, ‘good guys’ seem to be the ones to come last to the finish line, using the trite race analogy.  You may have read some tidbits on the matter here and there, but let’s examine this complex issue a bit more closely: Is the supposed axiom that “nice guys finish last” a truly accurate observation? What is so badly, pun intended, appealing about ‘bad boys’ and what can be done about it to save women from immense heartache?

Holtzman and Strube (2012), contend that people with ‘dark’ personalities, i.e. those who are high in traits such as narcissism and psychopathy (sounds “enticing”, doesn’t it?), are usually more attractive due to physical and behavioural reasons; simply put, these men tend to clock more gym time, invest in a ‘polished’ wardrobe and hair grooming rituals, and engage in behaviours that exude confidence. They can make a great first impression (you know whom I’m talking about, those ‘suave-looking’ men on King Street who like poster men for high-end apparel stores…).

In part, biology can be “blamed” for women being attracted to these ‘dark’ types. According to Gutiérrez (2016), women are attracted to the ‘bad boy’ men because they are considered captivating implicitly. “While they are selfish, rule-breaking, imprudent, and rebellious, they are also brave, temerarious, independent, and self-reliant–and they live frantic, galvanizing lives”, adding that such behaviours could “signal that the subject has such good genetic quality and condition as to live dangerously without suffering harm.” These men seem to have nine lives, a seeming evolutionary advantage that most women would want, unbeknownst to them, to confer to their offspring.

The trouble is that while ‘roller-coasting’ with ‘bad boys’ can be, undoubtedly, fun, at one point or another there comes the realization that having your head spinning and stomach churning from too many ups and downs is tiresome. Women may come to realize that stability and ‘jerk-lessness’ are pretty necessary to build a reasonably successful, long-lasting partnership (assuming, of course, most people would want that type of a relationship in their lives).

So, what is the solution to the dilemma of choosing between “he’s all too square” and “he just doesn’t care”? Well…no wonder they refer to the middle ground as the ‘golden mean’. Jeremy Nicholson (2015) suggests that women, understandably and paradoxically, want it ALL – that is, they want both the nice guy and the bad boy in one person. Queen said it best: “I want it all (and I want it now).” And to make matters more complex, what women want may change over time, accounting for age and life’s changes. Tifferet and Kruger (2010) note that when women ranging in age from 14-68 were asked if they’d prefer the “hero dad” (your nice guy) or a “dark cad” (your bad boy), the older women indicated that they would prefer the “dad” type, whereas the younger women would be more inclined to engage in less committed and more short-term relationships with the ‘cad’. The findings can be explained due to changing fertility, with older women being more invested in security and resources, whereas the younger counterparts may be after “good genes” at the expense of stability and security.

Lastly, if women want nice men who also have a more mischievous, ‘bad’ side, what can the nice guys do in order not finish last? Since the “bad boy” phenomenon is related to a more expressive masculinity which, in turn, is related to having more testosterone, Ley (2013) contends that one strategy would be to alter or increase testosterone hormone levels via exercise or competitive activities such as sports, politics, or business ventures. He proposes activities like martial arts, bodybuilding, skydiving, all of which can increase testosterone levels and, hence, confidence, appearing more confident and attractive to a potential mate while still remaining a nice and caring individual. Sound like a win-win scenario! So, come on nice guys, onward to practice a healthy dose of confidence building! While it may appear that ‘bad boys’ get all the fame, their lure is short-lived. At the end, ‘happily ever wanted’ is more likely to actualize with a ‘nice guy’ who exudes a healthy dose of confidence, independence, and a hint of rebelliousness.  A nice suit and a pair of shoes wouldn’t harm as well.

Column by: Stella Shihman

1)Holtzman, N.S & Strube, M.J. (2012). People With Dark Personalities Tend to Create a Physically Attractive Veneer. Social Psychological and Personality Science. volume 4, issue 4, pages 461-467.
2) Vall, G., Gutiérrez, F., Peri, J.M., Gárriz, M., Baillés, E., Garrido, J.M., Obiols, J.E. (2016). Seven dimension of personality pathology are under sexual selection in modern Spain. Evolution and Human Behavoir. volume 37, pages 169-178.
3)Nicholson, J. (2015). Nice Guys or Bad Boys: What Do Women Want? Psychology Today.
4) Tifferet, S., & Kruger, D.J (2010). The terminal investment hypothesis and age-related differences in female preferences for dads vs. Cads. Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science, volume 2, pages 27-30.
5) Ley, D.J. (2013). Can a Nice Guy Learn from The Sexiness of the Bad Boys? Psychology Today.
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