Why Do Women Love Bad Boys?

We’ve all heard the sayings “nice guys finish last” and “women prefer to be with jerks.” There is convincing evidence that in some cases this might be true. The reality is that basic needs are often met by the notorious “bad boys” that “nice guys” may be sometimes hesitant to deliver.

Bad boys are often described as edgy, mysterious, alluring, courageous, rugged, independent, sexy, confident, rebellious, and exciting. They are also thought of as rough, abusive, dangerous, arrogant, selfish, elusive, self-absorbed, insensitive, unreliable, defiant, disrespectful, naughty, and heart breakers. Regarding the more negative traits, it is important to note that all men struggle with certain personality flaws. In some cases stereotypical “nice guys” can be just as abusive, insensitive, and unreliable as their bad boy counterparts.

The central theme underpinning these bad boy characteristics is the willingness to face conflict and set personal boundaries such as saying “no.” This implies the existence of confidence, or at least self-esteem. While confidence is developed from overcoming challenges and genuine effort, self-esteem is feeling good about oneself due to something they didn’t earn or work for, i.e. being told they’re attractive. If we don’t really feel good about ourselves, why should anyone else? This is clearly part of that elusive feeling we call chemistry.

The willingness to face conflict and set boundaries also indicates a form of strength. From an evolutionary perspective, there is a basic female desire to be with a man who can protect them from danger, at least physical. Furthermore, strength usually leads to respect. Respect is vital. When conducting dating coaching in my practice, I have heard many women report that they “just can’t get into a guy they don’t respect.” Bad boys are usually more willing and able to readily engage in conflict, even though it may be excessive or inappropriate when they haven’t done any of their emotional work.

Nice guys are often described as sweet, tender, supportive, respectful, sensitive, warm, and friendly. On the flip side, they have been viewed as weak, needy, emotional, over-sensitive, high-maintenance, and overall pushovers. If someone experiences another as weak and a pushover, deep respect can be near impossible to achieve. A classic, stereotypical nice guy (in the negative, undeveloped sense) may often attempt to avoid conflict and suppress any hint of anger or disagreement for the sake of being nice and friendly. They also tend to say “yes” when they really mean “no” to avoid upsetting their date. Unfortunately, this suppression of our anger and needs comes at great cost and can emerge at very inconvenient moments (perhaps a panic attack at 3:00 a.m. or passively-aggressively forgetting to follow through on an important commitment). True feelings will ultimately win and demand our attention, whether they’re expressed as anxiety, depression, and/or physical illness.

Research has shown that in photos as well as in person, female subjects view men as most attractive when they appear serious and do not smile, a little less so when they appear troubled/ashamed, and least when they’re smiling. Women tend to be viewed the exact opposite. Male subjects viewed women as most attractive when they were smiling/warm, less so when appearing troubled/ashamed, and least when they appeared serious and did not smile. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions in the preferences of both genders.

So can a nice guy find a nice woman without becoming a jerk? Yes. The key is balance. It is possible to strengthen or develop courage, confidence, independence, and protectiveness while also demonstrating sensitivity, kindness, and respect. Most critical is the willingness to face conflict and set boundaries, especially saying “no.” This is crucial to expressing ourselves fully and authentically as well as avoiding the natural tendency to sweep things under the rug. Developing these skills through relationship counseling for men can not only lead to more successful relationships with women, but can also lead to better mental health and overall sense of well-being.

Jason Esswein is a licensed couples counselor in Los Gatos, CA, where he specializes in providing therapy.

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