A dating coach I know recently posted on Facebook a portion of an email she received from a longtime married, 60-something man who’d read one of her blog posts, about why women like jerk. He felt compelled to share his advice in return: Namely, that women who date (or chase) bad boys will eventually wind up alone and unwanted, and that women who chose men who are predictable, if a bit boring in the personality department, will wind up married and happy when they want to settle down and will, therefore, win.
The comment thread that followed included mostly cheers championing his advice, along with a lot of proverbial head scratching as to what women see in bad boys.
It’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard the argument. Six years ago, in an attempt to diagnose why I wasn't willing to commit to a guy who was good on paper, I read Lori Gottlieb’s "Marry Him: The Case for Settling For Mr. Good Enough," only to realize I’d never been attracted to the guy to begin with. I threw the book out.
Or from virtual strangers, like a woman at a networking event I attended a few weeks ago who eyed my ringless left hand with suspicion when I told her I occasionally write about relationships before she advised me to maybe pick a different subject matter. Sara Eckel covered the myriad of bullshit reasons why single women are told—and often have to defend against—they’re solo in her (very excellent) book: , including being too picky, too available, or flat-out desperate.
But the issue here isn’t bad boys (and girls)—which, for clarity, I mean men who are, in some capacity, charming and emotionally unavailable, not men who are abusive or misogynistic—and who, for the most part, aren’t meant to be tamed or broken in as much as they are to be savored with aplomb and released accordingly.
I guess I’m curious: What’s our beef with women who like bad boys? And why do we have a cutoff age for when women are supposed to ditch them in favor of more pragmatic pursuits?
When we shit on women who like bad boys, we do ourselves a disservice. For one, as I mentioned, we engage in a form of ageism against women: We place an expiration date on our worth—and our looks—and allow other people to decide what it is. (See: Scarlett Johansson’s rumored flings with Benicio Del Toro and Sean Penn at 20 and 27 versus Pamela Anderson’s string of rocky relationships post-40.)
And when we compartmentalize other people’s behavior, whether it’s the bad boy or the women who chose them, we allow a single trait to overshadow the person as a whole—suddenly, a person becomes that “thing:” promiscuous, dirty, pathetic, whatever—and, I fear/think, winds up creating further divide in a society that’s supposedly craving ways to connect.
Women who like bad boys are not unlike women who like long-term relationships: It’s a preference, and one that can change over time. But since we’ve placed a halo of goodness around commitment, from childhood fairytales to glossy headlines imploring us to become more eligible versions of ourselves in order to become wanted and worthy of monogamy, we’re bred to lust after it as a one-size-fits-all option for women who, literally and proverbially, are not one-size-fits-all shapes and sizes.
We might not blink at a woman who just wants to casually get her rocks off after a breakup, but if her bad boy habit is reoccuring with no end in sight? Then, it’s a problem.
The bigger issue at stake, I fear, is that we still haven’t gotten comfortable with the idea that not every woman wants to be married, bear children, or live behind a white picket fence, even though statistics show that more people are shying away from those paths in favor of what used to be considered unconventional.
But if a bad boy fills a void the same way a boyfriend or husband does, whether you’re 32 or 92—and more importantly, you’re happy—then who is anyone else to judge? And more importantly, who cares what they think?