Looking back over my life and dating, I can’t say for certain that I’ve ever met a bad boy. If I try really hard, all I can come up with are fictitious characters who are, to be fair, hotter than a habanero pepper. And that’s the rub: the idea of a dark, brooding Byronic hero who will end the world to save you is incredibly sexy (unless you have a cat that you’re particularly attached to and who might perish in the end of the world); but ‘bad boys’ in real life are just a bit, well, lame. Like, you’re not a rebel because you wore a Slipknot shirt to your niece’s baptism, Steve. Get a job. So yes, Brigderton’s Duke of Hastings or Shadow and Bones’ General Kirigan might inspire a thousand fantasies, with their stunning looks, effortless charm and devil-may-care attitudes, but in real life they never quite measure up.
The crucial thing about the fictional bad boy is that they’ll do anything for the people they care about, and they often open up to the right person. The idea of a villain redeemed is ridiculously hot, especially if it’s because there was something about the heroine that helped him and changed him. And really, that goodness was inside him all along, he just needed to be helped out of his shell. So maybe this is the answer: women like bad boys who actually have hearts of gold, who they could encourage.
But when it comes to relating to people outside of fiction, it’s important to remember that everyone is actually much more complicated. There are no ‘bad boys’ in real life because that archetype is really paper thin. You won’t meet a ‘good guy’ or a ‘bad boy’ on a dating app because they don’t really exist. If you’re a man who believes he fits into one of these two categories, honestly, you need to dig a little deeper and try to find more things to define yourself with. Might I suggest meaningful (and not necessarily romantic) relationships, hobbies and perhaps a bit of therapy?
Unfortunately, what we do get in real life is abusive relationships. Many people wonder why women stay with men who treat them badly, and the short answer is through a combination of gaslighting, lowering self esteem and possibly financial abuse. It’s a complicated and difficult topic that I’m not really qualified to answer. So if you’re wondering why women make romantic connections with men who treat them badly instead of you, a nice guy, it might well be because of that. Alternatively, it might be because you’re actually not as pleasant as you think you are. If you start whining that women won’t date you because you’re too much of a sweetheart, remember that you are still whining, and that’s just thoroughly unsexy.
Fictitious or not, a lot of women are drawn to bad boys. It’s worth saying that this whole trope feels excessively heterosexual, and that acually might partially explain it. Society assumes people are cisgender and straight, and you don’t have to be part of the lgbt+ community to find this limiting. A lot of people feel that there is an expectation on them (reinforced by their friends, families, communities or media) to find an opposite gender partner, settle down in their late 20s and start producing children. In fact, a lot of people – including women – don’t want that, but with (cis) women, there is a time limit, so the pressure to ‘settle down’ is even more noticeable. Finding a ‘bad boy’ who’s happy to buck expectations makes life seem much more exciting and unpredictable, so anyone who’s bored and feels trapped in gender roles might gravitate towards rebellion in the form of a romantic partner – or they’re happy to rebel on their own, but would appreciate someone who understands them.
Finally, I think it’s very human to want something that we can’t have. If you give anyone a set of rules, there’s a temptation to break them, which is why we pop our spots instead of allowing them to heal naturally, or, on the other end of the spectrum, why some people have affairs. The bad boy is forbidden or unavailable – and that makes him look like a jar of cookies in front of a little kid. My point earlier applies: bad boys are fictitious creations. But all that aside, if you did manage to find a real-life bad boy, he’d still be unavailable, because that’s the whole point. He’s a rebel, he’s unavailable and he won’t want you. Trying to get around that is how women presumably tie themselves in knots, thinking that they’re the exception, until they’re just exhausted – or, ideally, he’s worked out how much he loves them. But if that did happen, maybe he’d be less sexy. Because what comes next? Monogamy? Trying to fit date night around work schedules and dentist appointments? The thrill is in the chase, after all.