He’s charming, he’s mysterious, he’s a bad boy, and he’s alluring. Yet the effect of this man can be felt for years to come. What is it that’s so attractive about the bad boy persona, and how do you progress after he’s been and gone?
This past Sunday night I went out to see a movie with some friends called Endless Love. I hadn’t even heard about the movie until that night, didn’t know it was out or what it was about, but I saw it had Bruce Greenwood in it and was keen to hang out, so went along and saw the movie. Apparently a remake of an 1981 movie, it really pushed a lot of buttons and was pretty interesting, 5 out of 10 sort of movie. The movie is advertised as “The loss of innocence”, and that pretty much nails the movie on the head. It’s about a young girl who just finishes high school. She’s quiet, she hasn’t had a lot of friends, and she has a pretty troubling set of family circumstances. Enter David, a headstrong guy who’s admired her from afar for a few years. David is her first real friend outside of her family, and sweeps her off her feet in a number of days. Unfortunately for her family, David is your typical bad boy. He doesn’t mind joyriding in someone else’s car, he gets in fights, he’s had a troubled past and is taken it out externally. He breaks into her house fairly on (with her permission), does things behind her father’s back, and… well, I guess you can see it for yourself. But he knows just what to say and comes across quite charming, and to everyone but the father of the girl, he presents himself quite well.
After leaving the cinema, I couldn’t help but thinking that I’d seen this story before. Unfortunately though, it wasn’t because I’d seen a movie like this before, although I probably have seen a few – it was because I knew this girl. And I knew this guy. Several of them. In real life. And making all the same decisions and struggles at the same age as these guys.
I grew up with some pretty amazing people. I’d grown up in church and heard about all the dreams that a lot of my female friends had about their future life. They had dreams of doing some great work, helping people, getting married to a man they adored, and really moving forward strong in life.
Enter boyfriend number one. And all too often, he was a bad boy who didn’t end up very good for her. Some of them were able to move on from him successfully, some didn’t, but a lot of damage was caused. He introduced a lot of guilt, a lot of ideas, a dagger to the dream. He kept them isolated from other friends, told them things that only they should know (and not in a good way), and when he found someone else he was more interested in, he left and left a broken heart, and a feeling of “damaged goods”.
But you know what – even as you get older, the bad boy persona seems to be a talking point. For some reason, our movies and literature still portray him as attractive, and it works. He’s the guy that the guys want to be, and the girls want to end up with. So what is it exactly about this character, this type of guy, that is so exciting and enticing?
Well, first off, he’s a pretty good looking bloke usually. He dresses well, he has a good look, and he’s usually pretty well admired by various cohorts. Check. Fair enough. Not much more to say when a man presents himself well, is well proportioned, or just has a natural good look.
Next thing that gets mentioned is he’s confident. He’s got a bravado about him, a swagger. He talks a big game. He’s quite charming in what he says, and seems to know what to say to get the feelings going. He’s there for you at all the right times, and says the comforting things at the right times – you look so nice tonight, I want to protect you, I’ll look after you.
He’s not that predictable – he could do anything. He’s doesn’t always respect or care for the rules or the opinions of others. He lives a different lifestyle, walks to the beat of his own drum. This is another thing that comes off quite attractive – he’s adventurous and exciting.
This persona comes across a young girl who is feeling kind of lost and lonely, and he represents the opposite – he’s not boring or dull, he’s the promise of opportunity and a companion, and he makes you feel great.
And then one day, he’s gone. Or he’s still there, and he is mistreated the heck out of his lady. All her friends tell her to break up with him, but she won’t. All his friends have tried to say something, but he pulls away from them.
Having seen it happen to so many good friends of mine, even having known the guys who have perpetrated being the bad boy and done the damage, it’s something that really breaks my heart. Cause I’ve seen how hurt these girls still are, and I’ve seen that this can leave a mark that can be hard to remove.
And I’ve also talked to a lot of girls who feel like they just can’t help themselves. I mean, this is kind of what the media tells them to go for. The women’s novels are full of that womanizing stranger comes into town and sweeps her off her feet for the night, and leaves her and the readers wanting more. To be wanted by such a man is exciting.
But maybe there are some other things that cause him to be attractive, or continue this attraction years on. Like many guys, I have always found myself fascinated with the question of “Why do women find bad boys attractive”, and I’ve seen a few things that I’m still working out.
One is a natural occurring substance called oxytocin. Traditionally a reason why many traditional Christians (such as myself) are so against sex before marriage, oxytocin has received some seriously mainstream press in the infamous work of Tracy McMillan, “Why You’re Not Married”. Addressed at women, her book and her accompanying Huffington Post entry (minor language warning) caused a massive stir and are still making waves today. Quite blunt in its approach, her work shoots out many offensive statements that seek to shock her audience into reality, such as “You’re a Liar” and “You’re Selfish”. But oxytocin, as mentioned in her work and also a scientific fact, is the bonding chemical released by a woman during three events:
It is the chemical that bonds a woman to whoever she experiences it with. And Mister Bad Boy aims so hard to get in your pants, and succeeds in causing this chemical to be released. And the feelings grow. And “I don’t know why I’m so attracted to him” finds a scientific explanation – the sexual experience creates a powerful bond that is hard to forget.
This is a big reason why men and women should really make sure they prove themselves in their commitment to each other before causing such a powerful force to be released.
But sometimes, there’s something more sinister. There is an old adage that I really hate to hear personally, but it is still thrown around a lot today with a high success rate – treat them mean, keep them keen. I hate that. But it works. Why does it work?
In asking a number of women over the years and reading some books and other things, some of the reasons I’ve found aren’t real nice, but maybe this is why…
Cause maybe you feel like you don’t deserve better. Or maybe because you’re used to wanting what you can’t have. So you’ll take whatever attention you can get, even if it’s negative. Your dad may not have been there, or your last few boyfriends were all men who were like this, and so you’re drawn to this guy going forward.
And maybe this bad boy persona is so attractive because that’s what we’ve been fed as being the type of guy who will tick all the boxes and satisfy all your needs – your needs for comfort, for sexual gratification, for adventure, for a new life. He knows all the positions and is an unstoppable force. And a lot of guys feel pressured into needing to be this guy, in the same way a lot of girls feel pressured into needing to want him.
And hey, let’s be real – vice versa is also true, that men are encouraged to go for the bad girl persona over better alternatives.
Like in the same way junk food can become a craving instead of nutritious food, the media and images and stories we feed our appetite poison our outlook.
So, what do you do?
As a guy trying to give a male perspective on the issue, make sure you’re looking for a man of character and integrity. I’ve seen guys who talk a big game, but if you give them time in less romantic situations, you will see what they’re really like. Watch him with his family, with his work, with his church, with his friends, with his prayer life. Get some outside advice. By no means expect perfection or an unattainable standard (cause that’s another problem that is sometimes birthed through the experience with a bad boy), but let him prove himself. When I’m looking for leadership or for people to take on parts of projects or solid friends, this is the sort of behaviour I look for in other guys, and usually these guys end up making the best husbands and their wives absolutely glow. Check what you’re craving and why it’s important. Where are you looking for him? Is it an environment that fosters reality, or is it just another shallow night on the dance floor?
And what to do if the damage of a bad boy is still around?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes you know what a guy is like before you get involved with him, and sometimes you don’t and it comes as a complete surprise. God is an ever present help in time of need, and often shows us our deepest areas of need and damage to help us find healing. Good friends are a big help – not other people who are struggling with you, but people further ahead. If marriage is a goal of yours, you don’t want advice from 30 bitter divorced people who hate marriage and men or women, but people who actually care for you and have done the marriage thing pretty well so far.
A lot of fear and a lot of doubt can be left in the wake of some bad past experiences, but you don’t need to carry it into your future. Recognize the acceptance that you have already – that you are already loved beyond measure, and treasured beyond all words. You have what it takes, and you don’t have to repeat a cycle before you.
And there are some good men out there. Honestly. I am often blown away by the quality of guys (and girls for that matter) I know. Maybe you’re struggling with, “well, where have all the good men gone?”. They’re there. Just make sure you’re looking in the right places and for the right things.
And hey, if we see a guy acting like this, can we pull him aside young? Our sons, our young friends, other guys we see around. He needs a lot of love and support too, and he doesn’t have to stay a bad boy forever.
But as always, this is a big topic with a lot of moving parts. What is your experience and what are your thoughts on the matter? Feel free to share and discuss below. Would love to hear and discuss more about such a big topic.