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James Dean, James Bond. Colin Farrell. Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones's Diary. That high school senior with the leather jacket who'll probably be a senior again next year. What do they all have in common? They smolder. They smirk. They smoke. They are tragically troubled, fatally flawed. They are physically unable to call when they're supposed to.
They are bad boys. And goodness, how we love them.
"Our love affairs with bad boys sweep us off our feet time and time again," says Carole Lieberman, MD, coauthor of Bad Boys: Why We Love Them, How To Live with Them, and When to Leave Them (Dutton, 1997). "They can be unpredictable, dishonest, or downright mean, but scoundrels have always had an undeniable appeal to many of us -- an erotic edge of danger that's hard to resist."
Still, in real life and in real relationships, our love for bad boys -- and yes, also for the "nice guys" who hate them -- is actually quite nuanced. Read this good vs. bad boy guide to debunk some male myths and find out who really does finish first.
The going (and rather creepy) theory -- usually advanced by nice guys complaining about the "jerks" who get their girls -- is that women must simply like to be mistreated. That's not a very nice thing to say, is it? There's actually much more to this seemingly paradoxical pull, such as:
Not at all. "Nice isn't boring, boring is boring," says Rachel, 30, a single woman in Toronto. Why, then, do people tend to make the nice-equals-boring equation? Here's one theory: when "nice" is the only word you can think of to describe someone, they're boring. Hence the association.
More specifically, when we say someone's "nice" -- or even "too nice" -- we often mean that he's too nice...to the world. That he has too few opinions, too soft a spine, too little nerve. We prefer some sass, a bit of backbone, a little harmless mischief. "I tend to go for naughty-ish men, but it's not the naughtiness itself that attracts me," says Caroline, 39, a single Minneapolis woman. "It's an irreverent attitude, an iconoclastic gesture, or some other rejection of life's cookie-cutter expectations."
So sure, we like nice -- when "nice" means kind, compassionate, and thoughtful. After all, if you think about it, "thoughtful" can also mean "interesting."
This notion sounds an awful lot like the irritating good-girl/bad-girl distinction that men continue to make. Still, it does contain a nugget of sense. Since women truly are conditioned to be "good girls," sometimes we feel uncomfortable with or guilty about that pure burning "I must have him!" feeling. That's why we sometimes seek out a bad boy to serve as the object of these desires, says Cleveland psychotherapist Belleruth Naparstek, creator of the Health Journeys series of guided imagery tapes. "In order for the deliciousness of pure lust to be 'okay,' it has to be for the symbolic bad boy who has nothing to do with the rest of your life. With him, you can crank up your animal impulses, worry-free," she says.
Well, it's not always obvious at first glance. That is, the guy on the Harley might be a total marshmallow while Mr. Armani turns out to mean big trouble. "I dated this really intellectual writer guy who would gaze into my eyes. Eventually, I realized that he wasn't looking into my soul, he was trying to remember which one I was," says Paola, 43, a single woman in New York.
Says Rachel: "My college boyfriend's favorite color was black, he head-banged to Rage Against The Machine and he wrote angry poetry railing against the world. He also wrote me tender love poetry and drove 100 miles to pick me up when I was sick. Another ex had a massive tattoo of James Brown on his upper arm, mike stand and all. This is the same guy who takes his nephew to see Harry Potter and makes sure to call his grandma to tell her he loves her."
So don't judge a suitor by his personal style, or even his job or interests: Judge him by how he treats you. Not to mention others.
That's how Marjorie, 36, of San Francisco, knew her husband was a keeper: He has both bad-boy cool and nice-guy commitment. "My husband has a quick temper and barfly tendencies," she says. "He is also super-loving and unbelievably hardworking and resolutely determined to provide for his family." Wild and domesticated, naughty and nice...who says we can't have it all?