I recently found myself thinking about this trope. Do girls really prefer “bad boys”? What does that mean?
This question has come up twice in the last week in the context of the “father” part of my tagline, up above.
All my life, until… well, until “N” was born, I was a “good boy.” (You know, except for in my secret life, which was a whole ‘nother thing.) I was polite, respectful, egalitarian in all my dealings with women. I didn’t objectify, didn’t command. My first kiss followed my asking permission to kiss her. As did my second, third, fourth, and fifth.
I’ve been thinking about how to discuss this issue as a father with a son. My experience, as a good boy, was always that girls did prefer bad boys – and, in my mind, their badness was associated with two aspects of their interactions with girls: first, they had sex with them. And second, inevitably, they hurt them. Somehow, girls seemed to prefer these boys, the ones who (inevitably) would hurt them, to me. And I, of course, would never hurt a girl.
With a little distance, a little maturity, I can see that I had this all wrong. The boys weren’t “bad.” And the reason they hurt the girls wasn’t because they were malevolent, or uncaring. Rather, it was because these boys became objects of desire for the girls. Dan Savage often says that every relationship we have fails until we have one that doesn’t. This is about right: one of the costs of indulging any sort of attraction is that, like everything else, it ultimately comes to an end. Unless it’s (literally) the one that doesn’t. Teen relationships and those in young adulthood? They all end in hurt. Not because the boys are bad (or because the girls are). But because they’re relationships. And they end.
But how did these boys get in the position to hurt so many girls? My closest friend growing up, whom I mentioned in this post, was one of those bad boys. For every girl I kissed between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, he kissed two. Or three. Or four. And the same ratio continued into young adulthood as the measures of dating “success” evolved. I certainly thought he was “bad,” that the girls’ preference of him reflected some sort of inexplicable shortcoming in the design of the universe. Was he better looking than I? Honestly, no. (Well, maybe a little, but not enough to explain our differing levels of success with girls.) But he had some sort of… chemical? pheromonal? appeal.
And EVERY girl he kissed? Ended up getting hurt. Sometimes multiple times.
Often, they’d come cry on my shoulder. Which was nice. I guess. We’d sit and commiserate – I’d comfort them, “Yes, he can be a dick,” I’d agree. And then? He might go back and re-visit the same girl, breaking her heart again. And she’d be back on my shoulder.
It just didn’t make sense to me. I was so clearly nicer.
But this is the thing: it wasn’t that he was a dick. It’s not that girls prefer “bad” boys. Rather, it’s that “niceness” isn’t sexy. Neither, incidentally, is badness, to girls or women who are healthy. What is sexy is a certain ruthlessness, a confidence in seeking what one wants, without (overmuch) reference to what s/he wants. For my first forty years, I believed that the sexiest thing I could do was to ask a woman what she wanted. It wasn’t until the last few years that I understood that this is dead wrong – the sexiest thing I can do is tell a woman what I want. Or even more, simply to take it (consensually, of course).
Girls don’t prefer bad boys; they prefer boys who know, and take, what they want. And inevitably, that results in pain…. But also? Pleasure.
Now…. how to explain this all to a little boy….