The Bad Boy Phenomenon Explained by Psychology

Couple in sunglasses and leather jackets leaning against a car and looking out
We know how to recognize them and that they bring nothing but trouble, so what is it about bad boys that we find so irresistible?  You already know how the story traditionally goes… A nice, sweet girl meets a bad boy and falls in love with his reckless spirit, despite the obvious red flags. He treats her poorly and ends up breaking her heart, but she still longs for him. After all, it’s what movies are made of! There are many examples from James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause) to Johnny Depp (Cry-Baby) and Jess Mariano (Gilmore Girls). You’ll find countless bad boys in literature as well, but what about those we find in real life?  Even though you know that you can’t have a healthy relationship with a bad boy, you still fall in love with him. Why? Well, psychology has an answer for this undeniable attraction we feel when we meet a bad boy. Let’s see the phenomenon explained and discover 8 reasons we fall for bad boys:

1. We find some of the Dark Triad personality traits attractive

A bad boy often has the Dark Triad personality. Dark Triad traits are Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. 

While this means that a bad boy manipulates others into giving him what he wants, lacks empathy, and has an inflated ego, it also means that he is charming, intelligent, and has confidence, which are all attractive traits. A bad boy knows how to give compliments and make you feel special. So, this is one of the reasons for the fatal attraction.

2. Bad boys are a mystery and they challenge us

You already know that men like the chase, but women enjoy it just as much. We are attracted to those we can’t figure out because they challenge and intrigue us.

A bad boy is a mystery that you’re longing to get to the bottom of. When he’s unavailable, you wonder why and what he’s up to… And when you see that he doesn’t care, you start caring about him even more. Don’t you love a good mystery?

3. They let us be bad too

Just because someone is nice, it doesn’t mean that they only have a good side. A bad boy lets you discover and express your strong and independent inner rebel. 

The thing is, girls in particular are taught to be agreeable and compliant from a young age. So, when they can’t express their bad side, they tend to fall for bad boys. Science explains this with the fact that we are attracted to traits that we wish we had. 

A bad boy is not the kind to have a healthy relationship with, but the attraction comes from the feeling of freedom and adventure. Who wouldn’t like to be free and adventurous or even to just stop caring so much about what others might think? 

Many good girls wish to experience the dangerous ways of living and bad boys give them that option. They help them let loose and be spontaneous for a change, which sometimes causes attraction in the first place.

4. A bad boy is exciting and forbidden

When you’re always looking for an ideal partner, getting into a relationship with a bad boy can seem new and exciting. Unfortunately, there’s a risk it could end in fights and hurt feelings, or even a criminal record. 

Still, a bad boy is kind of taboo, and when you get into a relationship with one people are going to try to talk you out of it. And this just makes you want to be with a bad boy even more.

5. The media portrays bad boys as attractive

If you just listen to music, read a book, or watch a movie, you’re probably going to run into a bad boy every now and then. What’s more, this bad boy will be portrayed as attractive and desirable. Whether life imitates art or art imitates life, this attraction is nothing uncommon. 

In addition, the media often portrays bad boys as good-looking men who know how to give compliments. Falling for their sweet talk almost always ends badly though, even in the movies.

6. We want protection

People often fall in love with tough guys, and this is very likely because they seek protection. Having someone who doesn’t shy away from aggression, threats and hostility can come in handy if you find yourself in a threatening situation.

Dating a tough guy often comes from the need to have someone strong enough to punch the world in the face when things get tough. Still, it comes with a possibility that the bad boy’s aggressive attitude could hurt you, not protect you.

7. We want to change them

“But I can change him” or “He promised that he will change” are such hopeful words uttered by so many, yet they almost never manage to change a bad boy. Don’t think that you’ll be the one who’ll change a guy who has always been a bad boy and has no intention to even try to change. 

“If only the right person would love him enough he would change his ways…” sounds familiar? Well, changing a bad boy practically never works out, and it’s much more likely that he will change you instead. We still hope though, and this is one of the reasons behind this weird attraction. 

Winning a bad boy by getting him to commit to a healthy relationship can also seem like some sort of a prize. We feel like it somehow proves that we are smart, pretty, and witty enough to change a man who didn’t wish to change.

8. We have daddy issues

Having a poor relationship with your father can lead to daddy issues and, the truth is, we never outgrow our need to feel accepted and loved. So, since we can’t change our parents, we try to find a partner just as bad and try to change them instead. We somehow believe that we can heal old wounds with a new person, but this rarely works out.

What happens instead is that we keep repeating the old patterns and inviting the same drama into our lives. We only replace the person, but they play the same role. Most often, this is the secret behind the attraction we feel for bad boys, so don’t get into a relationship with one before carefully considering your motivation and likely consequences.

So, do any of these seem familiar? Next time you’re swooning over a bad boy and can’t quite figure out why, consider which of these 8 reasons are at play!
Ana Vakos

Ana Vakos

Ana Vakos has been a writer from a very young age and she now specializes in dating and relationship topics. Writing brings her great joy, especially if it can help someone find new love or improve an existing relationship.

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