The Bad Boys It’s Easy to Love Are Not That Bad

This blog appeared as a guest blog on Betty Russell’s amazing website.

As a strong feminist I have often wondered at the idea that women are (allegedly) irresistibly drawn to “bad boys” – aka full grown men who are not “nice guys.” The iconic James Dean, like in East of Eden or Rebel Without a Cause.

James Dean, iconic rebel

Or Damon in Vampire Diaries.

DamonOr one of my personal faves, Heath Ledger playing Patrick Verona in Ten Things I Hate About You, a fab Taming of the Shrew-inspired movie. Okay that one doesn’t really count because he’s just faking. Then there’s George Clooney and Sean Penn just being.

If you make your own list you will see that the “bad boys” on it, like the ones above, are likely to have a soft caramel center (well maybe not George and Sean, but the fictional ones anyway) so their humanity/vulnerability/sweetness just needs to be “discovered.”

Ahhhhhhhhhh…. There’s a reason for women to be drawn to those bad boys. Oh, to be the one woman in all the world to uncover the secret soft caramel core—the ultimate score. But there’s so much more to it than that….

Research of all kinds has been done on the subject of bad boys and the women who love them. There are, from what I can see, loosely three types of bad boys and loads of articles and blogs that attempt to “definitively” analyze the heck out of them. First, and most easily dismissed for my purposes, are the hardened criminals who attract some women, and the ensuing jailhouse weddings, tabloid headlines, etc. Without intending to be uncaring or dismissive, I’m just going to chalk those up to the “pathological” column.

Then there are the narcissists—the ones who start out great (aka brilliant chameleons) only to reveal later that they only have eyes for themselves and are trying desperately to fill a hole inside them as big as the Valles Marineris, a canyon on Mars that makes the Grand Canyon look like an infant bathtub. Women, research suggests, who go for these guys have deep seated beliefs about their own unworthiness stemming (perhaps) from a poor father-daughter relationship. The unmet needs of that relationship with an aloof, distant, narcissistic dad result in women trying to “get it right” this time. Okay so that’s not the kind I’m going to be talking about either.

The above two types of “bad boy” aside, there is still that allure of the James Dean/George Clooney guy. A study of 1000 men and women done in Barcelona, Spain suggests that women are actually biologically programmed to go for James Bond, not Columbo. Rhett Butler, not Ashley Wilkes. And let’s face it, Mr. Darcy is sexier than Charles Bingley. As happy as we are for Jane, we all want to be Elizabeth.

Bond vs. Columbo Rhett vs. Ashley Darcy vs. Bingley

It is not cruelty or self-destructive behavior that your normal, well-adjusted woman is drawn to, however. It’s basically confidence. The “bad boy” we all drool over, who seems so sexy and alluring, has certain traits. But guess what? So does any woman you’ve ever admired.

  • Confidence. Not the faux confidence of a narcissist or braggart, but actual confidence. The real thing. The behavior and body language of a confident person is appealing because it implies comfort with self. In a Venn diagram you’d notice that many bad boys are confident but not all confident people are bad. In fact, most aren’t. They are just out there being themselves and getting shit done.
  • Authenticity. If you don’t need to prove yourself to yourself or anyone else, you will be real all the time. It’s kind of hard to tell when a bend-over-backwards-to-be-nice person is being real, and when he (or she) is just holding all the uncomfortable stuff inside. Can a nice, kind person be authentic? Sure! And I attest that when we are drawn to an authentic person who is himself without apology, we think it equals “bad boy” because #movies.
authentic Obama/sexy

authentic Obama/sexy

  • Purpose. “I can” is sexier than “I can’t.” Just like “go for it” is more rewarding than “but what if?” Again, not rocket science that this trait (and all the traits in this list) applies to men and women alike. When you have purpose, and confidence, and tackle your goals without second-guessing everything in the world, it’s hot.


  • Proactiveness. If you go ahead and live life and do what you want, whether you’re introverted or extroverted, a thinker or a doer, cautious or spontaneous… if you are unapologetic about your life choices, and feel worthy of your own best interests, you are not being an asshole, you are living your life and being awesome.
  • Self-esteem. People who basically are good with how they are, not dying to “fit in,” and able to live without anyone’s approval are sometimes the rebels, with or without causes, but truly broken people, the bullies and the braggarts, the narcissists who do faux confidence so well in short bursts… they don’t have that much self-esteem after all. Trying way too hard.
self-esteem/Depp/"I'm me"

self-esteem/Depp/”I’m me”

  • Assertive. A man who can make up his mind is, in my opinion, sexy. And that includes when he makes up his mind he likes/wants me. I also deeply admire assertive women who know how to negotiate, stand their ground, speak out against injustice. There is a clear, not-at-all fine line between assertive behavior and bullying. We all have a responsibility to know that line and honor it. But sometimes we just want to be grabbed and kissed, ya know?


  • Honesty. If there is nothing to hide—#honesty. Men (and women) who are genuine and self-assured have no reason to lie. I’m not talking about what my mother used to call “aggressive truth telling”—when you go out of your way to clarify how ugly you think someone’s haircut is. I’m talking about being in relationship with someone you can trust to be straight with you. Yeah, it’s sexy. And it’s good—not bad.


  • Relaxed. As in: comfortable in his own skin. What this looks like: cool. This person will smile when he thinks something is funny, leave the party when he wants to leave, and wear his old Run-D.M.C. tee shirt whenever he feels like it.


  • Modesty. By that I mean standing on his own merits. When your worth is not in question, you don’t need to sell it.
  • Passion. Why do the apocryphal “bad boys” have this reputation of being the hottest things in bed since electric blankets?


    I’m no expert, but it seems to me that passion is part of that whole unselfconscious, confident, authentic, relaxed, assertive vibe that we’re talking about here. Passion won’t grow from a place of fear, insecurity, uncertainty, or dishonesty.

No need to be an asshole bad guy or gal to be irresistible. And I choose to believe that the above traits are not in the slightest bit in conflict with the ability to bring a hot cup of tea to someone or give a foot rub. A loving person makes himself happy by loving others. I tend to do what I want most of the time, and part of that is nurturing and loving my friends and family. No conflict.

If you really have the qualities above there is nothing bad about it. You will ultimately be unafraid to show your vulnerability within a relationship because you don’t give a damn what people think and doing so is honest—because even the most badass among us has vulnerabilities. So what’s my takeaway from today’s train of thought? When your confidence is intact you don’t have to be bad to be oh-so-good. Or even great.