And now for something completely different:

Generally, the adage is true: good girls like bad boys, but always go home with good guys. But why is the one about good guys always finishing last also true?

A co-worker and I began this discussion while elbow-deep in dishwater, and it intrigued me so deeply that I went home and did some research, both on the Internet and within my own psyche. Some observations I found rang true to me; others didn’t.

But before I delve too deeply into theory, I’m going to explain this from my gut. I realize I am not, by a long shot, anywhere close to a typical American woman (blame my psychologist parents for that), but I am a female, raised with the American gender identity “woman”, with which I identify most of the time. Speaking of gender identity and the huge grey area existing therein, for the purposes of this conversation, I am speaking from a strictly heterosexual viewpoint here. Anyone who has insight into the dozens of other facets of the gender/sex debate in regards to this issue, feel free to speak up.

Keep in mind that these are my personal reflections, both from experience and from observing others. I’ll let you know when we get down to the science.

Bad boys are attractive to good girls because they set off that alarm voice that says “Honey, this is not a good idea.” But of course, what do most of us do when someone tells us not to do a thing? All of us, women and men, have a destructive impulse buried (or not so buried) somewhere in our psychology. The technical term for this is thanatos, but like I said, I’m not concerning myself with technical right now. This destructive impulse can be turned inward or outward depending on an individual’s psychological build. When the thanatos is turned outward, you get murderers, arsonists, rapists, wife-beaters, etc. When it’s turned toward the self, however, you get suicides, self-abuse, depression, learned helplessness, the “glutton-for-punishment type, addiction, and the general impulse to do what is Not Good For You ©. Which includes risking a solid relationship you may have already built with a good man (or woman) for a temporary, meaningless sexual fling with an anonymous douchebag. Add to that the risk of pregnancy and a cornucopia of delightfully gross diseases, and you have yourself a prime example of the thanatos temporarily running your life.

Bad boys are also attractive because they are often, superficially, much more confident and devil-may-care than their goodly counterparts. They know what they want (sex, and lots of it), they know exactly how to get it, and they’re good at getting it (read: good at manipulating women). This combination often gives women the (mistaken) impression that these men have got it down. They know who they are; they are confident in themselves, and because of that they are able to disregard all the “petty little societal rules” that say “this is the way to court a lady.” Remember this point; I’ll be returning to it later.

Now ladies, I don’t know about you, but the sexiest thing a man can ever do in my presence is to completely know himself. If I were single and off my guard, say, with five or so beers in me, a man who gives the appearance of knowing himself could be (and would be) powerfully attractive to me. What’s also attractive to me (and a lot of women) is deviation. Anything different attracts our attention. A man who gives me an origami penguin on our first date is far more likely to win my attention (and affection) than a man who gives me a rose. Not only does the origami bespeak creativity, but it tells me that this man does not play by the book. He says to himself, “She may not like penguins, but what the hell. I’ll try anyway.” The man with the rose would think “She may not like origami or penguins, so I better just give her a flower. I know she’ll like that.” Not only is Man #2 plain wrong, he plays it too safe. Man #2 may be a bucket of charm once I get to know him, but he may not get that far. Man #1 with the origami bird is guaranteed that, even if I don’t like penguins. I’m going to ask him how he knows origami, what his other interests are, and things will follow from there.

Most of the time, women who are taken in by the false confidence of bad boys aren’t stupid. Drunk, maybe, but not stupid. They may know or guess the man in question has been with several (dozen) women before them. They may know exactly what he is and what he wants. And after they give him what he wants, they wake up in the morning and drown in regret, moaning some variation of “What the hell was I thinking?” They may or may not already be in a committed relationship, but that fact is irrelevant. What matters here is that they did it in the first place. But why, exactly, did they do it?

Women, on some deep level, respond to men who have this simple, almost primal desire for sex. That’s why bad boys are so good at getting what they want. To be blunt, isn’t it our genetic imperative to procreate? Isn’t it the primary reason we are here on this earth? These men are doing nothing but fulfilling their genetic imperative to pork as many women as they can possibly pork. When you strip away the rules and mores modern culture has imposed on human interaction, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what these men are doing. So why should women shun their advances? Bad boys are taking advantage of a pattern of sexual behavior that has been around since the first mammals crawled out from a crack in the ground. Males spread their genes among as many females as they can, so their issue, not their neighbor’s, will populate the earth. Females respond to this activation of ancient biological impulses. Having as many sexual encounters as we can is in women’s biology too, but to a different end. And now, thanks to the recent cultural revolution (including the invention and acceptance of contraception), modern women can indulge their genetic imperative without the risk of ruining the encounter (and a chunk of their lives) with the risk of pregnancy.

Since I’m veering into the territory of biology here, I may as well make the theoretical leap and cease speaking solely from my own experience. I’d like to revisit the point I made earlier about “petty societal rules”. Blend that with the point of the previous paragraph and you get my next point: the concepts of “good guy” and “bad boy” are extremely modern constructs. I’d go so far as to say the “bad boy” is a vilification of our ancestors’ natural behavior, and the “good guy” is a feminization of man. Let me clarify.

Males did not begin their evolutionary journey as monogamous, self-sacrificing creatures. As humans developed the capacity for abstract thought, self-awareness, culture and society, rules developed in those societies that changed the roles males and females played. With our transition to non-nomadic agricultural societies, there also arose a focus on monogamous relationships, which went hand-in-hand with the increased focus on possessions. A woman needed a man to be there at all times to manage the farmstead, the possessions, and the children they had created, and a man needed a woman for the same reasons; to produce children (not just for the continuation of the species now; it was to help maintain the farm and to take ownership of it when the father died). Imagine how difficult life would be in an agricultural society if men were constantly wandering from one household to the next, impregnating as many women as they could, and then wandering off, leaving the women to raise their dozens of children alone (and manage the farmstead as well). So, monogamous relationships were a necessary by-product and result of the transition from a nomadic to an agricultural society. But that does not remove the males’ biological imperative to spread their genes as far as possible. Unfortunately, it suppresses it. Anything suppressed for long enough returns to the surface with more force than can contain it. So men continue to pursue their biological impulses, but they can no longer merely approach a woman and take what they want from her. Now there are possessions, cultural boundaries and rules to complicate his quest for sex. So he adapts. He uses possessions to his advantage. He finds a way to circumvent societal rules. He breaks boundaries. He manipulates every obstacle thrown in his way, and come hell or high water, he gets what he wants. Because he is not doing what modern society tells him he should do, his behavior is frowned upon, discouraged, and his character attacked. Instead of praising his adaptability and creativity, society, obsessed with maintaining homogeneity, calls his behavior “anti-social” and marks him as a “bad boy”.

But not all males act as freely on their impulses as some. Bad boys tend to have certain personality traits like impulsiveness, callousness, and narcissism. The combination of these qualities, plus a healthy dose of testosterone, makes a man very likely to be a bad boy. A. Grayson of the ABC News Medical Unit states that, in an article called “Why Nice Guys Finish Last”, bad boys possessing these “dark triad” personality traits hold the same appeal as James Bond, who has a penchant for fast cars, faster women and little empathy for others. Grayson quotes psychological researcher P. Jonason and makes the point that “dark triad traits are useful in pursuing our agendas at any given time. If you like someone and want to meet them and date them, people who have the dark triad traits appear to be more successful at facilitating short-term mating.” And that’s what bad boys are after, right?

Let’s not forget the role of testosterone, as I touched on before. Everybody knows that it’s liquid manliness, but what some may not realize is that the more testosterone a person has, the more likely that person will be to possess dominant personality traits like extroversion and impulsiveness. According to Grayson and the study he conducted, men with higher levels of testosterone were rated as “more outgoing and charming than others.”

I think I’ve pretty much beat that horse dead. The corollary to the bad boy horse is this horse, which is so far still alive: why do nice guys seem to finish last? The answer is simple but unfortunate: because they are set up to.

Good guys do what bad boys don’t: they maintain the homogeneity society so strictly enforces. They adhere to the set of morals and edicts that modern civilization tells them they should. They are the ones good at building a solid foundation (trust, respect, loyalty) for a long-term relationship. They, instead of being impulsive, callous and self-centered, are generous, self-sacrificing and empathic. Sounds great, right? What woman would not want a man who listens to her, understands her viewpoints, trusts her with his whole soul and would not even dream of leaving her? Well, most women want a man like that. But so often good men are cuckolded when their women, failing to hold themselves to the same standards their men do, let themselves be taken by bad boys who promise them everything their safe, predictable, comfortable good man does not give them (the thrill of doing something forbidden, primarily). This is why so many “good guys” are stereotyped as timid, milquetoast, whipped by their women, overly romantic or otherwise emasculated. Most of them aren’t, but they possess some traits (like empathy, compassion, patience, etc.) that are stereotypically feminine, and so are portrayed as more feminine (therefore weaker) than their bad-boy counterparts by the very same society that urged them into that paradigm in the first place. Funny how that works.

Good men: please do not take this as a thinly-veiled suggestion to suddenly become douchebags. If your lifelong ambition is to pork as many women as you can possibly pork, in that case, grow a pencil beard, wear vomitous amounts of Axe body spray and Ed Hardy clothing, and make sure to renew your membership to the tanning salon. But I doubt you want to spend your lives trotting from one strange bedroom to another. Good men, I have good news.

Bad boys may have more short-term sexual success, but the very qualities that help them get dozens of one-night stands actually ruin their chances at success with meaningful long-term partnerships. Hopefully y’all have been paying attention long enough to realize why this is so. Nobody can deal with a narcissistic asshole for very long. If all he is concerned about is his hair, what he’ll drink at the bar tonight and how many reps he’ll do at the gym today, he won’t make a very good listener when you’ve just found out your brother has pancreatic cancer or your sister’s dog died.

I suppose the lesson to heterosexual women out there is this: there will always be bad boys. Whether or not you succumb to their charms is under your control. The more you know about yourself and your desires (both sexual and emotional), the better equipped you are to see bad boys for what they are and decide if you want to enter the relationship (however brief). Keep in mind also that there is no blatantly obvious line dividing the good guys from the bad boys. Like everything else in life, there are shades of grey here. Bad boys can turn good once they meet the right woman; a bad breakup can turn a good guy bad in one hell of a hurry. Bad boys have good in them, and vice versa. This is why it’s so important for you to know yourself, your standards, your wants and your limits. The more self-aware you are, the more you will be aware of others.

Thoughts? Points? Arguments? Do you agree with every syllable I say or am I so achingly wrong about every single point that I should just stop speaking forever? Either way, I want to hear what you have to say. So feel free to share in the comments. I opened them to anonymous posters, so go nuts. But be nice to each other. I don’t care if you swear, but no defamation of character please.


  1. Excellent piece. Well written, engaging, and it all rings so true. That's some pretty awesome insight there. I have known Bad boys turned Good Guys, and while they may not follow their wandering eye any longer, I've noticed their narcissism turns toward insecurity. They compensate the need to show masculinity in other ways, such as taking on a Super Hero like attitude, and easily fall to resentment.

    I'd like to meet the man who has that Good Guy inside him and holds himself accountable for his life, while being able to have the insight you do.

    You may have found the only one. :)