Why Do Good Girls Like Bad Boys?

There is a stereotype in Western culture that good girls like bad boys, and like all stereotypes, there is some truth and some lies to it.  [A caveat:  this is not about girls liking bad boys in movies!  How could we not?  Villains are often attractive people with a confident sense of humor who are more fully developed characters than their heroic counterparts.  Everyone crushes on movie bad boys; that is not what this post is about.]

Although not all “good girls” (which is a ridiculous label) like “bad boys” (also ridiculous), I think it is probably a true statement that women are often attracted to people who they know aren’t good for them.  And although I don’t have personal experience as a man, I’m willing to bet that men are often attracted to women that they know are bad for them.  So why do we do it? 

The short answer is:  We try to earn the love of people who remind us of our parents.  Let’s tease this out.  Our parents (or primary caregivers) were imperfect people.  No matter how wonderful they were, they were unable to give us everything we needed in order to become emotionally healthy adults. If our needs are buckets, then parents generally fill some buckets while leaving others empty (for instance, they might fill our need for affection but leave empty our need for support).

As grown women and men searching for a life partner of our own, we are subconsciously drawn to people who, get this, also don’t fill our empty needs buckets.  That’s insane, right?  Shouldn’t we be drawn to people who will give us what we need?  Unfortunately, a lot of the time, we aren’t.  Instead, we try to recreate a relationship that hurt us in the past in the hope that this time, things will be different.

Here are some practical examples.  As a child, perhaps your parents dropped you off at Little League games but rarely stayed to watch you play.  Your need for support wasn’t filled.  So as an adult, you might find yourself drawn to someone who doesn’t show up to your important events.  You will spend a lot of time and energy manipulating that person into being there for you, hoping that if they start supporting you, your needs bucket will be filled, and your past hurts will be redeemed.

Here’s another, more dangerous, example.  As a child, perhaps your father abused you and your mother ignored what was happening.  Your need for safety wasn’t filled.  So as an adult, you might find yourself drawn to someone who abuses you.  You hate it, but subconsciously, you are desperately hoping that if your love can make this new person stop hitting you and start loving you, then maybe your past hurts can be redeemed.

Unfortunately, these relationships rarely work out the way we want them to.  Seeking to redeem past hurts by reliving unhealthy relationships is a pipe dream.  So what can we do to avoid falling into a relationship like this?  Gain self-awareness!  When we realize what we are doing, it is a lot easier to avoid doing it.  While studying for my Master’s in Counseling, my classmate Shea gave me an Imago Therapy Relationships Worksheet based on Pat Love’s work, and it absolutely blew my mind.

I will write out the questions themselves for your own reflection, then provide the corresponding statements with my own answers.

  • Think of 3 negatives of the people who raised you.
  • Think of 3 positives of the people who raised you.
  • Think of what it is you longed for as a child, that your heart desired.
  • Think of how you want to feel, what feels good to you.
  • Think of, as a child, how you responded to frustration.

Here they are again, but with the corresponding statements and my own answers.

  • Think of 3 negatives of the people who raised you.
    (I’m attracted to a person who is) unemotional, rewards works, and avoids conflict.
  • Think of 3 positives of the people who raised you.
    (…but I want him/her to be) playful, complimentary, and trusting.
  • Think of what it is you longed for as a child, that your heart desired.
    (…so I can finally get) to be understood.
  • Think of how you want to feel, what feels good to you.
    (…and feel) safe and loved.
  • Think of, as a child, how you responded to frustration.
    (…but I stop myself from getting the love I want by) running away.

Put together, my relationship pattern looks like this:

I’m attracted to a person who is unemotional, rewards works, and avoids conflict, but I want him to be playful, complimentary, and trusting so I can finally get to be understood and feel safe and loved, but I stop myself from getting the love I want by running away.

Knowing this about myself is wonderful, but what do I do with it?  For me, it means looking closely at the people I’m attracted to.  Do they match the negative characteristics of my parents, or the positive?  If they’re matching the negative characteristics, there’s a good chance that I will never get what I want or feel the way I want.  On the other hand, if the person I’m with more closely aligns with the positive characteristics of my parents, then there’s a good chance that I’m in a healthy relationship.

So girls and boys of the world, good and bad…take a minute to evaluate the people with whom you’re in a relationship.  Are you repeating an unhealthy relationship?  There’s no shame in that, I want to make very clear.  But if you are, then you will probably only wind up hurting yourself further.  Practice loving yourself by finding someone who will break your unhealthy pattern and love you in the way you need to be loved.

What are your thoughts on the Imago Therapy Worksheet?  Do you think there is something true there, or is it ridiculous?  Leave a comment and let me know!  And if you feel comfortable sharing some of your own story, I would love to learn from you.

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5 thoughts on “Why Do Good Girls Like Bad Boys?

  1. I’m attracted to a person who is uptight, focused on other’s opinions, avoids conflict, but I want him/her to be trustworthy and loyal providers, so I can finally get understanding and feel respected and loved but I stop myself from getting the love I want by withdrawing/shutting others out.

    I don’t find myself attracted to uptight, outward focused, conflict avoiders (or I don’t think so…)but that may be because I am projecting a failed marriage to it as well. I feel like I am attracted to emotionally and physically (as in physical location) unavailable guys or users (as in using me for their needs with disregard for mine…not as in drugs. :)) The rest of the sentence is very spot on. The withdrawing/shutting down just happens to take on the form of VERY high emotional walls with lots of thorns and fire breathing dragons to guard it as an adult…….

    Btw….I love you and I just know we could spend hours upon hours talking about this and then have a blast at a wedding. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for responding, Anessa!

      I love figuring out how I’m attracted to people who aren’t great for me, but ultimately, what really matters is what we can control–how we stop ourselves from getting the love we need. WHICH IS THE WORST PART, because I’d rather everyone else change, thanks. :p I can very much identify with your emotional walls of thorns and dragons. The summary of my 20 sessions of counseling could be: Stop doing life alone because you don’t trust anyone! Which is why I have tried to adopt a new mantra: Risk it on vulnerability. I’m trying to believe that it is stronger to risk being hurt than to run away from the possibility.

      But….there are a lot of ways to be hurt, and hurt badly. Relationships are tricky.

      Let’s hang out and talk about this when I move back to Peoria in July. 🙂

      Like

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