The 'Bad Boy' Relationship Myth We Should All Stop Believing

You've probably known at least one "bad boy" in your life, whether they're self-proclaimed or given the title by others. This particular descriptor has been around for a long time, and there are several reasons why women like bad boys, some of which are down to personal preference and others due to what we see and hear in the media and from others. 

Being a bad boy is widely considered one of the behaviors that attract women the most, as is the belief that women would much prefer to date a bad boy over a nice guy. The bad boy trope — meaning a man who is stoic, aloof, traditionally masculine, and cooler than anyone else —has long been present in TV, film, and music. 

Some examples of famous bad boys include Bender from "The Breakfast Club," Han Solo from "Star Wars," and, more recently, Christian Grey from the "Fifty Shades of Grey" series. All three of these men get the girl despite being dismissive, arrogant, and often straight-up rude towards them and others. So, why do women go for bad boys? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is a lot more complicated than you may think.

Do women really gravitate toward men who behave badly?

It's one thing to see them in media, but the stereotype of a bad-for-you man often translates into real life, too. It seems that some women are more interested in a partner who smokes and drinks alcohol. A 2016 study showed that women found men who regularly did both to be more attractive partners than those who weren't seen to be engaging in these damaging behaviors. 

However, it's worth noting that this consensus was based on women looking for a fling rather than a long-term relationship. An earlier study from 2003 demonstrated that the opposite could be true. Participants were asked to pick out a date for a fictional woman named Susan. Their choices were between three men, all of whom answered the same questions "Susan" asked them. 

Between the guy who gave typically masculine responses and the one who answered neutrally, the study found that participants favored someone who was kind and who they found physically attractive more than anything else. Further, while niceness was the preferred trait for a long-term relationship, physical attraction was ranked higher when it came to looking for something casual.

Further research about the topic brought some unexpected results

You've probably heard from at least one person that "women love bad boys," or "nice guys finish last" but science debunks this theory. Tristan Bridges, a sociology professor at Brockport State University, told The Guardian that it's incorrect to assume men and women are naturally "programmed" to find certain traits attractive. On the contrary, Bridges believes that socialization is more likely to be the culprit. 

In other words, peer pressure and stereotypes you've learned along the way, either consciously or otherwise. So, while you may be physically attracted to someone because of their bad-boy demeanor or appearance, research shows that being nice is more likely to make a relationship last long-term. 

What's more, a man pretending to be bad rather than staying true to his nice self because it has been drilled into him by society that being bad is attractive is more likely to end up alone. Thus, the moral of the story is that, while bad behaviors such as smoking and drinking may appear more attractive in the short term, a man who is genuinely kind is more likely to win when it comes to relationship stability and longevity.