Why do we fall for bad boys / bad girls time and again — and how can we stop this heart-breaking, self-destructive pattern?
Mick the Bastard
For almost three years, I dated a guy called Mick the Bastard. That wasn’t his real name, of course. That was what my best girlfriend called him, as she listened sympathetically — and patiently — while I recounted the latest heart-wrenching episode in my doomed romance with this guy.
Mick had all the hallmarks of a real bastard:
He didn’t return my phone calls
He would turn up late to dinner dates, sometimes having already eaten
He would ‘disappear’ for days and then reappear with no explanation as to where he’d been
He refused, even after three years, to discuss our relationship, what he wanted from it or where he thought it was going
As bastards go, Mick had it in spades.
An All-too Common Theme
We all know someone who ends up dating the ‘wrong type.’ The bad guy who treats the honest, girl-next-door poorly. The heartless strumpet who breaks the heart of the genuine, sensitive lad. These characters are motifs that run through many of our love lives. But why?
What is it that makes bitches and bastards so appealing?
Dr. Leonard Felder, author of Wake Up or Break Up (Rodale) explains: “People who grew up with a controlling or domineering parent or older sibling are often drawn to the same kind of situation as an adult because it feels ‘familiar,’ whereas someone who grew up in a family where people respected each other will look at a controlling person and say ‘No way,’” he says.
Which goes a long way towards explaining why Heather* only ever dated guys who treated her badly. “My dad was an alcoholic and I grew up in a household where there was lots of anger and unacceptable behavior,” she says, adding that most of her 20s were spent chasing after unavailable or damaged men.
Desperate to break the cycle, Heather sought help from a relationship counselor.
“When you notice you’re drawn to a negative person who reminds you of someone from the past, talk to a friend or counselor to sort out if the person’s good traits far outweigh this negative trait,” says Dr. Felder. “Then get support for breaking free of the toxic kind of person your biochemistry has been wired into finding attractive.”
Phil and his B*tches
Phil has had his fair share of heartbreakers who can only be described with the word that rhymes with witches. His first serious girlfriend left him for his best mate after five years together. He then met Fiona, who he dated for three years before proposing. She said yes but broke off the engagement — and the relationship — two months before the wedding telling Phil he was “too nice.”
“She said I did too much for her,” says Phil, who is still coming to terms with the split. “Sure I took her out to nice dinners and bought her presents — but she was my fianceÃ©!” he says, adding that he later learned Fiona had moved in with a guy from work less than a month after the split.
Sometimes, bad boys and girls just leave us with a tear-stained face — or a case of pubic lice. In serious cases, when inappropriate choices of partner result in manipulation, loss of self-esteem, or even violence and abuse, Dr Felder suggests that professional advice — and the determination to break the cycle of negative dating behavior — is the only solution.
“That means sorting it out in counseling, having friends who will be honest when you’re ‘doing it again’ and having the courage to be strong and focus on a healthier kind of relationship,” he says.
Jenny from the Block
Jenny admits she has a terrible track record when it comes to dating bad boys. “They always have a past,” she says, “which is initially part of the attraction.” But unlike Jenny, who craves a committed relationship, these guys are usually more interested in sex, drugs and rock and roll than Jenny.
“Robbie, the last guy I dated, took the cake — literally. It was his birthday and I had made plans for him to come over to my place for dinner. I’d even baked him a cake,” she recalls. “Well, dinner time came — and went — without a word from my ‘boyfriend.’ His mobile was turned off so I left a voice message asking him to call me, which he did — three hours later at midnight — wanting to know if he could still come around…”
You’re hoping that Jenny told the bastard where to go, right? But she didn’t. She invited his sorry ass around to her house — at midnight — and when he arrived, clearly intoxicated and obviously looking for sex, she told him in to uncertain terms what she thought of him.
“The cake was the killer for me. I don’t even like baking! I knew then that nothing I did was going to turn this selfish prick into someone who would ever appreciate me.”
* Names have been changed to protect privacy
By Sarah Fielding