Why Do Good Girls Like Bad Boys?

We asked therapists and dating experts to explore the reasons why most women become easily attracted by men who have characteristics of a “bad boy.”

Here are their insights:

Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW

Karen R. Koenig

Licensed Psychotherapist | Motivational Speaker | International Author

Women gravitate toward that which is familiar

If you haven’t had this experience, you probably know someone who has. She’s kind, caring, generous, humble, and moral to a fault. People describe her as “the nicest woman I know,” the kind who’d give you the shirt off her back.

And yet she more often than not falls for men who have a dark side or are everything she’s not—unfaithful, self-centered, full of themselves, and maybe even a bit sleazy.

Why do women do this?

Due to our evolution purpose

There are two main reasons that good girls go for bad boys. The first can be seen through a lens of evolution. In terms of our evolutionary purpose, to procreate and ensure the survival of the human race, it makes some sense.

Which child would survive better in the world:

A child of parents who were both do-gooders and always nice to others? Or a child who had a sense of right and wrong and could be kind but also knew that sometimes the right thing to do doesn’t get you anywhere?

Remember, evolution is all about beating the odds. In this case, the latter child would be more likely to survive whatever threats came their way.

Family of origin

If Mom strived to be good and nice and Dad didn’t treat her very well, this kind of a match up would feel familiar to you when you start to date. It would seem natural.

Moreover, suppose you modeled yourself after Mom and were nice like she was, and Dad treated you as poorly he did her. In that case, that might seem like what relationships are all about.

So, when you, nice girl that you are, look for romance, you gravitate toward that which is familiar, a “bad boy.”

Orit Krug, MS, BC-DMT, LCAT

Orit Krug

Board-Certified Dance/Movement Therapist

Bad boys make good girls feel normal again

Why are good girls so good?

“Good girl” behavior often stems from past traumatic relationships where women had to stay quiet, follow the rules, and please others in order to protect themselves from getting emotionally or physically hurt.

Traumatic relationships, from childhood to adulthood, are often tumultuous, unpredictable, and dramatic. If you ask most women if they’d ever want to experience this kind of relationship again, they would probably say “no.” But in reality, many of them repeat the same patterns.

This isn’t their fault. There’s a scientific reason behind why the pattern is so difficult to break.

The scientific reason why good girls crave bad boys

We are designed to adapt and respond to dangerous situations in order to increase our chances of survival in this life. The human nervous system perceives traumatic events as dangerous and sometimes life-threatening, even if the impacts are purely emotional.

Good girls who grew up with an emotionally neglectful mother or were once married to a narcissistic abusive partner are likely to get into another traumatic relationship because their nervous systems adapted to having a lot of drama in their lives.

Therefore, good girls who have unresolved past relationships will often feel empty in the absence of trauma, crave it, and then seek it out just to feel “normal” again.

Bad boys fill the void

Bad boys aren’t all bad, and they don’t necessarily cause trauma, but many bad boys are unpredictable and dramatic. Good girls like bad boys because the drama they create is familiar and comforting on a primal level and may even fill an unresolved void left open from the past.

In other words, bad boys make good girls feel normal again.

Fortunately, good girls can heal their old trauma to get comfortable and even excited in much healthier romantic relationships.

Related: 10 Best Books on Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse

Heal the good girl syndrome

It may feel difficult for good girls to break away from pleasing others and seeking unhealthy relationships, but it is possible to change.

Although traditional talk therapy is a popular approach to heal trauma, healing often needs to go beyond talking to break old patterns. The part of our brains that uses verbal language to talk about our issues in therapy is the same part that goes “offline” during trauma and highly stressful events.

While it can be helpful to hear a motivational speech to step into your power or repeat affirmations that you are worthy of healthy love— that information is only being received by a part of the brain that shuts down in many of the interactions in unhealthy relationships.

Move your body and change old patterns

In “The Body Keeps The Score,” Bessel van der Kolk shares his research that supports how crucial it is to heal trauma using body-centered techniques. A recent Forbes article also cited neuroscientific research that dance-based movements are one of the most effective ways to change behavior.

Related: How to Change a Habit with Physical Movements

A fun and effective way for good girls to break the habit of dramatic relationships is through dance and movement.

Dance-based movements that are strong and forceful may help good girls feel their strength and step into their power. Self-embracing movements can offer a physical experience of loving themselves so that they can break the habit of seeking approval and validation from others.

Plus, new movement-based actions create new neural pathways in the brain and rewires the nervous system from craving drama to enjoying calm and healthy relationships.

In sum

If you identify with being a good girl who cannot stop attracting bad boys, you may be repeating a trauma pattern that is difficult to break.

Including your body and dance-based movements in therapy or seeing a professional dance/movement psychotherapist may be more effective than traditional therapy when it comes to releasing old trauma and rewiring your nervous system.

Do you need to assert your needs instead of keeping the peace? Would you like to feel more comfortable expressing yourself unapologetically?

For starters, you can try putting on your favorite song, and dance like everyone is watching. Embrace the amazing human you are, and don’t apologize for it. You may find that dropping the good girl act and becoming authentically you attracts the healthiest, most satisfying relationship you’ve ever had.

David D. Clarke, MD

David Clarke

President, Psychophysiologic Disorders Association | Author, “They Can’t Find Anything Wrong!

They find themselves in relationships consistent with what they had known as children

In diagnosing over 7000 patients with psychophysiological (stress-related) pain or other symptoms, I conducted detailed interviews of many women who fell into one bad relationship after another.

What these women had in common was growing up in problematic homes where their focus became solving or, at least, minimizing those problems.

So it was only natural for them to find themselves in relationships consistent with what they had known as children: with men (or women) who had issues or problems that needed a lot of help or support.

Self-esteem in these women was limited by their early experience. They never felt deserving of relationships in which there was a balanced give and take of support depending on the needs of the moment.

Related: Why is Self Esteem Important?

Therapeutically, I tried to help them see the heroic perseverance needed to endure their early experiences. As their self-esteem grew, their tolerance for unbalanced relationships with “bad boys” would diminish.

Eventually, most reached a point where they could accept a mutually supportive relationship with someone who truly cared for them.

It’s not uncommon for many good girls to go through a “bad boy phase.”

You could stick such a woman in a room with five guys and have four of them drop to their knees, extending their hearts towards her. While the fifth guy sits in a corner sipping on a cocktail, acting as if she does not exist. That will be “the guy” she wants to get to know!

She sees him as being a mystery or challenge, and she feels a need to prove to herself that she can get his attention and win him over.

Love, which is given freely and easily, tends to have less value for women going through a bad boy phase. Being uncertain about how the “bad boy” feels about her is both frustrating and yet part of the allure. She enjoys the challenge of trying to “figure him out.”

As one old adage goes: “A bad boy makes a girl’s heart beat faster.”

Bad boys are oftentimes aloof, which can come across as being confident/cool or having swagger. Some people admire those who don’t seem to care what other people think and are willing to take whatever it is they want.

It’s almost a cliché to hear someone say: “Nice guys finish last.”

However no one has ever heard of the lonely “bad boy”, “player”, “a-hole/jerk”, “gangster/thug”, “Alpha Male”, or narcissist. Is that a coincidence? No! These types of guys are often feared, admired, or respected by their peers.

Many women are drawn towards men who are admired by other men

A good girl’s thought process might be; if this bad boy is considered “special” and he chooses to be with me, then it means I am also special. Having a guy who treats everyone like crap with the exception of his girlfriend feels great until the day arrives that she is the reason why he is upset.

Some women actually view toxic relationships filled with drama, jealousy, obsession, and power struggles to be passionately romantic. They are bored with guys who are too nice, awkward, predictable or place them on a pedestal. It may even creep some women out or make them feel uncomfortable.

After all, their own best friends and family members don’t shower them with that kind of praise. So-called “nice guys” are often ignored or placed in their friendzone.

“Isn’t it ironic . . .. we ignore those who adore us, adore those who ignore us, hurt those who love us, and love those who hurt us.” – Ellen Hopkins

Generally speaking, it is not until a woman gets fed up with the failed relationships, heartaches, and betrayals that she considers dating guys who are not her type.

It is a conscious and practical decision on her part to attempt to seek out healthy and stable relationships.

Several years ago, author Lori Gottlieb had a best selling book titled, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.” The book espoused giving up on the idea of finding “Prince Charming,” “A Knight in Shining Armor,” and other fairytale versions of the perfect man.

Women may be blowing their chance at having the marriage, family, and house with the picket fence by overlooking the average Joe who wants to give all of that to them. He may not be over six feet tall, gorgeous, with a head full of hair, and rich… but he treats you with respect, loves you unconditionally, and is faithfully committed.

Needless to say, there were some readers who could not emotionally get past the word “settling” despite the logic and common sense wisdom being offered.

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” Oscar Wilde

It has been said that men fall in love with their eyes, and women fall in love with their ears. However, with age and life experience comes wisdom.

Men learn all that glitters is not gold, and women learn actions speak louder than words.

Sam Nabil

Sam Nabil

CEO and Lead Therapist, Naya Clinics

The unpredictability of a “bad boy’s” behavior is tantalizing for women

The reason why most people see the concept of a woman falling for a “bad boy” dismaying lies in each individual’s perceptions about what a bad boy is. In the eyes of people who are outside of the couple in question’s dynamic, a “bad boy” can be someone who’s egotistical and/or treats the women with dishonor.

However, when a woman, says “I prefer bad boys,” she means she like guys who are authentic and don’t just do everything that’s expected of him; someone who’s mysterious and intriguing.

The unpredictability of a “bad boy’s” behavior turns every interaction with him tantalizing and fun — this is the ultimate charm of bad boys — they’re simply tantalizing for women.

Moreover, women often go for guys with high status and able to convey stability. When a bad boy treats another person, regardless of what his/her gender is, what will be given is just what’s due.

Nice guys, however, convey good behavior, which equates to being predictable.

Nice guys have a way of making women feel they absolutely love and adore them; although this is what women subconsciously want, they don’t want to get it outright — women crave the idea of being adored when they feel deserving of it.

Additionally, when a nice guy behaves consistently good for a woman, he’s making a statement that “he wants and needs her,” which is not appealing for a woman because accepting that kind of love will require responsibility.

Jessica Ulloa

Jessica Ulloa

Community Manager, MyPerfectResume

Good girls are attracted to bad boys as they represent thrill and danger

When we think of a good girl, our minds immediately go to the “girl next door” image. She’s caring, sweet, modest, and an overall nice person. But the association to what a good girl represents isn’t always positive. Good girls are often considered boring, average, and always the safe choice.

Yes, she’s someone you would proudly introduce to your parents but wouldn’t brag about to your friends.

Think of Sandy in the movie Grease. She is the epitome of what a “good girl” represents. She is caring, modest, nice, and sweet, yet she’s constantly made fun of by her group of friends for being “too good.”

Because she doesn’t smoke or drink, dresses modestly, and does everything by the book, the rest of her friends consider her boring or dull.

As young adults, we are not looking for stability or anything too serious but rather want to take risks and break the rules every once in a while. This is why most girls, and particularly good girls, are attracted to the cool guys or bad boys, as they represent thrill and danger.

They are the forbidden apple we can’t wait to try.

Bad boys, in contrast to a good girl, are exciting. They are attractive because they represent everything we are told is bad but feels good. They dare to do things no one else would, making them admirable and desirable.

Good girls are attracted to bad boys because they help them break out of their shelf

A bad boy will make you break the rules you would have never broken without them; they push you to be more adventurous, take you out of your comfort zone, and bring a constant thrill into your life.

Dating a bad boy and the excitement they bring can be very addictive but, at the same time, dangerous. If we’re not mature enough to set our own limits and boundaries, then we can fall into a relationship that drags us far away from who we really are and into codependency to our bad boy and his approval.

Related: How to Break Codependency Habits

The phrase, “tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are” is also true when referring to a romantic relationship. It’s inevitable for us to pick up traits from our partners and adapt them as our own. And when dating a bad boy, such traits are not always positive.

Going back to our example from Grease, towards the end of the movie Sandy had completely changed her appearance to fit into what Danny wanted her to be. Leaving behind all her strong beliefs and qualities from when she’s first introduced to us.

Though it is valuable to expand our minds and widen our perspective in life, it is also very important to always stay true to ourselves.

If you can no longer recognize yourself and you see that your actions are negatively affecting your friends and family, then it might be time to leave your bad boy behind and work on accepting and loving yourself, just the way you are.

Related: 12 Best Self Love Books

Chris Pleines

Chris Pleines

Dating Expert, Datingscout.com

They want a male figure to protect them

Good girls are strong girls, but a bad boy complements their nature, and the differences in personality make the relationship much more exciting than when dating someone who is similar to them.

A male protective figure completes the picture for them. Good girls are the kind, caring ones in the relationship, while a bad boy is someone who makes them feel secured.

Because bad boys can bring out the inner bad girls in them

In one way or another, each person has their secrets, whether it’s a secret habit, a secret crush, and of course, a secret fetish.

However, good girls are afraid to show these secrets if their partners are good boys. So they opt to look for bad boys who will be the ones to initiate the things that they want to do but cannot say out loud, especially in the bedroom.

Dating a bad boy is like an outlet of compressed feelings of “innocent” girls.

Bad boys are adventurous

Good girls feel like they can have an adventure if they date a bad boy—which is true in some ways. The bad boy personality gravitates towards fun and having a “live the moment, seize the day” attitude, which calls for an unpredictable experience.

Good girls are more inclined towards planning their days and having long-term goals, so they are attracted to guys who can give their lives more exciting.

Bad boys always want to have fun

The bad boy attitude is far from the serious type, and he always wants to have fun. Good girls appreciate this trait, so their hearts feel full whenever they see someone who is brave enough to take risks and live their lives to the fullest.

This is why most bad boys leave an impression on good girls—because they are unique beings who make them laugh and have fun all the time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does “good girls like bad boys” mean?

Good girls like bad boys” is a phrase commonly used to describe the phenomenon of seemingly well-behaved and responsible women being attracted to men who are seen as rebellious or rule-breaking.

It’s often used to describe a relationship dynamic in which a woman is attracted to a man who isn’t traditionally seen as a “good catch” or “suitable partner” This phrase can be applied to all types of relationships, whether they are romantic or platonic.

Is it possible for a “bad boy” to be a healthy partner?

Yes, it’s possible for a “bad boy” to be a healthy partner. Although the “bad boy” persona may be associated with negative traits such as risk-taking and non-commitment, it’s important to recognize that people are complex and multi-faceted.

A person who identifies as a “bad boy” may also have positive qualities such as self-confidence, independence, and a willingness to challenge social norms.

The key to a healthy relationship with a “bad boy” is often open and honest communication. Both partners should be willing to express their needs and expectations for the relationship and work toward a common goal.

In addition, it may be helpful to set boundaries around risky behaviors or negative habits and seek professional counseling or therapy to work on the underlying issues that may be contributing to the problematic behavior.

How can I break the cycle of being attracted to “bad boys”?

Breaking the cycle of being attracted to “bad boys” can be challenging, but with self-reflection and personal growth, it’s possible.

Some strategies that may be helpful include examining your own beliefs and values about relationships, building your self-esteem and confidence, and seeking out healthy and fulfilling relationships with partners who share your values and goals.

It may also be helpful to address the underlying issues that contribute to your attraction to “bad boys,” such as unresolved childhood trauma or unhealthy relationships in the past.

Working with a therapist or counselor can be a good way to explore these issues and develop new coping strategies and relationship patterns.

Remember that change is a process that takes time and effort. Be patient and kind to yourself as you work to build healthy and fulfilling relationships.

How can parents help their children avoid getting into relationships with “bad boys”?

Parents can play an important role in helping their children avoid getting into relationships with “bad boys” by modeling healthy relationship behaviors and values.

This includes talking openly with their children about relationships, boundaries, and values and encouraging them to seek out partners who share their values and goals.

In addition, parents can help their children build self-esteem and self-confidence, and encourage them to develop their own interests and hobbies outside of romantic relationships.

By fostering a sense of independence and self-worth, parents can help their children avoid entering into relationships with partners who may be controlling or emotionally manipulative.

It’s important for parents to recognize that their children’s romantic relationships are ultimately their own responsibility and that they may not always make the choices their parents would like.

However, by providing guidance and support, they can help their children make healthy and informed choices about their relationships.

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