A friend and fan of mine, let's call him Adam, emailed me in response to my last post about Ben Linus. Adam wondered, why the heck is it that women are so attracted to villains? He recounted a story of dating a woman with a history of abuse, and treating her kindly and well for a change, only to have her end up returning to her previous nasty boyfriend.
Adam is not alone, that's for sure. I know so many men who grew up believing the best way to woo a girl was to be nice to her, only to find out that like in so many areas of life, nice guys finish last with chicks. So they wonder, what is the deal with females? These ladies can't really be gluttons for punishment, can they?
My answer to that is, no, women are not after punishment when they fall for Bad Boys. On the contrary, they are out for rewards, in one or both of two key ways:
1. Bad Boys make up for our having to be so darn good. I've talked about this one a lot. Traditionally, girls are raised to be cooperative, empathetic, nurturant, willing to compromise and sacrifice their own needs. Having had to stifle self-interest, women are fascinated by males who live their lives selfishly and independently. Such men are everything we Good Girls are not: they break the rules, ignore convention, and do whatever they damn well please. In the great tradition of "opposites attract," these guys draw women like moths to flame. Just being around them is exciting, liberating, and arousing. Sure, there's a price to be paid--ill treatment--but to a point, it's an acceptable price.
2. There is nothing more satisfying than reforming a Bad Boy. I honestly think this is what's behind most of the truly "hard cases" of women hooked on cruel men. I haven't spent as much time discussing this one, so let's focus on it today.
There's a saying that goes, "Women marry men hoping to change them; men marry women hoping they won't change." Ever wonder why women so often have this agenda? Well, historically speaking, while men were busy with government, commerce, the professions, etc., women had to focus on homemaking. Therefore, if a woman was to feel fulfilled, and earn a sense of accomplishment, she had to do it by shaping the household. One key element of that was making improvements upon her husband.
Really, if you marry a nice guy, what challenge is there in that? It's already his nature--you can't take any credit for it. But if you adopt a Bad Boy, and by your love and effort and charms manage to reform him, that really proves something. It proves that this guy, who came to you all anti-social and dysfunctional, was transformed by his love for you. Could there be anything more flattering and self-affirming to a gender restricted largely to homemaking?
Nowadays it's easier for women to find fulfillment in arenas outside the home, but after thousands of years of behavior patterns, we are not going to change our propensities overnight.
Okay, now let's apply this principle to a couple of examples. In Example 1, you're Cinderella and the guy is Prince Charming. He's pretty much perfect when you meet him: brave, with a fine sense of duty, perfect manners, and the ability to ballroom dance to boot. Once you overcome the nasty people trying to keep the two of you apart, and achieve Happily Ever After, the story's over. And what have you accomplished? You tell yourself, "Hey, I won the heart of a nice guy"; but especially to the young and inexperienced, it seems like if you had faced more of a challenge you would feel even better about yourself.
Flip side: for Example 2, let's go back to Ben Linus. It's hard to be certain, but he seems like a lonely, f'ed up, megalomaniacal misfit. He's duplicitous, selfish, tricky and untrustworthy. Imagine then if you could be the woman who heals his emotional wounds, meets his unmet needs, and transforms him into a whole and healthy person. Now that's an accomplishment! And imagine how grateful Ben would be to you! You are truly his salvation, his whole world. You did what no one before you could do. You're amazing!
And that's how it works, Adam, my friend. When your girlfriend's nasty ex came after her again, she thought, "See, he needs me, he misses me, he can't live without me. I am changing him!" And of course she couldn't turn her back on him then, just when he was displaying evidence of this glorious transformation-by-love! Why should she stay with you, a nice, integrated, whole person, and take the easy road? There's a man out there who just can't make it without her!
Of course he was just acting that way for the moment, to get her back for sex, cleaning, cooking, a sympathetic ear, etc. Of course it all went bad again. But she was willing to risk it, just in case. And until everything fell through, she could once again glory in the feeling of being with a Bad Boy.
In a horrible way it makes sense, doesn't it?
So what's a nice guy like Adam to do? Hang in there and stay true to your nice self. Most women do wise up (there are three in my family who did, for example). Women are not actually stupid, nor are they masochists. Eventually they learn the lesson that the pain a Bad Boy causes more than offsets the pleasure he offers, and then they start looking for a man who will treat them well.
Which, by the way, is what ended up happening to my friend Adam. Because although Bad Boys may finish first in the sprints, life happens to be a marathon.
[About the illustration for today's post: This is a drawing I found of devil Crowley and angel Aziraphale, two characters from the book Good Omens. I find this depiction of a bad boy and a nice guy who are both attractive really fascinating. So do many artists, it would appear (just search Deviant Art for "Good Omens" and see). Anyway, this drawing was done by the fabulously talented Linnpuzzle]