Disclaimer: this is her own definition. My own boyfriend says that he's not really a bad boy. The definition of "bad boy" includes but does not necessarily require the following qualities: riding a motorcycle, being cool, being handsome, being hip, having disdain for society, having disdain for other people, displaying deviant behavior, promiscuity, being tragic, being emotionally crippled, and otherwise being a jerk.
I've talked about this phenomenon with a couple of people. One was a male cousin. Like me, he is super-rational. He did say that one of his reasons for getting into racing cars was because it could lead to a desirable "bad boy" quality. He also admitted that it's been his experience that girls are, in fact, drawn to bad boys. In the meantime, his sweet Japanese girlfriend was sitting there wide-eyed and interested to learn about this possibly American phenomenon. After all, we are the culture of James Dean and Clint Eastwood.
There is also scientific experience to support the bad boy theory. After all, bad boys do not make good husbands, household providers, or fathers (or boyfriends). They're kind of selfish. So as far as evolutionary theory, scientists were wondering why so many women did, in fact, go for them. One theory was that they were handsome, virile, and testosterone (and therefore possibly violence) filled.
Disclaimer: While scientific studies show that all men with a propensity for violence have a high level of testosterone, many men with a high level of testosterone are not violent. So it's a necessary but not sufficient cause.
But again, what good is a man that leaves you pregnant and then leaves you to raise the child on your own? The chances of you and your (his) child of surviving are significantly slimmer than someone who has a nice, consistent husband who doesn't cheat on you or beat you.
So evolutionary theorists came up with the handsome son theory. This theory theorizes that after you have slept with a handsome asshole who moves on to impregnate many other women without helping them actually raise the children, you give birth to a handsome asshole who grows up to impregnate many women without actually helping them raise the children. Evolution-wise, you still win, because your genes are being spread around by your handsome son.
That's one (evolutionary) reason why women may be attracted to bad boys, or perhaps people who have undesirable characteristics evolved to become handsome, because who would put up with them otherwise? However, while I find evolutionary reasons interesting, I don't find them sufficient. After all, nature's only half the formula. There's also nurture.
The society I grew up in aspired to raise girls to believe that half of romance consists of a mysterious and dashing stranger out there who will be rough around the edges, but who overcome this to become their knight in shining armor and they will live happily ever after (see The Mummy, Pride and Prejudice, Disney, etc.). The other half has to do with sex.
Romance novels follow a similar formula, except all that mysteriousness and roughness applies to a steamy sex scene, complete with a near fantasy rape where the woman doesn't really want to because he's such a jerk, but at the same time really wants to because he's so sexy. So the guy basically rapes her. Consensually.
Did I mention that my friend was once talking with her TA about their jerk boyfriends who keep saying they'll do things, and sometimes even do after excessive nagging, but mostly don't, and they agreed that nice guys are boring? This has to do with nurture. In fact, it has to do with behaviorism. There is a licensed social worker who writes about Attractions of Deprivation.
My boyfriend thinks the grammar of this concept makes no sense, just like I find the concept of Managing Up really annoying, but in our sound bite culture, you have to at least try and come up with a catchy name for a concept. Attractions of Deprivation does sound a bit more accessible and self-helpy and new-agey than something like "variable ratio/interval reinforcement schedule that leads to great resistence to extinction," which is basically the same thing.
Jennifer Weiner writes in Good in Bed that in college Cannie took a science class in which rats were exposed to three different ways of getting food pellets. Some rats got a pellet every time they pressed a bar. Some rats never got a pellet if they pressed a bar. The third group of rats would randomly get a pellet if they pressed the bar. Obviously the rats who never got the pellet stopped pushing the bar, while the other two groups pressed the bar quite a bit. Then in the second phase scientists stopped giving pellets altogether. The rats who were previously used to a steady stream of food pellets soon learned that the trick wouldn't work anymore and adjusted. However, the rats who were on the random, variable ratio reinforcement schedule never stopped pressing the bar. Cannie says that she became her father's rat.
Well, a lot of women become their boyfriend's rat as well. They stay because, "maybe the next time it will work," and once in awhile it actually does. Hence the nagging that mostly doesn't work but sometimes does. It's exciting and suspenseful. It's certainly not boring. I also threw in interval reinforcement because, after all, boyfriends, even bad boy ones, are real people too. They might some day just feel like being nice. Girls stick around for that kind of stuff.
Going back to the sex. I recently read No Cheating, No Dying by another Weiner (Elizabeth--no relation, I think). She spent awhile trying to improve her marriage, including her sex life. Some of her research came across a theory that married couples purposely kill the passion in their relationship. This is predicated on the supposition that passion is based on unpredictability and mysteriousness. Those two things, while great for sex, are not so great for marriage. Most people want a stable marriage--it's one of the main reasons for getting married, commitment and the house and dog and kids and all that. Most people don't want their partner to be a stranger. You want to be intimate with your partner, to know everything about him/her. Unfortunately, these two things lead to bad, or at least boring, sex.
There are ways of mitigating this stuff. Penelope Trunk wrote in a recent post that you can get the passion back into a relationship by speaking another language, wearing a wig, or even wearing a new necklace.
In any case, I think bad boys (along with psychopaths and other emotionally abusive people) are unpredictable. They have this default state of assholeness with a side of douchebag, but once in awhile they're really great--just enough to convince others to stick around for awhile longer, because maybe this time it will work out. In addition, since most of them are incapable of real intimacy, they maintain an aura of mysteriousness that makes them both unattainable and desirable.
There are two more dimensions to the whole "liking a bad boy" phenomenon. One is that, since bad boys are generally not that nice to anyone, the fact that they are sometimes nice to their girlfriends makes their girlfriend feel special. Yeah. I don't get it, but my friend's "bad boy" boyfriend once criticized my own nice guy boyfriend by saying, "I wouldn't want to be his girlfriend. He treats everyone the same"--meaning that he treats everyone nicely. This is true. My boyfriend does treat everyone nicely. Sometimes I think he treats people too nicely, to the point that his own nice behavior is frustrating to even him, but you know what? I'm proud that he's a nice person, and he does treat me differently from other people. Sometimes this isn't good. Because I'm closer to him, he doesn't mind asking me to not talk to him at that moment because he's busy. Most of the time, however, it's good. Some theories say love and emotional energy are limitless and shouldn't be rationed out. Other theories say that you do have a limited amount of time and energy and that you do distinguish your friends by treating them differently from others. However, even if you believe in the latter, I believe the one who is getting the most time, energy, and love in the case of the bad boy is himself.
Of course, girls do aim to change that. That is the last dimension. Girls are attracted to bad boys, but then quickly realize that they are not good boyfriends. Therefore, they go about changing what they were attracted to. My friend frequently talks about the need to "fix" her boyfriend, and when I point out various foibles she says, "I know! I'm working on that!" I used to be quite upset about both the way her boyfriend was and how he treated her, and then one day my own boyfriend finally made me realize that said bad boyfriend was happy with himself. It became my new mantra. He's happy with himself, so he'll never change. Why should I spend so much emotional energy wishing he were different? (Especially since he wasn't even my own boyfriend.) Now for some wise quotes.
“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you'll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.”
--Anonymous“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
--Reinhold Niebuhr“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
The first quotation is to try and convince all the girls out there to give up on trying to reform your bad boy boyfriend. The thing is, he's probably smugly content with himself. Actually, I don't know; I think some of them are supposed to be miserably tortured about how no one understands them. Either way, it will be a very difficult process to change him (or her, if you're dating a bad girl/crazy bitch).
The next two quotations are to give hope. You may not be able to change the person you're with, but you can change yourself. At the risk of getting sappy, I'm going to say that you have the power to change yourself in myriad ways. It won't be easy, but it's possible. You can start by giving up getting into bad relationships with bad boys (if that's what you want). So I guess I'm being hypocritical, hoping to change others. I have to admit I haven't managed to change my friend. In fact, I have given up. But I am hopeful that she will eventually realize things herself.