Why We Love Bad Boys (Even When We Know Better)

My recent conversation with a friend about movie-star crushes turned into a celebration of some of the most twisted men ever seen on screen. From Viggo in “Eastern Promises” to Christian Bale in “American Psycho,” it turns out that a lot of women love the image of cold, even violent, dudes.

Acting Out Through Actor Crushes

The bad boy is aloof, emotionally unavailable, risk-taking and often an iconoclast — exactly the kind of guy you generally don’t want to be stuck next to at your friend’s party.

As one Lemondrop commenter wrote in Linda Lee’s “Hot for Hollywood” post, “In real life they are almost never as hot as their characters” — endlessly dark and innately bad.

So why do we swoon when we see these jerks on screen? Lusting after the classic bad boy allows us to be a little bad ourselves, says Dr. Susan Axtell, a Beverly Hills psychologist. “That can be particularly alluring for women who suffer the constraints of females’ socialization to be ‘nice’ and ‘good.'”

Do Not Attempt at Home

Such is the allure of movies — living out our fantasies via the celluloid bad boy promises all the excitement, without the headaches and the tissues and the seemingly never-ending conversation. But when art imitates life, the drama is usually uglier than the movie’s ending.

“In real life, dealing with the bad boy is too emotionally taxing,” my friend Melanie proclaims as she reflects on her last five dates — all of whom were products of the straitlaced, nerdy set (a coveted cluster). Like an increasing number of women, she prefers classic nice guys, leaving the Colin Farrell-cum-Johnny Depp types for fictional outings with a bag of popcorn.

Behind the Bad Boy Habit

For women who continually pursue heartbreakers, there’s usually a self-destructive method to their Blockbuster madness: Many women often chase the bad boy knowing, on some level, that they won’t catch him. “That obviates the needs for our perhaps underdeveloped ability to be vulnerable and truly intimate ourselves,” says Axtell.

In Psych 101 terms, commitmentphobic women go out with bad boys so that the relationship won’t work — and then women can blame the dirtbag for its dissolution.

Tell us! Do you have a soft spot for hard-edged men? Do you like rebels in real life, or do you prefer to crush on fictional characters?

Lemondrop.com, Jan 7th 2009, Guy Candy

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