Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Why Do Women Love the Bad Boy?

A real Bad Boy causes an internet sensation.

A mug shot of a handsome 30-year-old Central Californian career criminal named Jeremy Meeks was posted on a Facebook site, gained over 30,000 likes, was picked up by the media, went viral and caused an internet sensation this week.  Salacious headlines raged across the nation such "Hot Hunk Felon Bad Boy Mugshot Has The Ladies Talking" and "Dreamy McMugshot."  Joseph Silva, spokesman for the Stockton Police Department, told the Associated Press that no other arrest photo had created such a sensation since their Facebook page was created.

What is it that attracts women to men they know are naughty or worse?  We all have heard of the jailhouse romances of murderers like the Menendez brothers and wondered how any woman in her right mind could date OJ Simpson after he beat the rap for the double murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman on a Sunday night in Brentwood, California 20 years ago. But there is a neurological basis for this shocking behavior. A study of sexual attraction featured single women who were instructed to look at pictures of men that had been altered to make the men's faces look more or less masculine. These women had their brains scanned as they looked at the pictures, and the areas of their brains that were more active as they looked at the pictures of the more attractive men indicated the women perceived them as also more dangerous.

Society used to take this natural destructive tendency into account and promote a type of courtship that emphasized substance over style. Romance would get you to the altar but it was subordinated to commitment after the wedding ceremony. Character counted over flash. But a century of the media of movies, music, television and the internet confirming heroic status on the prowling transient male who can only stay a little while because his greater calling is to "follow the sun" or "head on down that lonesome highway" has taken its toll. Stars like Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Charlie Sheen and Brad Pitt challenged the idea that American males should be stoic, monogamous good providers. The seductive Bad Boy character they played in various films fits perfectly into what film critic and commentator Michael Medved describes as "The corosive nature of the media, which emphasizes that there is no tomorrow, no self denial, no world to come, only this minute and hour, appetites to satisfy and desires to be fulfilled." 

This immediate gratification message is marketed by desirable actors and singers, which University of Washington Communication Studies Professor Katherine Heintz-Knowles showed in a study  is much more likely to be imitated by viewers. "Even if you see people doing things you know to be horrible, you know to be irresponsible- if the people are pretty enough, those things look attractive, " Medved noted. 

The corrupt courtship of 2014 mirrors the corrupt media: Why be honest and take compatibility issues into account before becoming physically intimate with your partner by hooking up or being joined at the hip? The media lauds following one's heart over using one's head and standing up for your values and disqualifying yourself if you realize you might not have much in common with an attractive suitor and/or have clashing personalities. Today society encourages women to pursue the Bad Boy and acts genuinely shocked and disappointed when things don't work out.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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