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Why Women Choose Nice Guys or Bad Boys

Understanding women's preferences for different types of men as mates.

Key points

  • Research has compared women's preferences for different types of men (nice guys, bad boys, heroes, and losers).
  • Generally, women who want support prefer nice guys, whereas women who want a fling prefer bad boys.
  • Ultimately, however, many desire the hero, who is both supportive and attractive—but those men can be harder to find and harder to get.

Do nice guys finish last? Do women really prefer bad boys? Surfing through the Internet, especially men's dating forums, someone could definitely get that idea.

Nevertheless, what about the opposite story, where nice guys win in the end? Talking to family and friends, we've all heard about that happening, too. Sometimes, it seems, some women do pick and settle down with a nice guy.

So, anecdotes and personal stories aside, do women tend to pick nice guys or bad boys? More importantly, what motivates their mating choice? Let's look at the research to find out.

The Appeal of Different Male Prototypes

A dissertation by DeBuse (2016) provided some answers to the above questions by exploring women's perceptions of what they considered nice guys and bad boys. Additionally, the author evaluated women's opinions of men considered to be heroes or losers. To start, they asked women to evaluate these four male prototypes, getting a sense for the traits that women believed each type of man possessed. Results indicated that women ascribed different traits to each type of man, particularly in the following domains:

  • Dominance: Bad boys and heroes were seen as more dominant than nice guys and losers.
  • Supportiveness: Nice guys and heroes were seen as more supportive than bad boys and losers.
  • Physical attractiveness: Heroes and bad boys were presumed to be the most physically attractive, losers as the least attractive, and nice guys somewhere in between.

DeBuse (2016) also explored how women felt about each type of man, as either a sexual partner or relationship partner. Overall, women preferred heroes as both a sexual and relationship partner. In contrast, losers were least preferred as either type of partner. Finally, bad boys and nice guys were somewhere in between—depending on each individual woman's preferences.

Given the stalemate between nice guys and bad boys, additional studies by DeBuse (2016) evaluated different factors that might predict women choosing one kind of guy over another. Results indicated that women who were made to feel avoidant became less sexually interested in supportive partners (i.e., nice guys and heroes). Women who were made to feel anxious, however, became more interested in a relationship with dominant men (i.e., bad boys and heroes). Beyond that, women with higher self-esteem tended to prefer nice guys over bad boys, whereas women with higher sociosexual orientation preferred bad boys to nice guys.

These last findings are supported by earlier research from McDaniel (2005), who evaluated women's reasons for dating a nice guy specifically. In that study, women reported choosing a nice guy to date when they wanted conversation and commitment, with a sweet guy, without physical contact. When they did want physical contact and fun, however, they picked a "fun/sexy" guy (i.e., a bad boy) instead. Overall, then, we see that women who want long-term support tend to prefer a nice guy. In contrast, those who want a short-term fling may be more likely to choose a bad boy.

Women's Mating Choices

Given the above, we can begin to understand what motivates women to pick different types of men. Specifically, putting things together, we see the following:

  • Women who pick bad boys tend to be prioritizing short-term physical attraction over long-term emotional support. This may occur because they simply want to hook up without commitment. They may also be avoidant and have difficulty trusting a partner, especially with greater emotional intimacy. They might have low self-esteem and are simply selling themselves short, too. In any case, the short-term sexual attraction with the bad boy is all they want—or all they think they deserve.
  • Women who pick nice guys, in contrast, are prioritizing emotional support instead. They tend to have higher self-esteem, a more restricted interest in sex, or a bit of both. Overall, they are making the opposite trade-off in mating choice than the women who pick bad boys. Specifically, they are picking a conscientious long-term partner, who is willing to commit, even when that partner is not the most attractive or dominant option.
  • Women who pick heroes, however, are looking for the complete package—dominance, support, and attractiveness in a single mate. Although they may be a bit anxious at times (hence, the appeal of a dominant "hero"), they have high self-esteem. They also have an interest in both passionate and companionate love with a partner. As noted in other studies, the type of women who "want it all" also tend to be the most desirable mates themselves. So, they are more likely to be able to attract the heroic mate they desire, too.

Overall, these choices highlight a tough but fair rule of the mating market. Those who want the complete package in a mate also have to be the complete package. Only people who meet both short-term and long-term mate standards ultimately have a hero (or heroine) as a mate. Otherwise, bad boys and girls tend to pair up for passionate flings, while nice guys and gals tend to settle into companionate relationships. Each wins or loses in the trade-off, depending on whether you are judging by passionate sex or companionate love as the ultimate goal.

© 2022 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


DeBuse, C. J. (2016). Do bad boys finish first? An investigation of a lay theory of heterosexual women's mate preferences [Doctoral dissertaiton, Umass Amherst]. Scholarworks.

McDaniel, A. K. (2005). Young women's dating behavior: Why/why not date a nice guy? Sex Roles, 53(5), 347-359.

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