…okay, let me clarify the poor choice of title a little bit. My friends know that I have a particular hatred for Valentine’s Day, corniness and over-the-top romance and all. What they don’t know is that this is partially because of a ticking time bomb in my head that I’ve decided to name Zac. Around this time of year, I have to perform two unbelievably stupid actions of Zac’s choice, all of them having something to do with Valentine’s Day. Why? Because if Zac explodes, I turn into the female hulk on steroids and go on an angry rampage for one day. Last time that happened, I accidentally destroyed every house in the neighborhood. This year, in order to stay calm, I have to a) watch Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor in a room full of people that actually like it—which, believe it or not, actually exists—and b) give my VD blog the title above. Honestly, I can’t wait for life to finish me off so that I never have to interact with Valentine’s Day again.
But enough about my psychotic mood swings. I have the dark side of Prince Charming to dissect, don’t I?
The bad boy is a common cliché used in almost every love story, and whenever there’s a love triangle—another common trademark of chick flicks—the girl will almost always pick the guy who wouldn’t treat her well in a relationship. It’s just as common in reality as it is in fiction. For example, when I was a sophomore in high school, my brother Matt got the lead role in our fall musical, The King and I. And if you’re unfamiliar with the story, the male lead in the musical is a bald, self-absorbed, sexist pig who prayed to Buddha, didn’t keep his promise to Anna (the female lead), and at one point seriously considered teaching his son to “respect his wives and love his concubines.”
And yet, when we started performing the musical, the ladies were all over him. A group of girls in my graduating class approached me after one performance and asked me if Matt was single—thankfully, he was in a relationship by that time and I liked her well enough to say he was happily taken. When the actress for the female lead was getting her makeup done for the musical one night, the person working on her makeup actually gave her a little extra lipstick in case Anna and the King decided to add a kissing scene. I swear on the Holy Bible that is true. But here’s the really freaking out there thing: One of the girls in the cast had a sister who was in college by that point, and this same sister came to see the play one night. And even though both she and Matt were in a relationship with different people at the time, this sister said she was secretly swooning over Matt while watching the musical. Just four years after that, she married my brother and became my sister-in-law. Don’t get me wrong; my brother’s not a jerk, and I wouldn’t say that he’s bad looking. He’s just…my brother. It’s weird.
I heard someone say once that we’re all guilty of falling for a bad person at some point. I’d be lying if I said I never made such a mistake. But why is that? If there are so many sweet, caring people out there in the world, why do we ignore them and go for the villains? In the 2012 Avengers movie, why did Loki get all of the attention even though we had at least five other hot guys to choose from? What made Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter—for lack of a better word—attractive? When the first Hunger Games movie came out, why did girls go crazy writing fan fictions about Cato? Why did Stephenie Meyer think it was okay for her main character to marry a manipulative, selfish, psychotic nutcase like Edward Cullen?
I guess I’m not the right person to answer those questions because Peeta, Neville, and Hawkeye won’t let me stop squealing every time they pop up on my TV screen. So I did some online research and asked some of my friends about this issue, and here are the answers I got that stood out the most:
- ExcitementThe bad boy—both in fiction and in reality—adds a little bit of spice and unpredictability to life. And let’s face it: We love the villains of stories, don’t we? As much as I like to make fun of Loki in Avengers, I have to admit that he’s a ton of fun to watch. Tom Hiddleston is having the time of his life playing the role, and as a result, we as viewers have fun too. And there are tons of other entertaining villains—both in books and in movies—to watch, read about, and talk about. Bellatrix Lestrange? Awesome. The Grinch? Awesome. Maleficent? Awesome. In the realm of reality, you could make that same argument. The bad boy tends to be rebellious and reckless. You never know what he’s going to do next, and as a result he keeps you on your toes.
- Challenge & RewardIt’s a challenge to win him over and make him commit—a challenge that, when you think about it, would pay off under just the right circumstances. If a certain lady could work her way into his heart and be the one to see the good in him, then he’d be grateful to her for doing it, and being the only one who could do it. And if he’s powerful and intelligent, he could use his power and intelligence for that special lady rather than against her in order to protect her. Kinda silly, huh?
- SympathySometimes you can’t help but feel sorry for the bad boy. In stories, the good guy is usually a bland, underwritten character because there’s hardly any juicy material to work with. With a bad boy, it’s a different story. Most people aren’t necessarily born evil; sometimes they just come out that way due to difficult circumstances in their past. Loki, for example, was adopted, and has lived under his brother’s shadow for years. And for someone who’s really intelligent, Loki had his backside handed to him by at least seven different characters at different points in the movie. And I think the small obsession with Cato in The Hunger Games was the fact that readers don’t know if he was born a bloodthirsty killer. He was definitely raised that way, but some people wonder what kind of person he’d be if he hadn’t been trained to be a murderer. As for Malfoy, as the series progresses, we see that he’s not completely evil; he was just born in a biased family and raised to be a spoiled rich bully. And Edward Cullen…well, okay, he’s still a poster child for bad boyfriends and psychotic nutcases who desperately needs a personality. Next.
- SafetyAs I mentioned a little earlier, there’s a lot of excitement that comes from the bad guy, both in fiction and in real life. What makes the two types different is that, in fiction, we don’t put ourselves in physical danger by investing our time in the villains. When I touched on this subject with my nonfiction professor last November, she said that the safety aspect plays an important role in loving fictional villains. I wrote a social critique about the bad boy fascination for the class, and this is what she told me when I got it back:
“If bad boys are certifiably attractive in real life, how much more so in fiction! Where we can indulge the fascination with no actual risk…even though women know better than to imagine that a bad boy is a trustworthy life partner, and will say so, they are still attracted to them. In fiction, we want excitement! Drama! Trouble! Tension! This is why fiction is usually about the romance part, but not so much about the long haul of a stable relationship. In fiction we can explore a risky attraction but still have our safely boring real life.”
And I have to admit that it’s hard to refute that argument. Even though a story can come to life and set our imaginations on fire, we have to remember that—most of the time—it’s still a story. Whether they’re in a book, on the television scene, or performing onstage, they can neither see nor hear us. Are they capable of haunting our nightmares? If they’re scary enough, sure. Could they be bad influences? Perhaps. But that doesn’t make them any less fascinating…which brings me to my fifth and final factor in the bad boy attraction:
- The Dark TriadThe three personality traits known as the “dark triad,” according to psychologists, enhance a person’s level of attractiveness. These three traits are narcissism (entitled, pompous, and self-spoiled), Machiavellianism (manipulative), and psychopathy (reckless, selfish and uncaring; not necessarily violent). Now, I know what you’re thinking. Those three traits don’t exactly sound captivating. So what is it about them that make the bad boy swoon-worthy?
For one, narcissistic people display a very high level of self-esteem. To make a bad pop culture reference, they’re sexy and they know it. With high self-esteem comes a high level of confidence, and many can agree that confidence is attractive. Such people know who they are, and they don’t care what other people think of them.
But narcissism doesn’t go anywhere on its own. Even the bad boy needs to be able to convince people to give him what he wants, and this is where Machiavellianism comes in. Manipulation is a terrifying skill. People with the ability to manipulate know how to charm people, get inside their heads, and get what they want. They know how to act and look a certain way that makes us trust them and want to interact with them.
But at the end of the day, psychopathy is what makes him the bad boy. Now, there’s a spectrum of psychopathy to keep in mind, the highest point being a serial killer, while the mildest sociopath just doesn’t care. Either way, it’s impossible to forge a strong connection with a psychopath because, no matter where they fall on the scale of one to ten in psychopathy, they don’t care about other people. Power is the only thing they want, and they’ll find any means necessary to get it. In addition, psychopaths have a sixth sense for reading people; they can read you like a book, get into your head, and know everything they need to know about you. This ability is necessary for anyone who wants to manipulate others for their own narcissistic purposes.
So people with the dark triad make a deadly first impression that draws others to them. They’re confident, and they know what they want. They look and act like the kind of people we want to be around. And they’re willing to do anything to get what they want. Do they make for healthy, committed relationships? Hate to break it to you, people, but no. Unless you’re addicted to drama and you like it when people use and abuse you, they don’t. But if we’re looking for a general law of initial attraction, at least we can now better understand what the deal is with the bad boy.
Until next time—against personal vendetta, better judgment, and all laws of sanity maintenance—this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “Happy Valentine’s Day.”