Falling in love with “bad guys” (and girls)

A significant number of men encourage each other to believe that women want dominant men who will overpower them and show them their place. It is true that women are often biologically attracted to confident, even dominant men. The instinctive, usually unconscious hope behind this attraction is that such a man can be a safe place, perhaps even protection from the danger in the world (wild animals  if you like prehistorical terms; enemy warriors if you like medieval terms. As for the modern world, there is still enough stupidity, aggression and ignorance going around that a safe place to relax is more than welcome).

The reality is usually quite the opposite and quickly sobering: dominance as a biological and character trait (regardless of gender) is logically accompanied by a desire for dominance and power. To justify such urges, a dominant person often ends up perceiving other people (especially people who don’t fight for dominance) as less valuable, less respectable – less people. Overconfidence and empathy don’t go well together – to be overconfident, you usually need to disregard opinions and feelings of other people – that is, you cannot include their perspectives into your experience – you cannot use much empathy.

This doesn’t exclude their families – quite the opposite, the families might bear the brunt of it, because most people express their worst sides in a safe environment such as a family provides. Thus a woman who chooses a dominant man will usually find that she has to protect herself from the very person she hoped to feel safe with.

Once a dominant person develops such psychological patterns, it’s very unlikely that they would be motivated to change and control their own urges for power as well as excuses they create for seeking power.  After all, dominance often results in emotional pleasure as well as practical and social benefits. Few people are strong enough to give all those benefits up in the name of “abstract” ethical ideals such as responsibility.

On the other hand, many women complain that men prefer “bitches” and so they encourage each other to play games with men. When men are attracted to unhealthy (selfish or aggressive) women, there is also a biological aspect to it – it’s a human instinct to look for a desirable and “high value” partner. So if somebody acts in ways our primitive brains can interpret like they value themselves, even if this means arrogance, criticism and emotional unavailability, our “reptile” brains might say: “Hey! A high-status potential mate! Go for it!” It’s in our biological nature to value confidence over competence – just look at the political scene in pretty much every country.

However, our environment has the decisive influence over which of our instincts will we follow. I’ve already written a lot about how our families influence our emotional patterns in intimate relationships. If we were raised by ethical, compassionate parents, this will be normal to us and we will look for similar partners. In such a case, an instinctive attraction to dominance or arrogance will often be overridden by a healthy family model. The problem is, most people are still unhealthy or immature in some ways, so most children receive immature models on top of immature biological instincts.

The good news is, with dedicated work on self-improvement you can undo such programming and train yourself to notice real quality in potential partners. A pleasant little exercise: instead of fantasizing about somebody who doesn’t treat you well, start fantasizing about a relationship which is everything you want. Get your brain used to the idea.  But do not imagine such a good relationship with the same person, or any specific person. Create the space in your mind to allow somebody new.

Put your important values and needs first. It’s fine (and often necessary) to make a compromise about secondary  values, but as soon as you start compromising your important values, you catch yourself in a web from which you might have trouble freeing yourself. You feel you betrayed yourself, you trust and appreciate yourself less – and you feel strangely bonded to the relationship: once you invested so much effort into it, it can feel difficult to give it all up and start anew.
If you hope that the other person will appreciate your sacrifice … well, they will probably notice and feel good about it, but few people are able to control their own primitive urge to exploit those who allow their boundaries to be overstepped. So they will ask for more and more, step by step, until you feel like a puppet on a string. In the same time, they appreciate you less and less because you show that you don’t value yourself enough.

So do you need to become cold, dismissive and insensitive to attract a partner? No – you can show that you value yourself without betraying your integrity and becoming bitter and cynical. Being honest, clear and consistent about your values and boundaries is a clear sign of a healthy self-esteem. This is something you cannot fake. If you want a healthy relationship, you cannot say “These are my boundaries”, and then proceed to compromise them. You truly have to be willing to let people go if they are not compatible with your values. You also need to behave like that in the rest of your life and relationships, not just towards a (potential) partner.

You don’t have to hate or despise the other person to recognize he or she is not right for you and say good-bye. Many people stay in relationships because of their partners’ good qualities, while hoping that the bad ones would somehow change. It would be simple if people were all good or all bad, wouldn’t it? You need to value yourself enough to decide that some good qualities are not worth staying, if you are not happy with a certain person as who they are now.

One way or another, you will never be able to change a “bad guy/girl”. You are not the cause of the problem, so you cannot be the solution. The sooner you accept this and make your own values and boundaries more important than a relationship, the better a life you can create for yourself. This might require some work on improving your self-esteem (which will probably be rewarding in many other ways).

Should you choose a “nice guy/girl” then? If you listen to people and read online discussions, you might get the idea that people fall either into a “jerk” or a “doormat” category and there is nothing to choose from in between. Often people who compromise their values and lack self-esteem are labeled as “nice”, although they are not healthy either. The healthiest (and most attractive) people are those who are both confident and true to themselves, as well as reasonably kind and compassionate.

You might say it’s not easy to find such a person. This is true. Between selfish biological instincts, chaotic upbringing and deeply unhealthy society, few people manage to find that kind of internal balance. Yet, perhaps you might have trouble recognizing true confidence and strength, as it’s usually not so flamboyant and superficially charismatic as overconfidence (arrogance). Perhaps drop some of your more shallow criteria and look beyond the surface for people you can truly respect. In the same time, work on becoming a strong and internally balanced person yourself. Perhaps you can turn yourself into a person your dream partner dreams of.

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