I heard that you like the bad boys honey, is that true?
January 23, 2017 10:22 PM   Subscribe

This is probably a common trope, but when I look back over guys that I've dated, the meanest/unkindest ones have been the hardest to get over.

Kind, emotionally available men have always been my jam. Mean guys are not type that I consciously seek out, but it ends up being a bit of yin and yang. Not on purpose. Some guy will seem great but maybe not the best, in terms of testing/saying mean things/getting on my nerves early on. Then I feel like it's mayyyybe worth giving them the benefit of the doubt. Then, we get in a relationship. Then it ends spectacularly badly.

I know logically that a lot of these things these men have done have just shown they're not good partners. But I still think about them and miss them (sort of?). Just because we shared some moments in life together.

Is there a way out of this? It's not a big deal but I suspect there is some aspect of removing the rose colored glasses would be better. Help?
posted by benadryl to Human Relations (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
*a type, sorry.
posted by benadryl at 10:23 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Write down a list of the mean things they did. If you have actual documentary evidence (your own journal entries from that time, emails/text you sent to friends when you were upset, emails/messages with awfulness in them from the ex), great. Pull one of those out when you feel yourself getting soft.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:38 PM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think I can help. I had a bunch of sayings I would trot out for AskMe's and now I need to go back and find them... an important one was about reframing poor behavior as being extremely unattractive, since instead we always takeaway the message that we need to be "better" and then they would not treat us so poorly. Wow, is that bullshit!

So, uh... I happen to be reading David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. If you've been around the green for awhile, then you know his novel Cloud Atlas was made into what I believe is the best film ever prodouced (just ignore some of the stunt makeup) and it's a whole new way of telling a story on film. The Bone Clocks gets a 3.5/5 on GOODREADS, and I think it needs a 10/5.

Roughly, I'm on page 250 of The Bone Clocks. The first 200+ pages deal EXACTLY with this dynamic you are asking about. I cried roughly every other page of the first 200+. Holly gets lucky. Just read those 200 or so pages. It's your answer.

Holly got lucky AND she was a tad smarter than you and me.

I got smart after a night in 2008 on the Summer Solstice when I accidentally ate a very strong pot brownie at a party, went home near sober, and ended up tripping my face off all night. I had a transformative experience where I realized the error in my thinking. If I tell you more, it's too personal, suffice it to say, I realized at 38 years old I was going to lose all happiness if I kept with my old operating system for relationships. Happily married now with normal obstacles, our son is 5 years old and a gem of a person, I'm 46 years old.

Get it sooner. Don't be me. Be Holly.

I'm only on page 250-ish, so I don't know yet if she chose the right man overall, but it looks that way. The Bad Boy Guy was definitely wrong. Even if he redeems himself later in the novel, Holly still chose the right man.

Read the book. Memail if it touches you! Go ahead and watch Cloud Atlas some day.

Recognize and reframe bad behavior as supremely unattractive. Make this your Mantra. That's my advice.
posted by jbenben at 11:55 PM on January 23, 2017 [22 favorites]

You know how if you receive a lot of feedback, and 90% of it is positive, but the remaining 10% is scathing and likely not at all justified, you'll still focus on that 10%, even when it has no basis in reality? Undeserved negative feedback is still nasty and hurtful and stays with you way longer than it should.

I don't have a whole lot of experience with so-called "bad boys," and what I do have is long in the past, but I think the experience may be kind of similar. I "dated" one very, very briefly in college before I met Dr. TM. (I say "dated," because our interactions mostly involved making out in the lounge of my dormitory, where he was the night receptionist.) In retrospect, I realize that I'd seriously dodged a bullet...especially when I encountered him a couple years later on the steps of the university library with a small child who, I quickly calculated, was likely conceived with his supposed "ex-girlfriend" WHILE WE WERE INVOLVED. Holy crap.

Still, although I met Dr. TM only a few weeks after the Night Receptionist utterly vanished from my life (in retrospect, probably because his so-called "ex" told him she was pregnant), it was hard to get him out of my head, partly because I felt that he'd had so little respect for me. What was most devastating (and I know this sounds terribly catty and bitchy of me) was that once I'd become a "conquest," he turned his attention to other women (including the ex) who I believed at the time were less attractive than me in every possible way, which wreaked havoc with my self-esteem. God, what a douche he was.

The remedy was finding someone who was, as you say, both kind and emotionally available (as well as smart, serious, responsible, funny, attractive, and all the rest). More and more, I think those are the two most important traits in a potential significant other. Intelligence, compatible interests, sexual and interpersonal chemistry, physical attraction--those things are important to varying degrees--but genuine kindness, empathy, and a strong sense of personal ethics are far and away the most important things, and without them, all those other attributes mean absolutely nothing. I don't know how I knew this when I first met Dr. TM, but the first thing I noticed about him was that he had "kind eyes," and my instincts turned out to be dead on. (We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in late December. God, I love him so much.)

It's been decades since I remembered the Night Receptionist. I find myself now wondering how life turned out for him, but in a detached way. I even hope that he and his so-called "ex" are still together, that he somehow matured and learned fidelity, that their child somehow turned out to be well-adjusted in spite of his father's flaws. But I also recall walking, at age nineteen, across the vast parking lot that separated our dormitory complex from the rest of campus, hand in hand with the future Dr. TM, hoping that the Night Receptionist would look out his window and see us, see how happy I was, how much in love--and feel excruciating regret.
posted by tully_monster at 1:18 AM on January 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

Because you are socialised to want approval. This is why there is an entire movement of pickup artist men using negging to get you to be complaint and seek their approval. As you've seen, you can get trapped in an entire relationship like this, and it is hard to get out of because that craving wants to be satisfied and boy, does it linger.

When someone says something mean to you, NOPE THE FUCK OUT IMMEDIATELY. Make a pledge that you will not share your body, time or attention with people who are not, as an absolute minimum standard, nice to you.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:04 AM on January 24, 2017 [28 favorites]

I want to say I've always gone for men who were into me and positive about me, and for the most part that's been true, except when it came to one long-standing relationship. I think the trap with that one was this: It feels like a conquest, a feat, to hold the interest and the positive regard of someone who's otherwise hard to please. It's a total challenge in a way that makes other men feel overly indulgent, overly eager. It makes you feel like you've achieved something, to even so briefly hold the attention of a man like that.

Unfortunately, I can tell you that it also means you'll always be chasing his approval, always seeking the high of basic recognition. Sure, go for a man with some discernment, some taste. Don't just go for the boring sap who wants to drop flowers all over you. But don't go for the guy who you can never please. You'll always be trying, and he never will be, and that's no way to live.
posted by limeonaire at 3:08 AM on January 24, 2017 [24 favorites]

I've thought a lot about the mechanisms behind this stuff. This dynamic isn't limited to romantic relationships. I think it happens in a lot of contexts: personal and familial relationships of all kinds, education, jobs-- hell, it even happens with pets. A few years ago, I had a wonderful but extremely complex, medically fraught, and behaviorally difficult dog, and I loved her with a ferocity that defied reason. Like, if the vet had told me that the only way to save her life would be for me to personally eat an entire Prius by sundown, I wouldn't have batted an eye. I'd have just asked for a salt shaker and headed for the parking lot.

For me, understanding the mechanisms that underlie these kinds of dynamics helps rob them of their power, so here are what I believe to be some of the key ones:

(1) We tend to work hardest for the things we value most. So when we've wound up working extremely hard for $thing for another reason (being caught in a sick system, say) some less-than-rational part of our brains tends to assign $thing a value commensurate with the work we did. So if you threw your heart and soul into making a bad relationship work, at some cost to your own health, stability, and sanity, some part of you will make sense of the experience by telling you that the relationship, or some aspect of it, was actually worth the pain.

(2) Valleys can make peaks look higher. If everything is always more-or-less sunny in your relationship, the best moments will still register, but they won't stand out as much. Whereas, if you're constantly sad or walking on eggshells, a single, reasonably cheerful trip to the Costco can feel like pure magic, and a successful weekend away can feel like a supernova of pure bliss. Then, in retrospect, it can feel like CruddyBoyfriend had the power to turn Costco into freaking Hogwarts, when in reality, what CruddyBoyfriend actually had the power to do was turn your otherwise very nice life into the Slough of Despond-- except for that one special, luminous moment in front of the taquito freezer at Costco, when he finally let you breathe.

The good news is that it really is possible, as jbenben says, to reset your thinking and become less susceptible to this stuff. IME, you don't lose the feelings or the tendency toward bittersweet reverie (at least, not for a while) but you do gain the ability to change the way you behave in response to those thoughts and feelings. And then, once you start seeing rewards from the improved behavior patterns, the intensity of the feelings starts to die away.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:09 AM on January 24, 2017 [34 favorites]

palmcorder_yajna, I think you've just explained some of my feelings about the calm and peace of the grocery store. What you say is completely a true thing. Listen to this, benadryl!
posted by limeonaire at 3:12 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry to plagiarise from one of my previous comments, but I think it's applicable here: the most awful relationships we have are often the MOST intoxicating ones, and I mean that in all senses.

The sex is fiery and awesome, the "this-could-all-implode-anytime" feeling spurs you on to do crazy and awesome things together while you still can, the faint desperation that they will suddenly become right for you forces crazy gestures and actions from you which feel oh so romantic at the time. It can feel like you're living the plot of some film like true romance, only you know in your heart that the happy ending is pretty goddamn unlikely.

Anyway, this can all come back to haunt you in future relationships because the best ones are usually a long way from all that (sadly, sometimes including the sex!). But this leaves a longing for the times when you had all the drama, even if that isn't what you think back to.

This is my long way of saying, I've been there. What worked for me? Realising that the reason for my uber-nostalgia was nothing to do with anything lacking in my current relationship, but something lacking in my life - direction, excitement, drive. Finding out more about where I really get those things from meant that there was no room for thoughts of times past anymore!
posted by greenish at 3:14 AM on January 24, 2017 [12 favorites]

Intermittent reinforcement is more effective at eliciting behaviors/preventing extinction of a behavior than constant reinforcement. An example from a slightly different context: I had relatively little emotional difficulty cutting off an abusive relative, whereas many, many people struggle horribly with it, including many who are emotionally stronger and healthier than me. But their relative wasn't always horrible to them. They're stuck with a confusing mix of memories of (at least somewhat) good and genuinely awful, and the resulting belief that maybe if they just pulled on the lever one more time, they might get the pellet. My relative gave me the gift of being a nearly universally awful human being. I do not believe on any level that anything I could do could ever make them treat me adequately. Shitty boyfriends operate on much the same principle.
posted by praemunire at 9:00 AM on January 24, 2017 [10 favorites]

What helped me most was remembering time when That Guy was less than awesome to someone else. I could always come up for excuses why he behaved like that to me, but clearly my mother/friend/whoever didn't deserve that crap. Those memories helped me to get to more of a place of feeling like I'd dodged a bullet.

Also, letting myself hold a more nuanced view of Those Guys as flawed humans helped me to realize that those behaviors and actions weren't ok, but we did also have some fun times and sweet times, and it was ok to mourn the good stuff, even if there was also bad stuff in there.
posted by ldthomps at 9:01 AM on January 24, 2017

It is a well known thing that wartime affairs tend to be the hottest thing ever. I think this is because people expect to die and have no tomorrow, so they don't hold back on their feelings or worry that there will be Consequences if they swear their undying love or whatever.

I think Bad Boys can be a small taste of that. They are lying douchebags anyway, so there are no consequences to making promises they don't really mean, etc. So, it temporarily feels more emotionally fulfilling during the good moments...until you get to the revelation that they are full of shit and don't mean a word of it.

Faerie tales are filled with guys who promise their all and then actually give it. Most sane people don't do that, at least not easily or quickly. Most people who do that easily or quickly do not mean it. It is hard to let go of the idea that he sounded like Prince Charming at first, until shitty reality reared its ugly head.
posted by Michele in California at 2:32 PM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

In addition to the intermittent reinforcement hook, there is also the very powerful Sunk cost Fallacy that keeps you trapped; because hey, you've already put so much into it! Leaving would be such a waste! You're stupid to let all that effort go down the tubes!

Don't fall for it.

Operating according to sunk costs is generally considered irrational by psychologists, since you can't get back what you've invested by seeing something through to the end, and you'll likely just end up wasting more resources.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:33 PM on January 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

As DarlingBri pointed out, there are plenty of guys who purposefully mix shitty behaviour into their interactions with you because they've been told it works to heighten your interest.

Does the possibility that their behaviour might've been a conscious tactic - maybe not, but... maybe? - put any flies into the rose-coloured ointment?
posted by clawsoon at 2:42 PM on January 24, 2017

I think its OK to be a little bit nostalgic. Occasionally I'm nostalgic about the passionate days and nights of one of my previous relationships. Who wouldn't want to live an intensely passionate life, right? Except not all the time, not when a lot of that passion is passionate despair when he's failed to support you yet again, or passionate rage when he's cheated or lied. But thats all it is, a little bout of nostalgia. A time to marvel that you were ever that young and niave, and a time to pat yourself on the back for pulling through in one piece. I'll take my kind and thoughtful, steadily supportive, dependable man over a bad boy any day
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:24 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I kind of think it's some kind of Mr. Darcy syndrome: some girls want a guy to love them so hard he reforms for her, and this is why bad boys are appealing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:15 PM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think limeonaire has it: it can be a rush when a dour, too-cool-for-school, judgemental pill likes you. You feel like the special exception to the rule.

But then you realize that bending over backwards to get a cookie from a withholding egotist is pretty terrible. But I could definitely see it taking a while for your heart to catch up.
posted by delight at 10:48 PM on January 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think it has to do with how their behavior can undermine your self-esteem and feelings of worth in ways that you don't even realize. For the time you are with them, you have to adjust your feelings about yourself a bit, in order to avoid conflict and having to split up. It's just something people do to preserve a relationship. Then you're left with with this emotional debt - like, he loved me, he treated me badly, but I deserved it 'cause I'm not that wonderful (that's why he treated me so badly, obviously), so now when I remember him I'm grateful he was there. And I still seek ways to gain his approval! If not from him, from someone similar!

Also, I've read about childhood wounds and how we seek out partners who remind us of that same painful love we received as a child. We keep trying to repeat similar circumstances, it feels like home. The idea is to figure out what's going on and heal yourself, and you would no longer be easily attracted to people whose energy reminds you of that.

I've been idealizing my ex for the past year or so, yet he never treats me the way I deserve or want to be treated. We are not seeing each other, but we've maintained contact, and I thought it was cool for me. But now I'm trying to date people and realizing that even periodic contact with my ex reaffirms the crappy feelings I had about myself while with him and then that affects me with new people. NOT OK!

- So, one thing is what lots of people have suggested. Write down how bad things were and reread them. Remind yourself that that behavior is not acceptable, not loving, not respectful. Read about loyalty - in a way you are being loyal to them, by remembering them so kindly, when they really don't deserve it.

- Another thing, make a list of exactly how you want to be treated, a dream list, a list of this would be so amazing to be treated this way. Reread that list frequently, too.

- The other things perhaps might be to identify that shitty feeling they brought out in you. What is that feeling? Is it really something they provoked? Or is it something you've had all along, a feeling inside of you?

- And I'm seriously thinking of creating some kind of ceremony, like writing a letter to my ex, thanking him for all the ways he treated me badly because that helped me understand my own wounds and tendencies, and telling him all the ways I will not ever let myself be treated again, and saying goodbye. And burning it or something. Something to just mark all the bad stuff and recognize the good stuff, and wrap it all up and leave it in the past.

Good luck. :)
posted by Locochona at 3:23 AM on January 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

You should watch Big Little Lies on HBO. It has a character who is a wife beater but also very loving. Love is a complicated thing.
posted by xammerboy at 8:29 AM on March 9, 2017

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