Why Do We Fall for the Bad Ones?


Ooooooh, Baddies! Sorry guys, not talking about the pop culture urban dictionary definition of baddie. No, my focus is on the google definition of the word: villain.  

Why are we attracted to the perennial “bad boy” or “bad girl” or “non-gender conforming individual?” People that just aren’t good for us?

It’s a universal theme that transcends across cultures, ages and time.


Quotes get passed down from generation to generation like the classic, “nice guys finish last.” Why do these exist? Why do some of us find ourselves dating these individuals or in bad relationships time and time again?!  

Why Our Picker Gets Broken

Do you find yourself in a perpetual dating pattern? Maybe with someone that ends up being identical to your ex or you always find yourself in the familiar romantic situationship? Or shituations, as I like to call them. It may be something psychological.

A clinical psychologist, Dr. Lisa Firestone, found that our own experiences – the ones that make us who we are – affect our choice in partner. Unconscious feelings, thoughts, and behaviors fueled by childhood insecurities or unhealed wounds can affect our present adult relationships.  

Secondly, we’re attracted to what’s familiar or comfortable to us. If our past was filled with feelings of rejection or inadequacy – like an absent or neglectful parent during childhood – we may be drawn to individuals that treat us similarly in adulthood. 

Thirdly, Firestone relays we unconsciously seek partners that reinforce our own critical views we possess about ourselves. In the same example above, the individual feels inadequate about themselves, so they choose partners that validate their own self-concept.

Other times, we desire a partner that possesses complementary traits to our own. Sometimes though, these opposite traits muster up negative dynamics. A quiet type may be attracted to a talker. Without a balance to this, the silent one might begin to feel in-valued or ignored when repeatedly dominated by the talker. Another example of this is, the excessively passive partner coupled with the controlling or manipulative partner. The passive partner may be so reliant on the controlling partner to be the decision maker that they lose conscious insight to their own desires.

How to Fix Our Picker

Some feel that in order to move past our attraction to people that just aren’t good for us, we have to heal the root of our childhood issue. This is done in therapy and there are numerous forms of available to one if interested.

Recovery expert and author Pia Mellody, RN, CSAC, in her book, Facing Codependence (Harper & Row, 2003), describes boundaries as “invisible ‘force fields’ that give us a sense of ‘who we are.’” Boundaries are key in any relationship. Why we fall into patterns of bad relationships or fall for “bad boy” may be affected by our boundaries.

By respecting and instituting something like healthy boundaries, you can reframe their relationships around mutual respect. You may even figure out why you have a pattern so you can break it for the better!

Emily herself and Dr. Drew have also talked about “duty dating” in past podcasts. This is when you purposely date people you normally wouldn’t be attracted to as a means to consciously break your cycle and find a good/genuine person that treats you right.

A Closer Look at the “Bad Boy”

A study conducted at the University of Durham lead by Gregory Louis Carter focuses on female attraction to the male “Dark Triad” (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy). Although any person can inhabit these traits, studies show that more men than women possess them.

Common to all of these extraverted alternative behaviors is the ability to make a seductive first impression. They are cunningly charming, great socializers, and gain our favor by talking about great friendships and adventures. They also happen to be exploitative, possess a grossly important self-concept, and are manipulative.

Surely, we’ve either dated someone exhibiting some of these hardcore traits (the wild stories you must have), had a friend that did or heard cautionary tales from friends or family of someone that has. It’s no walk in the park… unless the park is on fire (then it’d be an easily scathing experience to say the least)!  

What’s Hot About That?

So, why are these traits attractive to us? Carter and his team have two possibilities.

One, sexual selection or signals of “male quality” might be at work when it comes to reproduction. Sought out traits like confidence and high risk taking tendencies are attractive traits, reproductively speaking. Second, sexual conflict may be in the works. People might be responding to the Dark Triad person’s ability to “sell themselves.” Think about it like a used car salesman’s ability to dupe you.

It’s important to note, the study surveyed 128 undergraduate women ranging in age from 18 to 38 years old. Carter admits this is not an accurate portrayal of the population. They use a questionnaire survey masking Dark Triad traits with control traits (not indicative of the manipulative) and ask the women to rate attractiveness.  As Carter’s study points out, the rating of attractiveness does not equate to the female’s desire to have sex with the men.  

The study ultimately, contributes to our understanding of the desire for loving, committed partners for long-term relationships, and yet, illustrates the attraction for darker personalities for short term relationships. According to Carter, this attraction is drawn from the demands of evolution.


Regardless of whether you find yourself attracted to baddies, have a bad dating pattern, or know someone in one of these situations – know that you (or they) are not alone! We all experience dating ups and downs. It’s important not to ruminate on the negative, but to learn from any experience you encounter! Your mental and emotional reality is heavily dependent on your perspective, so choose a positive one.

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