There has been a rash of celebrity relationship meltdowns recently as a result of men behaving badly: Jesse James and Sandra Bullock; Tiger Woods and his wife; Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer; Charlie Sheen and the latest hapless woman who took up with him.
What's surprising about these incidents isn't the behavior of the men, but people's reactions as if this were somehow unexpected. It's a bit like the headline "Lion Kills and Eats Antelope, Breaks Vegetarian Vow." This is not news; it's just what lions do.
Now I'm not in the business of criticizing celebrities, since I live in Los Angeles and they go to my yoga classes and might whack me with their mat when I'm in down-dog. They also happen to be perfectly nice people who have done nothing to deserve calumny in a public forum.
However, I am in the business of figuring out what fulfills people in their love lives and helping them achieve that. So if you're interested in that, listen up.
When it comes to relationships, women have three options: short-term (fling), medium-term (boyfriend), and long-term (life partner/husband). Any of those options can be fulfilling in its own right. The problem arises when you think you're signing up for one but end up with another. That's when you get a disjunction between expectation and reality, also known as pain.
Enter the Bad Boy. By virtue (or vice) of who he is, he presses deep-seated evolutionary buttons that can compromise any woman's good judgment (entire books have been written on that, so that's a topic for a different day). Those feelings happen at an unconscious level -- there's not much she can do about that. But woe betide her if she acts on those feelings and tries to shoehorn Mr Bad Boy -- custom-made by nature to be an excellent fling and passable boyfriend -- into the life partner/husband slot.
Now Sandra, Jennifer and Elin are smart, decent women with lots of options. To think that somehow you, my dear reader, are better than those ladies and would never fall into the same trap is not only a mistake, but a mistake with a name: the fundamental attribution error -- i.e. the notion that bad stuff only happens to other people.
So this article is here to help you spot Bad Boys before you get involved with them. Dating a bad boy is like obesity: solving the problem after it's occurred is costly and ineffective. Prevention works best.
Remember that Bad Boys aren't necessarily bad people, and dating one isn't always the end of the world. They're the dating equivalent of dessert -- part of a healthy, balanced diet that keeps things interesting when consumed sparingly. But if you keep on mistaking your chocolate cake for the meal, that's when you end up fat and sick. Just saying.
A guy doesn't necessarily have to build and race motorcycles or be a womanizing pop star to qualify as a Bad Boy. My definition has less to do with what he does and more with the effect he has on you: overall, he brings more pain to your life than joy. Sure, there will be some good times with the bad boy -- that's why women get involved with them. But the net result tends to be heartache.
That said, here's how to spot them, straight out of Chapter 5 of The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman's Guide to Being Irresistible. In a nutshell, what you're looking out for are extremes of behavior:
1) He moves things along too quickly.
Bad boys tend to make early declarations of affection - genuinely or for effect. They also fall in love easily and have no problem proposing a romantic weekend getaway when they've known you for under 15 minutes.
Looks like: Spontaneity and joie de vivre
Reality: Impulsiveness and trying to get into your pants as swiftly as possible
You get: Plans only made at the last minute; plans cancelled at the last minute; irresponsibility; similarly impulsive overtures to other women.
2) He's just a tad too smooth.
When you first meet him, does he touch you too early and too often? Is he whispering in your ear? Is he overly generous with his compliments? Does he attempt to take you away from your friends and get you alone? Is he always subtly (or blatantly) pushing the boundary of what's appropriate and comfortable? Is he telling stories that seem too well-rehearsed and designed to aggrandize him, impress you, and get you worked up? Is there a lot of showmanship going on? Once you've started dating, are his excuses for marginal behavior all too plausible? Yup -- you've got yourself a bad boy.
Looks like: Romance! These men know this is the ultimate bait for getting a woman, and therefore use it skillfully and without apology.
Reality: Too good to be true is almost always exactly that. Deliberately seductive behavior usually means you're dealing with an experienced player.
You get: sexual infidelity (and disease); unreliability; rapid emotional detachment once he's gotten what he wants from you.
3) Thrillseeking behavior.
He rides a motorcycle -- a big Harley, actually. He skydives, takes all kinds of drugs, drinks a lot, goes out five times a week or more, and generally looks for the adrenaline rush.
Looks like: Excitement you want to be a part of.
Reality: Although many grown, responsible men take calculated risks, chronic thrillseeking heralds immaturity and recklessness.
You get: worry; genuine fear; loneliness as he goes off on his jaunts; infidelity; irresponsibility; run-ins with the law.
4) Devil-may-care attitude.
He lives by his own rules -- and only by his own rules. He dresses like he wants, works when he wants, eats what he wants, says what he wants.
Looks like: Fierce independence.
Reality: Antisocial behavior, which will inevitably extend to you as well.
You get: Inability to make plans, or broken plans when he does make them; verbal abuse; insensitivity to your feelings and desires; financial distress.
5) Studied physical appearance.
A stylish man is good to find. However, you can tell if a man has spent more time than normal on his appearance for effect. Too disheveled goes in the same category as too slick: extremes are what you're watching out for. Heavy cologne is a tip-off.
Looks like: Style, baby, style.
Reality: Narcissism and vanity.
You get: Player tendencies; mistreatment; self-absorption.
When a man is evasive -- especially about dating, the women in his life, the length of relationships and such -- beware. He may be doing it for sport, but chances are he has something to hide. Good relationships are based on honesty, trust and respect. Chronic evasiveness precludes all three, so this is an inauspicious start to things.
Looks like: Mystery and intrigue.
Reality: Skeletons in the closet.
What you're signing up for: Unreliability, mistrust, lies.
7) Lack of consideration.
Did he ask you out far enough in advance so you'd be able to make plans? Did he call to say he was going to be late? Did he open your car door for you? Did he offer to pay when he invited you out? Did he ask about your sick cat? How about your sick grandmother? How about when you were sick? Does he offer you his coat when you look cold? I'm belaboring the point here, which is this: you know what consideration looks like, and it's different from when a guy's being a jerk to you. Any one of these things is not a big deal, but a bunch of them happening in close succession is a sign.
Looks like: Non-conformity, roguish independence.
Reality: You're dealing with a jerk.
You get: see Devil-may-care attitude above.
So if you're looking for fulfilling relationships, know what you want, know what you're getting yourself into, and check to see if they match up. In the long run, it's the formula for less pain and more joy.