Dear Bad Boys

You love to hate them and hate that you love them.

In her book Addickted: 12 Steps to Kicking Your Bad Boy Habit, Kristina Grish states, “We rarely trust men who behave badly, yet we seldom stop ourselves from falling hard for their dishonest charm, unprincipled character, and fleeting attention.” Bad boys are, quite possibly, the most used up archetype - and yet, they’re still undoubtedly popular (as well as universally loved). So, what is it about being bad that’s apparently so damn alluring? Why do we put, as Grish says, traits like “dishonest charm” above natural friendliness, “unprincipled character” above gentlemanly manners and “fleeting attention” above loyal devotion? Ask anyone and they want a Mr. Nice Guy but have more than likely dated (or are dating) a Bad Boy.

It’s safe to say we’ve all heard the it feels so good to be bad line but how many of us have really stopped to analyse it? Well, if the aforementioned is to be believed then behaving deviantly is simply more fun. Which is… true(?). We’re socialised into being empathetic, morally just and selfless - all great, albeit tiring, traits. Bad boys tend to be proud, self-interested and remorseless, they represent a fun walk on the wild side where you don’t have to follow the rules. They embody the danger, the thrill, the darkness of desire that has a special place in the deepest parts of everyone’s heart. We’re willing to suspend what we know and what we are comfortable with for a taste of that seductive darkness. Bad boys are the conduit in which we can experience this darkness. It’s an unspoken contract, written up by the tempter of all temptations (yep, I’m talking about James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, the O.G. Bad Boy).

Psychologists have linked bad boy behaviour to three personality traits that operate under the term the dark triad. They’re part of the B.B.T.; the bad boy trap - what snares you in and refuses to let you go. The dark triad is made up of three characteristics; narcissism, machiavellianism and psychopathy, which each have micro-features of their own. Coined by Paulhus and Williams (2002), the dark triad has been used predominantly in applied psychology and details three particularly negative qualities, so let’s get into them.

James Dean in Rebel without a Cause (1955)

James Dean in Rebel without a Cause (1955)

Narcissism is the first part of the dark triad, and all bad boys have an extreme case of proud egotistic superiority. Since most of us are taught to be humble and not make a grande show of our talents, someone who does the exact opposite can come across as big-headed or over-compensating. However, I believe bad boys walk a fine line between douchey grandiosity and toe-curling confidence. Nonchalance can play a role in certain bad boy behaviour, the “fleeting attention” or aloofness drawing us in to desperately wanting to know more. That’s what I call the bait, teasing us with a salaciously mysterious exterior in the form of a drink of tall, dark and handsome. Not all bad boys are inked up to the max or are perpetually carrying a cigarette between their lips, in fact most of the magnetism comes from the attitude. So what comes next is the spring in the bear trap, wounding us and keeping us vulnerable for them to gnaw on as they please.

Now that a bad boy has caught your eye, and now that you’re hooked, interaction is the obvious next step in the cat and mouse chase. It could come from you or him but what he does next is how you keep coming back. It’s the “dishonest charm” that makes you drunk on him, the intoxicating twist of his tongue (Innuendo? Innuendo.). Once that first taste of him hits the back of your throat, boy oh boy are you done for. This is called Machiavellianism, the excessive manipulation, deception and exploitation of others to achieve goals, making up the second part of the dark triad. Admittedly, this step is a bit of a blur. As anyone who has ever been wrapped up, or around, a bad boy can tell you it’s far easier to explain the before and after than it is to talk about the messy, messy middle. A maelstrom of falsehoods and cunning is vaguely what you can expect. Since sexual conquests would be at the top of a bad boys to-do list, where the dark triad part comes in is where he lies, cheats and plays around with your tender heart strings to get what he wants. As convoluted as this may already be, this is also the part where his representativeness shines brightest. There’s just something so appealing about not giving a flying fuck. Bad boys just don’t, they don’t care about people’s feelings or morality, they just do what they want when they want and everyone at some point has fantasised about being just as cynical. There’s jealousy in seeing a bad boy be so restrain-less and wanton when you yourself are being shackled by rules that don’t seem to apply to him and social norms that he is seemingly immune to. Machiavellianism takes this free-spiritedness one step too far, however, which is why it matches up to its sister-traits in alarming levels of excessive manipulation and deception.

Machiavellianism takes this free-spiritedness one step too far, however, which is why it matches up to its sister-traits in alarming levels of excessive manipulation and deception.

The last part of the dark triad is the scariest. Characterized by impulsivity, selfishness and a lack of remorse, psychopathy is the last addition to the dark triad. Grish describes this as “unprincipled character”. It’s what happens after an entanglement with a bad boy, the swiftness and smoothness in which they move onto their next conquest, the ease in which they drop out of your life, the casual glide in which they can choose to slip back. Part of what makes them so dangerous is the power they have over you, the power you allow them to have not knowing you can take it away. Most people have fun, light-hearted bad boy stories but in every circle of friends there’s a Rachel or a Monica who has had quite the unfortunate experience. Sometimes bad boys like to hold on to a heart. Sometimes bad boys like to squeeze said heart. Sometimes bad boys like to store the heart on a shelf in their cabinet as a prize. This is where Grish’s book becomes a necessity, when the bad boy is no longer a James Dean and more of a Stanley Kowalski. Just like the line between grandiosity and confidence, most bad boys can tread lightly in the grey waters of morality.

Some take on a bad boy thinking they can change them, others want the full rodeo of explosiveness to spice up their lives, whatever the case may be remember they are people too (no matter how bad the boy may be). Stay safe, stay smart and remember two bad boys are better than one.


Lee Henriques is a 17-year-old writer who has interviewed creatives from all walks of life, talked about LGBTQ+ issues in contemporary society and worked with publishing houses to promote literacy. He currently lives in London. You can read his blog here.

Lee Henriques