Why Can’t We Get Enough of Bad Boys and Girls?

There is no doubt about the appeal of so-called “bad boys” and “bad girls” – and it goes deeper than black leather jacket aesthetics. Amanda Lang discusses her personal foray into the world of bad boys and girls. A bisexual Odyssey, if you will.

When I was 16 years old, I adopted the guise of rebellion out of aesthetic necessity. The good girl look didn’t work for me anymore because nobody at school believed it. I had been kicked off the track team and was usually gone for months at a time alternating between minor psychotic breaks and regular temper tantrums, usually in grocery stores. So as someone with very little life experience and extremely shallow world views (I was a suburban teenager, give me a break), I decided I was going to be a bad girl.

At that age, this consisted of purchasing Urban Decay Blackout eyeshadow, spending whole class periods in the bathroom, and entering into questionable relationships. But I still did all my homework and left the house so rarely that I didn’t need a curfew. I wasn’t actually a bad girl––I was a good girl with too much time on her hands and the patience of a toddler.

When you are younger, you identify someone more so by their exterior presentation than anything else. I had changed rapidly at that time in my life and wanted this change to be projected outwardly so that others could see it. At this point I was still quite sheltered, but the shelter had begun to chafe. Due to various mental health issues, I no longer felt safe, even in my safe environment. Ironically, this inability to feel safe also made me feel less fearful of experiences which one might call risky. But for me, it all started with the aesthetic.

Let’s start with the bad boy thing. Raise your hand if you would date Hitler? Freddy Krueger? Jeff Bezos? No takers? Didn’t think so. Because nobody actually wants someone who is really and truly bad. I don’t know many people who want to date a fascist dictator or a supervillain. Though there is a strange cult crush going on concerning the clown from It, it’s hard to imagine that someone would find themselves romancing this character if they met them in real life. Because to know these sorts of people is more terrifying than titillating. You may be willing to risk being hurt emotionally, but most people don’t actually start out desiring to be hurt physically (unless we’re talking BDSM here in which case there are safe words and contracts being put in place). They want a rebel, they want black leather jackets, tattoos and motorcycles. They want someone strong enough to defend them at night. They also want someone sympathetic, maybe a little misunderstood. They want the mythic “bad boy who is only good for them.”

We hear about them all the time, the bad boys. But what about the bad girls? No one wants to admit to the fetishization of good girls gone bad. The pussy who bites back. But it’s not so different from the bad boy thing. Everyone wants to tame a wild thing, but they want to be the only one with this power. That’s the thing about fantasy: Everything can remain exciting and perfect as long as you forget that the person you are fantasizing about is, well, a person. A person with very real issues, too.

When I was 17, I had a day pass from the hospital where I was spending my senior year of high school. It was warm outside and I was walking along the Charles River, actually paying attention to my surroundings since these were the days before the iPhone. As I was walking I saw a boy sitting on one of the benches reading a book. We made eye contact as I walked past and I decided to give him my number. I wrote it on a scrap of paper, walked over, and handed it to him without a word. It was all very rom-com ready.

This wouldn’t be entirely unusual except for the following: he was a college student. Only 21, so not too much older. I told him I was a college student too and while we were texting he may have believed it since he didn’t get such a good look at me but once we did meet there would be no way to keep up the ruse. When we did meet, I made up some vague story about where I was going to college and why I couldn’t order a drink at the bar. I may have been about a month away from being 18 but I looked like I was 15. The college boy asked to come back to my place and I definitely considered whether I could find a way to make the hospital seem like a dorm room (I was out of my mind obviously). We never did go back to either of our places and I honestly don’t remember if we ever even kissed (though it seems likely that we probably did). Despite all of the signs that I was a psycho high schooler who for some reason didn’t have to be in school during the day, this guy kept hanging out with me.

Thirteen, directed by Catherine Hardwicke (2003)

I can’t say for certain why he did this (although I did contact him through Facebook to ask him, unsurprisingly I got no response), but I have some ideas. My theory is that he knew that I was a liar. Not necessarily that I was underage, although I’m sure he realized I was insane. But he knew something was off, and my guess is that it probably excited him.

And why shouldn’t it? The unpredictability of a man or woman who doesn’t play by the rules can trigger a dire anticipation, like stepping out into an ice storm. Albeit one where you never quite know when the next gust will occur. Their actions may make you uncomfortable, but you can’t help but gaze in awe at the phenomenon in front of you. Actions led by natural impulse more often than logic. I was never intimate with this man, probably due to some form of underlying guilt about the fact that I was lying to him about absolutely everything. Any guilt I might have had however was buried underneath the excitement of deception. I guess I was a mystery to him, and I enjoyed playing that role. I enjoyed having my oddness seen through a positive lense, even if it was still a form of judgement.

The college guy might have had the wisdom to keep at least some barriers up while seeing me (can I even call it dating?), but I most certainly have never been that wise! Flash forward a few years later and I found myself completely enraptured, borderline obsessed, with a woman I will call Emma*. She was pretty much the hottest girl I had ever seen. She worked as a Pro-Dom for Pandora’s Box and really knew her way around a bullwhip. I dated her for a couple of years, and she is the only person I have ever been submissive for.

Emma made me feel like Queen of the night. She knew everyone around town and nothing could impress her. She would keep the same dry tone of voice speaking to anyone from drug dealers to models to musicians. I thought she was so badass.

We stayed close after we broke up. One summer, I stayed at her apartment because, oddly enough, her roommate was my boyfriend at the time. Emma always acted like every man and woman in the world was in love with her and you know what? They were. Unsurprisingly, within a couple months of me living with her she somehow managed to sleep with my boyfriend, and then with both of my best friends’ boyfriends. How she found time to do this between shifts at Pandora’s Box I will never know, but you have to admire the woman’s time management skills.

Emma was cool, manipulative and completely sociopathic but I was in love with her. Even if I was initially caricaturing the persona of rebellion, I had begun to have an affinity for those who truly did have less than ideal qualities. Even when Emma was lying to me, even when I knew it, I was captivated. She reminded me of the murderous fairy queen from John Keats’s poem “La Belle Dame sans Merci”. Totally in control and totally without empathy.

At first I believed that I could deal with, maybe even help her with any problems she might have had. I mean I was pretty screwed up, too. I believed that we could understand each other and be good for each other. This is something I often see from those who find themselves attracted to “bad boys” (and girls). We almost always feel like in the end we can “heal” each other. Be the light in someone else’s darkness. Maybe we’ve all just read too many vampire novels.

Jess from Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)

A few years later when I dated James*, I found myself in a relationship where even if we may have had a novel’s worth of negative qualities each, we were pretty much on equal ground. To this day, our relationship was the only one I have been in where neither of us had to lie to each other, because we were always upfront about our toxic behaviors. I would shoplift an umbrella from a stand before his very eyes with a wink and a nod. He would show up to my apartment in broad daylight on MDMA as charming as could be. Oddly, all this honesty and openness actually did lead to the sort of understanding conversations that had been missing in all of my previous relationships. I believe in the end (despite all of the public fights and crocodile tears) we somehow were able to help each other learn to be in a healthy relationship, and to be a bit less self destructive. Everyone has bad habits, and no matter how much life experience you obtain, you are still probably going to fuck up from time to time. But being honest about your shortcomings makes all the difference. No one can accept someone they don’t really know. And it’s lonely not to be able to talk to someone, especially someone you are spending most of your nights with.

I had a lot of issues when I was younger. I still probably do, though now I’m better able to deal with them. As a kid when you find yourself doing things that make your parents and your peers look at you like your skin just turned green, you don’t necessarily realize you have the power to change that behavior. Some of what I did was under my control (picking fights, “forgetting” to take my meds), but a lot of it wasn’t. I doubled down on how I was perceived. I could have tried to convince people I wasn’t a degenerate “bad girl,” but instead I decided to just prove them right. Maybe it was acting at first, playing the stereotype, but after a while I realized that it can be freeing to make your own rules instead of trying to follow a set that just don’t work for you.

Hence my love of other bad girls and bad boys. Those who decided that the status quo just didn’t quite work for them. In some ways I guess I’m still that girl who at one point wanted so badly to be accepted. The difference is that I am no longer willing to trade away a part of myself in order to buy that acceptance. Instead I go where I am more likely to find familiarity. The people we find ourselves attracted to often reflect us in some way. We perceive a familiarity, whether it is aspirational or based on a chosen lifestyle. I like someone with a story to tell, and a set of crazy experiences to surpass my own crazy life story.



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