You know the guy.

Strutting casual-confident down the produce aisle, upper body like a raised fist, basket in each hand because pushing a cart is for old ladies. Sitting at Denny’s with his wife and kid, talking in grunt, looking like he’s barely keeping his anger under control.

He’s a lizard-brain fantasy in shaved head and prison tats. A trying-too-hard movable feast of poses, struts, unsmiles, and lidded stares that is roll-your-eyes blatant. But only metaphorically so, ‘cause you like your teeth where they’re at.

He’s a joke, right? He’s the stone age alpha male, out of step with our world. Women know these guys are likely to treat them indifferently, or like shit, or with their knuckles. Don’t they? I mean, ex-cons seem dangerous, and danger can be exciting, sure. But you ride a roller coaster and get off, you don’t move into Six Flags thinking it will turn into a beautiful beach house. Right?

Well, we could ask Charles Manson’s fiancée, I guess.  She’s an attractive 25 year old brunette with soft eyes. Or one of the collective current/former wives of the Menendez brothers. There’s a former playboy playmate, an attractive editor-cum-attorney, and Tammi, the pretty blonde. Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, Scott Peterson… the list goes on. 

“In fact, I can’t seem to find a notorious killer who isn’t either married and/or receives love letters by the mailbag.”

What the actual fuck? Psychologists who study the phenomenon suggest a few possibilities. An abusive upbringing has left them transferring love onto men of violence. They desire vicarious celebrity in a society obsessed with it, conflating notoriety with fame. They control the entire romantic narrative, in which they are the everything to a man who can’t hurt them or run around on them or even run away. On the other hand, they can leave without so much as a break-up post on Facebook.

Of course, you might politely posit an alternative theory: these women are batshit crazy. I shouldn’t feel worse about the undiscovered country of my love life just because Timothy McVeigh received proposals of marriage before he was executed.

But these psychologists are largely just making inferences based on something more deeply understood about the female psyche that you should be worried about. Something that studies, surveys, massive anecdotal evidence, and my personal experience say is depressingly real. Women like Bad Boys. A lot.

Of Exes and Axes

My ex-wife still uses my Netflix account, primarily because it is difficult for someone to create a new account when they think technology is a thing covered in fire ants and filled with scorpions. I used to close my eyes when scrolling past ‘recently watched’, not wanting to inadvertently find out she’d been doing Netflix-and-chill stuff like ‘The Notebook’ or ‘Chocolat’.

I should’ve known better, or maybe worse. Her playlist is so chock-full of bad boys it could be the reference section in a ‘Popular Media and Criminals’ dissertation. Movies and documentaries, mob-based, prison-based, gang-based, prison-gang-based… Did a writer who likes cats and jazz and was too timid to see her true movie-watching habits really ever stand a chance?

In 1989, New York State removed a prohibition on marriage for inmates with life sentences. Around 10% of them did so within the following year, and the proportion leveled off to about 7% per year afterward. Statistics on married inmates weren’t being kept prior to then, but officials referred to it as a ‘surge’.

When you look into the prevalence of women-convict marriages/relationships, lack of statistical evidence is a recurrent theme, but so is consistent confirmation by officials involved that there’s just a damn lot of it.

But if so, why? Why do so many women seem infatuated with felons?

To make sense of it, we need to talk about the Dark Triad. Yes, it would make a great name for a high-school death metal band, and yes, it is now the working title of my upcoming SciFi novella. It is also a psychological term for a specific cluster of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. The research is fairly conclusive: men who exhibit the Dark Triad have more sexual success than their peers.

On the one hand, these traits imply skills and inclinations that give bad boys a tactical advantage. Narcissists, with their sense of entitlement and dominance, are naturally more willing to compete against other males for sexual favors, and their positive self-belief means they’re more likely to win. Machiavellians are defined by their manipulative mastery. They have no qualms using deception and insincerity to achieve their goals. Similarly, the lack of empathy and missing morality of the psychopath enables them to feign superficial charm and fashion attractive lies in the pursuit of sex that a ‘nice guy’ wouldn’t consider doing.

Secondly, in the context of short-term mating, those traits also produce behavior that is typically perceived as attractive by women. Our Bad Boy makes a great first impression by appearing to be less neurotic and more extroverted. As narcissists, they exude self-confidence, tend to advertise their wealth and take more care in their grooming and physical appearance.

But it’s the antisocial tendency of the psychopath that might make the biggest, er, splash

“The prospect of a man that seems to do and say what he wants regardless of consequence is just too damn deep-down thrilling.”

The Con of The Con

What does this say about women? What does it say about men? More importantly, what does it say about my chances of one day not waking up hugging my pillow?

Well I wouldn’t recommend becoming a serial killer- the, ahem, cons outweigh the pros. Becoming self-centered, manipulative and unempathic clearly works, though. When it comes to success at getting sex, if you know what a woman is looking for (in the short-term), and if you are adept at doing and saying those things, and are willing to do them, then, the world’s your oyster. Hell, at that point, the world is an oyster.

So, if it’s all about sweaty sheets, then welcome to the jungle. Women want what stimulates them, a psycho-physical brew of studliness, lone-wolf-confidence, and excitingly-dangerous. Guys want what stimulates them, anything vaguely person-shaped with a hole. And you know what? Fair enough on both sides. Welcome to the oldest tower-defense game in history, these are the rules, good luck.

Not into it? Does your personality profile lack a certain sociopathic je-ne-sais-quoi? Then perhaps we need a little more nuance.

Note my use of ‘short-term’ in describing female desire. When asked about the long-term, their predilections switch radically to men who are stable, reliable, and caring: characteristics not traditionally found in your hardened convict. There’s the rub: generally speaking. Women are beset by mutually opposed desires. They want a soulmate, a best friend, and a long-term partner, yet their attraction to ‘dark’ traits leads them to men that will be anything but.

Furthermore, although we all want the same kinds of things in the long term, we have a hard time shedding our animal mentality. When livin the single life can be so cold, harsh, and dehumanizing, this inability tends to have crippling effects once we’re done shopping the meat market.

In women, it cultivates and reinforces the already-prevalent notion that they are just their bodies. For both the beautiful and the plain, this focus on the physical leads to low self-esteem and a fragile sense of self-worth, which in turn leads them to blame their unworthy selves for being treated like crap when it fact it’s just the bad boy way.

In men, it cultivates and reinforces the notion that they are just their successes and achievements. It perpetuates the pretend-playa mentality and all it’s venal consequences.

And so all of our hands help spin that wheel and the vicious cycle goes round and round. You want to know why men always turn out to be such assholes? You want to know why nice guys finish last? Acknowledge and understand the duality of desire. Stop reducing each other to qualities base and squalid. Then maybe decide if you’re bold enough and wise enough to walk away from the game.