Why We Love Bad Boys
I was lucky enough to go home to my parents’ house for the Christmas holiday last month, which meant that I got a chance spend time with some of my favorite books of all time: my old high school yearbooks. I don’t mean to brag, but I wrote pretty awesome yearbook messages when I was in high school, and I think my friends all stepped up to the plate as well. The messages from my high school acquaintances are as cliched as ever, with general snippets like “This year went by so fast, yeah?” or “Have a great summer, SUMMER!” and this message I found that speaks volumes, “Thanks for all the paper. Keep it real. Travis.”
But the messages from my friends? My REAL friends? Those letters are priceless. In between sentences meant to compliment my character “You are cool b/c you have logical reactions to morons” and “English [class] has been awesome. We both slack off and talk constantly,” there are slivers of real teenage wisdom like “All guys are jerks, you just have to find the one that’s not a jerk to you.”
Oh man, I remember that feeling, you guys, I remember it well.
When I started writing this post I had a bit of trouble because, well, I wouldn’t say I’m someone who picks the bad boy every time. Sure, on The Vampire Diaries, I’d pick Damon over Stefan, but I don’t know if it’s because Damon’s bad or because he’s simply more interesting.
Or, for a bookish example, in The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, I don’t ship Alina with the Darkling because that’s insane (though, those shippers, they exist and they are legion!). But maybe I would have in high school. Because I remember that quote that I found in my yearbook and I remember how that prospect felt to us, to me and my friends, like if we could find a guy who was bad, but not to us, we would be unique and special and the exception. What a low bar for a teenage fantasy… He’s mean and terrible to everyone, but hey, he’s not mean to you. He breaks the rules and cuts class, but he won’t forget your birthday!
If you think about it, High School is all about learning to put things in perspective. You learn that you can get a B in an honors class, and it will count like an A. What might just be basic human decency from anyone else is immediately equated into romance because it came from a boy. And if that boy is “bad?” Well, then forget it! Any niceties are an automatic A plus! Because it’s just so unexpected! Does he mumble a “Sorry” after pushing a door open into your face? That’s a huge gesture, coming from him, right? But it’s also probably because you are special. He’s not a jerk to you!
But is that the only reason we like bad boys? Because our standards are lower and we like feeling special? While that would be hilarious, let’s go back my earlier statement about how “Damon’s simply more interesting.” Because I think that’s the other reason why we like bad boys. Because everybody knows bad boys have more interesting backstories. And we don’t even need to know what the backstory is! But there probably is one. And if we play our cards right, WE can be the special chosen one to find out what it is! I think, sometimes, we think people are like the ocean, in that darkness is an indicator of how deep they are. As if there is any way to tell that about a person. To know a person without knowing them. But sometimes when you are navigating high school with your best friends, you sit cross-legged on their bedroom floors, you get yourselves some Chex Mix, and you try to do exactly that. And we decide, I think he’s a transfer and his parents are divorced, that probably means he’s smart and deep and likes to go to concerts.
I know that for so many people, looking at high school yearbooks for fun would be unthinkable, because high school was a nightmare, but it wasn’t for me. I loved my friends (I’m still friends with them now), I loved a good number of my teachers, and I generally did okay in school. If anything, we, like every other group of teenagers on the planet, were painfully bored. I remember phone calls after phone calls that were just refrains of the same: “Please, just think of something to do! Anything. I don’t care, I just have to do something.” “Does anyone know anyone who’s invited to that party?” “We just talk and talk! Why don’t we ever DO anything!?”
When you are 15 and bored out of your mind, you crave nothing more than for your life to Just. Be. Interesting. Bad boys are so, so interesting. And hey! They do things you wouldn’t do, because maybe you’re too lazy, or too afraid of consequence, but how fascinating! Someone unlike me! Someone with a backstory, and a secret! Someone with a darkness that allows you to judge them on a different scale! Someone who makes you feel special, because he’s not a jerk to you! Maybe those are all the reasons.
But mostly because they are so interesting, and we are so bored.