Not least because I have the worst taste in men in the history of all “worst tastes in men,” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why so many of us are absurdly attracted to people who are overtly wrong, if not plain terrible, for us. This affliction seems to plague the majority of my male and female cohorts, and despite the fact that most of us are by now wholly aware of it, we continue to step foot back into the proverbial dog shit that constitutes these bad loves. Though some may jump from one sordid crush to the next, plenty of us can be found returning again and again, like little drugged puppies, to the same bad apples of our eye.
It’s probably our parent’s fault (isn’t everything?) but society sure doesn’t help. Our culture loves birthing icons like Carrie Bradshaw, who make a name for themselves through their predictable weakness for the flip-flopping B-I-G types (not to be confused with Notorious, though I’m sure he broke his fair share of hearts, too). The fact is that our Pavlovian tendency to drool after those who are less than spectacular for us has become commonplace, if not downright expected.
Here’s a telling example, one of many that I could share—but there’s only so much time. Though I’ve been in and out of more significant relationships than the one I’m about to speak of in the last year, my eye continued wandering back to potentially the meanest, most manipulative male of my twenty-two lusty little years. Having met about a year ago, in a manner made for a trite romance novel or The Notebook Redux (which is surely 99% of the reason I couldn’t quite let go), we tumbled (somewhat literally) into an intensive two-week long romance. You know the kind that feels like a year and has you projecting far into the future before you’ve even seen each other pee? Yeah, one of those. He was just the sweetest, sexiest creature I had ever laid eyes on, I believed—until he wasn’t, at all.
Suddenly my life felt like The Mask, with no Jim Carey (and thus not like The Mask at all). I was so dumbfounded by the abrupt realization that the dude in question was a grade-A asshole that I actually had to step into a bathroom stall at work to hyperventilate-cum-sob. No one had ever made me feel so literally like a used sock—as in the kind men jerk off in and throw away (or so the movies tell me). Nothing worthy of such frigid behavior [behavior I’m keeping intentionally vague] on his part had happened. His personality seemed simply to change with the wind, going from what I convinced myself was practically perfect to pathologically passive. I, of course, spent too much time revisiting our two-week sojourn in my head, trying to parse every detail that might signify a wrong turn. Surely, I had done something to deserve this.
It should be noted, again, that I barely knew this person and actually had little to nothing in common with him—a fact that I failed to acknowledge until much later on. After a few days of some overindulgent bumming, I forced myself to move forward and shroud my thoughts with a healthy dose of hopefulness re: future romances.
That was all well and good until he began texting me every few weeks to “check in” and “see how I was.” He had no intention of actually seeing me, it seemed, but merely wanted to make sure that I was still alive in case his ego needed a quick stroking. Of course I didn’t see it this way at first, wanting to believe that most people are inherently good, and that maybe he just genuinely felt bad about how he handled the conclusion of our tete-a-tete. “Perhaps he really is a good guy!” I told myself, fashioning the situation into a false reality simply because I wanted it to be true.
Weeks later, I described the tumult to an ex-boyfriend while we were out for a drink. Speaking honestly, he noted that the dude’s behavior was sketchy and not to be trusted. He pointed out that he always found it weird when older guys (the one in question being 28) went after younger girls, claiming that such behavior should at the least be questioned. Considering said ex-boyfriend tried to kiss me later that night, I initially interpreted his statement as a jealous jab—but, in retrospect, I think he had a point. We often date older guys (or girls) for their presumable maturity, but it seems counterintuitive that such specimens of maturation would be seeking a younger set to fool around with. In reality, their older age should be a warning sign to take things even slower—but that’s an animal I’ll tackle at a later date (and, as per usual, I have lots to say).
Let’s get back to business. This teasing via text continued for months. I saw him occasionally by chance and received the expected dose of mixed signals. He always toed that cloudy line between seeming into me and seeming like a psychopath, and being that I’m given to delusions, I often convinced myself it was the former. It took almost a year of back-and-forthing for me to realize that he was really just a poster-child scumbag. As I listened throughout that time to similar stories from friends, I could immediately ascertain the dickish qualities of their current lovers and tell them to run far, far away. But when it came to my own situation, the diagnosis was more difficult.
And then one day, after I tried to piece together the puzzle for the umpteenth time, a friend asked me what I liked about him. I couldn’t confidently provide an answer. Like a superficial frat boy, the only truthful answers I had related to his appearance. Nice eyes, strong jawline? He didn’t read books, like art or film, and probably had no idea what was going on in North Korea at the time. We had virtually nothing in common. He wasn’t a good conversationalist, wasn’t funny, and, no, he wasn’t anything special in bed. Calling him intelligent would have been an extreme stretch.
But what he did have was that cunning tendency to manipulate and tug at my daddy-issued-heart-strings [see this post for more on that fun subject]. He had rejected me, for some reason or another. It was a mystery I would have to settle for, but wanted to put off doing so for as long as I could. I couldn’t swallow the reality of being used n’ abused, so I continued to return to him in the hopes that he would prove to be of not just a greater caliber, but, quite simply, genuinely into me. After all, we are a shallow, insecure people. With our bruised egos often comes cloudy judgment. When we’re lonely, especially, we cling to characters with whom we don’t truly connect, because the longing for connection often trumps our patience to wait for someone worthy of such a bond.
We are also brilliant storytellers, and we tend to spin our most fantastic tales to our own selves. But if we can try to look critically at those with whom we become unhealthily attached, it’s usually hard to pinpoint any substantial reason for why that is. These sucky characters are alluring because we project a lot onto them, they fill a certain void within us, and not because of some inbred appeal. Try to keep this in mind next time you find yourself enchanted by that all-too-familiar vortex, often self-created, that promises a lot and leaves no reward. Love isn’t a guessing game, and when lust gives way to one, my experience tells me that it’s a sure sign to move on.