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    9 MIN READ

    Introducing my “Bad Boy” addiction

    My “Bad-Boy” addiction

    Ever found yourself falling for the wrong person, time and time again? Sophie Marsh has. It got us wondering, are Bad Boys really just sad boys with great style? What is the meaning of our obsession with these types that leave us feeling on the edge of a mental breakdown? Sophie explores how pop culture maybe ruined us all a little bit and wonders if there’s a Bad Boy waiting to teach us each a poignant life lesson.

    Photo of Cook and Effy from Skins, Courtesy of Channel 4

    When I assess the landscape of destruction that is my dating life since taking to the scene as an 18 year old, I can’t help but laugh.

    From musicians to surfers, drug-dealers and unemployed stoners, for a while I couldn’t really pull myself beyond the black beanie donning, arms full of implicitly dangerous flash tattoos (think reapers, vipers, ‘666’, knives etc.), doesn’t-really-text-back-EVER, kind of guy. Chances are I hooked up with said guy while drunk, and then in the following week assumed a sort of obsession that seemed congruent with how “cool” and “unavailable” this damaged sex god’s existence should theoretically command. I’m talking like constant, interrupting and disorienting day-dreams of getting married to the most unmarry-able types that exist.

    Yes, if I’ve had a crush on you, I’ve definitely envisioned (involuntarily) our wedding. 



    Pop culture and the “bad boy” 

    There’s an inseparable connection between the types of “hot boys” immortalised by pop culture since it’s existence in the 50’s (most of James Dean’s roles), and the types of guys in my social circles (and beyond) that have always seemed to carry an inherent “hot” value.

    We all had that one guy topping the social hierarchy at school who could be seen getting off to teasing girls/making them run to the bathroom to touch up their makeup i.e. hot Josh from Clueless.

    Maybe outside of the schoolyard context, such an individual’s hotness becomes obsolete, but replace this male with the updated, aesthetically self-aware version, and you have the punk band-shirt wearing, “I don’t give a f*ck about anything except making sure I have a somewhat paralysing posession over you” archetype that we just can’t seem to resist.

    For any semi-empathetic person who encounters such an individual, there always seems to be some sort of inquiry as to why this person, with such innate beauty (regardless of their “hot-boy” outerwear/skin decorations/ear adornments) struggles with such clouds of toxicity over-hanging their lifestyle and general demeanor, especially as a lover.  

    Diagram 1: Classifying Bad-Boy traits



    Bad behaviour

    Like a moth to a light, I found myself b-lining to these creatures, buzzing with the promise that there may be some redeeming quality to be pulled from this “broken” or “damaged” human. As an eternal optimist and someone who has always struggled with a saviour complex proportionate to my inability to deal with significant trauma, there was something so undeniably attractive about the hope of being able to “fix” such a someone.

    And it turns out I’m not the only one who has experienced this pull with even some of my most mentally “together” friends also suffering the same poor taste. I’m definitely outing myself as being neurotically obsessed with how people’s minds work, but I truly found observing bad boys exceedingly thrilling.

    “What progress can I inspire within him today?”,

    I would think to myself as he stood there belittling me in light of my gender at the most popular beach in town, a circle of our closest friends laughing along in fear of being his next target.

    Yet the only thought on my mind was how good it would feel when we were finally alone together and the maternal nature he secretly yearns for becomes effective once again.

    There was always a peculiar sense of satisfaction I felt when I knew that I was the only person in a room that my resident bad boy wasn’t treating like shit. His inability to listen to how he’d handled something in a way that upset me, or to respond to anything too emotionally difficult, actually gave me excuses to not deal with difficult emotions myself. I loved avoiding my difficult truths by playing with other people’s issues in this way. Every time he prioritized skating or drinking with the boys in a way that displaced our plans, it allowed me to maintain my “I am unlovable” self-talk, which also meant I could stay safe in my identity as a broken punk-princess/sad-girl. 

    Dating a big red flag looked like:

    Only hanging out at night – usually sneaking said red flag into bedroom (to avoid disapproval from knowing housemates) – with post-sleepover coffee dates feeling like some kind of indignant statement to the wider world.

    Sometimes, one may even find themselves fetching napkins/cutlery for them, thanking the cashier for them, and even, yes, paying for their B&E roll because they lost their wallet on a bender. 

    At this point, one may be thinking, why would you want to spend your time with someone like this?




    Waiting for breakthroughs

    Queue tiny breakthrough moments.

    These could look like: breakdowns you feel privileged enough to witness, an unexpected call inviting you to hang out with him, or words of affirmation like “nobody else understands me like you”,  when nobody else is around.

    Most of the time, such breakthroughs came at the sacrifice of my own mental health, forcing me to spend time/money/energy I could barely afford, often changing my own plans to suit.

    This cycle felt addictive, with my mind spending far more time waiting for validation of my attraction, than time spent actually feeling adored. In fact, aside from the disturbingly good sex and sexual chemistry, it kind of feels like you’ve inherited a child. The more I realised how many meals I was cooking and thoughtfully packaging for lunches, arm tickles I was giving (and not having returned), and nagging feeling texting/calling such boys gave me, the more I thought to myself: what kind of Freudian complex f*ckery is this?

    Freud is a fore-father of psychology who believes that emotionally immature males are attracted to their “mothers”.



    Attracting the “bad boy?”

    Could I really amount this series of dating mis-steps to searching for purpose in the last frontier of my sociological/biological makeup, a mere surrendering to my inbuilt need to find romantic partnership or heed motherly instincts? Maybe I was just attracting a mirrored version of my self-indulgently broken self? Or potentially, all I’m revealing is a shallow predisposition to things that look pretty. 

    Of course, it’s important to make it clear that I’ve met many “Bad Boys” who are among the greatest individuals I know. I probably wouldn’t date many of them, but a person’s value isn’t determined by how dateable I find them. And of course, Bad Boy does NOT equal a toxic relationship (there just tends to be a lot of crossovers). 



    Escaping the bad-boy complex

    When I became ready for self-aware relationships, I think the bad-boy complex I suffered from vanquished itself. Realising that I determined my own capacity to receive love and happiness was a massive part of moving beyond one-sided relationships. The idyllic scenes of converting a Bad Boy into Prince Charming (whilst still retaining his Bad Boy stylishness) is actually really dishonouring of the Bad Boy’s clear identity expression. Seeking to fix someone who hasn’t asked, surprising as it may be,  isn’t really something to strive for. It’s actually objectifying someone in a way that doesn’t honour them as a basic human.  

    Once I could abandon the guilt that came from believing I’d ‘given up’ on someone, “Stop raising him, he’s not your son!” became my transformative catch-cry. Also following the disintegration of bitterness that accompanies any relationship breakdown, I was forced to acknowledge the lost-ness that sat in the centre of my chest finally. What was I going to do with all of this spare time and energy now that I had nothing external to place it into? Potentially I could’ve finished any of the self-help books I’d started, or drag my ass to any one of the hot yoga classes I paid $45 a week to access yet hadn’t attended for more than two consecutive days in the month. 

    I guess we can conclude that pop culture maybe f*cked us all a little bit. Maybe Bad Boys are really just sad boys with a more advanced style than the general male populace, that those of us concerned with self-improvement love turning into messy psychological projects. Potentially, there’s a Bad Boy waiting for all of us to teach us some poignant life lessons – like the fact that a Bad Boy is probably someone we are unfairly projecting our trauma onto. And also, that the types who are Bad Boys are likely going through their own traumas requiring the sort of professional help and deep self-inquiry you won’t ever be able to administer.

    We all should be striving to fall in love with people for who they are, not the idea of who they should be. And of course, we should always be working on falling in love with ourselves too. 

    You may even find that once you stop trying to pigeon-hole these types of people poorly into your dating life, you create greater capacity for conscious and creative conversations that lead to genuine friendships. It’s probably better that way.

    Unfortunately for Quin (our Creative Producer), reading over this article has only reawakened her fascination with these types. And I know there’s many of us out there who suffer the same affliction. We declare this case *wide open* officially. Stay tuned for the rest of the Bad-Boy series, where we seek expert advice and real-life cases to help us get to the bottom of this, once and for all…