Other than “Wanna fuck?”, the question men ask me most has always been some version of “Why do women date assholes?” It’s a topic that is seemingly inexhaustible, so I decided to have my vast network of women answer the question—specifically, “In the past and/or present, why have you been self-destructive when it comes to choosing a mate?” As one woman successfully describes, dating an asshole can be cyclical—and a cycle a lot of women find themselves caught in.
I’d pick someone unavailable, take what I could get, get frustrated about not getting more, become angry, ignore that anger, strategize to get more attention from him, pretend I was ok with whatever attention I did get, create a huge fantasy life around our relationship, approach sex with intensity and desperation (I thought if I can’t get what I need emotionally, at least I can get something sexually. It’s a nice try—but it doesn’t work for the long haul), then we’d have some kind of incident and we’d stop seeing each other. There was always a culminating, disastrous event and though the relationships weren’t very dramatic, the last straw always was. Then I’d go silent on them. That’s the pattern.
If anything is apparent from this and the other nuanced, introspective answers I received, it’s that there’s no simple reason for why we women become addicted to men who treat us like shit. Rather, it’s a complicated combination of factors, the short list of which I present below for the betterment of your—and your woman's—love life.
My shrink once told me, “Bridget it’s not always daddy issues and low self-esteem; you like unavailable men because you’re unavailable.” In other words: I don’t got time for this relationship shit. Claudia said, “I’d pick commitment-phobes in order to relinquish control over a decisive ending while still attaining it to preserve my own freedom and independence. It wasn’t until I really wanted to settle down with someone that I dated someone interested in something longer term.”
THE FOOLISH GAME
Almost all women have fallen victim to the “I can fix him” delusion at one time or another. What’s interesting is our instinct to fix a lover usually ends with us realizing we need to take responsibility for fixing ourselves. Holly said, “I thought I could be his sunshine. I became selfless in hopes of making him happy. Now, I’ve learned to speak up to make sure my needs are met and guys respect me because they know I’m not willing to put up with mediocre treatment.”
THE BAD GIRL GAME
It’s nice being the “responsible” one in a relationship and dating a bad guy is a great way to deflect any issues or addictions we might be avoiding, as Alyssa did. “I could behave poorly—drink too much, have dirty raunchy sex, do drugs—all things that cause pleasure and also masssive pain. If you have a bad partner, you will not be the “worst,” thus alleviating the guilt of indulgent behaviors. You don’t have to mind your manners and don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings.”
THE PITY PARTY
Men aren’t the only ones who have a hero complex. Women can fall into the trap of enabling bad behavior and co-dependent patterns of wanting to feel “needed.” Heather said, “I would feel sorry for him or make excuses for the stress he had in his life or that ‘he has a lot on his plate with work’.“
THOSE MOMMY ISSUES
We all have them. Yes, you too. Diana said, “I didn’t have a model of healthy, intimate relationships growing up. I repeated that feeling of "I don’t know if I’m coming or going with you” constantly because that was the kind of relationship I had with my mother. I didn’t know I was doing this at the time, but I was dating some version of my mother for years. I would continually choose someone who was not available to give me what I needed, but I’d maneuver around it to make the relationship work anyway. I always came up short.”
THEM DADDY ISSUES
We all have these, too. Basically, whatever was modeled for us as kids will play out in our relationships as adults. If you aren’t taking a look at your shit, you’re part of the problem. Again, consider what Diana had to say. “I chose inappropriate partners because I wasn’t taking full responsibility for myself. When I say responsibility, I mean emotional and financial. My choices in sexual partners were a reflection of the self-denial, self-abandonment and scarcity mentality I lived with. I was never fully seen or understood in these relationships and sometimes I put myself in danger by becoming financially dependent on men who had no attachment to me. I chose partners that would shore up the lifestyle I had chosen.”
HEAT, SPARKS AND CHEMISTRY
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Pheromones always win. Unfortunately, a lot of the men who are the worst for us happen to be the best in bed. “I met a man this year who was into me, emotionally available and a good kisser, but I just wasn’t attracted to him enough and I called it off,” one woman told me.
THE NEED FOR ATTENTION
Basic evolutionary Alpha male stuff plays out in the 21st century all the time. Never forget: We are first and foremost animals. Caitlyn said, “I will do anything for male attention. The bad boys give me a high or adrenaline rush because they’re the hardest to conquer.”
THE NEED FOR A FIX
Some women are cutters. Some women date assholes. It’s the same thing. “It’s not adrenaline. I don’t care for extreme sports or adrenaline rushes. What I care about is sensation. I love feeling. From the skin to the bone, I want to feel it all. There is some satisfaction I derive out of just feeling something at all. And that’s why I choose terrible men—for the sensation of it.”
THE NEED FOR SELF-RESPECT
I still struggle with feelings of unworthiness and low self-worth–and I am someone who has done a shit-ton of self-work. Building a solid core doesn’t happen overnight if you’ve never experienced unconditional love or your sense of inner stability has been damaged by trauma. Nitai expresses this sentiment perfectly. “I felt I was not good enough. If I could pick a partner obviously unavailable in someway, and sweep him office feet with my amazingness, that would prove without a doubt I was everything I hoped I was,“ she said. "It never worked out that way.”
FEAR OF THE UKNOWN
You can thank Disney movies, rom-coms, Cosmo and Zales commercials for constantly reminding women we need a man or we’re nothing. Amber said, “I have a fear of never being close to someone. Dying alone. Wanting to start a family and terrified it won’t happen unless I do it with Mr. Right Now.”
Humans make bad choices when they’re scared or suffering and there are men out there who prey on women in such distress. Tracy said, “I was in a vulnerable place. I had literally just separated from my husband after I fell for and got involved with a married man, who I had an affair with for two years…as if I wasn’t in enough pain. I was attracted to him for all the reasons I’m attracted to any man—a chemical pull, plus a mutual history and that feeling of 'How can it be wrong when it feels so right?’”
LIVING IN THE SHALLOW END
Don’t kid yourself. We women can be just as shallow as men, caring too much about what others think about our partners. As Amber admits, “I date the guy I think I’m supposed to be with because everyone else likes him and he’s supposedly good for me, but then he turns out to be a sociopath. Or, I date a guy to stroke my own ego because he’s good looking but dumb as nails.”
LIVING FOR THE SOCIAL TABOO
The bigger the risk, the bigger the thrill. Melissa said, “The sex was the best of my life, and got better and better til the very end. But I finally realized he couldn't—and wouldn't—leave his wife and kids, even after endless broken promises and no real attempts. I should have known better.“
AND…BECAUSE YOU’RE A PUSHOVER:
And finally, why the fuck are women the ones doing all the introspection? It’s not all about us—you guys have plenty of baggage you need to take at look at as well—starting with, for example, how you might not just be a good guy, but also a pussy.