So I've never dated the classic rebel without a cause (or a job) bad boy. Not my style. I like them nice. I like the kind of boys you can bring home to meet your parents. I like the kind of guys who like women as people, as friends, as respected equals. I find that sexier than a shitty attitude or worn-in leather jacket. (Unless you're Clive Owen, there are always exceptions to the rule, but even he seems like a nice, happily married English gentleman.) I don't seek the drama or the chaos. I've had knock down drag out screaming fights, but they left me exhausted and embarrassed. And I left that behind years ago. Joe rarely makes me cry, rarely if ever, close to never. Yeah, I can't think of a time. But why in the world am I writing about this?
This is about as "bad boy" as Joe gets.
Spurred on by two pieces that I read last month: first the memoir of one excessively talented and self-destructive Lidia Yuknavitch called The Chronology of Water, and the other a quick personal essay over at The Gloss by Sara Lunsford called So I Dated an Ax Murderer. Yuknavitch's memoir is wide open, honest, raw and gorgeously, lusciously written, if infuriating, and Lunsford's essay is just a vaguely funny, fluffy little personal essay about the time a guy she was dating chased her with an axe and very nearly killed her. Ha, ha, I guess at least she's around to laugh about it now.
In stark contrast to these two writers, two women drawn to the chaos and drama of dating "bad boys" and quite possibly qualifying as "bad girls" themselves, I finished reading both pieces and thought: "Who are these people? How do you make these decisions? What the hell? Why do people date people like that? Why would you date a crazy person? Why would you date a man that you have constant screaming matches with? What's the draw? Is it just the drama? The cruelty and chaos that looks and feels like passion? Maybe it is passion?" So I asked myself all of these questions. I let all these self-righteous judgments pour on out of my head.
Yuknavitch is a force of nature and her memoir is dangerous and self destructive and deeply engaging. But I just couldn't relate to the majority of her choices. She was an equal partner in the chaos, hers isn't the story of a passive woman dating a bad guy by any stretch, but even after reading her whole story, I still struggled to not think of her as stupid and self-destructive. How stupid of these women to date these possibly dangerous and chaotic men? Why, why do women do that? (I know men do too, but this seems to be a trend more common among women. At least from my myopic view of the world.)
Both pieces made me feel all judgmental and arrogant after finishing. I felt smug. And I hate feeling smug. So I stopped for a minute and tried to figure out where that smug feeling was coming from. It's like some kind of reverse sexism in my own head. Society has taught us that women are nurturing mothers and wives, and essentially the family saint, women are supposed to tend the man and the children, feed and manage key relationships and have a superior sense of good and calm to help soothe these wild man-boys, who just can't help who they are, darn it. This is bullshit, but clearly there are still remnants of this floating around in my brain. So I find myself thinking these women are idiots, or damaged, or crazy because they can't or won't be the type of women they are supposed to be. Pick the right guys, do the right thing, stabilize their lives, make healthy choices. So what? So what if they don't make the choices I would make? So what? If the chaos and passion feels good to them, then why not? I don't know what goes on inside someone else's relationship. Except when it starts hurting more than it feels good. Until you're unhappy or injured or sad all the time or controlled or demeaned. Then you should stop. But until then, if the fighting and make up sex is worth it, then who I am to judge? It's not what I would want, but that's doesn't mean it isn't right for someone else. As long as it isn't hurting, I guess. Except no. Just no. I'm still judging, I can't help it. Maybe I'm stronger. Maybe I've had a luckier life. Maybe I've had more therapy. Maybe I'm just different, but I think my type of relationship is more right. I just do.
I tried for a couple of weeks to ferret out what I really wanted to say on this topic, what the hell was my point? I didn't want to offend anyone. I didn't want to water down my feelings on the matter. So as usual, I overworked this whole thing in my head until I had no idea what I really wanted to say. I dug at this issue like a sore in the inside corner of your mouth that you can't stop touching with your tongue even though it hurts every time you do. It sort of feels good, too. So maybe that's it. That's the draw to bad boys. Maybe that's it exactly. It just is. It's just a truth. We like things that hurt sometimes. It's Freudian. Or it's mumbo jumbo. But humans like dangerous, we like the tolerable pain. Maybe we don't feel we deserve something better. Maybe we like that sharp little reminder that we are alive and fragile and out of control. I don't know. It's too much. I've talked myself in circles.
Last Sunday out to dinner with my dad and husband and stepmother, we talked about this exact topic. I mentioned I was blocked up on writing this "Why don't I like bad boys?" blog post. Over stuffed mushrooms and burgers and diet cokes, my husband and father proceeded to break the whole thing down for me, as only they could. They got me out of my head and clarified what I had run around in circles trying to figure out, in about four succinct statements. I asked "Why don't I like that type of guy? What's that about do you think?" And they were full of quotable, vaguely self-flattering, machismo filled gems. These two kind, tough, witty, funny men, decidedly non-bad boys, set me straight.
First they clarified, "We aren't bad boys, but we could be." Gotcha, even nice guys don't want to be considered too nice.
Then Dad surmised that, "When you have a good relationship with your father you don't seek that kind of drama."
"There's a spectrum of bad boy. You know, bad boy leather jacket versus abusive husband Farrah Fawcett Burning Bed type stuff. That's the kind to avoid." - this from Joe.
Then verging into creepy, though accurate territory, "But I think the draw is that rough sex, sexual deviant stuff. That's why women like bad boys." - again from my dad, I tried not to plug my ears and sing la-la-la-la, but failed.
Then I mentioned this potent and irksome ability that men have of pretending to be or actually being detached and indifferent when they're pissed off. Joe and my dad are both masters at this skill. This ability so irritating that I once called Joe "the worst kind of guy" because on the outside he seems so nice and respectful, but underneath that is this layer of dismissive biting sarcasm and indifference that he can wield like a weapon when he chooses, which thankfully is rarely. Come to find out this isn't exclusive territory of the traditional bad boy, according to the guys, "That's not being a bad boy, that's just being a man." Ugh.
They're right. And I guess that's one of the things I both like and dislike about men. At least certain men. Particularly these men. They seem less likely to get wrapped up in the shallow, judgmental comparisons that women do. They have a stronger ability to shut that down in themselves and move on. Their ability to slice through my overly analytical teeth gnashing guilt about judging other women and self esteem and feelings and cut it down to it's essence. I don't like bad boy types because I've got a strong relationship with my very nice dad. My parents' divorce and the ensuing chaos, and my first crazy high school relationships burned me out on drama early on. They taught me to know what I wanted, by showing me what I didn't. And massive amounts of therapy helped too.
So maybe I can set aside some of my judgements of Lidia and Sarah. They just took a longer, wilder, sexier, crazier path to figure out what they wanted in a partner. Maybe they are still figuring it out. Maybe they don't even want a partner. Who knows? Since I'm lucky enough to have found my partner, I'm better off spending my energy on loving my own good man than sitting around judging some other woman's bad boy choices.
Joe isn't that wild bad boy. He never was, he never will be. But Joe is the exact answer to what I need and want in a spouse and a partner and a lover and a friend. There's passion there. And there's conflict. But there's always respect and care and general kindness and a "we are in this together" attitude. And maybe that's the difference between a bad boy and a good man. This is the man who, at various points in our relationship has told me I needed to start wearing belts, stop buying shoes at Payless and buy a rain coat. He's sensible. And sensible is sexy as hell.