This Is Why Some Women Are Attracted to Jerks, According to Experts

Learn the psychology behind being drawn to men who are bad for you.

young white man looking at his phone while white girlfriend looks upset at wine bar
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We all know the type: the kind of guy who seems to be with another woman every night, is hopelessly commitment-phobic, answers your texts sporadically, and only shows up at your house at 2 a.m. He's the worst, and yet, you or someone you know has probably fallen for him. The question is, why are women attracted to jerks? 

To be fair, you might not realize he's a jerk at first, and that can be a huge part of the problem. These men often know how to present a much more appealing version of themselves in the beginning.

"Many jerks are highly charismatic," says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD. "As such, they wear masks that draw in a potential partner with kindness and charm. Then, once a new partner is captured, the mask is taken off slowly but surely to reveal the true man underneath. This transition often occurs so gradually that the partner is unaware of the slow changes until the situation becomes obvious and intolerable."

But once you know he's a jerk, why not just kick him to the curb? It's a bit more complicated than that. Some experts believe that an attraction to jerks could be indicative of an unhealthy attachment style that is inherited from your relationship with your parents. 

"Some women may find themselves attracted to unhealthy partners due to the attachment style they learnt as they were growing up," explains clinical psychologist Clinton Moore, PhD. "A classic example is narcissistic parents who are pros at being cold and distant. If you've grown up in this dynamic, then you're more likely to be attracted to people who are distant or practice techniques like negging, and nice guys who pay you attention will seem boring or smothering."

But one could also make the argument that pop culture is at fault here. There are tons of movies like Cruel Intentions that feature a sweet, caring woman reforming a narcissistic, philandering sociopath through the sheer power of her goodness. Of course, in the real world, this doesn't actually work—but it sure makes for a compelling narrative and an enticing fantasy to try to reproduce in real life.

"Some women view it as a challenge, which is exciting to them," notes clinical psychologisKimberly M. Daniels, PsyD. "If I can get this guy to be a good guy, it makes me feel better about myself. That can be really exciting for some women. And it can make them feel more powerful, too."

The problem, Daniels adds, is that "our society still portrays jerks as powerful and masculine," which means many men might be tempted to act like jerks in order to attract women, even if it goes against their true nature.

The good news is that just because you've been drawn to jerks in the past doesn't mean you have to be in the future. Remember, they're never worth your time—and maybe knowing where that attraction comes from can help you steer clear down the line. And if you're worried your current beau might not be all that serious, learn the 17 Subtle Signs Your Relationship Is Just a Fling.

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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