He Just Isn’t That into You

There’s a movie opening today with the captioned title, based on a slight advice book published some years ago. Despite very lukewarm reviews, I’ll probably go see it tonight.

I never read the book, and I haven’t seen the movie yet. But the preview shows a scene where a little boy is mean and says horrendous things to a little girl at the playground. The girl runs to her mother crying, and asks why the boy is so mean. The mother, sitting on a bench with other mothers, laughs and says something like, “Oh, honey, that boy is saying mean things to you because he likes you.” The other moms all nod sagely, and the little girl gets a great expression on her face, like she’s received illumination of the mysteries that are little boys. One of the themes of the movie appears to be that one reason women are so screwed up as adults is that they were socialized to like boys that were mean to them, or at least to interpret meanness as an expression of affection.

This is a cinematic expression of the common meme in our culture that girls like bad boys, not nice guys. And I’m curious what you think about this notion. Some questions I have:

Is this a real phenomenon, or is it an overblown myth? Is it just a high school thing, or does it persist into adulthood?

When a guy writes into an advice columnist that he can’t get a date because he’s a nice guy and all the women want are bad boys, do you get the feeling that his problem isn’t really that he is a nice guy after all?

How does all of this play out in the Mormon context? Mormon girls are socialized hard to look to RMs for their early twenties amour. Of course, RMs aren’t necessarily nice guys. But have all those standards nights succeeded in selecting out from Mormon girls the desire for bad boys (assuming that that is a real phenomenon in the first place)? Or do they also prefer bad boys and just end up settling for nice RM-type guys?

The whole thing is so counterintuitive to me that I’m uncertain as to how real this phenomenon is, and to the extent it does exist I can’t really grasp it. Is there some evolutionary biological reason underlying it?

In short, what are your thoughts and experiences on the topic of women preferring bad boys over nice guys?


  1. It is true. Consider this example from the Mormon blogs: We all share a self-destructive but undeniable attraction to DKL.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Moths to a flame!

  3. Steve Evans says:


  4. Mark Brown says:

    Kevin, I think this is where you need to post a link to that picture of you with long hair on a Harley.

  5. I like nice men.

  6. How about some photo’s as a semi-nude model at BYU? We could determine how nice you are.

  7. Also, in the fundamentalist Mormonism context, there is a chicken-or-the-egg problem: Do the ladies love Warren Jeffs because he’s wanted by the feds, or do the feds want Warren Jeffs because so many ladies love him so?

  8. My husband and I wrote a post about this phenomeon awhile back. To quote:

    “To him it seems that his niceness is at the root of the problem, somehow repelling women who inexplicably prefer to date jerks. But the problem is not that this man is a nice guy, but that he’s allowed niceness to travel down the slippery slope into weinerdom.

    Too many men use their niceness as a cover for the fact that they’re in fact insecure. It’s this lack of confidence and swagger that kills their chances with the ladies, not their well-mannered ways.”

    It’s not about nice guys vs. bad boys. It’s about confident men over insecure men. Girls don’t like guys who act freakin amazed that they said yes to going out with them, who seem needy and are always afraid of the girl losing interest.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Actually that’s a chicken-n-egg problem, gst.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Katie M. no. 8, that insight makes a lot of sense to me.

  11. It’s complicated. But yes, it’s more than a little true.

    I can’t speak for Mormon women looking for mates, but as an adult, married, mother convert, I can look back at the 10 years before I got married and say “Heck Yes, I had a prolem with bad boys and kicked lots of nice guys to the curb.” And, I know I am not unique.

    In a nutshell, it distilled to this:

    My self-esteem was tanked. If a man was “bad” he was more exciting, and he treated me just the way my self-esteem told me I should be treated. It wasn’t until I got my head on straight and began to value myself that Nice Guys began to be something I wanted.

    I thank the Lord I figured that out before I got married. Perhaps, if Mormon girls come from more well-adjusted homes, or homes where they are valued and have priorities and self-esteem in hand, they would not need to work out their issues with the Bad Boys.

    (It goes without saying, the Bad Boys are also working out thier crap on the door-mat girls…)

    But, it is my hope that my children can escape that nasty little tar-pit of mortality.

  12. Re: #8- I knew plenty of nice guys who were confident and not weird- they just were too respectful, too kind, and my battered and distorted sense of self didn’t know how to handle that. The Bad Boys wounded, they needed me- treat me bad, and I’m there. If I could just love them enough, they would be transformed.

    And I found a lot of the Bad Boys to be insecure, too- they just covered it tatoos, motorcycles, cowboy hats, trucks and unreturned phone calls.

    I’ve known enough women to know this is a rampant issue.

  13. It’s certainly a central theme in most chick-flicks. That’s why I think “Becoming Jane” has a happy ending. The jerk doesn’t end up with the girl.

  14. I don’t want to be in a relationship with anyone who is mean. Being mean really turns me off. That said, I would often not know how to express interest in people I liked, so I am sure that some of my actions came across as mean, conceited, or aloof.

  15. MikeInWeHo says:

    gst is on a roll today. Hittin’ the Red Bull again?

  16. #13 is documentary proof that the phenomenon is real.

    See also Dwayne Perkins for further perspective.

  17. I think it’s a self-esteem/maturity issue with women. Women who are immature and/or have low self-esteem will go for the bad boys. That’s why you see it so much in high school and less as women get older, though obviously many women never grow out of it. Unfortunately for the nice guys, women get less hot as they mature. Also, mature women want money.

  18. I can’t speak to the matter of gst’s attraction to me, or any other guy for that matter. But, as the most reviled participant in the bloggernacle, I can assure everyone that chicks do not dig bad Mormon guys.

  19. Tracy, there’s nice guys, who are genuinely nice people. These nice guys can run the whole gamut in terms of self-esteem, poise etc.
    On the other hand there’s Nice Guys(tm) who can be found in a dark corner of the cultural hall at stake dances nursing a grudge against Lucy Laurel cause she always dances with those other jerk priests who tease him about his hygiene. He says to himself, “She always hangs out with those jerks, why don’t girls ever like nice guys like me?” I assume you can see the difference.
    Nice Guys(tm) feel entitled to attention and affection from women, and are bitter than the hot girls don’t go for them. They believe that if you exist you deserve a hot girl to date you.

    Anyhow, more to the subject of the post. I think women prefer nice guys, it’s just that most women don’t think they have a lot of options. There is this feeling among women that getting married is really really important. And that it’s really hard to find a guy, especially one who wants to get married. So you have to trick guys into dating you and then you have to trick them into marrying you. So I think a lot of women don’t expect men to actually like them, they’re only looking for someone who will tolerance her hanging around.

    So you end up with women talking themselves into loving men that don’t deserve it because she thinks he’s the best she’s going to get. And they put up with a lot of crappy behavior because they aren’t expecting love or respect, just tolerance.

  20. Call gst butter, because he is on a roll!

    If Neil Strauss is to be believed, women want the attention grabbed by something showy, then they need to be subtly put down so they have to work winning you over. But I think he would agree confidence plays a big part, and the alcohol doesn’t hurt.

  21. Women who are immature and/or have low self-esteem will go for the bad boys.

    This may be true, but I think we often overlook the other side which is that bad boys seek out women who are immature or have bad self-esteem.

  22. bad boys seek out women who are immature or have bad self-esteem.

    Well, of course. Who else would have them?

    It’s true, though, that women/girls with low self-esteem will gobble up the attention that bad boys give them. A nice guy’s attention may not register the same way because the woman/girl a) doesn’t think she merits romantic attention from a nice guy, and/or b) isn’t mature enough to appreciate nice-and-stable over rotten-but-exciting.

  23. The niceness or meanness of a man is irrelevant. When women are looking for short-term partners, they go for men with masculine faces, who tend to be jerks. Later, when they are looking for a long-term partner, they go for men with feminine faces, who tend to be nice.

    It’s a mating strategy and the niceness/meanness preference is a symptom, not a cause, of this behavior.

  24. Starfoxy (#20) that’s an angle I hadn’t thought of- and certainly happens.

    Rebecca J and I are on the same page.

  25. I’m a nice man.

  26. John Mansfield says:

    How about the appeal of Eva Marie Saint/Catherine Deneuve-style glacial blondes?

  27. Steve Evans says:

    #26, you and Han Solo, Kuri.

  28. Memorable exchange between Han Solo and Princess Leia in “The Empire Strikes Back”:

    Han Solo: You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.
    Princess Leia: I happen to like nice men.
    Han Solo: I’m nice men.

  29. Starfoxy, your first paragraph in #20 is right on the mark.

    A while ago I attended a church meeting for the over-30 singles crowd, in which the speaker–a professional so-called “dating expert”–was exhorting men not to be “too nice.” By that, she meant men should not let women walk all over them. One man in the congregation was so upset by her remarks that he stormed out of the chapel. He could be viewed outside the chapel windows, pacing and muttering angrily to himself. I’m sure he views himself as “nice,” but the guy happens to be just plain weird.

  30. Steve, # 28, great minds think alike.

  31. Good one, Kev.

  32. #8 – wow. That was simple and rings really true.

    I’m thinking specifically of a young man in our branch who is a really nice guy and very confident – he’s like a virtuous young chick magnet, the entire YW is all aflutter when he’s around because he’s the full package. A fun confident guy who doesn’t treat them like dirt :)

  33. I am 30 and should probably be beyond struggling with the draw toward bad boys. But I’m not. I’ve been in a relationship with a very nice guy for about 2 years now. Even still I find myself wishing it were more of a struggle, more of a hard-won conquest.To me getting a bad boy would be a serious victory. If someone who has such a hard time showing love/liking people, etc., falls for you, you must be an AMAZING human being. It’s sort of an ego trip. I see how it’s wrong, but I feel there is something missing since I have never actually had a relationship with a bad boy (all boyfriends have been very nice). I’m trying to get rid of this idea that I’m lacking something so I can more fully appreciate my relationship with a nice guy! Any suggestions? (I think the real cure may just be to have all Marlon Brando movies erased from my brain a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.)

  34. Wanted to note the correct title: “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

  35. To me getting a bad boy would be a serious victory.

    I’ve read a lot on this subject, mostly because I’ve raised six daughters to adulthood. The “bad boy” phenomenon is real (though far from universal), and from what I’ve seen/read, Minerva’s comment (#34) is pretty much dead as to the major reason why.

    There was a political cartoon back during Clinton’s second run for office. It showed a husband and wife watching the news, which was reporting on the various pending Clinton scandals. The husband is expressing out loud disbelief as to why anyone would vote for Clinton, while the wife silent thinks, “Oh, but he’ll change!”

    Unfortunately, that “taming the bad boy” daydream often turns into a tolerance for verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse, particularly (as noted above) when the woman has self-esteem issues herself. ..bruce..

  36. What about the theory that says girls who get into relationships with “bad boys” believe that they can change them?

  37. you beat me to it bruce

  38. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the correction, Portia. That’s what I get for not actually looking it up.

    I appreciate all the discussion so far. I find it quite fascinating.

  39. My ex-wife informed me after six years of marriage:

    “I never loved you.”


    “I think you were to nice to me.”

    I dismissed them as bizarre attempts to hurt me in the emotional firestorm of divorce.

    However, she shortly moved in with a man who beat her regularly (although she only stayed with him a year), and eventually married a man who had serial extra-marital affairs.

    Maybe she meant it. I dunno.

  40. You may want a ‘bad boy” to be around to kill your mammoth and a nice guy to raise your kids. E.g., Angela, Dwight, and Andy triangle on The Office.

  41. or mayby she meant “too nice”.

  42. Kevin Barney says:

    Ah, SteveP, I knew you’d come through with the evolutionary biology angle on this!

  43. One year at BYU, I had a drop-dead gorgeous roommate. She had dates almost every night, because she was nice and didn’t want to turn anyone down. She eventually had to start saying no so she could get some homework done. Almost every guy she said no to became a self-identified nice guy getting dumped on.

    All of the single’s wards I’ve been in or visited had more women than men. There are plenty of women to go out with. If a guy wants to go out on a date, he can find a girl to go with. If a guy only wants to go out on a date with the hot girl of the ward, well, he’s going to have a lot of competition and might end up rejected.

    When I hear a guy pull out the nice guy complaint, I roll my eyes and figure he either has self-esteem issues, unrealistic expectations, or directly correlates his self worth to the hotness level of his date. Never do I believe he is an actual nice guy. If he was, he’d have no problem attracting women.

  44. I saw this very conundrum play out with the youth in our ward. There was a girl who was, as described by her mother as, “boy crazy.” There was this inactive boy, who was clearly someone who fit in the “Bad Boy” category, who she had a crush on. It was clear to some of the adults, including her parents, what this boy was after. She snuck behind her parents back and did something not so good and she was grounded from ever talking to him. The boy quit coming to church. When she was asked why she didn’t like this other boy who had a crush on her, she replied, he’s too boring.

    I think Minerva’s comments are spot on myself.

  45. #44, your analysis is pretty true too Jamie. I think there are two sides to every coin.

  46. #44, one more thing I thought of is that, when I was in High School I was pretty much “totally un-cool”, and I never tried to get the “hot” girls. I usually figured I could only get the one that weren’t so hot. Regardless, I still struck out.

    On the other hand, there were two girls, both of whom were nice but also extremely odd, that I kind of avoided that had a crush on me.

    So there you go.

  47. The scene: Moab Power Dam. A forty foot drop into a 1×3 foot pool. If you miss. Death. My friend is balanced on a board extending from one of the towers on the dam.

    At risk? A girl we all want and have all dated. She is at the moment free. We are all buddies including the girl.

    The scene: We are begging, pleading with my friend not to jump. We didn’t know anyone who had ever tried. We yell at him angrily. We beg. Finally two of us are actually crying telling him to get down.

    The girl? She is watching in absolute silence. She does not say anything. Just watches.

    We continue to beg until he raises upright to stand on the board. He is unsteady. We go absolutely silent. It is clear he is going to make the jump. We don’t want to break is concentration. Two of the three males have tears running down their faces. We are all afraid. The girl is watching. A strange look on her face. Not fear.

    He jumps. He misses opening his head like a pumpkin by less than an inch. We scream in anger at his stupidity. He and the girl start to date. They marry and live happily ever after. True story.

  48. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 30
    Perhaps the speaker should have exhorted the men not to be too weird.

  49. I usually figured I could only get the one that weren’t so hot.

    Ian…so are all guys who can’t get the hottest gal in the school/ward/bowling league just settling for the average ladies? Maybe that’s why girls don’t go for the non-hot-girl-attracting “nice guys”? Because those guys just aren’t that into them/want something “better”? Hm….

  50. Still on that other side of the coin: Ugly women KNOW that most guys (nice, “Nice,” and bad boys) want to date attractive women. What do they do about constant rejection? Try to make themselves more attractive. How do “Nice” guys handle constant rejection? Attack what (they think) the girl wants.

    I know there are many exceptions and dating is a whole lot more complicated than that (BELIEVE me, I know). It just seems like more often than not, the woman is strongly encouraged to change something in order to please the man. And the whole nice guy complaint is, for me, a evidence of that.

  51. I like, and have always liked nice guys. But my sisters all wanted the bad guy (and ended up with horrible relationships as a result). Our dad was a jerk, and I very consciously decided I didn’t want that. I don’t think my sisters know why they choose horrible guys. (I realize how condescending that sounds, but it’s a brick wall I’ve rammed my head into over and over again when I’ve tried to talk to them about it.) And I had plenty of friends with bad boy complexes. I’ve never understood it, but I’ve certainly seen it play out over and over again.

    Still, I think most guys who claim they are dateless because they are nice have – as you said – other issues. There are still plenty of women looking for nice men.

  52. Adam Greenwood says:

    I know three drop-dead gorgeous girls who ended up marrying losers because no one else would dare to ask them out. One of them is my wife. All of them were at BYU. Man up, Mormon men.

  53. The bad boys are all Gob. The nice guys think that they are Michael. Most are in fact Buster.

  54. Adam, who are the other two?

  55. Adam Greenwood says:

    Steve, I would rather conceal your identities in case you’re not comfortable being outed to the Bloggernacle as drop-dead gorgeous girls married to losers,.

  56. On the other hand, my present wife frequently expresses gratitude, and apparently thinks that it is unusually “nice” of me to do perfectly ordinary things such as the following:

    “allow” her to not work outside the home if she does not want to (or, “allow” her to work outside the home if she wants to),

    “allow” her to have personal checking and savings accounts in addition to our own joint savings and checking accounts,

    “allow” her to take college courses and dance classes,

    not “demand” that dinner be ready when I get home from work,

    cook on weekends,

    wash the dishes,

    take out the garbage,

    wash, fold and iron my own clothes, (although folding her clothes is an exercise in futility– she just re-folds them to her own standards),

    give our toddler-man breakfast while she gets ready in the mornings, and take care of toddler-man after 6pm, including take-a-bath, brush-his-teeth, put-on-his-pajamas, read-some-books, say-his-prayers, and go-to-bed, (which is actually the best part of my day)…

    It surprises me that she thinks of these things as particularly “nice”.

    Aside from her over-inflated opinion of me, I have never thought of her as having self-esteem issues.

    (I think of them as “living”.)

    On the other hand, she apparently likes “nice” guys, as we are deleriously happy.

  57. Adam Greenwood says:

    Girls date jerks because girls are straight.

    Why girls date jerks who don’t try to hide that they’re jerks, that’s the real mystery.

  58. I’m trying to get rid of this idea that I’m lacking something so I can more fully appreciate my relationship with a nice guy! Any suggestions?

    Minerva, you are lacking a ring. Marry your very nice guy. I think you’ll be able to appreciate the relationship more fully. (insert “not actual marriage advice” disclaimer here)

  59. Besides the self-esteem issues, weird nice guys etc. One thing no one has brought up is that our culture teaches that part of a romantic relationship is crazy ups and downs. That somehow a relationship where you try to tame the bad guy or are constantly fighting and making up are considered normal and worth obtaining. Think of the many people who consider Wuthering Heights to be a love story rather than a story about a very abusive relationship. Also, there are countless examples in media glorifying these kind of relationships. A good relationship isn’t one of abusive cycles, but one built on trust and communications; which let’s face it isn’t as exciting as Buffy and Spike, but much more fulfilling.

  60. I’ve always liked nice guys. Not just nice but super nice. Like not just super nice but actual super-hero guys. (The ones who fight on the side of good.) Seriously. I like guys who are brilliant, manly, hilariously funny, truthful, self-sacrificing, noble, gentle, tender, playful, stoical, and very masculine. What does that say? I guess I’m a hero-worshipper?

    Bad guys are not attractive to me.

  61. nasamomdele says:


    I LOVE Edward, too.

  62. #33:

    he’s the full package

    You might want to re-think this as a compliment.

  63. I just got home from the movie. Is it trying to tell us that too many people are looking for love in all the wrong places?

  64. Many woman love bad boys for the same reason many men love Play Mates. Woman love masculinty;men love femininity. The most effortless,cheapest and quick way to show you are XX is to show off your body; breast,legs,rear etc.

    The most easiest,effortless and cheapest way to show you are XY is to domanite people by beating them up,putting them in their place and showing your woman that you are stronger than her, that she needs you and not the other way around.

    Showing cleavage and beating someone up, who you know is weaker, is easy. The woman who can cover up and be attractive, that is an art. The man who can follow the sermon on the mount and still be masculine, that is mastery.

    Good Examples in Strong Men: Joseph Smith,Jesus Christ,Brigham Young,Oscar De La Hoya(all you need to do is watch how well he handled himself in and out of the ring against Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga; and KO’d both of them), Mitt Romney.
    Bad Examples in Strong Men: Mike Tyson, Hells Angel, any 80’s rockstar etc.

    Just take Jesus Christ for instance. One minute, He can “suffer the little children” to come unto Him. The next minute, He can commit vandalism at the temple market. One minute, He can weep for Jerusalem. The next minute, He can publically call the Pharasees white washed tombs that stink of death underneath. The Savior wasn’t some “nice guy”. He wasnt a BadBoy either. He is the ultimate man. Being a godly man means that sometimes you have to do some very “not nice” things.

    The nice guy is a woman with an XY chromosome. All he wants to do is please everyone. The Christian man cares only about pleasing God. The nice guy appeases the bad. The Christian man fights it.

    Men, if you start being jerky you will get more women…but at what cost?

    If you follow the Savoirs example, as it is shown in the Gospels and Book of Mormon, you will get more women too. The problem is, I suspect more people learn of the Savior’s character from the popular culture which emasculates Him than by the scriptures that depict Him as the strong,virile and bold man He is.

    I think 19th century Mormons understood this better than we do today.

  65. Any 80s rock star?

    Joan Jett? Pat Benatar?

  66. StillConfused says:

    Conversely, I have been exposed to LDS men who actually want a wife who is naggy, weak and whiney. I haven’t figured that one out either.

  67. I don’t know if it’s true that chicks dig bad boys, but I have noticed that chicks dig David Hasselhoff. Not sure what that means.

  68. MCQ:
    I think he met the Wilson Sisters (Heart).

  69. Sorry. “Means” the Wilson Sisters.

  70. I like Kevin Owens’s summary in #24. I think there’s research that suggests that when women are looking for a short-term relationship, they go for less nice but more powerful men, but when they’re looking for a long term relationship, they go for nicer but less powerful men. There’s even a catchy name “cads and dads.” For example, see this post at marginalrevolution.

    SteveP, #48, great story. I guess this is only tangentially related, but doesn’t the tendency for young men to be big risk takers have a handy evolutionary explanation too? After all, if a young man can survive dangerous stunts, he makes himself more attractive by showing off his fitness (as in your story) and if he is promiscuous, may father lots of children as a result.

  71. All part of growing up.

  72. Been thinking about this one, and wondering if there is any link between the age at which a girl starts looking for a guy, and what kind of guy she looks for?
    My thinking: girls are interested in boys, on average, around 3 or so years before boys are really interested in girls. So, girls get used to the idea that if they are going to be in a relationship with a guy, they’ll have to be convincing him to the idea. So, they get used to that paradigm, and continue to seek after men they have to convince? Whereas girls that wait until an age where boys are the ones who are doing the convincing (I’m thinking in the at least 17+ range), then the boys are nicer, as they would need to be, in order to actually convince the girls to be in the relationship with them.
    Just a theory…any thoughts?

  73. Carrie, that is a very interesting idea. It’s making me think about the counsel to wait to date until 16 in a little different light.

  74. MikeInWeHo says:

    How was the movie, Kevin?

  75. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s not going to win any critical plaudits. But I liked it.

  76. the two Jennifers (Aniston and Connelly) make a great team

  77. I agree with Kevin, it’s not going to win any critical plaudits but I enjoyed it and I usually don’t watch too many of these types of movies.

    I always liked the saying, “Most guys are a 7 who think they are a 9 and are looking for a 10.”

  78. NEWSFLASH: The material in my link in comment #13 above is not defamatory.