Perhaps the lure of the bad boy is similar to the lure of climbing Mt. Everest. It feels so good to conquer it and get to the top—despite all the pain you felt on the ascent. Unfortunately, you have to climb down and start all over again to get back up to that thrilling peak.
Working with batterers for almost ten years afforded me plenty of material and plenty of insight. The clearest and most useful lesson I learned was this: a ‘bad boy’ isn’t edgy, exciting, and a bag of fun, he’s mean and selfish and looking out for number one—himself—all the time.
Many of the batterers were classic bad boys; they could charm like no one else. They gave me smoldering glances so I’d know that I was the ONLY one in the entire world who they’d let inside their soul. When they didn’t have money to pay for classes, or had been picked up on a new charge, or failed a drug test, they’d look at me with their carefully tortured eyes and tell me how sorry they were.
And they really were sorry. Sorry they’d been caught and sorry they had to spend another night pretending to pay attention to this crap we were teaching.
At their core, these guys weren’t very different from the bad boys I’d once been drawn to. But never again, not after working that job. I wish I could share with every woman the experience of sitting in a circle with 15 court-ordered-to-be-there bad boys, because at some point during the 42 weeks they occupied that chair in the church basement, they let loose with some truth that revealed the dime a dozen ordinariness of bad boy behavior.
So, while I can’t put you in that room, I can try to share with you what I learned there:
1) When you and your bad boy get in that insane fight, and you don’t know how it began, why it happened, or why he stormed out the door . . . when you’re ready to follow him so you can beg his forgiveness—but you don’t have any idea what to apologize for—here’s what’s really going on:
He wanted to get out of the house. So he caused the fight. The men admitted it. Turns out this sleazy little tactic is very, very common.
2) Which leads to this: What did most men admit they wanted to get out of the truly awful battles? You know, the ones where he yelled so loud you finally backed down?
If Jeopardy could have more realistic categories, the response to “most common thing men want women to do during a fight?” would be “Alex, what is “shut the f*** up.”
3) Think this when he tells you “you’re the only one I’ve ever been able to talk to.” Yeah, right. First of all he’s probably said the same thing to 100 other women before you. Because he knows it’s like catnip. The men I worked with were very clear that they used this line only to manipulate.
4) When he says, “I can’t live without you,” here’s a news flash. Yes he can. And he will. Quite well. The question is, can you live with him? Do you want to? Do you like being kept off balance? Do you treasure being used like medicine for someone’s lack of self-confidence or need to control?
5) You want to believe it will change. Things will get better. If you explain it once more, write one more email, one more letter, or cry one more time, then finally he will understand! And once he understands, those moments of incredible tenderness and bliss —when he gives you that crooked smile and takes you in his arms and then gently helps you onto his exciting motorcycle—will last forever.
I promise you, things will not change. He will not get better. There’s nothing you can do without him wanting change, and the cycle will continue as long as you let it.
So here’s my advice, as a mother, a sister, a friend and most of all, from a woman who worked with those bad boys: Choose kind over thrilling. It wears much better.