I’m always rather bemused by women who go for bad boys and men who go for bad girls. My bemusement finds its fruition in the later stages of those ‘relationships’, when the poor fool is stunned that the bad person behaves badly with them. My friend SR the psychologist was recently seeing a bad girl, LB, and endured a similar fate.
What is a bad girl or boy? There are a few common associations we identify with them. Freedom: a ‘bad’ person is perceived as freer than regular people who play by the rules; courage: a ‘bad’ person is considered brave because they flout the rules; passion: a ‘bad’ person lives passionately; living: a ‘bad’ person lives life to the fullest; danger: a ‘bad’ person pushes the limits of the rules because danger heightens the experience of living; original: a ‘bad’ person isn’t a stale copy of everyone else. The common link between all these associations is that great sword of Damocles looming over all our heads: the Rules.
As a psychologist, SR considered himself well-versed with the Rules of the world, pushing and prodding people into predictable and ‘safe’ patterns of behaviour. And, then, he met LB: a smoking, drinking, fast-talking, swearing, fighting, tattooed, dyed red-haired, bohemian-dressing, motorcycle-riding, defiant rebel. What was she rebelling against? Nothing, really. It was just her idea of the most interesting version of herself. LB was blatantly polygamous, openly extolled the virtues of cheating and claimed to be bisexual. SR was intrigued. Without realising that LB’s trip was to lure in and mess with the heads of men who were far more well-adjusted than her, SR stumbled into the trap.
It’s funny that when we are children, we seem far wiser than our older, socialised avatars. Children, with their unadulterated concepts of ‘good = good for me’ and ‘bad = bad for me’, can spot a bad person from a million miles away. Their reaction is instinctive: their skin crawls, their small bodies prepare for fight or flight, and they keep a stern eye on the offending object. Children hate cigarettes and alcohol, shy away from danger, and avoid people who look strange and messed up.
Cut to a few years later, as teenagers battling against the Rules set forth by their parents, their school, and the world. With everyone telling them how to behave, how to talk, how to dress, even how to think and feel, is it any wonder that they admire anyone who breaks the Rules that bind? Don’t we, as adults, admire Gandhi, who broke the Rules of the British Empire? It may seem a facile argument, but what is the difference between India’s freedom struggle and a teenager’s? Only the general notion that it’s considered normal for Rules to imperialise a teenager’s life, and for a teenager to chafe at them. It’s the double standard of dismissing another’s freedom struggle while feeling powerful for our own freedom.
The underlying reasons why some people are attracted to a bad boy or girl is because they represent freedom or a life fully lived. The latter reason stands alone because some people don’t necessarily want to be free, so long as they can have their fill of the pleasures of life.
SR, who had had a proper upbringing and now lived the sedentary life of a fairly ambitious professor and researcher, found himself addicted to LB and her ways. She drank three times more than him, danced with mad abandon, and didn’t care if anyone watched her make out with him in the middle of the floor — all of which was an elaborate show of which he was the main puppet. It all came to an end when SR predictably found LB in bed with another man. At least SR was smart enough then to realise the futility of starting an argument about LB’s behaviour. He just left.
What SR didn’t initially understand was that he and the entire audience watching was the sustenance of LB’s personal opera. Bad boys and girls cannot live without an audience, they are attention addicts. The day everyone in the world ignores them with rolling eyes is the day they’ll stop the act and switch to something else. So long as being so bad is so good for them, why would they do otherwise?
OLIVIER LAFONT IS AN ACTOR AND SCRIPTWRITER