Let’s admit it. We all love them even though we know we probably shouldn’t. Some women date them. And some women even marry them. Bad boys are to women what a 12-point buck is to a novice hunter: a trophy we’re dying to bag even though we don’t have a clue what to do with it once we get it home. Psychotherapist Dr. Debra Holland is here to tell us whether or not women should hunt the elusive bad boy or just admire him through the trees.
Dr. Debra will give away a copy of her booklet, “58 Tips for Getting What You Want from a Difficult Conversation” to one lucky commenter today. Others can sign up for Dr. Debra’s newsletter and receive a free e-copy of her booklet!
Welcome, Dr. Debra!
Kelsey, I’m delighted to be here with you and your readers.
Kelsey: Could you define the term “bad boy” for us?
Dr. Debra: Well let’s see… Youngish, (20s or 30s, although if you’re a teen, they can be younger) sexy, handsome, great body, dresses in black, drives a sports car/motorcycle, and is or seems emotionally unavailable. Often an outsider and misunderstood by others except by the heroine.
Kelsey: Why are bad boys so attractive to women?
Dr. Debra: A bad boy is a woman’s ultimate fantasy. She thinks that through the power of her love and understanding she will CHANGE and/ or HEAL him. She believes that if a bad boy loves her enough, he will change and become a committed loving partner. Therefore bad boys are a challenge. Then there’s the handsome, sexy aspect….
Kelsey: Is there a difference between a literary bad boy and a real one?
Dr. Debra: It depends on if we are talking about a literary bad boy in a romance or in other types of fiction. In a romance, the bad boys often are the heroes.
In real life, a bad boy is a BAD boy. Sometimes the sexier they are, the worse they treat girlfriends because there is always another woman rushing to be with them. Thus they are often selfish and unable to commit, or remain faithful if they do commit. They may have addictions such as drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling, or sex. Their relationship skills are often poor, even though their seduction skills are great.
Kelsey: Contrast reading (and fantasizing) about bad boys with living with one.
Dr. Debra: Most women who live with bad boys are pretty miserable. They “love” him so they won’t leave, but they put up with a lack of commitment, poor treatment, selfishness, or perhaps unhealthy, hurtful behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse, or verbal or physical abuse. These women feel insecure, and may act in a needy, jealous way. They also have to work hard to try to “keep” him.
The truth is, for the most part, bad boys don’t change unless they choose to, and most of the time, they don’t. A woman’s love won’t be enough to redeem him.
Kelsey: How do you suggest writers make their bad boy characters redeemable?
Dr. Debra: Give the bad boy a childhood wound that forces him to make life decisions that make him “bad.” By healing the wound, he can change. But there has to be more than the heroine’s love for him to change. He has to make efforts to confront his past and thus change.
Kelsey: Do you have any other suggestions for writers creating the bad boy character?
Dr. Debra: Have him come into his attractiveness later in life, so he’s not as self-centered because he’s had attention all his life for being handsome.
Give him goals that he can achieve, thus freeing him up to consider moving on to another life stage such as wanting to find a life mate.
Give him some other people in his life whom he loves, so we see that he is capable of love and commitments.
Drop in a mention that he’s gone to therapy, spent time with a personal coach, taken some personal growth seminars, is part of Alcoholics Anonymous, or has read some self-help books. He doesn’t have to be doing some of these things now, but has in the past. That doesn’t mean he can’t still be bad, but he’ll have some resources to help him change. Often clients tell me that they thought they had “dealt” with some problem, but then it pops up in their life again. I respond by saying they did deal with it, but now have to work on it in a different or deeper way.
I think romance authors do have to be careful in crafting bad boy heroes or extreme Alpha heroes. It’s easy to cross the line into verbal abuse or controlling behavior that is NOT healthy for a relationship.
For example, I’ve read some stories where I had to put the book down because the hero was TOO controlling and crossed the line into abuse, and the heroine let him, only putting up a token protest. This is NOT healthy, even though it may seem like it stems from his attraction/love for the heroine. But in real life, this is not love true. This behavior stems from selfishness, jealousy, and insecurity.
Seeing romantic heroes who have character arcs, becoming better men, may lead women readers to believe that this kind of behavior is okay and that it means her controlling, jealous boyfriend/husband loves her, and thus will treat her well. But such behavior usually worsens, his control over her behavior becomes tighter and his abuse greater.
If you must have this kind of hero, you need to make the heroine equally strong– willing to set and KEEP boundaries with him. Sex/being physical cannot make her give in to his demands.
So RU readers, do you love bad boys in romance novels? What about in real life? How many of you married the bad boy you loved in high school or college? Feel free to ask questions of Dr. Debra as well!
Be sure to join Adrienne and Cindy Carroll on Friday to discuss how to write an attention-catching logline for your book!
Dr. Holland holds a master’s degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy, and holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern California, and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has twenty-one years of experience counseling with individuals, couples, and groups.
Dr. Holland is a popular psychotherapist, consultant, and speaker on the topics of communication difficulties, relationships, stress, and dealing with difficult people. She is a featured expert for the media, and does entertainment consulting.
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