“Why do women like assholes and not nice guys like me?”
My Facebook friend and sometimes café coworker Madeleine Taylor posted something on good old FB the other day that I, chronic dater of assholes, took as significant. Since I know I’m not alone in my affliction, I thought I’d share and extrapolate. It never ceases to amaze me how the most brilliant insights are the ones that are obvious in their way, yet which the mind has nonetheless neglected to trace out from beginning to end. Know what I’m saying?
Her post starts out addressing the reality that as a straight woman, her straight man friends often ask that well-known question, “Why do women like assholes?” Which is then typically followed up with, “Why did they choose the self-centered, vitriolic, inconsiderate, standoffish, possibly sexist, and even abusive dimwit over my respectful demeanor, good qualities, affectionate nature, and kind consideration?” And, at times, the conclusive question is then, "How can I be more of a jerk so women will be drawn to me?”
The problem with the questions themselves
Let’s break this down, shall we? “Why do women like assholes?” The question is innocent enough, right? Except it blames women for liking assholes, it fails to call said assholes out for their own (primary) role in shitty romantic/sexual relations, and it positions the asker of the question as somehow above it all; clearly, only a non-asshole would ever ask such an astute (cough) question, right? I’m going to stop it with the tongue in cheek tone here for a sec: Asking why women like assholes is entitled. What men are often saying when asking this question is “Why would she pick him and not me?” And the “How can I be a jerk?” bit signifies a fall off the deep end, quickly landing the supposed non-asshole smack dab in the middle of asshole territory.
You’re asking (some of) the right question, dudes, but for the wrong reasons
Taylor acknowledges the admittedly immense hordes of women who are, indeed, in love or lust with bonafide assholes. And I acknowledge them with her. She then points out that women are just as bewildered and disappointed as “non-asshole” men are at their attraction to assholes. True. And then she astutely points out something that’s never (exactly) clicked in my mind before, in spite of all my intersectional organizing work around gender and race. Sometimes, we just need the exact right combo of words to have an “ahaa” moment about ourselves that we had previously only had observing others.
Get me? This was her clincher:
“Women with a history of having their selves and their agency denied through abuse of any kind will often find themselves trauma bonded to assholes, i.e. addicted to the kind of stress that only an asshole love interest can provide, because that kind of stress and yearning to finally be acknowledged and treated like a full-fledged individual feels like the butterflies of attraction. Whatever a non-asshole has to provide, no matter how wonderful, is not going to settle their accounts with their past experience, it is not going to allow these women to finally prove to themselves that they are lovable for who they are because they managed to bring about a change of heart in someone who shows them little recognition of their personhood.”
YUP. Chances are if you had/have negative male role models of any kind (or a lack of any male role model whatsoever), you feel this just as much as I do. Don’t get me wrong: I have always understood that my horrible father trauma left me with daddy issues that have adversely affected my relationships with men, mostly by influencing my at times truly shitty choice in men. But to have someone lift the self-blame that is so often felt (“Why am I such a fuck-up to only choose fuck-ups?”), and so often implied by others (“Why is she only attracted to assholes?), instead casting a light on the highly gendered realities of systemic marginalization and abuse in its many forms, is an unexpected relief. I don’t think I was fully aware of how much I had been blaming myself for not being able to control who I’m attracted to until reading this post.
Who cares, you ask? What difference does a little self-awareness make in the face of status quo societal patterns, which, in one way or another, affect us all? Well, understanding yourself a little better can make a world of difference in your world—I don’t care how cheesy it sounds. As far as I’m concerned, anything that helps us to find compassion for ourselves is contributing to making the world a better place.
Taylor ends her epic post with an admirable bang, addressing these questioning men directly:
“…she may be awesome, she may be just the woman you thought you could [be] interested in, in many respects, but she is not ready to date you or anyone in a way that is free and independent. If you want to get laid frequently by (usually) young women who are as [of] yet not capable of authentically choosing you, then there are a number of videos about strategically manufacturing your interactions, like an asshole, with women so they can de facto use you in return as one more disappointment in their journey to health and sexual autonomy. But if you want a sustainable relationship, you may have to accept that just as you thought, things, as they stand, are not on your side, just not for the reasons you thought—not because asshole is inherently any kind of aphrodisiac to women.”
I felt like I had an advocate when I read this. Taylor, in my view, is basically saying “It’s not about you; don’t make it about you; making it about you puts you in the asshole camp.” Indeed, some of the guys who wonder why women "choose" assholes, are, in fact, blind to their own assholery, and that assholery does, in fact, come in different hues.
It’s complicated, isn’t it? Trying to be more of an asshole to attract women may work for a guy if he doesn’t care about the content quality of his relationship, but all this does is help perpetuate the “trauma-bonding” of women to assholes even further. The only course of action, as I see it, is for women, and men, (and indeed people of any gender) to continue along the path of self-actualization with as much integrity and reflection as possible. Let’s face it: in the world, as we know it, the odds are stacked (in a general sense) against women, people of color, non-binary people of all stripes—and non-assholes, dare I say.
The silver lining to this challenging space we inhabit? Any personal victories we do manage to summon are sweet, refreshing, and taste that much more like lemonade.