When it comes to falling in and out of love, it sometimes feels like you’re literally just falling for the same type of guy again and again…and again. If you’re the girl who gets out of a relationship that you know was wrong for you and begins fawning over the next wrong guy who comes your way, then you are a serial bad boy dater. You inevitably find yourself constantly going for the guy who is just like the last one, and thus are stuck in a never-ending circle of repeated relationships. But it isn’t always easy spotting your “bad boy” type. He can come in many forms, from basketball shorts and cutoffs to khakis and polos—this boy is versatile and not always easy to spot. So we’ve spoken to Dr. Carole Lieberman, Media Psychiatrist and bestselling author of Bad Boys: Why We Love Them, How to Live with Them and When to Leave Them, as well as some collegiettes with first-hand experience to create a guide that will break your bad boy pattern.
1. Identify your bad boy type
Unfortunately, these boys have some sort of invisibility cloak that makes their not-so-good personalities stay hidden underneath a smile or six-pack or whatever it is that makes you swoon. The key to spotting one is recognizing some characteristics that blind you from seeing a less than perfect personality. Take the time to think about the traits that are truly important to you. Rock hard abs will eventually fade to flab, but a guy who can make you laugh will last forever.
Dr. Lieberman also suggests that “when you find yourself at a party or in class, checking out the guys, and one of them gets your attention, ask yourself why you’re attracted to him. Does he seem cocky or flirty or self-absorbed? Does he seem like the usual type you’re attracted to, who ends up breaking your heart? If he seems like a player and you find yourself wondering whether you could be the one to tame him, it is not a good sign.”
Recognizing the telltale signs is what prevents you from pursuing a bad boy in the first place, which can prevent all the heartache and emotional turbulence that occurs once you get in too deep. If you can spot one early, then you’re off to a good start.
2. Distinguish between bad boys and boys that are bad for you
This is important to understand, because according to Dr. Lieberman, “Bad boys are heartbreakers. Boys that are bad for you may just be a wrong fit, such as being from a different background, living far away, having dreams that are incompatible with yours, wanting a different lifestyle, and so on. They don’t want to break your heart, but they are just not right for you.”
The former are the ones who you can sometimes spot in the wild and avoid at all costs, based off of rude mannerisms, or excessive selfies, but the second are harder to spot because they might be a great guy, but not a great guy for you. Sometimes finding out that they’re not right may take longer to see, but if they are immediately impolite or emotionally draining, then throw them in the first category and kick ’em to the curb.
Peyton, a freshman at James Madison University, agrees. “[I think] bad boys are the ones that want to change you,” she says. “They might tell you to change how you dress or wear your hair. If you’re going out and he says something like, ‘Ooh, you’re wearing that tonight?’ then I feel like that’s a bad sign. But if he’s just not a good fit it might be because you just don’t have many things in common.”
Determining the difference between a guy who just doesn’t care and a guy who just doesn’t fit is key. Like Peyton says, look for warning signs that he is disrespectful or trying to change you into someone you’re not. If that’s the issue, you’re probably dealing with a not-so-great guy. But if he’s just not into Sunday brunches and doesn’t fit into your lifestyle, then he might just be a bad fit.
3. Determine why you’re attracted to them
Figuring this one out is more complicated than you’d think. In a perfect world, we would see all of the red flags and realize that relationship deja vu is inevitable, but instead, we seem to be attracted to the exact type of guy we just swore off of. So what makes them such a temptation?
Some pyschologists would attribute the attraction to underlying father-daughter issues. Dr. Lieberman believes that “the type of relationship you have with your dad determines what kind of bad boy you will be attracted to. And if you have had more than one ‘dad,’ that is, a biological father and a stepfather, for example, you may be attracted to more than one type of bad boy.”
However, there are some who believe it’s simply our desire to change a person, or go for the guy you know is a bad fit just for the attention. Marie Knoll, a junior at the University of South Carolina, also thinks that “a lot of other people go for guys who seem hard to get or ‘out of their league’ just because the chase is fun and a challenge, but then in the chance they end up liking you back, you end up not even liking them.”
Both situations are definitely plausible, and in either event, the key to understanding the attraction is to realize that it’s okay to fall for a bad boy once in a while, as long as perpetually going for the wrong guy isn’t your MO. Dr. Lieberman even says that “most of us are attracted to bad boys at least some of the time.”
4. Assess if he’s a bad fit
This can be hard to determine because it’s easy to get lost in the moment. But it’s important to determine if he is building you up or breaking you down, and there are a few ways to determine which it is. Dr. Lieberman says that one of the biggest patterns to recognize is the interaction you have with said boy.
“If you are always trying to please him and feel like you’re always walking on eggshells, he isn’t the right fit,” she says. “A bad boy likes to keep girls a little off-kilter so that he can be in control. But, a good relationship is one that you feel comfortable in and where you are treated with respect.”
Sarah Westbrook, a junior at the University of South Carolina, agrees and believes that one of the ways to know a guy isn’t right for you is to see how he affects your confidence.
“I’ve gotten into situations where the guy I like is not someone who makes me feel good about myself,” she says. “I guess I came to realize it when I felt like I needed to change lots of things about myself and didn’t feel as confident.”
The most important thing to keep in mind is whether you are happy more often than not. The right guy will make you feel safe and confident in yourself. If you feel smothered or unimportant, then it’s probably time to move on.
5. Break out of the bad boy cycle
The torturous pattern of heartbreak always leaves you thinking: “How did this happen again?” The repeated mistakes are always caught too late, and you find yourself in the same situation you know all too well. Some psychologists, like Dr. Lieberman, attribute the continuous cycle to tumultuous parenting relationships, but this isn’t always necessarily the case.
Allie, a junior at the University of Michigan, says that once she removed herself from the situation, she was able to see why she kept going for the wrong guy:
“Ben would do this super manipulative thing—when I was very, very drunk once, he took care of me all night and was very kind and sweet. And then he’d always joke whenever I drank anything after and said, ‘I call not taking care of her’ and everyone would laugh. It made me feel so guilty. When I confronted him about it he said, ‘I was just joking, I’ll always take care of you, but I doubt anyone else would.’ [Now I] look back at all the guys and realize wow how did I fall for the same kind of guy? It’s because it always starts great and it always starts with respect and kindness. It’s so so so important to understand that you should keep receiving the same respect and kindness the whole way through, and you should do that for the guy as well.”
Allie’s story is a great example because it shows that those snide comments and little digs do matter. You shouldn’t stand for it and you should recognize that you deserve better, because your guy should be the one to build you up, not tear you down.
6. Accept that you are moving past the bad boy stage
Sometimes this means going to others for help. Dr. Lieberman says that going it alone isn’t always the best route, and seeking help from a therapist is a good way to resolve your bad-boy-bad-habit. Therapy can be a great way to express feelings that you might not feel comfortable sharing with others. Although this is only for the girls who are unable to break the habit, it’s a good option to have. Sometimes talking to another person in general is also a good way to rifle through your bad boy issues. The input of an outsider is a great way to get a second opinion and an unbiased point of view.
If you don’t feel like therapy is right for you though, then reach out to someone close to you. Whether it’s your mom, best friend or sister, having someone else to provide that outside perspective will make it easier for you to accept what changes need to be made and finally work toward finding the guy who’s right for you.
7. Recognize why it’s scary to move on and overcome it
Once you’ve found the source of your problem, the next step is to tackle it, but that’s easier said than done. Dr. Lieberman attributes this to the fact that “girls are often afraid of moving past the bad boy stage because they are afraid of the intimacy that a relationship with a good boy brings. Bad boys keep the girl at an emotional distance, which is frustrating, but also comforting in a way.”
Opening up to another person is scary and uncertain, which makes these guys perfect because they don’t provide an emotional connection. But to find a relationship that you are happy and comfortable in, the emotional aspect is imperative. It’s totally terrifying to reveal your worst and best parts to your SO, but having the ability to do so means that you’re with the right type of guy. An even if you haven’t found the right guy yet, that’s okay too. Allie reminds us that “it’s far better to be single than be with someone who doesn’t give you the utmost kindness and respect.”
Falling for the bad boy isn’t always easy to prevent, but keep in mind that you deserve to be with someone who enhances your life. That doesn’t mean that it will always be rainbows and butterflies, but if you feel happy and respected, then he isn’t one of the bad eggs—keep him around.