Romance readers are voracious – they’ll gobble up stories with men in kilts, men in breeches, men in suits, men in uniforms (both sports and first responders), men in suits, men in jeans…you get the idea. He can be a werewolf, a vampire, funny, sexy, smart, dumb-but-hot, movie star, king, soldier, construction worker… wow, its easy to get side tracked thinking of the vast variety of hotness in Romancelandia! (Don’t even get me started on bearded vs non-bearded—it is an ugly battle that nobody wins or loses.)
But there’s one unifier in all sub-genres, eras, heights and hair colors. Women always go for the bad boy.
Or do they?
Please pause for a moment and imagine the meaningful, one-eyebrow-raised look I give as I ask that question…
Bad boys are not a new phenomenon by any means. Pirates. (mic drop. I don’t even need to continue, right? Fluffy white sleeves, chest hair peeking out, rakishly good-looking and talented with their *cough* swords.) Cowboy outlaws who ride hard, shoot fast, and always tip their hats and drawl pardon, little lady after a big barroom brawl.
More to the point, our appreciation of bad boys is not new. There’s a famous quote by Lady Caroline Lamb in 1812 about the historical hottie Lord Byron – ultimate bad boy, irresistible man-whore, talented poet —was that he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”
Yum. Rawr (insert a deep, throaty purring noise here).
Of course, the photo you see is of Jonny Lee Miller acting as Lord Byron in the new BBC drama because, well, our ideals of hotness have changed over the centuries, to say the least. Don’t Google the actual guy. Unless you’re in need of a dose of anti-lust.
I’ll pony up my own story as an example. I was the classic good girl. Honor student. Focused. Sound familiar? I dated nice boys. Caring, thoughtful men. And I was sooo bored with them.
So when an older man — three whole years — with a reputation for seducing his way through our entire choral program turned his attention on me? I paid attention right back. I assumed he knew things. Wicked, wonderful things that I couldn’t even verbalize. Because he didn’t follow the rules. Because he took what he wanted…and that made a woman feel so very wanted. Spoiler: the rumors were true. Wowza. This bad boy lived up to the hype.
I’ll zip right past the next bad boy. The one with dark, shaggy long-ish hair (gasp!) and a black leather jacket who also didn’t follow the rules. After twenty years of not only following the rules, but buying into the whole make one misstep and it’ll go on your permanent record ideology, this girl was ready to break free. To be spontaneous. To throw caution to the wind. Again. Dear reader, he also lived up to the classic bad boy hype.
Hang on a second. That sounds a lot like a classic romance hero bad boy. Think of Christian in 50 Shades of Grey. A man with so much money and power that he did whatever he wanted. That he took the woman he wanted, even when she wasn’t entirely on board with the idea at first. Christian danced on the dark side, to say the least. Or heck, go back to the original inspiration for him, Edward Cullen in Twilight. Actually, you could be Team Edward or Team Jacob –they were both bad boys. A vampire and a werewolf? Um, they’ll both kill you by ripping out your throat. That’s pretty darned bad-ass.
Ohhh, go even more old school. Rhett Butler. Talk about a bad-ass. He was a blockade runner. He basically thumbed his nose at the whole idea of war and said who cares about ideals? Reputation and honor? I want to keep making money. He risked his life. He was a pirate. His disdain for polite society only made them want to still include him even more. His disdain for what people thought, for the rules, made Scarlett’s panties wetter than his muscles and tanned skin.
My personal fave bad boys? Well…I’ve got a whole series about ex-mobsters in WITSEC titled Bad Boys Gone Good, so it feels like cheating on them to admit this, but…J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Hands down. They are vampires. The most vicious fighters among all the vampires. One of them isn’t just a vampire, but also turns into a deadly beast at random times. They are as bad-ass as it comes.
Except…they do all that ass-kicking to serve the king. To protect their entire vampire society. To prevent a far greater and much uglier threat from killing both vampires and humans. And they’re loyal. That brotherhood stuff isn’t just talk. They’d give their lives for any and all of their brothers. And what they’d do for their mates? Well, what wouldn’t they do is more the question. If a member of the brotherhood loves you, they will always love you, and they will do anything to keep you safe. No rules, no holds barred.
Oh. That’s pretty hot. Hmmm. You know what was the hottest thing that rakish older man did to me? Once he thought I was asleep, he got up in the middle of the night and bend over his sketch pad to finish his art project. Not because a teacher gave him an arbitrary deadline. But because of his own personal code, his own personal passion.
A bad boy never breaks his own code. That is a rule universal for all bad boys from pirates to motorcycles gangs.
Christian Grey repeatedly allows Ana to push him out of his comfort zone…because he loved her so much. Rhett Butler bends over backwards to ingratiate himself with society (eventually) because he thinks it’ll make Scarlett happy. What does that mean?
Women only want men who seem like bad boys. No, its true, I promise. We don’t want a through and through, tried and true bad boy. (Aside from those peculiar women who strike up relationships with men on death row. That’s just weird. Eight kinds of unhealthy.)
We want to nibble around the edges of a bad boy. Like scraping the softer, melted ice cream from the edge of the cone instead of getting brain freeze by biting off the whole scoop. You want the edgy spontaneity. The talented bedroom skills that ultimately say he’s been with enough women to learn a few special tricks, but of course not enough to be skeezy. The ability to unhook a bra with a single finger flick is a given.
You want to know with all your heart that a man won’t let anything, least of all pesky rules or expectations, stand in the way of being with you. Of doing right by you. That he’d be willing to rip out the throat of an enemy (preferably only if supernatural in nature) to keep you safe. That knowledge is comforting. Supremely hot. And that’s what turns a bad boy into a keeper of a man.