Why smart women fall for bad men
'Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen': It's a well-known dating cliché that some women will fall for-foregoing a nice partner for someone who oozes bad boy charm.
Even more well-known is the likely drama-filled outcome of such a dating strategy. But alas, for some, the allure of a bad boy is too tough to resist. But what if those guys aren't just bad, they're really bad. Like convicted criminal bad. Shouldn't that be a red flag you can't ignore? Not for everyone, apparently.
Women seeking out romantic partners in jail, particularly those put away for heinous and violent crimes, is a phenomena not as uncommon as one might think.
A quick internet search would reveal that there have been many well-known cases of high-profile criminals meeting and marrying people while in jail.
The affair between Charles Manson, a man who orchestrated the violent murder of a heavily pregnant Sharon Tate and seven other people, and his pen pal-turned fiancée, Afton-Elaine Burton, a young woman not even born when the cult leader carried out his most vicious crimes, is a scandalous love story that prompts many to shake their heads in disapproval.
Afton Elaine Burton wanted to marry Charles Manson pic.twitter.com/ZnFjNMU6xH— OpieRadio Show (@OpieShow) March 1, 2016
While Manson relied on snail mail to communicate with Burton and his many, many other girlfriends in the years before he died in prison, the advent of the internet has given rise to an abundance of dating sites like MeetaPrisoner.com, Inmatepassions.com, and Gayprisonpersonals.com; all specifically designed to play matchmaker between free singles and potential offending suitors.
On these sites inmates advertise their measurements, hobbies, earliest release dates. Based on their thousands of members demand clearly there for people who don't see their soulmate being in a penitentiary as a dating deal breaker.
Fatema Saira Rehman certainly didn't when she married notorious UK-lifer Charles Bronson in a 2001 prison ceremony. The single mum, who was reportedly introduced to Bronson when she saw his picture in the paper, once said of their connection, "I never expected anything.
I thought to myself, he's probably got so many women writing to him, he'll throw it away because it doesn't mean a thing. And I'll go on being a lost soul."
Rehman's admission about fulfilling a personal void with a long-standing guest of Her Majesty-a man once dubbed "Britain's most notorious prisoner"-could point to a deep psychological dependency criminologist Dr Xanthe Mallett says is often observed in these kinds of unorthodox relationships.
"I do think some women are attracted to the infamy of these men," Dr Mallett tells whimn.com.au. The expert says the terrible crimes are part of the draw because some mistake the widespread ill repute for power and "having somebody like that paying attention fulfils some sort of need in these women."
For some women though, connecting with a man who is locked up, whom they only know from the media, could indicate passive hybristophilia; a worrying psychological condition where a person experiences sexual arousal toward someone who has committed an offensively violent act, like rape, murder, or assault. Mallett says it's a complex disorder for which there could be multiple triggers.
"There's a number of theories as to why it happens," explains Mallett. "One of them deals with women who think they can save a bad boy if they love them enough. They're kind of almost nurturing, and so they fall under that category of thinking, 'Well he is bad, but I can fix him.' But I don't think that's the only reason because sometimes women are just attracted to these really charismatic but dangerous people."
When your mother falls for a criminal
Journalist Nina Young has dedicated a good part of the past year to uncovering why her mother fell in love with a convicted murderer. On her podcast, My Father the Murderer- a six-part series created in conjunction with whimn.com.au-she explores the relationship between her mother and her father who met and fell in love whilst he was serving time.
Nina says she considers her mother, who was a volunteer tutor at Fremantle Prison, a smart woman so striking up a romance with a man like her biological dad was something totally out of character.
"He was very attractive," Nina tells whimn.com.au of her mother's early crush on her convict pupil. "She came from a very sheltered life-middle-class academic, hung out with artists and actors-and he was a whole different type of person...that was quite exciting for her I think."
One thing Nina's mum was not excited by was her prison bae Allan's crimes, because initially she had no idea that he'd had wrapped his hands around a woman's throat and strangled her to death before he buried her in a shallow grave in bushland outside of a small town in the WA outback when he was 19-years-old.
"I think she saw him like a motherless boy," says Nina of her mother's do-gooder approach. "She was helping him get his HSC. He liked poetry and they had that shared interest while she was helping rebuild his life. She called it the Kathy and Heathcliff romance."
However, anyone who's read Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights will know that despite hoping beyond hope, in the end, it's clear Heathcliff doesn't have any redeeming qualities-and neither did Nina's dad.
While you'll have to tune into the podcast to find out the details, once Nina's mum discovered the truth about Allan's crimes-"He had lied and said he was in prison for a bar fight," explains Nina-the fractured fairytale unravelled.
But, decades later Nina, and anyone hearing her story, is still trying to understand how her chess champion of her mother fell for a man in prison in the first place?
Rather than putting it down to an abnormal paraphilia, Dr Mallett says there's "a gambit of different reasons why smart, intelligent, sensible women are falling head over heels for these guys that many other people would look at and think clearly, that's a bad idea."
"For some of these people, take for example Ivan Milat, there's extreme violence and the women who are drawn to them because of those charismatic bad boy characteristics," Mallett says. But, like in Nina's mother's case, where the crime wasn't known and therefore wasn't cause for the initial attraction, there is a difference.
As Mallett explains, "I think there is a difference there between women who are in a relationship that has gradually disintegrated"- meaning bad boys who can be quite gentle in their initial show of bad behaviour that grows more violent and intense-"that's different to the women who are seeking out these men who they know are criminals who have done incredibly violent acts."
Bad boys have the best chance of getting laid
Even though they are the worst, science suggests bad boys who display signs of the Dark Triad (DT)- personality traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism-seem to have best chances of getting laid.
A University of Durham study of 128 female undergraduate students found women tend to be sexually attracted to DT men merely due to the confidence they exuded in selling themselves.
When asked about what having sexual desires toward violent criminals could mean, sexologist Dr Nikki Goldstein argues these cravings could just indicate sexual fantasy. The relationship expert says having dark sexual fantasies isn't inherently unhealthy, but that can all change when some sexual fantasies are brought to life.
"More often than not, for the people who have casual sex with the bad boys, it's the fantasy," explains Dr Goldstein. "But for the people who get too emotionally involved and develop relationships, it's really to do with this unhealthy nurturing and feeling needed and wanted."
Dr Goldstein says the latter get caught up trying to change their naughty boy lovers, and trapped "in the ego of thinking, 'Wow, if I can change this guy then it's got to be true love!'".
But she says living out a fantasy of rescuing troubled partner isn't likely to end well.
"What happens when you think he's changed but he hasn't changed?" considers Dr Goldstein. "Does your sense of self-worth go crashing because you thought the amazing one that could change him if he reoffends?" Probably.
Not all sexual fantasies need to come to light
Dr Goldstein says that for the many women who have sexual fantasies about bad boys-illusions spurred on by Hollywood's anti-heroes-they needn't worry. But if you're reading this, and you think you, or someone you know, has fantasies playing out in real life, that's when you need to ask some deeper questions.
And Dr Mallett agrees.
"Certainly, if it was one of my friends, I would be having words with them and asking them, why they are drawn to people like that?" says Mallett about intervening in these types of circumstances. "I'd try and steer people away from [violent criminals] because it rarely ends well as some of these men are very self-centred and are only out for what they can get."