The allure of bad boys and girls

All limerents are at some point going to be confronted by the need to try and understand why they become limerent for particular LOs. Some will be unfortunate enough to realise that they repeatedly become limerent for bad boys or bad girls – LOs who are fundamentally incompatible with a stable, loving future. The cliché here of course is the Player – the charismatic seducer who is really only interested in games and conquest.

Limerents that notice this pattern often decide to “swear off” LOs as trouble, and seek more stable partners for long term relationships. This is profoundly rational, but does also leave the disquieting feeling that they may have “settled” for a partner they find less exciting or sparkly than hopeless LOs of old. Leaving aside the complications of long-term love and where best to seek it, I think it’s also interesting to ask the question: are players more likely to trigger limerence?

Classically, the allure of bad boys and girls has always been appreciated. The loveable rogue. The seductress. Bluebeard. Guinevere. These are archetypes that we all recognise at a deep level, that we know are trouble, but that are also powerful and desirable. The thrill of playing with fire. But why is that so appealing, and why should we be more likely to become limerent for such people?

Let’s get speculating!

1) Dominance games

The banter of flirtation is very often an elaborate game of dominance display. Both parties are testing, teasing, looking for boundaries, and how much they can get away with while exciting and retaining the interest of the other party. As many others have noted, this is actually a really lousy way of identifying a partner (one of my favourite reflections on this is here). Basically, you establish any nascent relationship on a basis of competition, social guile, and game playing. If you play games, you attract game players. So why do so many people do it? Well, it’s modelled in films and books as “the best at banter gets the best mate”, it’s exhilarating if you’re winning, and most people are extremely guarded about their true selves and so project a persona in order to shield themselves from scrutiny. Bad LOs have attained mastery at these games, and so if you step up to the plate, it’s likely you will get suckered in.


I’m not American. Why do American clichés always spring into my mind? Oh, yeah. Cultural hegemony.

2) The shock of transgression

Linked into the preceding idea, another contributory factor to the allure of the bad LO is that most people are well behaved. Possibly not when alone or with the cloak of anonymity, or when stressed or desperate, but most of the time, in ordinary social discourse, most people choose politeness and want to be liked. Thank god, because otherwise life would be even more competitive than it already is. However, the bad LOs play by different rules and delight in transgressing the normal social niceties that constrain most of us. This has the shock of novelty and taboo breaking. An LO with a tendency to love bomb, or be bluntly sexual, or “neg”, or find other mechanisms for shocking you into a suddenly more complex and unfamiliar interpersonal dynamic, can leverage the emotional destabilisation towards increased intimacy. Players often capitalise on the shock of transgression, and the associated physiological arousal that makes you more alert to your environment and adds salience to your interactions. People that excite us – negatively or positively – grab our attention.

3) Game playing and reinforcement  

Players don’t only use these little tricks during seduction, or course, they keep it up as time goes on and flirtation moves to dating. The kind of LOs who love the chase and the seduction are not the kind to settle into a blissful union with a limerent. It is likely, therefore, that any limerent who succumbs to their charms is going to be in a state of uncertainty throughout whatever “relationship” develops with their bad LO. The limerent will be craving reciprocation, occasionally getting it, but then also seeing their LO flirt and play the field – possibly clandestinely. The neuroscience of limerence/person addiction is a regular theme of the blog, and this sort of dynamic would be the prototypical example of intermittent reinforcement increasing addiction. If a limerent is seduced by a bad LO, they are likely to get drawn into a relationship dynamic that causes their limerence to explode out of control.

4) Saving the flawed hero

From the way I’ve marshalled my arguments so far, I’m giving the impression that this is an elaborate, manipulative game being played by narcissistic players. In many cases it may well be, but there is always the possibility that some of these bad LOs are, down in their heart of hearts, actually good. Like Darth Vader. Sort of. Anyway, the player can perversely provoke a kind of rescue fantasy in some limerents, who convince themselves that their LO is a flawed hero who has fallen into bad habits because of problems with intimacy, or a craving for true love, or because they haven’t met the right person yet (them, natch). I’ve pondered before about whether there is a philosophical difference between someone who causes emotional harm through selfishness, and someone who causes it because of an underlying emotional wound of their own that makes them too broken to bond (and needs a patient limerent to teach them how to love properly). Either way, the limerent ends up emotionally harmed. Some of us are like moths to the flame of the disordered.


It’s a trap!

So, I think there is reason to think that bad boys and girls have a special talent for triggering limerence. It’s not the whole story, of course, as there are many other “bad” LOs – ditherers and dreamers and drama-seekers – who will also be Bad News in terms of reinforcing limerence. But the Buccaneers and Femmes Fatale do seem to swell the ranks of the LO army.

12 thoughts on “The allure of bad boys and girls

  1. The central premise of “bad boys/girls” is the limerent’s belief that they can somehow fix, save, rescue, or rehabilitate the LO. It will be different with me.

    Analogous to the first responder community, there are a various types of “fixers.” You have rescuers, protectors, and medics. There’s also a fourth type, tinkerers. They modify people’s behavior for less noble reasons. Shaw’s “Pygmalion” being the best example. I was a “tinkerer.” But, my justification was I was trying to help them, to make them better. In the case of LO #2, like the Pygmalion of mythology, I fell in love with the creation. It’s narcissistic to think you know what’s best for anybody but couching it as helping them at least creates the impression of nobility and avoids the associated cognitive dissonance.

    LO #2 had an affinity for cheaters. Her father allegedly was in an open affair and 4 of 6 of her failed relationships I knew of involved her cheating with a married/committed man or being cheated on. It informed her world view.

    LO #4 never met a narcissist she didn’t try to rehabilitate. According to her, her father was a narcissist and cheated on her mother. She has a series of failed relationships and said she spent 7 years with her most recent, allegedly cheating, narcissist. She could spot a narc a mile away but they could play her like a piano. It was like watching a trout rise to fly.

    One similarity between codependence and limerence is all it takes to blossom is someone who fits your profile and affords you an opportunity, opportunity being the big driver. No opportunity equates to no reciprocation which equates to no crystallization.

    The problem is no one coming out of adolescents will have any clue about any of this. They won’t know what they’re vulnerable to until they they encounter the right threat, after which, if they seek help at all, they won’t address the real drivers. They’ll try to be happy withing a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship.

    It’s no wonder there are so many unhappy people. What’s amazing is there are as many happy people as there are.


  2. Is there a connection between “fixing”, “rescuing” or “tinkering” as a way to downplay or delay examining one’s own shortcomings or difficulties? All that energy spent advising, guiding and rescuing could have been directed on oneself instead. Or maybe shared more equitably.

    Plus if you find merit in Karpman’s Drama Triangle, to rescue someone puts you in a position of some power. If you aren’t a victim, you’re less likely to need, want or appreciate being rescued. Or “tinkered” by an emotional partner.

    Thoughts on a rainy day.


    • Absolutely yes, to your first question. I think the drama triangle is a powerful way of recognising that all parties are both caught in, and contributing to, a pathological set of relationships.

      The potency of the rescue fantasy comes from an urgent emotional need in the limerent to “save” someone. It isn’t a beneficent, selfless drive, it is a strong personal craving that gives a neurophysiological high when satisfied. Quite why the drive to save is so emotionally fulfilling is not directly obvious, but it’s almost certainly based on some deeply embedded psychological trait(s) in the rescuer. We could speculate all day on how much of that is nature and how much nurture (quick answer: it’s obviously both in a big old messy tangle), but it is also a very effective way to avoid doing the hard work of looking to “save” oneself.


    • “Quite why the drive to save is so emotionally fulfilling is not directly obvious”

      Oh, I don’t know. It’s a hell of an ego boost. To be so much more competent and capable than another person. To swoop in and save the day! To put them on the path to (success, happiness, maybe even adoration of their hero or heroine) is heady stuff.

      Plus to have your opinions and experience not merely valued, but cherished. Very intoxicating.

      A great way to avoid doing the heavy lifting within one’s own mind and soul, plus it comes with KIBBLES (credit to Chump Lady)!


    • For me, I was pursuing an emotionally corrective experience with my LOs.

      In “The best cure for limerence.” DrL says, “I have only ever become limerent for “damsels in distress”. Specifically, women who are bold and confident on the outside, but hiding an emotional wound within. I don’t fully understand why,…” In the same locale, he and I may have been chasing the same women.

      For me, the “emotional wound” was unhappiness. I don’t remember my mother ever being happy. She went through 3 marriages, 1 kid (me), and died of an apparent accidental overdose of placyidyls and alchohol. The grandmother who raised me installed the “bold and confident on the outside” filter. I don’t remember her ever saying anything positive about my mother (or any of her daughters inlaw for that matter).

      I don’t know if LO #1 was unhappy but she had a “yearning undefined” (thanks, Don Henley). LO #2 had an almost pathological aversion to happiness. I told her shortly after I met her that if she didn’t get a handle on that, she had the potential to go through life as a very unhappy person. At our last meeting, she brought it up. The last thing I remember her saying to me was, “I hate you for that.”

      LO #3 was very similar to LO #2, right down to a claimed abortion. But, since that never went anywhere, I can only speculate as to how she turned out.

      With LO #4, I could sense it. After one email, she asked, “What do I telegraph to you?” With my filters, she was a Jumbotron. I could see it. When things collapsed for her, she corroborated my suspicions.

      The source of my attraction was the primary focus of therapy for me. When we were discussing it, I told the therapist I can spot an unhappy woman. She came back with, “Not all of them.” As much as I wanted to pull that string, I didn’t.

      We discussed emotionally corrective experiences. The therapist was pretty savvy. She said if my goal was to make another woman stop crying and contribute to her happiness in a way I wasn’t able to for my mother, based on what LO #4 said, I succeeded. She said now that I’d done it, I could quit now and I didn’t need to associate with the LO, anymore.
      Maintaining a relationship with the LO would no longer contribute to the goal and would make my life worse.

      It took awhile to sink in but she was right.

      For me, it was never about ego.


  3. ” I don’t remember my mother ever being happy. She went through 3 marriages, 1 kid (me), and died of an apparent accidental overdose of placyidyls and alchohol.”

    “She said if my goal was to make another woman stop crying and contribute to her happiness in a way I wasn’t able to for my mother, based on what LO #4 said, I succeeded. She said now that I’d done it, I could quit now and I didn’t need to associate with the LO, anymore.”

    How is that not about ego? You were powerless to make your mother happy as a child, you were able to make another woman happy/less unhappy as an adult.

    I’m overlooking something here.


    • Somebody else had to explain to me that I’d met the goal. I didn’t even know what I was trying to achieve.

      I didn’t swoop in and save anybody from anything. I wasn’t any more competent than they were. I just knew I’d seen it before and went into auto.

      It wasn’t heady. There’s always a payoff to anybody who’s in this kind of relationship. I like to think that I contributed to their happiness or at least didn’t detract from it but with them, it’s moot.


    • My thoughts on this: the emotional satisfaction isn’t because of an ego boost (“I’m so competent and wise I can fix anyone”), but because at a deep level you need relief from being around someone that you care about who is unhappy.

      It’s not selfless and it’s not egotistic, it’s more like… really wanting to help the person who is triggering your limerence symptoms recognise their worth, and see how much you value them. At one level that could be seen as being about ego, but the sensation of emotional fulfilment is very different from pride, or triumph, or superiority, or other more egotistic drives. It’s closer to the happiness that comes from helping others.


  4. “… really wanting to help the person who is triggering your limerence symptoms recognise their worth, and see how much YOU value them.” (Emphasis mine)

    “It’s closer to the happiness that comes from helping others.”

    Okay…but it’s someone whose good opinion you want and value because you want an intimate relationship with them. Or you want more of the dopamine surge you get from being around them.

    That sounds more like the ploy of a Nice Guy ™. A stratagem, if you will.

    Women don’t want nice guys. In my experience, with friends, partners, and other interactions, they like *KIND* guys. The difference is a subtle one, but it’s important.

    ‘Niceness’ is a set of completely superficial behaviors that boils down to ‘being inoffensive.’ Someone can be a ‘nice asshole’ just as easily as a caustic asshole. Niceness also comes along for the ride with kindness in many cases, but is motivated by genuine care for others regardless of how it ‘pays off.'”

    My experience has been that most of the deeply embittered ‘nice guys’ are just as self-centered as the jerks they gripe about; they just don’t have the balls to weather rejection from healthy women while playing the numbers game, hitting on women until one responds favorably.

    If your goal is to ‘get’ a girl, and you’re trying to accomplish it by being a nice guy, you are being very inefficient. If your goal is to form long-lasting relationships with people you care about, and possibly have a romantic relationship with them, well, kindness is a quality to cultivate.

    It’s about motivation, really.”

    Now, that may not be the motivation behind what either of you were doing, but it does bear some thought. Would other SO’s of limerents have viewed it as being entirely altruistic, or is there the possibility they would view it as greasing the skids for a comfy exit into the warm embrace of another?

    It could be both, but as limerence so often has a sexual or pair-bonding component, it’s usually better to play the odds.

    That is why Mr. Lee spent months taking off his glasses so he couldn’t see his LO clearly, sitting at a distance and keeping contact to a minimum. He saw himself rushing to get her a pen (which she was perfectly capable of doing herself) when she mentioned in passing needing to go grab one. With other co-workers, he would have loaned someone his, but not gone out of his way to get one. So yes, motivation and intent matter.

    He’s said that he is relieved that she’s moved on. He didn’t like behaving like a love-struck adolescent, or feeling like one at this point in his life. That he has to stop looking for endless amounts of validation from others outside of himself. That is really hard to do, as I know. But he’s doing well.


    • I think I understand what you mean. That there is, as a subtext, a dishonest motive driving the desire to “rescue”. I don’t exactly disagree, but to an extent that argument could be applied to any behaviour that makes someone feel good. “Ah well, you got your dopamine hit so you’re being selfish really.”

      I’m not trying to pretend that there is some noble basis to the limerent urge to rescue. As you say, there is undeniable sexual and romantic interest. However, the sensation as experienced is not like the sensation of a strategem paying off or a clever ploy moving you ahead in your plan to seduce LO. It is a deeper feeling of relief and… rightness/fulfilment [hard to articulate] even if it comes from unconscious drives that are pushing you to pair-bond.

      Curious analogy with the Nice Guy stereotype. Have to think on that one. While I’ve never thought of myself as a nice guy (too direct), and Sharnhorst certainly doesn’t strike me as one :), it may be that some Nice Guys are frustrated limerents trying to rescue their way into their LO’s affections…

      Glad to hear that Mr Lee is doing well.


    • “However, the sensation as experienced is not like the sensation of a strategem paying off or a clever ploy moving you ahead in your plan to seduce LO. It is a deeper feeling of relief and… rightness/fulfilment [hard to articulate] even if it comes from unconscious drives that are pushing you to pair-bond.”

      I was clumsy in my earlier reply. I don’t think that either you or Scharnhorst are deliberately employing a strategy, but it doesn’t hurt to think about whether or not it’s running in the background. It may not be, of course. But one way to test the theory is to ask yourself how you felt if the LO didn’t express a suitable appreciation for you, or wasn’t appreciative enough. This is like quicksand, isn’t it? The more I flounder around trying to get a nuance across, the deeper in it I go.

      Yes, we have some upcoming events that I hope will deliver more pleasure than not. Even good things are stressful, after all.

      I hope you and the rest of the Dr. Limerence family are also doing well and looking forward to springtime fun.


  5. ” But one way to test the theory is to ask yourself how you felt if the LO didn’t express a suitable appreciation for you, or wasn’t appreciative enough. ”

    If you, look at Dr. Ls’s blog, “What is limerence?”, #2 in the list of Tenov’s traits is “An acute need for reciprocation of equally strong feeling.” Lack of reciprocation is a factor in the extinguishing of limerence. But, it still leaves you a limerent. In that respect, limerence is always running in the background. It may go into remission but unless you deal with the root issues, find the right threat and fires right back up. All it takes is the person to fit your particular LO profile and afford you an opportunity and you’re off to the limerent races.

    Based on what was happening in my life at the time, I was aware my LO profile was active. I was thinking about the decision I’d made to cut off LO #2 25 years earlier. Then I encountered LO #4 and had my first LE in over two decades. When I was working with the therapist, who said I was co-dependent, I said that was ironic since I’d never actually met that woman. It was all done via email and PM. In that respect, we had an almost 19th century relationship. The therapist said, “The woman wasn’t aware of the role she played.” There was a game going on but I was the only one playing it.

    There are universal threats and conditional threats. Snake venom affects pretty much everybody. Bees are only a threat if you’re allergic to them. LOs are conditional threats. If you’re allergic to bees, you probably want to avoid honey farms. If you understand the “glimmer,” you should have more than enough warning to avoid trouble. There are ways to learn if you’re allergic to bees before being stung by one but that’s not how most people learn they’re allergic to bees. Limerent experiences can often be just as unpleasant.

    I didn’t go into therapy to learn about threats, I went into therapy to understand my vulnerabilities. I’d like to think I’m no longer limerent but there is absolutely no upside in trying to test that. I think the work I’ve done has removed the primary driver. I think I’d still detect the glimmer but, at the moment, I don’t think it of it as something to consciously avoid.

    Bold, confident damsels in distress harboring terrible wounds don’t seem to fascinate me like they used to.


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