Do You Keep Falling For Jerks?

This excerpt is from my book Why You’re Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad.

It ran on MSN today and after receiving a few thank you emails, I was convinced to rerun it. Hope you enjoy.

Repeat this to yourself one thousand times:
Screwed-up people are not more interesting than people with their heads together. Baggage is not fascinating, romantic, or exciting. It is very, very tiring. Men who are polite and emotionally mature are hot. Learn it, love it, live by it.

I have no idea whom to blame for the romantic mythology surrounding brooding, emotionally limited, narcissistic yahoos. I’m tempted to chalk it up to movies, where most men who start out as selfish jerks are eventually revealed to be wounded birds of some sort. Or it might be the uglier side of the therapy culture, which tempts you with the idea that these jerks might be amenable to solution, like crossword puzzles.

For whatever reason, there are a surprising number of women who are attracted to guys who can’t commit, who can’t relate, who can’t get along with anyone, who can’t tell the truth… these guys get a lot of action.

Ready for Lasting Love?
Ready for Lasting Love?

It’s not that women really want jerks, exactly. I think it’s a matter of mistaking emotional clutter for emotional complexity. Here’s an analogy: Imagine a messy apartment. You walk in, you survey your surroundings, and there’s an incredible quantity of stuff lying around. Books in tall stacks, Chinese food containers in the corners, DVDs in and out of boxes scattered around the TV… the place is in chaos. And while you wouldn’t really want to live there, there might be some part of you that would look around and grudgingly admit, “There’s a lot going on here.” Now, imagine the same apartment, once somebody has managed to get it cleaned up. The books are on the shelves, the trash is thrown away, the DVDs are alphabetized. This is a much nicer place to live. But it’s a little… you know, boring. And that’s in spite of the fact that the same books are being read, the same food is being eaten, and the same DVDs are being watched. You’re just in the presence of a person who knows how to clean up after himself.

I think that for a lot of women, guys in turmoil seem strangely fascinating, as if they are, by definition, more interesting than everyone else. There’s more of that clutter, so there’s more going on, and there’s more to sink your teeth into, and there’s maybe even more emotional depth to such a person.

Let me tell you something about the guys I know who are emotionally mature. The ranks of the healthy and rational include plenty of guys who have been in rehab, or been divorced, or seen their parents’ marriages end horribly, or had their own dreams thwarted in some ugly way–all the things that creeps are fond of waving around as explanations for why they lie or cheat on you or generally continue to be creeps.

The difference is that the healthy and rational people have at least undertaken the process of digesting all of that stuff and placing it in some sort of perspective so that it doesn’t have to become your problem. They know from suffering, just as much as the ones who sit around brooding into their beers and writing free verse and dragging everyone else into their little theater of agony. The sane ones are still working on their crap, too–who isn’t? The difference is that they’re not fetishizing their own misery or asking you to embrace it. And that’s a benefit to you, because the only thing you can guarantee yourself about that kind of hair-pulling drama is that if you cuddle up next to it, it’ll get on you.

You’re going to get plenty of emotional complications from anyone. Even people who have their lives very well pulled together are going to give you lots of opportunities to practice patience and understanding. There’s no point in starting out with someone who isn’t even trying.

According to Linda, many intelligent women prefer men with emotional complexities, even if it means that he can be verbally abusive, inaccessible, and generally loonier than Courtney Love on a bender. … Now, I can’t speak for all men, but while I may have tolerated similar behavior, I can’t say I’ve ever preferred it. Any time I found myself dating a woman who was an emotional roller-coaster, the only reasons I stuck with her were because a) I was lonely and her presence in my life helped to fill a void or b) I was getting the best sex of my life. Lame, but true.

Put another way: Could you ever picture a man saying out loud, “There’s something that’s just so mysterious about her. Sometimes I look in her eyes and I feel like she totally understands me, and other times, I have no idea what she’s thinking. She runs really hot and cold but I can’t get enough of her. I think I’m going to stick around until I can crack her shell. One day she’ll learn to be more emotionally available and loving.” Tolerance for female ambivalence is not a stereotypically male attribute.

This isn’t at all to castigate women, as much as it is to acknowledge that women see more nuance in every scenario, so it’s no surprise that they give undeserving men the benefit of the doubt. But what for? Hasn’t every woman since the beginning of time had a thing for jerks and realized at some point that jerks were always going to be jerks?


I was the nice guy in high school who enjoyed being friends with cute girls who wouldn’t go out with me in a million years. I figured, “If that’s as close as I can get, I’ll take it. Maybe one day they’ll realize what I’m worth.” I would listen to boy problems galore – essentially, nice girls being treated badly by jerks – and not once did any of these girls ever say: “Hmm, Evan’s a great guy with a really kick-ass mullet. I’ll bet he’d be a wonderful boyfriend.”

But it’s not simply the rejection of the nice guy that’s keeping so many women single. It’s the acceptance of the screwed-up guy. Because screwed-up guys draw screwed-up women into a whole Misery Loves Company episode of Love Connection–where both parties are brought together not by the audience but by their insecurities and inadequacies.

All that “You can’t love anyone until you love yourself” stuff? So true. And if you’re choosing to date guys with major issues, you’re just as guilty as he is. Yes, everybody’s got issues, but not necessarily deal-breaker-type issues. Which is why women often say they’re seeking men who can fit their baggage in a carry-on. Unfortunately, there are lot of men who try to sneak a 75-pound trunk onto the plane and protest that it has wheels so it’s technically a carry-on. Women with issues are the ones who choose these guys.

Women who have their act together simply don’t have the patience. Admittedly, there are a few people who probably enjoy the histrionics and the moods and the make-up sex that come with dating drama kings and queens. But I’d bet that most are just willing to tolerate the drama, because, thus far, that drama comes attached to the “best” person they could find. Essentially, they’re saying, “Yeah, he’s inconsistent, selfish, and distant, but he’s all mine.” Just realize that every second you’re spending with the wrong guy is a second that you’re not out looking for the right one – the guy who gives, the guy who listens, the guy who learns.

Excerpted from Why You’re Still Single by Evan Marc Katz and Linda Holmes. Reprinted by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Evan Marc Katz and Linda Holmes, 2006.