The Real Reason You Keep Falling For Toxic Guys And How To Change

Have you ever been asked why you were dating a guy who was clearly a total jerk? Maybe you felt embarrassed because knew the person asking you was right about him. That is, until your toxic guy called you up, desperate to see you, and charmed your pants off… literally. What gives? Why do toxic guys, bad boys, and unavailable men have such a hold on good women?

  1. They’re a temporary cure for being bored. Sometimes when you’re bored with your life or having a dry spell, you need to make like Stella and get your groove back. What do you reach for? Not the stable guy but the unpredictable, wild one. Of course, to people watching you, it seems strange to get with a guy just ’cause he’s amazing in the sack or makes you feel special for a limited time only before he leaves. But you’re living in the moment and relishing every inch of excitement. Soon, the excitement will turn into disappointment or heartbreak. Maybe next time you’re keen to spice things up, go on a road trip or take a dance class, m’kay?
  2. You fear something real. The nice, stable guys are the picture of committed relationships — but if you’re not looking for that right now you’re going to turn away from them and go for something different, like the guy who would rather pierce his own eyebrow than be exclusive. You feel you can leave your heart at the bedroom door and have some fun without risking pain. You might even say, “Hell, I don’t want a relationship with him or anyone, so this setup works for me!” But does it really? Could you perhaps be secretly pining for him to become boyfriend material. Which brings up the next point…
  3. You want to be the one to tame him. You might not like nice guys, but have a secret passion for the bad boy who’ll turn nice for you. So you choose a toxic guy and decide you’ll be the one to change him, make him see the light, decide to commit, and love you forever for it. Plot twist: guys like that rarely change, so save your grand makeover skills for your beauty box.
  4. You’ve got something to prove. Bad guys can help you prove to yourself that you’re worthy and lovable. Yes, even though all those other guys in your past treated you badly or your dad wasn’t around to love you, this bad boy has changed all that and will validate you. Um, any second now… okay, maybe by next week. The danger is that bringing more bad boys into your life just puts you at risk of further rejection. It’s only your fault because you keep opening the door for them when you should be slamming it in their faces. Screw needing validation from anyone! You can give it to yourself for free.
  5. You think there are no good guys left. Good guys sometimes feel like they’re on the endangered species list, so love in the time of a male shortage means that you’ll stick with the guy who leaves you hanging, keeps pissing you off or cheats on you. You reckon that this is as good as it’ll get. Until you dump him and see that you can actually do way better than him!
  6. You’re caught in an attraction-frustration cycle. When a guy gives you loads of attention and makes you feel special, your brain squirts dopamine, a feel-good hormone that surprisingly flows more when there’s erratic reinforcement from the guy. When a toxic guy is all over you one minute and then going AWOL the next, you’re pining for him to return so you can get that hormone hit instead of getting away from him as you should. This is similar to how you’d behave if you were addicted to drugs and in need of your next fix. Time to go cold turkey on the tool, no?
  7. You’re tempted by the forbidden. You could partly blame Fifty Shades for this one. Bad boys are like devilish chocolate cake you choose to eat instead of going to the gym. They’re deliciously forbidden because you know that they’re bad for you, but you can’t help but have some. In the same way you might push aside calorie concerns, you’ll sweep away your intuition that’s telling you to back away from the bad boy so your heart doesn’t get hurt. But it will, so stop after one bite.
  8. You want hot sex. A study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that you’re not mistaken when you associate that bad boy giving you the eye at the bar with loads of fun in the sack. When researchers asked college-aged women what they thought about nice guys, they found that although women like going on dates with nice guys, they turn to the bad boys for mind-blowing sex. Guess it has something to do with those tattoos and can-do attitudes, huh?
  9. Water seeks its own level. You can tell a great deal about someone by the company they keep. People who love themselves are surrounded by others who are full of love. If you don’t have a strong self-love muscle, you attract others who are baffled by the idea of real love. Once you change your ways, your taste follows suit.
  10. Family of origin patterns run deep. If you come from a family of utter dysfunction in terms of relationships (or anything else, you begin to emulate your experiences in your outside relationships. You learn to yell when you don’t get your own way, cheat when you’re upset, and excuse awful behavior. It takes a real toll on your relationships.
  11. Women are really taught to be submissive. We’re told our bodies aren’t good enough and that we’re only performing well if we’re pleasing a man. It’s total crap. We get signals to be submissive by letting guys do whatever they need to do to be happy. Because of this, we excuse toxic guys and their inexcusable behaviors. It’s not okay.
  12. You feel bad about breaking up with them. Why is it that you feel guilty when deciding to dump someone? Sure, you can be compassionate about the other person’s feelings, but at some point, you’re going to have to take a look at YOUR needs. Your job is not to solely make another person happy and prevent them from feeling pain. You’re entitled to happiness and having your needs met fully too.
  13. You think you can change their behavior. Sometimes you’re drawn to those that may not be fully equipped to give you what you need within the relationship, but a part of you believes that this time they’ll be different. Think about how hard it’s been for you to break a habit. Did it happen because someone else encouraged it or because you wanted it to? Shifts in behavior can’t and won’t happen until we’re inspired to make a change ourselves, so trying to change someone else’s probably isn’t going to be successful… unless they are totally on board and in complete agreement with what you’re telling them.
  14. You hate change. Relationship routines can feel super comforting, even if you aren’t totally into the guy anymore. A shift in routine may mean you have to move out, find new hangout spots, or give up certain friendships. I get it — it’s definitely not easy, but is not liking change a good reason to keep seeing someone? Think about what it is you’re really afraid of. Maybe feeling alone, being nervous about not finding another partner, or being the only single person in your friend group sounds daunting or overwhelming. Keep in mind that change usually creates awesome opportunities for growth.
  15. You don’t know what healthy relationships look like. If you don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, you’ll likely have a more difficult time finding one. If your partner continues to behave in a way that gives you a bad gut feeling, trust it! Most of the time your gut instincts are right on. If your red flag signal comes on more often than not when you’re with this person, take it as a cue to investigate what’s really going on. Remember that words are BS, behavior tells all.
  16. You don’t think you can do better. Typically when this thought comes up, there’s some self-esteem stuff lurking beneath the surface. Think about why you don’t believe that you can do better, especially if your partner is admittedly toxic. Does it mean that you’re a bad person too? If you’re not, you deserve to be with someone who treats you with respect and as an equal partner in the relationship, not a subordinate.
  17. You’re using them to work out your unconscious Stuff. If you find yourself time and time again with similar types of terrible partners, some self-reflection would be greatly beneficial. Think about what these partners have in common, and not in terms of looks. Then think about the earliest relationship you can that reminds you of this partner. More often than not, early familial relationships come up. If this seems kinda gross or weird, don’t worry. Everyone is unconsciously working out their stuff in one way or another. One of the biggest differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships is insight.
  18. You don’t know what you want. Think about why you want to be with this person. If the bad reasons outweigh the good ones, why are you staying with them? Most people don’t take the time to consciously address what it is they want from their relationship and from their partner. Getting to know this part of yourself on a deeper level will help quite a bit when it comes to picking partners to date in the future.
  19. The relationship feels sentimental. Sometimes old school flames just stick with you, even if they aren’t the healthiest person for you. They may become a symbol etched in your memory of a simpler time, a time when you didn’t have to be as responsible as you are now. Your perception of this person for better or worse is going to be tainted with the charge of this time in your life. You have to move on.

Things you realize when you stop falling for toxic guys

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  1. Your luck won’t change on its own—you have to do it yourself. If you want to stop attracting the wrong guys, you have to get real with yourself about what you want and don’t want in your life. While you may eventually end up with a great guy who’s the complete opposite of your dream dude, you should rule out dating anyone who lies, cheats, refuses to commit, etc. After all, it’s better to be alone than with someone who isn’t worthy of you.
  2. You have to value yourself or no one will. This was a tough concept to wrap my head around because I thought I was a great catch and I assumed this meant I valued myself. I was wrong. After a lot of self-reflection, I discovered that knowing you’re attractive doesn’t necessarily mean you respect and appreciate who you truly are at your core. It’s no wonder guys walked all over me — I was letting them!
  3. Acting like you’re cool with toxic behavior/trying to mirror it will always backfire. Sometimes we like to pretend that nothing bothers us. We tell ourselves we don’t care if a guy cheats or dates around. We’ll simply do the same thing to “get even,” so to speak. Don’t fool yourself here. Being a player, having a huge ego, and acting like a badass doesn’t make dating easy. Trying to be someone you’re not will always backfire in the end.
  4. Numbing yourself to toxic guys’ BS only makes them think it’s OK. This seems to be one of the best skills we as women have cultivated in recent years. We convince ourselves that all guys are the same and that if we don’t want to be alone, we’ll just have to get over it and learn not to care. This is a terrible idea. The more you accept narcissists, cheaters, and players as just par for the course, the more they’ll think it’s OK to keep on doing it.
  5. Good guys will never be attracted to a woman who doesn’t love herself. If we’re truly honest with ourselves, what we really want is love. Love is a basic human need that nourishes us and can help us flourish. It sounds cliche, sure, but it’s true. The only way to achieve a loving, committed relationship is to love and respect yourself. That radiance spreads like wildfire and the good men will come running for you.
  6. The more terrible experiences you have with toxic guys, the more desperate you become in dating. The more crappy relationships you have, the more desperate you become. Desperate to find one of the elusive good guys you’re not entirely sure exist (but hope does). Obviously it’s not that simple. You end up becoming a serial dater with more empty, unfulfilling “relationships” under your belt. Take a deep breath and a step back. Everything you need to have a happy life is already inside of you. You don’t need a guy to complete you.
  7. If a guy doesn’t add to your life, he should get out of it. When you’re in a healthy, happy relationship, your partner should enrich your life. While he shouldn’t be the source of your happiness, he should definitely increase it. He should push you to be the best version of yourself. He should cherish you by showing you love, respect, and loyalty. If he doesn’t, why are you with him? The more you start asking yourself this question, the more you’ll start repelling toxic guys instead of attracting them.
Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.