Many of us have heard stories or witnessed firsthand how some women seem to repeatedly ignore red flags and chase men who are clearly toxic and dysfunctional.
Commenter The Night Wind recently brought this to my attention.
“Ignoring red flags.” This is something I’d like to get your opinion about. Among men, this is probably one of the most common complaints I hear about women’s dating habits/mistakes. I’ve also seen it enough IRL to realize there’s a real issue. A lot of women seem to go out of their way to choose men who are obviously dysfunctional and dangerous. These types of men not only give off red flags—they might as well be painted red with ‘Toxic Male’ stamped on their shirts. The types of women I’m describing are often attractive, intelligent, giving—decent women, not trainwrecks. They’re certainly capable of attracting better men (given the types they choose, almost any man would be an improvement). I can understand a mistake—people make mistakes and learn from them—but it seems to be a recurring theme with many single women. Any thoughts on that?
While it can feel easy to judge and blame these women for their choices, I suspect there may be deeper reasons why they keep repeating this pattern.
One possible reason why some women may choose toxic men is past trauma. Research has shown that women who have experienced trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or witnessing domestic violence as children, may unconsciously seek out partners who exhibit similar patterns of behavior. This may be because these patterns are familiar to them and feel “normal,” even if they are unhealthy. Childhood trauma can lead to low self-esteem and difficulty setting healthy boundaries, which can make it harder to recognize red flags in potential partners. Similarly, those with a history of having chaotic or unpredictable past relationships may have learned to crave the drama that comes along with being with a toxic personality, as drama is often confused with passion and excitement.
Women with low self-esteem may not believe that they deserve better than toxic partners. While you might feel they are capable of attracting better men, it’s possible that they don’t hold the same view of themselves. Often times, even when they do know they deserve better, they learn to convince themselves that things will get better once certain conditions improve or once they become better girlfriends. They may also fear being alone and believe that being in a relationship, even a toxic one, is better than being single. These negative beliefs about themselves can lead them to repeatedly choose partners who are not good for them, even if they recognize red flags.
Romanticizing “Bad Boys”
Many popular culture depictions of relationships often glorify the idea of a “bad boy,” the rebel who doesn’t follow society’s rules and is somehow more exciting and attractive because of it. This can create a false belief that these men are more desirable, and women may seek them out because they believe they are getting something different or special from the relationship. Unfortunately, in many cases, these “bad boys” turn out to be toxic partners who are emotionally or physically abusive or have other serious issues that make them unsuitable partners.
Romanticizing “Fixing” or “Taming” the Troubled Soul
Finally, societal conditioning can play a role in why some women may choose toxic partners. Parts of society often reinforce traditional gender roles, where women are expected to be caretakers, nurturers, and emotional supporters. As a result, women may feel that it’s their responsibility to “fix” their partner or take care of them, even if it means sacrificing their own well-being. This societal conditioning can lead to a pattern of repeatedly choosing toxic partners, as women may feel that it is their role to support their partner, even if it means putting their own needs aside. Similarly, some women might see an allure to rising to the challenge of “taming” the wild out of a man. Like something out of an late 90s teen movie (think Cruel Intentions), they may see it as an opportunity to test their own limits and prove that while so many others in his past have tried, only she had the goodness and power to turn him around.
Having said all that, it’s important to approach these situations with empathy and understanding, rather than blame or shame. Women who find themselves stuck in this pattern can benefit from seeking therapy, building healthy relationships with supportive friends and family, and working on developing self-esteem and setting boundaries. I believe it’s entirely possible to break free from this pattern and find healthy, fulfilling relationships.
Until next time,
Thank you for the reply. It really is a more complex problem than many men realize from what’s seen on the surface. I’ve had some experience with the first two kinds. I agree that we need to be more empathetic, but I do think single men need to be wary of women who’ve had these kinds of histories—mostly because of their tendencies to keep repeating that behavior.
The flip answer, Ash, is that you go with what you know.
I’ve known 2 women who ignored “red flags” more than once.
The first, my ex=girlfriend, had an affinity for cheaters. Infidelity defined her world view. 4 of the 6 failed relationships I’m aware of involved her either cheating with someone or being cheated on. It could be 5 of 6 based anecdotal evidence. Her father was in an open affair for years. Her mother had all the charm of a North Korean prison guard but that’s not the point. My guess is her mother told her that all men were cheating bastards and she chose partners who supported that position. She told me that she was an affair partner in at least one relationship, got cheated on in three others and I think she was the affair partner in the 5th.
If she kept the trend up, she’d be in double digits by now. At the time, I was the only guy with whom infidelity wasn’t an issue. She brought that up.
The second woman was “Narc Bait.” I don’t think she ever met a Narc that she didn’t try to rehabilitate. She should know, she’s a PsyD. She claimed to be the daughter of a Narc father, a Borderline mother and a recovering co-dependent. She claimed to have spent 7 years with a Narc before she finally confronted him about his cheating and he allegedly assaulted her for her effort. He wasn’t the first Narc she said she’d been involved with.
Both those women are attractive, smart, charming, educated, self-sufficient and have a delightful sense of humor. But, with those histories, they’re not the best candidates for stable LTRs. They become projects in their own right. I only tried to turn one woman and it didn’t work. I never tried to turn the second.
I lost contact with them years ago so I don’t know if they ever changed.
I think that the best incentive for a lot of women to stop chasing thugs would be if they got a good look at how women who did turned out. I had a couple of g/f’s like you described. One went on to have five kids, three marriages, and died at age 31. The other’s on a trajectory to do the same. Many of the ones that I know of ended up old maids, others literally ended up on Skid Row, some ended up in jail for things that their thuggish lovers did, and a few that we read of in the news end up dead.
I’ve actually never heard of a single case of a woman involved with men like that that ever ended in any way other than disaster. Sadly, though, I don’t know of but one I’ve ever met who broke the cycle and settled with a decent man (even in that case the guy was a little shady, but a decent fellow—sort of an ‘amiable rogue’.lol but at least he took care of her and genuinely loved her).
When I was doing individual counseling as part of marriage counseling, I wondered if I’d given up on my ex-girlfriend too soon. I wrote up a 12 page history of the relationship and had the therapist read it. We spent a lot of time discussing her which led to discussions about my mother. But, that’s beyond this discussion.
I asked the therapist if she thought the relationship with my ex could have ever been viable. She said, “No.”
The therapist asked if I would ever consider re-engaging my ex. I told her not as long as I was married. The therapist said that after reading my history and talking to me, her recommendation was that I never go anywhere near my ex again. I said that maybe she’d changed. The therapist said, “Probably not.” The therapist said that it wasn’t that people like that can’t change, it’s that they usually don’t. Read that last sentence, again.
The therapist finished the session with, “You’ve convinced me that she’s a Borderline. Quit trying to convince yourself she’s not.”
PS: My ex sent me a Facebook friend request 25 years after we said goodbye. I’m married and I already knew the right answer but the curiosity was killing me. My dead father came back in a dream to tell me to stay away from her. The therapist said I’d pulled the most powerful icon in my life out of my subconscious to warn me off.
It’s because of their need for chemistry and butterflies.