Most of us who make a practice of conscious dating are familiar with the phenomenon of girls who date bad boys. For some women, men who treat them badly are like a drug: they know they’re unhealthy for them, but they continue to go back to the same man, or the same type of man, over and over. Scott Barry Kaufman, who researched this topic a few years ago for Psychology Today, found a clear relationship between low agreeableness and a high number of sexual partners. Being a bad boy, it seems, is associated with many traits that women find attractive, such as high extraversion, openness to new experience, and even a bit of narcissism. It’s those men who get the most attention from women, and the correlation cuts across all ages, races, and socioeconomic groups.
What’s less familiar is the phenomenon of men who adore “crazy” women. I think that if we looked at it closely we’d find a number of men attracted to unpredictable, volatile women in equal numbers to women attracted to bad boys. Not all men do, but there are some who are fascinated with images of women suddenly getting violent, or bursting into tears for no particular reason, or going into the bedroom and slamming the door shut, or dramatically dumping a man’s possessions into the street from the 7th-storey window.
What makes a man go after women who behave capriciously and impulsively? There have been a lot of theories: high energy in life equates to high sexual energy, and what man wouldn’t want a woman with more sexual energy? There’s also Harville Hendricks’ theory of the imago: an internal representation of negative or toxic parental influences, with which we tend to seek out relationships in hope of a corrective emotional experience. Also, men love to fix things, and what’s better than a broken woman to keep us occupied?
These views all carry some truth, and may be more or less true in any particular relationship. But there’s another point of view that doesn’t see women like this as toxic or unhealthy at all; in fact, given the right circumstances, some behavior that’s seen as crazy or toxic can actually be a path into greater intimacy with your partner. Here are three reasons why you might be drawn to a “crazy” woman:
1. Her possessiveness is endearing. Particularly if you’ve “played the field” for a while and had a string of first or second dates where neither you nor your date felt strong feelings for the other, a possessive girlfriend can — at least for a while — feel charming and enlivening. Her expressions of love and jealousy, as darkly twisted as they can be, feel genuine to you. She says she loves you, and you feel loved. Over time, her questions about your behavior, your friends, and where you spend your time can erode the relationship. But in the beginning, having a jealous girlfriend can be a nice break from all the women who played it cool with you.
The Internet meme of the overly attached girlfriend is funny, because it takes to an extreme a lot of treatment that most men can recognize, having experienced it at one time or another. The wild eyes, the way she makes everything about her, and her desire to possess a man, rather than relate to him, are all hilariously familiar.
How can you tell the difference between endearingly possessive behavior and boorish jealousy? The key question is: Do you feel loved, or distrusted? There may be times when she genuinely loves you, and is asking questions about your behavior and your friends to show her love. But there may also be times when distrust is most evident, and this feeling is toxic to a healthy relationship. If there is suspicion in her voice, rather than love; if it seems like she’s trying to pick holes in the story of how you spent your day, it’s ultimately damaging to the relationship. Address her behavior, with either a good couples counselor or relationship coach.
2. She’s testing your ability to stay present in volatile situations. Any man can stay present, calm, and collected when the day is going his way, and according to plan. But what happens when his woman’s behavior takes the day in a whole different direction? Sometimes what we label “crazy” behavior is really only a woman trying to feel her man’s presence. Can he tell, after she’s run into the bedroom and slammed the door, when she really wants to be alone, and when she’s waiting just behind the door, hoping he’ll come in and sweep her into his arms? Can he read her so completely, and so carefully, that he’ll know what to do next?
3. Impulsive can mean intuitive, and the right intuitive woman can save your life. In my experience, impulsivity and intuition often go hand-in-hand. That’s not to say that an impulsive woman is always intuitive, or vice versa. But when you find a woman who can deliver insights about yourself and your relationships incisively and compassionately, it can be a great gift that just might make the inconvenience of a crazy relationship worth the trouble. David Deida says, “A good woman can show a man his asshole better than any therapist.” If you find yourself with a woman who comes up with spot-on truths about you, spoken in love, she may be a keeper — even, or maybe especially if, those truths hurt. They can provide you with hints about the next direction for your life or career, or let you know where you may not be speaking or acting with complete honesty. If you feel you’re getting these kinds of messages from the woman in your life, don’t ignore them. Feel what she’s saying, rather than just listening for points of agreement or disagreement.
“Crazy” women — strong, impulsive, volatile women who are good in bed — can be difficult to love. They can blur the distinction between intimacy and intensity. They can sap your strength, or make you stronger. They may build character, or merely reveal it. But don’t discount a woman’s “crazy” behavior before you’ve taken the time to understand it. You might have a potentially valuable life partner with you — someone who will help you surf life’s highs and lows with presence, compassion, and humor.