Why would they think this? First, it's a cultural message. Hollywood churns out films in which the beautiful heroine falls in love with a goofy, unemployed guy who proves to be nicer and more loyal than her handsome, wealthy, preppy boyfriend/fiancé.
Second, women often say that all they really want is a nice guy who will commit to them.
The problem is that the Hollywood films are peddling a kind of fantasy. Nor can what women say be taken at face value. A woman may be telling the truth when she says she admires a man who is nice and reliable - she just may not admire him in a romantic way. And when she complains about men being bastards and asks where the good men are, she may just be expressing part of the drama of her romantic life - one that she isn't willing to give up just yet.
And so the young men who did their best to be nice guys become gradually disillusioned. The women they meet casually won't bother to respect them. The women they know well will be friendlier, but won't relate to them seriously as men. What's worse, our good guys will observe women rewarding over and over the bad boys: the ones who are reckless, unstable, shady and untrustworthy.
The result is confusion and resentment among a large number of men who thought they were doing the right thing.
As an example of the way women are drawn to the "bad boy", I'll quote the views of Samantha Brett, who writes a popular relationships blog for the Sydney Morning Herald. Samantha Brett is unusual in being upfront and honest in discussing her preferences. She is attracted to the "bad boy" player type of man, despite knowing that the long-term outcome isn't likely to be good. Thus, when Jerry Hall announced that in future she would only marry a man who didn't behave like her ex-husband Mick Jagger, who had fathered a baby with another woman during their marriage, Samantha Brett could see a conundrum:
Of course a man who doesn't "behave like that" [like Jagger] is someone who is the opposite of the archetypal playboy - loyal, kind and generous - who unfortunately, isn't the type of gent most women dream about, talk about, become addicted to, hanker after, get infatuated with and end up falling hopelessly (and often unrequitedly) in love with.
In fact, while out with a group of friends for dinner, when the conversation turned to the most desirable man, the women pooh-poohed 25-year-old Sarah's relationship (she had chosen a "loyal" guy over a playboy) for not having enough spark and encouraged her not to settle down with this "nice guy" any time soon ...
"You need excitement! You need va va voom! You need je ne sais quoi!" the women chanted as they began to indulge in the erotic reverie of the man who would sweep you off your feet, is wildly romantic, wildly appealing, doting and devastatingly handsome, all at the same time.
However, one woman at the table vehemently disagreed with their sentiment.
"You're all describing the player - the type of man who wouldn't be good in the long haul. I'm only dating men right now who I can see as being future husband material; who will be a good father to my kids. I don't really care how he looks or where he takes me holidaying in summer. That stuff doesn't matter when it comes to the future."
While she might have put a damper on all the fantasy talk that was going on, I had to agree. If only women would open their eyes to giving a chance to men who really value, love and cherish them, as opposed to the ones who keep them on their toes, like to play games and meddle with their emotions, maybe things would be a little different. And maybe there wouldn't be so many heartbroken women out there.
Samantha Brett sometimes gets women to describe their ideal man:
The thing that shocks me is that many of these women are often hell-bent on describing the type of man who will no doubt break their hearts, the bad boy who is exciting and fun and titillates all their senses. They often forget qualities such as loyalty, kindness and friendship - the attributes that should be the key to choosing a man to partner with for the rest of their lives.
But she herself is torn in two different directions:
I often find myself vacillating between men who are loyal and kind, and those who are exciting in a rock star sort of way.
You can see why so many young men are perplexed about what to do. If by nature you are a man of integrity, how are you meant to be the kind of man that women "dream about, talk about, become addicted to, hanker after, get infatuated with and end up falling hopelessly in love with." Are you supposed to mimic bad boy behaviour?
I can remember having exactly this thought in my mid-20s. I write this now without bitterness, having been married happily for some years. But back then I saw the women in my social milieu go for the damaged, reckless type of men. I really did wonder if I had to put on a leather jacket and torn jeans and pretend to be involved in some kind of petty drug trade to make a bigger impression.
There is a lot of discussion of this issue on the internet. It's usually framed in terms of women preferring a small number of high-testosterone alpha males rather than the average guy beta males. I think these terms are suspect. The term alpha gives the impression of superiority. In some cases, the women I knew really did go for men who could at least claim to be superior, such as those studying for high status jobs such as medicine and law.
However, a lot of the time, women went for men who were clearly losers. There were men whose drug habits led them to live close to the edge and this was attractive for some women. One female friend went for a man who was mentally ill but who was, in her words, "fun to be with". Men with borderline personality disorders can be highly attractive to women, as they are manipulative, unavailable, jealous, unpredictable and needy. In the school yard, you often see the bad boys, those who are more damaged, more unpredictably violent and who have the least chance of success in life, being followed around by a harem of admiring girls.
Women can also see men as "alpha" who haven't achieved more than other men but who are louder and pushier and who seem to dominate in a social situation.
Are these men really more masculine and superior to the quietly confident, intelligent and far-sighted men who are labelled "beta"? Supposedly some women believe that men who are reckless and aggressive are more likely to act ruthlessly in the interests of their families. But in real life it's the stable, prudent, intelligent men who will make the better providers.
It's also likely to be the so-called beta males who carry a civilisation. So again, I think the choice of the terms alpha and beta is unfortunate and inadequate.
Was the issue of women preferring alpha males as significant in the past? Perhaps. Look at the central themes of Jane Austen's novels. The women are drawn initially to the cads, the younger, sillier, more impulsive women more so, the mature and genuinely sweet ones less so. There is a very considerable effort made by society to suppress the impulsive, romantic inclinations of the young women. It is hammered into them that cads mean ruin and disgrace for them and their families.
And today? It's possible that most women today do know that they are better off marrying a beta. Samantha Brett's friend, for instance, justified her choice of boyfriend on the grounds that, "I'm only dating men right now who I can see as being future husband material; who will be a good father to my kids."
The problem is that women today have deferred a commitment to marriage and so are likely to spend much longer following their romantic instincts rather than looking for husbands. A woman today can support herself in a glamorous white collar job and can avoid motherhood via contraception. She can pursue unsuitable men throughout her twenties, demoralising the family type men in the process.
So what's to be done? I don't have a short term solution, but I can give some advice based on my experience.
It should be said first that not every woman is attracted to the wrong sort of man. Nor does every woman want to wait till her thirties to settle. So there's a window of opportunity for family type men early on, when these women are partnering.
It becomes more difficult when women are in their mid-20s, but then there's another window of opportunity when women approach 30. There are women at this time who are aware of the biological clock and who are no longer so keen on the rigours of full-time work. Beta men who haven't given up can do well at this time.
The problem, though, is that there isn't a great deal of time left to date, engage, marry and have children. A lot of men, too, will have given up by this time. So one of the things we can do, and ought to do, is make women aware of the dangers of leaving marriage so late.
What else can help men deal with the situation? It's useful, of course, to have a high status job. This can make you seem alpha even if you're not a bad boy type. Being passionate about a belief or pursuit can help. It sends a damaging signal if men don't have beliefs of their own they're willing to argue for. Standing your ground in a relationship, even if this means an argument or confrontation, is something you have to be willing to do at times. It's also possible to play at bad behaviour in a humourous, teasing way.
Don't expect women to reward the masculine virtues. These virtues are more likely to be recognised amongst men. You have to practice these virtues regardless of what women think.
Raise your daughters within a stable, loving household. Don't deny them paternal affection. Daughters from such homes are more likely to look for the right kind of men.
Be persevering. You're going to have to put up with more than men in previous generations did. Don't be thrown off for too long by failed relationships. Don't become fatalistic to protect yourself emotionally. Build up your career and your finances even if there is no immediate prospect of marriage.
Use your discontent to work for change so that your sons won't have to endure the unnecessary obstacles you yourself have faced.
Don't yield your integrity. It's one thing that's really not worth losing.
Don't expect, in our culture, to find a ready made woman. Look around you at the cultural influences on women. Do you really expect the average woman to withstand it all? You need good instincts about the underlying character of a woman. A lot depends on your judgement of how she is likely to respond to being a wife and mother.
If you don't like the feminist type of woman, then aim for the large number of relatively apolitical women. You'll find that these apolitical women have absorbed some feminist ideas, and will throw them at you at times, but in the main it probably won't interfere too much with your relationship.
The worst thing of all is to be insipid. You might not be the bad boy "alpha" male who women want to tame or rescue, but if you have a bit of masculine grunt you've got something going for you.