“Hot & Mean” vs. “Not Hot & Nice”: What Do Girls Want?

August 29, 2012

There’s been discussion recently about the following excerpt of an email sent to Athol Kay by a reader:

My teenage daughter had a slumber party recently, and my wife (who is unaware of Game concepts) overheard the girls talking about the boys in their school. What struck me about the conversation that she relayed to me was that the girls were categorizing the boys into two groups: “Hot & Mean” and “Not-hot & Nice.” There couldn’t be a better example of the Alpha/Beta theory, as interpreted by 13 year old girls. My eyes are open.

Athol: Thanks. I think it’s interesting to see how the 13-year-old girls react to what attracts them. At 13 they simply have no awareness of what would make a good long term partner, so they don’t consider Beta Traits in a boy at all. All they react to is the pure Alpha display of the boys.

I can easily imagine the conversation, as I recall many similar all-night girl talk sessions during my own teenage years. As Athol points out, 13 year old girls are just beginning to discover their sexuality, and they respond to the most primitive attraction triggers without any sense of future time orientation. (This is one of the reasons why delaying sex in teenage girls is so vitally important.)
Yet there’s no denying that Hot & Mean trumps Not Hot & Nice. In fact, in a world where those are the only two choices, Hot & Mean gets all the girls. Why is this? This father’s story has been mostly interpreted to confirm that chicks dig jerks and reject nice guys, and of course there is some truth to that. The error is in viewing this as one switch that gets flipped. Women don’t find meanness sexually attractive in and of itself, nor do they find a nice personality a turnoff. 
The adage “Treat ’em mean to keep ’em keen” has been explored and studied. Both sexes do it, but in this study men used insults and other mean behavior to keep women’s interest by implying that they were incapable of securing a better man or relationship. Psychologists believe this tactic is related to personality traits such as degree of agreeableness (or lack thereof) and aggressivity.

Hot & Mean

Which came first, Hot or Mean? Do hot guys come across as mean, or are mean guys automatically hot? Consider the quintessential mean guy – the bully. Why do boys bully?
  • They’ve learned bullying at home. 
  • They’re insecure. Many bullies are insecure, and intimidating other kids is an attempt to cover up their insecurity. 
  • They want to feel powerful. Boys who bully need to control others. 
  • They crave attention. 
  • They have personal issues. Underneath this tough exterior, the bully is likely to be angry or depressed.
Girls don’t feel sexually attracted to bullies, even though bullies may lead their peers via intimidation or fear. 
In contrast a guy who is “hot,” i.e. very good looking, may be perceived by girls as mean. Why?
  • He is very selective, rejecting most of the girls who crush on him.
  • He is less likely to embrace the role of boyfriend, since he can hook up with a variety of girls from a young age if he is so inclined.
  • He may be good-looking to girls but introverted or shy, which will likely get him labeled as aloof or conceited.
  • At puberty, there is a shuffling of intrasexual influence among both boys and girls, as some emerge as physically attractive to the opposite sex. The newly crowned popular kids often get cocky with their fresh power and influence.
On the other hand, women have long been attracted to the archetypical Bad Boy:  the Brooding Loner or the Charming Sociopath. His appeal is multi-faceted. 
1. He is the ultimate challenge. Adolescent girls test their own sexual appeal by embracing the challenge of attracting guys who are unlikely to commit. Unsurprisingly, disagreeable loners and narcissists are the most difficult to lock down.
2. Bad Boys act boldly on their desires. They are often rebellious and they take what they want. This translates into a raw sexuality that females find very arousing. All women fantasize about being “taken” by a strong, bold character overcome with desire. (Hence the appeal of romance novels.)
3. Women are drawn to individuals in need of nurturing, and Bad Boys need more nurturing than anyone else, even though it is futile and generally unwelcome. Brooding Loners in particular are often viewed as damaged goods, and girls can’t resist the dramatic notion of fixing what’s broken in them, or saving them from themselves. We want to show these men what it feels like to be truly loved. 
4. Women love the idea of inspiring a man to change, e.g., “You make me want to be a better man.”
I think it’s fair to say that most 13 year olds feel this way. Certainly the ones interested in boys do. As they mature and learn about the opposite sex, their responses become more complex and refined. This varies a great deal by individual, though. A significant number of girls will never get past the desire to tame the Bad Boy. Others grow into a more mature understanding of human nature and their own sexuality. 
At my high school there was one very handsome surfer type with long blond hair, blue eyes and high cheekbones. He was almost surly in his demeanor, and he was known to do a lot of drugs. Inexplicably, he took a liking to me. I suspect it was because I presented as cute, bubbly and wholesome, the polar opposite of who he was. I was flattered and titillated to be targeted by this Bad Boy, and my friends were scandalized, which was fun.
Quickly, though, the relationship dynamic became clear. He was looking for me to save him. He wanted me to give him the strength to clean up his act, and we talked for hours on end about his issues. At first it was heady stuff – I felt powerful, like a savior. It didn’t really work, though. The drama got boring. I began to see him as a wounded animal rather than a sexy guy. He was tortured, and I began to feel caged spending time with him. His problems became an enormous burden. After a couple of months, I ended it. That cured me of Bad Boy lust forever. Other women chase that savior role well into their 30s. 

Not Hot & Nice

Do girls assume that less attractive guys are nice, or do nice guys behave in a way that makes them less attractive to women? 
Craig Bruce is a software developer and and former Computer Science professor who has made a great study of shyness in personal relationships. He describes himself very much as the prototypical Nice Guy TM, and has examined the Nice Guy phenomenon as it relates to attachment styles, i.e. secure, anxious, and avoidant. I think he gets it right, so I’ll let him explain:
Alpha MalesSecure  

Outgoing, friendly, intelligent, (socially) powerful, confident, and fun social-group leaders, “have their shit together.”

Regular Guys  Secure

Much of the stuff above, but not necessarily leaders, maybe slight NiceGuy(TM) or Jerk qualities.


 Shy, anxious, low social status, maybe many friendships with women but few real relationships, a push-over, walked upon by others, “needy”, “clingy”, dependent, self-esteem problems, desperate, tries to move relationships too quickly.

JerksAvoidantExciting, arrogant, psychotic scum


“I’m using a very specific, negative definition of “NiceGuy(TM)” here. Any of the first three types can be “nice” people, in the dictionary sense of the word. And, well, I would guess that there are parallel female equivalents. It is my contention that most human social groups have a male domination hierarchy of some sort, with the more self-confident males near the top and the less self-confident nearer the bottom. Mind you, they don’t butt heads or beat each other up; the more dominant ones lead the group, guide the conversation, are the ones that others look up to, etc. The less dominant ones are followers, and in pathological situations, are ridiculed and taken advantage of.

…Self-esteem theory says that we always want to maximize our self-esteem and that we derive self-esteem from two sources: achievement and affiliations (friends, groups, lovers). Of course, it takes self-esteem in the first place to get these things, so it is circular feedback loop, which can spiral both upwards and downwards. Secure types have this whole system working in a healthy fashion. Anxious types tend to have a lack of affiliations (or at least close affiliations) and so they draw more of their self-esteem from achievement (things like 4.22 GPAs). When both sources are cut off, self-esteem plummets. Avoidant types either don’t like to be close to other people or they tend to see affiliations as being achievements… in a pathological way. The way for them to achieve in this area is being able to dominate and control people. Avoidants don’t care about other people’s feelings and are always looking out for #1.

Person 1Person 2Relationship
SecureSecureSmooth, harmonious
SecureAnxiousSmooth — the Secure person is nurturing to the Anxious
Secure AvoidantConflict — Secure loses patience
AnxiousAnxiousRoller Coaster — highs and lows, intense emotions
AvoidantAnxious Power — the Avoidant dominates or abuses the Anxious
AvoidantAvoidant No intimate relationship possible


…Now, about Jerks. Jerks tend to see themselves positively and other people negatively, so they tend to have high levels of self-confidence and little respect for other people. It is the high self-confidence that attracts women to them, as it causes them to be rambunctions, energetic risk takers. They think they’re God’s gift to women. They tend to be spontaneous without really thinking about consequences. They tend to be impulsive, and so give off an air of danger and adventure. If we look at the chart above, we see that Avoidant types (jerks) don’t tend to have relationships with each other and relationships with Secure people tend to be filled with conflict since a Secure person is not going to take the Avoidant’s “shit”. And so, it tends to be the Insecure, Anxious type of women who falls for the Jerk. These are the women who may be called NiceGirls(TM), parallel to NiceGuys(TM), except that instead of being turned off by the type as women tend to be, the Jerks see these women as easy marks, easy to dominate and thereby increase their self-esteem, and, whatever else a man might want to do with a woman.

…Another thing: A number of people have either said that Alpha Males are defined as the most physically attractive males or that Alpha Males and Jerks are the same thing. I don’t think that that is the way things are at all. Alpha Males are the benevolent socially dominant males of a group that tend to be leaders, care about people, and that everyone in the group tends to look up to, including the females, and Jerks are abusive headcases who socialize in order to conquer people. Physical attractiveness is a different issue, although people who are attractive have an extra card in their hand when it comes to self-esteem and how other people perceive them, but this is only a benefit and not a determinant.”

It is obviously in the best long-term interests of both men and women to develop a secure attachment style if possible, and to choose a partner who is also secure in attachment.