Chasing unattainable men was a steady feature in Aakriti’s dating life until she married one. The 29-year-old journalist who preferred to be addressed by a pseudonym for the purposes of this story, said that she’d latch on each time she met a “charismatic fuckboy.”
For Aakriti, that was any man with several women admirers, who seemed to want her as well, but who also erratically behaved aloof and disinterested towards her – someone she couldn’t rely on.
As Alison Stevenson noted in her 2016 article for VICE, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Fuckboys, “fuckboy” is a term largely appropriated from Black culture. The meaning of the term has gone from referring to “the perfect combination of a ‘basic bitch’ and a ‘slut,’ two insults that are rarely levied against men” to “every (typically straight) man who is in someway problematic,” as Helen Meriel Thomas pointed out in her 2020 VICE piece In the A to Z of Fuckboys.
At this point, it’s also important to note that anyone can indulge in “fuckboy” behaviour – fuckgirls, fuckpersons, or fuck-gender-non-conforming persons. They’re also capable of being hurtfully dismissive toward a sexual partner. But the thing about power and how our society is constructed is that in the bigger picture, it is often enacted in one direction, and one group of people are overwhelmingly recipients of it. Longstanding gender inequalities and the way we’re conditioned to socialise often make it easier for men to get away with shitty behaviour than women. This also explains why men with active sex lives tend to be congratulated more than degraded, unlike women.
Aakriti is about to initiate a divorce from her husband of four years, who she dated for six before they got married. According to her, he was a bonafide fuckboy — emotionally unavailable, self-absorbed, distant, and someone who enjoyed basking in the attention of women.
“I don’t like men who get awestruck, ‘drool’ all over you, and simp,” said Aakriti, explaining why she has always fallen for fuckboys. A “simp” is a man who fawns over a woman who expresses little to no interest in him, while “ to simp” or “simping” refers to any behaviour that can make a man seem like a simp. This can range from being overattentive to downright creepy. Simps are different from fuckboys in that they try too hard.
“I want a little bit of a mind game going on where they keep you guessing. I keep telling my friends that if there isn’t a little bit of a mind-fuck going on, it’s no fun. The conclusion is that I’m probably the most toxic person in my own life,” she said.
Now that Aakriti has started dating after nearly a decade, she admits to falling into the same patterns all over again. In many ways, she has come to terms with the fact that fuckboys are the kind of men she will always gravitate towards.
Get curious about your childhood
Understanding attachment theory, or the pattern of behaviour that we learn in early childhood that is said to determine the way we respond to others, especially how we navigate romantic relationships as adults, is helpful in understanding why some of us might feel drawn to fuckboys, according to psychiatrist Era Dutta. It can also help us understand how and why fuckboys come to be the way they are.
To provide a little context, attachment theory was formulated by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby in the late 1960s, and expanded on by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, who identified three attachment styles in children: secure attachment, anxious-avoidant attachment, and anxious-resistant attachment. Today, broadly, there are four adult attachment styles: secure; anxious-insecure attachment; avoidant-insecure attachment; and fearful or disorganised-insecure attachment. A person with a secure attachment style is more likely to have healthier relationships. However, adults with insecure attachment styles can learn to cultivate a secure attachment style and improve their existing relationships.
“In most cases, fuckboys fall into the avoidant attachment style in the sense that they are always distant, hot and cold, prone to erratic mood swings, drop love bombs one day and disappear the next,” Dutta told VICE. “There is always a sense of mystery about them – that is part of [their] appeal.”
For many, and rightly so, fuckboys are douchebags who don’t deserve to be understood and should be called out for their toxic behaviour. For others, their behaviour can be better understood by learning about their past traumas and even delving into evolutionary psychology.
A student, who blogged about their experience attending a lecture on evolutionary psychology by social psychologist Azim Shariff, shared that Shariff said that “on average, [men] want more sexual partners, they are less discriminating [in choosing them], and are more interested in short-term mating.”
However, Shariff added the somewhat heartening caveat that men are also motivated by pair-bonding and finding long-term mates. So, not all men are fuckboys and there are those willing and looking to commit to long-term monogamous relationships.
Why we tend to seek out the familiar
Riya, a 31-year-old social media strategist, who preferred to be known by her first name only for this story, said that the fuckboys she gravitated towards manipulated and controlled her, and weren’t even remotely empathetic. She added that they were misogynists in varying degrees, were relentless in putting her down, made her doubt her choices, and deluded her into believing that she would always be dependent on them.
So, why did she fall for them in the first place? Riya believes that a large part of it was the problematic literature and movies she consumed as a young person that shaped her notions of what “love” should look like.
“[If] you look at the things we have been exposed to, toxic relationships [are set up] as ideal,” she said. “In my case, I was hugely into romcoms and chick flicks in which the meanest guy falls for the cutest girl, and the hottest girl falls for the unconventionally quiet guy.”
Riya added that she was conditioned into thinking that the “intensity” of a guy depended on how emotionally unavailable he was and that he was a “project” to fix.
“I think most of us who fall for fuckboys are into ‘fixing’ things. People like me used to boast that we fall for the ‘bad guys’ because a part of us is also addicted to being sad. I mean, if I’m not hearing sad songs about my lover, am I even in love?”
In the fuckboys she fell for, Riya noticed that there was a galactic difference between their understanding of women and their respect for them. “They will certainly understand you, but they will [also] dig out and exploit the most vulnerable aspects of you. [They will] gaslight you and make you question your self-worth,” she said. “Every fuckboy has the superhuman ability to turn practically anything and everything against you. You end up shaking your head and thinking he should have been a lawyer.”
Ashika Jain, a psychotherapist, told VICE that we often fall for fuckboys because there is a sense of familiarity that we associate with them. But why are we still so drawn to fuckboys who end up hurting us (and others)?
“Falling for them has a lot to do with [our own attachment style],” explained Jain. “Let’s say someone has grown up around caregivers or parents who were unreliable and [emotionally] distant. This behaviour then becomes one’s base model for relating with people.”
Jain added that as humans we have a tendency to find safety in the familiar. So, people who have grown up in volatile or unstable environments tend to naturally gravitate towards similar experiences as it feels “safe.” “Objectivity has no role to play here. Such people prefer fuckboys because they know how to deal with them, as they have grown up with caregivers with similar traits.”
Not all fuckboys are cis straight men, as Anant, a 24-year-old content creator, who preferred to use a pseudonym because he is closeted, discovered. “I’d always operate from the assumption that if a confident man wants me, I just have to give it my all,” he said. “They would fuck me over, treat me like trash, be emotionally evasive, and I would just [remain] ignorant about these realities.”
Anant recalled the time when a fuckboy wanted to break up with him after two months of their being in a monogamous relationship. Anant begged him not to leave, even going to the extent of telling him that he could fuck others as long as he didn’t leave him. “I’ve repeated this pattern probably because I grew up with a single father who had no time for me. I viewed relationships as lopsided affairs that work on powerplay, thus keeping the door wide open for fuckboys.”
Why you might need to get out of your relationship comfort zone
In such a context, how does one break the cycle? This sense of toxic familiarity? The first step is understanding – on an intellectual level – that these choices are fundamentally unhealthy and cannot be sustained in the long term, said Jain.
The second and trickier step is becoming aware of the consequences of falling for fuckboys, and how that might impact or impede future, healthy choices. “If you have fallen for a fuckboy who demands that you pamper them and check up on them all the time, or plays hot and cold with you, you must realise that this is not normal,” said Jain.
It also helps to be open to experiences with “non-fuckboys.”
“When you find someone who is [emotionally and mentally] healthy and the opposite of a fuckboy, [build] the capacity to allow yourself to embrace it. Don’t doubt them because they are being ‘extra nice’.”
There are many ways this capacity-building for a healthy and normal relationship can happen. While therapy is always on the table, Dutta suggests we work towards building resources to support us once we heal and outgrow these unhealthy relationship patterns. “It will be like [experiencing withdrawal] from a drug. As with all withdrawals, you cannot be left alone and must surround yourself with people who care for you, who will always stand by you, and not judge you for past choices,” she said.
In the case of 25-year-old graphic designer Maitri, who preferred to share only her first name, boundary-setting helped after she realised in therapy that all her girlfriends were actually “fuckboys” in varying degrees.
“I got out of my last such relationship by prioritising myself and respecting myself enough to know that I don’t have to submit to people just because they made me feel complete, at least temporarily.”