Being “A Sucker for a Bad Boy” Could Kill Your Career


If I had stayed with my first husband, I would not have had the legal career that I have. I wouldn’t have had a career at all.

I don’t mean that my first husband wanted me to stay home and be a good little housewife or that he didn’t want me to have a career. He didn’t care if I wanted to work; he was even grudgingly impressed that by doing so, I could contribute to the household finances. He was so impressed, in fact, that he charged me rent and made me pay a monthly fee to drive his car. (But I digress).

So no. That’s not what I mean when I say that I would not have had a career. I wouldn’t have had a career because I simply would not have had time to nurture one.

These are the things my first husband enjoyed: driving fast cars, very fast. Playing computer games. Playing dance music, very loudly. Going out for drinks with his friends and drinking to the point of oblivion, writing off the next day in the process. Going on “boys’ trips” with those friends, to places like Ayia Napa and Ibiza.

We were teenagers when we met. Of course, he enjoyed those things. But when we had our baby, he continued to enjoy those things. While I fed the baby and changed the baby and booked inoculations for the baby and looked at nursery schools for the baby and bought clothes for the baby and made sure the baby was safe and well and cared for and cooked meals for all of us, my husband continued to enjoy playing computer games and driving fast cars fast with his dance music blasting loud.

How could I complain, though? He wasn’t a domestic sort of man, was he? I knew what sort of man he was when I chose him and when I fell in love with him. And I loved him to a powerful, encompassing degree; I loved with a love I hadn’t experienced before in my life.

When during our early dating days he ignored me or failed to telephone me or didn’t bother to collect me at an arranged place and time, this didn’t put me off. I loved him even more. It made him intriguing. It made me feel so special when he elected to spend time with me. I was enthralled. I was, as my friends observed, a sucker for a bad boy.

Bad boys do not share the burden of life equally with you, even if they deign to allow you to share their life. A devil-may-care, seat-of-his-pants, might-call-might-not guy is not a guy who will one day run a bath for you when you come home exhausted from that late waitressing shift that you tacked on to a long day at university. He will almost certainly not have dinner waiting for you after your first day in a new and stressful job. He might even be waiting for you to come home and cook.

A man who can’t be bothered to text you back after your first few dates is unlikely to be a man who will, when you eventually live together, put your mum’s birthday on the wall calendar and buy a card for her when he happens to see one, so it’s ready for you to post. A man who makes you beg for crumbs from his table in the dating days is one who will later think nothing of arguing vehemently with you into the small hours the day before an important job interview so that you’re too tired to do it justice.

The thing is that this stuff matters. Of course, it shouldn’t. We are capable, strong, modern women. We don’t need a man! Who needs men?! Feminism is very clear on this point. We can do whatever we want to do with our lives. Can’t we? We can be CEOs and judges and politicians and bankers and have seven children at the same time if we want to. But — and I’m just going to come right out and say it — we probably won’t be able to do any of that if we choose a “bad boy” as our life partner.

In 2017, Caitlin Moran wrote an article in the Times about this, and it stopped me in my tracks. She said:

Of all the married women I know who have children, all the ones who are successful in their careers and are happy are, without exception, the ones who married, for the want of a better word, “good” men. Gentle, clever, kind, funny men, usually in cardigans, who just show up for everything. Ones who at a bare minimum cut it 50–50 with the housework, childcare and emotional upkeep.

Oh, I thought. Oh. I see. It spoke to me on a visceral level, even as I rallied against the concept of my quality of life being determined so directly by my choice of mate.

My husband now, who I married after divorcing the bad boy, is a gentle, clever, kind, and funny man who owns cardigans. We share the housework and childcare equally. We always have. He shows up for everything. He always has. By any definition, he’s a good man.

It still feels unfeminist in some abstract way, to feel at all grateful to my husband for the fact that I have been able to build a career. It feels like I’m letting my fore-sisters down when they’d told me I could have it all and with no one’s help.

But simple logic states that with three children and only a finite amount of available hours in each day, without him stepping up to the plate and shouldering his half of the load — and without him making me feel guilty for that, or arguing with me about it, or even allowing me to notice — I wouldn’t have had enough time to do the things I needed to do to allow me to have the job I wanted, or to study the subjects I wanted to study.

That’s why, when younger friends (or, the horror! — my daughters) tell me they can’t resist a bad boy, I’m very clear in my response.

I get it, I say. I know what you’re talking about; I really do. Right now, he’s so sexy. Now, when nothing other than the quality of your day hinges on his behavior, you’re smitten. But you need to think carefully about the shape you’d like your life to have in five years. In ten years. Twenty.

Because we only have a set amount of seconds and hours and days in our lives. If you and your partner don’t share your future life fifty-fifty then the math is simple: you’ll be the one carrying the extra percentage. It’ll be on you, eating your hours. Eating into the time you could have filled with things that make you happy.

Don’t accidentally marry your own limitations.

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