Why do we fall for fuckboys or girls? It’s the eternal question. Like Shakespearean Iagos for the Tinder age, they crave constant attention and if there’s a scandal, they’re almost always at the centre but miraculously never to blame.
Manipulative, infuriatingly charming, superficial, lacking in integrity and yet almost universally alluring – we just can’t help ourselves. After every encounter, we swear off them. A week later, all it takes is a "what are you doing?" text and we go back for more until one day they push us too far and, finally, we stop. Friends and family may have spent months, even years, begging us to stop putting ourselves through the emotional abuse, the gaslighting, the drama, the uncertainty and the pain but, all too often, it’s only when we reach breaking point that we cut the cord.
It’s not just that we’re all masochists. As not one but two 2013 studies conducted by psychologists at the University of Durham and the University of Teesside found, it’s that people who display what’s known as the Dark Triad of personality traits – Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy – are incredibly attractive to us.
So attractive, in fact, that the women who participated in one of the pieces of research rated men who exhibited high levels of Dark Triad characteristics "significantly more attractive" than those who didn’t.
However, it’s not just in our romantic relationships that we fall for the charms of arch manipulators.
Recent research from the University of Exeter, which looks at the personalities of political elites has highlighted that – surprise – certain personality traits are more common among politicians. And while those in power were found to be generally low in traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness (which the researchers point out is linked to trust and trustworthiness), they were high in traits such as extroversion. More than this, in a separate study, people who are particularly ambitious were found to exhibit the Dark Triad personality model.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that our new prime minister has managed, after a string of blunders, to make his way to Number 10. Britain fell in love with bad boy Boris Johnson a long time ago. He is a man who was fired from his job as a journalist – in which the key requirement is that you communicate facts to an audience – for lying, had multiple affairs despite being married with children and in 2004 got fired from a front bench role because of one of them. Yet still he continued to poll well. Still, him one day becoming prime minister was always talked about not in terms of "if" but "when".
I remember sitting in a suburban south London hairdresser's with one of my mum’s friends shortly before the EU referendum and hearing her say that she was voting in favour of Brexit because of Boris.
It didn’t seem to matter that throughout his entire career – professionally and personally – he had shown himself to be untrustworthy. She was prepared to place her faith and her future in his hands because, as she put it while swooning at the time, "he is just charming and intelligent".
As if his previous indiscretions weren’t enough, Johnson deliberately misused official statistics during the campaign for Brexit. He promised his country that "after leaving the EU, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week" which, he said, we would spend on the NHS. In reality, the figure is more like £250 million and it’s now very clear that the economic impact of Brexit is already bigger than these savings, impressive as they might sound.
But that’s the Dark Triad all over, isn’t it? Promising the world, dazzling you with grand ideas and big promises only to let you crash back down to Earth when a new conquest comes along.
Since becoming prime minister, Johnson has compared himself to the Hulk with no irony, much to the exasperation of EU officials and the embarrassment of, well, even the Hulk himself. He has (perhaps deliberately) misled the queen to get his own way. He has faced down calls to resign after the Supreme Court ruled that he unlawfully prorogued parliament with the arrogance of an Old Etonian and the swagger of a man who knows that someone will always have him. He has invoked the memory of murdered MP Jo Cox, who was killed by a far-right terrorist at the height of the tensions caused by the anti-immigration rhetoric used by his own campaign to leave Europe, in an attempt to justify his political position.
And as if all this wasn’t galling enough, when he was called out by Labour MP Paula Sherriff in the House of Commons who, while close to tears, told him that she was receiving death threats – including one against her child – which echoed his rhetoric about not "surrendering" and pushing ahead with Brexit, he simply replied: "I have never heard so much humbug in my life."
The behaviour of the prime minister sets the tone for what else happens on the front benches. Culture trickles from the top down. Underneath Boris Johnson it looks like an ageing university rugby team are running wild, shouting "banter" at each other and getting drunk on power while forgetting that they only have senior jobs because there was – quite literally – nobody decent left for their boss to pick, because he expelled them from the Conservative party for voting against him.
We’ve been forced to look on as the painfully posh Jacob Rees-Mogg lay down – yes, lay down – and lounged and lolled on the front bench in the Commons and appeared to snooze while the house was in session. At one of the most serious points in Britain’s history, can you imagine feeling entitled to do such a thing?
We’ve then heard the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox respond flippantly to a very serious question about whether the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill – which was put on hiatus by the proroguing of parliament – would now be pushed through by saying: "We might as well do something."
Two women die a week at the hands of an abusive partner. Two women a week. But, yeah, we might as well do something.
The Dark Triad is familiar to us all. We know that the traits it describes enable politicians to self-promote and rise to powerful positions even if they may not actually be fit to hold them. But just as we fall for the charms of people we know are no good for us in our own lives, we keep letting them get away with it.
Why has Britain continually forgiven men like Johnson? Why, despite his record, does he keep being handed opportunities? Why, even though he continues to let us down, does his stock seem to keep rising? When will we finally realise that we are in a toxic relationship with leaders like him and start backing people who are actually fit to lead us. You can’t look out for the wellbeing of anyone – let alone an entire nation – if you only care about yourself.