- Many people (men and women) date jerks when they are still entering the dating world. There's no substitute for experience, and without experience you're a lot more likely to overlook red flags that would warn more experienced people not to bother dating someone. This doesn't mean inexperienced people don't know what they want; it means they haven't yet learned how to locate what they want. You'll notice a lot of people may date jerks for a little while, but once they realize their partner is, in fact, a jerk, they move on--because a jerk isn't what they want.
- On the other hand, some people date a jerk, learn that the person is a jerk, and then...keep dating that jerk. I don't pretend to have a good explanation for this. In fact, it drives me crazy. However I'm not convinced that a) this is a phenomenon exclusive to women or b) that most--much less all--women do this.
- There is a lot more to attraction than whether someone is nice or a jerk. Off the top of my head (in no particular order), there's work ethic, ambition, passion, physical attraction, honesty, loyalty, playfulness, confidence, optimism, sense of humor, education, religious views, political views, socioeconomic status, family history, and so on. There are all sorts of combinations of these traits and more that may lead to initial attraction and/or long-standing relationships.
When people talk about the "nice guy" situation no one seems to bother to define "nice guy," but in my experience it tends to mean a thoughtful man who is not all that confident. Those two traits seem to be consistent in "nice guys," while I've seen everything else vary.
I hope it's obvious that the following diagram is a simplification. Not every single woman wants a confident guy necessarily, and I've known women who stayed and seemed satisfied with guys that weren't all that thoughtful. Also, the diagram doesn't take into account the myriad of other possible factors in attraction. Just assume they're all lurking in the center somewhere.
The only point I'm trying to make here is that the options aren't simply "nice guys" or jerks. Most women who say they want a nice guy do, in fact, want a nice guy, but that doesn't mean "niceness" is the only thing they're looking for.