After all these years of hearing from young (and not-so-young) women who are fascinated with predators, I've developed a theory of my own. The women who become easily intrigued by sociopaths are of course interested in protecting the vulnerable (including themselves). But they are also enthralled by those who represent the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from where these women find themselves.
Sociopaths, by definition, lack compassion and remorse. Some young women in our culture, on the other hand, are overwhelmed by those very same things. Think of emotional sensitivity as a spectrum from 0-10, similar to the volume controls for a radio. It's healthy to be tuned into the needs of others at about 4 or 5 on the continuum. At that volume, you're aware of the needs of those around you without being overwhelmed by them. But for some women, the world's "emotional noise" comes through at 8 or 9 on the spectrum. The needs and demands of others are so clear and loud that these young women often can't hear themselves think. They're nearly incapacitated from the effort of absorbing so much emotion, and frequently they feel immensely guilty for not meeting the insatiable demands of those around them. Is it any wonder that they become fascinated with — and even, in some sense, envious of — sociopaths? What else is a sociopath than someone whose "volume control" for the needs of others has been set to mute?
There may be women who fall for dangerous predators because of the evolutionary impulses that Ramsland cites; others may be filled with the desperate quixotism that Seltzer suggests, believing that their love is powerful enough to tame even a serial killer. Many surely identify with strong female characters like Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson, SVU's brave and relentless protagonist. But admiration for the cops and lawyers who keep the streets safe is only part of the draw. For many who have made SVU and CSI into two of the most successful scripted televisions shows of the modern era, the fascination may be less about attraction than about a strange kind of envy of the shows' sociopathic villains. How many bright, talented, acutely sensitive young women have occasionally fantasized about having an internal "mute button" that could silence the judging, nagging, needy voices of all around them?
I can sort of see this. They may also want to be around sociopaths because sociopaths are relatively "silent" emotionally. I have at least a few female friends who are on the other extreme of the empathy spectrum than I am. I think one of the things they like about me is that they can be extremely emotional needy about things, e.g. take several months to get over a break up, and know that I'll let them talk forever and when I get bored of hearing about it, I just tune them out. I'm not put out by it, I am not really anything about it at all. I guess there's something nice about being around someone who isn't feeling exactly what you're feeling. But I don't know, that's basically my life all the time, so I have no basis for comparison.