Ah, softboys. What can I say about softboys that won’t have me flying into a fit of rage by the time I’ve said three sentences? They’re not the rarest type of fuckboy (and are not to be mistaken with the movement of sadbois founded by ‘nice guy’ hip hop artists like Drake and Yung Lean), nor are they the most annoying to deal with. When you first meet one, you may not even think of him as a potential fuckboy at all. The elusive softboy is, in fact, perhaps the smartest fuckboy out there today, and you may not even see the eventual implosion of your burgeoning relationship until he tells you, “It’s not you, it’s me,” before proceeding to ghost you on Whatsapp.
I personally have extensive experience dealing with softboys, mostly because they sadly appear to be my “type” – either that, or I’m just a glutton for punishment when it comes to romance. But don’t let my suffering be your suffering, too. Here are 10 ways to know if your man happens to be part of the most slippery breeds of fuckboy out there today.
He started by sliding into your DMs – but respectfully.
Forget those corny Tinder pickup lines, or those plain out-and-out propositions to eat your ass before you’ve even said hello. Softboys aren’t about anything like that. No, they only want to know about your thoughts on this interesting social-justice-related article off i-D Magazine, or to get your opinion on whether there is actually any feminist value in the premise of Wonder Woman. The softboy starts off treating you like an actual human being, which is what gets you hooked. It’s not often that you find a man who’s actually interested in what you have to say – which is what makes your softboy such a refreshing change. The first of his redeeming features that jumps out at you is the fact that he’s, well… actually nice. Which is also the first big mistake you’re about to make.
He won’t shut up about philosophy and/or literature.
Eventually, you start going out on dates; cozy meet-ups in small homey bars – but never in clubs, because the music’s too loud in clubs for him to actually have a stimulating conversation with you; to establish a meeting of the minds between you two. It’s this intellectual high horse that keeps the softboy going. He loves Ginsberg, Kerouac, and the rest of the Beat Generation, he can’t stop talking about how Schopenhauer’s theory that the sum of all human experience is negative seems accurate, and bonus points to you if he even writes his own poetry in a black Moleskine (but won’t show them to you because he considers it too personal a display of his rawest emotions). Softboys thrive on intellectualism, and they especially love it when they’re proven smarter than you, again and again. If he’s lent you a beat-up paperback copy of Albert Camus’s L’Étranger or Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Imagination only to then explain to you at great length why you don’t actually “get it”, you’ve probably got a softboy on your hands.
He wears soft clothing to protect his sensitive, fragile heart.
Where else do you think softboys get their name from, if not from the ridiculous amount of snug cardigans and oversized hoodies that they have in their wardrobes? The softboy is not your typical gym-bound, muscled freak. No, they dress like the fashion equivalent of what listening to a Majestic Casual song sounds like – though they wouldn’t be caught dead listening to any of that “basic” Forever 21 background music. Softboys only wear comfortable clothing, mostly to protect their tender hearts from being caught on any sharp edges and accidentally getting broken. You probably have fantasies about your softboy accidentally leaving that really warm beige cable-knit jumper he has over at your place one night, so that you can wear it around the next morning and pretend that you’ve come straight out of a photo you once saw on your Tumblr dashboard, while also proclaiming to the world what a wonderfully sensitive and charming boyfriend you have. A softboy’s fashion sense is what invented the “boyfriend cut”. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted. And that’s what makes them so deadly.
Collecting vinyl records is more than just a hobby to him, it’s a way of life.
If you purchase all your music off iTunes and are an avid devotee of the MP3 format, even if it’s just because it makes listening to your music on your phone so much easier, the softboy will look on it as if it’s a cardinal sin. But picking up your favourite albums in CD format still isn’t enough for the softboy. Nope – you go vinyl, or you go home (alone at the end of the night). Softboys will be incredibly happy to enlighten you on why forking out four times as much money than you’d pay for a digital album is what will keep the music industry alive, and they won’t have a Spotify account either because they’re doing a Thom Yorke and calling it cancer, or because it “isn’t an organic way of listening to and discovering new music”. If your softboy even goes as far as palming off all the album download codes that came with his vinyls on you, because he doesn’t need digital copies on him when he can just go home and put his records on his vintage turntable while staring out his window like he’s in a music video, congratulations. You’re reached peak softboy levels.
He listens to mellow indie music, and not that hip-hop/rap trash that all the other boys listen to, because he’s different.
This is the part where we talk about what exactly is on those records that softboys enjoy gazing out the window mournfully while listening to. Remember that monstrosity of a film, 500 Days of Summer? Softboys have the exact same taste as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s god-awful character does, and you may even find them standing next to you on the train or in the lift listening to acoustic indie songs at obnoxiously loud volumes on oversized headphones. No indie musician is safe from the clutches of the softboy. The Smiths, Keaton Henson, Leonard Cohen, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, even The Pixies… the softboy has them all covered, and also has their entire discography in vinyl sitting on his shelf next to his copies of several Man Booker Prize-winning novels. He will even justify his choice of favourite musician to you with a ten-minute speech about why their music is the defining point of this epoch – and no, he’ll still do it even if you didn’t ask.
Sadness is never, ever, ever a joke. Not to him.
What do you do when you think things are starting to get serious with someone? You start tagging them in memes, of course – the blacker the humour, the better. “All Day I Die And Scream is the hidden meaning behind ‘ADIDAS’ as an acronym,” you laugh, only to be met with a steely stare and a fifteen-minute tirade about how mental illness is not something you can just fuck around with, and all the billions of other depressed people out there would not be happy about that so-called “joke” you just made. “It’s just a joke,” you say defensively, before going on to mention that the person who tagged you in that meme also happens to be your chronically depressed best friend who has been having anxiety attacks since they were 14, and has explained to you that dark humour in memes is the perfect coping mechanism for people who actually suffer from depression. For someone who presents as so incredibly laid-back, the softboy has no sense of humour, particularly when it comes to the sadness that they face themselves.
He eats, breathes, and shits hardcore social justice.
Besides putting down people who have actually experienced mental illness and/or oppression because his experiences are the most important, softboys often have very extreme – and very skewed – ideas of what social justice is. From equating feminism to veganism for “ethical reasons” (instead of understanding that feminism is about accepting that not everyone can be vegan for dietary, financial, or health reasons) to claiming that eating sushi is cultural appropriation, the softboy is hell-bent on ensuring that his opinions are to the extreme left of the sociopolitical scale. “Liberals can’t have offensive opinions,” he’ll tell you, “and if you say so, you’re part of the problem.” Pot, meet kettle.
At some point, he’s told you that “he’ll never hurt you like your ex did”. (But he probably will.)
The softboy thrives on knowing he is superior to as many people on as many levels as possible, and this includes Nice Guy Levels when compared to your ex(es). In being like this, the softboy is also the best example of modern hypocrisy. “I’d never do that to you,” he’ll assure you, when you recount the way your previous ex dumped you on New Year’s Day at midnight, on the dot. He’ll shower you in compliments and do everything that your previous partners never did, but will never fail to remind you just how superior that makes him. And even if he does start drifting off, he won’t ever admit it. Even “good guys” have their bad days. He’s never blowing you off or ignoring you, he’s only ever “trying to figure himself out”. Sometimes he’s “just having a weird day”, or “needs a bit of time to himself”. Are “good guys” really all that if they have to constantly remind you they’re good? You decide.
He’s also told you that you’re “not like all the other guys/girls”.
Softboys set themselves apart from the crowd by being so different from most other guys out there, which is probably why you were attracted to them in the first place. But softboys choose their significant others carefully, too, which is why they will also constantly remind you that you are such a refreshing change from all the other [insert overused gender stereotype here]. Softboys pit you against the rest of your fellow guys or girls by implying that they’re your enemies, isolating you from the rest as you start to wonder just why the rest of them aren’t as “special” as you are. It’s insidious, but it works. We all want to be special snowflakes. It’s too bad that this very human desire is what the softboys have learned to use against us.
Last but not least – and most importantly – he’s the last person you’d ever suspect of being a fuckboy.
The entire softboy archetype came into existence as backlash against the common douchebag; you know, those guys with no tact who make sexual advances every other minute and wouldn’t be averse to texting you at 4 AM with “hey u up?”. The softboys saw that women were tired of men being boisterous and annoying and treating them like trash, and the softboys learned. They evolved. And now, in an age where misogyny is so rampant that we’re inclined to see every guy who doesn’t treat us weird as some kind of angel sent from heaven, the softboys are at the peak of their powers. You want him to be nice. You want him to be different. And that’s exactly what makes them the worst kind of fuckboy – they’re inescapable. I’m not saying every nice guy is a softboy. Of course, there are some genuinely decent men out there (though few and far between). But any insidious insults, or belittling, or bad treatment in general shouldn’t exactly go unnoticed, or be pushed aside. Condescension is a softboy’s main weapon, and it may come so subtly until you realise, a few months later, that you’re tired and beaten down and weary. So don’t act like that acoustic indie mixtape he curated for you is God’s gift to mankind. Don’t get too attached to that cable-knit jumper he left behind at your place. And don’t ever let your guard down too early.
NOTE: The pictures I have used are for illustrative purposes only. Except for those of Tom, from (500) Days of Summer, because that bloke is the OG softboy.
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This article was originally published on Jul 19, 2017.