Dating can be an absolute minefield, which is why it’s often helpful to know what red flags you might want to look out for.
New BBC show Everything I Know About Love – an adaptation of writer Dolly Alderton’s memoir – follows a group of 20-something women navigating life and love in London, and one of them gets entangled in a relationship with a whole lot of red flags.
When Maggie (played by Emma Appleton) first meets Street (Connor Finch), he’s toting a guitar and quoting Philip Larkin, and it swiftly becomes apparent: Street is a softboi. This is a classic dating archetype – and it’s worth looking out for.
It’s not a new phenomenon – softbois are regularly seen on screen, such as Timothee Chalamet’s character in the 2017 film Lady Bird, and the Instagram account @beam_me_up_softboi has 663k followers (it posts screenshots of message exchanges with purported softbois).
So, what is a softboi, and why might you want to be careful dating one?
A softboi is “a cuter and less masculine version” of a ‘player’, suggests relationship expert and founder of Wingman, Tina Wilson (wingmanapp.com). “They present as having alternative thinking patterns, they’re maybe slightly edgy, they avoid the mainstream, they’re very open about their emotions, and well-educated.
“Initially, you’d say they were a really good guy – but unfortunately, they can use these tactics to manipulate, and basically get people into bed.”
While the language around softbois is quite gendered, the archetype isn’t just found within heterosexual relationships. “Nothing within the world of love and dating is exclusive to one sexuality,” says Wilson. “Exactly the same signs are shown within the LGBTQ community – there’s no difference whatsoever.”
How do they lure in partners?
Wilson suggests softbois draw in partners by portraying themselves as “the polar opposite of the bad boy image. So girls will think, ‘I’m going against type, I don’t want a bad boy, I want a good guy’.
“And this is what softbois play on – for women to be looking for someone who appears, at first sight, to be very kind, very thoughtful, a good listener – and they reel you in.”
Wilson adds: “The red flags are always there to see, but it can take a little bit longer [to spot] than it could for your typical bad boy.”
How might they present themselves?
“They present as ‘edgy’, so a softer look,” Wilson muses. “They wouldn’t post pictures of themselves with their pecs out – that would be the exact opposite to a softboi.
“Their pictures [on social media] would be the books they love reading, landscapes with a nice quote of the day. They like looking like they’re going through life just trying to be kind to people – they love animals.”
Of course, we’re not saying you should steer clear of someone if they like reading or animals – it’s the underlying behaviours you might want to be careful of.
What are the potentially toxic traits of softbois?
“They’re very manipulative,” suggests Wilson. “All of these different terminologies [in dating], they all stem back to the same thing of borderline narcissism, red flags, sociopaths. It’s all about what benefits them. So they’re manipulating you, reeling you in to get what they want – it’ll never be what’s best for you, it’ll always be what’s best for them.”
Wilson also says ‘negging’ could be a typical sign of a softboi. “Negging is emotional manipulation. So a person might give you a backhanded compliment, or a flirtatious remark – but really, it’s to undermine your confidence, and increase the manipulator’s approval… They might insult you, under the guise of constructive criticism.”
As softbois tend to be openly in touch with their emotions, Wilson also suggests this could potentially be weaponised against you. For example, if you respond to one of their remarks by saying, ‘That hurt my feelings’, Wilson says they might reply: “‘Don’t say that, because that makes me sad you think I’d hurt your feelings’ – rather than saying, ‘Sorry, I wasn’t thinking’.”
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