Internet Culture Lifestyle Relationships

The Anatomy of a Soft Boi

If you’re a human being who has ever dated anyone, or even spoken to someone besides close family members, you’re likely to have encountered a soft boi at some point. 

They’re everywhere, and they’re completely inescapable. Coming across a soft boi ranks alongside drinking water, eating, and sleeping as a quintessential part of the human experience. Talking to soft bois about their love of Tame Impala and the demons that they’re running from no longer seems strange but worryingly normal. In fact, it might even have become… endearing? No, I can’t go quite that far. But what is a soft boi? What makes a boi soft? And what do they want from you? Let’s find out!

Now, I am truly no stranger to the soft boi.  Many of the films that I’ve watched on account of my exes, such as Pulp Fiction and Donnie Darko, are bastions of soft boi-ism. When I broke up with my sixth form boyfriend, he wrote not one, but three disparaging songs about me. Some might even accuse me of being a bit of a soft boi myself, given I too enjoy listening to my Rex Orange Country Apricot Princess record regularly, and once wore a Gorillaz t-shirt to a bop. When I texted my flatmate asking “am I a soft boi” (followed by “be honest,”) he responded, “I feel like you’re having a crisis, but, yes.” In order to further my investigation I decided to turn to the internet’s leading soft boi archive: @beam_me_up_softboi.

@Beam_me_up_softboi features screenshots of texts, dms, and any other form of communication that soft bois use to infiltrate the spaces that we don’t want them in. Usually, they’re limited to the things that the soft boi has sent, but sometimes we get glimpses into the bemused reactions of their victims. Looking through the posts,  a couple of themes stick out. On the lighter side, we have attempts at intellectual superiority, like the soft bois that ask you if you’ve read James Joyce, and then attempt to explain how they relate to Stephen Dedalus (this is not something to boast about!). However, on the darker side, we also have gaslighting and the kind of persistence that verges on harassment. One thing that becomes clear is that there’s a spectrum to soft boi-ism. Often, it’s just a case of someone thinking they’re a lot more alternative than they actually are, but sometimes, it’s  straight-up manipulative behaviour.

While a lot of the encounters on @beam_me_up_softboi are so ridiculous that they’re nothing but entertaining, part of me worries that we’re normalising the narcissistic, emotionally stunted behaviour that some messages expose. The owner of the account clearly tries to avoid doing so, often criticising some of the more worrying screenshots in the captions. But the fact still remains that there’s enough of this stuff going around to build an account with a 368k strong following on. Being a little pretentious is one thing (and a thing that I can definitely own up to), but painting yourself as ‘broken’ in an attempt to get someone to shag you is completely unacceptable, even – or perhaps especially – if you’re self-aware of it. Accounts like @beam_me_up_softboi are a fun way to poke fun at endemic pretension, but I’m not convinced that laughing at the underlying problem is going to be the best way to fix it.