Why is the internet talking about ‘offline boyfriends’?


He’s offline, but she’s very much online.

“But the best part about it is that he has, like, zero internet presence,” my friend says breathlessly, gripping her wine glass with the fervour of someone who has just unearthed a rare gem or new species of plant. “Oh, so he’s offline offline,” I respond, with the reverence you reserve for someone who has done something bold, like deactivating their Instagram account.

This is not a conversation I would have been having a year ago, because the usual question millennial women ask each other when hearing about a new flame is something along the lines of ‘Can I see their socials?’. It slips out of your mouth before you’ve even thought about it, like muscle memory. And if it’s not friends asking this of each other, it’s something we stealthily do in the privacy of our bedrooms.

Interested to hear how others navigate the world? Head to our Life section.

The timeline from seeing a mysterious cutie on a dating app to dredging up a disastrous tagged photo of him at a house party in 2009 with ratty blonde streaks and an eyebrow piercing is frighteningly fast.

So why do we do it? In an era where most of us are chronically online, having a brief browse of someone’s Instagram or Facebook – or sometimes even a LinkedIn if you’ve really got your detective hat on – can give you a clearer idea of what that person is supposedly like. ‘Oh, look, they follow the same (insert common interest here), we’ll probably have things in common and get along well enough to go on a date,’ you think to yourself.

For the style-conscious among us (a more unforgiving person might just call us shallow, but if you care about clothes, you care about clothes), seeing ‘the socials’ can bring you or your friend’s prospective paramour skyrocketing up in your books, or plummetting down into the depths of fashion purgatory.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve uttered “HoNestlY he’S hOt in rEAL LiFe, TruSt Me” about some wretched-looking skater with stringy hair and unbrushed teeth while dragging my friend away from their atrocious Facebook profile. Are men just generally not very good at representing themselves online?

My friends’, and my own, extensive experience with online dating points to yes. But recently, it’s begun to matter a whole lot less whether someone I’m into has ‘good’ socials (whatever that even means). In fact, someone being too online has become a bit of an ick for me, and many other women I’ve spoken to.

As someone who spends my days immersed in the bowels of the internet – it comes with the job description – there’s something incredibly refreshing about dating someone who just doesn’t really care about that stuff. And this is where the ‘offline boyfriend’ comes in.

Wait, what the heck is an ‘offline boyfriend’?

The ‘offline boyfriend’ began gaining traction earlier this year on TikTok (where else), with users making videos extolling the virtues of men with ‘zero Snapchat followers’ and openly lusting after someone with ‘less than 1k Instagram followers’ who ‘never posts’.

@layarenae_##ColorCustomizer boys with no followers 😏😏😏😏😏😏😏♬ original sound – glxxmike

Of course, as is the case with most trends, its steady increase in popularity can be linked to celebrities like Bella Hadid, who has reportedly been dating her very offline boyfriend for over a year, and Zoe Kravitz. While Zoe’s partner, Channing Tatum, isn’t ‘offline’ per se, he embodies the energy of an offline boyfriend – he’s a bit left of field and unexpected, and perhaps not in keeping with Zoe’s usual type.

The fact that he’s following not one but four Zoe Kravitz fan accounts on Instagram might make you think he’s online, but these are very clearly the actions of a man who isn’t clued up (or doesn’t care) about the supposed dos and don’ts of social media use while dating someone.

And thus, Channing has entered the offline boyfriend hall of fame, along with Meryl Streep’s husband (a non-famous ceramicist), Bella Hadid’s mysterious art director boyfriend Marc Kalman, and actress Issa Rae’s husband, who reportedly even has a private LinkedIn.

So aside from the superficial stuff, what does this newfound appreciation for an offline partner say about the collective psyche right now? In a piece she wrote for i-D earlier this year, writer Laura Pitcher described how “more and more ‘it girls’ opting for a partner who’s offline seems to speak to a larger revolt against social media relationships and, perhaps, our nostalgic longing for simpler times”.

After all, social media is responsible for a whole host of relationship issues, and there’s very little possibility of obsessing over someone’s online status, pining over a read receipt, or investigating whose photos they’ve liked if they’re just… not online.

@i_dWhy is everyone obsessed with having an ‘offline’ boyfriend right now? @lauraepitcher investigates. #normcore #bellahadid #loggingoff♬ A laid-back and fashionable electro pop(1021691) – Kasai Takara

In an era saturated with Instagram couple debuts, social media PDA and an obsessive documentation of just how great you and your partner’s life together is, the rise of the offline boyfriend was perhaps inevitable. The pendulum swung too far one way, and now it’s come hurtling back, intent on moving our love lives back where they belong – IRL rather than on IG.

I see. Look, it sounds pretty good.

It’s definitely got its perks. But as Laura Pitcher noted in her article, your partner being ‘offline’ won’t automatically solve all your issues or mean they won’t cheat. Just because someone is offline, it doesn’t mean they’re worthy of your time – or a good person, for that matter.

But what this increasing interest in offline relationships hopefully points to is a desire to spend more time nurturing our relationships, and less time curating and sharing them. And, perhaps, less of a focus on the superficial stuff. After all, if you like someone, you like someone – if they make you laugh and like you for your ‘offline’ self, who cares if they wear questionable shoes and haven’t updated their Instagram since pre-COVID times?

So what about dating apps? Can I meet an ‘offline’ boyfriend online?

Potentially, but there’s a chance you’ll swipe right past them. In keeping with their ‘offline’ nature, they probably have approximately two photos of themselves, and put very little time into curating a dating app profile.

Unsurprisingly, it’s more likely you’ll meet an offline boyfriend offline, so put your phone down and try your luck at your local watering hole (or wherever else a person you feel you could be compatible with might be lingering). You could even take FJ contributor Christina Karras’ advice, and try your luck at wrangling a date via Facebook Marketplace.

Okay, I see. So we love an offline boyfriend.

We love an offline boyfriend. And if it’s good enough for Bella Hadid and Zoe Kravitz, it’s good enough for me.

For more on the offline boyfriend, try this.

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