This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Softbois are difficult to define, but easy to recognize. This is because they occupy a vague yet specific set of characteristics, ranging from “I’ve just watched American Psycho for the first time and am applying its manipulative themes to my Tinder conversations” to the more innocent “I own and wear more than one tiny little beanie rolled up and balanced on the top of my head.”
If we dive even further into the “pit of softness” (a horrible phrase which I am deeply sorry for using) we can see the softboi split into many sub-genres, each with delicately differing traits and behaviors. The 30-year-old in a turtleneck who is now mansplaining Radiohead’s musical development to you over Instagram Direct is a softboi, and yes, so is the grade-schooler you babysat when he was eight, who’s now fully grown and rolling his own cigarettes, slouching into his psychology class with a skateboard.
But there are others. Many others. And so, here we have organized the many shades of softboi into 26 helpful and concise categories, ordered alphabetically, for your reading pleasure.
In their natural habitat of the Direct Message inbox, the softboi gently see-saws between airing (read: purposefully ignoring) messages received from potential suitors and getting histrionically, poetically angry when the potential suitors decide to air them. With their self-worth levels hanging in the balance of how many girls/boys they can string along at any given moment, an aired softboi may stop at nothing to continue the conversation, and can turn wildly unpredictable at any point. See:
The softboi wants constant attention, and don’t we all? No-one wants to be aired. but the softboi’s attitude toward being aired is one of utter confusion followed by escalation. Why would he be ignored? Does his extensive reading of D.H. Lawrence novels combined with his actually quite progressive view on feminism not warrant a response? What more is a softboi supposed to do?
Honorable mentions: Alpha Males, Arthouse Cinema
Fun activity: Spend a particularly disappointing night of candle-lit fingering on a softboi’s floor mattress and wonder how he’s got this far in life without seemingly ever satisfying a sexual partner. Then spot a well-thumbed copy of Charles Bukowski’s Women on the floor next to said mattress and let the hollowing despair wash over you.
Cigarettes are a natural extension of every softboi’s hand. He is likely to describe the act of smoking as “a fucking spiritual experience,” or perhaps take it further and explain to you, the innocent bystander whom he has cornered in the Wetherspoons beer garden, how cigarettes are in fact a metaphor for life. “We all just, we just fucking… burn out in the end?” He pauses then shrugs, taking a moment to bask in the genius of his own mind. “Anyway, I was planning on spending tonight drinking red wine and watching Wes Anderson. Wanna help keep me warm?”
Honorable mentions: Cuffing (Jeans), Cuffing (Season)
D: Doc Martens
This seems like a good opportunity to split softbois into two categories: pure evil and objectively harmless. All of us have at one time or another let our alt tendencies run away with us, so it seems harsh to place a softboi like the one above, who is simply quoting Bring Me The Horizon on Tinder—as we have all done from time to time—in the same category as the following man, who, bringing us nicely onto the topic of Doc Martens, was absolutely fucking certainly wearing the things while typing out this total atrocity of a Snapchat message:
Honorable mentions: Donnie Darko, Death
The E-boys are the pouting, chain-wearing younger cousin of the softboi. However, hope springs eternal that anyone young enough to actually upload to TikTok has not yet learned the softboi’s trademark art of subtle emotional manipulation via a false projection of vulnerability. See VICE’s introduction to this phenomenon for a more comprehensive overview of this mini softboi subset.
Honorable mentions: Emojis, Eyal (Love Island Series 4 contestant), Emotional Labor
Feelings = Fine. It is entirely acceptable to be open and vulnerable about how you are feeling, softboi or not. But feelings as described below? Feelings delivered as some strange cohesion of loaded descriptives, in a message designed to orchestrate the receiver into miraculously falling in love via what they wrongly deem as intriguing “honesty”? Slight Hannibal Lecter vibes here. This man has gone full evil and represents the infamous red flags one is likely to encounter when chatting to a softboi.
Honorable mentions: Freud, Fuckboys, Film Studies
The original hugely and overtly horny app, Grindr has proven to be the home of some of the most fantastic softbois in existence, for example:
Honorable mention: Girl Softbois, Ghosting
There is an argument for hallucinogens being at the root of all softboi-ism. Perhaps thousands of years ago, when the first magic fungi was consumed, a message was sent mid-trip to the first ever softboi, who as a result decided that the most surefire way to bed the lady of his affections was not to impress her by slaughtering a mammoth with his bare hands, but instead to rant at her for a solid half an hour about how his deeply alternative cave-drawings might in fact be too progressive for others to truly “get,” you know?
The visual, self-expressive nature of this app makes things a lot easier for softbois stalking their prey. Stay wary of your Direct Message inbox, lest you should receive something along the lines of “Heyy, I know we haven’t met but I just came across your profile and couldn’t help but notice you posted a still from Gummo a few years ago? Let me know if you have a spare moment to discuss Harmony Korine’s ongoing influence on modern cinema over a cup of coffee or red wine ;).”
Honorable mentions: IPAs, Ignorance
J: Joy Division
Softbois ungracefully elevate the level of interest in Joy Division from “watched that film they made about Ian Curtis, thought it was alright, enjoy listening to Unknown Pleasures but would not despair in a world where it did not exist” to “would probably consider selling my own parents to get my hands on some original memorabilia and have those squiggly lines tattooed across my chest.”
Honorable mentions: Jack Kerouac, Jealousy
I still can’t quite get my head around the softboi obsession with ketamine. I can only assume that it appeals to the softboi’s self-destructive side, which is actually quite concerning and probably needs looking at from a psychological perspective. There’s still no reason to go off quite so viciously as this:
Truly, there has never been a statement more softboi than “My brain is so alternatively superior that I have gained a deeper understanding of drugs than the rest of you, puny humans.”
Honorable mentions: Klimt, King Krule
‘Literature’ as a vague and baseless concept really gets the softbois going. To instantly arouse any given softboi, simply upload a picture with even a small amount of tit on display, alongside a quote from one of your English assigments in college.
Honorable mentions: Liam Gallagher
“Please, come over to my apartment and let me take naked photographs of you with my 35mm camera for my discerningly-vague-sounding ‘art project,’” says the softboi, copy-and-pasting the same thing to everyone he matches with on Tinder. Though slightly less romantic than the idea of lying on a velvet sofa in a candle-lit room posing for Picasso, there’s no denying that’s exactly the line Pablo would have used if he was into the whole online dating thing.
Honorable mentions: Mac Demarco, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Manipulation
Like the Wordsworths, Keats’ and Thoreaus’ that came before them, there’s an (almost) pure innocence to the magnetic pull that softbois have toward nature and the great outdoors. Yet, as is often the case when a softboi comes across something pure and innocent, when he starts talking about it to someone he’s trying to sleep with it becomes irritating on a very raw level:
Honorable mentions: Neglect, NTS Radio
(See B: Bukowski)
Honorable mentions: Origami
“But wait,” I hear you cry, “Most of the contents of this A-Z is normal! Plenty of people have alternative hobbies and interests! Why are you categorizing these people into such specific and arguably unnecessarily harsh archetypes?” Well, I’m glad you asked: It’s because the softbois use their perceived self-superiority to talk down to others and It. Is. Fucking. Annoying:
Q: Quentin Tarantino
Watching a Tarantino film for the first time is an initial foray into softboi-ism for many men, who may otherwise have been content wearing muscle-fit shirts and doing other unforgivably basic things like going to the gym. I don’t know, he thinks quietly to himself as the Reservoir Dogs credits roll, there was just something… different about that film. Interesting. Fast-forward four years and, though still technically the same person, he has started wearing corduroy pants and spewing out this type of shit on Tinder:
Honorable mentions: Quarter Life Crisis
R: Romanticization of Mental Health Issues
Erring on the side of severe creepiness here, but in a manner not dissimilar to the Tumblr blog I had when I was 14, softbois often love to romanticize mental illness. Conversing with a softboi is all fun and games until something like this pops casually into the discourse:
Honorable mentions: Reddit, Ross Geller
S: Signet Rings
If he’s wearing a signet ring, there’s an approximate 50 percent chance that he’s a softboi. The other 50 percent of signet ring wearers are either: your granddad, your granddad’s friends he met at the pub, or a man so rich he’s not only wearing a signet ring and chinos but also a flat cap and equestrian pants. If you’re ever in doubt as to whether a signet ring-wearer is a softboi, keep an eye out for chipped black nail polish on the fingernails or a short monologue about how he’d “100% bang Mia Wallace, you know, if she was real and not in a film.”
Honorable mentions: Selfishness, Shakespeare
Tinder makes it disgustingly easy to identify any softboi, good or bad. They will make themselves known via their bio, which will often clearly outline and highlight how he is not, as so many are, like other men, but in fact (wait for it)… better than other men. Hard to resist this kind of groundbreaking poetry (below) when you’re on Tinder to try your hand at finding a quick hookup, isn’t it?
U: Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters is one of the gentler softboi traits. They should not be teased too mercilessly for it, mainly because you all love it too—look, I’m not actively trying to draw a stereotype of people who read VICE here, but who among us can say they have never wandered around UO, in a daze of $80 hoodies and Mario Badescu toning spray, quietly wondering if they could pull off stonewashed jeans with an elasticated waistband? The mainstream alternativeness of Urban Outfitters appeals to the softboi in all of us (and mark my words, there is an inner softboi in everyone).
Where the Doc Martens-wearing softboi is guaranteed to be fully evil, the boy who chooses instead to adorn his feet with the soft cotton hug of a pair of Vans Old Skools swings wildly to the other end of the spectrum. The Vans-wearing softboi, jeans appropriately rolled up to show his sports-logo socks, is in fact Very Wholesome and is likely to make you a rose out of a paper napkin while you’re at the bar.
Honorable mentions: Vinyl, Vocabulary (Massive and Intimidating), Van McCann
W: Woody Allen
When on a date with a softboi, look out for red flags including but not limited to: talking relentlessly about the importance of separating the art from the artist, specifically for Mr. Allen, who has “helped shaped me into the man I am today.”
Honorable mentions: Wine (Red), Wes Anderson
You decide to dump the current softboi of your affections. He is now your ex-softboi. Finally, you think to yourself, Finally all that business with that softboi I was dating is over. Never again will I go near a man who quotes Socrates during sex. Yet, I am sorry to say, once you have jumped down the rabbit hole of sleeping with a softboi, you will never turn back. You will find yourself unable to break the cycle, drawn as you are to this permanently-tired-looking, oversized-vintage-sweatshirt wearing type of human.
Softbois are always yearning. Yearning for love, yearning for someone who cares, yearning to… spend all evening Snapchatting pictures of their ass?
Z: Ziggy Stardust, Zoots, Ziploc Baggies