For as long as I was able to look for categories of belonging in books, on the television, movies, fashion articles, I had always managed to discard those as proper descriptors for who I felt I was. You can’t put people in a box, you can’t just sum a whole human person up by a couple of token pieces of clothes, commonly-used expressions, vaguely ascribed character traits and call off 150 years of painstaking psycho-analysis. That is my hardcore belief that, whatever happens, there is more than meets the eye with every person I’ve met, than any bullshit denominator could say about them. Even when I do judge someone based on the facial hair that dangles off their membrane, there’s always this moment when I stop being a garbage piece of judgmental weirdo once I actually talk to the non-ironical type-writer user, manbun-sporting milk-and-sugar-with-a-dash-of-coffee drinking guy.
– Okay. There’s this one girl I used to be a French Teaching Assistant for. And, I swear, I’m gifted with people. I know how to make them talk, in a foreign language even. And still now, I believe there’s more than meets the eye about everyone. But she was a cheerleader. Into running. And she loved the TV show Vampire Diaries. AND THAT WAS IT. After 7 weeks of making conversation to her every Monday, for 15 to 20 minutes, she could not utter a thing that was new or original. She nearly broke me. –
But there’s this thing that has been going around, this category that I’ve been cautiously avoiding reading or learning about. The Soft Boy. Until I read this New Yorker published essay "Cat Person" written by Kristen Roupenian that triggered a reaction on my part. This essay made me want to curl back into my 15-year-old shell and rewatch Where The Wild Things Are or Her on a loop (Maybe both, if someone brings me Darjeeling tea). It’s hard to point out specifically what being a soft boy entails. From what I gather, they are sensitive, inconsiderate, awkward, egotistical, dorky, manipulative, well-groomed, feminist posing individuals. They can also go from endearing to creepy faster than a South-Korean thriller.
If I ask of myself what they are, if I dig in my experience, they lurk in the in-betweeness of an unposted, carefully phrased text-message, when you ask if he’d like to meet next week for coffee, and he sends you the same pattern of emojis without giving you an answer, until a yes appears 5 minutes after. When you said you loved that moment you shared and that he did too and he adds some carefully crafted details about what you both are experiencing, because he’s so in tune with his own emotions. When you ask if everything’s okay and the three dots jump in a pack, mowing an answer that you know will lead you to asking yourself that same question. When he fails to reply for a third day in a row, or harasses you for five hours, once the relation eventually falls apart.
He’s constantly asking you “Are you doing okay?” While, what you both seem to be wondering about each other is “Are you being okay as a person? Can I trust that I won’t break you, as much as I fear you will break me?”
The soft boy probably means well. And is probably just as sensitive as any white guys would be, coming from an open-minded family that cared for him long enough that they’d pay for a college education, be supportive of his art — Soft boy has poems, if you have time! — and not know any systemic struggle. But they do care about those who do! They wear proudly the mainstream-safe badge of a feminist, a transgender supporter. They don't appreciate this nonsense about Muslim communities being stigmatized. They read about the Rohingyas once, and they want you to know about it.
But do they ever actually engage with the fight?
Also, from all the essays I’ve read, they love to write about how complicated and full of bullshit soft boys are, in a dismissive third person text.