No idea what ‘goblin mode’ means? Never heard of Francis Bourgeois? I’m yours
Last year, a picture depicting two stick figures holding hands went viral on Twitter. The figure on the left was labelled “extremely online”, the one on the right “no social media, happy”. The caption read: “the perfect couple.” With over 89,000 likes, it’s clear that many people agree.
The ‘no social media partner’ is easily identifiable. They won’t have posted on Instagram since 2018. Their innocent eyes will glaze over when you try to explain what ‘goblin mode’ means. They won’t know who Francis Bourgeois is. They’ll unironically use the crying-laughing emoji. When they do venture online, it’ll be to look up YouTube videos about rock climbing or aquascaping or some other wholesome hobby. It certainly won’t be to aimlessly scroll through Twitter or TikTok until their thumb aches and their eyes sting. Even celebrities love an offline partner: take Bella Hadid’s boyfriend Marc Kalman or Ariana Grande’s husband Dalton Gomez.
Sean*, 27, also has an offline boyfriend. “He does have Instagram, but it’s a private, locked account and he never posts on it. Other than that, he has zero public profiles at all,” he says. This is in stark contrast to Sean, who spends “a lot of time” on Twitter and describes himself as “as online as it’s possible to be”.
34-year-old Rose has a similar dynamic in her relationship. She says that her partner uses the internet solely to read the news and message his friends. “He doesn’t have any social media, apart from a long-dormant Facebook account which he doesn’t really use and I think he’s got LinkedIn too,” she says. “He just doesn’t engage with social media at all.” Like Sean, Rose’s relationship with social media is very different to her partner’s. She explains that because of her job, she’s often on Twitter and Instagram to promote her work and “[checks her] social media a lot throughout the day.”
Why are offline partners so appealing? For starters, there’s something about being online that is just fundamentally embarrassing. Imagining your partner trying to film a TikTok, uploading a minute-long Instagram story on a night out, or earnestly DMing a celebrity is viscerally ick-inducing. Secondly, our desire to be surrounded by offline people is unsurprising in an age where social media has the power to wreak havoc on relationships. Just look at West Elm Caleb, or Couch Guy, or even Kanye West, who has essentially been live-tweeting his divorce from Kim Kardashian. And as the majority of us become ever more addicted to social media, someone who isn’t instantly seems like a breath of fresh air – plus, as Effy Stonem proved beyond doubt, there’s really nothing sexier than mystique.
In some instances, offline partners also can help chronically online people come back to reality. Both Sean and Rose add that it’s refreshing to speak to their partners when they get sucked into spats on Twitter. “When I tell my boyfriend, he’s not unsympathetic per se, he just genuinely doesn’t get it,” Sean says. “He’s like, ‘who is this person, do you know them?’ and I’m like ‘no’. Trying to explain [Twitter beef] to someone who just truly doesn’t understand why it’s a big deal definitely puts things into perspective.” Rose says that her partner often “acts as a touchstone which brings me back to reality” when she gets drawn into online drama.
We’re also attracted to what ‘being offline’ signifies: opting out of seeking validation from strangers on the internet certainly exudes a powerfully sexy and confident vibe. “I associate [being offline] with a certain kind of masculinity which is kind of attractive to me – like a lack of vanity,” Sean says. It’s true that there’s an unattractive tendency among those of us who are online to fall prey to ‘main character syndrome’ or lay claim to being an ‘empath’. At best, this is annoying. At worst, it’s narcissistic.
Dr Alex Jones is a senior lecturer in Psychology at Swansea University with expertise in the psychology of attractiveness. He affirms that when dating, we infer a lot from someone’s social media presence – or lack thereof. “Typically on the dating market there is some kind of signal or cue that attracts the attention of a potential partner, whether that’s looks, dress sense, conversation. I think signalling your lack of social media use could fall into that, acting as a kind of cue to someone’s independence and outlook on life,” he says. “It’s quite possible that not being on social media is associated with a certain kind of personality type – perhaps introverted, for example. Again, depending on the person looking, this could be an attractive trait.”
“A lower use or lack of social media is probably associated with a certain kind of personality and they are most probably less vain and less narcissistic” – Dr Alex Jones
“We already know that usage of social media apps like Instagram are correlated with narcissism and body image variables, and not always in a good way – more usage can be detrimental to self-perception, and those who are more narcissistic spend more time on social media apps,” he continues. “A lower use or lack of social media is probably associated with a certain kind of personality and they are most probably less vain and less narcissistic.” Of course, not everyone who is offline will be inherently empathetic nor will everyone who is online be narcissistic, but it’s easy to read ‘being offline’ as shorthand for ‘being nice’ given the limitless volume of potential partners presented to us on dating apps.
Obviously, not everyone fancies an offline partner. Some have argued that no social media presence should even be interpreted as a red flag. It’s portrayed as such in the film Fresh, where Noa falls for the decidedly offline Steve. Long story short: her best friend thinks he’s hiding something, Noa continues to see him anyway, and then – spoiler alert – it turns out he’s a cannibal. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but it is true that many women rely on social media to ‘screen’ dating app matches before meeting them. “For women, meeting a date who they have initiated contact with online could carry physical harm risks. Someone without any accessible background probably would look very suspicious,” Dr Jones says.
It goes without saying, but obviously everyone on earth will be looking for different things in a partner. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule – some people will want an offline partner, some people will want an online partner, and that’s fine. As Dr Jones says, “it depends a lot on the person and their personality, interests, and motives”. But I’d argue that in a world that’s increasingly surveilled, it’s good to make a conscious effort to keep some things private, and your relationship might be a good place to start.
*Name has been changed