In her new book, influencer-author Iona David unpacks dating in the digital age: from the initial swipe right to the pain of getting ghosted
Back in 2018, I was talking to a very specific type of man. He wore beanies and smoked rollies and spoke about Stanley Kubrick a lot. On one occasion, he asked me if I “knew Rex Orange County,” and without waiting for a response, proceeded to inform me that I would like him and explained that he had “Mac DeMarcoy vibes”. He was, of course, a softboi.
Naturally, I sent in a screenshot of this monologue to @beam_me_up_softboi, a rapidly-growing Instagram account dedicated to showcasing this particularly chaotic side of humanity. Since its inception four years ago, the account has amassed a cult following with over 665,000 fans.
23-year-old Iona David is the brains behind the account. Since starting the page as a university student in Manchester, David has become a freelance journalist, cultural commentator, and writer, with her debut book, Is This Love or Dopamine? A Deeply Unofficial Study of Dating in the Digital Age out this July. She spoke to Dazed ahead of the book’s release about the importance of self-awareness, wokefishing, and the evolution of the softboi.
One thing I liked about the book was that it was really funny – you made me laugh even when I was reading about something which usually makes me despondent. Why did you decide to keep the tone quite lighthearted?
Iona David: I knew I wanted to write about [dating in 2022], but I'm so bad at finding and gathering facts. So I was like, if I want to write about this, I’m going to have to just keep it vibes-based and funny, because otherwise I'm just not gonna be able to write it.
I get you – I always feel that if something’s not fun to write, then it probably won't be fun to read.
Iona David: Exactly. I feel like writing and reading these days is a bit difficult because sometimes after I’ve spent hours on TikTok I want to read something, but my brain can’t process any actual information. So it needs to be writing with no substance. Did you ever read Mizz magazine? I wanted to make the book the 2022 equivalent of that.
A lot of recent books about dating aren’t very self-aware, either, but yours was. At one point you say: “judging other people takes the blame off us and moves the spotlight away from the fact that we, ourselves, might be terrible people.” I loved that.
Iona David: Reading through other people’s conversations and being like, “you're morally bad, I’m gonna post you”, is such bullshit. It all should be taken very lightly. There’s so much nuance in it as well – sometimes I’ll get a screenshot submitted and I’m like, well, the person who submitted the screenshot is also being a melt. We all just need to take a step back.
I think one of the reasons @beam_me_up_softboi is so successful is because you get such a range of submissions. Like on one end of the spectrum, there are guys who are maybe just a bit annoying or pretentious. But then on the other end, there are people who are verging on emotional abuse.
Iona David: It’s difficult to figure out which ones to post sometimes. Obviously, emotional abuse has been going on forever but now it’s kind of like we have a fly-on-the-wall camera. Maybe it’s a bit surveillance-y because these guys don't know they’re being screenshotted or whatever, but I think it’s useful because it’s so easy to fall for that shit and now there’s a resource where we can say “if a guy says something like this to you, run”. But I didn’t start it to be useful, necessarily – I just wanted it to be funny.
You’ve said before the page isn’t to shame or mock softbois – it really is more of a community for the people on the receiving end of these messages.
Iona David: It’s useful. With bad relationships in general, you never really think of them as something that serious, but it can affect you pretty badly if you get in cycles of being treated like shit. So I think it’s good to just have more awareness of what is and isn’t OK, so you can avoid these men.
Sometimes I think that because of social media, and because our generation is generally quite progressive, some men try to weaponise or appropriate progressive values to curry favour with women.
Iona David: I wrote about this in the book – like the difference between a softboi and a fuckboy. I was trying to figure it out, drawing loads of Venn diagrams and stuff. But I think the softboi is just the fuckboy reincarnated for 2022, because he’s still treating women like shit but has learned loads of long words because he knows we’re getting more emotionally literate. This is only a small percentage of men, to be fair, but they will just stick around no matter what happens in society.
“I think the softboi is just the fuckboy reincarnated for 2022, because he’s still treating women like shit but has learned loads of long words because he knows we’re getting more emotionally literate” – Iona David
Do you think that softbois are unique to our current zeitgeist, or do you think they have been around forever?
Iona David: I’m still trying to figure it out. I think the traits that the softboi has have always been around in different guises – I always say Ross from Friends is a good example. And sometimes I get messages from people who are like “oh my God, I'm in my 40s and there’s finally a name for this kind of guy.”
I guess John Lennon was probably a bit of a softboi.
Iona David: And Shakespeare as well – I always say he was the original softboi.
I read The Wife of Bath at school and I remember it struck me how heterosexual relationships haven’t really changed at all, even since the 1400s.
Iona David: There have always been men like this and there have always been women saying “this isn’t OK”. Which is actually quite depressing because it kind of gives off the impression that things will never change. But what can you do? You just have to laugh about it.
Is This Love or Dopamine? A Deeply Unofficial Study of Dating in the Digital Age is published by HarperCollins and released in hardback on July 7.