extremely online

Maybe All Boyfriends Should Be Offline

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Emojipedia

Is your boyfriend puzzled by your Instagram account? Does he look at you like you’re speaking in tongues when you tell him about Robert Pattinson’s nascent pasta business? Is he unusually wholesome or outdoors-y? Uses outdated technology in a way that’s annoyingly cute? Maybe he has a niche hobby, likely thanks to the copious amounts of time he has gained by not scrolling through social media? If you answered yes to any of these questions, congratulations! You may have an Offline Boyfriend.

The Offline Boyfriend — or, in some iterations, the Offline Husband — has become a bit of a hot commodity here in the online world. A cursory search on Twitter yields a lot of posts by very online girlfriends and boyfriends relaying the most recent viral catastrophe they had to explain to their partners. In a literal sense, the term is a catch-all for guys who don’t spend much time on social media. Metaphorically, the Offline Boyfriend is much more.

For almost a year now, I have had the pleasure of dating my own Offline Boyfriend. He meets the technical parameters: no social-media accounts, never feels the urge to post, does not know which Kardashian dated Lamar Odom. He lines up with the character profile in some ways, too. He hikes. He has more than one hobby. We often communicate on Gchat. His interactions with Instagram consist largely of using my Explore page to look at memes about his specific breed of Belgian shepherd. (He understands about half of them.) And he’s far from an archetypical specimen. Other people I spoke with who’ve posted about dating offline men have reported similar traits: Naomi, a writer based in Seattle, told me her husband spends his time online browsing mountain-biking forums, while another woman said 99 percent of her boyfriend’s Instagram usage was woodworking related.

Perhaps most crucially, an Offline Boyfriend is not dismissive of social-media use. He’s not on a “media fast,” and he didn’t “quit Facebook after Trump got elected.” He doesn’t sneer haughtily at your scrolling habits or talk about being offline in a way that implies he’s morally superior for opting out. My boyfriend’s attitude falls somewhere between perplexed fascination and distanced support — which is nice, considering I spend a sickening amount of time staring at a Twitter feed. Marie, a podcast producer whose boyfriend frequently threatens to get a flip phone, said he sometimes asks her to show him her Twitter profile so he can laugh at her jokes.

In a world where a furniture designer who ghosts women on Hinge can become a TikTok trend overnight, it makes sense that drastically limited social-media use has become such an alluring quality. Being online can be wildly embarrassing. We used to talk about these platforms as ways to smooth over the imperfections of our lives, but they also present so many more opportunities to behave like absolute clowns in front of an audience of followers. When we started dating, I was never worried about what my boyfriend would think of my Instagram grid or my total dearth of Twitter followers, which was frankly a welcome relief.

It goes the other way too. I’ve never found myself more into a guy after seeing his social-media accounts — at best, my feelings stay the same; at worst, his feed is full of fish photos. Because so many of us (myself included) post like we’re shouting into the void instead of leaving things on the internet for the world to see, the chances of stumbling across something embarrassing about the guy you’re dating — or vice versa — are annoyingly high. Unless, of course, the guy is offline.

Plus, there’s something distinctly attractive about a man who feels so uninclined to broadcast his thoughts that he hasn’t even created a space for himself to do so. “I think it’s fantastic that my boyfriend can recognize when he doesn’t need to contribute to a conversation,” says Marie. Sitting out the chance to air out your every fleeting thought requires a particularly rare brand of self-awareness — not to mention confidence in one’s ability to be a social creature without having much fluency in memes, viral videos, or celebrity drama. Self-awareness? Hot. Confidence? Hot. Do you see the appeal?

Not everyone does. And I don’t blame them — there are certainly downsides to dating an offline lad. Every so often some language I picked up on Twitter will worm its way into my vocabulary, and I’ll find myself desperately trying to explain to my boyfriend why I used a mysterious jumble of words in conversation. I once uttered the phrase “go piss, girl” to him and descended into full Charlie Day mode trying to elaborate. (He didn’t get that reference either.) And there are definitely days when that gap feels insurmountable. Most times, though, it’s kind of nice having someone who lives outside our collective lizard brain. He’s just a boy, standing in front of me, genuinely wondering how I can spend two hours watching a woman microwave rice in her minimal apartment.

Which isn’t to say he’s faultless when it comes to his phone. The other day, I caught him checking a text in the middle of my sentence — something we’re both guilty of, though me more frequently — and I did something that would have felt crazy a year ago: I said something. And you know what? He apologized. It felt nice! I’m no “phones away at the dinner table” girl, but I don’t mind having a partner with firmer boundaries around his (and, subsequently, my) digital life. When our online behavior doesn’t bleed so seamlessly into the material world, communication feels a little more intentional and a lot less like interludes between DMs. Plus, I spend a lot more time outside these days, which I’m told is a good thing.

Of course, we live in 2022, so we don’t communicate solely face-to-face — we stay in touch largely via phone call and Gchat, which it turns out is sublime. Also ideal: He’ll probably never even know this piece exists.

Maybe All Boyfriends Should Be Offline