A Field Guide to Internet Boyfriends

Meme-Worthy Celebrity Crushes from A to Z


By Esther Zuckerman

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From Keanu Reeves and Idris Elba to Timothee Chalamet, A Field Guide to Internet Boyfriends is the ultimate celebration of the suave, sexy, sensitive, and silly celebrities who have captured our hearts and memes!
Handsome and heartfelt, with winning smiles and pinnable Tweets — this is what Internet Boyfriends are made of. But who are these meme-able men, and what makes them catch fire online? Discover the answers to these questions and more in A Field Guide to Internet Boyfriends, an interactive exploration of our collective crushes.
Entertainment journalist Esther Zuckerman breaks down the world of Internet Boyfriends — and even a few Internet Girlfriends — from documentary-style "spotting guides" to discussions on the key categories of boyfriend, like Sensitive Souls, Beautiful Boys and Daddys. A playful, teen magazine-style quiz — to help readers find their ideal crush — and in-depth profiles of some of the most beloved Internet Boyfriends and Girlfriends, from Ryan Gosling (the original) to Harry Styles (the Gen Z icon) to Janelle Monae (the space queen), round out this fully-illustrated romp through the celebs behind the memes.




The term, like many on the internet, is originally attributed to Black culture, but was co-opted by just about everyone—including corporations. It’s a significant other, like, well, a boyfriend.


Big dick energy. Coined by Kyrell Grant. According to Grant: “BDE has less to do with confidence and more to do with personality and how you carry yourself. And you don’t need a dick to have it.” BDE is swag. It’s a mindset. You don’t have to be big, in any way, to have big dick energy. Noted havers of BDE: Pete Davidson, Cate Blanchett, Beyoncé.


Colloquially thought of as a middle-aged to older gentleman with sex appeal. For instance, David Harbour on Stranger Things is “daddy.” But, also, a daddy does not have to be older. It’s complicated.


An Internet Boyfriend, but a woman.


You know what a meme is! That’s why we’re here. Technically, a meme, according to Merriam-Webster is, “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” But you and I both know that’s just the broadest possible definition. Memes are when the internet takes something and runs with it. They are white block text over a funny image. They are a tweet featuring Baby Yoda. They are Rihanna, in a gown, looking like a pizza. Memes generate Internet Boyfriends, and Internet Boyfriends generate memes. Memes are how we live.


“one true pairing.” A couple that shippers really want to be together. See: Shipping.


To ship—as in “relationship”—is to want fictional characters to be together, romantically. Some people ship Captain America and Bucky Barnes.


Slash fiction is an outgrowth of fan fiction. However, these stories about preexisting characters are really horny. Slash fiction is about sex—sex between two male characters who may or may not be gay in the source material.


A sweetie pie. Someone who gives the impression of being vulnerable. BuzzFeed once described him as “nonthreatening, nontoxic, and knows how to wear a pastel.”


Derived from the 2000 Eminem song of the same name, a stan is a really serious fan of someone. It can be used as a noun or a verb. For example, “I am a Lady Gaga stan” or “We stan a legend.”


It’s sort of inexplicable, but it’s what we sometimes want our favorite celebrities to do to us. Young stans started asking their faves to obliterate them on Twitter, in a trend noticed by The Cut’s Gabriella Paiella. She argued: “The joke’s popularity may also have to do with the fact that we’re living during a time when we’re constantly being reminded that the Earth is going to be virtually uninhabitable by the end of the century, that capitalism is wholly unsustainable, and that we’re just one push of a button away from perishing in a nuclear war.” See also: “run me over with a car, daddy.”


In other words, lust. When you look at a person and just get parched because they are so freaking hot. As a term, thirst was first used in the Black community, and sometimes can have a derogatory connotation. If you’re posting too many selfies in an effort to get likes, that can be thirsty too.


We’re not talking about a disease! We’re talking about an internet sensation spreading like proverbial wildfire across our feeds!


Zaddies are hard to define. Most broadly they are really sexually magnetic guys, often, but not always, of a certain age. Clover Hope wrote in Jezebel that: “Immediately, you know in your heart who’s not a zaddy. It’s an instinctual response that’s not worth explaining in depth because you’re supposed to just feel it.” Zaddies are sort of like porn, as defined by the Supreme Court: You know them when you see them.


In this book you’ll meet a variety of Internet Boyfriends. Old Internet Boyfriends. Young Internet Boyfriends. Musician Internet Boyfriends. But which one is right for you? Take this handy quiz and find out.


A. A lengthy gym session, bro

B. A motorcycle ride

C. A beach trip

D. A rooftop chill session with some acoustic guitar

E. A shopping spree


A. A light beer

B. A finely aged Pinot Noir

C. A rum cocktail

D. A craft beer

E. No drink, just some ‘shrooms


A. The Departed

B. After Hours

C. Goodfellas

D. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

E. The Aviator (You covet Katharine Hepburn’s trousers.)


A. Taylor Swift

B. Reputation

C. Fearless

D. Red

E. 1989


A. B’Day

B. Homecoming: The Live Album

C. Beyoncé

D. Lemonade

E. 4


A. Boston

B. A secluded cabin where no one can find you

C. Los Angeles

D. New York

E. A flat in Notting Hill


A. Traditional

B. Mysterious

C. Fun

D. Creative

E. A little kooky


A. Herman Melville

B. Franz Kafka

C. Haruki Murakami

D. Shakespeare

E. Jane Austen



A Chris! Any Chris! Pick a Chris! You are a little bit basic but you have a good heart.


Keanu Reeves. You are mysterious and have an adventurous side. You like things that challenge you. You are often misunderstood.


Michael B. Jordan. You are a classic. You are overflowing with style and you love a good time.


Oscar Isaac. You are very artistic, but you like to keep things down-to-earth.


Harry Styles. You’re a bit funky. You want to experiment. You are trying to leave your past behind, but also have an affection for history.

Mahershala Ali seems to exist in a perpetual state of coolness. And I don’t just mean cool in that arbitrary sense that’s impossible to define—though I sort of do. Everything he does is awe-inspiring—and he looks amazing while doing it.

Mahershala Ali accepting not one but two Oscars in a three-year time span is extremely cool. Ali accepting his first of those two Oscars in an all black ensemble, just days after he became a father, is cool. Ali, a proud Muslim man, receiving the highest award in his industry in the wake of Donald Trump’s immigration ban, is cool. Ali accepting his second Oscar in what is essentially a “formal beanie” and big wire-framed glasses is also cool. Ali playing the part-vampire superhero Blade for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is cool. Very cool.

Besides that ineffable “coolness,” Mahershala Ali comes off as coolheaded—intense, yes, but in a manner that is deliberate without seeming weirdly over-engineered, the way some celebrities can come off when speaking to the press. He’s someone who thinks and speaks deeply about race and representation, who has become a leader in the Muslim American community, who gives performances that are soul deep. In his best work he radiates a sort of calm, like in Moonlight when he carefully takes a young boy’s heartbreaking question about a gay slur and softly explains the cowardice of the people who wield that word.

But, for as cool as he is, Mahershala Ali also has a warmth about him. It’s probably why he looks so damn good in warm tones. The women of the Thirst Aid Kit podcast say he “invented the color yellow,” no doubt because of a GQ photo shoot in which he poses in various items all rendered in the primary tone. That wasn’t the GQ spread of his that garnered the most attention, however. His cover story very well broke the internet. The headline at the African American news site Bossip says it all really: “The Thirst: Mahershala Ali Hasn’t Left A Single Dry Panty On Twitter All Damn Day.” Black Girl Nerds tweeted: “Going to look at more Mahershala Ali smiling photos for self care.” Harper’s Bazaar declared his smile “contagious.”

The shoot captures Ali on Catalina Island in California, basking in the sun, his printed shirts various levels of unbuttoned as he basically frolics by the beach. It’s pretty much the most joyful thing you’ve ever seen, as well as the most beautiful. But the meditative Ali is present as well. In the accompanying story by the author Carvell Wallace, Ali wrestles with identity and race.

Ali had been a working actor for a long time before he got the breaks that would make the internet take notice. The buzz started with his guest work on House of Cards as the lobbyist Remy Danton, then got more traction when he played the villainous Cottonmouth on another Netflix show, Luke Cage. But the turning point was Moonlight. In Barry Jenkins’s film, which would ultimately—and very dramatically, given a mishap with the envelopes—win Best Picture, he played Juan, a drug dealer who becomes a father figure to the central character. Ali’s turn is a tender deconstruction of how Black masculinity is usually depicted on-screen, culminating in a gorgeous scene set in Miami’s ocean waters. Basically, as soon as the movie hit, he was labeled the Best Supporting Actor front- runner, and his life changed.

Then came the glamour shots, the Twitter screaming, and the accolades. Ali won the Oscar for Moonlight, the same weekend his wife, artist Amatus Sami-Karim, gave birth to their first child. On the campaign trail for the film, he spoke up about his own beliefs in light of Donald Trump’s announcement of an immigration ban.

He’d win his next Oscar in two years’ time for Green Book, a movie that was less beloved to say the least. It says something about Ali’s power that the controversy surrounding that movie—and specifically its portrayal of the character he was playing—ended up not affecting his Internet Boyfriend status at all. When the film was taken to task for how it prioritized the story of the bigoted Italian guy (played by Viggo Mortensen) who learns to be less racist over that of the virtuosic Black pianist, Ali himself was not put through the court of think pieces. It’s partially because what we adore about Ali is that he is not someone who seems to speak or act from the gut with no filter.

He also doesn’t lean into his thirst trap status. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. For as much as Twitter wants to declare him a god among men, he would rebuke that notion. Early in his career, as he explained to Esquire, he was even passing on roles that were divine in any way because of his devotion to Islam, which he converted to in 1999. He said: “I’ve mellowed out since. Now I think that for the purposes of art, I can play those roles as human beings, not gods. I can also differentiate between what I believe, and what the story’s saying. But at the time, I was new, just figuring it out. I had no one to have that conversation with.” He also doesn’t take roles that would require him to have a sex scene. It’s not that he plays characters who don’t have sex, but he doesn’t want to simulate it on-screen. Whatever he’s doing, Mahershala Ali is not taking anything lightly.

Just because Ali isn’t embracing his status as a thirst icon doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about fashion or that his sense of fashion isn’t one of the reasons he’s achieved Internet Boyfriend status. But that too is considered. His sense of style is not for shock value alone. It’s all part of a carefully considered plan to subvert expectations of men on red carpets. He partnered with Zegna on a line meant to interrogate the question: “What does it mean to be a man today?”

Which all leads us back to that coolness. The very word cool gets an often rightfully bad reputation. It doesn’t really mean anything, but you look at Mahershala Ali and think: That is a cool person. He’s cool because his style is something that feels fresh and new. He’s cool because he has principles that he stands up for and espouses in his public persona. Just cool.

One phenomenon in the world of Internet Boyfriends worth exploring is the soft boy. In a way, most Internet Boyfriends have a little soft boy to them. Soft boys project vulnerability in a way that makes them seem both admirable and approachable. They are sort of floppy in countenance—and sometimes a little squirrelly in body language. They seem unthreatening and ultimately kind. And if they have a king, it is Timothée Chalamet.

Where to begin with the man known colloquially as Timmy and—to those who are aware of his alter ego—Lil’ Timmy Tim. Probably the best place to start is 2017, the year he emerged as the Next Big Thing and changed many a stan’s life forever.

It all started with Call Me By Your Name. The Luca Guadagnino film, an adaptation of a novel by André Aciman, cast Chalamet as Elio Perlman, a teenager spending the summer at his parents’ gorgeous Italian home who becomes smitten with a confident graduate student named Oliver, played by a larger than life (in every way) Armie Hammer. When Call Me By Your Name premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, it was immediately hailed as new queer classic. By the time it was about to hit theaters in November, Chalamet had become a phenomenon.

It’s impossible to imagine that Chalamet would have risen to the level of fame and obsession he currently occupies without Call Me By Your Name. It’s Elio that solidified his Internet Boyfriend status. Why? Because Elio himself is obsessed.

The reason why we all decided to love Timothée as Elio so much was because Timothée as Elio is us. Elio is an unbridled combination of awkwardness and horniness, just like basically everyone who spends a lot of time on the internet. He is infatuated by someone who seems unattainable, just like we are. His devotion leads him to get a little weird, like the moment when he sneaks into Oliver’s room and smells his swimming shorts or when he gets, ahem, intimate with a peach. (Cue the emojis.) As a character Elio is unabashedly emotional, and Chalamet makes those emotions palpable. He is the human embodiment of having “the feels.” Our collective fantasy of Timothée Chalamet is that he will just sit with us facing a fireplace while we both quietly sob to Sufjan Stevens like he does at the end of Call Me By Your Name.

Of course, his other breakout performance offers a counter to this. In Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, released the same year as CMBYN, he’s Kyle, a too-cool-for-school rich kid who reads Howard Zinn and offers the heroine played by Saoirse Ronan only the vaguest form of flirtation. He’s an avatar for every douchebag we ever fell in love with in high school, who reads one social history of the United States and then decides that cell phones are bad and anarchy is good. Kyle is Oliver to Lady Bird’s Elio, but their quote-unquote passionate affair consists of a very disappointing sexual encounter.

It’s just this idea of obsession that hovers around Chalamet and makes him somehow both relatable and the subject of other people’s adoration. It’s there in his performance in Gerwig’s Little Women too. As Laurie, the March girls’ neighbor, he’s completely smitten with Louisa May Alcott’s foursome and the creative lives they lead. Jo (Ronan, again) is the object of his affection, and when she spurns him, he ends up finding love with Florence Pugh’s Amy. It’s like he just needs to be accepted into these women’s lives in any way possible. He plays Laurie like a kitten chasing after a string—adorable and needy.

But what about Timothée in real life? Yes, turns out it’s a trend. Profiling him for Vulture, journalist Kyle Buchanan explored how big of a fanboy Chalamet is. Chalamet has been on the record about his love for Amar’e Stoudemire, Kid Cudi, and the Safdie brothers, gritty filmmakers from New York. He loves Greta Gerwig so much that he calls her “Wayne Gretzky.” In interviews, he displays an unbridled enthusiasm for the stuff he likes that comes off as a tad dorky—gangly limbs flying all over the place, a low giggle punctuating his speech. The comedian Chloe Fineman does an impression of him that’s exaggerated, but spot on: In her interpretation, he’s unable to get through a sentence without issuing a deep laugh and clapping his hands together.

Watching Chalamet, you can’t help but recall his own embarrassing adolescent moments, the ones that shape the Timothée legacy of doing a little too much, but in an endearing way. To be a Timmy fan is to know about his identity Lil’ Timmy Tim and that time he rapped about statistics while he was a student at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, aka the Fame school. Sure, he was a preternaturally talented kid, but at his heart he’s just a goofball.

All documented interactions with Chalamet seem giddy. He brought bagels to the premiere of his Netflix movie The King because his frequent visits to Tompkins Square Bagels in New York have become part of his identity. He once interacted with his self-proclaimed biggest fan, a Twitter user named Derek, via FaceTime on another red carpet.


On Sale
Nov 10, 2020
Page Count
200 pages
Running Press

Esther Zuckerman

About the Author

Esther Zuckerman is an entertainment journalist whose work has been published by Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Refinery29, and The A.V. Club, among others. She is a member of the New York Film Critic's Circle and the author of Beyond the Best Dressed and A Field Guide to Internet Boyfriends. Esther lives and writes in New York City.

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