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What is the Internet Boyfriend Syndrome?

Celebrity crush in the age of social media

What is the Internet Boyfriend Syndrome? Celebrity crush in the age of social media

When I was in junior high school the guy who invented Instagram probably wasn't even born, music was played on the portable CD player, the low waist was trendy, I knew every Take That song by heart and collected posters of River Phoenix. I read every interview, knew every facial feature, every voice inflection and even the smallest detail. I knew that River's middle name was Jude, like The Beatles' Hey Jude, that when he wasn't acting he was playing in Aleka's Attic with his younger sister Rain, and that the role that later went to Christian Slate in Interview with the Vampire was originally created for him. Pointless things that decades later remain in my memory palace. What I was unaware of is that this mega crush I used to daydream about all day instead of studying maths now has a name: Internet Boyfriend Syndrome. According to Urban Dictionary, it seems the term was already circulating on MSN as early as 2005 and evolved over the next decade into a kind of collective online infatuation mainly thanks to Timothée Chalamet, his role in Call me by your name and the explosion of the #internetboyfriend hashtag on Twitter. Since then, the adoration has reached insane levels, turning into memes, a myriad of Instagram accounts and even a book with the eloquent title Chalamania aka "a chic love letter to the shaggy-haired, angelic-cheekboned heartthrob"

In a nutshell, an Internet Boyfriend is a celebrity or, very often, a fictional character from a book, a TV series or a film, for whom suddenly and at the same time a large number of girls and boys develop a colossal crush, fuelled by a religious devotion made up of posts, stories and memes that propel them into the empyrean of stars. The characteristics a person needs to have to be part of this exclusive elite? A heady mix of good looks and talent, but also a certain image of goodness and kindness. At least according to pop culture expert Esther Zuckerman who wrote the book A Field Guide to Internet Boyfriends: Meme-Worthy Celebrity Crushes From A to Z, a sort of bible of the phenomenon:

"When real men disappoint us, our Internet Boyfriends will always be here for us to prove what men could and should be like: beautiful, kind, authentic.  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 squirrely in body language. They seem unthreatening and ultimately kind. And if they have a king, it is Timothée Chalamet".

Timmy may be the king, but behind him are the protagonists of Bridgerton. Not (or not only) the actors, but the characters. After all, who can resist the way the Duke of Hastings licks spoons or Viscount Anthony when he tells Kate Sharma "You are the bane of my existence and the object of all my desires".

In spite of what one might think, the Internet Boyfriend does not have to be a kid in his early twenties entering the showbiz world like for instance Noah CentinoHarry Styles or Paul Mescal,  but can be any age. Popular names include Keanu ReevesBenedict CumberbatchRyan GoslingTom HiddlestonIdris Elba and Jeff Goldblum. In short, there is a guy for every taste and every fantasy, the ideal hot guy for whom you can utter the classic slightly cringeworthy line "Keanu Reeves is my boyfriend only he doesn't know it yet".

There's nothing wrong with indulging in the idea of having a perfect relationship with an Internet Boyfriend. We've all done it. In the 1950s it would have been Elvis, in the 1990s Leonardo di Caprio and in the early 2000s Robert Pattinson. Today, social media allows us to spy and know everything about our celebrity crush, even interact virtually fuelling the fantasy of having a real relationship. As long as we remember that it is only in our minds, it can even prove useful, a way to understand what we are missing and what we would like in a flesh-and-blood love. The trick is in the measure, to dream without forgetting to live, without lapsing into obsession, always keeping in mind that in real life not even the Duke of Hastings or Harry Styles are as perfect as they seem.