You’ve likely heard the oft-quoted John Waters adage “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t f*ck ’em!” It’s a valid point, but in our social media age — where we no longer have to wait until we get to someone’s Bushwick studio; they can flaunt that they’ve passed this BOOKdel test ahead of time by carefully curating their feeds — it’s may be time for Waters to offer an addendum: “If you stalk someone and they don’t post about books, don’t f*ck ’em!”
According to a recent study, both men and women find reading to be the biggest “green flag” behavior for prospective partners. And lately, it seems as if the boys I’m stalking on the Internet are taking this stat to heart. As I’ve turned 30, the evolution of my similarly aged “single men on the Internet” has been a fascinating spectacle to behold. I’ve observed as they’ve exhausted the low-hanging fruit — your run-of-the-mill fishing photos, shirtless mirror pics, and selfies with puppies — and have turned to a newer, more esoteric form of thirst trapping: sharing what they’re (allegedly) reading, whether that’s via a selfie clasping a book to their chest with a caption like “f*ck, so good” or a more refined picture of a paperback positioned next to a pilsner. And if you think this is happening solely within my bubble of late 20s, early 30s artsy urbanites, think again. Even horny himbos like Noah Centineo, Chace Crawford, and Chet Hanks have been guilty of posting literary thirst traps of their own.
The people in my orbit are also taking note of this new flex. “We initially matched on Tinder, where his profile was a minefield of bookshelves and/or half read paperbacks in the foreground. I thought little of it at the time, though now I give him way more credit for this maneuver,” Teddy tells me. “I ended up following him on Instagram soon after, and then the real BS began. It was a tropical storm of classic American lit, nonsensical annotations that kept me up at night, random Anaïs Nin quotes, and Sally Rooney applied like pepper. I have never known this kind of pain… Now I primarily date women!”
Jordan, on the other hand, had a seemingly rarer IRL encounter. “I walked into a restaurant and saw a guy reading Crying in H Mart and beelined to the seat next to him to eat dinner. I definitely went home with him that night,” she tells me, also highlighting that she and her friends refer to him as “Crying in H Mart Man.” As for his actual interest in the book, Jordan remains skeptical. “He was semi-literary, but being at the bar with it definitely felt like he was trying to get someone to talk to him about it.”
Yet for Jordan, whether or not he was a full-on Japanese Breakfast stan didn’t matter. Liking Crying in H Mart or Sally Rooney, or professing a knowledge of the other patron saints of “sad girl lit,” was akin enough to posting an Eames chair or a shiny new industrial loft apartment. In effect, it’s all successful enough personal branding for us women to, in the words of Waters, f*ck ’em.
I think this play is much less about cosplaying as a (God forbid) Dan Humphrey type and much more about meeting women where they are. (Which, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a much more effective strategy.) There’s been no shortage of articles about the rise of “hot girls” reading. (Or the benefits of “reading while hot,” a term editors here at Bustle have coined for the phenomenon.) And in a post-#MeToo world — where the rules of dating have by and large been upended — it’s much less creepy for a man to flirt via brains than brawn. A poorly lit picture of your eight pack? Creepy! A shot of your tattered copy of Patti Smith’s Just Kids? Much more likely to lure me in! (To that point, a DM slide in response to me reading Lillian Fishman’s Acts of Service asking if you, too, should check it out? Unfortunately this will also work, and the men seem to know it.)
That doesn’t mean men aren’t actually enjoying Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation or have a true interest in your take on the dramatic ending of The Guest by Emma Cline. I just know that when I post a book on my stories, as I’m wont to do, I’m actively aware of what each title is communicating about me, both to my friends and to the single men who follow me. (Because, yes, I did enjoy my Jonathan Franzen phase last winter. But I’m also in the market for a boyfriend…) So to assume that these same men aren’t doing the exact same thing feels ludicrous. We’re all performative, we’re all thirsty, and we’re all human. To which I say — happy reading!