Why You, A Grown-Ass Woman, Have No Chill Over Your Internet Boyfriends
If you clicked on this piece, I'm going to go ahead and assume you're thirsty AF. And that's great, because it just so happens to be a truly wonderful time to let the thirst flow through you. Just type the names Oscar Isaac, Idris Elba, or Donald Glover into Twitter, and a fountain of pure, unadulterated adoration will unspool — and not just from people who run fan accounts or are young enough to be the target audience for J-14. Nope. You’ll find grown-ass women (yours truly included) expressing ardent, passionate, uninhibited lust for most members of the Internet Boyfriends club, aka any celebrity dude who can enrapture every single Twitter user with an appreciation for beautiful men simply by showing up in a movie, TV series, or a well-timed Snapchat (and, when we’re lucky, a GQ photoshoot).
This casual pastime is more about honestly vocalizing the feelings I'm sure we all had that time Michael B. Jordan tucked a dang cardigan into his slacks and still looked incredible than it is dreaming up sexual scenarios with Idris Elba instead of paying attention in an important budget meeting (although, when the clock is off, get it). It's harmless and lighthearted. But because we truly can't have nice things, some of us still feel as if we have to justify our devotion. If you’re like me, aka a woman whose anxiety keeps her up to date on her taxes and but also obsessing over a minor social interaction 10 years ago in which she might have been awkward, occasionally the old world expectations creep in. Suddenly your inner critic has arrived to squash something as inconsequential as being irrationally moved by a video of Chris Evans and his dog. You find yourself wondering why you, an adult, are posting tweets and Instagram stories and lusting after Oscar Isaac so hard that literally every. single. one. of your coworkers made a reference to The Last Jedi star at your going away party. And if you're single, the mean girl who lives inside of you takes this opportunity to posit that your thirst is actually about you not landing the one thing thing that would make you whole and happy: a romantic partner.
This explosion of randy thoughts isn’t so much about society finally giving women permission to express themselves. It’s happening because more and more women are simply creating their own spaces in which to do so.
Luckily, not only are we not alone, there’s a reason for that rude little voice that tells us we should question our behavior at all. There was a time when this brand of voracious expression was reserved for teens crying at a boy band concert and women who were seen as desperate or out of touch for expending so much energy fantasizing about a person they didn’t even know. We were expected to out-grow our fascinations with handsome, talented men that Hollywood paraded in front of us and instead become fascinated with real men, prizes that so many of them are. The message in pop culture, but also just in the general cultural consciousness, was that women are and should be more guarded about our sexual desires, perpetuating the fantasy that we are winnable, steely against all sexuality until coaxed into desire by some worthy dude with job security and a decent car.
Fortunately, somewhere along the way, pop culture (and then culture in general) started to catch up with the fact that frankly, that’s not how women actually are. We aren’t prim and proper, waiting for someone to bait our sexuality out of us. We’re lusty and sexual as hell, and a piece of is gleefully and extremely evident in our abject and public jonesing for that guy from New Girl.
There’s a reason Sex & The City, for all its many warts, felt like such a revolution. Women finally felt seen and allowed to speak freely about their true desires. Carrie Bradshaw & friends’ frequent, overtly sexual, and iconic brunch debriefs didn’t spur a tradition among real women, it mirrored it. But lusting after real men in the real world was one thing, lusting after the unattainable famouses was another. I still remember the first time I saw the Season 4 episode, “The Agony And The Ex-tacy,” in which a discussion of Samantha’s thing for a priest she calls “Friar Fuck” takes a detour into an open discussion of the foursome’s deepest celebrity fantasies — it should be stated, though, that both Carrie and Miranda have the misguided perception that Russell Crowe belongs on this list (their George Clooney addition, however, is spot on). Hearing these women, with careers and totally full lives spend just as much energy lusting after celebrities as I am sometimes wont to do was quite simply liberating. It was exactly as Samantha says: “It’s imagination. It’s fun and perfectly healthy.”
'When you see other people’s thirsty tweets being shared thousands of times with thousands of co-signs, it makes it easier to acknowledge your similar thoughts, and people feel safer to admit their naughty feelings...' - Nichole Perkins
Jump forward to 2014, when a little show called Jane The Virgin burst onto the scene, placing a heavy focus on romance novels and their sister genre, the telenovela. Both genres run on sex, and have, at various points in their existence been synonymous with sad (and — I already regret using this word — desperate) housewives. But when Gina Rodriguez’s Jane Villanueva took on the genre, it explored feminine lust with care and grace, digging out all the ways in which lust makes us who we are. Jane wasn’t obsessed with romance novels and The Passions of Santos (awkwardly, the series that was later revealed to star her long lost father) because she was a virgin and thus lacking sexual passion in her own life. (As we saw on multiple occasions, she and her then-boyfriend Michael found plenty of ways to um, entertain themselves.) No, Jane saw the depth of emotion, truth, and womanhood that are expressed when a woman embraces her truest, lustiest self. While women have been trained for eons to hide their thirst for stories full of passion, intrigue, sex, and sensuality, Jane The Virgin walked right onto prime time television and waved the flag for them all.
In 2018, it’s pretty commonplace to see women expressing their lust on the big and small screens — from Lady Bird (wherein Saoirse Ronan asserts herself when she feels the time is right to lose her virginity) to Game of Thrones (few fans will forget the moment in which Daenerys and Missandei dished about Missandei’s night of passion with Grey Worm) to a particularly free moment in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1 (despite being sexually repressed and abused by law, June seeks out her clandestine sexual partner Nick in the middle of the night and experiences true, ecstatic satisfaction). Now, women getting their lust on onscreen are pretty much everywhere.
But it's not entirely pop culture's fault that women were shamed for years for outwardly lusting for unattainable men — or outwardly lusting for anyone. The psychology community supported that notion for years, continually publishing studies that somehow "proved" men were more sexual beings. That has changed somewhat, and researchers are finally starting to acknowledge that’s not quite the case. Some of us, for what it’s worth, have known this for years by virtue of simply being women, but now studies, such as this one from 2014 are starting to put research to work to prove what we already observe to be true: “that sexual desire emerges similarly in women and men and that other factors may influence the observed gender difference in sexual desire.” I’m going to go ahead and assume that “other factors” boils down to “patriarchal bullshit.”
Men have spent centuries assessing women by their physical appearances, which doesn’t exactly leave a lot of territory on which to build a moral high ground.
So how the hell, in the face of all this systematic resistance, have women become so bold? For the hosts of the Buzzfeed podcast, Thirst Aid Kit, which is basically the poster child for grown-ass women voicing their desires out loud (their episode on Isaac is basically the inside of my brain, full stop), this explosion of randy thoughts isn’t so much about society finally giving women permission to express themselves. It’s happening because more and more women are simply creating their own spaces in which to do so. And those spaces, in a lot of cases, happen to be ones like Twitter and Tumblr.
“I don’t know that we are more emboldened, so much as we have more outlets than previous generations,” says Thirst Aid Kit co-host Nichole Perkins, noting that there were women screaming at Beatles concerts and writing in to celebrity magazines long before we embraced the term “thirst.”
“Now people can express themselves across multiple platforms. What used to be fanmail that an assistant read before discarding is now a tweet that a talk show host or a website makes a celebrity read out loud. When you see other people’s thirsty tweets being shared thousands of times with thousands of co-signs, it makes it easier to acknowledge your similar thoughts, and people feel safer to admit their naughty feelings,” she adds.
Per Perkins’ cohost Bim Adewunmi, the perception that this mass lusting is new is largely just that: perception. “The internet has, to a degree, connected us better, and the noise feels deafening. For so long, I think it was largely whispered,” she says.
This move from whispering to shouting is partially traced in Carole Dyhouse’s book Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire, where she points out that as women acquired more disposable income, they sought out more and more forms of lust, from going to “the pictures” in the 1920s and 1930s to buying records, fanclub memberships, and teen magazines in the 1950s and 1960s. But when it comes to adults, Dyhouse argues that there is still shame placed upon women who express such desires, citing Lauren Adkins’ 2012 performance art piece in which she “married” a cardboard cutout of Robert Pattinson’s character from Twilight. Many outlets, including Perez Hilton, reported on the story without including the fact that Adkins’ “wedding” was performance art meant to muse on the exact judgmental, dismissive behavior that made her a “goofy” headline.
Now, women have the community and the support of other women to express their fandom, and to shout about their thirst from the metaphorical rooftops (though I suppose you can tweet from actual rooftops, too, if you want). Some of our most trusted thought leaders are even getting in on the fun, like Roxane Gay, whose article "I Wanted to Hug Every Part of Him With My Mouth: A Magic Mike XXL Recap" is a glorious explosion of pure, unadulterated thirst.
As you might expect, some critics (and whiners) claim this ogling is unfair and creates a double standard. If men can’t talk about how physically attractive they find women, why can women do it about men? they ask. Well, for one, there’s all of human history: Men have spent centuries assessing women by their physical appearances, which doesn’t exactly leave a lot of territory on which to build a moral high ground. Then there’s the fact that for many women, these objects of lust or “internet boyfriends” are more than just sex idols.
It’s something Adewumi wants to make clear about Thirst Aid Kit and its listeners. The lusty conversations on the podcast, she says, are rarely solely based on looks. “Lust and thirst are complex, and when you add in the specific filter of celebrity, and the context of a place and system like Hollywood (as so many of our Thirst Objects are Hollywood figures), it only grows more so,” she says. “We’re concerned in unlocking why we fancy who we fancy, and though we begin with famous people, we urge our listeners to ask those questions of themselves even with regular-degular civilians they fancy in everyday life.”
But regardless of why we do it, or why we started doing it so loudly, the undeniable truth is that women have embraced their inner thirsty beasts, and we’re letting them run free.
For Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist and relationship coach based in New York City, the practice of expressing lust and adoration for Tom Hiddleston, John Boyega, or John Cho... (or Chris Pine, or Kit Harrington) on social media lends itself to very real world applications and may have something to do with women also being more empowered to ask for what they want from their romantic lives. “What we see happening is women’s conscious desire for more meaningful relationships and telling the world what they would prefer,” she says. “Subconsciously, they know it will not materialize into a relationship. They just want men to behave the way the internet boyfriend is rather than get the ghosting, benching, etc. behavior they are getting.” (It could also be because someone like Evans keeps being the most pure embodiment of actual Captain America known to humankind. But maybe that's just my thing.)
But regardless of why we do it, or why we started doing it so loudly, the undeniable truth is that women have embraced their inner thirsty beasts, and we’re letting them run free. I suppose it will continue to be a topic of conversation, and we’ll continue to feel that drip-drop of doubt seep back into our happy places the next time a glorious photo of Glover blowing a kiss on a red carpet or Joe Keery drinking champagne while holding a small dog crops up and we decide to tweet a collective “YESSSSS” into the world. But let us all take comfort in this: We’ve been this way for eons. It might make those who are unused to our exuberance uncomfortable, but it’s truly, deeply who we are, so don't you dare stop.
Embrace it. Lust freely. And, most importantly, long live the thirst.