The world of dating and casual sex is continuously evolving, but nothing has had a stronger impact on relationships than smartphone technology. Although the internet and dating apps have made finding a partner comparable to online shopping – with an almost equivalent amount of options – in both cases the quality standard is not guaranteed.
Iona David is a freelance writer who knows this a little too well, as she’s better known as the creator of the viral Instagram account Beam Me Up Softboi, amassing over 600,000 followers. Since 2018, Iona has become an unsuspecting cultural commentator of online dating, cataloguing the good, the bad and the downright cringe of direct messages from so-called ‘softbois’, and has recently taken the path of book writing with her upcoming Is This Love or Dopamine: A Deeply Unofficial Study of Dating in the Digital Age.
“[The book] is less about softbois and more about how online dating is just fucked, and how it’s all bullshit but we have to do it,” explains Iona. “There’s not really a message. It’s about meeting someone and the different hoops you have to jump through with online communication.”
Featuring screenshots from real-life dating conversations, Is This Love or Dopamine?is structured around what Iona calls the “cycle of online dating”. We’re all familiar with it by now: it starts with an endless, thumb-cramping swipe, a couple of matches, a few conversations. You then begin to discover the different tropes, from difficult to define, but easy to recognise artsy softbois (think Kyle from Ladybird or your wannabe musician ex-boyfriend) to the more traditional misogynistic fuckboys.
Eventually – we hope – you meet someone who seems alright, and let your guard down. This will, more often than not, turn into what’s known as a situationship, and inevitably meet its demise shortly after. You then proceed to sleep with them a few more times anyway before deleting the app, swear off dating, go on a self-improvement phase, embrace your pain, and then end up downloading the same god-forsaken app again.
Iona has quite literally seen it all – from the comical to the concerning – in the messages she receives from followers sharing their dating faux pas. And yet, despite her unique experiences, she claims not to be an expert and has no interest in telling readers how they should or shouldn’t date. “In fact, I may be one of the worst people to be giving advice on this, but the whole thing is meant to be taken with a pinch of salt,” she laughs. “It’s meant to be fun to read, instead of here’s what you should do, and here’s what you shouldn’t do, because I’m 23 and I’ve had some very bad relationships. I wouldn’t want to inflict that on anyone.”
Honing in on the digital language of DM dropping, Iona focused the first three chapters on “Communication Analysis” including one on emojis and one on the different abbreviations used as laughter. “It’s all very dumb, the whole thing is very silly,” she explains. In fact, the book is not meant to be read as a How-To or a guide. With Is This Love or Dopamine?, Iona aims to put a much-needed, humorous spin on the otherwise bleak world of online dating. “I feel like when it comes to love and relationships, you can say that you’re some kind of guru and you can write like a self-help book about it, but no one really knows. I feel like everyone is just kind of trying to make their way,” she adds.
I get men message me asking, ‘Am I softboi?’ And I’m like, you’re probably fine, but also stop asking me, I’m busy.
Iona’s quick to affirm that the book is not written for or about any one gender, as anyone can be or date a softboi. “I’ll talk it through [in the chapters], because what I hope from the book is that people will realise that there’s a lot of nuance in these situations,” she says. Even in one chapter that delves into the different stereotypically ‘male’ tropes, such as the softoboi, incel or fuck boy, Iona reassures her readers: “Men, don’t stress yourself out about it, just try not to be a dickhead. I get men message me asking, ‘Am I softboi?’ And I’m like, you’re probably fine, but also stop asking me, I’m busy.”
With all that said, it’s impossible to overlook the epidemic of delusion, manipulation, and fear of commitment that gained softbois their title. It’s common to think that they’re completely different from the classic womaniser or fuckboy, but they’re really the evolution of the latter. “We’re all becoming a lot more emotionally literate now because we’re on TikTok finding out about psychology and feelings and stuff. I think men have just noticed that and have thought, ‘how can we use this to our advantage?’” Iona points out. “I don’t know, but I just don’t trust them.”
The Beam Me Up Softboi account is at the basis of Iona’s book, having built a community by shining light on men’s behaviour online and raising awareness on the true dynamics of dating culture. It also provides a safe outlet and support system for us frustrated singles, something dating apps have failed to do. “They should invent a red flag scanner,” she jokes.
It’s dopamine, it’s the little ego boost that you get from a match – you can’t just go out on the street and get the same quantity of validation at a bar. But it’s probably less soul-destroying to do so.
In fact, perhaps the account is so successful because the world needs more awareness of what we should and should not tolerate in any type of romantic situation. While critics have lamented the account for sharing “private” information, nowhere else on the internet or otherwise have we had the chance to observe men through this lens before and shed light on the sheer volume of harassing messages invading women’s inboxes. “And they have always been doing it, 100%, there’s just never been a camera there,” continues Iona.
A quick scroll through the account leads to a cold realisation of what too many of us have been subjected to, from offensive ‘flirting’, to manipulation techniques. It hits you with a bleak but crude sense of awareness that reminds us to filter out the guy who wears Morrisey merch and thinks women Radiohead fans don’t exist.
And yet, despite the continued harassment, the UK dating app industry remains thriving generating approximately £11.7 billion per year. “It’s dopamine, it’s the little ego boost that you get from a match, you can’t just go out on the street and get the same quantity of validation at a bar. But it’s probably less soul-destroying to do so,” Iona says.
Maybe the only way to preserve our hopes and sanity is by not taking dating seriously, at least until some people learn how to use common sense and be respectful, even if the likelihood seems small. Got rejected by a tattooed, drug-romanticising guitarist? Have a laugh. The scrawny 6’2 film student who idolises Tarantino and Goddard ghosted you after you had sex? Swipe on and thank the Lord for sparing you an unbearable amount of mansplaining and endless gaslighting. “I hate using the word game, but you have to treat it like it’s not that serious,” Iona recommends.
I’m really happy about how successful it’s been in how many people enjoy what I’ve done, but it’s not my life’s calling to analyse men in beanie hats.
Otherwise, it’s easy to find yourself drowning in pessimism and self-contempt, and we all know how toxic men love a damsel in emotional distress. “I just think it’s very dangerous to let men into your life when you’re in that place, because unfortunately, there are quite a lot of men who will just exploit you for that,” she says. “It’s now at a point where if someone starts throwing softboi shit at you, if someone starts pissing you off even a little bit, just get rid. There are so many men and people out there it’s ridiculous.”
Although Beam Me Up Softboi has had a largely positive response online, Iona notes that running the account can definitely feel overwhelming at times. “I’m really happy about how successful it’s been in how many people enjoy what I’ve done, but it’s not my life’s calling to analyse men in beanie hats,” explains the creator, who quickly realised that arguing with men on the Internet is an exhausting lost cause. “I sometimes feel like the page could almost run itself, because it is worth going through all of them, but at the end, it does get a bit depressing going through everyone’s dating nightmares.”
The cumulative effect after years of looking at these humorous yet horrible for so long while also writing a book about it would be a lot to navigate for anyone, and as hilarious as it may be, it takes a toll on your mental health, especially when you come across darker scenarios. “There is one bit where I went into emotional abuse and how it’s not okay. I was so exhausted after and it was literally just a few paragraphs. I have so much respect and admiration for people who write about this very seriously, and they put their opinions out there.”
For now – while she’s not planning on stopping the account anytime soon – Iona hopes to expand her writing into different pillars of British culture, whether it be supermarkets or mind-numbing sitcoms, and safeguard her mental health with exercise and meditation.
In the meantime, she hopes to encourage her followers to date safely and hold online creeps accountable for their actions. “If your gut is telling you that someone is sending you a message that is not okay, then I personally just wouldn’t stand for it. I think you’ve just got to cut it off or talk to them about it and say that it wasn’t okay,” she says. “There’s no point in tolerating it. It might not seem true, but there are men out there who are not like that at all.”
She continues: “That’s my golden advice! But I don’t know what I’m talking about… I’m just trying to figure it out as well.”
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