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this season's hottest accessory is the medium ugly boyfriend
and the devaluation of the fuckboy amidst global insecurity
Perhaps you’ve seen him in the streets of your city, holding the bag of a well-dressed woman as they make their way to brunch. Maybe you’ve seen him at the mall, hand-in-hand with her as they walk into a Sephora. Most certainly you’ve met him at a party and thought to yourself, he’s nice enough, but damn, he won the lottery.
This season’s hottest accessory is the medium ugly boyfriend, and no, I will not retract this statement. Online, the term has shifted from an ironic meme to a genuine descriptor, a shorthand to identify the kind of partner who has not traded their soul for AI-generated good looks. Searches for “medium ugly” have been rising over the past five years, peaking during the height of cuffing season last year (December 2022), while searches for “medium ugly guys” have increased 130 percent in frequency in the same time period, according to Google Trends.
The core anatomy of the medium ugly boyfriend is that he’s just some guy. He’s the scruffy, second-chair clarinet player you went to high school with, or some zip-up hoodie clad dude who works in tech or supply chain. He likes generic dude things: gaming, dogs, pizza, drinks with the boys. He can’t dress, but he dotes on his partner and can communicate in full sentences. And he’s the blank canvas that makes your outfit really pop when you step out on the streets together.
I’ve written about what I call the long term relationship aesthetic before — this distinctive rise on the internet to make being cuffed seem cool, whether that’s the increase of couples’ apps (not dating apps, but shit like linking your widgets together to send each other selfies), the rising profitability of couples’ vlogging, or changes in the state of the thirst trap towards intimacy.
That’s the allure of the medium ugly boyfriend. He’s always there. He’s just some guy in the background, rocking with you through the storms, a listening ear to your protagonist troubles and your main character woes. He knows he’s not the star of the show. And he doesn’t even care. You’re the lead, the funny and witty and gorgeous heroine. He’s just happy to be here, waiting for you to put on a fashion show while he sits on the store couch.
There’s an aesthetic to stability that a combination of lockdown, economic decline, and constant global insecurity has gifted us. Something steady and grounding is aspirational; our motivation to be perceived as emotionally moored in this volatile world is something to be desired. It’s why we have so many viral social media couples, including influencers who stage skits feigning on-screen chemistry for clout. It’s why tradwife culture is taking over. And why delusionships and imaginationships have become the terms de facto to accurately describe our romantic encounters. You want me to wait for a text back when the fiber of our society is on fire?
Linguistically, we’ve also cycled through different terminology to land here, from fuckboys to pretty privilege to simping. Short kings have had a renaissance, pounding on their chests like little drummer boys for short king spring. At some point, our vocabulary has come to the conclusion that we can’t have it all. The ideal man who is hot and emotionally available and financially stable and washes his ass is a fantasy, an endangered species from which those in the dating pool have expressed dwindling hope for. And ultimately, the fantasy is what this is really about, not the gritty interpersonal machinations of compatibility and love and financial planning. “These are the trenches,” we text the group chat when you share your Hinge conversations.
Maybe you don’t like me saying all this. I don’t judge people by their looks, you cry out in protest. Beauty is subjective! To which I say, be fucking for real. Because if South Korea had to propose a federal ban on headshots in resumes in order to level the job market playing field, and hashtags like #antiaging can have 4 billion views on TikTok, then of course we still live in a society where you judge others for their bodies (which is ultimately tied to white supremacy), while you warp yours in hopes that others will judge your body favorably.
I’m here for the medium ugly boyfriend. He’s breaking stereotypes about who can be considered attractive, and he goes well with everything — pair him with a statement dress, a little trip to the mall, an Instagram Story showing off how he picked you up from the club. Of course, looks are not a direct indicator of how healed someone is, and himbos haven’t just disappeared in the rearview. But it seems we’ve reached a point in our culture where we’re willing to bet that a man who’s been a little downtrodden by society has more of a fighting chance to have empathy for others.
So when I walk around Uniqlo and I see a girl with her little goofy sidekick, I can’t but feel my heart melt when I see them so blissfully happy. I don’t know their relationship. I don’t know what’s happening there. But something inside me cheers her on. You’re beautiful, well-dressed, and have someone who worships you? What can’t you do?
This is the season for any man who wants to claim the label medium ugly, I’m telling you. Toxic “alpha male” men need to step their pussy up if they still want to dick-swing around on the internet, talking about some “nice guys finish last.” Those nice guys are lapping you around the block right now, and they’re carrying their girlfriends’ Aritzia hauls on their backs while they do. Go to therapy and tighten up. You’ve been warned.