The internet gained two new boyfriends over the past year. One is a musical teenager, who has a proclivity of peaches. The other is a high school lacrosse player who drinks kombucha at parties (he takes being the designated driver very seriously). They’re fictional, of course, but it’s the idea of them that people have latched onto and, subsequently, are having a hard time letting go of. They’re sensitive and caring and talk about their emotions. They’re the antithesis to a lot of male characters we’re used to seeing on big or small screens, which is part of why the infatuation is so strong.
It was the beginning of the year and the release of Call Me by Your Name when Timothée Chalamet mania took over. While it’s often easy to project the personality of a character onto the actor that plays them, it seemed particularly appropriate to do so with Chalamet. In interviews and appearances, he proved to be introspective and awkward and, on top of that, goofy and endearing—often seen falling out of chairs while on stage or unabashedly fawning over artists he looks up to during interviews. He was the perfect guy to fall in love with; one who would never break your heart and, if he did, he’d likely cry while doing so.
Then there’s Noah Centineo, the internet's more recent infatuation. His character Peter Kavinsky in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before has been described by Allison P. Davis over at The Cut as a “simple, suburban-mall kind of crush," the kind of guy who will write you notes to tell you how pretty you look today. He squeals over puppies and tweets corny, sometimes cringe-y life reflections (“Most people are just trying to distract themselves until they die” is one of many). What's not to love?
Chalamet and Centineo have charmed their way into the hearts of society during a time when we’re in desperate need of some charm escapism. We love them because they seem to be as nice and kind as the characters they play, but also because we’re starved for any sign of good in guys. We don’t need to tell you that men don’t have the best reputation as of late and these two act as a reprieve from the toxic masculinity that seems to be permeating every corner. They feel like safe spaces. “I think there's been this whole image of masculinity that's been out in society—of brooding, brutish, egotistical, narcissistic men, like, this patriarchy,” Centineo said in an interview with Teen Vogue. “To All The Boys is one film amongst a couple other romantic comedies through the decades that promotes... I don't know what they're calling it. A modern man? A man that's more emotionally accessible and available, and willing to communicate and actually care and nurture.”
Given that both actors are young, they’re also less likely to have pasts as dark and sick as the men who are now being exposed. This adds to their appeal. They still have their innocence intact, and they seem determined to learn from their predecessors in order to not only do better but be better. During the 2018 Golden Globes, Chalamet shared that his older sister passed along this bit of advice: “You’re part of this new wave, you’re a millennial, you’re the new generation and you have to be talking about [gender discrimination].” Shortly after, he announced on Instagram that he was donating the money he earned from the Woody Allen film, A Rainy Day in New York, to Time’s Up, RAINN, and The LGBT Center in New York. “I want to be worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave artists who are fighting for all people to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,” he wrote.
We’re not saying either 22-year-old is perfect. It’s probably only a matter of time until one of them is exposed for saying something problematic (we hope this doesn’t happen! We’re just saying that’s usually how these things go!) The wholesomeness horniness may also die down and become old. At the rate Centineo’s going, some might start to think of his boy-next-door personality as corny and overdone (some already have). These are very strong possibilities. But during a time when women’s voices are being silenced, and their realities are being brought into question, it’s nice to feel like someone out there might be willing to listen and to believe. It’s nice to escape into the kind of pure, rom-com fantasy they’ve fostered up. And I, for one, don’t plan to stop swooning any time soon.