I regret to inform you that the reply guys are at it again
Updated: Feb 16
Yesterday, I sent what I thought was a fun tweet about the new social restrictions (rumoured to be around for the next six months). It expressed that I was glad I'd been on some dates in the freer interim between lockdowns - because I could now retreat comfortably to my single life, safe in the knowledge that the men on London's dating scene are still, overwhelmingly, trash. I compared myself to a dating groundhog. It was unmistakeably a joke.
Nevertheless, I had a small premonition. How long will it be, I thought, before an older man replies to correct me on my lighthearted sentiment. To tell me that I shouldn't be referring to 'men' as a homogenous group, perhaps; ticking me off for using the Americanism 'trash' or informing me that they personally - a man I don't know, who is not currently dating in London - were not trash. I knew it would happen, but it didn't happen all day. Lots of women liked the tweet. One fellow even deigned to say that, despite being a man, he liked it too (thanks for the validation, my dude). Huh, I thought. Maybe they've died out.
What was missing was the reply guy, a phenomenon so widespread on Twitter that is has spawned countless memes and gifs, and at least one Mashable article. This is a species of internet man that cannot help but chip in on every thought, statement or joke made by the women they follow on social media, regardless of whether it was rhetorical, humorous or emphatically not aimed at them. Sometimes these replies add nothing; more often, they lightly insult or patronise the poster. One thing they reliably do is miss the point. You'll know your reply guy within minutes of using Twitter; sometimes they'll hang around for years.
Mine arrived to save the day early this morning, so I could awake to his opinion first thing, like an unwelcome blast of the Today programme. 'Massive generalisation, Lucy,' he scolded, as if I wouldn't have realised that's what I'd done. He went on to tell me how long he'd been married, and when he'd met his wife, before calling me 'kid'. I am 33 years old.
Let's break this down. I personally can't imagine seeing a 200-character quip - with the actual hashtag #groundhogdate - and feeling the need to fact-check it, let alone add the context of my own life story, but so many do that we should pause and reflect. To me, reply guy's input adds nothing to my sentiment (which was never framed as a discussion). His relationship happened in a different time, in a different place - he knows as little of the basis of my generalisation as I know of his marriage. And that's if you take the reply guy's content seriously. If you don't, he is just replying to a joke by a millennial woman - clearly related to by other millennial women, and based on her personal experience - with an unsolicited mini bio. And to what end? Why does your one happy marriage invalidate my years of work in the field to conclude that the single men of London are predominantly trash?
To me, sir, you are just bellowing, 'I'm a reply guy, and so's my wife'.
The bait, here and always, seems to be women suggesting that they don't currently desire the company or assistance of a man. Reply guy will instantly wade in, without a trace of irony, to defend Man's hypothetical honour. Reply guy hates swearing, slang, and anything 'unladylike'. They don't know how to navigate lesbians. Feminists attract a lot of them, since the Venn diagram of #NotAllMen blokes and reply guys is a perfect circle. Women of colour get even more, because the Venn diagram of #AllLivesMatter blokes and reply guys... well, you get the picture.
Reply guy tends to be a good 20-30 years older than the women he is replying to, but this isn't a hard and fast rule. In my industry, the women around my age privately eye-roll about one contemporary Twitter lurker, who seems to loiter on the feed all day every day, ready to kneejerk-reply to every throwaway thing we say, regardless of how little it affects or pertains to him. He seemingly cannot bear to let an exchange about our line of work - however brief or specifically directed - pass into the ether without the final garnish of his Man Opinion, however banal.
I am fascinated by these men and their lack of self-awareness - the deep-rooted arrogance that tells them 'This is clearly a cry for help! This woman, hashtagging #groundhogdate, truly needs my take on whether her view of relationships is healthy!" But I can never decide on the best way to manage them. Should we block or mute, resulting in a reply-guy-free world where our skin is clear and our heart lowered? Should we engage with and educate them on why their reply is a non-sequitur, or simply out them as a reply guy with this meme response?
In some ways I feel the superior approach is to ignore - perhaps, at most, sending that perfect gif of Alan Partridge shrugging. Reply guy's whole existence, after all, depends upon being a wise and valued advisor to the next generation of women. Take away their imagined podium and what do they have left? A big, fat shrug.