Sometimes, when you realise you’re not attracted to someone, there’s no real explanation as to why. You get the ick over nothing specific. Other times it’s easy to pinpoint exactly what bothers you about the person you’re dating. TikTok has recently become obsessed with a very specific kind of icky man: the 'pick me boy'.
You might remember hearing about 'pick me girls' earlier this year when an old clip from Grey’s Anatomy went viral. In the scene, lead character Meredith says to her love interest, Derek: "So pick me. Choose me. Love me." TikTokers made videos using this audio, mocking women who try to appeal to men by showing (and telling) them all the ways in which they're not like other girls. Basically, a 'pick me girl' seeks male validation by putting other women down.
'Pick me boys' are a completely different story. The aim is similar – trying to make themselves stand out from other men – but their approach varies entirely. 'Pick me boys' self-deprecate and fish for compliments as a form of flirting. One TikToker imitates these kinds of men in a sketch by suggesting a game of Never Have I Ever with his date, starting it off by saying: "Never have I ever been the ugliest guy in the world."
'Pick me boys' also try to appear 'woke', posing as feminists and criticising the way other men act. "I really like your personality. Notice how I complimented your inner beauty and not your fat juicy bum in those little jeans," is a typical example of something a 'pick me boy' would say, according to TikTok creator @igotstinkyfeet. "Hi, sorry, I’m just crying about the gender pay gap and shit," begins another one of these sketches.
One of the most consistent personality traits of a 'pick me boy' is that their kind-hearted, timid nature changes as soon as they are rejected. They might be the nice guy when trying to seduce a potential partner but they handle rejection badly, resorting to rudeness or aggression, criticising their date’s looks and often using misogynistic insults.
"Many people will try to alter their personality in order to feed their desire to be accepted and remain in social situations, particularly when it comes to dating," says Elaine Parker, a relationship expert and the CEO of SaferDate. "'Pick mes', however, often use emotional manipulation and guilt-tripping to get their way and control the situation."
Twenty-nine-year-old Ellen lives in London and dated what she would now call a 'pick me boy' for a month. At first she thought the way he acted was genuine. "Very early on, he started to talk about how he wasn't tough like other guys and stressed that he did a lot of therapy, was very sensitive and in touch with his feelings," she says.
Georgia, 26, from Liverpool, agrees that when she dated a 'pick me boy' – a relationship that lasted six months – she also mistook his red flags for green ones. "We matched on Hinge, had one conversation, swapped numbers and then he called me that same day. He would call me five times a day every day from then on," she says.
When it comes to romantic relationships, straight men are often stereotyped as distant, aloof and dishonest about their emotions. 'Pick me boys' appear to be the total opposite of this, which has understandable appeal.
"In one of our first conversations, he started a conversation about OnlyFans and used the phrase 'sex work is real work'," says Georgia. "At the time, I couldn’t believe that this man was so on board with the way I thought when it came to feminism and politics."
Ellen says that the 'pick me boy' she dated tried to appeal to her beliefs, too. "He became weirdly into all my interests and he would act as if they were something he was passionate about when only a few days before he'd listen to me talk about them as if he'd never heard of them."
Twenty-one-year-old Lily* from Derbyshire dated a 'pick me boy' this year whose nickname was 'The Great Gatsby' – a fictional character who Lily describes as "the ultimate 'pick me boy'". The boy she dated earned this nickname because, on multiple occasions, he threw parties just so he could be in the same room as the woman he was interested in.
Content on TikTok often draws attention to just how dishonest this type of person is, as they constantly change their views to meet the requirements of whoever they are dating.
"The guy I dated would always say things to me like, 'I really like you and you’re never going to like me – you’re too attractive and you’re going to break my heart'," says Lily, explaining that she believes he was very insecure. "It gave me the ick – I think this technique must have worked for him before but I just thought, Surely that’s not his move?"
Putting yourself down does seem like a very strange flirting technique. Parker explains: "Some use self-deprecation to appear more modest and down to earth but this can also be a form of emotional manipulation."
"He’d really try and put himself down so then I would have to build him up," says Georgia, adding that the man she was dating would frequently start arguments with her. She says that he would villainize her behaviour and make himself into the victim to make her feel guilty, which meant she ended up having to resolve the issue by telling him how much she liked him.
"Even though I wasn’t attracted to his self-deprecating behaviour, it did make me feel bad because I think women are socialised to be people-pleasers more than men and I think that’s why those tactics might work," Lily explains. The man she was dating would also frequently start arguments. "I wasn’t in the best headspace at the time so I felt bad and like I’d done something wrong. He punished me for it by not speaking to me for weeks at a time so the next time I saw him I was so happy to have his attention again."
When Ellen realised that the man she was dating was adopting 'pick me boy' behaviour to manipulate her, she called him out on it, telling him that it made her uncomfortable. He responded by explaining that his past experiences with women had made him act that way and tried to convince her that this behaviour was healthy – she just hadn’t experienced it before because he 'wasn’t like other men'.
Georgia’s relationship ended because she found a private Facebook account where the man she was dating made misogynistic jokes – including one about date rape – which stood in stark contrast to the feminist discussions they often had. "I felt like he’d understood consent so seeing that online made me feel unsafe," she says.
In the end, Lily also saw through the behaviour of the man she was dating and suggested they should be friends, rejecting him when he tried to kiss her. "Exactly," he said when she turned him down. "It’s because I’m ugly – this always happens to me – everyone likes being around me but no one actually wants to be with me."
If you think these men mishandle female attention, it would seem they handle rejection worse. And while this behaviour might make for amusing TikTok content, all of the women who have experienced it firsthand agree that they felt manipulated and that it negatively impacted their self-esteem.
Ellen is glad these humorous TikToks about 'pick me boys' exist, however, even if they are exaggerated. "If these videos make at least one girl question a guy she's involved with, then I'm all for them!"
*Name changed to protect the interviewee's anonymity