Monday, January 17, 2022
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Pete Davidson, soft bois, and the year we celebrated a different kind of heartthrob

Picture a heartthrob. Is the first thing that springs to mind an “anorexic panda”? We didn’t think so. This is one of the many phrases used to describe the comedian Pete Davidson by, well, Pete Davidson. Other descriptions used by the notoriously self-deprecating Saturday Night Live star include: “that guy from SNL who everyone thinks is in need of more blood”, “a 20-year-old who has sex like Green Day”, and someone who has “a problem with wind”.

And yet, this man has dated some of the most beautiful and successful women on the planet. There’s Ariana Grande, Kate Beckinsale, Kaia Gerber, Phoebe Dynevor, Margaret Qualley. It’s quite the line-up, one that has spawned a global interrogation into Davidson’s appeal by way of countless think-pieces, TikToks and memes.

So, how does he do it? It’s a question people have been asking since 2018 when Davidson started dating Grande, but one that has become increasingly urgent as the 28-year-old’s sexual CV has expanded over the years. Intrigue reached new heights, however, in October, when rumours began percolating that Davidson’s latest love interest was none other than Kim Kardashian – the “couple” have been photographed holding hands numerous times; fans are certain they spotted a “love bite” on Davidson’s neck last week.

As a result, there have been several recent “investigations” into Davidson, with headlines including: “Why A-list women are mad about cult American Pete Davidson”, “Why women fall for Pete Davidson”, “Why women find Pete Davidson so attractive”.

Pete Davidson with Bel Powley in The King of Staten Island

(Mary Cybulski/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock)

It’s no secret that Davidson is hardly the typical pin-up. After all, this is a man with several Harry Potter tattoos and an appearance often likened to a “scarecrow”; a man who, until a few months ago, lived in his mother’s basement. Of course, he is also a hugely popular comedian, actor, and late-night talk show guest (he was one of the youngest SNL cast members in its history when he joined age 20) – factors that are often ignored by those who, rather insultingly, insist on questioning Davidson’s attractiveness. Still, his appeal mystifies people. No one more so, though, than Davidson himself.

When news broke that he and Grande were engaged, Davidson told Jimmy Fallon he felt like he’d “won a contest”. Then, in an SNL skit, the comedian likened the feeling of being engaged to Grande to “that whole city who pretended that kid was Batman because he was sick”. Yes, Davidson is funny. Like, really funny. But humour isn’t enough to woo every woman in Hollywood.

There are those who will argue that Davidson’s hype is purely physiological. At 6’3, he is a tall man, something that people regularly like to mention as one of his assets. Another one is slightly more intimate. In 2018, Davidson inadvertently led to the creation of the phrase “big d*** energy”, used to describe the low-key confidence of a well-endowed man. According to Grande, and a very quickly deleted tweet, Davidson falls under this bracket.

Okay, so that might do it. But surely Davidson’s charm is deeper than that. Perhaps it’s less about the kind of man he is and the kind he represents. To straight women navigating the modern dating scene, Davidson would be a tonic. He is the literal antithesis to the insidious “soft boi” trope that has emerged in recent years. To the uninitiated, a “soft boi” is a term attributed to men who, at a first glance, seem alternative, sensitive, and deeply in touch with their emotions. However, as illustrated in films (think Timothee Chalamet’s character in LadyBird) and on social media (@beammeupsoftboi), the Soft Boi can also capitalise on this image, and go on to be manipulative, superior, and emotionally exploitative.

These men will get off on making niche cultural references you won’t understand. They’ll send long, intense emails, and then ignore your texts for three weeks. And they’ll gaslight you when they screw up because they don’t see themselves as capable of wrongdoing. Often, their behaviour is down to the fact that they’re threatened by female autonomy, and so will do whatever they can to keep themselves in a position of power. Either that or they’re just raging narcissists.

Davidson and Grande split up in October 2018 after five months of being together.

(Serena Xu-Ning/UPI/Shutterstock)

Davidson, meanwhile, is the opposite on all accounts. At least, we’re led to believe that he is. His consistent self-deprecation implies a distinct lack of arrogance, something that feels fleetingly rare among straight men in their late twenties, particularly famous ones.

There’s also the fact that he seems genuinely thrilled to be overshadowed by the women he dates and often pokes fun at his own inferiority. When asked if he would be getting a prenup with Grande, for example, Davidson teased: “Obviously I wanted one so god forbid we split up and she takes half my sneakers.” He later clarified that he’s “totally comfortable” being with a successful woman; despite constantly making fun of himself, Davidson is nothing if not self-assured.

Contrary to Soft Bois, Davidson doesn’t play games. Discussing on the Howard Stern Show how he and Grande’s romance began, he explained: “I’m so stupid and unaware of how chemistry and all that stuff works. I literally was like, ‘Hi, can I kiss you please?’” It’s this straightforward attitude (and an explicit acknowledgement of consent) that has captured the hearts of women on social media in particular.

Maybe Pete Davidson just texts back real quick”, read one viral meme. “Pete Davidson’s secret is that when a girl sends him a Spotify link he always listens and responds right away,” another added. One speculated that when a woman sends him a message with multiple parts, Davidson “responds to every part”. All of these things – listening, paying attention, and showing an active interest in someone – should be prerequisites in any relationship. But the sad truth is that in today’s complex and notoriously callous online dating landscape, they often aren’t. If they were, would tweets celebrating the act of texting someone back quickly really garner 143,000 likes?

Another one of Davidson’s USPs is his honesty when it comes to talking about his mental health issues. The comedian has been open about his struggles with depression, drug dependency and self-harm, encompassing a vulnerability that feels vital and in line with modern masculinity. He has also experienced his fair share of tragedy, having lost his father, a firefighter named Scott, at the age of seven in the 9/11 attacks. Again, this is an experience Davidson has hardly been reticent about, even using it as the subject of his semi-autobiographical film, The King of Staten Island, which he co-wrote with Judd Apatow.

So, tall, funny, humble, sensitive, honest… is Pete Davidson the future of straight men? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: there are some caveats. Namely, the fact that none of Davidson’s high-profile relationships seem to have lasted more than a few months, though who knows if Kardashian will be the one to break the cycle. Then there’s also the drama surrounding his previous relationship with writer Cazzie David, whom he dated for two years and allegedly dumped over text message one day before she learned he’d already moved on with Grande. Not so chivalrous after all, then, perhaps.

Despite this, there is still undeniably something about Davidson that straight men could learn from. Even if it is just to start texting back “real quick”.


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