Introducing: The Worst Guy Ever

Or, how the 'Infinite Jest'-loving, Bukowski-worshipping fuckboy is an internet bogeyman.
Introducing: The Worst Guy Ever
Image by Esme Blegvad

You tip the contents of his ashtray into the bin, thinking it an act of kindness, only to receive a text saying he’s “well annoyed”, as his plans to “use the ciggie ash as charcoal to paint a portrait of your sensual nip-nips” have been ruined.

You send him a tasteful nude of you reclining on your bed, knees parted, back arched, lips pouting, to which he replies: “Damn girl, somebody really internalised that male gaze.” When you leave his text on read, he inexplicably messages you: “My type is fucked up girls with bangs” and a picture of Mia Wallace.


You text him to say you don’t see things going anywhere between you if he’s only going to message after midnight. He replies with a PDF of ‘Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism’ by E. P. Thompson, and the words “stop moping, time is merely a bourgeois construct” and a request for your Mubi login.

You ask him why he only ever writes in lower case, and he tells you he’s the “e.e. cumming-on-your-face” of predictive texting, adding “he’s a poet btw”.

None of these anecdotes are true, exactly – but that’s not the point, they don’t need to be. You know the sort of man I’m talking about: the Worst Guy. He’s the human embodiment of the “men-are-trash” refrain, and with his little earring and cult-like devotion to Radiohead, a near permanent fixture of The Discourse. He is heterosexuality’s punchline, the man behind the Hinge profile where the job has been set to “Full Time Ass Man”. The guy who will inspire the 5,068th round of “Oh My God Have You Ever Noticed Straight Men Like Infinite Jest Twitter conversation.


Generally, the term isn’t used by the man in question, but by the people who encounter him: primarily straight women on dating apps. While there’s a trend of men preemptively declaring to women they’re going to be “bad for you” - as if they’re Nick Cave 2.0, and not just a knob - they generally don’t self-identify as bad. The Worst Guy loves #culture not for its artistic merit, but for its ability to affirm his own masculinity: Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Kerouac, Hemingway, Tame Impala, John Lennon, Bukowski. He’s the sort of guy who claims to enjoy the therapy scenes in The Sopranos, but you suspect it’s so he can learn how to better weaponise the concept of emotional intelligence. 

So far, so relatable. But what if, like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, the Worst Guy simply… isn’t real? I don’t mean that shit men with an unhealthy interest in the oeuvre of Paul Thomas Anderson don’t exist. Rather, I’m suggesting that, somewhere along the line, he drifted from being a useful and funny cultural shorthand for the ways in which men are a bit shit, to this sort of imaginary Freudian id of modern dating.

When we talk about the Worst Guy, he tends to fall into two categories. First, he’s an inept but mainly harmless figure who does stuff like use the Notes app to write ideas for playlist vibes (“Carl Cox, coke, and cum?”) or curate an entire Bumble profile around eating ass, only to never stray below your waist when you finally hook up.


If he’s not that guy, then the Worst Guy is a lurking menace. This is most commonly expressed in the form of what I’d term “red flag discourse” - pseudo-therapeutic statements about how “ordering water on a date” or “enjoying the dulcet tones of the 90s band Slowdive” are warning signs that us ladies must constantly be on the look out for. These red flags are taken to signal not just immaturity or incompatibility, but, more often, a likelihood that the guy will engage in gaslighting and emotional abuse.

This, obviously, is a fairly reductive approach. MeToo’s cry was that, for too long, men had been able to escape scrutiny related to their actions and behaviours, not their Goodreads and Letterboxd. Plus, the idea that someone’s cultural intake can predict how they’ll treat you is patently nonsense: of the people I’ve slept with recently, it was the man with a Sinead O’Connor poster who ghosted me, while the one with The Smiths’ lyrics tattooed on his arm still texts me every day. Take that, discourse!

Treating men as The Worst risks creating a cultural script that forces this to be the outcome. In The New Inquiry, Indiana Seresin writes: “To be permanently, preemptively disappointed in heterosexuality is to refuse the possibility of changing straight culture for the better.” At its most extreme, this manifests in the trend of women who’ll happily commit entrapment to get proof of men being the worst (“I asked a man to explain The Talking Heads to me – and can you believe it, he did! What is this, 500 Days of Summer?!” – 401.k likes, a Buzzfeed article, a brief appearance on Flora Gill’s podcast). But, more generally, it’s an approach that denies the tenderness and joy that romantic love has the capacity to offer. Seresin notes: “if ‘heterosexuality’ becomes shorthand for misogyny, the proper object of critique falls from view”. 

It is telling that the rise of the Worst Guy phenomenon has coincided with a post-MeToo-feminism – a moment that’s attuned to power dynamics, but often at a loss when it comes to changing them. This is reflected in how terms that differ dramatically in their seriousness are used interchangeably: the “Worst Guy” easily lapses into “male manipulator” or “gaslighter”.

MeToo reaffirmed what many already knew: that any man, no matter how seemingly nice, could be bad. Yet, rather than opening discussions about human desire and sexual vulnerability, instead we’ve landed with the Worst Guy bogeyman - someone who offers us the illusion of dealing with our disappointment with men, and a false framework for spotting bad men before they get a chance to harm us.

There’s always risk involved in forming a new romantic attachment, and that can’t be overcome by boiling men down to walking starter-pack memes. Whether it’s dunking on men for their love of MGMT, The Mountain Goats or Wes Anderson, to speak like a true Worst Guy and quote Morrissey: That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore. It’s time for the Worst Guy to hang up his little beanies and make way for a better, more hopeful discussion around dating.