All this week, join us for a delightfully unwell celebration of our Internet Boyfriends. They’re sweet, beautiful men we’ve never met, and we can’t wait to share the fully formed relationships we have with each of them.
Sure, Pete Davidson is cute. And I won’t deny that Timothée Chalamet is handsome, or that I’ve had the hots for Robert Pattinson since Twilight came out when I was 12. But, none of these men really do it for me. At least, not in the way older, more stately celebrities like Mads Mikkelsen, Lee Pace, Javier Bardem, Daniel Dae Kim or, believe it or not, Adam Sandler do. Even men who’ve since passed — like Patrick Swayze or Burt Reynolds — evoke something far more erotic. And I know I’m not alone. While it’s easy to find unlimited stan accounts for today’s young, handsome heartthrobs, there exists a large corner of the internet where people like myself thirst specifically for men of a certain age. Like teenagers stringing up Tiger Beat or J-14 posters on our walls, we’ve focused our digital attractions upon the Daddies.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Do we really need to belabor and intellectualize why a man with cutting cheekbones like Mikkelsen or Dae Kim is hot? It’s obvious. On the other hand, the JCPenney boys-section aesthetics of Sandler or the chest hair and porno staches of men like Reynolds or Tom Selleck don’t quite fit the dewy, bald-bodied aesthetics of today’s heartthrobs. It’s not just handsomeness that dictates this attraction.
It’s not just age, either. As a recent TikTok from @jenisnotokay demonstrates, there’s a careful balance between “male celeb over 40” and a true Internet Daddy. In her TikTok, she presents the prompt, “singing when I find the DILF attractive” to “Umbrella” by Rihanna with a slideshow of different men. She sings along when she thinks he’s hot, and is silent when she doesn’t. The slideshow includes Cillian Murphy, Oscar Isaac, Chris Pratt, Robert Downey Jr., Mikkelsen, Justin Timberlake, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Willem Dafoe. She screams into her corded Apple headphones for Downey Jr., Mikkelsen, Morgan and Dafoe, sings at a reasonable volume for Murphy and Isaac but is silent for Pratt and Timberlake.
Despite both Pratt and Timberlake technically qualifying as male celebrities above 40 who could be “DILFs” — they do have children — there’s something utterly sexless about them. They’re too clean, too nice and without an edge, lacking any of the intensity that separates the Daddies from the dads. Not to mention, neither Timberlake nor Pratt are considered to be very nice guys, despite looking like they would be. The Internet Daddies might be bad boys, but they’re not bad people.
Meanwhile, another recent TikTok trend utilizes a clip of dialogue from Ant Man, where a child says, “I want my daddy,” and a man’s voice says, “I want your daddy, too.” In the viral audio, the soundbite leads into the bassline from “Super Freak” by Rick James. Women have been using this bit, first showing pictures of a celebrity’s children and then saying, “I want your daddy, too,” before cutting into a slideshow of photos of said celebrity. Among the most popular versions of this trend are ones using Matthew McConaughey, Sandler and Selleck — i.e., all men over 50.
The choice of photos they use reveals something about what people find so hot about these older men. In almost every example of these TikToks, the creators lead with photos of the celebrities when they were young, then finish with more recent photos (the Sandler version starts with photos of him in Airheads and ends with Uncut Gems, for example). Part of what seems to be driving this infatuation, then, is a sense of nostalgia. If nostalgia has invaded nearly every other area of contemporary interests — music, fashion, television — then surely, it informs our sexual desires, as well.
Even so, is any of this Daddy interest actually new? As HBO’s latest show, Minx, points out in the first episode, Reynolds’ nude spread in Cosmopolitan in 1972 was a massive hit for both the magazine and him. Though he was 36 at the time and not a father, he nevertheless conveyed an alluring, mature masculinity in contrast to the boyish types one might expect from a young women’s magazine today. That was 50 years ago, and an older-seeming man still stopped our hearts like he might today.
Of course, the mediums have changed. We no longer need a fold-out image of our men of choice when we can engage with a seemingly endless supply of photos and videos of celebrities online. In fact, just as there are stan accounts for the younger generation, there are dozens of Twitter accounts devoted to older men. Mikkelsen is a particular target and a fitting case study for the Internet Daddy phenomenon. Online, he has a cult-like following, particularly for his role in Hannibal. And despite the show having ended seven years ago, there remain people whose entire online life is dedicated to tweeting about him.
Cami, a 21-year-old Canadian who runs @LovclyMikkelsen, a Mads Mikkelsen/Hannibal fan account, is one of them. “I just love the way he acts,” she tells me. “He’s very versatile when it comes to the roles he plays, and he has this way about him. He can convey a handful of different emotions with nothing more than a look or an expression.”
What she particularly likes, however, is how down-to-earth he seems in interviews and other real-life scenarios, a contrast from his character in Hannibal. “He’s wholehearted in everything he does, and he’s very genuine,” Cami continues. “He doesn’t put up fronts, and he speaks his mind. He plays such serious and intense roles, but in interviews, he’s the biggest goofball. He’s hilarious, so very kind and extremely humble. It also helps that he’s very aesthetically pleasing.”
Cami has a long list of Mikkelsen’s aesthetic features she enjoys. “There’s something about his cheekbones and how strong his jaw is,” she says. “His eyes are also a beautiful shade of amber, especially in natural light, and they’re very expressive.” She loves his hair, too, and its ability to look either rugged or dapper, depending on styling, as well as his posture — “especially when he walks, he seems to thrum with power without realizing it” — and obviously, his physique. “He has a strong upper body, broad shoulders, a firm chest, big arms and strong-looking hands,” she says. “But his waist/legs are slim and almost dainty because of his dancing background. It’s a pleasing contrast.”
Mikkelsen is all those things, of course, but part of Cami’s laser-focus on him may also be because he’s having the sort of moment typically reserved for much younger celebrities. Though the 56-year-old began acting in Danish films when he was 30, it took another decade for him to appear internationally with the 2006 film Casino Royale, and he has yet to serve as a lead in an English-language movie. He did, however, star in Another Round, which won an Oscar for Best International Feature last year. As he nears 60, his profile only continues to rise — most recently, he replaced Johnny Depp in the forthcoming Harry Potter franchise film, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Undoubtedly, then, some of the love for him has to do with the establishment of “Mads Mikkelsen” as a household name.
But while Mikkelsen’s rising celebrity makes him feel increasingly familiar, it also seems that the Internet Daddy phenomenon draws us to men like him who are well-known, yet totally quiet on an individual level. What is Mikkelsen doing this week? I have no fucking clue, because he’s not posting about it. Many of the aforementioned Daddies do post the occasional selfie or life update now and then, but they certainly aren’t as chronically online as those of us who post about them. There exists, then, a sense of mystique to the older male celebrity that we aren’t afforded for many of the ones our own age.
But beyond that, the most psychologically simple answer to this culture of Internet Daddies is probably just that some people prefer older men. Call it “daddy issues” if you must, but these men look like they could take care of both themselves and you. The same cannot be said for many of the young, famous men today, even if that assumption is baseless. Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks like he could cook you a healthy meal. Timothée Chalamet looks like he would give you a UTI.
Are either of those judgments factual? No, but it’s our judgments of the other men in Chalamet’s age group that inform this. A 26-year-old man isn’t a mystery. But a man over 40 or 50? What do we really know about them? It’s in this gap of knowledge that the Internet Daddy can flourish. He exists almost as a fixed figure, distant in both his age and celebrity. And with this, he feels safe to project our desires onto. It’s almost as if he’s the one person who could take us away from all of this, particularly the part of our lives wrapped up in social media.
I mean, does he even know how to use Twitter?