Not everything requires a response.
I try to remind myself of this pure, crystalline fact each day. The world has gone on turning for eons, and people have lived their lives, without any need for dudes chiming in from the peanut gallery. But guys — and yes, it’s almost always guys — want to be heard. They wish to be recognized. I’m guilty of this desire, too; you don’t become a writer unless you privilege your own opinions and observations. Still, I value my silence. I practice it. Not coincidentally, it was my mother who taught me that even two people as close as we are can take a long drive and not feel the need to say much at all. It is lovely to drift through the quiet and just… think.
The internet, however, is built on communication. It is noise. If you scroll through it and never post, never engage, you’re a lurker. For the purposes of social media — both the users and the companies harvesting data — you may as well not exist. The men who tweet into the void, failing to find an audience for the obscure, toxic, pretentious or disjointed content they offer, aren’t much better off. For legions of them, this is unacceptable. And so they lay siege.
The Reply Guy — an online fella who treats women he doesn’t know with “an over-familiarity and unwarranted flirtatiousness,” and/or believes he’s “entitled to a response” from same — is by now a well-established archetype. We here at MEL can shoulder some blame for the discourse around Reply Guys, which has the lamentable side effect of granting them the attention and validation they crave. The problem is that once you’ve diagnosed the disorder, you see it everywhere. We’ve written about the Reply Guys who insist on the honor of a formal debate against any woman sharing her views. (These are also known as “sea lions,” after a memorable comic strip that lampooned their bad-faith rhetoric.) We’ve tried to understand the depressingly basic Reply Guy who automatically types “charge your phone” when he sees a phone screenshot that includes a depleted battery icon. There’s the “Send Guy,” a weirdo writing 10,000-word emails that disgorge his inner pomposity to recipients chosen seemingly at random. In the midst of such analysis, the dawn of the Reply Gal was, I suppose, inevitable.
We are simply drowning in replies.
Allow us, though, to taxonomize one last variant of Reply Guy — his final form, as it were. He employs a tactic so simple and odious, so nakedly contemptible, that it throws the entire phenomenon into clear, frightening focus. He leaves no doubt that the Reply Guy doesn’t consider his targets to be full persons, only a means of satisfaction. He’s the Reply Guy who pretends to empathize in your moments of darkness, but is really attracted to the scent of vulnerability and lowered self-esteem. He hopes to trap you in a false air of decent concern.
Throughout 2019, the closely related copypastas “Don’t Kill Yourself You’re So Sexy Aha” and “Nooo You’re So Sexy” have proliferated as a parody of this Reply Guy — and a measure of the whole species’ hollow-brained reasoning. The strategy is damning proof that there is no depth to which the Reply Guy will not sink; that he is, essentially, out of moves. When you’re trawling Twitter for posts in which women express their mental, financial and physical struggles, then offering the bare minimum of generic solace before taking your shot, you define the flaw at the heart of all things internet: It’s impossible to make a public statement without some dipshit believing that it’s directed exclusively at him. That it is his duty, no less, to figure out a reply.
Where might the Reply Guy go from here? He’s exhausted the spectrum of available replies. He has burned every bridge without crossing any. Absolutely nothing worked, unless the objective was a series of critical essays published on this website, and others, that mildly inflated his delusion of relevance. There is no hope besides the unthinkable: that he can learn, or recall, the art of silence. You do not have to post. Women are capable of processing and survival absent your condescending, narcissistic input. Not everything requires a response, particularly if the response takes the form of a half-assed Trojan Horse with plainly visible occupants. Give it the fuck up, boys, and try — in the actual world as well as online — to figure out what listening is.
And if that’s too difficult, at least consider being annoying to all of us at once.