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Why does everyone want to date a “golden retriever boyfriend?”

Depending on where you look, there are many different ideas about what makes an ideal male partner. If you’re living in a romance novel, he could be the classic, brooding bad boy or the sweet, unassuming boy next door. If you’re lurking in dark corners of the internet, there’s alpha, beta and sigma males. On TikTok, male archetypes take an animal form. There’s orange cat boys, dobermans, huskies and an overwhelming favorite: golden retriever boys. 

Golden retriever boys — also called golden retriever boyfriends, as the end goal is to date one — are a lot like the breed they’re named after. They’re universally liked and inoffensive, outgoing and follow you from room to room looking for attention, love and treats. Today, the hashtag “goldenretrieverboy” has over 86 million views on TikTok, but the term has been floating around the internet for as long as the past two years. Under the tag, you’ll find users proudly sharing videos of their golden retriever boyfriend excitedly greeting them as they get home from work, bringing them their favorite Dunkin’ order as a surprise and affectionately wrapping their arms around their significant others. In a world filled with toxic masculinity and conservatives lamenting the decline of alpha men, a golden retriever boyfriend doesn’t even know what the word “simp” means. 

Like any internet term, the golden retriever label can have a few meanings and is sometimes applied too liberally. Some videos focus on personality traits like loyal, energetic and friendly while others romanticize guys that just look like golden retrievers (otherwise known as blond men with soft smiles). On a post asking how to find a GRB from last month, a Reddit user aptly defined them as “a significant other that is easygoing and makes it fairly simple to maintain a happy and fulfilling relationship. He’s soft, cheerful, a dummy, and loves his girlfriend.” Multiple people online also shared that they knew their partner is a golden retriever because he thanks them for doing things like cutting up an apple or making him a bagel. Other than being outgoing, upbeat and maybe a little stupid, the core characteristic of a golden retriever boyfriend is simply that he loves his partner — something that should be a bare minimum requirement. 

In addition to the internet, you’ve definitely seen a GRB on-screen. There’s Mr. Peanutbutter on “Bojack Horseman,” who is literally a golden retriever, Lance the from gone-too-soon “The Other Two,” Jake Peralta from “Brooklyn 99” and Ken from “Barbie” before he discovers the patriarchy/horses. They’re zealous and corny, but their pride in their partners is remarkable and unfortunately not something all people who date men can expect from them. Their appeal comes in their unguardedness and their ability to build their partner up. In K-Dramas, the “second lead” or the other man vying for the female lead’s heart is often golden retriever-like. While he doesn’t get the girl, he’s there as another option, frequently portrayed as too good for the female lead even.

It’s hard to resist the upbeat demeanor of a GRB, but it’s striking that the best people can hope for right now is a dog. Thanks to the internet, “golden retriever” has become a compliment in real life. “He’s like a golden retriever, and I love it,” a woman fittingly named Kat, said about an early love interest on a recent episode of “Bachelor In Paradise.” People want a partner who is supportive, enthusiastic and makes things easy, like this Reddit user who shared that she hopes to get back together with ex-golden retriever boyfriend while reminiscing about a time he was so excited to greet her that he face-planted on his way to her car. The love we have for this clunky, affectionate type of man is a rejection of traditional gender roles and flat out proof that Andrew Tate’s alpha male courses actually won’t help men attract partners. 

While someone of any gender could have a golden retriever boyfriend, online and on TV, they tend to be paired with a “black cat girlfriend.” Think of the type-A, workaholic Amy Santiago or how Barbie starts to think about death and her purpose. In contrast to her golden retriever boyfriend, a black cat girlfriend has real issues she’s grappling with. While the golden retriever boyfriend dances through life, the black cat girlfriend has some concerns. She likes to make a plan and she’s not afraid to get dark, but her GRB is there to cheer her up. The dynamic speaks to issues in modern dating, especially in relationships between men and women. Women are exhausted with putting up with emotionally unavailable men and the double standards from the outside world, so they are quick to idealize men who actually like them and show it. They’re also excited to be with someone unburdened by the pressures of the outside world. When the world demands a lot from women, who more or less can all be black cats sometimes, it’s nice to have a simple-minded boyfriend that manages to get a coffee order right. 

Like the romanticization of the himbo before him, the popularity of the golden retriever boy is here to show us that wooing a potential love interest is a lot simpler than gender norms makes it out to be. You don’t need to “neg” someone and you don’t have to follow a strict set of guidelines about how to act around them since all people really seem to be looking for is someone who resembles a furry friend. I’ve found at least one GRB who plays fetch and another who bravely offered to pull out his girlfriend’s diva cup when she told him she couldn’t get it out as a prank.

They really are good boys, but I’m not convinced the ideal modern male partner should be on par with a dog.

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