Mattel/Barbie (L-R) Bushwick Ken, Finance Ken, Dr. Ken, Williamsburg Ken, New England Ken, Barista/Actor Ken, Tech Ken, Plant Influencer Ken
Creating a codename for your latest fling is nothing new, especially among serial daters ("Mr. Big" from Sex and the City is perhaps one of the most famous examples). But once quarantine hit, it seemed like a nickname renaissance flourished in my group chats.
I joked with my friends about an imaginary reality show called Quarantine Bae that featured everyone I knew who was ramping up their casual February flings for the lockdown and casting their counterpart for the series. Suddenly we all had our own Quarantine Bae, which would give way to more coronavirus-themed pseudonyms to cover up hookups we were maybe a little ashamed of during a major global health crisis with the only known preventative measures consisting of staying home and not touching each other.
Despite contempt from my more committed friends, what’s a single person to do when their rebound season coincides with a citywide lockdown? In my own apartment, we had a contentious two weeks of hell with COVID-19, but by late April, newly outfitted with antibodies, albuterol, and boredom, the apps were LIT. My friends and I weighed the pros and cons of finally meeting up with our pandemic pen-pals and read articles about the wild measures people were taking to avoid getting sick or just avoid getting caught.
During my own Quarantine Bae casting call, I had a few failed encounters that produced characters that my friends *still* aren’t letting me live down...
Covid Ken: Tall, conventionally handsome, ?what even is his job? With Prince Charming hair and an alarming skepticism about COVID (tHe EcOnOmY...hAvE yOu HeArD aBoUt SwEdEn). The original Antibody Boy™, otherwise known as Patient Zero. Covid Ken would fade out but become immortalized as the mascot for my group chat’s quarantine escapades and the metric for our own behavior dating during the pandemic (i.e. Being a Total Ken = forgoing the golden standards of social distancing to get laid). His name became founded in the problematic Hot Guy archetype that’s trying to get you to sneak out of the house with shaved legs in the middle of a global pandemic. In actuality, he was a pretty interesting and funny guy, but the caricature of a quarantine-themed action figure we created softened the impact of fundamental differences in our values.
(Actual footage of me meeting up with Covid Ken)
Dirty Apartment Guy: Fairly self-explanatory.
Swim Trunks: Even with so many signifying great traits to inspire a nickname (Athlete! Scottish! A successful attorney!) An unlucky man might never recover from the fatal mistake of showing up an hour late to a date wearing drawstring polyester swim trunks with a sea life motif.
Toilet Scrubber: An icon and legend. Toilet Scrubber was off to a great start with two stellar dates until fatally pausing the volume on Netflix to proceed to the worst bathroom trip of his life as I listened in terror to the sound of a toilet brush hard at work on the other side of the wall in my pre-war apartment.
Universal Pictures We hate to see it!
Biscuit Daddy: An actual father who sent me home with fresh baked goods.
Paramount Pictures/Getty Images Me, obv
The common formula would be neighborhood plus occupation, but always interchangeable with sometimes cruel characteristics or random anecdotal information. I’m personally guilty of divulging the petty criticisms or embarrassing details of a current situationship over happy hour drinks with my friends while trying to preserve their anonymity. On the rare occasion that I’ll use a proper noun, it will often be met with, “Who?! What are we calling him? I can never remember who these guys are.” In my own circle, you’re only as good as your worst performance or the ugly shirt you wore on our second date.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images My roommate and I, before he asks me to turn on Google Location Sharing
Naturally, I had to ask some friends (and the Internet) if they’re playing the name game and they delivered. Here, the funniest nicknames submitted by InStyle readers and my social media followers, anonymous for obvious reasons….
Dick Doctor: “A urologist who was also a dick”
Skateboard Toes: “I won’t explain anything past this”
Jenga Boy: “Guy with a drinking game Jenga set who relied very heavily on it for our first few dates”
Long division: “We were getting down and dirty and I heard him whispering under his breath. Minutes in, I finally asked him what he was saying. He told me he was doing long division so he would last longer. We stayed (platonic) friends after.”
Monster Breath, formerly known as The Cryer: “I dated The Cryer for three months from March til June, he was a PhD candidate and would cry whenever I gently brought up his mansplaining — not tearing up but full-on bawling with heavy sobs, saying it was his conflict response. I’m Latina (a white one), but his level of white guy was too fucking much. My BFF also once went on a date with this guy a few years ago and we called him Monster Breath because his breath was horrible.
Tinfoil Bobby: “We call our friend’s boyfriend Tinfoil Bobby because he believes an unconscionable amount of conspiracy theories.”
Raccoon Guy: “He was living with his brother in the house they grew up in, after his parents and other brother moved out, and as far as I could tell, cleanliness-wise, they'd replaced the missing family members with raccoons.”
The Jareds: “I dated three Jareds, so I had to differentiate. There was Jared One (the first), Jared Alabama (he was from Alabama), and Jared Gerard (his name was spelled Gerard but pronounced Jared) — we also called him Paleo Dude.
Museum Boy: “We went on several museum dates but when I broke up with him he told me ‘I felt like I won the lottery only to have a handful of pennies thrown in my face’.”
The Guy I Forget: "I went on a few dates with him but I kept forgetting his name"
Who’s the Man: “He asked me “who’s the man” right before climaxing. I paused and quizzically responded, 'You are?'"
Mattel/Barbie (L-R) Burning Man Ken, Euro Ken, Urban Homestead Ken, HypeBeast Ken, Emotionally Available Ken
So, why do we play the nickname game? “Using pseudonyms to refer to dating partners is likely a combination of defensive strategizing and the convenience of shorthand that may actually help you connect with your friends while creating some level of distance between you and the partner,” says Dr. Jessica January Behr, Psy.D. a licensed psychologist and founder of Behr Psychology, a private practice specializing in individual and couples therapy in Manhattan.
Her explanation rang true to me. I often catch myself clinging to pseudonyms, perhaps in a subconscious effort to prevent my situationships from advancing to the next level. Especially during the pandemic, sneaking around has been the rule, and even when things progress, I’m apprehensive to name names due to a fear of commitment (coupled with a fear of outing someone as insensitive to a global health crisis). "My sister and I have always joked that once we 'name the puppy' it's a relationship," one Instagram follower DM'd me about her reason for using nicknames.
And yet, the pandemic has many single women concerned about their fertility clock or just general loneliness, In crisis mode, it seems like everyone’s at least a little concerned about getting someone to lockdown with — or at least get laid. Cuffing season is around the corner and everyone is seemingly scrambling to stake their claim before winter and a new season of Quarantine Bae begins. So, we all turn to the apps, which have ushered in an era of dating more impersonal than we’ve ever seen. Stories of dating a friend of a friend or a roommate’s coworker, which used to be the norm, are now few and far between. Instead, swiping through a handful of photos has caused an inevitable trend of serial dating, which can keep you trapped on the Revolving Door of Losers Carousel or feeling like you’re rummaging through a sale bin to find a potential date.
As I suspected, the name game is also a great way to cover up these less satisfying side effects of this revolving door and to help keep things casual when you’re afraid to be too excited about the possibility of someone new. "Referring to a dating partner by a trite nickname could be a way of turning hurt feelings, pain, disgust, disappointment, or even hopefulness or excitement into a more socially acceptable non-self-stigmatizing communication of difficult emotions," Dr. Behr explains. "For instance, if someone is feeling very positively about a new dating partner, but is wary of their potentially premature feelings, they may provide a moniker to friends as a way of protecting oneself from feeling or appearing to feel too excited or hopeful."
E. CHarbonneau/Getty Images My ex, your ex, probably everyone has this ex.
When submissions for codenames started pouring in, names like ‘Satan’ and ‘Psycho’ were popular, proving sometimes, pain takes new form in humor for those particularly bad endings that we can’t even reference by name. It's a way of "quelling feelings of hurt, disgust, or disappointment" or in some cases, down-playing an issue that should be taken more seriously, Dr. Behr says. "In some circumstances, this renaming could create distance between oneself and a partner or reduce the appearance, expression, or felt experience of the true feeling," she adds. In other words, we use these nicknames as a coping mechanism to add some humor or poise to the disappointment or unfulfillment these men bring to our lives, or hard feelings about the ghosts we encounter.
Much to my surprise, last night I sent a shocking text, “You’ve outgrown your nickname to my friends.” Needless to say, I’m looking forward to season 2 of Quarantine Bae.