| Arts & Culture
Relationships For Queer Girls, Simping Is a Love Language
I’m embracing the label, with all its yearning, try-hard connotations, because desire shouldn’t be embarrassing and love does require trying hard.
The first time I saw the photo , I thought they were alone. One of the most heavily photographed women of her era alongside one of the most widely read, pressed cheek to cheek. Marilyn Monroe is wearing silk, something low-cut. The triangle of a martini glass, one gulp of vodka left, obscures what might be a nip slip. She’s grinning, baring those big teeth, eyes closed like a kid getting a butterfly kiss. Carson McCullers’ long fingers pull her in, pressed against the slope of her cheek, fingertips disappearing into the blonde hair. She is kissing the apple of Marilyn’s other cheek, her nose pressed against black velvet eyelashes. Her eyes are open. She must have wanted to see her skin.
When I first saw the photo, I gasped, I salivated, I daydreamed: a girls’ night out or girls getting dressed for the night, getting distracted, getting naked. Their skin pinking as the sky purples. Perfume, sweat, spit. But of course, the existence of the photo slices through my fantasy as easily as it sparked it, as there was at least one other person there to click the shutter. Vintage photos of starlets and literati don’t often feature girls kissing girls, so give me a break.
Like any simp, I understand the impulse to keep my eyes wide open when I get close to a girl I could love. I get, too, the associated impulse to go overboard with my displays of affection, begging her to let me take her somewhere, or get that for her, or regale her with the same litany of compliments she’s heard before. Simping in this style is generally considered embarrassing and maligned as a display of desperation. I once thought it was the girls who stayed calm and collected, aloof with their affection, that won in romance, until I met a girl who taught me it wasn’t a competition. I’ve come to embrace the label of simp, with all its yearning, try-hard connotations, because desire and care shouldn’t be embarrassing, and because love does require trying hard.
Yet simping as a slang term originates in the ostensibly high-stakes and cutthroat arena of heterosexual romance, at least as it is imagined by the online “incel” community. Today, simping is commonly understood to refer to any extreme and overt display of romantic devotion, or even intense fandom (see the “I’m simping so hard for Robert Pattinson” thread on Reddit or the tweets , TikToks , and Instagrams fans devote to simping for specific stars). But when the term was first popularized in the late 2010s, it came out of Reddit and TikTok communities intent on shaming so-called simps, beta males who perform supposedly pathetic acts of (basic) kindness to earn romantic attention. Incels argue more masculine men can and should attract such attention while also treating women terribly––mainly through ignoring, demeaning, and otherwise pretending they don’t care about the object of their affection at all.
The term’s derogatory connotations imply that little is more shameful than revealing the depth of your desire to love and be loved. Urban Dictionary defines “to simp” as “groveling, or basically just letting females walk all over you for no apparent reason other than your own bitch-made-ness.” A YouTube video with over 100,000 views entitled “5 Signs You Are Subtly Simping” opens by warning the viewer: “DON’T BE THIS GUY.” A 2021 article in Quillette contended that simping “reflects the cold reality of our modern sexual marketplace,” where a man “who cannot compete with above average males in the traditional areas of wealth, social status, and appearance must turn to simping to attract mates.”
Toxic masculinity, not to mention bizarre and depressing applications of marketplace ideology to interpersonal relationships, is nothing new on the internet. Still, I was surprised to discover this etymology for a word I first stumbled across in TikTok videos posted by teenage girls constructing elaborate picnic dates for their girlfriends, openly embracing their #simplife. In one such video , a girl looking dreamily into the middle distance opines about her crush’s beauty, captioning the video “I’m simping REALLY hard rn and I don’t want to stop.” In another , the creator zooms in on a dollar bill she’s folded into an origami heart, with the caption “Just spent 45 minutes making a heart out of the last dollar I have for my crush.” The video has over 100,000 likes.
Queer people have long been shamed for being and doing too much.
Our society-wide fear of being shamed for our feelings is inextricable from the history of homophobia. In the romantic context, the culturally constructed opposition between desperation and effortlessness marks certain types of desire as “natural” (and therefore effortless) and sanctions others as unnatural and potentially immoral, and therefore shameful. I’ve come up against this binary my whole life: once, in middle school, two girls played a trick on me, telling me to touch one of their thighs as some sort of initiation ritual into their friend group. When I did it, they laughed and said I clearly had a crush, and that it was creepy, before excising me from their social scene altogether.
I wasn’t even consciously aware that I liked girls then, but I immediately internalized that my impulse to please a person I cared for—especially a girl—was something to be ashamed of. Throughout my adolescence, I was terrified of wanting people too much, certain that being honest about my feelings was a recipe for losing them. In retrospect, I realize that this belief came from a fear of my own sexuality, a deeply ingrained idea that wanting to do the kinds of things boys on the teen romance shows did for the girls they loved was unnatural. This was sexism in addition to homophobia: I thought the girl should be the pursued, not the pursuer, that a truly worthy girl wouldn’t have to try this hard.
Queer people have long been shamed for being and doing too much, from stereotypes about flamboyant gay men to clichés that cast lesbians as obsessive stalkers. The cultural canon is haunted by the notion that a woman who loves another woman represents a dangerously gluttonous, even lethal kind of love. TVTropes.org describes the “psycho lesbian” trope as a “mentally unstable, villainous” woman who will do anything, up to and including murder, when motivated by “unrequited love for a straight woman.” IMDB’s list of “The 8 Craziest Pop Culture Lesbian Stalkers” includes characters from Basic Instinct , Single White Female , and Chloe . The psycho lesbian casts such a long shadow that almost every gay girl I know, including myself, has feared being seen as a predator if she expresses her true feelings.
In this context, simping can be both rebellion and a self-expression. Queer people have long been adept at shaking a toxic trope like a strong cocktail, cracking a joke and turning words in on themselves to make our own slang. It turns out that my simp sisters have been here all along: centuries’ worth of queer girls gesticulating wildly at the girls they love, writing letters with too many melancholy metaphors, insisting that their love exists.
I simped hard for the first girl I really loved, so much so that we made it into a bit. I’d try to outdo myself with compliments each morning that we woke up next to each other. The first time I gave her one of these overblown accolades, I used the humor of it as a shield, reluctant to be totally honest out of the old fear that the depth of my desire would drive her away. But instead of leaving, she laughed and pulled me closer. No one I could truly love would find care unattractive, and my jokes only landed because they weren’t really jokes. The internet bros who deride simping believe that “success” in romance means earning a high return on a small emotional investment. Only in a social world driven by economic game theory does this make sense. The idea of the simp as a loser implies a zero-sum marketplace of love, an idea that we can and should reject.
Maybe we are so desperate to display our love because it so often gets erased, misread, and minimized.
These days, I find so much simping in culture’s gay girls— Election ’s little braces-wearing lesbian, telling the girl who leaves her she’d like to be ground up in a cement truck and poured atop her grave when she dies; girl in red begging to be her beloved’s bitch, offering to brave extreme cold to accompany her home; or the compilations of TikTok videos with titles like “lesbians being a simp for 12 min” and “wlw tiktoks bc you’re a simp” (with hundreds of thousands of views).
Maybe we are so desperate to display our love because it so often gets erased, misread, and minimized. For decades after her death, the biographers called Carson McCullers’s lovers her close friends. For centuries, historians insisted Emily Dickinson was straight, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary in her letters and poems. On the internet, queer girls have made a trend out of mocking this willful blindness. In January, @fairydreamys tweeted “emily dickinson really wrote to sue ‘i tore open your letter and licked the envelope’s seal for any lingering taste of you’ and historians thought they were just friends.” Perhaps all our simping, our chivalry cosplay taken to abject extremes, is just an earnest refusal of miscategorization.
After so many gay girls were told they didn’t really love those girls, didn’t even really know what love was, or that their love was dangerous, am I transgressing something by insisting on my love with overdone metaphors and embarrassing effusions of emotion? I’m not just writing about internalized homophobia or a long-gone era of Victorian girls faking friendship to avoid public shaming, though I am writing about those things too. But I am also writing for today’s young queer people, who risk being thrust back into a world where verbally proclaiming their desire is dangerous. In the wake of Florida’s passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as more than a dozen other states consider copycat laws, understanding this country’s history of shaming its queer citizens is more important than ever. That history is as embedded in our speech and our slang as it is in our laws.
I used to try to tamp down my urges to simp, to play it cool when my blood was running hot. I thought that the adoration emanating off me smelled sharp like sweat and would freak people out. Now, I wear it like perfume; maybe the scent is a bit strong for you, but as my fellow simps on TikTok say, the girls who get it, get it . Simping is a reclaimed love language for those of us who have long been taught that our love is somehow other or too much . Maybe I’m extremely cringe, but if you’re cringing at my feelings, at least you’re looking.