Building the fantasy of a soft man, as told by rom-com heroes

Welcome to Cozy Week, where we’ll curl up by the glow of our screens to celebrate all that’s soft in entertainment. Pour yourself a cup of hot cocoa and sit by us as we coo over the cutest games, cry over the tenderest movie moments, and drift off to the most comforting shows. Because it can be a cold world out there, and we need something to keep us warm.

Coziness isn’t always about warmth or physical softness. It can also be nice thoughts, comforting fantasies that feel nice to reflect on when the world feels tough and terrifying. Losing oneself in a daydream where things are nice and life is good is a near-universal human experience, and one of the easiest ways to burrow in to fantasy is the idea of a perfectly soft, loving romantic partner. The absolute ideal of this is the Soft Man. 

Not to be confused with the softboy/i, whose gentleness is an illusion created to distract from his garden variety crappiness, the soft man is genuinely thoughtful and understanding. He is honest about his feelings, delights in being useful, and is physically and emotionally incapable of hurting the person he loves. 

As with any stock character, the soft man is a fantasy. He is not, however, a traditionally masculine one. Stoicism has no place in the soft man’s emotional repertoire; his heart is always on his sleeve. He could be the kind of guy who builds houses with his hands or wrangles cattle, but only if he performs those duties without succumbing to the concurrent stereotype of defensive surliness. 100% underbelly, he has no shell to crack. 

Because he is impossible, the building blocks of the soft man are scattered among iconic romantic heroes who have some, but not all of his traits. If we take, as exampled below, Mr. Darcy’s attention to boundaries, stitch it alongside Peter Kavinsky’s herculean effort in his relationship, and continue on with other rom-com heartthrobs who come close to the ideal, the perfect soft man emerges like a cuddly Frankenstein — the softest man imaginable. 

Mr. Darcy’s respect for Elizabeth’s boundaries, Pride and Prejudice 

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Image: Moviestore/Shutterstock

Pride & Prejudice has endured as a romantic dream for centuries because of the central connection between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Darcy isn’t an ideal anything when he first turns up, but his ability to learn from mistakes, ditch his pride (and prejudice!), and eventually humble himself before the woman he loves is legendary. 

Darcy’s softest moment happens later in the story, after he’s insulted Elizabeth with one marriage proposal and endeavored to better himself after her rejection. “One word from you,” he says in the midst of proposing a second time, “will silence me on the subject forever.” 

Darcy knows Elizabeth once hated him; he hated her once too. Now that he loves her, he’s willing to put himself at her feet once more but promises to forever respect her decision if she doesn’t feel the same way. Lucky for him, she does. 

Joe Fox’s goofiness, You’ve Got Mail 

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Image: Brian Hamill/Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

There’s a lot to like and dislike about Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail. He’s a raging capitalist whose big-box bookstore puts Kathleen Kelly’s The Shop Around The Corner out of business. He also learns fairly early on that Kathleen is the the e–pen pal he’s definitely falling in love with. The redeeming factor in his choice to keep the secret of his identity from her comes from how he woos her in real life — that charming, Tom Hanks goofiness that could cut through anyone’s armor. 

Joe doesn’t hold the irony of his knowledge over Kathleen’s head. He takes the opportunity to get to know her in real life while making fun of himself both online and in person. Like Darcy, he grows humbler when he learns to take life at Kathleen’s pace and stop taking himself so seriously. His humor and affection are so effective that when Kathleen does find out his secret, she admits that she suspected and “hoped that [her pen pal] was you.”

Javed’s creative soul, Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light

Some men hide their softness, and some reveal it to you with just one look in their eyes. Such is the case with sweet, soft Javed, the young writer at the center of Blinded by the Light. The one line description of Javed as a poet who desperately wants to be understood is undoubtedly potential fuckboi fodder, but his family duty and the social unrest of England in the 1980s keep him from ever becoming too mired in his own youthful suffering. While there are definite clashes with his family and his home country, Javed continues to write, to love, and to feed his soul with Bruce Springsteen’s music. – Proma Khosla

Westley’s tender swagger, The Princess Bride 

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Image: 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

The best soft man traits manifest concurrently with less-soft traits and manage to subvert them. Westley in The Princess Bride disappears in the first act and emerges as the Dread Pirate Roberts, swordfighting and swashbuckling his way through the story with effortless charm. 

The juxtaposition of Westley’s status as the most feared pirate on the sea and his kind, protective nature make him a unique hero in the realm of romantic comedy. He’s alarmingly polite, he holds to a code, and most importantly he treats Buttercup like she’s the most precious person in the world. Who doesn’t love a devoted man with a sword and a rakish smile?

Matty’s forgiveness, 13 Going on 30 

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Image: Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia Tri Star/Kobal/Shutterstock

Some say that the dramas of school-age children don’t matter later in life, but they sometimes do. School is a formative time for many people, which makes Matty Flamhaff’s arc in 13 Going on 30 even more impressive. In the movie’s fast-forward timeline, his best friend Jenna ditched him in high school for a clique of popular girls and turned up on his doorstep 27 years later asking for help. He could have been a jerk about it, but gives Jenna the benefit of the doubt to help her with a huge magazine project. 

Matt marries someone else in that timeline, but not before telling Jenna that he always loved her. She was awful to him, and he forgave her for the events Jenna couldn’t remember to remain her friend anyway. Since 13 Going on 30 is a rom-com with a dash of magic, they wind up together in a new timeline, but his initial compassion and willingness to accept a new start with Jenna after she hurt him is as admirable as it is soft. 

Quincy’s support, Love & Basketball

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Image: Moviestore/Shutterstock

Aside from being one of the greatest rom-coms of all time, Love & Basketball also has a great message about what it looks like for a man to fully devote himself to his partner’s dreams. Quincy has it all — money, a career with the Lakers, a (wrong) fiancee — but when he sees his childhood friend and longtime love Monica struggling after giving up her dream of playing basketball, he chooses to give it up to make sure the woman he loves can follow her dream. 

Quincy and Monica’s one-on-one game towards the end of the movie is the most charged game of basketball ever put on screen, and the fact that he wins over Monica and still lets her know he wants to be with her is a perfect soft moment. She’s in tears, ready to give up on basketball and love, when he says the only three words that could literally change the game: “Double or nothing?”

The final scene of Quincy supporting Monica at a WNBA game is the icing on the soft cake. He’s there for her, forever and always. 

Peter Kavinsky’s effort, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Peter Kavinsky, man. Leaving the events of To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You aside, he really was the closest to the soft man ideal in the first movie. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before used the fantastic “fake dating” fanfiction trope to showcase Peter as someone who will do the absolute most to make sure his girlfriend knows he cares, to the point of driving her sister to school every day, sending her cute notes through the day, and going all the way across town to get her the yogurt she likes at the Korean grocery store. 

Peter leaves no stone unturned when it comes to making Lara Jean feel special. It’s practically a given that he falls in love with her for real. Watching him go from “it’s never gonna happen” to slipping his hand in the back pocket of her jeans is insanely satisfying and romantic because he worked to earn her every second they were together. Well, almost. The hot tub thing is still egregious, but if Lara Jean can forgive than so can everyone else. 

Emmett’s unwavering belief, Legally Blonde

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Image: Tracy Bennett/Mgm/Kobal/Shutterstock

Legally Blonde is about subverting sexist expectations by being excellent in the face of stereotype. Elle Woods doesn’t look or act like someone who “should” be at Harvard Law School, and as a result she’s underestimated by all of her classmates. Except, of course, for Emmett. When she meets him, he doesn’t act surprised that she’s at Harvard; he gives her tips on how to pass her classes. When he finds her in a bunny costume buying a Macbook, she defensively snaps “don’t ask,” and he replies with a simple “wasn’t gonna.” 

Emmett believes that Elle belongs at the school she got into and demonstrates that belief when he defends her after she is sexually harassed by Professor Callahan. He never sees her as anything but brilliant, and thus deserves every beam of sparkle she brings to his life. 

Nick’s willingness to defend, Crazy Rich Asians

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Image: Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

Apart from, you know, looking like Henry Golding, Nick Young has a lot of positive qualities, but his loyalty wins out in the end. After having been too modest (another positive quality! To a fault!) to divulge his inordinate wealth to girlfriend Rachel, Nick ends up torn between the woman he loves and the family who love him. After his mother hires a private investigator to look into Rachel, Nick’s loyalty snaps like a wishbone, with Rachel getting the bigger half. He proposes and promises to leave his family to be with her, and it’s Rachel who’s the true MVP in the end, challenging Nick’s mother to accept her lest she lose her son forever. – Proma Khosla

Aaron’s acceptance, Trainwreck 

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Image: Apatow Prods/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

Trainwreck centers on one specific trainwreck named Amy, a heavy-drinking commitmentphobe with a tendency to trip over her own feet when she isn’t busy shoving them in her mouth. She is, in short, very flawed. But Aaron isn’t interested in fixing her. 

He knows very well that the woman he loves is terrible at relationships, has a habit of blundering into awkward situations, and reflexively runs from her problems rather than trying to solve them. He jumps in anyway, with eyes wide open. Her grand romantic gesture, when it comes, is simply about caring enough to try and make things work. It’s not about proving she’s changed — because he’s never asked her to. He’s always accepted her exactly as she is. – Angie Han

Fonny’s patience, If Beale Street Could Talk 

If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk

Image: Annapurna Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock

Fonny and Tish face more obstacles than any young couple should in If Beale Street Could Talk, and through them all, one constant is his patience. Much of it is directed at sad circumstances outside his control — he’s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and has no choice but to wait for release. But the film ends on a note of hope, emphasizing his resilience and hers.

Fonny is a man who endures. We’ve seen him wait for Tish to fall for him on her own terms, take his time as their childhood friendship blossoms into grown-up romance, pour care and effort into his sculptures, and plan ahead for a beautiful future. When it comes, as we know it will, it’ll be his tremendous patience that carried him through the worst of days. – Angie Han

Michael’s visible adoration, The Photograph

Building the fantasy of a soft man, one rom-com at a time

Image: Sabrina Lantos/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

Sometimes, all it takes is a look. More specifically, The Look. When a man in a romantic comedy pauses to fix his eyes on the woman you know he’ll end up with by the time the credits roll, all the love and adoration he feels should be right there in his gaze. Michael in The Photograph has that gaze on lock.

Michael’s look says “I love you,” but it also says “you are incredible.” It’s never invasive and feels like he’s seeing Mae with new eyes every time she crosses his path. He knows he’s not taking that job in London. He could never bear to live a life where he can’t look at her the way he does. The softness and silence of his wordless admiration makes every single picture of him worth more than a thousand words. 

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