In the world of social media, memes frequently come and go, but one internet creation has had surprising longevity. The distracted boyfriend meme, which first surfaced sometime around January 2017 before becoming an internet sensation in August last year, continues to pop up every now and then. The meme shows a couple walking down the streets of Spain, with the man openly ogling at another woman. Since then, several social media users have been in turn perplexed and fascinated by this love triangle, offering a range of theories on why the boyfriend has a wandering eye or urging the woman by his side – presumably, his girlfriend – to walk away.
On Monday, Twitter user Ernie Smith expanded the backstory further by delving into the history of the woman. He traced a fascinating if somewhat limited character arc. The woman, evidently a model, surprises easily and has a penchant for being shocked in various situations.
Smith continues to trace the woman’s dramatic relationship with screens for several more photographs until he finds that she remains shocked even in the absence of one.
It turns out that in November last year, Twitter user Andrew J Abernathy had done some extensive digging to find out what happened to the couple after that infamous photograph. He showed that the two went on to have several more dramatic experiences together (which, to some extent, might explain her fear of phones).
These photographs are all by Spanish photographer Antonio Guillem, who uses these two models (their stage names are Mario and Laura) for most of his work, which he sells to stock photograph agencies. The distracted boyfriend meme was from an entire series dedicated to infidelity (which explains why the girlfriend keeps catching the man red-handed but sticks with him regardless) and was originally captioned “Disloyal man walking with his girlfriend and looking amazed at another seductive girl”.
“We decided to take a few risks, planning a session representing the infidelity concept in relationships in a playful and fun way,” Guillem told Wired last year.
He told Guardian that he didn’t know what a meme was until one of his photographs blew up on the internet. “The models discovered the meme on social media and they told me about it,” he added. “None of us could imagine the media repercussion that it has reached right now.”
Here are some popular distracted boyfriend memes from last year. The theme has been used to depict everything from world history to economics to everyday challenges.
Meanwhile, other Twitter users have pointed out that the distracted boyfriend meme may have deep historical roots. Earlier this month, several social media users pointed out that the meme bears an uncanny resemblance to a photograph from Charlie Chaplin’s 1922 film Pay Day.
Fact check website Snopes clarified that it is not known if the creators of the meme knew of this still from Pay Day and there is nothing to suggest they do as “the moment depicted in these images isn’t exactly novel”.