Memes are the internet’s shooting stars. They are not designed to last. They are designed to burn up quickly after floating across Reddit and social media sites for a brief period of time. Memes that are linked to a current event or television shows die naturally in the news cycle. But some memes seem to have an infinite lifespan, popping up regularly enough to remind you of their existence. They won’t die because the internet won’t let them. And one has way more staying power than the rest.
The “you vs. the guy she told you not to worry about” meme peaked in the fall of 2016. The phrase is paired with two photos that are shown side by side, the one on the right a markedly improved version of the one of the left. People have used the meme to compare plants, sheep, buildings, soda machines, art projects, and even the pointy ‘S’ that seemingly every millennial drew as a teenager for some reason.
ewe vs. the guy she tells you not to worry about pic.twitter.com/Hj1SDgTe9E
— Kalvin (@KalvinMacleod) August 8, 2016
You vs. the guy she says don't worry about pic.twitter.com/prYCec1pMo
— Lonnie Erickson (@lmaolonnie) August 5, 2016
you vs. the guy she tells you not to worry about pic.twitter.com/axdeHJ2ECk
— Lazy dog (@LaziestCanine) August 6, 2016
The meme was born in 2015, a lifetime ago in internet time. Yet people still reference it on Twitter and Reddit every week.
To understand the “you vs. the guy” meme and its popularity, start at the source: the original meme. The earliest known version of the meme was shared on Twitter and shows two photos that compare an average guy to a guy casually taking a walk without his shirt on, showing off a beyond well-defined six-pack. It is, without a doubt, fragile masculinity distilled in meme form.” And it’s true. The basic premise behind the meme is that (some) straight men feel threatened by a woman’s good-looking male friends. Or any man whom a woman claims is “just a friend.”
The original guy “she told you not to worry about” is clearly a model. A few weeks before the meme was shared on Twitter, a video of that same man eating chocolate went viral on Facebook. One of the photos in that man’s portfolio was the now infamous shot of him walking without a shirt on. It’s easy to see how one viral moment propelled the next one. The message was also clear: men are intimidated by a male model. It also seemed to suggest that you cannot trust a woman when she says that a male friend is just a friend—especially if he is good-looking. As it turns out, a man’s insecurity was the perfect fodder for a meme in a torturous election season that ended in with a very insecure man becoming our president.
The meme was just one of several tied to the 2016 election season; see: Pepe the Frog, Ken Bone, Bernie or Hillary, Delete Your Account, and me at the beginning of 2016 vs. me at the end of 2016. But Trump began appearing in some of the “you vs. the guy” memes as “the guy she told you not to worry about.” The implication in some of these memes was that we should have worried about Trump. But many of the memes tied to the garbage fire year known as 2016 (surprise, 2017 isn’t much better!) have slowly disappeared from the internet. This was expected: the election is over, the year is over, and jokes about both have been replaced with reality. Yet, the “you vs. the guy” meme managed to remain relevant.
Because what’s great about this meme is that some of the most popular iterations have nothing to do with politics. While so much of social is focused on the president, this can be a respite. Perhaps that is why people still like to share it. The meme survived the election season and turned into a photo comparison game that, at its core, challenges toxic masculinity. Yes, people do still use it to call out Trump’s behavior.
— shauna (@goldengateblond) June 18, 2017
You vs the guy she told you not to worry about pic.twitter.com/pd3CC56j4y
— Niv Dror (@Nivo0o0) June 18, 2017
It’s a parody meme that pushes people to think about the patriarchy (hopefully) in a package that is easy to digest. It also hits at our base insecurities. There’s always someone better out there, and though we’re all told not to worry about it, we do. How can you not relate to this? Plus, in our current upgrade culture, it’s easy to find examples, in the news or elsewhere, of two things, one a slight “improvement” of the other, whether necessary or not. It’s practically Silicon Valley’s ethos distilled. The “you vs. the guy” memes run the gamut from complex takes on a current event to silly, teenage-level humor. It’s a meme that everyone can use.
you vs the guy she told you not to worry about
…because they've already slept together but then he was a jerk so she settled for you. pic.twitter.com/06eKYzGAWS
— Garrett Green (@garrettgreen) June 20, 2017
Will this meme slowly die off? Maybe one day, since all memes become irrelevant eventually. But right now, it’s a meme that remains embedded in our consciousness. Because, deep down, we all know there’s something out there that’s better than us.
And we will worry always worry about that.