Why Are All My Exes Texting Me About Fleabag?

It’s the 2019 equivalent of asking if you're going on the Women’s March, which was the 2017 equivalent of someone proclaiming that they are “An Aiden”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag, Series 2

by Zoe Beaty |
Updated on

It began a good few weeks ago – well before the end, well before we knew it was the definitive (and unflinchingly brilliant) end; well before the week long dissection of sex and power and CGI foxes and breaking the fifth wall ensued. Something innocuous at first – an enquiry, quite out of the blue, from a guy I’d dated for no more than a month a few years back, to see if I was “watching Fleabag”. “Does the Hot Priest shit in the woods? Is that how it goes?” I text back, and promptly let him waft back out of my mind.

“Hey, how are you?” another text began, a couple of weeks later. “Did you watch Fleabag? So good!!” It was another ex – this time an old flame I’d been with for a little while. We’d parted on good terms and occasionally met up for “old times’ sake”, which was sophisticated code for loneliness. So I wasn’t surprised to see him pop up – but it intrigued me that this was his opener.

It wasn’t until a third ex (I am 31; they accumulate this way) text me this weekend to see if I fancied a “pint or two” that I noticed something was awry. When I politely declined, he naturally tried to re-engage me in the conversation. “By the way,” he typed, “fucking Fleabag!”

There was a decent period of time back in early 2017 when my friends and I noticed a similar pattern. We were women who, as writers or journalists or campaigners, were vocal about feminism and standing up against the threat to women’s rights that a newly-elected President Trump and the inevitable wave of validation for far-right that his tenure would prompt. And so, the messages began: “Hey!” they said, “Are you going to the Women’s March by any chance? Fancy a drink after?” While the majority of guys marched because they cared, a creative minority became a bit of an in-joke: the performative “nice guys” who expected to get laid because they turned up at “our thing”.

SNL brilliantly immortalised this trend in a pitch-perfect sketch called Girl at a Bar, which goes a little like this: as the lead female waits at a bar for her friend to turn up, she’s approached by a man who assures her he’s not one of the “gross” guys; he’s not here to hit on her. He likes her t-shirt, which reads “The future is female” and reveals that he’s actually wearing the same one. He’s a feminist! He’s a Capital Gs Good Guy and he has the t-shirt to prove it! And when she turns down his request for a date he calls her a “BITCH”. “I’m wearing this shirt and you won’t even let me nut?!” he screams, before another Good Guy intercepts and the process repeats all over again. It really is worth a watch.

Fast-forward to this month and it seems the Good Guys are at it again. When I tell a friend my Fleabag observation, she almost jumps out of her seat. “I’ve had two!” she exclaims. The first is someone she briefly dated, the second someone who has been fruitlessly pursuing her for a few months but never quite managed to ask her out for a drink. “When I spoke to my male friend about it, he said that they’d probably just Googled the plot,” she told me. “He said that, as a teen, he used to read up on particular episodes of Gossip Girl so he could text the girls he fancied about it.

“Savage,” she adds.

To be clear, I know that many men – and many men I know – love Fleabag because it is objectively excellent writing. Why wouldn’t they love it, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge accordingly? That is not the point. The point is that there are a certain few who loved it and decided to show an ex-girlfriend – or former flame, or potential love interest – how much they loved it in the hope that it would win them brownie points and, ultimately, I presume, a shot at getting a shag.

This is not about Fleabag. This is about the heterosexual men who want you, a targeted woman in their lives, to know they love Fleabag. It’s the 2019 equivalent of the Women’s March, which was the 2017 equivalent of someone proclaiming that they are “An Aiden”.

So here it is – yes, we have all watched Fleabag. And yes, we’re on to you.

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