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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

Is The “He’s A Ten But” TikTok Trend Revealing Gen Z’s Collective Icks?

Love, love, love. What is it good for? Apparently, absolutely nothing. 

No matter how contradictory it might sound, the big L word is not what leads the heart anymore. Rather, what guides the infatuations of Gen Z is… choice. And with a choice as great as choosing who your next partner will be comes great responsibility. And standards. Lots of those, actually. 

Although it is something that people have been thinking about since forever and there is a lot that has already been said about it, love, as Jean K. Thisen writes in Love in the Contemporary World, is still an issue. And maybe that’s why TikTok users have spread out the ground rules of what not to look for in someone in the new “He’s A 10, But” TikTok trend. In the trend, users give a grade from 1 to 10 to a person and then pair it with a positive or negative trait that might — or might not — change the score. It kind of follows mathematical principles: they are a 6, but they are taller than you, so they are an 8.

So, is the trend revealing Gen Z’s collective icks and how they approach love — or is it just a silly little TikTok trend?

Icks & Love For Dummies

It can be something significant — like treating a waiter badly or yelling at parents or even having hair wet after the shower — but an ick is, basically, a turnoff. Something that makes you like someone a little less or makes you cringe at the thought of them. 

Since we are talking about the “generation dread”, it does make sense that this tool is used to navigate such “dangerous” feelings. It’s emotional intelligence for dummies: If you keep everything at an arm’s reach, you can’t be very vulnerable in it. And therefore, even if someone is caring and fulfills you, they do wear skinny jeans — so, you better bump some points out of that 10.

Even though some red flags that exist within the “He’s A Ten But” TikTok trend are completely reasonable (let’s be honest, would you really date someone that labels themselves as an alpha?), others just seem over the top. We have been icked by a partner telling a joke and nobody laughing and have rounded down to a zero the confident tens that know they are tens. Although a lot of those unsaid rules fall under plain mob mentality — that is, some things become unattractive because we are told they are so repeatedly — a lot of it just seems like plain old unachievable standards.

Hyperreality and disappointment

Hyperreality, as it was proposed by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, is the inability to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality — AKA, to separate real life from fictional content like books, TV shows, movies and, dare I say, even those short TikTok videos. That is, in postmodern relationships, the big gestures and romantic adventures we see onscreen are often taken as an extension of reality. To Baudrillard, we can’t set fiction apart from our own lives, and so we tend to mirror and draw inspiration from it. 

We expect to find epic romances and partners that would literally die for you like the ones on film out there — but we’re left disappointed.

The unfortunate consequence of that is that we are left unfulfilled. We expect to find epic romances and partners that would literally die for you like the ones on film out there. 

We’re left disappointed, though. Most of the time, again and again. It’s obvious that we can’t expect our love life to look like those happily ever afters. Yet we crave them, and yet we pour them in the expectations that guide us into those very intense icks and demands. 

Another variation of the “He’s A 10 But” TikTok trend goes, “He’s a 10 but you have unrealistic expectations of men because you keep reading literature that has been written by women and, therefore, the men in the books are written by women and don’t exist in real life.” And, well, our fictional men do know how to make our hearts pound and just how to conquer you through some expert mean flirting. It’s fitting.

Are our standards just too high?

It’s worrying, too, to expect those crafted people and moments to actually manifest in real life scenarios. As social media captures those picture perfect moments and frames them as #goals, we are often left in the maze of trying to fall for the perfect person.

The unrealistic expectations that social media and dating apps set lead us to always seek better partners than the one we surround ourselves with.

If you look above the surface, you can fool yourself into thinking that the perfect person might even exist. Perfect online strangers pop up on our FYP all the time, and as the internet has broadened our romantic “market” to huge levels, we forget the human-slash-flawed part about dating. We can decide on partners based on their attractiveness level or swipe left if we don’t want someone who listens to country music — but that isn’t really real life.

The unrealistic expectations that social media and dating apps set — and trends like the “He’s A Ten But” TikTok trend — lead us to always seek better partners than the one we surround ourselves with. Basically, we feel as if there is always someone better for us out there — and, on the internet, where you can polish yourself to any extent, we fall under the belief of “just keep swimming.” Someone better is along the way and the next beautiful person can be found in the palm of your hand. 

So, are our standards too high? Do we even hold ourselves to the standards we set? Have we told a joke that nobody laughed at? (The answer to that, my friend, is likely yes.)

The Love Aesthetic

Eva Illouz argues in her book Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism that love experiences are aestheticized and purposefully match what the media portrays them as. This, to the sociologist, obligates us to enjoy those experiences just the way they look on television. We internalize that fiction, that unachievable reality, as an ideal to strive for. The perfect, and all that. 

Feelings are supposed to be internal. Symbolic. But they are now transmitted through pop culture, mass media, and even social apps like TikTok in trends like the “He’s A Ten But” trend. Illouz says our love isn’t really unique: It’s just a reproduction of social expectations and common desires we see everywhere. 

So, basically, it all comes down to this for Gen Z: Your relationship is healthy and you are happy in it as long as it is picture-worthy, flawless, and, of course, as long as your lover has none of those icks. But, once again — is that really real life?

Isabella Gemignani

Casper Libero '23

Isabella Gemignani is a National Writer for Her Campus and editor-in-chief of Her Campus Casper Libero. She covers everything culture-related for the national website - and oversees her chapter's content production, which involves editorial, social media, podcast and events verticals and makes up a team of over 100 girls. Beyond Her Campus, Isabella writes for the architecture and design magazine Casa e Jardim, Brazil's oldest magazine currently in the editorial market. With a 70-year-old history, Casa e Jardim is known for its traditional culture, gastronomy and lifestyle curation. When not writing – which is rare –, Isabella can be found reading classic novels and looking for new music releases that remind her of the feeling she had when she listened to AM for the first time.