Red Flags to Look Out for if You Have a “Golden Retriever Boyfriend”

because no, it's not always a good thing
written by EMMA GINSBERG
Source: Warner Bros.
Source: Warner Bros.

For some inexplicable reason, I feel like I was basically born understanding the meaning of “golden retriever boyfriend.” With the recent buzz around the Barbie movie, the term has had a resurgence with the character of Ken who allegedly has huge golden retriever boyfriend energy. But what does it truly mean for a person to have golden retriever energy, and is it really as good of a thing as it seems? After all, golden retrievers are adorable…but there are a few red flags to look out for if you think you might have a golden retriever boyfriend (or partner). To examine this further, we’re breaking down exactly what it means and how to know if you have one, plus we’re sharing four red flags to look out for that can help you decide if or when it’s time to leave the Mojo Dojo Casa House.


What is a golden retriever boyfriend?

Though I remember talking about “golden retriever boys” in high school (years before the rise of TikTok) the term was first popularized in 2021 when people started posting about their golden retriever boyfriends on social media. From this stemmed a true definition of a golden retriever boyfriend: a significant other that is easygoing and makes it fairly simple to maintain a happy and fulfilling relationship. Sounds pretty great, right?

Well, there are a few important things to acknowledge about the phrase “golden retriever boyfriend” itself before we jump to that conclusion. Most of the men who have been posted by their girlfriends on TikTok under this hashtag are white and blonde which adds an inherently racialized element to the term. In addition to this, the term itself does generally refer to straight couples, and the hashtag #goldenretrievergirlfriend has over 100 million fewer views than #goldenretrieverboyfriend.

Additionally, as fantastic as the definition of golden retriever boyfriend makes them seem, examples of golden retriever boyfriends in pop culture illustrate where the positive aspects of the label fall apart in relationships. Golden retriever boyfriends show up in television and movies with characters like Ken from Barbie, Nate Archibald from Gossip Girl, Jeremiah Fisher from The Summer I Turned Pretty, and Peeta from The Hunger Games.

These are all characters who are extremely enthusiastic about their female counterparts, nearly to the point of obsession; this enthusiasm can manifest in wonderful ways like Nate looking after Blair in *that* Gossip Girl Thanksgiving episode. It can also manifest in troubling ways like Ken buying hard into the patriarchy by demanding that Barbie be his “long-term long-distance low-commitment casual girlfriend.” It’s also reminiscent of last fall’s pop culture phenomenon of the “wife guy”—a man who is very publicly obsessed with his wife, receives praise for his relationship, and then proceeds to secretly not be such a good guy in a scandal of epic proportions.

Since golden retriever boyfriends can have such conflicting traits, how do you know if you’re getting all the so-called positive traits of a golden retriever partner (ahem) or the not-so-great ones? Watch out for the red flags ahead.


Red flags to look out for from your golden retriever boyfriend


You don’t feel like you can spend time apart from them

We’ve all heard words like “codependency” thrown around without really gaining a true understanding of what they actually mean. Therapy-speak aside, at first glance, it always seems like a great thing to have a partner who constantly wants to be by your side. However, your independence, social time, and alone time matter, which is why keeping an eye out for this red flag is a good idea in any relationship. Many of the videos under the “golden retriever boyfriend” tag on TikTok feature women sharing just how attached their partners are to them on a day-to-day basis, whether in terms of physical proximity or time spent. Making sure that you are maintaining communication with your partner about how much time you are spending together, especially if you are feeling smothered, is a great call if you think you have a golden retriever partner.


They rely on you for things that aren’t your responsibility

If you have seen Barbie, you know that one of the primary lessons in the film is that women are not responsible for helping men find themselves. Instead of becoming Ken’s “long-term long-distance low-commitment casual girlfriend,” Barbie essentially tells Ken to sort out his identity crisis on his own. On a broader scale, it’s important to look out for moments when you might be taking on an emotional or literal burden for your partner. Speaking from personal experience, in a previous relationship with a golden retriever boy, I took on a lot of problems that weren’t my own, and I beat myself up when I couldn’t solve them for him. When this happens, it’s doing a disservice to both you and your partner—golden retriever partners deserve to learn how to fight their own battles.


They expect praise for being a good partner

This is another trait among golden retriever boyfriends that Barbie exposes, and it is one that the golden retriever boyfriend and the “wife guy” have in common. When it comes down to it, many of the traits that have been attributed to “golden retriever boyfriends” should really just be the baseline expectation for most romantic relationships. An article from Elite Daily on the golden retriever boyfriend trend states, “According to TikTok, loyalty, cheerfulness, and a puppy-like disposition create the recipe for a perfect partner.” Canine analogies aside, shouldn’t we all expect our partners to be loyal and excited to spend time with us? If your golden retriever partner knows they are a golden retriever partner and expects praise from people outside of your relationship for his basic loyalty and enthusiasm, that is a red flag.


They respond poorly to being called out

No matter the nature of your relationship, accountability is important, and the reality of adult relationships is that you are going to be upset with your partner from time to time. Contrary to what the internet may portray with the stream of golden retriever boyfriend content, in romantic partnerships, conflict happens, and you have to vocalize when you are upset about something. When we romanticize something like the “golden retriever boyfriend” without showing the difficult parts of a relationship, we normalize the idea that any man who is loyal, extroverted, and enthusiastic is beyond criticism.

Paying attention to how your golden retriever partner reacts when you bring up concerns in your relationship is a good way to spot red flags. When I asked my ex-golden retriever boyfriend to change something in our relationship, he usually responded with understanding, but he always added the sentence, “I’m sorry for being such a bad boyfriend,” as if he was scolding himself for being a bad dog. This phrase constantly made me feel guilty and pivoted the conversation away from my initial concern and toward consoling him. Though you may love your golden retriever partner, no person (or relationship) is beyond human fault, and both of you have to be able to recognize that. If they can look past that binary of “bad boy” versus “good boy,” they might just be a keeper.