Someone found the 18th-century version of the distracted boyfriend meme
The distracted boyfriend meme — that image in which a man checks out one woman while holding hands with another — gained popularity last summer, used to explain moral dilemmas like choosing between dealing with responsibilities or taking a nap. (The answer is always take a nap.)
The original image is just one piece of a multi-part stock photo series about love, infidelity, and the breakdown of a toxic relationship. And, upon further investigation, it seems this format (like the behavior itself?) has been around for at least a few centuries.
Twitter user @ELXGANZA found the “18th-century equivalent” of the meme, which portrays a similar scenario: a man torn between two women as his partner looks understandably offended.
The original distracted boyfriend meme is a 1761 painting by English artist Joshua Reynolds. It depicts his friend and actor, David Garrick, caught between two women who are supposed to symbolize Comedy and Tragedy. The Tate Modern, where the painting is on display, calls this piece “one of the most important of his entire career.”
According to the Tate, “The subject was probably Garrick’s own idea: a playful parody of the classical story of Hercules choosing between pleasure and virtue, designed to emphasise Garrick’s versatility.”
Comedy, dressed in a revealing pink dress, playfully tugs Garrick away from Tragedy, who looks absolutely disgusted while holding his hand — almost just like in the beloved distracted boyfriend meme.
They’re even wearing the same color!
And Comedy has no regrets.
Twitter users responded with 18th century-appropriate versions of the distracted boyfriend.
After their newfound Twitter fame, @ELXGANZA posted one, too.
If you find yourself in London and want to see the original image for yourself, it’s on display in Room 8 of the Tate Modern.