Are You a ‘Simp’ in Love? Relationship Therapists Explain How (and Why) Not to Be

Updated: Mar. 15, 2022

What's a simp? Our research suggests it's not exactly a compliment. A relationship therapist reveals how to spot this cringey behavior... and, how to stop it.

What’s a simp?

When you like someone, it’s only natural—thrilling, even—to work for their attention in hopes they’ll like you back. But this crosses the line, says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City, when an innocent love interest turns into more obsessive behavior that compromises your dignity.

A familiar example of a case like this is the character Michael Scott on The Office, who spent most of the first three seasons pining for his boss (whose coldness only motivated him to do more over-the-top things to try to win her over). Some areas of social media, including an entire subreddit, have taken to colloquially referring to a person with a shameless crush as a “simp.”

What, exactly, is a simp? Urban Dictionary suggests a simp is someone who’s overly desperate for another person. Most often, a simp is thought of as a guy enamored with a woman who possesses no interest in him—to the point he’ll do seemingly anything for her attention. (So for a simple way of explaining a simp in this story, we refer to male-female heterosexual relationships. However, the dynamic can play out in all types of relationships, and a woman who behaves this way might also be considered a simp.) A simp exhibits fawning, groveling, or debasing behavior, possibly doing things they wouldn’t normally do or that compromise their values or make them look silly.

Across social media, the term “simp” has been treated somewhat playfully—but for anyone who’s ever had a major crush, you might have wondered when that fondness starts to become unhealthy. For The Healthy readers, Dr. Hafeez and Amelia Kelley, PhD, a licensed mental health counselor and relationship therapist, identify a few clues that a romantic interest has stretched beyond the bounds of what’s considered to be normal.

Have more questions about relationships? Also check out 19 Red Flags You’re Being Manipulated, According to Therapists.

At what point are you a simp?

Dr. Kelley says one hallmark of a “simp” is significantly low self-esteem. The result? A sense of subservience or submissiveness to the person they’re pursuing sexually. The lack of success at this only adds to a negative self-image.

happy young couple kissing in the kitchen smeared with flourTatsiana Hancharova/Getty Images

Simping often reduces romantic interactions to a scorecard where a man believes when he earns enough “points”—through doing acts of service, listening, being kind or respectful, or showing sympathy when appropriate—then the woman “owes” him sex, Kelley explains. This can be true even if the woman never agreed to the arrangement … or, for that matter, never even recognized it was happening.

When the simp doesn’t get what they feel the other person owes them, they might even eventually lash out. The behavior reaches a concerning tipping point if it turns into stalking, threats, or other criminal behavior that dehumanizes the person on the other end. Friends may shame the simp, which isn’t likely to help.

That’s because, as Dr. Kelley explains, simping may at times be rooted in a misogynistic belief that assumes women owe men sex for basic human kindness. “The question then becomes, is simping the problem, or is shaming a man for being decent to a woman regardless of whether she will have sex with him the problem?” Kelley says. She suggests the solution to simping and simp-shaming is for our society to normalize treating women like human beings who are inherently entitled to decency and respect.

Signs you’re behaving like a simp

You may not be doing anything as over-the-top as the above examples. But, there are some red flags, courtesy of our experts, that suggest you may be putting yourself into an overly submissive role in relationships.

  • Do you keep a mental scorecard of everything you’ve done for your crush?
  • Do you ever “white knight” by saving them from things, even if you’re not asked to help?
  • Do you feel like you are putting way more effort into the relationship than the other person?
  • Are their needs more important than yours?
  • Do you feel resentment toward the other person?
  • Do you do things specifically with the goal to impress them?
  • Do you constantly put yourself down to the other person?
  • Do you put the other person on a pedestal?
  • Do you worry a lot about being “friend-zoned”?
  • Is sex your main goal in the relationship?
  • Do you get intensely jealous of other people in the person’s life?
  • Do you feel like you should defend them no matter what they do?
  • Do others express worry that your relationship has become unhealthy?

If a few of these sound familiar, you may want to check out 8 Signs You’re in a One-Sided Relationship.

How to stop simping

Simping is not healthy or attractive behavior, our experts suggest. The good news is that if you catch it before you get carried away, it’s a pretty simple fix that can be summed up in one word: Boundaries. Speak up and be direct about your wants and needs, and remain respectful of the other person’s—especially their right to say “no,” Kelley says.

Once you’ve established clear boundaries for yourself and recognized the other person’s boundaries, the best thing you can do is take a step back and work on yourself, Hafeez says. “Instead of pushing harder to get close to that person, prioritize yourself and your friends and family first. Stop trying too hard and seeking validation for others. Have respect for yourself and your time.” (Start with these 30 ways to boost your self-confidence instantly.)

Finally, Kelley says, it’s important to recognize that you, and everyone, should be kind for the sake of goodness and humanity … not for the goal of getting someone to look your way with romantic interest.

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