Mark Radcliffe deconstructs the disempowerment of rejection and reminds men that scoring sex won’t solve all their problems.
In the aftermath of the UCSB killings, I did something I swore I wouldn’t do: watch the YouTube video Elliot Rodger made where he foretold of the “retribution” he would bring. I thought, “Don’t give him the attention he wants, not even in death. Focus on the innocent lives lost.” But whether it was sheer curiosity or the simple desire to study the ways of evil, I hit play.
I gave it about four minutes, but didn’t to need to watch to the end to get it. There were countless delusions he seemed to be suffering from, but at the heart of it, he fell for one of the oldest myths in the male playbook: that getting laid is the one thing that will truly make you a man.
He fell for the myth that getting laid will save you, make you feel whole, and make you powerful. He fell for the myth that attention from women will redeem you. And without it, you’re inferior, laughable, pathetic, living “an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires,” in Elliot’s words.
(If you haven’t watched it, or don’t want to, his cold, rehearsed and cocky pledge was to bring “retribution” to all the girls who denied him, and to the jocks who they slept with instead of him.)
And I had to admit something I sure as hell didn’t want to: I related to him a bit.
Not to the murderous rage it filled him with, of course, but I related to the sense of disempowerment. And as much as we can rightly judge people who do things like this, damn their flawed reasoning, we can’t deny that it all comes from a place of disempowerment. And while we can all pretend we’re nothing like this kid, that he’s some monster none of us resemble, the truth is he appeared so normal in most ways that no one suspected this, not even the local Sheriff.
Everyone’s looking for huge signs to predict tragedies like this, but perhaps it can be as subtle as a feeling of his disempowerment, which is one a lot of guys can relate to. Getting rejected hurts. And given his claims that he hadn’t lost his virginity and had never even been kissed at age 22, if you’ve erroneously pinned your identity on sexual affirmation, being rejected was no small matter in his mind.
Maybe he damn well deserved all the rejection he received. Maybe he was truly a creep. Perhaps he never even really approached these women the way he thought he did. Perhaps he just lived way too much in his head and most of these women never knew he was interested. My sense is he was probably just way too intense for women to be comfortable around. Or simply his entitled attitude turned women off immediately, and rightly so. But if you watch the video his sense of misery and desperation is palpable.
And so needless.
Because he truly believed that the sexual attention he lacked would be the key to his happiness. And if you read more about him, you see his obsession with the shallow suits & trappings of “the good life”: playing the lottery to become wealthy, driving a BMW, chasing riches and glamour. None of which were ever going to bring him the validation he thought they would.
Now, those of us who’ve escaped the delusions of our youth–of high school, college, and into our 20’s–know these things don’t fulfill us the way we thought they would. But he didn’t. He believed this myth with such devotion he believed life was hopeless, and that someone had to pay for it.
I, too, had much less “success” with the ladies than I desired through high school and college. I felt genuinely despondent over it, that I was somehow profoundly flawed, or broken in some way. I would chase women who said they wanted a sensitive, caring, intelligent boyfriend, only to end up in the “friends” category while they hooked up with the obnoxious, cocky frat boy quarterback who would cheat on them constantly.
The seeming injustice of it was infuriating, and that perceived injustice was a big part of Elliot’s anger; for him it wasn’t just about “hating women,” it was about who they chose instead. And I suppose the main reason it didn’t depress me more, when I experienced rejection, is that I was fortunate enough to find other ways to find validation in life, like sports and hobbies. Maybe he had nothing else to sustain him.
It wasn’t until I was solidly in my 20’s that I’d become more confident and relaxed around women and things starting “going my way” more. And what you eventually realize when you finally start having sex (with some regularity) is this:
It doesn’t actually change you as much as we’d hoped. It’s a great couple of hours (or just minutes!), and then the endorphins and elation subsides and it’s back to facing yourself again.
And if you don’t really like yourself, no approval from a woman, or multiple women, or men, or whatever source, will ever fill the hole.
So I can’t help but wish I’d been a classmate or friend of Elliot’s and told him not to sweat the women who were chasing the shallow or brainless. That it, too, would pass, and that there were still women out there who might value him. Or just told him simply, “Hey man: getting laid isn’t as life-changing as you think.”
Maybe he’d seen too many romantic comedies where the guy always gets the girl. Maybe he’d seen too much porn, where the guy gets ten girls, and felt ashamed by comparison. But I wish I could say to any other young men out there today who feel unsuccessful with women:
Look, don’t sweat it so much.
Being a virgin isn’t as awful as you think. Because being sexual isn’t as amazing as you think.
And the guys who are getting laid? Guess what, a lot of them are still miserable, despite appearances. Sex is not a big enough Band-aid to cover up a hole in your soul.
Don’t put sex on a pedestal because you might be incredibly disappointed when you realize how little it will actually change your life.
And beyond that, it’s simply not your right or your privilege to receive sex.
Women don’t owe you anything.
Any type of relationship, sexual or other, has to be earned, and mutually desired.
And you’re not allowed to try to “teach them a lesson” if you don’t like who they do go home with.
You also don’t have to like it. But if it pisses you off, go find someone else who has different values. She’s out there. She might be hard to find, but she’s out there.
Or, better yet, just get your happiness somewhere else. Because I tell you: learning to play an instrument, or write a play, or create art, or complete a triathlon, or whatever your thing is, will give you way more sustainable happiness than getting laid.
Now, this is not to deny the meaning and role of sex in life, and especially not of relationships. They’re both important aspects of a full, well-rounded life. But they’re just part. Not everything.
If you want true happiness, no “chick” can give it to you; you have to give it to yourself. And the more we help spread these lessons to the young men of today to not put sex of female approval on such a pedestal, or not to feel it’s “owed” to you in any way, the better men–and women–will be.