Hey Doc, I need your help.
I am an incel, but not the kind of incel that comes to mind when you hear or read the word. I am not a hateful incel. I’m simply an incel by the words definition, nothing more, nothing less.
As for my major problem, it too is implied by the question, and that question is, “how do I stop being an incel?” I’ve exhausted every conceivable strategy to lose the negative mindset, but I’m all out of options and I need someone who knows what to do in a situation such as mine.
It’s been like this for me for about 5 years now and due to this fact I am now a 20 year old virgin. I honestly don’t know what to do. And that’s why I asked you for help.
Need A Way Out
Well, on the one hand there’s an obvious way of stopping being an incel, NAWO: you have sex with someone. This may mean that you have a fling with someone you’re not necessarily over the moon about, simply to get laid. It may mean going to a sex worker, finding someone who’s equally only interested in just getting their virginity out of the way or some other way to get over the technical definition of “involuntarily celibate”. But as with many people who talk about their anxiety about being an older virgin, the issue for many incels isn’t sex or virginity in and of itself. After all, losing one’s virginity can be achieved through a flight to Reno and a trip out to some of the legal brothels in the surrounding counties. What people – anxious virgins and self-described incels alike – ultimately want isn’t sex so much as validation. The sense of being chosen, being desired or otherwise being affirmed as being wanted.
I bring this up because it seems pretty clear that a big part of what you’re trying to ditch isn’t just the virginity aspect, but your feelings around being a virgin and your attitude in general. And for that what we need to do is look within. And since one sentence leapt out at me, I think that’s where we need to start. Specifically: “It’s been like this for me for about 5 years now and due to this fact I am now a 20 year old virgin.” My dude, I cannot emphasize this enough: the fact that you didn’t have sex as a fifteen year old is absolutely normal. I realize that it feels like we live in a world where high-school is nothing but hot-and-cold running oral sex and buttstuff – when folks aren’t wringing their hands about whether men and boys are having enough sex – but that really isn’t the case.
Not only can I guarantee you that your peers aren’t nearly as sexually active as you think (and in many case are actively lying or exaggerating how much they’re actually doing), but I can also tell you that at 15 you were almost certainly not emotionally or mentally in a place where you were ready to have sex. Your body may have been screaming that its time to start sowing those metaphorical wild oats, but you’re more than just your body; you’re your intellect and your emotions and your attitude and so much more. And while I know teenagers have very strong ideas about their own levels of experience, maturity and so on, I absolutely remember all the stupid shit my peers and I did at 15. For all we thought that we were worldly and wise and were more mature than any adults would give us credit for, we were goddamn idiots who weren’t ready for the real complexities and consequences of a sexual relationship.
(Not, mind you, that this stopped any of us from trying.)
Similarly, the fact that you’re a virgin at 20 is not a big deal. And its not as though I’m not sympathetic. At the risk of TMI, I was 19 when I lost my virginity, and up until then I was fairly convinced that I was going to be able to rent a car legally before I was ever naked with a girl. So I get where you’re coming from. But having the benefit of decades’ worth of experience and perspective is a gift in this case and I can promise you that the person who was the harshest or who cared the most (or really, at all) about my being a virgin was me. Nobody else really gave a shit, and certainly not to the level that I thought they did. The few times anyone threw my non-sex-having status in my face were assholes who not only knew sweet fuck-all about me, but were folks who I didn’t want in my life in the first place. Assholes are going to ass, and life is too damn short to give a damn what assholes think.
So right off the bat, I can tell you that the first step to no longer being an incel – either in the technical sense or the colloquial sense – is to change your relationship to your own virginity. Being a virgin means exactly one thing: that you haven’t done a particular activity yet. That’s it. It holds no more real significance than having traveled overseas, gone scuba diving or playing Texas Hold ‘Em in Vegas. When you have sex for the first time, you will be the exact same person you were before, with the same thoughts, feelings and quirks. You won’t be more mature, more desirable, less awkward or anything other than who you are. What changes you do experience won’t be because of your change in sexual status, it’ll be because of your change in belief about yourself. And if we’re being honest? You can change those beliefs now, without having had sex.
In point of fact, changing those beliefs about yourself will go much further towards actually helping you find someone who wants to have sex with you. So, in case you needed a little motivation, there you go.
But of course, it’s easy to say “just change your attitude”; it’s a lot harder to actually do it. So let’s talk a little about concrete steps you can take that will help change how you feel. Now, I can already hear you protesting; as you say, you’ve “exhausted every coneivable strategy”. I wonder whether that’s true though. I mean, I remember saying the same thing about, well, lots of things in my life when I was your age. The truth is that what I actually meant was that I exhausted the things I wanted to try and half-assed the things I was “supposed” to do, and mostly wrote them off when they didn’t fix things instantly. I suspect that a lot is the same for you. And – again, speaking as the voice of experience here – I think I know some areas that you have neglected that will help.
First and foremost, you need to pay attention to what you pay attention to. One of the single biggest impediments to leaving being an incel behind are… other incels. A big part of why people have a difficult time ditching the negative attitude is because they’ve surrounded themselves with other people with that same attitude. It’s very much a “misery loves company” situation, where you feel like these are your peers, the folks who understand what you’re going through. But often they’re also the ones who are dragging you back down and keeping you from breaking free. One of the most significant aspects of incel communities – and not even the ones actively hating on and wishing violence on women – is the crabs in a bucket phenomenon, where any reference to improvement or leaving being an incel behind is defined as “cope”. Part of what marks someone out as an incel isn’t the lack of sex but the attitude that this something imposed upon them by fate and is ultimately unchangeable, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is either deluded or selling something. If someone talks about how to improve or their desire to fix things, they tend to get shouted down or browbeaten back into compliance; pulled back into the bucket by the other crabs, even as they’re about to crawl out.
It’s not exactly shocking that every story about people who’ve stopped being incels starts with “well, I quit listening to what everyone on the subreddit said and went out and just talked to people.”
Now, to be fair: this is ultimately about ego-protection, more than anything else. If someone successfully leaves the incel mindset behind – especially if it then results in their having sex – then it stands as a sign that this isn’t a universal constant nor the result of fate (or genetics or any other force you care to name), but the results of one’s own choices and actions. It’s easier and less ego-damaging to blame God, the universe, evolution or even the hegemonic idea of “women” than to look at your life and accept that it’s the result of a series of choices you’ve made that brought you to this point. That’s not to say that external forces didn’t have influence, but an acknowledgement of that even when external forces were involved, your current circumstances are in part based on how you responded to them.
Let’s be real: it’s really, really difficult to look around and say ‘well, I’m isolated and lonely and upset because of decisions I have made’. It’s easier and more perversely validating to say “no, it’s the Stacies who are wrong” and to blame others, even when that other is just “genetics”. When someone does leave being an incel behind, it’s a stark reminder that incels tend to be incels by choice, not fate… and thus it’s more soothing to the ego to prevent others from leaving. It’s often easier and comforting to deny that change and improvement is possible than it is to say “well at the end of the day, this is ultimately down to me,” and a lot of folks find having to admit this to be painful, even humiliating. And so they’d rather suffer the pain they currently feel than risk the humiliation of changing and hearing other folks say “we told you so.”
But here’s the thing: you are where you are today because you made the best choices you could under the circumstances with the information that you had. Now that you know more, you have new and better information, you’re ready and able to make different and better choices. That’s not bad or humiliating, that’s growth and maturity.
So start by paying attention to what you’re feeding your brain and who you’re allowing to have access to your innermost self. Are you constantly reading and watching material about how awful you are and about how nothing will ever get better? Are you surrounding yourself wtih a commnuity – in person or virtual – that tells you hope is cope and that improvement is impossible? Then you need to cut those out cold turkey. You want people in your life who are Team You, folks who inspire you and are inspired by you in return, people who support you and cheer you on and help pick you back up when you stumble. You, in short, want to surround yourself with folks who not only motivate you to be your best self, but who help you be better. And this means genuine friends, not folks who’ll sell you snake oil or who sell hate for others – especially women – dressed up as “advice” or “self-improvement”. If their “support” comes in the form of contempt for the very people you’re hoping to have relationships with, then all they are doing is selling you the same incel mindset, just in a different flavor. You don’t need misogynists looking to use sex as part of their grift, you want the people who cheer you on and remind you that you’re doing great and to keep going.
The next thing to do is focus on how you feel about yourself. I’ve touched on this regarding feelings surrounding virginity, but this is a big one. Part of why the incel mindset is so perversely appealing is that it justifies your negative feelings about yourself… all those negative feelings, not just the ones about sex. If you pay attention to how incels talk about themselves, it’s just relentlessly shitting on themselves. The supposed detriments to sexual attraction are ultimately the excuse they give for feeling that way. But those feelings would still be there; the “shame” about being a virgin is really about how they feel about themselves as individuals. If it weren’t sex it would be some other way that they’re failing to measure up to being “a real man”.
And this is ultimately why, even if they were to all somehow find willing sex partners, their attitudes wouldn’t evaporate like the morning mist. There would be any number of reasons why having sex that time “didn’t count”… because sex isn’t the issue. Their feelings are.
So rather than trying things that supposedly make you more attractive and desirable, I want you to focus on finding and doing things that make you feel better about yourself. What are the things that you do that feed your soul and bring joy to your life? What are the things that drive you, that make you say “you know, this is really good. This makes me feel at peace, this makes me feel satisfied and content”? If you don’t know what those things are… well, this is as good a time as any to find them. Now personally, I’d suggest doing things that are inherently nurturing and supportive. Gardening and growing things, crafting and building, cooking, volunteering… these are all inherently pro-social and supportive ideas and hobbies, ones that make it easier to bring people together.
I’d also suggest trying new and different things, not because you think it’ll make you popular, but because it feeds your soul and makes you feel good about being you. Learning a new skill or language is always a good option. So is learning how to play music, or to tell stories or express yourself artistically. You might join an amateur or intramural sports team, not because you want to be the bestest athlete, but because it’s fun, it gets you out of your dorm or apartment and connects you with other people, as well as just enjoying using your body and moving around. Exercise is great, don’t get me wrong, but doing it because you love how it makes you feel is going to be much more motivating than “I need six-pack abs to get laid”.
You should also do things that make you feel like a sexy bad-ass. Not “what other people think make you look good”, but the things that affect how you feel. Dressing well in a style that speaks to you, getting a good hair cut, taking care of your hair and skin – not for others, but simply because you like it better that way – will change a lot of how you feel about yourself.
And of course, I’m a big advocate for simply going out and being social – talking to everyone, being curious about people and looking towards broadening your own perspective. Being interested in others makes you interesting, and it forces you to practice your social skills. After all, social skills are skills, and they only improve via deliberate use. So the simple act of being someone who likes to talk to people and people like to talk to will go a long way to making you realize that you’ve got far more going for you than you’ve ever given yourself credit for. Yeah, it may be rough and awkward at first, but as the sage says: sucking at something is the first step to being kinda good at it. You power through the suck and hey, turns out that on the other side is skill!
Do these things and you’ll find that a lot of your attitude will shift. It won’t be fast and it won’t be immediately obvious. But if you commit to this course for… let’s say a year, then I can guarantee you that by the end of the year, you’ll be amazed at how the way you feel has changed and how subtly that feeling crept up on you. And I can also tell you: that change in how you feel will improve your social life. I won’t promise that it will get you laid – nobody can gaurantee that – but I will promise you that it will improve your life, your friendships and drastically increase your ability to find the relationships you want.
Oh, and one more thing. I know it’s practically a cliche around here, but I do suggest talking to a counselor or therapist, especially if you’re in college or university. Most schools have low cost or even free mental health resources for students, and I can’t recommend taking advantage of them highly enough. A lot of times, when we’re dealing with deep-seated feelings of inadequacy or shame or despair, we may have other issues going on that are best treated by actual trained professionals. Getting counseling, even if only to have someone to talk to and express these feelings to without judgement, can be a huge, huge help.
No matter how bad things may feel, they can and will get better if you work at them. You’ll be ok. I promise. So write back and let us know how things are going.
All will be well.
This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com and is republished on Medium.
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