I want to preface this letter with an obvious truth, that sexual frustration and the loneliness are not exclusive to men. Women also suffer from these experiences, and it is not my intention to deny them. I only write this addressed to young men because I am a young man, and perhaps am better suited to speaking to that experience.
Why am I writing this? I write this because I am concerned about young men. I am concerned about young men who are lonely and have been so for a long time. Men who are endlessly frustrated by their apparent inability to find a partner, let alone a date. Men who feel trapped in a Sisyphean struggle of trial and error, men who feel fundamentally broken. I am most concerned about those among these men who turn to hatred, hatred against the men they envy, hatred against the women they desire, and hatred against their own inadequacy.
I write this because I see so many young men fall down these rabbit holes of malice, many of whom, turn to violence. I believe strongly that men have a duty to speak out against the evil that men do to women. It is imperative that we must do so before the bullets are fired and the vigils gather. I also believe that hate, even when it doesn’t lead to violence, is unhealthy, not only to the man, but also to those around him. If we wish to restore fruitful relations between men and women, then it is our duty to heal the afflictions and administer the medicine.
Let me start with some empathy. I know how you feel. I know I, too, have long sat in that lonely boat through space, that awful rowing towards a god that never seems to be around, ever a distant green light on the far end of the dock. I too know the fears of J. Alfred Prufrock, that fear of disturbing the universe after endless indecisions and revisions, never knowing how to begin. In the pursuit of love, I have seen my worst fears realized, and my humiliations laid bare. I know that self-loathing, that state of worthlessness, that desire to stay in bed all day and cry yourself to sleep. I know what it is to be trapped in that Sisyphean struggle with loneliness, the stairway to heaven ever out of reach.
You are not alone in that feeling. We all feel it. Every smiling man you see holding hands with his girlfriend in the park was once just as lonely and despairing as you. That also goes for every woman. Every human that has ever lived, man or woman, beautiful or ugly, wealthy or beggar, has at some point in their lives felt weak, forsaken, and afraid. You may be going through what you’re going through not because you are broken, but because you are human. You may read this as an awful truth of the human condition, and indeed, it is not pleasant, but do not despair, Dear Reader! It means that you can get help, from the living and the dead.
Indeed, it can be comforting to know that others have suffered as you have but were able to endure their pain, learn from it, and heal. I think of the writings that most resonated with me in my loneliest hours. Dante’s unrequited longing and crippling shyness in La Vita Nuova. Gatsby’s wasted attempts to woo Daisy with lavish gifts. Christ’s sexual frustration in Nikos Kazantzakis’s Last Temptation. Anne Sexton’s wavering between life and death. As James Baldwin once said,
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.”
Talk also to the living. Books are wonderful guides, but they are not a substitute for human interaction, for having your voice heard. It can be difficult to find someone you can trust, but find that someone, be it a friend, a sibling, a therapist, a priest, or a stranger at the bus stop. There is much virtue in silently enduring your troubles, but it isn’t always enough to such anguish knot itself over and over in your heart. Let your words flow, and maybe even your tears. You may not get a clear answer for all your trouble, not all at once, anyways, but you’d be surprised to know how refreshing it can be to pour yourself out, and know that someone listened. To know that someone heard you.
Before you now is a choice.
One route is that of despair. It is the route of those abdicate responsibility and blame others for all their problems. Many of them see women as the root of this evil, particularly, woman’s sexual freedom, the freedom to say no. They’ve lost all hope that any woman could love them, and indeed, they’ve lost hope that they themselves could be loved. So they retreat, deeper into themselves, their darkest selves. This is the route of Travis Bickle, who spends his nights in his lonely taxi cab, steaming with hatred for all the “scum” he sees filling the streets. It is a terrible living, insofar as one can call it “living,” and it usually ends in harm, either against oneself or against others. Is that what you want to be?
However, there lies another route, though it isn’t straight and narrow, but has twists and turns, hills and maws. This is the path of “kaizen”, which means “constant self-improvement” in Japanese. Constant self-improvement is also a central tenet of my discipline, taekwondo, and it took me a long time to understand why. In life, and especially, in love, the greatest challenge to overcome is yourself. You will often be the cause of your own undoing. That is why you must know yourself, your weaknesses and your strengths. Utilize your strengths. Curb your weaknesses. You will make mistakes. Learn from them. Then the mistakes have value. To know yourself is to love yourself, and by loving yourself, you are better suited to love others.
Yet your love must also reach outside of yourself. If you want to be loved by women, then you must love women. When I say “love” in this context, I mean not “eros”, or romantic love. Nor do I mean “philia”, which means friendship. These are both valuable expressions of affection, but they do not encompass everything. You need “agape”, which is the transcendent love for humanity as a race. You must have agape for women as a gender. Women get just as lonely as you do, they get just as frustrated, and they can hate themselves with just as much fury. Women suffer, too, and many suffer more. They are routinely attacked by men, violated by men, and discriminated by men. Interact with women with that understanding. Be a better friend with women and you will be a better partner with them.
Some will tell you that it gets better, that you’ll find someone. I want to tell you, Dear Reader, that you may never find someone, and some days, it doesn’t get better. Some days, you’ll want to curl up in bed and with a half-eaten tub of ice cream. Other days, you’ll feel that the world is against you, and that the entire female gender is part of a conspiracy to keep you alone and humiliated. These are seductive delusions, but they are delusions all the same. It’s easy to think that there’s a singular, malevolent force directing your misfortune. This dour view of life is attractive because it creates enemies to defeat, but sometimes, there are no enemies. Sometimes, you just have bad luck.
So what do you do when the chips are down and there’s no one to blame? You find an anchor, something to center you, keep you in place. You must find meaning and fulfillment in spite of your loneliness. The jewel in the lotus. There are no guarantees in life. We’re all just lucky bastards playing with the hands we’ve been dealt. It isn’t about winning the game, Dear Reader, it’s about continuing to play.
Whichever road you take I leave up to you. The true measure of a man is, as Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Old Man And The Sea, what he endures. In that story, The Old Man doesn’t catch the fish he had been praying for, but boy, did he try, and he’ll try again, too, out in the Sea of Fertility. A sea fertile with endless possibility. That is the second route. Find your anchor, Dear Reader, find your lotus jewel, and you will be free. As David Foster Wallace once said,
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty and unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”
Let your obstacles be your trials, and let your trials be a blessing. You do not live to be sour. You live to fly free.
Your Affectionate Friend,
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.
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