I was a virgin until I was twenty-five. I was never any good at attracting attention from women from puberty. I spent about 12 years of my life desperately wanting a girlfriend. Longing with stupid boyish lust. I made humiliating abortive attempts. I rejected the women who were interested in me. Sometimes on purpose, because I didn’t like them as well. Sometimes not realizing what I was doing. Once, in high school, I have since discovered, the girl I liked liked me back, but I was too much of a coward to find out at the time. And I was lonely for all those years. I imagined I wanted a family. A wife. But I can see now that what I was looking for was a body. Access to physical affection. While that wasn’t clear to me at the time, it was perfectly clear to any woman I focused my interest on.
And so women didn’t like me much, in general. I was creepy. I was lustful. And the lust was out of precedence. It’s perfectly fine to be lustful, of course. But when seeking romantic companionship it can’t be the thing a young man leads with. I imagined myself the perfect gentleman. I couldn’t understand why women seemed to like boys who treated them badly. Because I had a confused definition of how to treat women. And I generalized. I lumped women in to monolithic categories designed to describe them as elements of sets rather than as individuals. I didn’t know how to identify humans as humans. I looked for women I found attractive, and then tried badly to woo them, imagining myself some poet. I shudder at my malformed attempts now. I was a terrible combination of pathetic and overbearing. I always thought there was some hope I’d get what I wanted, so I didn’t know how to stop a doomed pursuit.
And so I felt shunned. Vile. Humiliated and useless. But I never blamed women for that. I felt essentially as if they were right: I was too awful to love. So they were only doing what was natural in rejecting me. It was proof that I was where I belonged: alone. Eventually, I met a woman who liked me. But I drank. I drank away several relationships. As a suicide drunk I met the sort of damaged people who fall for suicide drunks, and I married one of them. It didn’t go well.
In sobriety, I’ve learned to be me in a much more effective way. I’ve learned to express who I am, rather than just what I want. I’ve learned to look for partnership, rather than for just what I can take. It has made it much better. Now, I have a fulfilling relationship because I know how to give as well as receive. I know how to respect. I know how to understand people as people, instead of as objects able to please or disappoint me. I’m very grateful that I lived in a time when there weren’t internet groups dedicated to ranting about misogynistic loneliness. I might have been easily seduced. I would have loved the reinforcement of other men telling me it was all the cruel fault of heartless women. I always looked for reasons I wasn’t to blame for not having what I wanted.
I write, of course, about the terrible atrocity in California. A young man, hatefully convinced that women were the cause of his problems, goes killing. A crime fueled by the culture we live in that constantly portrays women as objects of conquest. As owing physical affection. Lacking autonomy. Possessions. All this senseless hatred. Amplified by the loose communities so easily assembled online, organized to hate without consequence. Or rather, organized to inspire exactly this consequence, and then deny responsibility. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t have an answer.
But I wish I could talk to the young men who feel the way I felt. I wish I could tell them how I learned what I learned. How to acknowledge the basic contempt for women in the way they’re behaving, and learn to express themselves in a productive way. Many women are afraid of us when what we want from them is only physical. They are afraid because when we don’t get what we want from them, sometimes we kill them. I hear it already: “Not all men!” Yes, of course. Not all men. But too many. And here’s the thing: there’s no way to tell until it’s too late. When we act in entitlement and anger and misogyny, women fear us because we are dangerous. When we act in lust toward women we don’t have a mutual relationship with, women fear us because we are deadly.
So, how does a man who wants to be with a woman discover a woman who wants him? How do we establish the mutual relationship where our desire may be appropriate and welcomed?
We need to learn our own selves. We need to understand our own desires. Dan Savage has such glorious advice for men who can’t seem to find companionship: Stop trying to get it now; start working on getting it for yourself in two years. To do that, look at yourself. Discover what you enjoy. Invest time and energy in something productive. Join groups. Join groups not because there may be women there, but because the group is formed around a topic you have interest in. Get better at something. Find people who are good at that, and explore with them. Make it about the thing. Not about you, not about meeting a woman. When we are comfortable in our selves, my experience is that we are eventually appealing to others. Other people. We will build friendships. The chances are good that we will find ourselves among potential romantic partners who know us. For whom our attraction is welcome. Talk to them. Listen to them. Learn who they are. Discover if you like them personally. Discover if they like you personally. Accept, graciously, that they have the right not to. Trust me: we do not want romantic or physical entanglements with people who do not like us.
But the first thing. The first thing. We must un-mire ourselves from hate and anger and entitlement. We have to recognize women as persons. Roger Ebert, in reviewing a concert-film by Andrew Dice Clay, said that Clay “…seems to think of women as things to masturbate with.” Too many men – and I believe it’s far, far more than any of us are willing to admit – have exactly this attitude. We need to separate ourselves from men who think like this, who talk like this. Who hate, vociferously. That aspect is contagious. Because it is seductive to hate what we can’t have. It is seductive to lash out against things that don’t please us. It is seductive to blame the faceless other for what we feel we deserve, for what we see others attain. But hate is a spiral. Obviously, someone who can be pushed to mass murder has more wrong than loneliness. But the misogyny in those spaces is dangerous long before it ends in murder.
I was lonely for a long time. I know the deep shame and isolating misery of that. But the cause of that loneliness and that shame and that misery was me. I am entitled to no one’s affection, in this world, no matter how much I want it. But women are entitled, though they have been stripped of their right too much and too long, to security and autonomy and peace and all the liberties we take, as men, for granted. All the security and autonomy and peace we take, as men, from women. They are entitled to that. Recognizing that right is one crucial step, my lonely, angry young man, toward discovering a wider world. One where your affections are more likely to be received gladly.