Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Help, I’m Afraid I’m Becoming an Incel

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Going to dive right in here – I fear I’m a female incel and I don’t know how to fix it.

I’ve been single for a couple of years now and looking back at my dating history I’m noticing a toxic pattern. I’ve been in three long term relationships, all over 5 years long, and all three followed the same basic plot. I’m close friends with a guy, I develop feelings, he doesn’t reciprocate, but I persist until he succumbs. Gifts, late night chats, “cool girl cred”, until BAM we sleep together. And then a few years later he leaves me for someone else (two of them cheated for years). All three, same plot.

Probably worth noting that I’m usually the alpha in these relationships. I’m better educated, I make more money, all their friends end up becoming my friends. But it’s always me pursuing the guy, and never being courted. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I don’t remember ever being pursued, or even just hearing that someone has a crush on me.

I worry this pattern has made me bitter and entitled. I want to be able to accept that someone is not into me and just move on instead of treating it like an achievement to unlock. And, worse yet, when I can’t, become depressed and cynical and feel like I failed.

(And for once I’d like advice other than “Lose weight, dress sluttier, and lower your expectations”)

Fear the Fincelle

DEAR FEAR THE FINCELLE: I get your frustration, FTF but I think a lot of it is of your own making. Just not necessarily in the way that you think.

The first part of your problem is perceptual; you’ve had three long-term relationships, which lasted for around five years or so before they ended. That’s actually a pretty good record, if I’m being honest. The fact that they end the same way is an issue — one I’ll get to in a second — but all the relationships you’ll ever have will end, eventually. The only way you end up beating that particular cycle is if you die in the saddle before your partner does or at the same time. And honestly, five years is a respectable length for a relationship; in fact it’s slightly above average for millennials. One recent study of British 20-somethings found that the average relationship length is around 4 years or so, which means that you’re actually on the slightly further end of the bell curve.

So I think you’re doing better than you think.

But I think the bigger issue you’re having — the one that’s leading to having three boyfriends who eventually leave you for someone else — are the guys you’re pursuing and the way you’re pursuing them. The issue isn’t that you’re the more aggressive or dominant partner, either in the courtship beforehand or in the resulting relationship, it’s that you’re pursuing guys who don’t seem that into you. I mean, by your own words, after you’ve caught feelings for a guy, you basically run them to the ground until they finally agree to date you. That… isn’t really the basis for a great relationship. In fact, if we reversed the genders, the dynamic of the interaction would be more than a little creepy.

(Granted, the dynamic would be wildly different because of the differences in the worlds that men navigate through vs. the ones women navigate through, levels of implied or implicit threat, etc. But it ain’t a great look, regardless.)

The problem here is that, even if we allow for a certain amount of hyperbole, the guys you’re interested in aren’t really into you and only start dating you after you’ve given them the full-court press. The problem with this is that while you two may well legitimately be friends and compatible on an emotional level, that doesn’t translate to “compatible for a relationship”. I’ve got a number of friends who I get along famously with, but if we tried to date, someone would almost certainly end up on fire before our second anniversary. Even when they’ve decided they’re cool with hooking up with you, “you know what, a blowjob would be nice tonight” doesn’t necessarily mean that you two have what it takes for a successful relationship. And if they’re someone who’s conflict averse, doesn’t have as strong of a personality or isn’t good at enforcing their boundaries, then it’s entirely possible to end up running roughshod over them.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that you somehow forced them into a relationship with you. I think what’s far more likely is they felt more carried away by events and didn’t feel like they could call the question by ending a relationship they may not have wanted to be in. Finding someone new may have been the thing that gave them the extra oomf they needed to finally quit prolonging the relationship beyond it’s natural lifespan.

I want to be clear: the issue here isn’t that you’re aggressive or dominant or the more successful partner in the relationship. There’re a lot of guys out there who are into that. Very into that, in fact. The problem is that you’re not pursuing the guys who are into you; you’re letting the crush dictate your actions, rather than pursuing folks who you have mutual chemistry with.

Part of the issue is as you said: you’re treating someone’s lack of interest as a challenge. This isn’t a great look on anyone, but part of the problem is that you take this personally. You see it as someone being unattracted AT you, as opposed to simply lacking interest. I can understand how that could happen, especially when you don’t feel like you’ve been pursued or desired by others. The problem is that grinding down someone’s resistance isn’t the same thing as attraction, it’s resignation. It’s asking someone to define down their happiness and desire, and that’s ultimately going to rot the relationship from the inside.

Now that feeling is something that you’re going to need to work on, ideally with a therapist. It’s pretty clear that you have a sense of a lack of worth, possibly because you perform your gender role in a non-traditional manner; society tells us that women’s value is in being pursued, not the pursuer. It’s bulls

t, but social conditioning is a motherf

ker to shake off.  Working with a counselor can help you develop the toolset that’ll help you feel able to connect with your genuine self and feel empowered to be the kind of person you actually are.

But as for relationships, what you need to do, more than anything else, is start looking for the guys who want the dominant, alpha girlfriend, rather than acting on your crushes on your friends. Finding those guys means that you’re gonna find folks who want what you have to offer… and it’s also going to help with your feeling of wanting to be wooed and appreciated. While you still may be the one who takes the initiative or directs the courtship, someone enticing or asking you to chase them is, in its way, being pursued. They’re not trying to get away, they’re trying to tempt you, specifically, into going after them. The dynamic of the interaction may be different than the traditional “trying to sweep the lady off her feet”, but the intent behind it is the same. It’s just one that works better with your personality and the personality of the guys you seem to be the most interested in.

Finding these guys may be tricky. More submissive men can be hard to spot, especially if they’re a little shy; they may not know quite how to signal to you that they want to be chased, rather than doing the chasing. But putting out some feelers and seeing who responds positively to your interest in them — rather than necessitating your trying to invest time and energy into making them want you — will go a long way towards finding guys who are looking for your exact energy and relationship style.

Good luck.

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