DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m seeking some advise regarding a good friend of mine who I’m worried about. Some background detail: I’m a woman in my mid 20’s, married. My friend, “Tom”, is a man in his mid 20’s who has serious issues with women.
Tom and I grew up together. Now, Tom has never been the best at empathy. I remember when we were kids, he bullied other kids sometimes (never me). As a teen, Tom began to tease people and make sexist or politically charged jokes–and then struggle to understand when feelings got hurt (he still does this–he says he likes to “stir the pot”). Tom’s not a bad guy–he is genuine, honest, and trustworthy. But his weakness with empathy seems to stem from a lack of emotional intelligence.
Tom has wanted a wife for years. See, Tom and I come from a culture where it’s expected that you date to marry, abstain from sex until marriage, and marry young. Contrary to mainstream culture in the USA, in our culture, it is very common for people to date for 1-6 months and then rush to the altar. Tom is very immersed in this cultural narrative–he is desperate to find a woman to be his future wife, date her briefly, and marry her.
Tom has been in a frenzy of dating, desperate to find his future wife. Being able to find a wife is a big part of masculinity in our culture. Tom, who is fairly rigid in holding himself to masculine ideals, is definitely affected by this. However, as you know, desperation SHOWS, even when people try to hide it.
Tom goes on a date or two with a woman, becomes instantly and deeply emotionally invested in her, texts her constantly, feels that he may have finally found the One, the great and future Wife…. and then is really, really hurt when she either ghosts him, or tells him she sees him as a friend. I’ve tried to tell him he’s scaring them off, his male friends have tried to tell him the same… to no avail. And Tom has started to hate women.
Tom 100% blames the women who ghost him or don’t want to continue dating him. He believes they led him on; or they were too immature; or they were vicious jerks. Remember when I said Tom was bad at empathy? Yeah. He seems completely incapable of empathizing with the women he dates when they reject him. And this lack of empathy is spreading to Women In General. He makes comments about women being emotionally manipulative, and just out to hurt men. He sneers at the Me Too movement and insinuates that those women actually wanted the sex, and then lied about it to tear the men down. The sexist jokes he made as a teenager, just to get under people’s skin? As an adult, he seems to actually believe them. When I or his male friends call him out on it, he backtracks and says he was just joking. (Ironically, he does not include ME in this assessment of women, since I have “Just One Of The Guys” status).
Since Tom has been so unsuccessful in finding The Wife among women of our culture in the States (he does not date outside the culture), he has begun an online relationship with a woman from another country. This woman shares our cultural background, but she doesn’t speak English well. Tom, being raised in the States, doesn’t speak her language well. They make it work, but communication over text PLUS a language barrier? Poor woman doesn’t have a clue what she’s getting into. Tom’s planning on flying her to the States to live with his parents and marry him (his parents are OK with this, since their background is from her country).
I, my husband, and Tom’s other friends, see a disaster in the making. I think this woman is going to run home screaming when she meets Tom in person and feels The Cringe. I think Tom is going to blame her for it, and view her as another Manipulative Woman leading him on. Only this will be worse, because Tom’s more invested this time. And, honestly? I’m not sure where Tom got the ideas he has about women in the first place. Although our culture is in some ways very conservative, women are viewed highly as spiritual leaders and sexism is discouraged by male and female cultural leaders alike. So… I don’t know. Got any insights?
DEAR WORRIED FRIEND: I’m not gonna mince words here WF: I’m not entirely sure that your friend is as good of a guy as you say he is. The fact that he’s consistently been a bully and s
tty edgelord — even if it wasn’t to you — doesn’t exactly incline me to think of him in the most positive light. It’s certainly possible, even likely, that his emotional intelligence isn’t the greatest… but I find it hard to believe he actually doesn’t understand the concept that being an asshole to people is hurtful. And even if it was just him being a s
tty edgelord who says things to get a rise out of people… well, it’s like Vonnegut said in Mother Night: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Doing things ironically or because you’re trolling doesn’t make them any less s
tty. Ironic racism and sexism is still racism and sexism. You can roll your eyes while you f
k a goat, but you’re still balls-deep in an ungulate.
Now I don’t think it’s much of a mystery where Tom’s gotten some of these ideas. I can all but guarantee you that if you were to look at his Internet history, you’d be seeing a whole lot of Red Pill, alt-right and alt-lite websites and YouTube channels. It may have started off as “I only like these for the memes”, but as we’ve seen: outrage powers the Internet and the algorithms that power Facebook, YouTube, and other social media sites love to show you how deep the radicalizing rabbit hole goes. Even if these beliefs are looked down on in your culture, the confirmation bias and feeling that “oh THESE people understand” spoke to his inner desire to believe that everyone is as edgy and bitter as he is.
So look, the fact that Tom’s been doing this consistently for what seems to be his whole life makes his descent into being a hateful s
tbird more or less inevitable. Doubly so because there haven’t been any meaningful consequences for him yet. Especially consequences for his actions that he can see as being the results of his behavior.
I mean, let’s look at the way he’s driving women off. He doesn’t make the connection between his s
tty attitude and the fact that, frankly, women don’t want to have anything to do with him. But I don’t think the problem is a lack of empathy so much as an unwillingness to look at anything other than his own interests. It has less to do with being willing to empathize with others and more than he’s stewing in a vat of his own entitlement and s
tty attitude. Since women are ghosting him — and honestly I can’t blame them — he isn’t getting the news that hey, act like a jerk, get dumped with a quickness. Instead, he gets to make up his own self-serving reasons. Reasons which, let’s be real, just serve to justify is own continuing s
I think you’re right: I think his current attempt at a relationship is going to end badly. And just between you, me and everyone reading this: I’d put some serious thought into warning this poor woman about what she’s about to get into. It may suck for Tom to get ghosted AGAIN, but this way it won’t come at the cost of an international flight and the pressure of going through with a relationship that’s just every different kind of bad news.
The only thing that’s really going to help him is a moment of stunning self-awareness. Possibly aided by the firm application of The Chair Leg of Truth upside his head. And as much as I hate to say this: if you want to see him change, then you’re probably going to have to be the one to wield it. Calling him out on his bulls
t is only the start; you have to keep at it and refuse to let him off the hook. When he starts to make his “well I was just joking” excuses, then you have to lean into it. Ask him to explain it. “OK so what’s the joke? What’s the punchline. How was this funny?” The same goes for when he goes off about how #MeToo ruined things (it didn’t): how, exactly, did these women tear someone down? Who’s actually faced real consequences from it? How many people have lost their jobs or become destitute because of it?
More importantly though, is that you need to make it clear to him that you find his behavior and his attitude unacceptable. Explain to him, in no uncertain terms, that it’s his behavior that’s driving women away. He’s not like this because he’s lonely, he’s lonely because he’s like this. To quote a very wise woman:
“You’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an a
Calling him out, telling him that you’re not willing to put up with it or have him express such things in your presence is important — both for your own emotional health and to make him recognize that he doesn’t get a free pass just because “he’s only joking”. And if he keeps up with it? Then I think you’d be better off being one more in a string of people who’ve left him in the dirt.
But, straight talk: fixing him IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. It’s not on you to make him a better person, especially when he’s devoted this much of his life to being an asshole. It’s admirable that you care and want to try to fix things but that requires him wanting to be fixed and being willing to put in the work himself. And honestly, not only does he not want to be fixed, he doesn’t think there’s a problem in the first place. And as much as you’ve been exempt from his bulls
t, it’s really only a matter of time before he decides you’re as bad as the rest of those evil wimminzes.
Will any of this change his mind? No, probably not. Folks who feel this way tend to have an extensive series of emotional defense mechanisms that keep them from ever admitting the truth. But it will, at the very least, put him in the uncomfortable position of having to recognize how very shallow his beliefs are and how little people are willing to put up with it.
Maybe the knowledge that being a s
t has cost him relationships, including a friend who’s been with him since childhood, might — might — make him think twice.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org