DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am 28 years old. I have never held a girl’s hand, hug the girl, kissed, or had sex.
I feel like a loser and a failure in life because I see so many people at school and work having done this many times.
I just want to know how to stop being an incel, how to stop being this worthless piece of trash that I feel like I am everyday.
I have no college degree, career, or training certification. I also have no driver’s license, car, or place of my own. Which in turn contributes to my poverty and social isolation.
I don’t form healthy relationships with people outside of my regular day-to-day activities. And I feel like this is what contributes to my deteriorating mindset of an incel.
The good news about myself is that I am taking three classes at two colleges at once, I am a cashier at a supermarket, I am a second semester intern, and I help take care of my family.
But it seems to simply not be enough to attract women. What is it about women that I’m not getting? Why am I not able to get laid?
Want To Be Better
DEAR WANT TO BE BETTER: I want to start off with telling you that I’m glad you’re reaching out about this. Recognizing that you’re in an unhealthy place and it needs to change is an important and vital first step and it’s great that you’ve reached that.
The next step is going to be recognizing a flaw in your thinking – a flaw that’s shared by a lot of men – that’s at the root of some of your issues. But since a lot of folks don’t recognize this disconnect, I want to approach it from a different angle. This is going to seem a bit odd at first. Stick with me; I promise this is going somewhere relevant.
One of my favorite books growing up was The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle. Toward the middle of the book, two characters – Prince Lír and Molly Grue – have a discussion regarding Lír’s feelings for the Lady Amalthea and why she won’t return them:
“But what’s left on earth that I haven’t tried?” Prince Lír demanded. “I have swum four rivers, each in full flood and none less than a mile wide. I have climbed seven mountains never before climbed, slept three nights in the Marsh of the Hanged Men, and walked alive out of that forest where the flowers burn your eyes and the nightingales sing poison. I have ended my betrothal to the princess I had agreed to marry — and if you don’t think that was a heroic deed, you don’t know her mother. I have vanquished exactly fifteen black knights waiting by fifteen fords in their black pavilions, challenging all who come to cross. And I’ve long since lost count of the witches in the thorny woods, the giants, the demons disguised as damsels; the glass hills, fatal riddles, and terrible tasks; the magic apples, rings, lamps, potions, swords, cloaks, boots, neckties, and nightcaps. Not to mention the winged horses, the basilisks and sea serpents, and all the rest of the livestock.” He raised his head, and the dark blue eyes were confused and sad.
“And all for nothing,” he said. “I cannot touch her, whatever I do. For her sake, I have become a hero — I, sleepy Lír, my father’s sport and shame — but I might as well have remained the dull fool I was. My great deeds mean nothing to her.”
“Then perhaps the Lady Amalthea is not to be won by great deeds.”
That last line is important. What Lír accomplishes is unquestionably impressive; he’s done amazing and impossible things, the things that a great hero does to win the heart of a princess. But those are in stories, not the real world, and the real world doesn’t follow story logic. What ultimately wins Amalthea’s heart aren’t great deeds, it’s that Lír actually tries to make her happy. Once he engages with how she feels and connects with her as a person and not a thing to be won, she starts to fall for him.
Now, I bring this up because when you list the things that you are either lacking or have going for you that to bring women in your life are all… just stuff. Women aren’t dating your college degree or your bank account. People in general (with rare – and not terribly popular – exceptions) don’t list someone’s qualities in a spreadsheet and date whomever gets the most points in the end.
Expensive cars are lovely to look at and occasionally fun to drive, but they don’t attract women. Having a huge apartment or six figures in your bank account are nice, but they’re not things to put on your dating profile to attract the ladies, because that’s ultimately not what women are looking for. Or, rather, including these will attract women who are attracted by material goods, not people.
Similarly, having a job isn’t automatically going to make women want to sleep with you, nor will taking multiple college courses. These are all good things, don’t get me wrong. They’re things that make it easier to keep and maintain a relationship, but they’re not what’s going to make women want to date you. And they’re certainly not the things that make someone want to have sex with you.
Are women looking for men with steady employment and a stable living situation? Sure. But that’s more about wanting to date someone who’s able to handle their responsibilities, who is likely to be an equal partner in the relationship instead of someone who needs somebody else to take care of them. But that’s not the same thing as being attractive to women. That’s someone saying “Ok, you’re attractive, I like you, but would dating you mean that I’m going to be having to manage your life as well as mine? Are we going to be going in such different directions that we’re not compatible with one another?”
The thing that makes someone more likely to want to date you or sleep with you is how you make them feel when they’re with you. It’s the soft skills – knowing how to talk to people, how to connect with them and how to make them feel good – that make you desirable.
That, it seems, is your biggest issue. You say it yourself: “I don’t form healthy relationships with people outside of my regular day-to-day activities.” As the saying goes: Well there’s your problem. If you’re not forming healthy relationships with people, that’s going to affect everything. The social skills you use to make friends, network with others and generally interact with the world are the same ones that help you be more charismatic and attractive to women.
Now that’s easy for me to say; it’s a little harder to implement, especially when you’re feeling like trash. The famous Ru Paul quote – “If you don’t love yourself how the hell are you gonna love anyone else” applies here. What it means is that loving yourself is an important step towards being able to accept love from others and give it in return. It’s much harder to accept that someone wants to actually be your friend or your lover when you can’t believe that anyone would want to have anything to do with you.
And much of this stems from how you see yourself. You lead with all these supposed faults that are apparently supposed to “explain” why you’re socially isolated and unsuccessful. But these aren’t actually faults or flaws. They’re just data points, information, not an actual measure of your worth. You don’t have a car or driver’s license? Ok… and? Many people don’t. Some don’t because they live in large metropolitan areas with mass transit options and a car would be an unnecessary expense. Some don’t because they can’t afford a car, but get by without it. That doesn’t make them “lesser”. It makes things more inconvenient, sure – American towns and cities in particular are built around car ownership – but that’s not a measure of your personal value.
Similarly, you live with your parents. But not only is that not unusual in many countries, but over half of adults aged 18-29 in the United States live with their parents. You’re in the majority of the people your age. And considering how out of control rent is, how corporations are snapping up houses, condos and apartments and hoarding them like a dragon hoarding treasure, how salaries haven’t kept pace with inflation and how home ownership has been put out of reach of most Millennials and Gen-Z, this is likely going to be even more common as time goes by. That’s not some strange failure to launch, that’s you dealing with economic realities that’re busy screwing over you and many others in your generation.
And honestly? You have qualities that prove that this isn’t a case of your being too lazy, incompetent, unambitious, dumb or whatever, it’s that you – like most of your generation – are doing the best you can having been dealt a less than optimal hand. You’re taking classes, you’re holding down a steady job and you’re supporting your parents. You’re demonstrating ambition, care for your family and drive. Those are all admirable qualities, things that show you’re a good guy. Now, waving those around like a flag aren’t going to be what draw women to you – like I said, that’s not how dating and attraction work – but they are reasons to not be so down on yourself that you pre-reject yourself with potential friends and relationships. They’re the things to tell yourself when your jerkbrain – or other incels who try to drag you down – tells you that your worthless.
So my suggestion is to take things slow. To start with, you need to change how you see yourself. That part is, admittedly, difficult. You may need to work with a counselor or therapist to help unpack these negative, self-limiting beliefs you have and to cultivate a more positive self-image. But doing this will go a long way towards helping you feel like you’re able to actually do something about your sense of loneliness and isolation.
You can also help chase away those brain weasels by taking positive steps towards the future you want. Just opening a savings account and putting aside money for a used car or first and last month’s rent for an apartment (with roommates) can help you feel like you’re actually making progress. It may take time to save up a decent stake, but just having something you can point to and say “see, I’m getting there” can make the brain weasels shut up.
One thing I wouldn’t suggest right now is trying to date. Yes, I know that’s what you want more than anything in the world and being told to not try for that is the literal opposite of what you’re asking for. But there’s a reason why I think you should de-emphasize dating and focus more on just building a social life.
You’re in a place right now where you need to walk before you run. If you can’t maintain healthy, platonic relationships outside of work, then you’re not going to be in a position to maintain a healthy romantic or sexual relationship. You can certainly try, but I think you’re going to encounter more setbacks, more untenable situations and have a higher risk of encountering toxic partners or getting stuck in a toxic situation.
So what I would suggest is that you start with simply making friends and cultivating healthy relationships with other people. You can start with people you know at work that you get along with, or you could find activities you enjoy and use those to connect with people who also enjoy them. Building a social network of people – preferably in person – who care for you, want the best for you, who support you and cheer you on is important. It’s going to be important for your self-esteem, for your emotional health and for the health of your future relationships. Plus: having a solid base of friends and acquaintances who you like and who like you makes it much easier to find people who you’ll want to date… and who will want to date you.
The last thing I will say is the same thing I say to everyone who comes to me asking about how they can leave being an incel behind: get off the Internet. I have yet to see a community for involuntary celibates or incels that doesn’t tend to turn to a toxic, hateful stew that’s more dedicated towards directing hate at women and themselves than actual support or improvement. The sooner you get away from communities that tell you to believe the worst in yourself, that women hate you and are right to do so or that insist you should use your anger to punish others, the faster you’ll find that mindset recedes.
Work on these aspects of your life, and you won’t be an incel any longer.
Write back and keep us updated on how you’re doing.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com