Make Paragon Glowie Again
- Feb 19, 2022
I’m technically an incel but not a misogynist. Why aren’t women attracted to me?When we regard others as instantiations of a gender or as possible sexual partners, they can feel it, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith
Thu 9 Feb 2023 14.00 GMT
I am technically an incel, though definitely not misogynist. I like women and they like me, but not enough to want a relationship or to sleep with. On dating sites I am almost invariably rejected with: “You seem like a nice interesting guy, but sorry, I am not attracted.”
Before I put a stop to it, female friends would come to me complaining about their partners, and would expect (and receive) sympathy.
Once a woman who had just found out about her boyfriend’s infidelity told me she was going to sleep around too. “Great,” I said. “You can start right here.” Immediately I got: “Oh no, not you, you’re too good a friend.” She went off with another bloke in our circle.
Other women have tried to use me as a platonic “handbag” between real partners. I no longer do that either.
I am neither handsome nor ugly, so appearance is not the problem. One male friend told me women see me as feminine. I don’t feel it. I work a manual job, ride a motorcycle, have never been mistaken as gay. Sometimes I wish I was gay but I’m not.
The bit that frustrates me the most is that I am the caring, sharing, feminist-sympathetic bloke that women say they want, but they go off with attractive “bad boys” who – surprise surprise – treat them badly. I doubt there’s a solution other than a personality transplant but I’m interested in your take.
This question has been edited for clarity.
Eleanor says: Let me reflect the things you’ve said so far. When female friends talk to you about problems with their partners, that feels like a show of gall: something that needs to be “put a stop to”.
When women lean on you between relationships (I’m not sure whether sexually or emotionally), this feels emasculating. It makes you feminine, an accessory, a “handbag”. When a friend tells you about a betrayal, you see in that moment an opportunity to have sex. You see yourself as a “caring, sharing feminist”.
I hope you’ll forgive my candour but I hear a tension between these things.Genuinely ‘caring, sharing, feminist’ people are often the least likely to point out that that’s what they are
Genuinely “caring, sharing, feminist” people are often the least likely to point out that’s what they are.
Think about the kindest people you know – are they the ones who’d say “I’m a kind person” or are they the ones who show up when you need them, seemingly without noticing (to themselves or others) that this means they’re kind? The same thing goes for being good to women. The people who really are that way are often least inclined to self-describe like that.
Part of the explanation for that phenomenon might be genuinely helpful to you. I think it has to do with how dominant the categories of “woman” or “prospective sexual partner” are in the way we see the world.
Someone who just quietly does the good stuff on the gender front – not making inferences based on gender, not finding anything funny in sexist jokes – isn’t led primarily by observations about women and what they like.
Often they’re led by something much more subconscious and automatic: that stuff just seems gross. It’s not that they’ve reasoned to good answers about women or how to attract them. It’s that those questions have receded.
The problem is, when those questions don’t recede – when a big part of how you see others is as instantiations of a gender, or as candidate sexual partners – people can feel that. And many people don’t want to be seen primarily in those terms, because for them, those are pretty small parts of who they are.
A big part of feeling attracted to someone is feeling they see you. Correspondingly, it’s very hard to feel attracted to someone if you feel they’re looking past you.
You can imagine this from your own perspective: if someone thought one of the most salient things about you was the colour of your hair, and drew all kinds of expectations from that, even flattering ones – you might find it hard to want a third date.
Equally, when it feels like the main things someone sees about you are your gender and whether you’ll sleep with them, it’s hard to feel like they’re seeing you. When you proposition your friends in a crisis, or block discussion of relationship problems you wouldn’t mind hearing from a man, it’s bound to feel to your interlocutor that their gender is a big part of how you see them. And it’s hard to feel attracted to someone when a large part of how they see you is as an instance of a kind.
Far better to be thinking about what the kind of people you’d like to have relationships with are – whether that’s energetic people, cultured people, fun people, mature people, witty people. Whatever you’re looking for, thinking in those terms rather than gendered ones is going to be more productive for you – and enjoyable for them.