The Isla Vista Shootings, and Thoughts From a Former 22-Year-Old Virgin

There’s been a lot of debate in the wake of the latest mass shooting in Isla Vista, California. Prior to going on his rampage, the shooter posted a video on Youtube explaining his motivations. I won’t link it; it’s easy enough to find if you want. But to sum it up, the guy spends seven minutes whining about how he’s a 22 year old virgin. He complains that girls have ignored him– the perfect gentlemen– while throwing themselves at undeserving brutes instead, and therefore girls (and the guys luckier than him) deserve to die.

It’s the sort of rant that would sound self-absored, cliche and trite (indeed, it is all three of those things) except that was he armed, psychopathic, and actually killed people. But perhaps what’s most shocking about it is how well I can relate to the emotions he expressed. And I suspect a lot of men are in the same boat. The vast majority of us don’t kill people, thankfully– but it’s worth taking a look at some of the common aspects of our culture that clearly had an influence on this guy.

Like the killer, I was also a virgin when I was 22. A lot of people are– probably more than you realize, because society and culture have taught us that a man who is a virgin at age 22 is not much of a man. Throughout our formative years, men are taught by popular media and culture to link their self-worth to how many times they’ve slept with someone. In almost any book or movie with a strong male protagonist, winning the girl is almost as important as accomplishing the objective.

In this situation, girls cease to be people and become objects to be won… not just in stories, but in real life. And if you’re a guy who can’t “win” a girl, well, then you’re emasculated. It’s particularly bad for geeks, because comic books, video games, and even reading and academic pursuits are often insultingly referred to as being “for people who can’t get laid.” Even people within the comic book industry regularly insult their audience with remarks like “How many people in the audience have heard of Martian Manhunter? Now, how many people that raised their hands have ever been laid?”

For anyone in the audience who’s heard of Martian Manhunter and hasn’t been laid, it’s a brutally emasculating insult, making them feel bad about both their hobby and their love life. In reality, not only are the two unconnected, they have no reason to feel bad about either one.

Growing up, I received a lot of messages about what it meant to be “manly.” Real men are strong enough to overcome their problems on their own. Real men don’t cry, and they don’t show weakness. Real men don’t let other people disrespect them. Real men are always dominant and confident, and they always know what to do. And as stated before, real men win the girl.

For those men who don’t fit the “real man” mold– who have self-esteem issues, or are physically weak, or shy, depressed, or have any range of mental health problems– seeking help from other people makes you feel worse, because now you’re even less of a man. Even admitting the problem exists can be emasculating.

This whole classic male attitude is super-toxic when it comes to dealing with women. If you’re a man who’s been taught that (1)you shouldn’t tolerate being disrespected, and (2)your self-worth should be measured by your sexual conquests, then it stands to reason that if a woman refuses your sexual advances, she’s disrespecting you. She’s making you less of a man.

An attitude might develop that if you’re a worthy man, an alpha male, so to speak, that women should be throwing themselves at you. You may begin to feel entitled to sex– whether you’re getting it or not– because to admit that you’re not entitled to sex would be to doubt your manliness, and real men are confident. Real men definitely don’t doubt themselves.

Men’s need to boost their self-esteem by getting laid is so pervasive that an entire industry of “pickup artists” has risen up, teaching men supposedly surefire tricks to sexual conquest. In this game, women are nothing more than prizes, objects to be won, to be manipulated however is necessary in order to score the ultimate prize of sex.

And for men who are self-absorbed, or just shy, or for any reason not so lucky in the world of love, it becomes easy to rationalize, to seek out causes other than yourself as to why that’s the case. That’s where the old “women don’t go for nice guys” fallacy comes in. Or “women only sleep with jerks.” Rather than engage in self-examination (which is not manly), many men blame women– or other men– for having poor judgment, or being stupid. It’s not my fault, they just have poor taste.

I did this myself on occasion in my twenties. My lack of a love life depressed me, so as a shortcut to avoid depression, I would just think, “Eh, well, women don’t go for nice guys.” I was smart enough, generally, to know that it wasn’t true– sometimes I would blame women for not paying attention to the shy, quiet guys who are actually awesome– but that’s just as much of a copout as “women don’t go for nice guys.”

Watching the killer’s video, it’s easy for me to see how all of this played into the killer’s thought processes. After being fed a toxic diet of how men should behave and act, he decided to prove his alpha maleness by asserting his dominance in an incredibly visible, violent way… by taking the lives of other people. If you want to prove your dominance over others, it’s hard to do it any more thoroughly than by killing them.

As far as my own story, I eventually realized that as much as I felt unlucky in love, the fact was, I’d barely ever been rejected. Almost every dating relationship I had, had been broken off by me, usually through neglect. The problem wasn’t other people; the problem was me. It was two-fold: (1)I was scared of relationships, because it meant being emotionally vulnerable to someone else (men shouldn’t be emotionally vulnerable, and I wasn’t confident enough to risk it); and (2)I just wasn’t putting myself in a position to grow and meet new people. I hung out with the same people every weekend, and I rarely tried doing new things.

I solved number 2 by moving to Seattle. And by solving number 2, I solved number 1. It’s hard to get any more emotionally vulnerable than moving to a new city and surrounding yourself with new people; I sought support and friendship as a side effect of moving, and within three months, I was in a sexual relationship.

In retrospect, I suspect I was also just a late bloomer. Almost every sexual and relationship-type milestone you can think of– first kiss, first girlfriend, etc.– I did about ten years after what society would consider “normal.” Except for Senior Prom in high school, I didn’t even ask a girl out on my own initiative until I was 24. But because I’d been conditioned by society to feel bad for not being sexually active, I got deeply depressed as a result of just being myself. It’s a clinical depression I still fight to this day, despite having long since lost my virginity, and currently being in a happy, six month long (so far) relationship with a wonderful woman.

Overall, I’m happy with how things worked out. While I regret some of those missed opportunities in my twenties, I know that it doesn’t make a bad person, or any less of a man, or indeed, any less of a human being. Being a good person is independent of how many people you sleep with. And I know, for 100% beyond any shadow of a doubt, that if I have to choose being a kind and considerate person, or trying to sleep with as many as people as possible… well, I will never for a single moment regret being a kind and considerate person.

The day I felt most like a man was not the day I lost my virginity. The day I felt most like a man was the day I realized that being a man means ignoring bullshit cultural standards about what it means to be a man. That I can seek help for my depression and not feel bad about it. That I can be a good, kind, and emotionally available person without doubting my masculinity. That I should worry less about whether other people “disrespect” me and more about how I treat other people. That empathy is something to be proud of, not shy away from.

As a man, I want to be brave enough to put others’ needs before my own. I want to support my loved ones and my friends, to help those around me succeed, even if there is no immediate obvious benefit to myself.

I aim to make the world a better place. I am strong enough to be the change I want to see in the world, and in the end, that is the only definition of manliness I give a shit about.

13 thoughts on “The Isla Vista Shootings, and Thoughts From a Former 22-Year-Old Virgin

  1. By those same “standards” my marrying my wife 3 days before I turned 38 makes me about 15 years too late…but unlike a lot of those marriages mine is still going strong after 3 years and many of those are kaput…I’ll take my chances :)

    I remember being about that guy’s age and thinking that only if I had a girlfriend I would be happy and all my problems solved….and we know how that goes. Of course I did not feel the need to kill anyone who said no to me so I’ll take that as a positive. I think the hardest lesson to learn is the one of choosing substance over style. I remember one woman I pined after in college seemed so cool and was really pretty and seemed “perfect” to me….we went out one time and I realized that outside of her looks there was nothing else there. In retrospect I wonder how many other women, right in front of me, would have gone out with me had I paid attention.

    What is funny is that woman who is absolutely gorgeous and you think has her pick of guys actually has similar problems to you – she’s wondering if the guy is dating her for “her”, and not for her looks and a chance to put a notch on his belt. I have a friend of mine who is very pretty and the idiot she just broke up with a) when asked by her mother what did he think of my friend “oh she’s a 3 but I am hoping that after a while she’ll grow on me” and b) was going to Europe for two weeks and wanted a “Las Vegas” card….really? This woman is very beautiful (we tease her she looks like Taylor Swift), loves Doctor Who and Batman almost obsessively and were I her age would have thought I had died and gone to heaven….and sadly knowing me never had the courage to ask her out. It amazes me how some guys give good guys like us bad names (and seemingly happen to drive Mustangs!).

    Dating is not fun – you think you like someone, you get to know them and realize that it just does not work between you two…and because the option is loneliness you “try” to make it “work” when there is just no way. It’s a hard lesson to learn. Then you meet that one and you realize she’s been there all along and you cannot imagine how you put up with all the shenanigans and craziness in your other relationships when with her it is just so easy to be yourself. I am sad that this guy will never get to do that because it is a wonderful feeling.

    I wish when the red flags went up for this guy people responded better. Sadly in this day and age there is almost an overreaction to every little thing, “crying wolf”, so when something “real” comes along people think “ah it’s just growing pains”….

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Daniel! I too, fell victim to the line of thinking that “if only I had a girlfriend I would be happy and all my problems would be solved.” But of course, it’s not true at all. Because no matter where you go, there you are.

      The whole “substance over style” thing is another aspect of the discussion that I didn’t have room to touch on here, how men (and women) are taught that the value of a woman is measured in her looks. Even in “ugly duckling turns to pretty girl” stories (the movie She’s All That springs to mind), the woman has to become pretty in order to complete her character arc and prove her value as a person. And in turn, having a pretty wife/girlfriend/mate validates the man.

      As you stated, a good, satisfying relationship is much more about emotional and mental compatibility, and even when talking about pure physical sex, the “prettiness” of a person is not actually an indicator of whether or not you’d have good sex with them. I wish I’d figured all that out earlier.

    • As a lifelong Mustang driver and also a decent fellow, I’d like to argue on your inclusion of Mustang drivers in the ‘guys who give the rest of us bad names’ club. Unfortunately, I can’t, except to say ‘muscle car drivers’ might be more accurate… ;\

  2. Hey Andrew, great post.
    Here’s my rambling reply.

    I also was a virgin until I was 22.
    I find a lot in common with Elliot Rodger, a lot of the same feelings of insecurity, anger, and emasculation.
    One time in High School, some girls decided to punk me once by calling me and pretending that they were someone who really liked me, thought I was hot, etc. I could hear them giggling in the background. Somehow my mom figured out and cut them off, but I kinda enjoyed it. Even if they were pranking me, it was female attention. That’s how desperate I was.
    My point is that women can be beyond cruel.
    There’s been plenty of times they’ve laughed in my face, made disparaging comments behind my back within earshot.
    I was also hugely dorky, walked with a stoop staring at the floor (avoiding all eye contact always), and had some deal with my tongue that made me look like I had Down’s syndrome or something (never diagnosed…maybe Tongue Thrust?)
    So I know how this dude was feeling.
    And I was totally scared of girls, just like him. I could barely talk to them, especially if I found them attractive. I envied/admired guys who seemed to know the secret words to get girls into bed. I had no idea how to talk to women.
    (Ironic thing is that now I’ve figured it out…except I’m married…which actually makes it easier since there’s nothing at stake…but topic for another time…the secret is to just f-ing talk to them and damn the consequences)
    So I totally get his frustration, his anger, even maybe his desire to kill.
    I find the #yesallwomen hashtag interesting because women have viewed this as an assault on women, but the shooter killed/attacked more guys than women. He was a mess. He hated everyone. He felt in the “down” position in every relationship, decided to take a knife and gun and even the score. (he even tried to run people down with his car). Sure he said some anti-women things, but this really isn’t about the right of women to say no. This is about how cruel our society can be and how some people aren’t equipped to handle it.
    For people like Roger, relationships and dating are impenetrable morass of social customs that he had no clue how to navigate.What sickens me reading his manifesto is that he continually makes choices that could have gone the other way. One of his “highlights” is some pretty girl pushing him on the playground as some god-like evidence of his unworthiness. Dude…maybe she just had a fight with her mom. Maybe she has an annoying brother and you reminded her of him. Maybe she doesn’t want to be in day camp any more than you and is lashing out.
    The problem with Rodger (and me when I was that age) is that he internalized everything, took everything personally, came up with stories that justified his own whiny lack of self-worth. He wanted to be in that down position, because for whatever reason he didn’t feel like he deserved any better.
    While I empathize with him, I think he lacked any empathy for others (hence his killing spree). He experienced the same disparaging crap that a lot of guys deal with who just honestly want to get to know some women and become scared of them, but for some reason, he didn’t see how damn awesome women can be. He didn’t want to. He was determined to prove they were evil.
    But you know, people grow up, men and women grow up, and we all eventually start to get along.
    Too bad this guy couldn’t deal with his own hurt feelings, which probably didn’t need to be hurt if he had just looked at things differently.
    I think there are some lessons here for all of us.
    1) Always try to be inclusive of people in social situations. Find that dude/girl hanging in the corner and engage. They’re usually the most interesting people anyways.
    2) MOS are not the enemy. Most of them are nice and will talk with you.
    3) Try to understand situations and not always conclude that when someone blows you off or even rips you, it may not be you. People deal with issues all the time, they could just be in a bad space at that moment. And if you blow someone off for reasons, try to approach them later.
    4) If you are thinking of harming others or self-harm, GET HELP!! If you just read this post and the replies, you’ll see that A LOT of us go through these feelings, and that there is hope. Things change. Life changes. Like Andrew, sometimes you just need to make a move or change your situation.

    Whew that was a lot more than I intended to write, but this whole thing brings me right back to my days of fighting depression etc.I’m still reading through the manifesto, trying to understand how he got from loser to killer.

    • Hey Andrew, thanks for your thoughts. I definitely agree with you. Especially when you’re growing up, kids of all genders can be complete and utter assholes to each other, for no other reason than it makes them feel better about themselves, or it makes them look strong in front of their friends. Most people grow out of that, but not all.

      How people interact with you says far more about them than it says about you. Another thing I wish I’d internalized much earlier in life.

  3. Pingback: The virgin killer | mathew

  4. Andrew, I read this again today & posted on my FB account…. Maybe my being raised by a 21 yr. old mom w/4 younger sisters (and 5 aunts on my dad’s side) kept me around a lot of young women when I was growing up & that made me feel & see things differently, but I so sense the truth in what you say. In my life I’ve known a lot of the ‘brute’ stereotypes who would mock the ‘unlaid’ (geeks, dorks, et al) but I tended to shun them, thought of them as knuckledraggers, but didn’t hear from the other side, your side, very much. One of those things where I just didn’t get it. I see someone like this latest mass murder nut job & that’s all I think, another nut job who could buy guns. Your honesty and courage w/this is meaningful to me. Thanks again.

  5. Andrew W.
    I debated about whether or not to even post here because I think that Andrew Rosenberg’s comment displays negative views of and hostility towards women. His post seems to have little empathy for women, blames the women in his own past, dismisses women’s desire to discuss violence towards women, and seems to suggest that the solution is talking to strangers, which might be problematic.

    So I totally get his frustration, his anger, even maybe his desire to kill.

    In particular, this line bothered me. While I understand that you, Andrew W. were creating a space for men to discuss how society shapes some men’s negative views of women, I think that this being in the present tense, along with the other concerns led me (and probably others) to feel extremely uncomfortable. Women are more likely to face disparagement and threats on the Internet than men, and I didn’t want to put myself into that kind of situation.

    I find the #yesallwomen hashtag interesting because women have viewed this as an assault on women, but the shooter killed/attacked more guys than women… Sure he said some anti-women things, but this really isn’t about the right of women to say no. This is about how cruel our society can be and how some people aren’t equipped to handle it.

    Even if more men were murdered than women, based on the killer’s words, this is about both patriarchy and misogyny. It certainly is about women’s right to say no in our society. This shooting is just an extreme example on a continuum of harassment and violence that women experience every day. I don’t think it is right to dismiss women gathering together to discuss these situations.

    This leads into my final point. While it seems like a great idea to be kind to the shy person in the corner, many women have another layer of concerns. Since some men are violent towards women, women should not feel obligated to interact with anyone. While I often am friendly towards new people, I’ve had experiences that have taught me that each new man that I meet might be dangerous. I’d throw out the alternative idea that we should be working on anti-bullying education for all ages. The more people understand diversity and the wider we cast the net for our in-groups, the less hostility there will be. Of course, this is easier said than done.

    • Hey Jacqueline, thanks very much for your thoughts and for posting despite your reservations.

      I can definitely see where you’re coming from– as long as this sort of violence toward women (and this self-entitled male attitude) exists, it stands to reason that women are going to be wary of approaching that shy dude in the corner. Nor should they feel obligated to. I agree with Andrew R. in that it is good to engage with socially awkward folks, but the line between engaging that stranger and inviting unwelcome attention into your life is not always clear-cut, especially for women.

      In regard to the rest of that comment… he’d have to speak for himself, but I read it as he was just working through his own emotions from when he was that age, and not trying to say that they were right or even justified… much like I was trying to do in my own post. At least that’s how I read it. He’s a good friend, and I know he’s a feminist (we’ve had more thorough discussions in real life and in other venues), so I gave him the benefit of the doubt, even with some of the more aggressive language. Although I can absolutely see how it looks bad to someone who doesn’t know him. I think he may have posted without realizing that.

      That all said, I wish I hadn’t flippantly written “I definitely agree”. The part I agreed with was what I stated– that both genders can be cruel to each other when they’re growing up (and even after). And I can see how a young, sexually frustrated man might think “women can be cruel” (I may have thought similar things myself in the past), but it doesn’t mean he would be justified. It’s the observation of someone who’s self-absorbed in their own emotions. And someone who’s absorbed too much of the culture which I’ve tried to lay out here.

      I hope that exchange didn’t discourage you or other women from posting with your thoughts. The fact is, the culture of masculinity IS very scary, and luckily, most of us males grow up to be thoughtful, functional human beings despite that. But that culture IS something I was trying to bring into the light here, even if it’s disturbing. Andrew R. articulated a dark side of that culture, although as a friend I’m pretty confident in saying he just was articulating it, not saying something he buys into. It’s possible to understand or be able to trace the root of feelings without agreeing with or even justifying them– otherwise I’m not sure I could have written this post.

      Whether the killer was more motivated by hatred of women, or social anxiety, or self-hatred, and what turned him into a psychopathic killer, is something we can’t know for sure– except for the words he left behind. And clearly his words were dripping with male entitlement, misogyny, and the feeling that women “owed” him something. Clearly most men (even most obnoxious entitled men) don’t go on killing sprees, but from all the evidence, it’s obvious that the PUA industry and forums had a strong effect on him, and fed his anger. That culture, and the broader culture that gives rise to that kind of stupidity, needs to change. Because you’re right… it is an extreme example of a very common thing. Which is a scary thought. And I really hope my post (and the resulting discussion) serve a purpose in shedding light on the problem, as opposed to intimidating people into silence. If it did the latter (to you or anyone else), I’m sorry.

    • If my post was intimidating, it was the last thing I wanted. I really appreciate the responses. I will admit that the last few days have opened my eyes to a lot of things, and maybe my initial reaction was male-centric and off-point. I have since learned that a lot of my attitudes that I thought were normal might be based on the patriarchy. I see now that some of what I said in the previous post is just part of the problem. D’ohh! I consider myself corrected.

      Who I was and who I am now to some degree is a pretty shy, socially awkward guy. But I hate with a passion any guy who buys into misogynistic/patriarchal crap. I’m now totally behind the #yesallwomen movement. It’s a conversation that needs to happen. Andrew W knows that I’ve helped him with his con anti-harassment campaign because the thought of women being afraid to cosplay makes me sick. I was also active in the Home Alive movement when Mia Zapata was murdered just walking home.
      I guess what I was saying was that I get creepo’s anger and frustration and jealousy of everyone who appeared more successful than I, but I was able to deal with it and work through it and have meaningful relationships in my life. But I never had the attitude that women owed me anything, even a smile or acknowledgement of my existence. That’s just weird. That’s where I lose my connection with these creeps. Yeah I felt bad when I don’t get the attention I’d like from women but who wouldn’t? But I blamed myself, not them. I’m not going to deny I had anger issues in the past, and there’s a creep somewhere inside of me. But I’m fighting that because I’ve learned where that comes from: from a childhood of being shamed and bullied, but I can do better and I hope I’ve become a better person.
      I think women are great, As a writer, the majority of my main characters are women because I think their stories are more interesting, and I want to portray women as strong characters. Maybe that’s partly why I was so shy, because I see women and strong and powerful, and as people with emotions and fears and desires.
      So I totally support women and want to see changes in society. But I also want to support the awkward guys as well. We need to find a way for women to feel safe and for guys to not get so frustrated that they feel violence is their only option. I’m learning why women don’t feel comfortable talking to strangers, especially the awkward ones. It’s not a woman’s obligation to talk to anyone, sorry if I implied that. I’m just thinking back to my younger, awkward self and wishing I’d found myself in situations where it was easier to form friendships and relationships, but maybe that’s life.
      That’s where I think #notallmen has it wrong. It should be #enoughmethatitruinsitforeveryone.
      Men need to be better. That’s what I see. If I could climb out of that hole, maybe other guys could as well. If I didn’t turn to violence despite being a frustrated loser at times, maybe other guys can be helped. That’s all I’m asking.

      • Andrew R.

        Thank you for respectfully replying to my concerns with your post. It’s a relief actually, to be able to have a civil conversation on this topic.

        Considering the fact that you are actively concerned with women’s rights, I think that this whole interaction demonstrates how it’s difficult for privileged individuals to fully understand the experiences of less privileged people. This is why it’s so important to have earnest dialogue about these topics. I actually enjoyed Andrew W.’s original post because I do think that having a conversation about how society, culture, and subculture influence the thoughts and actions of individual people is important. Individuals make choices and are culpable, but we do it within the confines of the options presented to us by our culture.

        But I blamed myself, not them. I’m not going to deny I had anger issues in the past, and there’s a creep somewhere inside of me. But I’m fighting that because I’ve learned where that comes from: from a childhood of being shamed and bullied, but I can do better and I hope I’ve become a better person.

        I think this statement shows a lot of insight, and I think that all of us have different sides of ourselves that need some work. But first, one has to realize that there is a problem. Hopefully, we can all work to create a better society for all genders and reduce the stereotyping and discrimination associated with them.

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