Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:
My brother-in-law “John” and I are good friends. We are the same age (mid-20s), share some similar interests, and live in the same city. A couple of days ago, John complained to me while golfing about his inability to find a girlfriend. His complaints included comments that remind me of things I’ve heard from “incel communities.”
“Girls only want to go for the guys who are assholes to them because they like being treated that way.” “If you aren’t a gym rat, girls won’t even look your way.” “Good guys like me can never find girls.” “I don’t know why a girl who isn’t skinny would think I would want to date her.” (John is a heavier-set guy.) I think one of the biggest problems though, John has zero interest in trying to be the kind of person that someone else would want to date.
John dropped out of school and has no interest in furthering his education. He lived with my wife and me about a year ago while “looking for work” while burning through his savings from a grocery store job he held back when he lived at home. He lives in apartments that cater to college students, which means he has five freshman roommates. He spends most of his nights watching TV, playing video games, or going to parties with his roommates. I helped get him an entry-level support staff job at my work so he would have some form of income (and get out of my house), and since his rent is so cheap he doesn’t push himself to find better work or increase his skills. He’s come to a few parties with groups of friends of mine, and every time he just complains none of the girls are “good looking” and then goes back to swiping on Tinder.
Prudie, I’m not sure what to say to him. On the one hand, I don’t want him looking for internet support in communities that are rampant with misogyny and anger. On the other hand, I want to shake him and tell him that no girl wants to date a guy whose idea of a date is to take her back to play video games with his five freshman roommates, but I worry that will drive him away. Any advice?
I’ll tell you the truth: I read your letter and thought the situation sounded overwhelming and a little hopeless. So I asked for help. As the Twitter replies came in, many of them suggesting that you confront John about how little he has to offer, or about the fact that he’s being unrealistic about his prospects, something was clarified for me: You misdiagnosed John’s “biggest problem.” It’s not that he’s not currently desirable enough for the women he’d like to attract. It’s OK to have roommates, play video games, and be a heavier-set guy! Plenty of people who fit that description are perfectly happy with themselves and their dating lives. It’s that his view of women is toxic in a way that no amount of working out, buying a nice home, or developing cooler hobbies will fix:
It’s not that his idea of a date (video games) or his living situation (five freshman roommates) are problematic. What makes him dangerous to date is his misogynistic views about women. Being a good guy doesn’t guarantee you a date. It means acknowledging you’re not owed a date, ever. —@AsherBrumberger
John’s problem is not that he can’t find a woman. Like after reading this a lack of a girlfriend is in a list of symptoms. His life sucks and it’s easier to be a misogynist and BLAME women for it because if he admitted his problems stem from him he’d have to change. Extremist communities will offer the easy solution of praising self-destruction and scapegoating responsibility. —@emilylorange
The issue here is that he’s being radicalized by misogynistic communities to resent women, and his views will only become more hateful if he doesn’t, at the very least, receive some other input. And that’s where you come in. Instead of trying to convince him that his life is sad and the women he’s attracted to are out of his league, commit to being a regular, friendly source of a non-incel worldview.
Some readers had good ideas for how to approach these conversations, which mostly involve pushing back in the moment on specific false and hateful statements he makes about women, rather than initiating a larger confrontation.
LW says he is good friends with BIL. He should respond to offensive and incorrect things as they come up. No one wants a friend who doesn’t tell you when you have spinach in your teeth. Will he change his worldview? Who knows, but in you he has a friend who sees women as full beings. Show him what that means. Here’s an example of what you can say. If he says “I don’t know why a girl who isn’t skinny would think I would want to date her,” you can respond: “John, that’s a superficial rude thing to say. You don’t have to be attracted to everyone, but just as you want girls to see more than your physical attributes, you should consider the whole individual too. And many people like heavier people.” —@AronFord13
This is really hard, and I sympathize. At some point, though, silence in the face of misogyny will be reasonably interpreted as agreement or, at least, acceptance of the views as reasonable. And men need to be the first people to tell other men these views are not OK. —@JJLibling
The unfortunate thing is, if LW tries to confront John about this, it WILL drive him away, because it doesn’t seem like he’s in a place where he wants help or to change. Next time he’s lamenting his lot in life, you can ask if he wants your advice as a man who HAS found a woman—and when he says no, leave it alone for a while. You can’t fix him before he decides he needs to change. When he says his incel stuff, pleasantly disagree (“All women just want assholes!” “Well I don’t know about THAT. I’ve met lots of women who want to date kind men!” etc.) —@corvidcall
As @Aloe9678 pointed out, It’s especially important that he hears this from another man: “The LW needs to call out every gross statement. They’re connected to each other via a woman, and John is likely as disrespectful to her as he is the rest of the women in the world. Men who claim to be good need to prove that by calling out the men who show they aren’t.”
And I thought it was particularly valuable to hear from @ektastrophe, who could relate to feeling some of the emotions John is feeling, and was lucky enough to have friends and resources to help him think differently:
BIL can and should continue to push back on things John says. He may even consider some actual real talk here, and research deradicalization. Sounds like he’s helping John out a lot in other ways. But until/unless John accepts that his beliefs are false, he won’t change. I remember feeling a lot of “Ugh, I’m just a nerd. No woman will like me” (in spite of there being actual women who liked me) in my teens, and was fortunate to have friends tell me I was wrong and ridiculous for thinking that way. I’m glad I listened to them. BIL may wish to send John articles from @DrNerdLove, whose work I enjoy and wish I’d come across much earlier. But also John’s gotta accept the reality that he’s the one who’s making himself miserable and that he has so much power to change for the better.
I can’t imagine that John is a lot of fun to hang out with when he’s spewing bitterness about women, but I think you’ll find your friendship more manageable if you realize that you don’t need to have a difficult conversation with him about how unimpressive he is. Instead, you can focus on providing a healthier perspective on women, which would still be important, even if he did currently have more going for him.
A few years ago, my little brother had an affair. He was eventually found out and, after an unsuccessful reconciliation attempt, filed for a divorce, which my sister-in-law fought tooth and nail. My brother is still involved in a relationship with “the other woman” and they are planning to take the next step. To be honest, I never liked his ex-wife. The “other woman” and I have a lot in common, and had we met in other circumstances, I am certain that we would be friends.