Peace in Solitude: Overcoming Toxic Masculinity Part 3

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Run an image search for single men. You’ll find nothing but dudes who refuse to look at the camera.

This is the third article in a series. You may want to start with Part 1 and Part 2.

Being single isn’t that terrible. Being celibate isn’t that terrible. Two weeks ago, when I wrote a piece on Incels, I wanted to address this point. Incels base their entire worldview on the idea that without sex, a man will eventually go insane and turn to violence as an outlet for his frustrations. But nothing could be further from the truth.

As a demisexual man, I’ve spent my entire life being hit over the head with this message. People told me that I would never be truly happy without a girlfriend, that my life would be incomplete. This never sat well with me. It’s not that I dislike sex or monogamous relationships — in fact, if you read my books, you’ll see that I’m something of a hopeless romantic — but I can only feel sexual or romantic desire for a very limited number of people.

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This is one of the first images you’ll find when you search for “single man” on Pixabay.

I’ve tried to force it in the past; I’ve tried to date people whom I didn’t love, and the result was always a painful breakup. Often, the woman in question would leave when she realized that I didn’t really love her. Breakups still hurt even when you’re not in love.

It felt like I was living in a constant Catch-22. First, my friends would tell me that I was too picky and that I should just ask out that cute cashier who kept smiling at me, and then — if I actually took their advice — my girlfriend would leave me. And always for the same reason. “We don’t have the right feelings. We’re not really in love. When I’m with you, I don’t feel like I’m your girlfriend.” I started to think that this romantic love people kept talking about was a little like heaven or angels. A pleasant story with no basis in reality.

And then I met Lily.

No, that’s not her real name.

I don’t talk about her often, but when I do, I call her “Lily” because that was the original name for my character Anna Lenai. When I met Lily, she reminded me so much of Anna. Articulate and strong-willed, intelligent and artistic. Stubborn to a fault — which I find incredibly sexy. Political, outspoken, willing to piss people off with her candid opinions. And brave. She was quite possibly the bravest person I’ve ever met.

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By contrast, here’s what you’ll find if you search for “Happy man.”

Within two minutes of meeting her, I was smitten, and that has never happened to me before. We became close friends very quickly. After knowing each other for a very short time, we were talking on the phone for three or four hours a night at least twice a week. We flirted, vented about struggles to one another and drew emotional support from each other. I fell in love. And Lily…Well, I don’t want to speak for her; so, I’ll use the words that she used when she said good-bye. “We’re not just friends. We haven’t been for a while now.”

That was three years ago; Lily has been gone a very long time. I won’t get into the details. Suffice it to say that she made the decision that was right for her. But if I’m honest, I have to admit that my feelings for her never died. Not completely. They’ve faded, yes, but they never vanished completely.

I still miss her from time to time. Sometimes, I still wake up with a big, dumb grin on my face because something reminded me of her, and it made me happy. Sometimes, I worry about her. I wonder where she is and if she’s doing well. And sometimes I beat myself up for caring this much about someone who obviously doesn’t care about me. I guess you could say Lily is my “one that got away.”

The point of this story is simple.

It’s been almost three years since Lily walked out of my life, and in all that time, no one else has made me feel that way. I’ve tried to explore possibilities with other women, but there was just nothing there. Best case scenario was a momentary infatuation that lasted maybe two days before it fizzled away.

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Finally, a single dude who’s smiling…Kind of.

That being the case, an uncomfortable question has occurred to me: what if I never feel that way about anyone else? It’s not unreasonable; it took me thirty-three years to fall in love the first time. Yes, theoretically, it could happen tomorrow, but it could also be another thirty-three years…Or never.

I’ve always hated the “plenty of fish in the sea” cliché. For one thing, there’s something inherently objectifying about soothing your pain over a lost relationship with the idea that you can find someone else to fill that role. As if people are interchangeable. Yes, it’s true that most people do eventually fall in love with someone else, but each relationship is unique. Each partner brings something unique into your life. Each partner is a human being who should be valued as a human being and not just for the utility they provide.

I have met too many men who see women as interchangeable. Two weeks ago, a man in a bar quite literally tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I’m not afraid of rejection. When I look around, all I see is vagina, vagina, vagina.” How lovely! Here he is, brazenly telling me that, for him, women are about as disposable as a burner phone. Lose one, go out and get another. And I honestly believe this “plenty of fish” bullshit contributes to that.

Even putting aside the objectifying nature of “plenty of fish,” for some people, it’s just not true. Demisexuals fall in love quite rarely. There are very few fish in our sea.

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Once again, our subject refuses to look at the camera.

So, here are my options: I could rant and rave and talk about the injustices of the world. Even though my sexuality is no one’s fault. Or I could just accept that being single isn’t such a bad thing. It’s not like I’m miserable. Or more precisely, the struggles in my life have nothing to do with my relationship status. Honestly, I’d be incredibly happy if those struggles were alleviated, and to hell with whether I ever have sex again. Have you heard about Universal Basic Income?

It’s been five years since the last time I’ve had sex. Notice how it hasn’t transformed me into a violent psychopath? And I get it: if you’re someone who really wants a relationship, my telling you, “Learn to be happy being single,” isn’t going to make you feel better. But if we want a world in which men no longer treat women as objects, men have to reach a point where we no longer define our self-worth by our ability to find a girlfriend or by how much sex we have.

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Rich Penney is a science-fiction author and futurist. You can check out his books here.

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