Being a man, particularly a straight, cisgendered man, can be a perverse paradox at times. Society caters to us in almost every way imaginable. Even in 2021, as we strive towards greater social and sexual equity for people of different genders and sexualities, straight cis men are very much at the top of the social heap. And yet, men are lonelier and more isolated than ever, feeling not just lost but ignored or cast aside.
It seems laughable; society caters to straight men to an absurd degree. The world is nothing if not considerate of men’s wants and interests. Straight men’s desires, anxieties and — especially — their boners aren’t just the Rosetta stone of modern advertising, but much of pop culture over all. The entire literary fiction genre, for example, is an almost constant paean to navel gazing dudes who want to muse about roads not taken and drown their ennui in the desire to bone much younger women.
But like I said my column on men’s fear of being “invisible”, the issue isn’t so much the way the world celebrates and validates male sexuality or interests. It’s the feeling that while the world continues to validate men’s desire for sex and power, the men themselves are excluded from it. They’re continually shown their hearts’ desires, but the fulfilment of them is kept just out of reach. They’re told that this is what they’re supposed to want, that this is what makes them a “real man”, but they’re unable to partake of it. It’s the frustration — even despair — of realizing that the rewards they were told to expect for being men and following the rules laid out for them are never going to be delivered, and certainly not in the way they were promised.
It comes up in many, many different ways. Because we still celebrate and lionize toxic and restrictive forms of masculinity, even in media that purports to deconstruct them, men who don’t meet (often self-imposed) hypermasculine ideals feel as though they aren’t “real” men.
Others feel excluded from the rewards of manhood and masculinity because of factors outside of their control — a lack of social experience or fluency, their body types, their height, or due to stereotypes based around race, culture or gender presentation.
This feeling — of being excluded, cast aside and discarded — is something I hear from men all the time. It comes up in letters, it gets mixed in with discussions about online harassment, street harassment and cat-calling, even in discussions about character design in comics, video games and movies. And while it’s the sort of thing that seems like it’s easily laughed off — oh no, dudes aren’t getting all the attention — it’s a real and legitimate issue.
But, despite what many will tell you, it isn’t a matter of the lucky and the ones who got fucked by the fickle finger of fate. Nor is it about hitting the gym or getting plastic surgery or other quick fixes.
Here’s how you learn to stop feeling unwanted and undesired.
What Do You Really Want?
One of the first and most important things to do is get the answer of a very simple question: what, exactly, do you want?
On the surface, this seems obvious: you want to feel the way that women presumably feel — desired, wanted, lusted after. One of the common complaints I hear from men is the supposed dichotomy of attention. Women, we are told, are drowning in attention, while men receive so little that even the slightest amount of notice would be like water to a plant in the desert.
For women, so the theory goes, it’s as simple as breathing. They show up and they are slathered with attention, while men are ignored. As a result, men are desperate for even a hint of the attention that women are so blessed with that it hardly seems fair.
Of course, this ignores a number of issues.
First there’s the fact that women don’t “just have to breathe” to get attention from men. Instagram models, cosplayers and highly visible, conventionally attractive women may get attention, but there are far more who don’t. The women they notice get attention, but they overlook and ignore the ones who don’t stand out or measure up to their version of attractiveness.
(And then there’s the fact that their “just breathing” also involves make-up, choices of clothing and hair style, behaving in certain ways, adopting welcoming body language… I could go on.)
Second, the attention they’re frequently receiving isn’t about appreciation but domination and intimidation. The cat-callers aren’t trying to make a connection or let someone know they’re beautiful, it’s about demanding their time and attention; cat-callers who get ignored don’t go about their day, they get angry, often violent.
Third, the attention women are getting often isn’t wanted or even welcome. While we all like to be appreciated by people that we want to be appreciated and admired by, men rarely think about what it would be like to be getting that sort of attention and commentary from people they aren’t attracted to.
And while it’s easy to dismiss examples like this due to sexual orientation (and ingrained homophobia), it’s easy to imagine similar scenarios involving women that you simply aren’t attracted to, or even repelled by. Unwanted attention, even by people who are conventionally attractive isn’t the compliment or the pleasant experience people like to imagine it is. Something I can speak to from experience, in fact.
It also shrugs off the fact that women do notice men, do compliment them and, in fact, give them positive attention. It’s simply often in ways that men don’t pay attention to or credit. Even today, women who are overtly sexual or comment openly about people they’re attracted to pay a social penalty.
But the truth is that the issue isn’t just about attraction.
When men feel unwanted and undesired, it’s often less about romantic success than it is about validation. Much of men’s social capital and value is strictly in what we do, rather than in who we are. “Real” men are supposed to be providers and protectors after all; our place on the hierarchy is marked by dominance and strength, our capacity to command or to commit violence. But when we measure value by our utility, we create a situation where men feel like they have to be needed… but not wanted.
But relationships — particularly in this day and age — aren’t about utility, but connection. As times change, social mores change with them and gender roles expand, the supposed “sexual market value” that’s tied to being of use becomes less and less relevant. And yet, since men are taught that much of their worth is based on sex and sexual conquest, they’re often left in the lurch. If you’re not wanted, it’s because you’re not needed. If you’re not needed… what, then, is the point of you?
Men wanting to feel wanted or desired in these cases often isn’t about any particular person so much as it’s about feeling valued. It’s a way of having your sense worth confirmed by others; you have value because you’re desired and you’re desired because you have value.
The problem is that the desire to feel desired — not by one’s partner so much as in general — is often a desire for external validation. And to be sure: wanting external validation isn’t an inherently bad thing. It’s good to feel wanted or appreciated by others, particularly by your romantic partners. We want to be objectified by the people who we want to objectify us. We aren’t just human beings, we’re also pieces of meat, damn it! However, the desire for external validation becomes an issue when it’s the only source of validation you seek out.
External validation, in and of itself, means nothing if you don’t have your own sense of self-worth. Defining your value solely by the opinions of others means that your self-esteem and self-worth is held hostage by others. You have given your locus of control to others, and you become entirely reliant on what other people think. Your sense of worth is now in the hands of strangers, and utterly fragile. There is no universal sense of desirability after all. Nobody, no matter how hot, is universally wanted by others. For every woman who thinks that Brad Pitt is sex on toast, there are others who wouldn’t bang him with borrowed genitals and Anthony Mackie to do the pushing.
At best, you end up tying yourself in knots, trying to fit into a very narrow and restrictive definition of “attractive” — a definition that is constantly changing. At worst, you leave your entire sense of value in the hands of people who have no investment in you at all and are as likely to shatter you into a thousand pieces as they are to make you feel wanted.
Relying on external validation is just an attempt to use a sand shovel to fill a bottomless hole. Even when you get validated by others, without a strong sense of self-worth and self-value, then that validation is all to easy to ignore or disbelieve. There will always be reasons why you write it off as fake, or wrong, or a mistake.
Slaking the need to feel wanted and desired can’t come from external sources. It has to come from within.
Treat Yourself Like You Give A Damn
Since I can already hear people yelling, let’s address the obvious.
The idea of feeling desirable without other people desiring or validating you sounds absurd. After all, the very idea of being wanted requires someone to do the wanting; just willing yourself to feel desirable seems like “cope”. It seems delusional at best, like false hope and magical thinking at worst. How can you feel desirable or wanted as a man if women in your life don’t want to bang like a screen door in a hurricane?
Easily, as it turns out. Just as the desire of others doesn’t necessarily fix things. While external validation — other people expressing interest or want — feels good, it’s not a cure. It is, at best, a temporary palliative and one that tends to make things worse in the long run when there’s no internal foundation to build on. When that feeling fades — and it always does — the void it leaves is colder and emptier than before. Incels have spent new-car amounts of money on plastic surgery, only to find out that not only did this not fix everything, it didn’t fix anything. The problem was never their looks, it was internal. Purely external solutions will never solve an internal problem.
At least, not like that.
Part of the reason why feeling undesired is so hard to shake is in no small part because the people who feel it the most strongly don’t believe they’re worthy of being desired. It’s circular reasoning at its finest; they’re not worthy of desire because nobody desires them, and the fact that nobody desires them proves that they’re not worthy of being desired. Learning to feel desired means willing to believe that you’re desirable. Doing that means that you have to be willing to break that circle of logic.
To do this, you have to detach your feeling of being desirable from the feelings of others. Until you do, until you actually value yourself and believe in your own worth independently of the opinions of others, you can never fully accept that other people would want you. There will always be a part that won’t believe it or even understand it.
This is why the first step towards feeling desired is to treat yourself as though you already are. One of the common threads amongst the men who feel unwanted and undesired is that they behave accordingly, paying little attention to their presentation, grooming or even hygiene. There’s a resistance to putting in the effort. After all, why bother when you already believe it’s a fruitless endeavor? A hog dressed in a suit is still a crashing boar…
But that very feeling is exactly why you should. This is an issue that comes up with a number of the clients I work with: they feel that dressing stylishly is something that they have to work up to. Something they have to earn. They aren’t the person who can wear those cool clothes or have that cool style. They’d be marked out as an imposter if they even tried.
Having that mindset is exactly what keeps them from ever becoming that person, though. When you see things like style or nice clothes as something you have to earn or build to, there will always be reasons why you can’t have them yet. You’re not in the right shape, you aren’t confident enough, cool enough. You haven’t “earned” the right to feel like the person who could wear them. And with that attitude… you never will.
Your presentation is an outward representation of how you see yourself. The ragged, baggy pants and stained tee is a message to the world. It’s telling everyone who sees you that you don’t give a damn about yourself… so why should they? But changing your outward presentation doesn’t just send a message to the world. It sends a message to you as well. When you dress well, you’re telling yourself that you deserve to be treated well. You deserve to look good and to have things that make you feel good about yourself. You are, in a very real way, training yourself to feel the way that you want to feel.
Clothes and grooming are the easiest place to start, because they provide the fastest returns; you don’t have to wait weeks to put clothes on or get a hair cut. They make for an easy first step that makes each successive step easier. You feel a little better about yourself and pay a little more attention to the quality of food you eat. It inspires you to drink more water, maybe start going for regular walks. You focus on more approachable body language and start moving with greater confidence and assuredness. Each small way you treat yourself like you’re hot and that you give a damn is another demonstration to yourself that you matter and have value. It’s another brick in the foundation of your self-esteem and self-worth, building your own sense of desirability.
And yes, all of this matters, even if you don’t fit restrictive and conventional definitions of “physical good looks”. Being broadly appealing isn’t the benefit that many folks think it is; what’s popular doesn’t last as long as what’s craved, nor is it as influential. As the saying goes: only 1000 people ever bought the first Velvet Underground album, but every single one of them started a band. There is a reason why “attractive” and “desirable” aren’t the same as “good looks” — conventional beauty can help, but it’s not the end-all/be-all. It’s not even the most important factor.
In fact, about that…
Develop The Things That Make You Stand Out
The focus men have on equating looks with desirability doesn’t just miss the point, it’s not even accurate. Often, when I point out the number of celebrities who are, shall we say, less than gifted in facial symmetry, or who are not as vertically enhanced as most, and yet are married or get laid like bandits, he frequent response is that “well, yeah, they’re celebrities.”
Which proves my point, really.
This is going to sound like a bit of a digression, but stick with me.
I’m a fan of the movie Chef. It’s clearly a passion project for Jon Favreau, and one that was warmly received, even if it wasn’t a box-office smash. However, after the movie came out, one of the complaints that I heard repeatedly was how unrealistic it was. Not for the food or the cooking — Favreau had actually trained with chef Roy Choi for the role. Nor for the story itself.
No, the thing that people insisted was unrealistic was that Jon Favreau’s character had both Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara as love interests.
The idea that somebody who looked like Guy Fieri and the Mahna Mahna muppet doing the Fusion Dance was sleeping with two of the hottest women of the 2010s was just a step too far to be believable.
Unless, that is, you are at all familiar with chefs and kitchen culture. Anyone who’s been around professional chefs — celebrity and otherwise — has seen folks who seem to be drastically outkicking their coverage. Except… it’s not the least bit surprising, if your idea of “desirability” extends past physical looks.
To start with: chefs are incredibly passionate. Nobody who isn’t intensely passionate about food and cooking is going to go through the trials and rites of passage to become a professional chef. It requires a level of ambition, focus and drive that many folks simply don’t have, which is attractive in its own right. People are drawn to passion and certainty — not just the ambition, but the intensity and will to follow through to pursue it.
At the same time, cooking in and of itself is a skill that attracts others. Not, mind you, just because of the food, but because of what it says about the person. People who love to cook almost never cook solely for themselves; they want to share their cooking with others. Cooking, whether for individuals or for crowds, is an intimate and nurturing act, one that is at its core about connection. Eating is one of the most primal forms of connection and bonding; sharing food is a communal act that builds and strengthens the bonds between people. In a very real way, it is part of what turns individuals into a community. Someone who can cook and cook well is tapping into that almost instinctive association.
And of course, food is inherently sensual and the people who love it are equally so. Food is very much a multi-sensory experience — the smell and taste combining with texture, full of contrasts, juxtapositions and complementary experiences.
And of course, cooks tend to be good in bed; they’ve got dexterous hands and — as a friend of mine put it: “dude will eat you like a cupcake.”
(Ironically, there is are deeply unrealistic parts of the movie. They just involve parking a food truck in front of Guero’s and jumping the goddamn line at Franklin’s.)
While Favreau’s Carl Casper may not be the most conventionally attractive person, there is far more to him than his looks. His passion, his skill and what those say about him as a person are part of why those who know, get why he can have two classic beauties who think he hung the moon. In his pants.
The people who argue that celebrity status beats looks are, in fact, agreeing that there are qualities that make you desirable besides having the right face or body. But those qualities aren’t just fame, social status or riches. After all, Donald Trump has all of the above1 and yet not only is he not the last of the red hot lovers, it’s safe to say that most people would rather eat a brick first.
The qualities that make them incredible actors are what make them desirable and attractive. It’s not about the status, but what they do and what those interests or passions say about them.
Learning to cook is, in fact, an amazing way to be desired by others; it makes you a more interesting and compelling person, it helps you connect with people and it’s something that sub-communicates incredibly positive things about you as a person. But it’s not the only way to be more desirable. Music and dance is another. Knowing how to play an instrument or how to sing make people not only more interesting, but more desirable. It’s part of why the cliche of “I don’t have a job, a house or a car… but I’m in a band” is true. Not because they’re on the fast track to fame, but because musicians and performers know how to make people feel good. They connect with folks on that same primal level as cooks and their skill wires them directly to the pleasure-centers of people’s brains.
Plus, in the event of the end of the world, they’re cable TV now.
Dancing, on the other hand, is arousal in its purest form. We, as a species, are bad at understanding why we feel the way we do; we experience the physical sensations and decide how we’re feeling after the fact. The sensations of dancing — the rhythm, the movement, the elevated heart rates and heavier breathing — are very similar to the sensation of sexual arousal. Dancing, in and of itself, is about timing, body control, and rhythm. Partnered dancing also requires strong, clear non-verbal communication, confidence and assertiveness, whether you’re leading or following. Done right, it is a joyous experience, ecstatic, even. Combine those together and you have an activity that goes a very long way towards making pants come off.
Focusing on your looks when you feel unwanted is a mistake. Becoming more interesting and understanding how to stand out gives a much greater return on the investment of your time and energy. However, you want to do this by focusing on things that you genuinely love. Trying to develop qualities solely because you think women like them is a fool’s errand. You end up chasing illusions, mistaken ideas about what women find attractive and desirable. Authenticity and sincerity are far more appealing than trying to build a life around things you think other people like.
Find the skills, passions, hobbies and interests that help you connect with people’s emotions. Develop the talents that help communicate those positive qualities in you. Look for the ways that you love that help you stand out, that make you uniquely you. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you have to be the best of the best. Not everyone can be the greatest dancer in the world or the best chef in America and they don’t need to be. It isn’t about being at the top of the heap, it’s about finding the things that shine the spotlight on the parts of you that you’re most proud of.
But there’s something you need to avoid…
Pay Attention to What You Feed Your Brain
Here’s an important question for you: who told you that you were unwanted or undesirable? Just as importantly: who told you why?
This isn’t an idle question. Many times, part of the reason why you feel unwanted has less to do with you so much as the company you’re keeping and what you’re allowing into your life.
When you’re feeling unloved and unwanted, it’s natural to look to others for help or solace. Reaching out to people who might have insight you lack can often be the first step towards making a change. Seeking out advice can be a valuable push towards pulling yourself out of that pit of despair. On the other hand, finding others in the same boat also has value. There’s comfort in knowing that you’re not the only person who feels this way.
But you have to be mindful of who you’re seeking advice from and who you’re listening to. One of the fastest and most efficient ways to feel better, even about yourself, is to pay attention to what you pay attention to and — importantly — how it’s making you feel. We have an inherent negativity bias, a quirk of psychology that means negative experiences, emotions and memories have a more powerful effect on us than positive ones. It takes literally five positive experiences to equal the emotional heft of a single negative one. This is why our eyes will skip over positive comments and affirmation and zoom in on criticism. It’s also why a single negative comment can linger and ruin your day, while compliments roll off us like rain off a duck’s back.
That negativity bias is also why we’re much more prone to believe the worst — about others and especially about ourselves. Those negative thoughts and beliefs hurt, yes… but the fact that they hurt is why you believe them. It’s what YouTuber ContraPoints calls “masochistic epistemology”: it hurts because it’s true and it’s true because it hurts. The idea that truth has to be bitter, and accuracy is measured by how much you hate it is deeply embedded in our psyche. It’s why so much “brutal honesty” tends to focus on the “brutal”, rather than the honesty. You never hear someone who prides themselves in being brutally honest tell people that he or she thinks they’re amazing.
The danger of that negativity bias means that you’re much more likely to seek out — and believe — the worst about yourself and others. The incel community, after all, started out as a self-help community that devoured itself in a spate of negativity and bitterness. Many of the communities that people turn to for support and advice when they feel lost, unloved and unwanted will quite gleefully insist that the problem is systemic and unfixable. You’re fucked because you don’t have the right jawline or the right brow-to-chin ratio. 80% of women only date 20% of men. The Halo Effect means that dirtbags and predators will get dates and sex while you’re left to just lay down and rot.
The perverse thing is that negativity can actually feel comforting and reassuring in its way. It assures you that because women are hypergamous status seekers, that Chads get all the Stacies and Beckies will only go for beta guys for financial support while cheating on them with alphas, you’re absolved of all responsibility. If your zygomatic arch isn’t sufficiently prominent, then there’s nothing to do but give up and quit subjecting yourself to the cruelty of hope. It’s emotional self-abuse, the psychic equivalent of cutting — hurting yourself for a bizarre release while confirming your worst fears.
But it’s not just ForeverAlone, RedPill, Seduction or Braincel subreddits that you have to watch out for. Hell, it’s not even the weight-lifting forums (no… seriously). You want to pay attention to the seemingly benign social media that you consume as well, or the memes that you share. Those little jokey-jokes about how alone you are, how women will never love you or how you care inherently unfuckable seem like harmless gags, but they reinforce your beliefs. Their very innocuousness keeps you from realizing that all you are doing is reaffirming the very things that are causing you despair.
Other accounts — whether fitness inspo, LLC Insta “motivation” or just folks bragging about how freaking awesome their lives are — can be as bad. The things that seem positive and affirming may be the same things that make you feel like you’re expected to live up to impossible standards, or to try to be someone that you aren’t. You may be browsing accounts that constantly cause you to compare yourself to others and either fear that you’re missing out or believe that you could never be as good, as cool or as popular as them.
This is why it’s critical to focus less on the content and more about how it makes you feel. If the groups you join because they understand you are consistently making you angry — at yourself or others — that’s a sign that this is a group that you should probably leave. If the posts you’re reading or the accounts you scroll through leave you feeling depressed, upset or unhappy… well…
A social media diet, goes a very long way towards changing your outlook. Cutting out the toxic communities that reinforce your sense of helplessness and despair makes it that much easier to find the drive and motivation to improve. Similarly, culling the accounts that give you FOMO or leave you feeling like you don’t rate compared to them is like cutting an anchor loose and not having it drag you down any further. You want to find groups, forums, subreddits and accounts that actually make you feel good about yourself, full of potential and hope. You want to find the groups that support you and prop you up… and not at the expense of others. There are a lot of folks who use self-improvement as the thin end of of the wedge to drive people to fascist and alt-right groups.
Be mindful of what you expose yourself to. Pay attention to what you allow to set up shop in your head.
And one more thing…
Support Your Bros
This one always confuses people. When men feel unwanted and undesired, telling them to find support from other men seems as counterintuitive as… well building an internal sense of desirability. After all, if you’re a straight guy, you want to feel desired by women, no?
Funny thing about that, as it happens. One of the reasons why men struggle with feelings of being unwanted is because of how we lack the support of other men. Men suffer from isolation and loneliness at greater rates than women do in no small part because we make women our sole source of emotional intimacy and connection. Because we are taught to conflate emotional intimacy with sexual intimacy, we handicap our relationships with men for fear of being mistaken for romantic interest. The only emotions we’re allowed to express freely — especially among other men — are anger, rage and lust. We can only experience or express other emotions in the context of other activities — sad over troubles at work, thrilled over the ballgame but never feelings like, believing you’re unattractive or ugly.
Our friendships are predicated on activities; we need pretext for bonding and excuses for displays of emotion. And God forbid you get real and vulnerable with your bros without the convenient scapegoat of alcohol. If you can’t take backsies on the feelings-dump because hey “you were drunk”, then what you did was shameful and to be avoided.
Women don’t have this issue. Female friendships tend to be face-to-face, where the reason for getting together is to talk and share. Emotional intimacy and connection is the point, not the side-effect. Similarly, they are more expressive, supportive and complimentary of their friends. You may well have noticed how often comments on women’s selfies are gushing compliments from other women — that they look incredible, or sexy or powerful. Their friends are hyping them up, bolstering their confidence and — importantly — making them feel desirable and wanted. They don’t feel desirable because their friends want to bang them, but because people they love and trust are validating and reaffirming them.
Men see that and we call it vanity. We call it foolishness. We call it childishness and immaturity.
And we’re jealous as fuck about it because… well, we have nothing like that. We don’t have that same, effortless access to sources of support and validation because bros don’t “do” the whole effusive compliments thing. We don’t hype each other up because, well, it’s kinda sus, isn’t it? It’s a chick thing. It’s childish and silly.
And yet women tend to be happier and more emotionally secure. They have greater social and emotional fluency on average than men do.
Small wonder we’re secretly jealous.
But we don’t have to be. One of the most important changes you can make to start feeling desirable and wanted is to be the change you want to see by modeling the sort of support you’d want. You don’t need to directly emulate the effusive language and behavior, but being a source of validation for your bros can be huge. By being the first to demonstrate the kind of behavior you want for yourself, you’re giving your friends permission to be as open, as supportive and as vulnerable.
Yeah, it feels weird at first. You feel awkward and maybe a little like you’re giving the wrong impression. Trying to overcome social conditioning is a motherfucker, especially when you’ve spent a lifetime in a system that tries to cram you into an incredibly narrow and restrictive box. It takes courage to buck the system and be the one to say “fuck this, I’m going to be real.” It’s an act of defiance to be willing to embrace your own desirability when the world insists that you aren’t. Asking for — and giving — support, validation and encouragement is a radical act for men, but a necessary one.
Like I said: we mistake the yearning for validation for wanting feeling desired. We want to feel wanted, because being wanted means that we have value. But that value can’t come from others, certainly not exclusively. It’s only through building ourselves up, creating that foundation of self-worth, can we put ourselves in the position to accept that validation. By learning how to love ourselves, we make it possible to receive it from others. By learning how to value ourselves, we set ourselves up to be valued by others.
If we want to be noticed and wanted, we have to be comfortable with ourselves and to know our own worth. We have to be comfortable in our own skin, secure in our own relationships. We have to give the support we want to receive.
It’s only then that we’ll feel wanted. Because we know, with iron-clad certainty, that we’ve become someone worth desiring.
- ok, maybe not the riches [↩]