Sunday, May 25, 2014

How to be a young "gentleman" without killing lots and lots and lots of people

I am not going to mention the name of the walking, talking turd who killed seven people in Santa Barbara this weekend.  Other motives aside, I’ve always felt that there’s a certain amount of fame-whoring involved in the decision to become a mass-murderer, and I am happier to mention the event while letting the name of the perpetrator slide into obscurity.

I mention the event because the perpetrator’s motive is disturbingly familiar to me.  Not in the sense that I have ever in my life seriously contemplated killing people, but in the sense that one of the specific frustrations that drove this nutbar over the brink is a frustration I once shared.

I refer specifically to the Turd In Question’s YouTube manifesto statement, in which the TIQ speaks thusly:

“It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.  It’s an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy, and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me — the supreme gentleman.”

Ah.  The GENTLEMAN thing.  Been there.  Done that.

The writer Christopher Moore has described in some detail the psychology of a subspecies of man he calls the “Beta Male”, a critter defined primarily by its rejection of the traditional alpha male traits.  For the entirety of my own adolescence and most of my adult life, I have seen myself as a Beta Male.  This has been in part a function of necessity, as I lack certain physical characteristics advantageous to the Alpha Male, such as facial symmetry, pectoral muscles, abdominal muscles, all of the other muscles, balls, and a spine*.  

I spent the greater portion of my teenage years convincing myself that my rejection of Alpha Male behaviors made me superior to the standard brand of man.  I, too, called myself a “gentleman” and bemoaned the fact that my hesitance, neuroses, and general jellyfishery didn’t make me irresistible to women.  Clearly, there was something wrong with them.

I have always been very good at telling myself what I’ve wanted to hear.  In retrospect, I think I was choosing to define myself in such a way as to justify my own laziness and cowardice.  While I endorsed (and still endorse) the general principle of being a gentleman, the real issue was that I was obsessively afraid of embarrassing myself, and indeed that I was almost as afraid of romantic success as I was of romantic failure.  As a result, I adopted a personal philosophy that turned my reluctance to take chances into a virtue.  I spent my adolescence and young adulthood developing intense, elaborate crushes on attractive women (and for all my complaints about superficiality, the targets of my crushes were always conventionally attractive), doing nothing about it, and bemoaning the fates when my crush ended up with someone else.  What I needed, in retrospect, was for somebody to slap me.  Several good friends tried.  I was just too good at persuading myself for their advice to take hold.

Had I been a “gentleman” in the truest sense of the word, I would have upheld the standards of gentlemanly behavior even when they ceased to be advantageous to me, i.e. when I held the upper hand.  This is not my way.  Then and now, I seek to dominate every situation in which my skills are reasonably comparable with those of my partners.  I am not a gentleman; I am merely an Alpha Male who can’t hack it under the alpha code.  My own failure to meaningfully live up to the ethic of gentlemanly behavior, however, doesn’t eliminate the Turd In Question’s argument from our consideration.  It IS true, in many instances, that young men who genuinely adhere to the code of gentlemanly behavior find that their romantic prospects suffer as a result.  My younger brother, as a teenager, was a TRUE gentleman―in the Victorian sense, with the big black cape and everything**―and he got walked on by prospective partners a few times too often for my taste.  Many young women find confidence attractive; failing to find it, a substantial proportion of those women will settle for bravado.

A substantial part of my professional responsibility is helping boys learn to become men.  As a writer, I suspect that the greater part of my audience will be 1. Young, 2. Male, and 3. Emphatically, sometimes terrifyingly, Beta.  So I feel that it's my obligation, as we reflect on the actions of the Turd In Question, to lay down a few ground rules for “gentlemanly” behavior by young Beta Males.  Some of these will seem obvious, but apparently need to be reiterated.


1.       The number of women towards whom a gentleman may acceptably murder while continuing to call himself a “gentleman” is zero.

2.       If you are being a “gentleman” because you think it will get you laid (see the manifesto of the TIQ), you’re doing it wrong.  You choose to be a gentleman because it’s right, not because it’s advantageous.

3.      To be a gentleman, in the broader sense of the word, is, as Oscar Wilde put it, to choose never to inflict pain (unintentionally).  To be a gentleman with respect to young adult relationships is to recognize that specific genetic and societal factors enable you to exercise physical advantages over, and behavioral opportunities unavailable to, women; a gentleman recognizes this reality and chooses not to exploit it.  You may despise the phrase “check your privilege” as much as I do (and oh my God how I do despise it), but if you’re a gentleman you’re choosing to put that phrase into practice in certain ways.

4.  Your decision not to exploit women in these ways entitles you to nothing from them.  See #2.  Many women will be appreciative of your decision.  Some will not be.  Should a woman be unappreciative of your behavior, the correct response is not to stop being a gentleman, it is to withdraw the pleasure of your company.

5.     Extending on #4 above, you lose nothing when a young woman chooses not to seek your company because you are a gentleman.  Some young women, in some circumstances, seek the company of the Alpha Male rather than the Beta Male.  A woman who does so is making a choice.  If she wants what the Alpha provides, she would be doing herself a disservice by spending her time with you instead.  She would also be doing YOU a disservice, in that she would want you to be someone you’re not.  Learn to accept that other people’s interests aren’t always identical to your own.

6.     Jealously or ill-will towards Alpha Males simply because they are romantically successful is out of bounds.  You want women to be happy, right?  Are they making women happy?  Okay, then.

7.      Being a gentleman does not eliminate the obligation to put yourself out there and risk rejection.  If you think it does, you’re doing it wrong.  Life is hard.  Get a helmet.

8.      If you adhere to the code, and are willing to risk repeated rejection, failure, and embarrassment, you will eventually attract the attention of a woman who appreciates a gentleman.  Things will not become easy or perfect at this point.  If you think they will, you’re doing it wrong.  However, you will at least have the privilege of interaction with a person who respects you--and maybe even loves you--for who you are, rather than for your skill at impersonation or at mind games.

If these are principles which you can accept, you may have it in you to become a young gentleman.  Go to it, and good luck.  Don’t kill people.

*The last items on this list are things that I lack metaphorically, not physically.  As far as you know.

**Not a metaphor.  Literally true.  He walked into an inner-city public school, on multiple occasions, wearing a big black freaking cape.  The fact that he did this without getting beaten up even once gives you some sense of how he treated people.

1 comment:

  1. A good post. I'd add these as additional suggestions for young gentlemen. Some are partially redundant to your own words, and would just represent my own expansion on your words. Which really need no expansion. Oh well.

    ...and just so you know, I still have that cape. However, I have largely passed it on to my 13-year-old son, who also loves to wear it.

    • Being a "nice guy" does not entitle one to love, acceptance, or sex. From anyone. At any time. Ever. A common trope in media is the "Woman as Reward"--that if the male hero accomplishes his tasks acceptably, he will be rewarded with the amorous attentions of an attractive woman. This image contributes heavily to the immature gentleman's feeling of frustration; he's done his task, so why hasn't he had sex with a hottie yet? It must be that the hotties don't know *their* duty.
    This trope is wrong. Women are not rewards, and no virtuous deed or task completion entitles one to sex. One doesn't "earn" sex. Sex is a mutual choice between two people, not a prize, not a reward, and never an entitlement.

    • Young gentlemen sometimes claim to love women, respect them, admire them, and idolize them. That a person would admire and respect women is not a bad thing, but for some of these young men, it's not an accurate representation of their attitude. They love, admire, and idolize women as objects, not as people. They see women as goddesses to be worshipped, who will dispense favors in response to proper adulation. That's not how it works with people, and women are not goddesses; they are people.
    In another case, what the young man is really admiring is women's bodies. There is nothing wrong with finding women's bodies attractive, but if that is the only thing they really admire (or even notice) about women, they're doing it wrong. If the thing they're primarily interested in is how their behavior and actions can result in access to a woman's body, they're not being gentlemen.

    • Young gentlemen, please allow me to offer this advice: talk to women. Talk to them without wondering whether they like you, and without calculating how to steer the conversation to optimize your chances of having sex with them. Talk to them, and most importantly, listen to them. Do you really admire women? If so, maybe you'd be interested in hearing about their experiences.
    There's nothing wrong with talking to a woman with the hopes of establishing a romantic relationship. (Actually, there's nothing inherently wrong with talking to a woman in the hopes of simply having sex, as long as you are 1. honest about your intentions, and 2. careful to maintain awareness that she is free to say no without repercussion or fear). But if the only time you ever talk to women is when you're hoping to establish a romance, then you don't actually respect women.