The absence of love

Me, top right, circa 1988. Awkward, lonely, hurt.

Me, top right, circa 1988. Awkward, lonely, hurt.

When I first watched the video of Elliot Rodger’s final pre-murderous YouTube manifesto, I found myself horrified, disgusted, heartbroken, angry, sad—and, in an odd sense, empathetic.

In short, I felt (in a singular way, to be clear) as if I were looking at my old self.

I graduated from high school in 1990, having never kissed a girl. I wanted to kiss girls. Hell, I desperately wanted to kiss girls. But there were a small handful of problems: A. I had zero confidence; B. I was gawky and unattractive; C. I didn’t know how to go about it; D. Whenever I asked girls out, they rejected me.

It’s true. I had three dates in high school—all to proms, all ending without anything but a handshake or kind nod. I was scared and alone and pathetic and frustrated. I wondered whether I was mentally impaired. Whether I was inept. Whether I was gay. I vividly remember sobbing to my father during a long car ride—”Why am I like this? I’m 18 and I’ve never kissed a fucking girl.” When, in the immediate aftermath of my high school graduation ceremony, a classmate named Alison congratulated me, then kissed me on the cheek, I counted it (in my head) as my first kiss. It was that bad.

I then went to college, and for three full years I still never kissed a girl. It’s somewhat embarrassing to write, even now with a wife and two kids. Painful. But also true. I just never felt comfortable in my own skin, and didn’t know how to approach the opposite sex with any sort of confidence. Like Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, I’d talk my way through sex conversations with other guys, offering vague answers and thin lies. When I finally hooked up (drunk, but happy), it was as if 800,000 pounds were removed from my shoulders. That’s no exaggeration—I was free of the greatest burden I’d never known; a burden that, even now at age 42, has never been matched.


In the three days since Rodger killed six people and injured 13 others, much has been written about the hows and whys of his act. Predictably, there has been a great deal of probing into a brain that we know precious little about. Rodger has been repeatedly described as evil—and who can argue?

I think what might be being missed here, however, is an opportunity to discuss sexual pressure—and the weight that accompanies the loneliness and embarrassment of unfulfilled expectations. At one point in his diatribe, Rodger said, “For the last eight years of my life, since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires, all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, never to me. I’m 22 years old and still a virgin, never even kissed a girl. And through college, 2 1/2 years, more than that actually, I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. In those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness, it’s not fair.”

Those words didn’t merely interest me. They fucking chilled me. I remember, vividly, being 18 … 19 … 20. Watching my peers walk hand in hand; watching my peers make out by the buses; make plans for the weekends; meet by a locker. It was everything I wanted, and everything I felt powerless to attain. It wounded me—deep, deep, deep inside. I felt alone and isolated, and would never dare discuss such emotions with my parents or, even, my closest friend.

Does this justify Rodger’s actions? Absolutely, positively, 100-percent no. But do I believe there are many teenagers out there—male and female—who walk the footsteps I once walked; who feel ashamed because they’re on the outside, watching others find affection; who question their worth based on their non-experiences? I do.

If this describes you, well, you’re not alone. And nothing is wrong with you.

Absolutely nothing.

5 thoughts on “The absence of love”


    That post says it better than I could probably. But I’d probably say it nicer.

    There is no justification. Period. At all. This post justifies his actions. If you don’t see that, it’s because you haven’t lived your life as a target. Like we have. I’m sorry if that truth makes you feel defensive or bad. True words are often hard to hear.

    I implore you to delete this. Because posts like this are part of the problem.

    1. I frequently see people on-line mistake the explanation of an action as justification for or an endorsement of said action. Mass murder of men or women IS NEVER JUSTIFIED. This post does not do that.

      Those asking to see their point of view should take their own advice and reciprocate. Just because your problems are worse than someone else’s does not mean that someone else’s problems should be dismissed. It’s easy to shut down a discussion on a complex topic by simply declaring your side as the “truth.”

      Jeff outlines a real problem many men have. Discussing it honestly and openly may prevent future horrible events. Dismissing it, mocking it, or calling for its deletion will not. Yes, true words are often hard to hear… for both sides of an issue.

  2. Wow, Jeff. I, too, went through much of my adolescence in almost the same way in which you described yours. What was painful for me, though is that my younger brother (by 18 months) hit puberty before I did. He also had no problems whatsoever in having many girlfriends.

    I’m grateful that I was able to, if not entirely mask what I felt way back then, at least move forward in life without harboring ill-will towards others nor allowing any simmering hostility to build…and build…and…

  3. justadudeoutwest

    I get what you’re trying to say, but this is bizarrely sympathetic to a man who killed many people. Sure, many people went through high school and/or college with the frustration of never receiving attention from the opposite sex. However, there are many problems with just relating to his position and not discussing any of the problems this type of jealousy harbors. Not even in extreme cases like this one, but the everyday cases where men feel like they are owed attention by women have also created a lot of unfair and disturbing situations. I would rethink the tone of this piece if I were you, Jeff.

  4. While I do understand the point being made about being cognizant of how we give social commentary after a campus shooting, I disagree that this post is sympathetic. You did not attempt to justify his actions, but I think people take the lack of a loud damnation as meaning you somehow “understand” why this would happen. Maybe they’re right to read it that way, but I did not.

    Men are statistically the greatest danger to women, and, yes, we should examine the entitlement dynamic in which, for men, adult life is like a little league game, and women merely the trophy everyone gets at the end, but there is a peer-enforced pressure to ostracize those who do have these problems joining the greater social sphere, and we should talk about it. We don’t have to hijack the whole national dialogue. We can talk both.

    We have numerous problems in our society, but attacking those attempting to recognize and discuss the dangers of our cultural propensity to condemn men for failing to be “Alpha” seems awfully dismissive of emotional trauma and mental illness. Is it society’s fault for creating the idea that there is some arbitrary level of manliness that you must acquire to be a successful man, or the man’s fault for becoming obsessed with success in a flawed paradigm? I would say, in this case, perhaps more of the latter, because this man was obviously projecting his own faults onto men and women who were individually, completely innocent, and that point I am not arguing.

    But even if this tragedy was caused by MORE of one thing than the other, that does not mean we can completely dismiss our other problems. He had an inability to deal with problems that “most people” eventually cope with. Most, but not all. Why? Therein does lie a problem, even if its outside of our culture’s narrow focus for today.

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