Back in April, incels slithered into the public spotlight when it was suggested that the devastating Toronto van attack carried out by Alek Minassian was motivated by incel ideology. Short for “involuntary celibate,” incels are a predominantly online community of men who believe that they’ve been doomed to a life without sex, mostly blaming women for their own shortcomings.
But some incels have managed to escape the grip of inceldom, and this popular Reddit thread asking ex-incels what motivated them to change their ways provides an intriguing look at both what compels a man to become an incel, and what also drives them to leave its angry, women-hating ideology behind. Here are some of the most compelling entries from the thread (sic, obviously, throughout).
Commenter Outrageous_Claims explains how taking a long, hard look at his life helped him blossom from an incel to a solid dude:
“I was raised by TV and movies, and I think a lot of it came from there. Like, such and such character, who was a nerdy guy, was getting laid constantly… so WTF?! Why wasn’t I?! I’m way nerdier than him (I was), and I’m so much nicer (I wasn’t)! Plus, we look the exact same (we didn’t), so it’s not just an attractive thing.
“I guess I just grew up. I stopped playing the victim 100-percent of the time and started to get introspective. I asked myself some hard questions and pretty much surmised that I wouldn’t wanna fuck me either.
“Basically, if these guys would spend as much time as they do complaining about what they’re owed working on themselves, they’d get what they deserve in no time.”
Commenter IAmASolipsist writes about how a close friend (who nearly left him in the dust) saved him from inceldom:
“I don’t think I would’ve ever become one of the incels that’s openly hostile to women, but I was going down the nice guy road, and it nearly lost me a friend.
“She was the first woman to want to be a really close friend to me, and I completely misinterpreted that and asked her out. After about a week of her not talking to me, she finally sat me down and explained why she didn’t think we’d be a good match and also explained what it’s like for her. I learned that a lot of guys get angry when their friend rejects them, hence the friend zone.
“She really taught me a lot about dating and how to interact with and feel comfortable around women. It’s funny, as most people thought she was a pothead loser, but honestly, she was very articulate about a lot of the criticisms surrounding nice guys and red pills and how it affected her and made her feel long before it became something that a lot of people talked about.
“We’ve been friends for twelve or so years now, and she’s one of the most supportive people I know. At this point, I could never see us working out ‘together,’ but I also couldn’t imagine not having her as a friend. I’m really glad I didn’t fuck that up.”
Commenter John_Farrier chronicles how some simple socialization helped him step away from incel culture:
“I’m not sure what caused it, but I know that it snowballs. Adolescence is a time when you learn social skills. If you’re not doing that, you’re falling behind. Over time, it gets only worse and worse.
“What helped is when people gave me a chance to socialize consistently over time with the same people. Instead of rejecting me, and thereby losing opportunities to socially develop, I gained opportunities to not fall further behind.
“I’m now in my 40s and married with children. The modern incel and foreveralone phenomena are intriguing to watch. Their experiences are similar, but in some ways, very different from mine.”
Commenter Althorin recounts how an anonymous online commenter talked him into ditching inceldom:
“Like many in this thread, I was never a full-on incel, but I was definitely on the path. I grew up as a single kid raised by a single mother, so almost all of the experience that I got was from movies and shows, so I totally bought into the ‘nice guys finish last’ mentality.
“Funny enough, the thing that broke me out of it was some rando anon on 4chan (circa 2010) who went off about how nice guys aren’t actually that nice and that you have to make yourself worth something if you want anyone to be interested in you. He went a bit more in-depth, but it really hit me like a brick and made me reevaluate the way I saw myself.”
Commenter asher1611 explains how he was forced to reflect on his incel ways after he repelled a girl by simply sitting next to her:
“This was well before people were called ‘incels,’ or even before the term was ‘nice guy.’ I had just always thought I had hard luck and that women were attracted to dirtbags or mean people. Outside of a brief getting-my-head-out-of-my-ass senior year of high school, where I stopped caring what other people thought, I went through this period until late freshman year of college.
“I remember the moment everything changed very clearly. I was in a crowded dorm room with a bunch of other people. I had been standing up for a while and decided to sit down. The closest place to sit was at the foot of the bed of the girl whose room it was. She was sitting on the middle of the bed.
“Quick aside about this girl, who I’ll refer to as G: She’s one of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve ever met. Just flat out nice to everyone, even my roommate who almost everybody hated (but that’s another story). G was always willing to help. Super smart. Went on to volunteer with the Peace Corps and then went into deaf education. She was just one of those exceptional people.
“That’s why it hit me like a ton of bricks how wide G’s eyes got and how quickly she scooted away from me. I can still see the horror in her eyes. This was someone who was nice to and genuinely liked by everyone as far as I knew. But clearly, there was something amiss. It wasn’t her. It couldn’t have been her. It was me.
“I didn’t stay for much longer after that. I spent most of the rest of freshman year by myself soul searching. I had a lot to work through. It was time well spent and a necessary series of growth steps.
“The problem wasn’t all of these other people. The problem was me, and I had spent years not being honest with myself, and instead, using my lack of self-confidence as an excuse.
“Sophomore year ended up being much better.”
Commenter UnexpectedMuscleMan writes about how he had a moment of clarity after realizing that everything isn’t as it seems, including his incel mindset:
“It was overcompensation, just because someone told me in 6th grade that I’ll never get a girlfriend. 15 years of overcompensation, to be specific. Shortly put, I was pursuing relationships for all the wrong reasons. I turned down some people because I was a selfish asshole who had to have the ‘ideal’ woman.
“Most of the girls I fell for weren’t because I was actually into them. It was because I was so desperate to prove a point.
“Then, finally came a year where I realized no one gives a shit, and everyone’s more concerned with their own issues. Most of the happy couples I envied on social media either broke up or turned out to be in very toxic relationships. The few that still lasted, well, they were actually in love with each other for the right reasons.
“It took a lot of self-loathing and self-reflection to realize what a fool I was. A lot of people probably hate me for the way I behaved, but I can’t change the past.
“That same year, I actually had my first one-night stand. A month later, I got into a relationship with someone else. We’re still together as of today.”
Commenter zmann64 chronicles how other internet commenters convinced him to give up the toxic incel mentality:
“I was into that ‘nice guy’ mentality up until about high school, when multiple people on the internet knocked some sense into me by saying ‘nice guys who expect pussy are not nice guys and are in fact just as toxic as those chads.’
“It really woke me up. I’m slowly working myself up to breaking out of my anxious shell and actually pursuing relationships, but I’m definitely not an incel.”
Commenter YesterdayWasAwesome explains how he narrowly avoided hardcore inceldom by taking better care of himself:
“I’m not a former incel, but definitely a recovering NiceGuy.
“Honestly, when I realized I had no personality aside from my expected vocation (becoming a lawyer) when I was in my first year of law school in late 2013.
“I was also overweight, bordering on obese, which I didn’t realize until my career advisor took a look at me and said, ‘Yeah, you’re not a candidate for JAG because of the physical requirements.’
“So, I decided to start going to the gym, eat healthier, track calories and lose weight. I got my head out of my ass and started caring about new things and getting involved in softball leagues and the like and started traveling more and getting myself out there.
“So, while I’m a lawyer doing what I enjoy as my vocation, I’ve had a more fulfilling life, and sure, I’ve dated a few women as time went on. As of now I’m single, but it’s not something I really think about or harp on.”
Commenter MrWelldone writes about how he accepted his way of life to ditch any incel-motivated hatred he held toward himself or others:
“I recall getting over it.
“I had never gone on a date or had anyone that was interested in me (that I knew of). I kept wondering if something was wrong with me through high school or if I was really that dislikeable.
“Then, in college, I just decided to drop the concept ‘involuntary’ (though I never really thought of it that way: Maybe ‘unlucky?’)
“I swear I’d only decided to be happy playing video games and doing whatsoever I pleased when I experienced love-at-first-sight. I was unapologetically owning doing something I enjoyed that my college roommate had quipped, ‘As long as you do that, you’ll never meet a girl’: Dance Dance Revolution at the movie theater. It was New Year’s Day, 2003.
“That was 15 years ago. We have three kids. We’ve traveled the world together and I think if I hadn’t owned being unashamed of what I enjoy and just accepting where I was at that time, maybe I’d have completely let it slip through my fingers.
“We ended up getting married on the DDR machine we met on a year later.”