Life

How I Stopped Being an Incel and Started Loving Myself

"A lot of my venting was done online because I never felt comfortable talking to people in real life about this stuff, because it’s embarrassing."
HF
illustrated by Helen Frost
January 4, 2021, 9:15am
How to stop being an incel
Image: Helen Frost

Involuntary celibates might never tell you about the time they were an incel. But not all incels stay quiet forever.

The subreddit r/IncelExit is a new community for incels who are actively making moves to leave incel forums, leaving behind a mindset that’s often characterised by self-pity, self-loathing and misogyny.  It’s a place where incels can go if they want to ask questions without judgement. Many incels use it because they’re looking for people to change their perspective, or they might want to hear messages that are more positive than the doom and gloom they read on the forums. 

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Ben, the creator of Incel Exit used to visit another subreddit called r/IncelTears, where people make fun of incels. “I used the sub for humour but I started to come across people who were literally advocating to bully incels. It didn't sit well with me. After realising that all I was doing was being a bully I decided to make Incel Exit,” he says. “It’s a place where people who want to try to leave the incel community can have discussions without fear of being bullied.” 

Many have said that Incel Exit has helped them change their world view, but leaving the incel community and completely changing your outlook on life can be tough. It often depends on more than just what happens online. 

Here are some accounts from a few people who managed to see the light. 

‘FOR A LONG TIME I WAS JUST GOING ON REDDIT, BITCHING AND WALLOWING’

“Reddit is comforting. I was a nerd, I didn’t go to my first party until senior year at high school and I didn’t get laid until my first year of uni, so I was learning all this stuff from the position of a social outsider. 

“The blue pill is dedicated to mocking the red pill and initially I was posting things on the blue pill forums and mocking what incels said. Someone once asked me: “How are you an incel now, when you used to make fun of all this shit?” I said: ‘Things change.’ It’s been a journey. 

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“There was this girl, who’s 32, lived with her mum and stepdad, she had no friends, was a cat lady in training and I fell for her really hard, but she turned me down hard. I tried again 18 months later and she said no again. Instead of thinking this isn’t the person for me, it got to me. I was drinking all the time, I lost all my interests. For a long time I was just going on Reddit, bitching and wallowing. 

“I would mainly jump into other posts that reminded me of my own situation and say things like: ‘Yeah she’s a slut, yeah she wants [a] Chad.’ I would see other people spiralling and wanted to encourage them because I also felt like shit. I think that a lot of my venting was done online because I never felt comfortable talking to people in real life about this stuff, because it’s fucking embarrassing.

“Then I got my new job in education and it’s helped me to start humanising women again. The way these women at my job were treating me was so good that I couldn’t maintain this internet persona. I felt like a dickhead going back online and posting this shit, it was like leading a double life. I had to really chill.

“On the forums, you do feel a sense of community and a weird sense of empowerment. It’s validating. It’s not a place for critical thinking, it’s an echo chamber where people get their fears confirmed. Incels often think looks are everything, but I’ve observed in my own life that it’s not the case. Generally these guys aren’t as ugly as they think, and if they had a good connection with a real woman they would be surprised by what she might be willing to do for them. I had a relationship recently and an incel would have said you two aren't the same race or height, you aren’t ‘looksmatches’, but relationships are way more complex than that.”  Kevin, 32

‘I FEEL IT’S MORE OF A MINDSET TODAY THAN ACTUALLY BEING A VIRGIN’

“I've had sex with both men and women, so largely because of that I don’t call myself an incel anymore, but I feel it’s more of a mindset today than actually being a virgin. I used incel forums the most around 2016. I'd be on them for hours at a time – they were addictive. They definitely affected my mindset and made my world-view more toxic, but because misery loves company, I kept going back. 

“I don’t remember what got me into them. I think it started with me looking up social anxiety support and gradually I found them. But having regular communication with women was an essential part of me leaving [the forums], as well as having female friends. My attitudes changed over time. The red pill thing does really turn me off to the community [of incels], since it's so hopeless and there’s no real way to argue out of it. I feel gender stereotypes have kept me down for a long time, and incels really enforce them.

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“When I had sex for the first time, I realised that nothing changed. Most of my life, sex felt like this magical thing but it’s really not. Now that I've slept with several people, I know that if you’re not sexually compatible it can actually be very unpleasant. Sex isn't that important, but many people including myself really crave physical intimate touch like hugging, holding hands and cuddling. A lot of men don't have access to this outside of a romantic relationship, and the touch-starved feeling can do a lot of damage to your mental health.

“Growing up you could get called gay for hugging your male friend, so I just kind of learned to not stand too close to men. Not understanding my sexuality led to a lot of fears and insecurities. I used to be scared that acknowledging I found some men sexy would mean that I was not allowed to date women. When I educated myself more, I realised that sexuality is very non-binary. I think a number of incels may have some kind of repressed homosexuality that they don’t know how to deal with. I’ve noticed that some incel communities can be pretty homophobic as well, which fuels their internalised self hatred and denial.” — Jake, 19

‘I FELT LIKE I NEEDED THE INCELS’

“It was around April or May during the pandemic that I started using Reddit more and more. I first heard about incels on Reddit, because someone who was giving bad relationship advice was being called an incel as an insult. I looked into what that word meant, and I found people who were kind of like me. So I browsed all the vocabulary and started posting.

“[The incels on there] couldn’t find anyone to sleep with and I was absolutely convinced that I couldn’t find anyone. It was nice meeting other people who felt the same. I really like my friends but I believe they could easily find someone, so this wasn’t something I could relate to them about. I felt like I needed the incels. I started posting about how I was frustrated with women and feeling sad and lonely.

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“The focus on the way people look was relieving, because it made you feel like there’s no use worrying about it – you have an explanation for why you are in the situation you are, you don’t have to feel bad about yourself for not realising your potential because you don’t have a potential. 

“I shared some of the ideas I heard on the forums with my friends and my friends didn’t like the ideas. Then I realised I might be going in the wrong direction and I wanted to stop. But I would then go back and forth from the forums. I went back to them when I felt bad. I kept it a secret. 

“Sometimes I wondered who was wrong: was it my friends or was it random people on the internet? The decision was easy. I wasn’t going to leave my real life friends. When I decided this, I left some incel subs and I joined the Incel Exit sub and started asking questions on there instead. I heard about it because incels were saying what a bullshit sub it was, but in the end it helped me, and I found it more helpful than incel subs. I desperately needed positive energy at that time. I enjoyed it.

“If it wasn’t for Incel Exit, I would have stayed longer but I think I would have always got out. I don’t believe I have no potential anymore. I’m hopeful now.” — Alex, 18

*some names have been changed

@bethankapur