Resources to help me, a man, overcome my dislike and mistrust of men
November 28, 2022 7:57 AM   Subscribe

An illuminating conversation with a friend has revealed to me that I, a straight cis man, harbour a dislike for men and consider them all sexual creeps. This is deeply unhealthy, I acknowledge that. Therapy is 2 months out. What do I do to explore and counter this thought in the meantime? Snowflake details within.

For context, I'm a heterosexual, cis man in my mid-30s, never been in a romantic or sexual relationship, or had sex at all.

The context of the conversation I had was that I mentioned that I avoid making sexual advances or even comments in the presence of women as I worry about being perceived as a creep. When we explored this in conversation, I discovered that I seem to dislike straight men in general and see them as inherently creeps and slaves to their sexual desires.

It also made me realise the gender ratio of my friends (all of them online) is heavily skewed towards women, with my male friends being somewhere closer to 'acquaintances' on the spectrum of friendship.

Bonus: I've not had a relationship with my father for a decade plus, and am a total recluse physically, so I have no friends in real life whatsoever (of any gender). All that, combined with having been bullied extensively in school by male classmates, has probably made me very distrustful of men.

It's painful to explore this thread of thinking on the web as it invariably leads one to PUA/MRA types, TERFs, and 'You just want a pity fuck' nonsense. It's then compounded by the fact that because I don't have close relationships with other men, I end up talking about this with female friends, which reinforces my feeling of being a creep who's just in it for sexual attention from women.

So my ultimate question is... where do I go from here? I'm wracked with vacillating between doubt and doubling-down. Where does one draw the boundary between a creep and a healthy expression of sexual interest? How do I get rid of the instinct that men are terrible and I have to control myself to act against that nature? Am I really saying all this just to get laid?

I'd rather not have this bouncing in my head for 2 months until I see my therapist next. I understand this post is a little venty, but I'd really appreciate advice and resources of any kind, because I can't trust the general Internet with this line of thought.

(FWIW I'm seeing the therapist for depression and anxiety)
posted by Senza Volto to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, if you're saying all this just to get laid, it's clearly not a successful strategy. It sounds like you have a lot of self-loathing bound up in your sexuality, and that's painful! And it's a really hard knot to untangle - I don't honestly think that there's going to be a great way for you to work through it *except* one-on-one with a therapist, because it will need to involve digging into intensely personal and specific things for you and figuring out where those patterns come from so you can start to unpick them. But I can at least suggest some reading material!

Do you identify as a allosexual person - that is, someone who feels sexual desire for other people, not someone who is asexual? If the answer to this isn't a clear "yes" - and even possibly if it is - you might try reading Ace, by Angela Chen, which is an interesting look at the idea of "compulsory sexuality" with lots of interviews of people who fall outside it.

Did you grow up in a sex-negative household or culture? Beyond Shame is a book that looks at sex negativity and how to move beyond that. It may be a little more applicable to Evangelical Christian-flavored sex negativity - I haven't read it - but I have heard good things about it.

In more general "learning about how sex and desire work" terms, Come As You Are is a highly-recommended book that gets into the ways desire can be a push and pull between people, in ways that are often culturally gendered but not necessarily accurately so.

Good luck with this - I am a lesbian and don't really interact with male sexuality at all, but I am large and butch and have definitely dealt with some insecurity around being perceived as a sexual aggressor, especially in adolescence. Our society sucks on this subject, and the demonization of male sexuality is the flipside of the denial of the existence of female sexuality. It takes a lot of work and thought to get to a healthy place in an unhealthy environment - good for you for trying.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:15 AM on November 28, 2022 [11 favorites]

You could research why men behave how they do in your society, and how masculinity in other societies has looked throughout history. Look into people who are working to counter the creepy vibes or live in a non-creepy way. Just to give yourself counter-examples. bell hooks has a book called “the will to change” that could be instructive.
posted by rockyraccoon at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2022

So first of all, many straight men are sexual creeps. Also many gay men and many people of all genders. The percentage of sexual creeps is definitely higher among men, with research showing around 25% of male college students engaging in some form of sexual coercion. That article might give you some perspective on the scope of the problem in general, and let's go with the assumption that 25% of men are "sexual creeps" by your definition.

But as a (mostly) straight man that doesn't really cause me personal anxiety (which I have plenty of in general) because I know I'm not one of those 25%. There's really two separate issues here: what you do to express sexual interest and how it's perceived. You are fully in control of your actions here, even if you do have to "control yourself to act against nature". All people living in society have to sometimes control themselves and act against their nature, and that's perfectly normal! We don't control who we're attracted to, and almost everyone has to occasionally control their actions to deal with it. The people who FAIL to control themselves are the 25% of men who are creeps, many of whom are never found out. So as long as you have an effective strategy to control any non consensual sexual urges you might have, you're not causing the problem here (but as men we could do more to address the broader issues).

The perception question is harder to deal with, because what is "creepy" is very culture dependent. As I have a fair amount of social anxiety I'm not sure how to express sexual interest in ambiguous situations without being creepy... so I don't. I only express it during explicitly romantic dates or after someone else shared their desire for me, and that's been fine. I'm sure I've missed out on opportunities because I'm too cautious, but I've also never destroyed a friendship or work relationship because I tried to flirt inappropriately. Luckily with dating apps it's fairly easy to find contexts where it's not creepy to express sexual desire.

The antisocial nerds who really cause problems are the ones who think it's Very Important to find a girlfriend but don't know how to do it properly in their culture. These are the kind of people who get sucked into Pick Up Artist communities and radicalized against women, and the kind of people who post online constantly about being friendzoned. But if you're an awkward person who isn't obsessed with sex, the rules are pretty simple: Only express sexual desire in situations where you think it's very likely to be appreciated by the other person, and control yourself the rest of the time. As your lifestyle sounds similar to mine, your anxiety is probably making this seem way harder than it actually is.
posted by JZig at 9:03 AM on November 28, 2022 [7 favorites]

It's then compounded by the fact that because I don't have close relationships with other men, I end up talking about this with female friends, which reinforces my feeling of being a creep who's just in it for sexual attention from women.

I find this sentence a bit confusing. Are you implying that you are attracted to all of your female friends, and that's why you're friends with them? Or are you just overthinking this? I (a woman with many male friends) have on occasion been sought out by a male friend for sex/dating advice, and I've never found this creepy as I assumed they asked me because they felt comfortable doing so precisely because our friendship was entirely platonic.

am a total recluse physically, so I have no friends in real life whatsoever (of any gender)

I'd focus on this first - brainstorm ways you can put yourself out into the world - an easy way is to find some regular volunteer option for a cause you care about, or if you're into sports, a community sports league. You may or may not make friends, but you will be able to regularly be in low-stakes situations to engage in small talk, which can eventually lead to more. I'd say this would be a good first step to do before your first therapy session. It might help you see that the average man in real life is less gross than the average man online.
posted by coffeecat at 9:38 AM on November 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This seems like two intertwined issues - the distrust of men in general which rebounds into distrust of yourself and a desire for romantic relationships with women.

In terms of the post-bullying stuff, I would strongly suggest talk therapy. This is something you could probably do remotely. I was able to process and let go of a lot of stuff related to being severely bullied through talk therapy. Sustained and systematic bullying has a much, much greater effect on people than we as a culture want to admit, and in a weird way, some of the contemporary
"bullying is really common" discourse obscures the difference between occasional and relatively lateral bullying and systematic, top-down bullying where one kid is persistently a victim of many kids. You may, in fact, realize that bullying really shaped you as an adult without realizing how deeply it did so - that was my experience.

So you're worried that if you stop being extremely controlled, the "nature" of men will boil forth and you will be revealed to be a huge creep. I bet there's a lot of guilt and anxiety wound up in this, mostly around fairly normal stuff. It's normal to have wishes and desires that would be a bit creepy to randomly bring up - that is, we all have sexual and romantic fantasies that center our own wishes and desires. Bringing them up out of the blue, pushing to realize them absent other people's interests, obsessively focusing on them when they threaten to shape how we treat people in real life - that's creepy, but you aren't going to do that stuff.

Also, it's fairly normal to have mild romantic feelings about friends sometimes - this is different from having a really intense, distracting crush on someone that is all you can think about and that you conceal by pretending to be their platonic friend. Thinking, "gee, Claudia is such a great friend and also cute and smart, if it ever worked out that way I wouldn't mind going on a couple of dates to see where things went" is normal and okay and lots of people meet their partners like that.

Sometimes internet discourse suggests that there are two extremely separate categories - people to whom you are physically attracted who you should ask out to "get it over with" so that you don't burden them by your obsessive interest and people you could never, ever see yourself dating who you can freely befriend. This isn't how things work. It's an attempt to deal with strong romantic attraction by being direct rather than dilatory, but it's not a description of all feelings everywhere. My point being that if you're thinking "I sometimes have romantic feelings toward female friends, this must be because I am a huge creep", congratulations, you are not a huge creep.

I'd say that you probably should avoid making sexual (or rather romantic - purely sexual advances require pretty specific situations) advances or comments when in doubt, but also that some talk therapy could help you with your anxieties so that you wouldn't be in doubt constantly. It might also help you lower the stakes in your own head - if you ask someone on a date politely and she says no and you move on, that isn't you being a huge creep. If you are romantically interested in someone who is not interested in you, that is not you somehow insulting or sullying them with your interest.

Really, it sounds like you have a lot of feelings and personal history tied up in a big snarly ball here, and talking to someone would probably help loosen things up.
posted by Frowner at 10:19 AM on November 28, 2022 [13 favorites]

This sounds really difficult. While you wait for therapy to start, it would probably help to read and watch stuff about healthy masculinity. Here's a conversation that might be a good start, among feminist men navigating masculinity.

Are there any positive male role models in media whom you admire? Like Fred Rogers or LeVar Burton, in their work with children's educational entertainment? Could they be a starting point for you to think about men as a set of people that includes non-creeps?
posted by brainwane at 10:29 AM on November 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

So my ultimate question is... where do I go from here? I'm wracked with vacillating between doubt and doubling-down. Where does one draw the boundary between a creep and a healthy expression of sexual interest? How do I get rid of the instinct that men are terrible and I have to control myself to act against that nature? Am I really saying all this just to get laid?

I'd rather not have this bouncing in my head for 2 months until I see my therapist next. I understand this post is a little venty, but I'd really appreciate advice and resources of any kind, because I can't trust the general Internet with this line of thought.

I see your issue as completely different. I'll just say what I see.

The issue is not that men have feelings about women that involve lust. I'm a woman and bisexual and married for decades and trust me, I have thoughts sometimes, perhaps even frequently. The issue is what do you do with those feelings? Because in my mind a "creep" is not someone who gazes upon people with lust in their heart, a creep is someone who expects others to fix those feelings for them, i.e., by flirting or putting out.

In the second section I quoted here, you are kind of wanting to fix your feelings right now, RIGHT NOW. Hey, I get it, we've all been there! But learning to SIT with uncomfortable feelings and NOT act on them and NOT expect them to resolve right away is in fact...the path to self-control and NOT being a creep. (Or, incidentally, a bully. Or a member of the white colonial patriarchy who expects success at every turn.)

So I think you are completely excellent to explore these feelings and thoughts. Maybe concentrate on letting yourself have them and then getting on with your chores/day/exercise/etc.

If you're not sure about a particular woman and that particular woman's interest, asking her is often a good idea if it's truly a no-strings ask (and you're not her supervisor and she isn't in a committed relationship, etc.), like "hey...I would like you ask you out on a date. Would you be interested? If not, it's cool." But to me this is somewhat separate from the issue of "all are men creeps all the time and if I lust after people am I a creep?"
posted by warriorqueen at 10:44 AM on November 28, 2022 [11 favorites]

Many men rely on women for emotional labor and friendship. This article "Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden" is about how "Toxic masculinity—and the persistent idea that feelings are a 'female thing'—has left a generation of straight men stranded on emotionally-stunted island, unable to forge intimate relationships with other men. It's women who are paying the price."

It's a great starting piece on friendships between men and has some ideas on how you can nurture some better and emotionally intimate relationships with other men. Please also follow the links to other resources in that article.

There are lots of articles on male friendships right now. Here's one example from today's New York Times: "Why Is It So Hard for Men to Make Close Friends?"

And from NPR a few years ago: Men Can Have Better Friendships. Here's How

So I'd suggest doing some reading and journaling before you start therapy. Write some things down. Here are some ideas:
Can you think of positive examples of good men in your life, either when you were younger or now? Can you think of positive examples of male friendship, either in your own life or others? What was your father like when you were young and why don't have you have a relationship with him now? Did he have friends? Was he a creep? Are you scared of being like him? Have you had male friends (as a child or adult) who were creeps, and what did that look like? Was a man ever a creep to you? Who are some women who have been important in your life? What do those friendships look like? If you like a woman and ask her out, what do you think might happen? What is scary about that?

I also will add a personal anecdote: a male friend of mine about your age has male friendships but can be similarly reluctant to initiate intimacy, even in a dating context. He has shared with me similar concerns: he's so worried about being a creep or making a move with someone who isn't interested. But as he peeled back the onion, he also realized he's been scared of rejection. He told himself a story that waiting for the woman he was dating to make the first move was a way of not being a creep, but it was also a way of protecting himself from the possibility that she would say no. He has since pushed himself to ask for consent instead of just waiting for her to say or do something. "May I kiss you?" works great, as one example, at the end of a nice date.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:10 AM on November 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

I end up talking about this with female friends, which reinforces my feeling of being a creep who's just in it for sexual attention from women.

I think you're talking about it with female friends because they're (to you) safe, and you see men- including yourself!- as unsafe.

I would maybe try and think about all the reasons you get along with your female friends- how much of that is actually sexual? Because I think you're so afraid that you are secretly a creep that you can't trust your real friendships with women- maybe focusing on the real reasons you like having them as friends might start to dig yourself out of that anxiety?

(not to open a whole other can of worms, but I wonder if one source of this might be ambiguous or uncomfortable feelings around your own internal sense of gender... could that be worth poking at? If it's not, ignore the suggestion! gender aside, it could be that rather than finding a healthy masculinity you really want to opt-out of traditional masculinity, which really is a valid option)
posted by BungaDunga at 11:11 AM on November 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think it might be useful for you to understand misogyny better as a whole, to help you draw finer distinctions about interactions. Though neither is exclusively focused on what you're struggling with, I'd suggest you pick up The Man They Wanted Me To Be and Down Girl.
posted by jocelmeow at 11:40 AM on November 28, 2022

Yeah, do you like being a man yourself? There are other options now, labels-wise, presentation-wise, and medically if that's the route you choose.
posted by kingdead at 11:40 AM on November 28, 2022

One more thought: it's good for men to be able to be friends with other men, and it's good for men to learn to do the work of intimacy, etc....but if you are the kind of person who easily becomes ashamed or anxious, don't get into a headspace of "oh all my friends are women this is because I am BURDENING THEM WITH MY FRIENDSHIP instead of taking my friendship out on men". In the aggregate, society-wide, it's healthy for men to have friendships with men; in specific cases, given men may have mostly women friends and those can be perfectly healthy and fine friendships.

I have, at various points, had social circles that were virtually all women and social circles that were virtually all men. Perversely, it was as I learned to do the work of being a friend that I became friends with more women; my starter friends (some of whom are ongoing-friends) were all men.
posted by Frowner at 11:43 AM on November 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Where does one draw the boundary between a creep and a healthy expression of sexual interest?

Consent. And context.

A "healthy expression of sexual interest" does not come out of the blue. If you don't want to be creepy and shitty, don't get sexy at people before you have developed the precursors of a sexual relationship to an extent that you already HAVE a clear path toward consent - as in, the decision may not have been made yet but it will have to be made eventually, because of what the relationship is. Do not do it in contexts that are inappropriate, like business transactions or with family members or customer service reps or your friend's mom or someone else's partner or someone you have some kind of power over who cannot freely consent or someone who is not signaling a similar interest in you.

I think you should dislike shitty men who make it harder for everybody. Lots of dudes are creeps because it's easy and largely free of consequences. (And to be fair: lots of young dudes are creeps because we as a society don't value teaching them anything else, but they do learn better and do better. Often very slowly. And sometimes too little too late.) You can choose to navigate the world with more integrity than that - we know it's possible because some men do it! - and there are benefits in the experience you have in the world in return for making that effort.

I think you need to take 10 steps back from sex, though, and consider masculinity as a whole tapestry in which sex is at best a moderate component. You might consider choosing a period of external celibacy - do what you need to do for your physical needs, but don't use other people as a component of that practice and do not pursue any romantic/sexual partners - while you get ready for therapy and consume some writing and media from and about the kind of men and masculinity and emotional intelligence you CAN admire and respect and be inspired by. Someone above mentioned Fred Rogers and LeVar Burton, I'd additionally include Ta-Nehisi Coates, Trevor Noah, Nick Offerman, Craig Ferguson - sorry, my tastes tend to run to funny men/good storytellers, but at least they're not dull.

I would also recommend you do some of the standard reading on trauma, because my god is that tongue-and-groove with the most toxic aspects of masculinity. If you want to reach a place of empathy for men of lesser quality, you might check out No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents and/or It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, and while I generally do not rec The Body Keeps The Score for trauma recovery I do think it is a useful overview of the mechanics of trauma (PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving is my go-to rec for trauma recovery).

Ultimately, healthy masculinity is emotionally intelligent. I don't know that I have a specific book rec for EI because so much of it seems geared to "succeed with women and dominate your career!!!" type stuff, but maybe start with Brandon Goleman's book and keep some grains of salt handy.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:54 AM on November 28, 2022

Best answer: Many men rely on women for emotional labor and friendship.

I don't want to make a value judgement about this or the articles about this- it's a real thing- but when I've been in the headspace of poster, they simply give me one more locus of anxiety, viz: "what if I'm actually using my women friends for emotional labor as well as sexually?" Down that path lies nothing good if it just makes you clam up even more.

You're not a bad person or a bad feminist man or bad at being a man if you're bad at being friends with men*. Probably being friends with men is a good idea (for all the reasons articulated in the linked articles) but if this stuff ends up causing you more anxiety and doesn't spur you to change, you genuinely shouldn't think about it too hard and focus on other stuff first.

*I'm not saying that's what these articles are saying, I'm saying it's a train of thought you can get stuck on and I don't recommend it.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:01 PM on November 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: From my experience, this sounds like a side effect of social anxiety and maybe social isolation? When you work with your therapist and start to get to a point where you're dating, some of these fears may go away. Likewise, being in low stakes social situations with like-minded men and making more male friends will help alleviate these generalizations. Hobbies, volunteering and activism for instance helped me. Certainly it's true that there are a lot of bad men and even good men may make the occasional sexist comment. Navigating all that is part of navigating social interactions and just being a better and more confident person socially and having more and different types of social interactions under my belt helped me feel better about people in general. Making my own mistakes and working on my own biases has also helped me have more consideration for others.

Flirting is its own kind of art and not a science. You either have to put yourself into situations where mild flirting is expected (i.e. online dating) and flirt mildly. Low stakes/non-sexual start is key with very slow and conscientious escalation. This is true even in online dating. The alternative for flirting in non-dating spaces is to be very, very, very skilled at reading the other person, reading their comfort level and having a deep understanding of social scripts and boundaries in various scenarios. It's something to graduate to.

And, to be sure, even when trying your damnest to be fully communicative, boundary following, ethical and conscientious, one may still end up making mistakes and hurting someone. That's unfortunately part of the risks we take in all social situations as imperfect humans, not even just dating. Part of overcoming social anxiety is accepting that you will make mistakes and even accepting that you may sometimes even be objectively the bad guy in someone else's story. The key is to do our best and always try to improve

Yes, all these rules are anxiety producing, which is why starting small and in safer contexts is the way to go. The SIRC Guide to Flirting is a great tutorial, but I'd caution that concerns about consent and direct communication are much stronger with Gen Z and younger millennials and it's easier to cross a line now-a-days than when the SIRC Guide first came out. When in doubt use words! (
posted by Skwirl at 12:05 PM on November 28, 2022

I am reminded of the attitudes I absorbed toward men and sex, with no trauma or bad experiences except "growing up in our society" - no one catcalled me, but I knew catcalling existed and knew it was a threat, not a compliment. No one tried to rape me, but I knew rape was a thing I had to be on constant guard for in party situations and flirtations. No one ever said I would be "worth" less if I weren't a virgin, but I knew sex was a transaction where men profited and women lost.

This while social mess has to be challenged, imo, and I see basically two ways to try and find your footing:

First, external: make some friendships with men that are really deep connections. Find some men who are really working on the project of being better people, or coping with a difficult time in life, where sex isn't even the topic. This might be hard, but I'm thinking of like the men's group at my local liberal church, which was founded by a few men who felt like they didn't have a place in mainstream society to handle grief and loss and compassion and friendship. A frateral organization (like the elks or masons) or a men's book club or (if you think it might be useful) Al-Anon are other good ways to start getting to know other men behind the mask of social masculine hardness.

You can also consider trying to get to know some of the men in your own life better, asking about their struggles and what they're experiencing. If you have one or two friends who you'd like to get closer to, or an uncle or a mentor who you think might be living the kind of life you want to, they are also options.

Second, get familiar with some of the ways that "the patriarchy hurts everyone". Start watching your own reactions for where the fear comes in. Are you afraid of getting beaten up? Is that really something you think your gaming buddy Joe would do, at the age of twenty eight, or does that seem kind of absurd? When you have a knee-jerk reaction to something, grab on to it and try to figure out what you're really afraid of. Can you have compassion for that fear and find a way forward?
posted by Lady Li at 1:22 AM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is what stood out to me:

am a total recluse physically, so I have no friends in real life whatsoever (of any gender).

you are not going to fix you relationship with men, or find a relationship with a woman if you are afraid of real life face-to-face people and going outside your home.

If I say "to one day have a healthy romantic relationship with a woman the first step is today go to the grocery store and make one small talk comment to the cashier, like 'seems quiet in here today' or 'can you believe this weather in November?'" would you do it? Does the thought fill you with dread?

Because if that is a problem, then your beginning point is way way before "fix how you feel about men" and you really, in the time before meeting with the therapist, should be working on "be in the real world with other flesh and blood humans"
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 3:20 AM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

You might find the Art of Manliness website and podcast useful, it has a positive attitude to masculinity. There's a relationships and a social skills section.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:34 AM on November 29, 2022

it has a positive attitude to masculinity

I'll be honest I haven't read anything from there in a decade, but it should be noted that the founders are observant Mormons who are active in the church and that doesn't not seep into what they cover and how they cover it. This may or may not be a negative for you but I think it's worth mentioning.

They've published stuff that may be substantially unhelpful, like "don't hang out with women once you're married, otherwise you might cheat on your wife with them- it's not worth the risk!" Generally their attitude is pretty... binary.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:33 PM on November 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

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