When I was a freshman in high school, I made a series of battle plans along with my older brother and his friends that detailed how we'd take out our entire school once we obtained guns and bombs.
This happened while huddled over my dining room table, and it was funny. We drew blueprints. We made maps. We organized lists of ammunition and inventory and all the different things we'd need to make our military raiding of our own school a success. We figured we'd all have cyanide pills to take ourselves out before we got arrested. We knew we had to take over the nurse's office first -- it's where all the medical supplies were and it also had no windows, which made it a perfect place for our final showdown when we were inevitably backed in by police as we burned out in a blaze of glory in our bold last stand.
We drank soda and ate pizza while we made these plans. It was no different in tone to the times the same kids came over and played Magic: The Gathering huddled around the same table. The arguments about the best place to place our bombs had the same dumb goofy energy as when we argued over which Screeching Weasel record was best. It was stupid, it was never serious, it was fun. What we didn't do was put our plans into action. It wasn't even a passing thought.
When Columbine happened, I was a student at Rutgers where my friend Mike D from high school also attended. I remember calling him and being like "Yo, we made plans like that," and he was like "Yeah, I know, I'm freaked out right now." The thing we had joked about happened in real life somewhere. It made watching news footage of an already horrible thing that much more horrible.
We were the kids who girls never talked to. We were the kids the popular kids looked down on. We got made fun of. We got laughed at. I remember once entering the locker room of my high school's gym, where a kid a year older than me named Rick walked up to me and backhand slapped me across the face. I looked up at him and he shrugged and said, "What can you do?" sympathetically. As if even he knew what he did reflecteda way of things that wasn't fair, even though he was also choosing to do it.
What I'm saying is, me and my friends, we were the Columbine kids. We were the Elliot Rodgers. On many many levels, we were. When Columbine happened and people blamed Marilyn Manson and video games, I remember thinking, "Aww no, don't. Just don't." And what I meant was, don't make this more trivial than it should be. Don't reduce it to sound bites or buzz words. Music and video games didn't make those kids do what they did. What they did was horrible, and saying it was video games that made it happen is not okay. As someone who drew those battle plans, I knew I was at least in some tiny way my school's version of those twisted kids, and upon realizing I identified with them in even some small and extremely disconcerting way, I felt truly sick. And I felt even worse upon seeing that what must have been complex was being made by the media into something way too conveniently simple.
I just watched that Elliot Rodgers video. It made my stomach turn. But I can't lie - I remember feeling how he felt. I remember thinking girls didn't like me and it wasn't fair. I remember being furious that girls liked idiot meatheads when I was the better option. I remember thinking the popular kids had a world to themselves that I wasn't allowed to enter. If you reduce what he said to bullet points, it's a checklist of feelings that I also remember feeling.
And that's what brings me to writing this. Because my fear is that in saying I remember identifying with the Columbine kids, or that Elliot Rodgers said things about his feelings that reflected my feelings at his age, that I'm coming off as sympathetic to them and what they did -- that couldn't be further from the truth. The things these kids did fill me with rage and sadness and are completely mind-boggling. And the real fear I have, the real feeling I'm sorting out, is that there are other kids like those kids, and other kids who felt like I once felt, and they might be looking at what this idiot Elliot did and saying "I get it, man." And I want to just be clear, as someone who used to think some of the same things that kid did, and as an entertainer who some lonely outcast kids now say they look to, that he is no hero, he is no martyr, he had nothing remotely close to a valid cause, and he was one of the most insanely selfish people of all time.
If you're a young person and you feel like the world can be cruel, and you feel like there's no place for you in it, and you feel like people make you feel excluded and awful and alone, I want you to know that sometimes you are right and that all of those feelings are okay. Get angry if you have to, get sad when you need to, and know that it's okay to feel all those feelings.
But remember a couple simple things:
- The world doesn't owe you anything.
- You can't change the world, but you can change yourself. And by changing yourself, you can change your world.
Change yourself and the world changes around you. Work on yourself, figure out how to bring your best qualities to the forefront, figure out how to stop apologizing for and hiding from the things you don't like about yourself. Most importantly, stop apologizing for the things you do like about yourself. Be strong, be courageous, and be the real you. Change the things about your behavior that are holding you back, and stick to your guns on the things other people aren't getting that you really believe in. Change yourself, change your circumstances, and carve out your own world that you do fit into.
And what I'm definitely not saying is "The world is right -- you don't fit in, so change." What I am saying is -- "You are you, and that is great, and there is someplace for you, so find your voice, use it, and find the people who do want to hear it, every day, because they're out there and waiting and they're lonely too, and you can help each other."
And as a guy who spent a lot of time angry at the world, I'll put another thing out there -- kids like Elliott actually prove the kids they regard as normal as correct. If you feel like a round peg and the world feels like a square hole, shooting at the square hole with a gun does nothing. If you feel like the world won't listen to you, that people are judging you and saying you have no place with them, and you lash out at them, then you are basically saying "You were correct the whole time. I was never to be trusted or included. Your instincts to leave me out were on the money." Your little narrative where you are the wronged hero out for justice is incorrect -- one of the most sickening things about watching that video is that Elliott thinks he is the hero, when he is undoubtedly the villain.
As someone who's spent most of his life feeling like a round peg running into many square holes -- it is so much more gratifying when you stop trying to force yourself into those square holes, or prove to those square holes that you're valid too, and instead go out and find the round holes, and even better, the other round pegs. To try to be something you're not, to try to go places that reject you, to try to fit in, to try to force people who aren't accepting you to accept you... it drains you of energy and it never works and it makes you bitter and tired and angry.
But to find the other round pegs out there, those loners, those wanderers, those people who get rejected for whatever reason, that's the ultimate gratification. They're out there. I just turned 34, and at this age I am friends almost exclusively with other people who didn't say much growing up, who felt scared a lot of the time, and who felt like they shouldn't say what they were thinking because it didn't fit and they didn't have a right to speak up. A lot of my friends were people who could never get dates, most of my social circle is composed of people who had reasons to feel angry or alone or scared or sad.
And now we have each other. In our late 20s and early 30s we went to the places where the others like us congregate. Eventually, people like us drift away from those who scare us and reject us and we keep drifting, and it seems like when those winds that carry us die out, we land where the rest of the refuse lands... and we wind up happy. We go to places like Brooklyn, and Portland, and Austin, and Bloomington, and Madison, and Chicago, and Chapel Hill, and Gainesville, and so many other little hubs of creativity and oddball energy and acceptance, and we have each other.
And it is beautiful.
* * *
In watching that unsettling video, there was one other thing that came to mind -- this dope's constant stating that hot girls caused his problems and actions. And even more disconcerting has been reading all the articles that round up the tweets and comments and tumblrs from other young men expressing that they think this sentiment is right. That hot girls drive men crazy, that they are not understanding, that their attitude causes justifiable violence and terror.
A few quick points on that:
- No woman owes you anything.
- The best way to get the attention from the women you want is through becoming the person you want to be. You can't force anyone to adapt to you, but you can change you, and then the people you want around you will lock in and see you and find love in you and for you.
See how this echoes what I said above? It's the same principle -- be the best you, find your confidence, stick to your guns, and overcome your own insecurities. That's what you can do. You can't make anyone like you. No one owes you that. There is no situation in the world where if a girl doesn't like you, you are allowed to say, "That dumb bitch doesn't get it." Nope. You don't get it. No one. Owes you. Anything.
It's the same thing as when a comedian blames the audience. When a joke of his bombs and he says into the mic, "That joke always works, you guys fucking suck." Nope. They don't suck. You suck. I don't care if that joke was funny every other time you said it. If they didn't laugh tonight, you weren't funny. Tonight, you suck. You and that joke might be funny again tomorrow. But tonight? Nope. You failed. That's not on them, that's on you. Similarly, if you tried to charm a girl and she wasn't feeling it, it's not because she's a dumb bitch -- it's because you missed the mark. It's not her fault. It's yours.
Again, growing up I was the guy who didn't think people understood me, who felt like girls didn't like me and liked assholes instead.
I went on as an adult to do reasonably well with women, and will this summer marry a beautiful, beautiful lady.
Guess how I did it? The world didn't change. I changed.
I looked at the things I didn't like about myself -- the anger, the insecurity -- and I found ways to let them go.
I looked at the things I did like about myself -- I'm funny, I fight for things I believe in -- and I made them into the things that defined me.
And when I molded the best version of myself, I spent a lot less time inside my own head and way more time talking to people and connecting with them.
And here's something so striking about the mindset of so many angry young men -- it's all always about you. It's always about people not getting you and them not understanding you.
Well you want to know how the world actually works best? When you make it about them.
In the Elliott Rodgers manifesto lunacy, there's one story he wrote about going to a party where no one talked to him so he lashed out violently. And he was so sure he was right and they were wrong.
Wanna know what the best way to avoid being ignored at a party is? Stop wondering why no one's showing interest in you and ask someone else how they're doing. Stop sitting in the corner brooding because no one gets it and go out of your way to make someone else feel welcomed and accepted and warm. And guess what? Especially with ladies, when you show you are kind and compassionate and willing to listen, it goes such a long way. When you can have a conversation that isn't about your own internal monologue wondering over and over again, "Does she want to sleep with me?" ... When you get to a place of confidence and respect as a man where a woman walks into a room and your first thought isn't "Would I fuck her?"... When you get to a place where you've removed your own insecurities and panic and fears so that you can actually speak with and listen to a woman, that's when it works. That's when they'll like you. That's when they'll realize that the idiots don't stand a chance against us guys who know how to be kind, us guys that know how to make eye contact, us guys that know how to speak with a human being because it's fascinating and fun to speak to another human being, and not just because they might get you off at the end of the night.
When you get to that point -- when genuine interest and respect and a desire to truly connect with another person guide your actions -- that's when the ladies will respond, because that's when any reasonable and compassionate human being would respond to such an effort. When you stop looking at hot girls as "hot girls" and instead start treating them as "a person whom I'm ready to listen to and talk with," that's when you really have earned the right to connect with those people. And they will connect with you.
And it will be beautiful.
* * *
I was recently doing some stand up at a club. After one of my sets, I walked into the bar where a friend of mine who is a comic and also happens to be a tall and pretty lady was standing with a few other people. They were having an animated discussion.
The guy at the bar -- whom I had never met before -- looked at me and saw my glasses, my ill fitting clothes, my bad posture, and I guess he saw in me a kindred spirit.
"Here," he said, "this guy will get it. Dude, don't you think hot girls have it easiest in the world?"
I answered without thinking. My words vomited up out of me.
"No, not at all," I said. "Being a hot girl seems awful."
"No, I'm not kidding," I said. "Why does it suck to look like you and me? Because hot girls won't talk to us when we're dumb teenagers... I'd rather have that then spend my whole life with guys yelling shit at me when I walk down the street. I'd rather be lonely for a few years early on then spend every day getting creeped out by gross dudes staring at my chest when I'm just trying to go to the supermarket to buy some fucking vegetables."
"Yeah," he said, "but they get whatever they want all the time."
"Do they?" I asked. "I'm sure they get into clubs I can't get into, or get drinks served to them without waiting as long as I have to. But they also get judged for wearing the clothes they wear. Or get pressured for not putting out. Or have to worry constantly, at least a little in the back of their mind, about getting raped."
The guy just stared at me.
"I don't know dude," I said. "Hot girls don't have it easy."
My friend who is tall and pretty looked at me and smirked and said, "Good answer." And we walked away together.
Hot girls don't have it easy. They don't have it easy for all those reasons I told that guy, and so many more. But most of all, they don't have it easy because dummies like that guy look at them and see them as "hot girls" instead of seeing them as "three dimensional human beings."
And that's what drives me nuts about "the good guys."
"I'm a good guy, why don't hot chicks like me?" Are you really a good guy when you say shit like "hot chicks"?
"I'm a nice guy, girls don't pay any attention to me." Are you sure you're a nice guy? Because if your main concern is getting girls to pay attention to you for how nice you are, it sounds to me like maybe you're not actually nice and you're presenting yourself as nice to trick a girl you crave into thinking you're nice. And that's not very nice.
Hot girls don't have it easy. Neither do ugly girls. Or ugly guys. Or black people. Or white people. Or poor people. Or rich people.
Everyone struggles. Everyone worries. Everyone has problems, and anxieties, and days where things seem scary and awful and difficult. Everyone feels disconnected and alone sometimes. It is in that disconnection and loneliness that we are always connected and never alone.
I invite all the lonely, angry, nerdy little boys out there who are feeling that rage and creating a narrative where they are victims to remember that. I was once one of you. And I bought into the martyr complex -- that feeling that I was alone, that they didn't appreciate me, that they were doing wrong by me... I felt that. And I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
There was no they. No one was ever out to get me. They never held me back, only I held me back. And eventually I realized that. And I found a lot more friends. And they were friends I felt more comfortable around. And all the things I thought I wanted when I was an angry young man -- I either got them all or realized along the way that I never really wanted them. All the things I was angry about... as I've lived my life, I've come to realize that the world wasn't making me feel that anger. I was making me feel that anger. The world couldn't do anything to right its wrongs; only I could right my own.
And now, life is beautiful.
Chris Gethard is a comedian, writer and actor. Follow him on Tumblr: thechrisgethardshow.tumblr.com