HEA. Happily Ever After.
I love spending time lurking on mswishlist.com, a website that aggregates tweets from literary agents. You get a lot of insight into what literary agents are thinking and what’s currently hot in the market. Besides the fact that identity politics reign supreme in the trad-pub world (are you a white male writer with a white male protagonist? PASS!!-but you’d also sure as shit, better not write a character from a group you aren’t a part of), one thing I’ve learned from my time there is that certain genres have rules. And sure, you can say there are no rules in writing, but the truth is, if you want to be traditionally-published, you have to adhere to genre conventions.
For romance, one of these conventions is a HEA. If it doesn’t have a HEA, it isn’t romance.
The book I’d like to talk about today is the classic romantic-adventure novel, The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope Hawkins. I’m not here to argue that this book should be shelved in Romance. It probably is better suited to the Adventure section. What I’d like to argue is that the bittersweet, heartbreaking ending of the book is something the Romance genre could use more of.
Give me more tragic romance!
I’ve got to tell you, I think fiction has gotten too fluffy. Too happy. Too light and easy. That’s not the case for all media. In television shows (Breaking Bad! woot woot!) and movies (Melancholia) and music (*sigh* Sia..oh…Sia), we still see the value in catharsis. We still see how wonderful it is to feel sad, to feel pained, to feel longing and bittersweet loss. We see the value in flawed characters with unhappy endings.
Catharsis and tragedy have a long and wonderful history in human storytelling. The ancient Greeks performed two types of plays, comedies and tragedies. They believed both in the power of joy and humor and the power of sadness. They believed tragedies could help people to purge some of their negative emotions in a way that was immensely pleasing. Catharsis.
Somehow, we’ve gotten away from the incredible power of catharsis in fiction. You can have a dark character study in a movie or television show (The Joker, Cuck, Breaking Bad, etc), but in literary communities like Wattpad, my book Incel gets banned because my character says rude shit on reddit.
Fiction has lost its way, and while there is some grimdark fantasy that plays with morally ambiguous characters, it’s the small minority of fiction. I’ll cover the terrible loss of problematic characters in another post. For now, I’ll just lament the ways commercialism hampers the romance genre and has effectively killed the Tragic Romance.
The loss of the Tragic Romance is a great loss to literature. While I’m not generally a fan of Shakespeare, I do see the value in his most famous play Romeo and Juliet (if only it was always taught as a tragic romance-with dumb kids dying for the idea of love, rather than for any actual committed bond). When this beautiful story with such great insights into the folly of human nature is (rightfully) still taught in high schools and institutions of higher learning, why on earth do we have the genre convention ‘romance must have a happily-ever-after’?
I picked up The Prisoner of Zenda on a whim, from my public library. It’s a classic, but I’d never heard of it. I just happened to stumble across it, and I’m glad I did. Apparently, this author, who set his adventure stories in the fictional country of Ruritania, is the cornerstone of the Ruritania Romance subgenre. This is a subgenre of romance that is often described as ‘swashbuckling adventure with high romance.’
The story is hilarious, full of tension and excitement. The basic plot is that this English guy with no real goals in life has gone on holiday to Ruritania, a small country where the protagonist may or may not be distantly related to the royal family. When he arrives, he runs into a group of men who all exclaim how much he looks like the king (well, technically king-to-be, he is scheduled to be crowned as king the next morning). He meets the king-to-be, who has a great laugh at how alike they look. They all stay up drinking and partying, and the next morning the king can not be woken for his coronation. They suspect the wine he drunk may have been drugged by the story’s main villain, the nefarious Black Michael, the king’s half-brother, who is vying for the crown himself. The people of Ruritania have far more loyalty to Black Michael, and will support any effort of his to steal the crown. Because they can’t give Black Michael any opportunity to steal power for himself, a plan is hatched to have the English man stand in place of the king and go to the coronation in his place.
Our main character agrees, despite his misgivings. At the coronation, he meets the king’s cousin, Princess Flavia, and they strike up an adorable flirtation right away. Sigh…I loved their banter so much.
Before anybody argues that this is a political intrigue adventure story with a romance subplot and NOT a romantic-adventure, let me explain why the story would not be the same without the romance. When the MC and the king’s inner circle come back from the coronation, they find that the real king has been kidnapped by Black Michael. Now they need to figure out a way to rescue the king, without anyone finding out an impostor is in his place, all while Black Michael and his henchmen are all very well-aware that somehow a clone of the king was coronoted in his stead, BUT they can’t say anything about it without admitting they are holding the real king captive. Oh my gosh! The drama!
This all sounds very exciting, and it is, and it’s hilarious. There’s a real slapstick edge to the way Black Michael and his men have to bow and show respect to someone they know isn’t the king, and they have to hide how pissy they are to everyone.
The problem with relegating the romantic portion of the plot to subplot status, is that without the romance, there wouldn’t be any inner turmoil. It would be a very straightforward, and honestly, boring story. The guy on holiday wants to save the king. They fight bad guys and save the king. The end.
Instead, as they make their plans to rescue the king from the Castle of Zenda, Rudolf is falling deeper and deeper in love with Princess Flavia. He struggles with guilt over lying about who he is. He struggles with knowing she wouldn’t look twice at him if she knew who he really was. He even allows himself to fantasize about NOT rescuing the king, not for the power, but for Flavia. He is torn between these conflicting emotions between wanting to save the king (a man who is slowly descending into sickness and madness due to his inhumane captivity) and wanting to keep Flavia as his lover.
In the end, he does his duty and rescues the king, and the parting scene of Rudolf and Flavia was the absolute epitome of tragic romance at its finest. So beautiful! So much longing and passion!
“Is love the only thing?” she asked in low, sweet tones that seemed to bring a calm even to my wrung heart. “If love were the only thing, I would follow you-in rags if need be-to the world’s end; for you hold my heart in the hollow of your hand! But is love the only thing?”…
“I know people write and talk as if it were. Perhaps, for some, Fate lets it be. Ah, if I were one of them! But if love were the only thing, you would have let the King die in his cell.”
I kissed her hand.
“Honour binds a woman too, Rudolf. My honour lies in being true to my country and my house; I don’t know why God has let me love you; but I know that I must stay.”…
“Your ring will always be on my finger, your heart in my heart, the touch of your lips on mine…”
…into my ears and into my heart the cry of a woman’s love-“Rudolf! Rudolf! Rudolf!” Hark! I hear it now!
And then, Rudolf goes home to England and Flavia goes on to marry the real king, a man she does not love. And every year, Rudolf sends her a single rose, brought to her by one of the men he knew during his time in Ruritania, it is wrapped with a note that says, “Rudolf-Flavia-for ever.”
They never meet again, and he goes on loving her, wearing her ring and pining for her, all while admiring her for being so honorable and doing a duty that her heart fought against.
This is such an emotionally satisfying ending, for reasons I can’t quite articulate. All I can say is: catharsis. It’s such a wonderful emotion.
It’s just a damn shame that tragic romance isn’t given space in the romance genre. People in the trad-pub industry keep telling writers that if a story is romance it MUST have a happily-ever-after. I don’t get it. I really don’t. We are losing an incredible subset of romantic fiction.
Give me more sad, pining endings. Bittersweet. Painful. Delicious catharthis.
I need so much more of it.
“Shall I see her face again-the pale face and the glorious hair? Of that I know nothing; Fate has no hint, my heart no presentiment…But if it be never-if I can never hold sweet converse again with her, or look upon her face, or know from her her love; why, then, this side of the grave, I will live as becomes the man whom she loves; and, for the other side, I must pray a dreamless sleep.”
I give this book 4/5 stars and I can’t wait to explore more Ruritania Romance.
The Need by Helen Phillips
2/5 stars (and I’m definitely being generous here)
So, I have a Master’s Degree in English Literature. I hope that doesn’t sound braggy. Trust me, it’s nothing to brag about. I mean, yeah I’m middle class and my career is A-okay, but I’m not smarter than anybody for having that. For real, I think my degree made me dumber. I can analyze any work of fiction through a feminist, Marxist, post-colonial lens ( I wish I was making that up), but I don’t think that makes me any smarter. It often makes me sound like someone locked in a windowless room with nothing but Judith Butler to read and a bunch of model airplane glue to sniff.
My point is this: academia is ridiculous. It’s stupid, but it’s a special kind of stupid: the pretentious twat flavor of stupid. The same flavor of stupid that Phillips’ ‘The Need’ is.
I was browsing in my public library when I stumbled across this novelized fever dream. The title is great. I love titles that are “The blank” format. I just find them really cryptic and they always grab my attention. Then I read the blurb and it sounded…weird. Weird in a good way. A sleep-deprived mother hears footsteps in the next room and at first she thinks she’s hallucinating. The intruder turns out to be real and she “slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood.”
Hmmm…I thought to myself, this is either going to be awesome or so stupid I have to waste a Sunday trying to put the pretentious fuckery into words.
Guess which one it turned out to be?
The plot is nonsensical. Spoilers ahead. But don’t worry, they are stupid spoliers. I’m sorry if I spoil a stupid book for you.
The intruder turns out to be an alternate version of the main character Molly. The archeology site where she works turns out to be a “seam,” a split in reality where multiverses collide. Molly had already found several artifacts mixed in with the fossils that didn’t make sense. A coke bottle with the letters just slightly different than a usual coke bottle, an Altoids tin just slightly different than a usual Altoids tin, and then, a Bible where God is referred to as “she.” This part is, of course, very much harped on. One of the artsy-fartsy five sentence chapters ends on the line “the divine pronoun.”
Ooohh…ahh…mother is god to a child…how clever…not. This is some r/iam14andthisisdeep shit.
That stupid trying too hard to be impressive with symbolism really backfired on Phillips though. In the reality where God is a woman, Molly’s children are dead.
Feminism=the death of motherhood?
I feel like that’s not what the bald, glaring woman on the book’s back jacket flap was trying to say. Her weird artsy-fartsy-ness wasn’t thought through (spoiler alert-it never is with artsy-fartsy literary writers).
When the alternate version of Molly (Moll) first shows up, she rises up out of the trunk in the middle of Molly’s living room wearing a deer mask. It is later explained to us that Molly’s husband made her a deer mask for her birthday. Why? Who the fuck knows? These characters don’t seem like eccentric weirdos who’d make each other paper mache masks for holidays, even going so far as to ensure the mask is “the right size.” Nothing in the book points to them being this quirky.
I think the author just wanted an edgy surreal visual, but without putting in any of the work for that chilling imagery to make sense. You want a Donnie Darko-esque visual? Then put the fucking work in!
Then there’s the fact that nothing happens. Moll shows up. There is tension. There is an ambigious ending. We’re all supposed to stand here and clap, because otherwise we’re the square dummies who just didn’t get the book’s brilliance.
I hate literary fiction so fucking much. Can you tell?
The chapters were all about two paragraphs long for no reason. So many of the chapters could have been combined. She ends chapters mid-scene and then the scene picks right back up in the next two paragraph chapter.
Now, for the only compliment this writer will get from me: she is a talented writer. Her descriptions and imagery are gorgeous. Her prose draws you in. Her writing is good. It’s the story itself that fucking sucks.
I think it’s very telling that this book is so highly-praised in ivory towers and the surrounding communities. The snooty more-literary-than-thou types love this book. But if you look at the book’s average rating on goodreads, it’s absolutely abysmal. There’s a real disconnect between what the critics say about the book and what the average person says about the book.
But if books are meant to move the human spirit, should you really need a fancy degree to see the value in it?
2 out of 5 stars. Helen Phillips could be a brilliant writer, if she’d stop trying to be so impressive and literary and just write a meaningful story.
Oh, Ninth House. Delicious, dark, mysterious, murder-mystery-wrapped-in-a-low-fantasy-dark-academia Ninth House.
Fuckkkk….this is the kind of fantasy book that I YEARN to write. You ever read a book soooo good that you’re just like, ‘Yes, everytime I sit down to write, this is what I’m trying to do.’
Most of the readers who give a crap about the books I write are probably familiar with the saga that has been ‘Timestorms and Tourniquets.’ I wrote a 120k word book in three months. I had so much fun writing it. And then spent the next year attempting to rewrite it to fix the worldbuilding issues. And now after throwing out two entire rewrite drafts of between 80-100k words (literally, right into the trash), I got a wonderful review from Emily S. Hurricane, a writer that I greatly admire, and decided, you know what? I don’t need to fix a book that people already love.
Still, while I’ve decided to stick to minor revisions with Timestorms, there’s obviously something I wanted to do with the book that didn’t get done. I’m not as happy with it as I could be. The world isn’t lush and dark enough. The magic system isn’t detailed and layered enough. The tone isn’t compelling enough.
And when I read Ninth House, I had this overwhelming feeling of, “THIS is what I’m trying to do! This gorgeous mystery that unravels bit by bit!’
But the fact is, I’m not Leigh Bardugo. I’ll keep trying to write a fantasy this good. But I’m a long way off.
In the meantime, I’ll just sing her praises and tell you that Leigh Bardugo is the fantasy writer that I aspire to be. Minus the weird ghost rape scenes and shoehorned feminist talking points, but we’ll get there.
By the way, spoilers start now. If you don’t want them, just know that I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and I can not wait for the sequel. Now go binge this book. Unless you need trigger warnings. In which case, this book has all the trigger warnings and is not for you. I mean, I hate the entire concept of trigger warnings and even I was kind of “triggered” by a graphic rape scene of a middle school girl…by a ghost. Not just child rape, but child rape perpetrated by a ghost. I’m all for edge, but Bardugo lost me a little there. Too edgy for me.
What I lurrvved!
The setting. High fantasy (fantasy set in a brand new world, like GOT, Stormlight Archive, WOT, or the wattpad hit The Unseen Hand) dominates the fantasy genre. I don’t like it. I don’t like learning a brand new world, new continents, new species, or if you’re flipping Brandon Sanderson even new freaking plant species! I know many consider Sanderson the absolute Goat and I’m trying to get more into his stuff, really I am. But every other paragraph the story stops to explain crap like rock polyps and spren and…gah! Just stick magic in the real world because reasons! Harry Potter that shit!
And that’s exactly what Bardugo has done. She took a real world place, Yale, and put magic there, because reasons. The worldbuilding is still impressive as hell and I loved learning all about how the different aspects of magic worked together or against each other. The nexus’s, the tombs built over them, the elixir that allows people to see ghosts, gluma, hellbeasts, magic potions…ah! I loved it. but I didn’t have to learn a whole new world to get that. Please, fantasy community, give low fantasy (sometimes I see it called contemporary fantasy) a fair shot! It’s so fun to see our own world twisted by magic. I don’t need to travel to Tar Valon. We can have magic and mystery right on the campus of Yale.
The characters. I’ll admit that Alex Stern does have a few moments where I felt she was a little too cool for school. When she intimidates other characters so easily and has such clever well-timed quips, it definitely reads as very Mary Sue-wish fulfillment to me. I could have done without that. Still, overall I really connected to her. Her tragic backstory made me sympathize with and root for her. I loved her relationship with Hellie. I loved that she was real and raw and made mistakes.
Then there was Darlington. Poverty inside of a mansion. I feel like there’s a metaphor there. Maybe a better blogger than I will find it. His motivations were so interesting. Preserving his family’s legacy was so important to him and I loved that.
Tripp and Turner were both super entertaining. Dawes was great.
The only character I have a real problem with is Blake. He’s a cardboard cutout of a feminist talking point.
As a recovering radical feminist myself (no lie-I used to lecture people on the evils of makeup and heels), I know how my next point will likely be interpreted by current feminists, but just know I’m not your enemy. I don’t hate feminists. I was one for the majority of my life. It’s just that I realized the feminist ideology is based on a tower of lies. Most anti-feminists (with the exception of ShoeonHead and a couple others) started out as feminist themselves. We were involved in the feminist ideology long enough to figure out it’s a load of bullshit. One such piece of BS is the myth of rape culture. Rape is horrible and rape happens. I’m not disputing that. But we don’t have a rape culture, and most frat-house rape scandals have turned out to be hoaxes perpetuated by the liberal media (if you had ever told me ten years ago those words would one day come out of my mouth…).
Anyway, that’s my issue with Blake and the frat house of rape subplot. It’s a shoehorned feminist talking point and one without much basis in reality. Look into it yourself if you don’t believe me. The statistics that “prove” rape culture were collected in dubious ways that no academic with integrity would ever get behind. Now that 1 in 5 statistic has been repeated so often that people accept it as gospel, without looking into how the data was collected, how they defined “rape”, or whether or not their sample size was large and diverse enough to prove anything.
Blake was annoying, a stereotype, a ham-fisted feminist talking point that the book would have been much better without, but the book was so strong that I was able to (mostly) look past this.
Lastly, I loved the incredibly unique premise. A murder mystery in a low fantasy setting is something that I’ve never seen. I can not wait for the sequel! I’m not even usually a murder mystery person, but the way the clues were revealed and the mystery became more and more complex; this is a book that tugs you in slowly and then all at once. The pacing and tension are sublime. I’ve seen some people say that the slow-burn style didn’t work for them. I felt it was delicious. Gorgeously done. The book couldn’t have worked without the slow burn pacing.
The only aspects of the book I didn’t care for were Blake and the frat house subplot, Alex being a little too cool at a few points (the ‘you can’t just!’ scene comes to mind), and the scene where Alex is raped by a ghost as a middle schooler on the day of her first period. I don’t enjoy seeing children brutalized. If the story needed that subplot then I could forgive it. However, the book would have been fine without that graphic, disturbing scene. She could have been a drug addict just because of how scary it is to be followed around by ghosts all the time. Also, it was never explained why that ghost was able to touch her. That plot hole bugged the fuck out of me.
In short, a few issues, but overall a very strong book. This is my first Leigh Bardugo book and she has surely gained a new fan. I’m off to check out the infamous Six of Crows series, while I wait for the Ninth House sequel.
How did you feel about Ninth House? Tell me in the comments! I’m always up for hearing some opposing viewpoints. Did you hate it? Tell me all about it! Did you love it? Let’s fangirl together. See ya!
He turned in front of the full-length mirror. It hung from the back of his parents’-well, his mom’s bedroom door. He took in his reflection. Scrawny. His shoulders were too narrow. His neck was too long. His hair was too thick. It was getting too long and unmanageable too. He was starting to look like Ronald McDonald.
He had been scheduled three whole days off in a row, a truly rare occurrence. And he kept thinking about that advice he’d read in the IncelsWithoutHate subreddit. Be Interesting. Watching anime and playing video games weren’t enough to get a girlfriend. Meeting people is just a matter of odds. He couldn’t spend all of his time inside if he wanted to meet girls. And here he was, with three whole days off. He had a plan. He’d go to the library, then the park to read whatever books he got. If he saw a pretty girl and was feeling very brave, maybe he’d go talk to her…It was a big maybe.
But first things first, he was gonna take care of his shit appearance once and for all. Taking a good long look at himself, he decided that the three things he needed to focus on most were clothes, hair, and skin. He needed some new clothes. He was still wearing stuff his mom bought him in high school. His jeans were old and faded. Sonic the hedgehog on half his t-shirts probably wasn’t helping him any. He’d just got his paycheck. He could afford to drop some money on new dudes, and a haircut too while he was at it. He decided to go down to the Pheasant Lane Mall and pick out some cooler clothes. Then he’d go get his haircut and go checkout the library.
He’d never actually been to the library. He wasn’t sure he even liked to read. Other than mangas, he’d never read for fun. Oh well, it was something to try. If anything, he just needed a book to hold at the park.
He gave himself one last disgusted look and sighed. Meet a girl at the park? What a stupid idea. Apparently, he thought he was living inside of a chick flik or something. If only he looked like Richard Gere…
The bedroom door swung open and he gave a startled jump. His mom swept in, a distracted look on her face that quickly twisted into a frown when her eyes fell on Adam. She placed a hand on her hip and tilted her head.
“What are you doing in my bedroom?”
He jerked his head in the direction of the now-open door.
“Just using your mirror.”
He didn’t want to admit that. He felt like a pussy, checking out his reflection like he was a chick.
Mom pushed into the room and set down the pile of laundry she held on top of her bureau. Then she turned to Adam, an amused little smirk on her purple lips and her eyes lit with amusement.
“You thinking of a make-over?”
He shrugged and thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans.
“I dunno, Mom. I thought I’d go get some new clothes and a haircut…”
He trailed off, his cheeks reddening.
Mom approached him, with a curious look in her eyes.
She reached out and shifted a tuft of hair out of his face. She eyed him skeptically, tilting her head one way and then another.
“Mom, speak. What?”
“I could come with you and help you pick out a new haircut.”
“Uh…I don’t know.”
She dropped his hair, and took a step back, planting her hands on her hips.
“You haven’t changed your haircut in years. I think a change would do ya good. What do you think you’ll do different?”
“Come on, we’ll go see my stylist, Lindsey. She can help you out. She knows all the young people styles these days.”
She turned on her heel and snatched her large purple bag from the wicker chair by the bed.
“Give me a minute to put on my lips and we’ll go.”
He rubbed the back of his neck.
“Mom, I don’t know…no offense, but I don’t know if I want to get advice from someone who says ‘young people styles.’ You get it, right?”
She pulled her tube of lipstick from her back and shut the door partway to apply lipstick in front of the mirror.
“It’s fine, Adam,” she said after running the lipstick over the edges of her lips. “Besides, when was the last time we did anything together?”
“Guess it’s been awhile…”
Not that he really wanted to spend time wth her. Lately he’d been so angry at her. She was so rude to Dad all the time, just because he lost his job. It was like without bringing in money, she didn’t even love the guy anymore. It made Adam feel…weird…
Mom slapped her tube of lipstick back into her purse and then gave her short gray hair a fluff.
“You think I should go back to dying my hair?”
Adam snorted. “Are we giving each other hair tips now?”
“Oh, I was only asking,” she scoffed, turning away from the mirror and adjusting her purse on her shoulder. “Thought I was ready to let it all go gray, but I still can’t get over this strange old lady I keep seeing in the mirror.”
“You look fine, Mom.”
“Oh, shut it, you liar. Come on. I’ll treat you to breakfast, since you’re up before noon and all.”
“Fine,” Adam sighed. “Guess you can help me.”
He followed her out of the room and down the stairs. This might be fun. Old or not, she was still a female. Maybe she could help him choose a better look. And if she couldn’t, her stylist friend probably could.
At the bottom of the stairs, Mom stopped. She peered across the small entryway and into the living room. She released a short grunt and cut her eyes.
Adam’s mood fell, only a little, only enough for him to register it. His foot landed on the last step and he looked over his mom’s head. Dad was on the couch in his bathrobe. He held a cup of coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
“You don’t need to look at the classifieds,” Mom snapped. “They put all those job postings online now.”
“I know that, Bev. I haven’t started my job search for the day. I’m catching up on the news.”
Mom shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“We’re going out.”
Adam’s mood dropped further. His heart thudded slowly.
He followed his mom to the front door and hazarded one last glance back at Dad. Poor old guy. Unshaved, unshowered, his eyebrow furrowed and his eyes glassy and blank. He looked…lost.
‘He’s like an old version of me’ Adam thought to himself. But why? Why were they both so lost? Why did they both have that same dead look in their eyes. Adam knew he had it too. He’d seen it himself in the mirror. He looked nothing like his younger self. His eyes had shine back in high school.
He climbed into the passanger side of his mom’s minivan.
She adjusted her mirror and then looked at him with her mouth tight.
“Don’t end up like your father,” she snapped. “Grow up and be a man who provides for his family. You be a good man.”
And he was disturbed in that moment in a way he’d never been. But he didn’t know why.
And anger flashed brightly, spinning and bobbing with each thud of his heart. The too-thick coat of lipstick, uneven around the edges of her thin lips. Her yellow teeth. The sagging skin of her neck, giving her the appearance of jowls. It all made him so angry.
So angry that he shut his eyes so that he wouldn’t have to see her.
So angry that he kept his lips shut tight to keep from yelling.
The blackpill? What was that?
He typed his question into google.
Huh…there was that word incel again. A number of the responses to his post had called him an incel. Maybe that was what he should be googling.
What is an incel?
Unable to find a romantic or sexual partner? Well that sounded like him. But what was that Urban Dictionary bit? He didn’t think women were shallow….did he? They did always seem to go for the better-looking guys. He clicked the Urban Dictionary link.
Oh…fuck all that then. He wasn’t a sexist. He didn’t think women owed him sex. He was just sad and lonely. He wanted to figure out how to get a girl interested in him. How could he approach them? He wanted that girlfriend experience more than anything. Yeah, he still had to figure out his life. But it might be easier if he had someone was in his corner. Right now it was only him. All alone….
He didn’t know why he kept going, but he did. He went back to Reddit and he searched for incels. If they really did have terrible attitudes and hate women, he’d ignore that. Right now, he just wanted to feel like he wasn’t alone. Posting in r/lonely had only made him feel worse than ever. Get a better attitude…it’s your fault…take a shower….it’s easy. But it wasn’t easy and he took showers plenty and he felt less understood than ever.
Wow…these guys were…a lot. Okay, he was looking in the wrong place. This was some kind of crazy group. He decided to look elsewhere.
He typed “lonely communities” into the searchbar and scrolled through the results.
Incels without hate…that was interesting. Did that mean it was guys who couldn’t get girls without all of that weird stuff? He clicked the link about the Joker movie.
He opened up the first post, hoping to find some tips.
He read through it.
There were some good tips. He was overwhelmed by the thought of trying to enact some of them. Take himself on dates? Go out into public and go on adventures?
He guessed he could do that. Where would he even go though?
The part that struck him the hardest was the part about not talking to people because you find them hot or want something from them. Did he do that? He wasn’t entirely sure. He did know that when he was talking to women, he was usually thinking of fucking them or wondering what his chances were if he asked them out.
He could give some of this a try. He could become more interesting. He had to admit, he didn’t have a lot going for him other than his vidya and anime. He could find something else. Become more well-rounded…
He scrolled down to the comments and read.
He didn’t understand most of it. First there was someone saying all of the advice was the usual normie advice. Then a long thread between what Adam assumed to be an incel and someone from “IT”, whatever that was. The user from IT said that they hadn’t known incels who weren’t hateful, condoning rape and other horrible things, existed (hadn’t Adam just found them within five minutes of googling? Psshh..) Then a bunch of the incels said that IT existed to bully and harass incels. Braincels was mentioned (the same sub that commenter had mentioned?) and the braincels’ users defended. It was said they hate women because of their own awful experiences with women.
The IT user asked them to summarize the blackpill philosophy.
Fuck. If that was the blackpill, then Adam had swallowed it whole. He saw a lot of truth here. Women were always hooking up with criminals and thugs, abusers, drug addicts. If he had muscles, women dropped to their knees.
He’d known this for years. His neighbor’s kid, R.J, in and out of jail. He was a twenty-four-year-old deadbeat who’d been convicted of the second degree murder of his own kid. The details of the day were sketchy. Somehow the kid had been left in the crib while a suspicious fire started. R.J and his girlfriend ran out of the house, leaving the baby to burn to death. There was a nasty rumor that he’d once referred to the event as a “late-stage abortion.”
That sack of shit pulled more pussy than anybody Adam knew. He had prison tats and rock-hard abs. He always had side-chicks for days.
And Adam was nice. And Adam was funny. And Adam would treat a girl right.
But he was a ginger with an ugly face.
Maybe this guy was right.
It was a superficial rat race.
And that race had been rigged against him from the start.
He’d never actually posted in Reddit. He’d dropped a comment here and there. He made use of the upvote/downvote system. He’d never written a post. But here it was, three-thirty in the morning and he was still awake, still jittery, still wondering what in the ever-loving-fuck was wrong with him. He was a virgin at twenty-three years old. A fucking pathetic virgin at twenty-three years old. That wasn’t normal. Couldn’t be normal.
Even if he ever managed to get a girl interested, what was she gonna think about him being a virgin? She’d probably think something was wrong with him. She’d probably think he was a total freak. If he did ever get a girlfriend, maybe he should pretend he wasn’t a virgin. Maybe he should act like he had all kinds of experience. Would he even be able to do that though? He knew how sex worked in theory, obviously. Like any other dude with an internet connection, he’d been known to fap to degenerate shit on pornhub. Just because he’d seen other people do it, didn’t mean he’d know exactly how to do it himself when the time came. If the time came. He shoved that thought aside. When. When the time came, he didn’t know if he had the option to fake experience. He might mess up, do something wrong, have to ask the girl for help.
This terrifying thought had kept him up. He’d paced the basement. He’d gone upstairs and cooked up a second helping of hot pockets for the night. He’d downed them with one hand and completed several missions in Red Dead Redemption, and then shoved his greasy plate into a corner by the couch and paced some more. The worry crushed his bones. The sorrow pounded in his torso, tore at his blood, and rattled his brain. He would never be happy. He didn’t know how to be happy. He hated who he was.
He hated who he was.
He wrote a post on Reddit.
He read the responses. Deep into the night and as the morning light hit the dark sheet of sky, he read each and every one of the responses.
So lonely and so worried something is wrong with me Posted by u/thrwawytehdude
First time posting…been lurking foreva. Basically I need to get this off my chest. Maybe tis is more of a vent but if you got any advice for me lay it on me. I am twenty-three. No girl ever looks at me. Anytime I have a crush on a girl, I try to figure out if she is interested and she never is. They always go with the tall muscle head guys. Like this asshole I work with. His brain is nonexistant. He’s this absolute moron who only talks about protein powder and lifting. He has this weird potbelly too. Dude lifts but still has this fat gut and girls still like him because TALL because BIG ARMS. Well I don’t have any of that. I’m avergae height, below average face, and ginger. I look gross. My job sucks. I’m so socially reatrded I’m basically autistic.
I am a virgin at twenty-three and the only gf I ever had was back in high school. I was sixteen and she was fifteen. Never had any chick notice my existance after her.
What can I do to fix this? If I do ever get a girl who likes me will she be disgusted right away that I’ve never had sex? Is she gonna think something’s wrong with me?
Can I fake it? Can I pretend I know what I’m doing?
How do I stop being such a social recluse loser??!!
Somebody help me please! I hate myself and everything about my life.
* prochoicespagetti 63 points
First off, you have to learn to love yourself. You know what RuPaul says “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else.”
- kenya43 14 points
Don’t think that’s how the quote goes
- onionshrek 3 points
Most over-rated quote of the century
* panama-anal 54 points
You sound like an upstanding guy. Why are you judging someone just for taking care of themselves? And you don’t seem to have a very respectful view of women. If you did, you’d know that women all have individual preferences. If you don’t have any women who like you, it’s a you problem.
* lamamama 51 points
Found the incel!
- thrwawaytehdude score hidden
What is an incel? If it is my problem I want to fix it. Idk how.
* lamamama 55 points
Sure, buddy. You don’t know what an incel is? Nice larp. I look forward to the screenshots posted to braincells.
* throwawayworry 37 points
Have you actually approached any women? You can’t expect women to know you like them if you aren’t talking to them.
- fantasticman score hidden
This. Despite what women claim, they want an alpha. You have to walk up to them and claim what you want. Extra points if you act like a dick. They love that.
* princeofpussy 33 points
Listen, dude, you don’t sound like a confident guy. Women aren’t all that complex. Just go talk to them, ask them on dates, that’s about all there is to it. If you’re ugly, go for ugly chicks. And make sure you shower.
- gumarka876 72 points
And leave your waifu at home. Can’t have the ladies getting jealous of each other.
*missesme 20 points
I’m getting such neckbeard vibes from this post. It’s probably the fact that women can sense the desperation in you, and if you don’t like women they can sense that too. Focus on yourself. Have good hygeine. Work out. Go out and build a social life. The right woman will walk into your life when you are ready for her.
* uglyloser 19 points
Funny how everybody on this thread is calling OP out, telling him to shower and change his views on women. Try giving real advice! And yes OP women will be turned off if you tell them you are virgin. Keep it secret. If you manage to get a woman naked, maybe you can tell her then. But probably better to not tell her or you could ruin your chances.
* anonymousdweeb 14 points
Well duh women don’t like you, daywalker. Ya got no soul!
* lawler15 10 points
Women don’t care about looks. Men don’t understand that. We care about personality, character, integrity. If you’re a decent guy, you shouldn’t have an issue getting a girlfriend. And NO! No women in the world care if a guy is a virgin.
- ihgyskayyyy 2 points
HAHAHHAAAAAA!! Oh man women don’t care about looks? Nice virtue signaling. Good foid. Here’s a cookie.
* lawler15 11 points
Can you all just go your own way already? All you MGTOWs keep brigading this sub and getting your panties in a twist anytime a woman tries to give real advice.
* superiorwino 8 points
23 is really old to have never had sex. If I met a guy who’d never had sex at that age, I would have to stop and wonder if something is wrong with him.
* skippitydooodah 4 points
Bruh, just go find some drunk chick and smash. Once you get your dick wet that first time it ain’t nothing.
- cheeseandricesuperstar 3 points
Exactly. Too many dudes making it out to be some big thing. Have sex and then go forth and be regular.
* blackpilledandpudgy -5 points
ǀ Average Height
Cool, then it ain’t over for you. It’s only over for men under 5’8. How tall are you?
- thrwawaytehdude score hidden
* blackpilledandpudgy -3 points
What the fuck are you crying about then? You made the cut. Go slay some pussy.
Adam kept scrolling. He kept reading. A lot of people seemed mad about the way he talked about Josh. They told him he was jealous, that not all fit guys were jerks, that he was projecting, that he was a misogynist, that women could sense this ugly attitude on him.
They told him to be confident. They told him to ask girls out. They suggested places to meet women. They told him to take a shower. They told him to give up anime. It insulted and saddened him that they’d rightfully guessed he liked anime.
And then there were some women encouraging him, telling him they found shy guys cute. Telling him they found gingers cute. That height didn’t matter. That looks didn’t matter. That a man’s job and money didn’t matter.
And at the very bottom of the wall of text, comment after comment built up over the course of the night, the very last comment, having accrued so many downvotes it wasn’t visible and Adam had to click on it to reveal the text and the accomponying irate responses.
* mogspeople -57 points.
Take the blackpill
And that was all it said.
Emily spent the rest of the night making pointed comments about him and Becca.
“She was cute, huh?”
“Don’t gimme that,” she prodded. “I saw the way you were making eyes at that goth girl. You two would be cute together.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about a girlfriend. When was the last time you had one?”
“I’m gonna start packing up the hot case. It’s slow enough.”
“Adam, I asked you-”
“I better get started. We might actually get out of here at a decent hour.”
Driving home, Adam fumed over Emily’s interest in the situation. He must have been so obvious, the fact that Emily had said something. Becca must have been totally creeped out by him. And the way Emily couldn’t wait to see him paired up with someone else. She’d probably noticed it the times Adam had crushed on her too! She thought he was hideous and annoying, and she wanted to encourage him to go after someone else. She was basically saying, ‘Please go bother that girl. I sure as hell don’t want you.’ And what girl in her right mind would? Stupid ginger with a shit job and no future in sight. Why the fuck should anyone want him?
He reached over and turned up the volume of the car’s stereo. He nodded his head in time to the beat. The Glorious Sons’ Sawed-Off Shotguns blasted through the still of the night. He put his window down and let the warm night air flow past him.
“They shut the lights off, the took car and, I bought a sawed-off shotgun.”
He sang along and drove through the empty roads of Merrimack, abandoned at this hour. A small New Hampshire town, rarely a car was seen after ten-thirty. A fleeting sense of peace settled over him. He reveled in it. His blood cooled. His muscles relaxed.
“I’d rather be crazy than to take these pills. I’m sick of being okay against my will.”
He was sick of being okay. Faking it every day. Pretending to feel okay. Dragging himself through each day. But in this moment, the night was serene, the air was warm and languid, and he fucking loved this song. Happiness, like a shiver up his back. Happiness, like a spray of froth off the ocean. Refreshing and surprising. And gone. Gone as quickly as ever.
He never could hold it.
It wasn’t his to keep.
He veered off Route 101, turning down the dark winding road that led to his suburb. No streetlights. Only the glow of his headlights shone through the shadows.
“I don’t know who to trust…Maybe people like us…”
The words of the song hit extra heavy that night. If he wanted to trust and open up to somebody, did he even have a ‘people like us’? Who would relate to a pathetic existence like his? He was a loser. He was a pussy. He was an idiot. Loser. Pussy. Idiot.
He thought a lot about how lonely he was, but he hadn’t tried to ask a girl out in ages. What a fucking pussy. What a pathetic sack of shit.
He drifted through the next two weeks. Every day was some variation of the same, work and customers and coworkers and then coming home to the dark, lonely basement.
Adam missed having friends. He’d never made any strong connections with coworkers. There was a couple once, a woman who worked in the deli with him and her boyfriend who worked in receiving, they’d invited him over a few times to drink and party. They’d been nice enough, but gave him weird vibes. The woman, Renee, used to chop up pills and snort them, and she always touched all over Adam like she was trying to flirt, even though her boyfriend was right there. Other than them, Adam hadn’t really made any friends at Wal-Mart, even though he’d worked there for years. He missed the group he’d had in high school. Sometimes he felt so distant from everybody else. He didn’t know the last time he’d really felt connected to someone. There probably wasn’t one person out there in the world who thought about him. Maybe people thought of him in passing. That was it.
He didn’t matter to anyone.
He didn’t matter.
He used to matter.
Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he’d only convinced himself he’d mattered.
Back in high school, he’d had some decent guy friends. Most had been girls. Girls liked to talk to him. They always said he was a sweetheart. Yep. Sweet and sensitive. That was Adam. He hadn’t minded it in high school, especially since Monica had dated him for awhile. He might have been friend-zoned by most girls, but at least one had seen him as a romantic prospect. What had changed since then? Why couldn’t he get a female to give him the time of day?
His thoughts tumbled over themselves, crashing and rolling, colliding and careening. That’s why he didn’t notice that he’d been slicing the Blackforest ham for far too long. He moved his arm back and forth, back and forth. The repetitive movement was soothing, dreamlike. For a long, drawn-out, internal moment, he forgot he was standing on the greasy brick-colored linoleum of the deli, a line of customers on the opposite side of the glass display case, the smell of oil from the fryers. That oil permeated the air. The customers muttered to one another and looked down at their watches. Time, time, everything was time. It moved, it slowed, it stilled. It kept on going, even though Adam never went anywhere, never did anything. He wasn’t progressing. He wasn’t-
He started, narrowly missing the spinning blade zipping by beneath the blade-guard with the tips of his fingers. Emily stared at him with wide eyes. She nodded in the direction of the waiting customer on the other side of the glass, a balding Indian dude with a pointed nose and oversized glasses.
“I think you have enough there,” Emily suggested with a tight smile. “Zoning out over here?”
Adam turned off the slicer and snatched a deli bag to wrap the meat.
“A little,” he muttered. “Just tired today.”
“Yeah,” she said softly. “You seem sort of out of it. You want to take a break?”
“Nah, I’ll take my fifteen when Rick gets back.”
He gave the sliced ham to the visibly-irritated customer, who stalked off without a word, and then tried to find a way to salvage the extra meat he’d sliced while spacing out. It was about a quarter of a pound. He wrapped it in cellophane and then stuck it to the end of the ham husk, and then wrapped it all up together at the cellophane-wrapping station.
Just another busy Saturday. Another boring, pointless Saturday. Emily and Rick were on shift with him, although Rick would be leaving at seven, as usual. Closing alone with Emily again. He used to like closing with her. He used to like talking to her. Maybe he’d been holding out, thinking something might happen between them. He was always an idiot like that, getting stuck on women who didn’t know he existed. Well…Emily knew he existed, but only because she had to close the deli with him so often. Women only noticed him when they had to.
And he was getting up there in years too. Twenty-three. If he hadn’t gotten a girlfriend yet, not ever a serious adult relationship anyway (did a few weeks back in high school even count?) then maybe he never would. No education. No prospects for a good job. No hope. No future.
No attention from any females ever.
They didn’t see him. He wasn’t worth it.
Oh sure, they could use him for a ride home. They could be friends with him. Like Christina sending him stupid messages on Facebook, complaining to him about her relationship problems. Chicks could cry to him, come to him for some sympathy and attention, but had one ever actually liked him? Even Monica hadn’t seemed super into him. He’d always had the sense that she was dating him because they were both the only singles in their friend group. She’s only kissed him a handful of times. She’d never seemed super into it. He couldn’t even blame her. He had such an ugly fucking face.
He fell back down into the abyss of his thoughts, swirling about like water being sucked down the drain. With the current lull in customers, he took the opportunity to wipe the counters a bit. Not that there was any point. They’d get dirty again, and he’d still need to do the deep clean once the deli closed.
Swirling a wet rag over the shining metal counter, smooth, concentric circles, his thoughts mirrored his physical movements. Ruminations. Cyclical cynicism, round and round until it made him dizzy. He wasn’t tall enough to get women to notice him. Five feet eight inches. That was nothing. His face was ugly. His nose was too bulbous, squished almost flat with nostrils that flared out too wide. His eyes were too far apart. His skin was shit. He didn’t have a chin. He’d cover that mess with a beard if he could, but he couldn’t grow more than a few pube-y looking patches, no matter how long he went without shaving. But the worst curse of all; he was ginger. Most girls didn’t dig ginger dudes. He wasn’t even the carrot-orange kind of ginger that the few chicks with a ginger fetish might go for. He had dark red hair, red with a brownish tint. No Ron Weasley fangirls for him. Just ginger enough to turn off basically all females.
His break couldn’t come fast enough. He tossed the rag back into the bucket and fucked out of there the second Rick was back.
Adam didn’t smoke, but sometimes liked to spend his break in the smoking room. The guys in receiving were always chill to talk to and all of them smoked. In the regular break room, he usually ended up talking to the cashiers. The chicks who worked the front end seemed to be under the impression that he was one of the girls. They liked to rope him into conversations about their boyfriends and which bras fit best. It was fucking embarrassing. ‘Course he was too much of a pussy to actually say anything about it. So, he ended up sitting there like a dip-shit talking about girl stuff. He didn’t know why women didn’t see him as a real man. He was a man. Had a dick and everything. They shuffled him into some kind of ‘gay best friend’ category, even though he wasn’t gay. It fucking sucked and he didn’t have the energy for it today. He’d hang out with the smokers. They were so chill they never even asked him what he was doing in their break-room.
He wound his way through the store, bobbing between harried mothers with babbling children, old women with Karen hair, and middle-aged men in sweats and ill-fitting Red Sox shirts. The Saturday crowds were out in full swing, but Adam knew the best paths to cut through the store without getting stopped. He cut through grocery, which was the path of least resistance because it was the quickest way to the back aisle of the store, but there were a bunch of people in the dairy section, so of course he got stopped to direct traffic along the way. Beans in aisle fifteen. Condensed milk is over in aisle twelve. The shoe department is over that way, at the back of the store. Tires that way. Yeah, the sale is still happening. Give ‘em the coupon before they ring you up. Otherwise it takes forever to re-ring it. You’re welcome. Of course. You have a good day too. Fuck all of you and learn how to read.
At the back of grocery, he hooked a right and plodded through the back of the shoe department. He made it through those six aisles without incident and finally reached the entrance to receiving. He pushed through the thin, swinging door, breathing a sigh of relief as he left behind the harsh fluorescent lights and customer chatter of the sales floor. He didn’t have the energy to be here today. He didn’t have the energy for anything today. Every action felt so pointless. It was all a long slow drag towards nothing…
“Adam, hang on a sec!”
He paused, mood plummeting ever further. The voice of the HR lady was followed by the patter of her heels over the concrete. He turned around, shoving his hands into the pockets of his black Dickies work pants. He drug the toe of his boot over the scuffed ground.
Cheryl hurried towards him, her brightly-dyed red hair bobbing at her shoulders. Why could women pull off being ginger? They even did it voluntarily. No dude would ever dye his hair red on purpose.
Behind Cheryl, a girl Adam didn’t recognize trailed behind. She had jet black hair and bangs. She had a real cute nerdy girl sort of thing going on. Large plastic glasses covered most of her face. Adam couldn’t see her eyes, because she kept them on the ground. She wore a baggy black hoodie with skeleton ribs on either side of the front zipper. As Cheryl bounded over to Adam with one of her hallmark cheesy fake grins, the new girl shuffled behind, not looking at anyone and tugging at the ends of her sweatshirt sleeves. Adam smiled softly. She was a nervous thing. He felt for her. He could be nervous a lot of the time too. Except she was so pretty. There was never any reason for pretty girls to be nervous.
“Adam, this is Becca,” Cheryl said with a flourish. “She’s a new hire about to start in your department. Can you bring her out to the deli and introduce her to everyone?”
Adam almost said no. He almost said that it was time for his break and he really needed one. Cheryl was such a phony bitch. Always riding him and pushing him around. She knew he was about to start his break. Why the fuck else would he be coming back here? She thought she could walk all over him. People always thought they could do and say whatever to Adam. He was quiet and didn’t make a fuss. If a dude wasn’t being a loud dick-bag half his life, everyone assumed he was a pussy.
Then again, maybe he really was one…
Becca glanced up at him then. Light brown eyes filled with hesitation, trepidation. The corners of her eyes crinkled and she gave a quick smile, before her cheeks flared pink and she was staring down at the ground again. Fuck, she was cute. How did someone that shy even get hired? The deli’s Karen customers were really gonna tear her apart.
Well…he could always stick up for her. He’d help her out. Teach her the ropes.
He smiled and waved, praying his hair didn’t look too nasty from hours spent sweating under a hairnet.
“What’s up, Becca? I’m Adam. I can show where the deli’s at if you wanna come with me.”
She glanced up at him shyly and smiled.
His heart exploded with a tidal wave of emotions.
He actually felt alive again.