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Involuntary Celibacy: A Review of Incel Ideology and Experiences with Dating, Rejection, and Associated Mental Health and Emotional Sequelae - PMC

Dating and Rejection

There is emerging evidence that incel activity may be an active response to the local dating market. Brooks and colleagues [43] analyzed over 321 million tweets posted between 2012 and 2018 and found that areas with a greater male:female sex ratio (indicative of greater competition for mates) had a greater volume of incel-related tweets. Incel tweets were particularly high in areas that paired competitive sex ratios with fewer single women, high income inequality, and lower gender income gaps. A lack of opportunity has also been identified in a recent study on incels’ dating app experiences. For instance, despite being more liberal in their selection (opting for wider age ranges and geographic radius, swiping right on a larger percentage of people), incels reported matching with only 4.5% of individuals compared to non-incel men who reported matching with roughly one-third of individuals [44]. When matches do occur, allowing users to communicate with one another, incels reported not receiving a response 75% of the time, nearly twice the rate of non-incel men. This aligns with a large discrepancy in the frequency of positive dating app outcomes: prevalence rates of going on dates, being in a relationship, and having sex with someone met through a dating app were 33%, 0%, and 13% among incels compared to 62%, 29%, and 58% for non-incel males, respectively. Thus, rather than being liberating, incels’ dating app experiences have been marked by disappointment.

Mental Health and Emotional Sequelae

What compounds this further is that incels report being more sensitive to rejection than their male counterparts, and experience a greater fear of being single, and that their self-esteem (which is also much lower) is more heavily influenced by their relationship status [44]. Their lack of popularity on dating apps has also been associated with higher levels of depression and dating anxiety and lower levels of self-esteem and secure attachment, all of which incels report higher and more problematic levels of than non-incel males. In a recent survey, the prevalence rate of depression and anxiety among incels was 95% and 93%, respectively, trumping national figures (gathered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention) of 28% and 36%, respectively [45]. Formal diagnoses (38% for both) were also higher than the national averages. How incels respond to their celibate situation has recently emerged as an area of interest for researchers. Three rhyming domains have been identified based on incel slang: hope, cope, and rope [39, 46, 47]. In the latter, rope references suicide by hanging, but is shorthand for suicide by any means. It has become a prevalent enough discussion in incel forums that Daly and Laskovstov [48] were able to conduct an analysis of 80 incel suicide posts. In some instances, incels were encouraged by one another to follow through on their suicidal ideation. There is even a forum on the incels.is website called Suicidefuel, which was explored by Laplante and Boislard [47]. Their analysis found that rope posts tended to be characterized by feelings of despair and hopelessness. Incels reported feeling incompetent and failing in their endeavors to improve themselves or their situation. Several researchers have explored how incels cope with their sexless status and a pattern has emerged wherein incels are engaging in either solitary (reading, watching TV, lifting weights) or concerning (using drugs, consuming pornography) practices [30, 47, 48]. Most recently, Sparks et al. [37•] compared the coping strategies employed by incels to their male peers. A similar pattern emerged wherein healthier coping mechanisms (e.g., positive reframing, seeking emotional support) were more commonly practiced among non-incel men, while incels reported higher levels of problematic strategies such as behavioral disengagement and self-blame. With respect to romantic rejection, incels engaged in more self-critical rumination as well as externalization of blame than non-incels [37•]. With the former also being related to higher levels of depression and anxiety, it appears as though incels engage in both internalizing and externalizing behavior, although the latter had the smallest effect size compared to the internalizing behaviors when incels were compared to their non-incel counterparts.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of inceldom is the social isolation they experience. In the largest survey of incels conducted to date, the moderators of incels.co found that only one-third of the nearly 300 respondents reported that they had at least one friend [49]. In Maxwell et al.’s [31•] analysis of r/Braincels, loneliness emerged as one of the more prominent themes. One post included by the researchers noted that “incels aren’t just after sex… what they really want is affection and a genuine emotional bond… some say they would be happy if they could just have platonic love instead of romantic love” (p. 1864). Jaki et al. [50] also identified social isolation as a core characteristic of inceldom. The lack of social connections may help explain why so few incels (18%) reported having pictures with others on their dating app profiles relative to non-incel men (52%), the only picture category where such a sizeable difference emerged [44]. More importantly, loneliness has been emphasized in the manifestos of multiple incels who have perpetrated deadly attacks [51–53] and was mentioned in a video by Davison a month before his attack in Plymouth [4].

In lacking friends, incels are deprived of a natural outlet to express their frustrations and receive emotional support, which could help buffer against the pains of romantic rejection [54–56]. Indeed, a recent survey of incels found that they experienced significantly more loneliness than non-incel males as well as less social support from friends and family, which were both associated with greater symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as self-critical rumination [37•]. This aligns with Jones’ [30] analysis, wherein discussion of loneliness was often housed within larger conversations of mental health struggles. While the incel label carries with it negative connotations, making some wonder why individuals who did not fit those descriptions would seek them out in the first place, the need for social interaction and a sense of belongingness may help answer this question. In both Maxwell et al.’s [31•] and Daly and Laskovstov’s [48] thread analyses, incels expressed gratitude to one another for allowing them to share their struggles and for serving as a support group. The ability to share their experiences with an ever-present group may also explain why incels reported greater use of the venting coping mechanism compared to non-incel males in Sparks et al. [37•]. That these communities may serve positive, cathartic functions (much like those that Alana envisioned years ago) is an important consideration for researchers and journalists, who often describe them as hateful echo-chambers. Indeed, 58% of incels surveyed indicated that incel forums made them feel less lonely with even greater proportions reporting a sense of belonging (70%) and feeling understood (75%) as positive outcomes of forum use [28].


Why do these fags want peace all of a sudden?

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