CBS reports today that gym gunman George Sodini had been questioned by police prior to his murders, and the Times of London offers a possible parallel to his situation — the phenomenon of "love shyness."
In a mostly thoughtful piece, the Times's Amy Turner points out that love-shyness is not in the DSM-IV, nor is it universally recognized as a mental disorder. However, she writes,
the men who claim to suffer from love shyness (LS) all have in common the complete inability to initiate or to engage in romantic interplay. This renders them terminally, heartbrokenly, virginally lonely. They hold down jobs, they have some friends - these men are not antisocial, unattractive losers. They are normal, unassuming men in whom the confidence to approach women is missing.
While Turner is largely sympathetic to these men's plight, her language here reveals a certain amount of institutionalized prejudice. Should we really expect men to be "antisocial, unattractive losers" just because they can't get a date? Isn't that just as bad as assuming that single women are ugly cat ladies? The assumption that men without women are losers is just one of the difficulties love-shy guys have to contend with.
Many of the other difficulties come from within. One man, 24-year-old John, says "I've got absolutely nothing to offer" a woman. A teenage encounter with a girl ended in ridicule, and John has never kissed or even made friends with a woman since. Some psychologists say love-shyness is really just social anxiety disorder, which already has a definition and a recommended treatment, and even Professor Brian Gilmartin, who coined the term "love-shy," believes up to 40% of sufferers have Asperger's. So is there really any reason to look at love-shyness as its own phenomenon?
Maybe, if it can help us explain why some men turn misogynistic and even violent. Turner mentions the website Love-Shy.com, which she says attracts Incel ("involuntarily celibate") visitors, and those who subscribe to "true forced loneliness" or pickup artistry. A look at the website does reveal some disturbing tips. On the one hand, Love-Shy's FAQ offers good advice for anyone:
Concentrate on becoming more positive to the world and life in general. Look people in the eyes. Say hello to people in shops and people you pass on the street. Smile! Be your own positive self.
But it also tells shy guys to read "Without Embarrassment by Mike Pilinski. This will give you a crucial look into the woman's brain. How she reacts and why she reacts like that." The idea that there's a single thing called "the woman's brain" and that the solution to your shyness is to learn "how she reacts" shifts the problem off onto women, and makes overcoming shyness about manipulating them, rather than changing yourself. The FAQ also recommends that a shy dude "Become a High Status Male, as described in the book by Mike Pilinski." So what's Pilinksi all about?
His website, HighStatusMale.com (mildly NSFW), is really more silly than scary, with its graphics of a lady in a thong, a man yelling into a phone, and a "Male Dominance Scale" (at one end: "physically deformed;" at the other: "pro athlete"). Pilinski's book Without Embarrassment seems designed to help men overcome shame and fear of rejection, both worthy goals. Even the upsettingly titled She's Yours For the Taking is nowhere near as bad as the teachings of Roissy or Mystery — the excerpts available online don't advocate negging women or looking down on them, they just teach men how to create an "edge," like the trifecta of certified lady-killers — "bikers and snowboarders and stage performers."
This is all pretty easy to make fun of (would a snowboarding mime be the most successful man of all?), but the truth is that even harmless "seduction manuals" spread the notion that the solution to shyness is some sort of concentrated campaign to get women to fall for you. The appeal of this approach is obvious — shy people, especially men who lack romantic or sexual experience, may feel powerless. Pilinski's goal is to convince them that they can gain power over the opposite sex (Love-Shy.com and HighStatusMale.com seem to focus totally on straight guys, leading me to wonder if the gay community has any equivalents of TFL or PUA) using a few simple rules.
It's no surprise that repeated rejection combined with social anxiety would lead some people to think that the only way to have a successful relationship is to exert some kind of mind control over one's would-be partner. But it's not actually possible to control women's minds using a book, and even if it were, relationships where you have all the control are no fun anyway. More disturbingly, the idea that the proper way to relate to women is to manipulate them is extremely damaging — especially to men who have never even had a female friend. Pilinski's recommended techniques are rather benign, but they do set up an adversarial relationship between men and women, and if they fail, this relationship can easily become poisonous. It's not hard to imagine a man who finds that particular women aren't "his for the taking" becoming enraged, and turning his anger on all women. Sodini may not have visited Love-Shy.com, but he was a fan of seduction guides, and his blog reflected their generalization and objectification of women in an extreme form. Anyone who says that "the woman's brain" is a unitary entity that can be controlled is starting men off on the path to misogyny — and the men who visit Love-Shy.com are especially vulnerable.
George Sodini was questioned on July 30, a week before the gym killings, because he matched the description of a man who had been seen playing with a hand grenade on a bus. He was eventually let go because a witness couldn't identify him. It's surprising that police didn't find his blog at that time. Hopefully now law enforcement will take misogynistic online writings more seriously — and hopefully clinicians will teach "love-shy" men that manipulation isn't the answer.