On the single day when Louisville becomes the fun capital of North America, Doug many years would baffle his roommates and their Derby-entranced out-of-town guests by passing on a trip to Churchill Downs.
“They couldn’t figure out why on God’s Earth I’d stay at home and work on my desktop, when they had driven across half the continent to be at the race,” Doug said. “I can only imagine what they said about me on the way to the track.”
Doug, (a pseudonym he requested for this story to protect his privacy), has lived in Louisville more than two decades, building a small business mini-empire working mostly in-home, completing promotional projects as a self-employed contractor.
If staring at his computer screen won out on Derby Day, one can imagine how sparse his social life was during an ordinary week.
“In the pre-modem days, I’d stay in my clients’ production centers until the 3 a.m. computer system shut downs,” Doug recalled. “Then when they needed volunteers for weekend field work, my hand was up right away. That was fine with the full-timers, who wanted to be with their families. And fine for me, ‘cause, I could get the glamour assignments.”
Those included interviews with Fred Rogers, John Mellencamp and Dan Quayle, in the area for various causes, including enlivening Doug’s resume.
His career also has included creating and distributing informational products of his own in stores and coffeehouses, and designing web sites going back to the mid-1990s, one of which has been written about in The Atlantic magazine.
“I can sit down with the famous and not get fazed,” Doug said during a recent interview in his Crescent Hill-area apartment. “But I realized late last year – and it hit me all at once one night while I was researching on the internet – that I can’t sit down with somebody not famous, not great, not seated across the table from me ‘cause it is a professional assignment, but just plain because I’d like to get to know them.”
Suddenly it became apparent to Doug, a single white male in his early 50s, that relatives weren’t being pesky or invasive over the years by frequently making him come up with an honorable answer to, “Don’t you ever date?”
A brave smile would accompany an innocent sounding, “Guess I’m a workaholic,” then a deft change of subject.
“I was awfully good at that,” Doug said. “Too good. And I cried for a week last November when I realized that I was covering up – that I’m no ‘workaholic.’ That’s an admirable term, like what got Bill Gates where he is and makes the world go round. The internet showed me many other words for what I was: love shy, functionally asexual, and here’s the one that stuck me in the heart -- ‘Incel.’ God, how I’ve learned to hate that word.
Incel is short for “involuntary celibacy” – yes, the term seems contradictory. Doug thought it ridiculous at first. “How could not doing something be involuntary? I mean, what is that, people being kidnapped and forced to work as priests?” he asked
It’s a term growing legs in media – ranging from sympathetic online support groups to lighthearted treatment on singles sites.
Still, a check of a handful of Louisville-area therapists on both sides of the river showed very little familiarity with the term.
Seven Counties Services spokeswoman Penny Weller said the regional mental health organization has no program devoted to involuntary celibacy or the more common term “love shyness,” adding that she is not aware of any other agency or private group in the Louisville area that has any outpatient or clinical program set up for the condition.
So what could the seemingly double-negative “involuntary celibacy” possibly mean?
Incels are as powerfully driven as normal people to find the right person for a significant other. The condition is not asexuality, which means having no sexual desire or attraction, though it could be called a sort of functional asexuality.
Incels are often sexually inexperienced people, sometimes completely inexperienced, and often face irrational levels of fear in potentially sexual and romantic situations. Also, incels can often feel very uncomfortable in social situations generally, so quite often, being an incel can be a side effect of having poor social skills.
Doug described a life that, mentally, is sexually normal. He fantasizes, gazes, develops crushes, idolizes and places singles ads just as passionately and eagerly as a healthy person does. But he is mystified about why he – a tall, in-shape, reasonably attractive man known to co-workers as quick with the one-liners -- cannot find a partner.
He’s initiated a few dates over the last 25 years, only to find himself weighted down by what he called “emotional fatigue” at the thought of pursuing follow-up outings.
“I still feel attracted, but there’s a stronger urge going on. It tells me, no, dating someone means tension, fear about saying the wrong thing. And not knowing how she really feels about me – that can be absolute hell. A voice is telling me, ‘Go back to where you are safe. You’re a great worker, but a lousy socializer.’"
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