I Could Have Been Elliot Rodger

Notes from different corners of the world.
May 31 2014 4:55 PM

I Could Have Been Elliot Rodger

Many men—including me, once upon a time—know what it’s like to be young, frustrated, and full of rage toward women.

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Since you can't understand girls, it's easy to turn them into fantasy creatures, whose love has the healing power of unicorn blood. The bliss you'd share would render popularity irrelevant. It would validate your intelligence, sensitivity, and kindness. In short, it would prove—to you and everyone else—that you're a person, like other people.

Of course, you can’t apply juvenile logic to the concepts of sex, love, and relationships. In fact, you haven’t really grown up until you realize that these concepts tend to have no logic at all. Since lonely psychos don't understand this, the unending futility of their efforts drives them to deeper levels of despair.

If you believe that love is the answer to all life's problems, but also that you're incapable of being loved, violence becomes tempting. And directing that violence toward others means you’re entitled to a few fleeting moments when, at long last, you have total power over who wins and who loses the incomprehensible game.

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To me, the most chilling line in Elliot Rodger's manifesto is this: "After I picked up the handgun, I … felt a new sense of power. Who's the alpha male now, bitches? I thought to myself, regarding all of the girls who've looked down on me in the past."

I can’t explain the reason the vast majority of lonely young men turn into relatively normal humans like me, while others become entries in Wikipedia’s “List of American Spree Killers.” I was just as messed up as Cho, Rodger, and Klebold. I was humiliated by my weight, which bordered on morbid obesity. I fancied myself an intellectual, but would’ve traded an acceptance letter to Harvard for one magical kiss from a classmate I’ll call Cynthia. I was a virgin until a year after I graduated college.

Klebold and Rodger had friends; Cho had a family who clearly loved him. Why did these guys pick up guns, but I never did? Maybe it was my parents: Like many liberal, urban baby boomers, they detested weapons and violence. I wasn’t allowed to play with guns, or even watch the G.I. Joe cartoons my friends adored. Maybe it was the era when I grew up, before Columbine, when mass murder hadn’t yet become such a popular mode of self-expression.

But before you let me off the hook, I have to confess: I was violent. I never physically hurt anyone, much less anyone female, but I emotionally abused every woman who rejected me. In high school, I called Cynthia a disgusting whore after seeing her snuggle with her boyfriend on a field trip. In college, I showed up drunk at another woman’s door the night after she ended our two-week relationship, pounding and screaming until she threatened to call the cops. And just two months after graduation, a nasty dispute with a female co-worker cost me my first job, at a daily newspaper in the Midwest. I'd worked toward a career in journalism since grade school, but I couldn't get hired anywhere with that incident on my record. So I spent the next 15 years daydreaming about what might've been, and hating myself for my childish anger and misogyny.

Things are much better now. Age and antidepressants have mellowed me, therapy has led me to develop coping strategies, and a healthier diet and regular exercise have imbued me with greater self-confidence. My first romantic relationships opened my eyes to the battles that women wage against loneliness and low self-esteem, and gave me the sympathy and understanding I lacked as a teenager. But as Paul Schrader—who created Travis Bickle, the ultimate lonely psychopath—once said, “You never outrun your childhood.”

So while my anger has subsided, it has never completely gone away. I can manage it, but I live every day in fear of the Elliot Rodger who still lurks inside me.

This article has been modified since it was originally published.

Brian Levinson is a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn.