It is often believed that incels are an isolated phenomenon. Most people have never met an incel outside of internet forums, and incels themselves don’t often tell those close to them that they self-identify as one.
However, incels are a more common occurrence than it may appear at first. Regardless of the definition used – a difficult topic for another day – one must inevitably conclude that incels are among us.
There are clear indicators for this. To start with, the amount of American 12th graders who have ever experienced dates has been steadily decreasing for many decades now, inflating the number of younger people who desire but can’t enter relationships. In terms of sex, our society has hit an all-time low, and when it comes to virginity, as many as 13% of Americans remain virgins by the time they are in their early 20s – not a minor point for younger people who crave sex and relationships during their hormone-riddled years. Brian Gilmartin, a social psychologist who studied the phenomenon of the “love shy” (a person prevented from entering relationships due to severe shyness and anxiety) suggested in 2012 that as much as 1.5% of the population might be involuntary celibate.
There are those who dismiss the idea of widespread inceldom. Arguments against typically allude to voluntary abstention; that those who do not date or have sex are simply choosing not to do so. However, this is a misconception: Over 95% of singles would rather be in a relationship than stay single. Moreover, it is sometimes claimed that the phenomenon of incels is mixed with that of asexuality; in other words, that not everyone who doesn’t engage in sex has a desire for sex. Nevertheless, statistics tell us that only around 1% of the population self-identifies as asexual, and we should remember that even asexual people can desire a (sexless) relationship.
Perhaps the biggest hiccup both in proving and disproving that incels are widespread is self-identification. Does someone need to self-identify as incel for us to claim they are one? The topic elicits an article of its own, but suffice to say that anyone can reasonably claim a person is incel as long as they show signs of (or even better, admit to) struggling with attaining romantic relationships. Therefore, if a person vehemently denies they are incel (due to e.g., denial, fear of judgement, insecurities), we may still assume they are incel as long as the signs are in display.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day raw data isn’t enough to change the perspective of the public on the topic. The understanding that incels are an everyday occurrence must come from within each individual, and can’t be forced. This change must be sparked primarily by a realization that each one of us likely knows not one, but many incels, and may even be one themselves. As it turns out, having a broken heart is a remarkably common human experience.