What Makes a Man Pathetic?

Recently, someone remarked that I date pathetic men. To my ex-partners who may be reading this, I certainly don’t think any of you are pathetic, and I apologize that this person has perceived you as such. While I bear a strong preference for sexually-inexperienced men who prefer to play an exclusively submissive role in intimate relationships and have ample emotional baggage, I would like to clarify to onlookers that fewer than half of the men I’ve dated meet these qualifiers.

My feelings aside, that comment got me thinking — what does it mean to be a pathetic man in our society?

I surveyed seven men and nine women, each between the ages of about 18 and 30, with an average age in the low twenties, mostly caucasian ethnic backgrounds, mostly cis-gendered and heterosexual, and all within the middle socio-economic class. Here’s what they said:

A “pathetic” man:
– A “sad excuse for a human being”
– Short and skinny stature; physically small
– Small penis
– Submissive
– Uses “minimal effort” to attract sexual partners
– Lacks courage
– Unsuccessful
– “Unhappy or lost in life,” “not having strong aspirations”
– “Terrible at just about everything”
– “Someone to be pitied”
– Mild-mannered
– “[I]nsensitive attitude,” out to hurt people
– Physically weak
– Has a “misshapen” body
– Low morals
– Sloppy
– Dirty
– Surly, moody
– He “treats people like shit”
– He “[l]ets others use / walk all over him”
– “Not able to please his lover(s)”
– Sissy
– Indecisive
– Low pain tolerance
– He chases women “instead of trying to dominate” them

A “pathetic” woman:
– “I can’t see myself describing a woman that way.”
– “I’ve never really thought of a woman as pathetic.”
– She “doesn’t care for her body” and has “[g]iven up on looking good”
– “[W]hen they’re bitchy because nothing in their life is going well”
– Meek
– Drug addict, substance abuser
– “[F]eeling like they need a man,” “never being okay with being single”
– “[T]wo faced”
– “[R]elying on drama between friends for a purpose”

A “pathetic” person, in general:
– Not inclined to “take charge of their lives very well, and if they tried they would over compensate and still basically fail”
– “[M]iserable, whiney and unpleasant”
– Aimless, no motivation
– Spineless, cowardly
– Unaccomplished
– “The kind of people who you feel bad for, but they are so much of a project you don’t want to get very involved in helping them”
– “[P]oor example of something”
– Selfish
– “[U]nderhanded and sneaky”
– “[U]ndermining other people to lift themselves up,” treating people poorly for their own personal gain
– Low self-confidence
– Self-victimized
– Dumb
– Shallow
– Intensely insecure
– Immature
– Emotionally weak
– “[T]rying too hard… to be something they’re not”
– Blames everyone but self for their own mistakes, “sore loser”
– Doesn’t make an effort to “think and understand,” “just [tries] to be present”
– Doesn’t hold open doors for others
– Extremely unreliable, “is a flake without reason”
– “[D]oesn’t respect others”
– “[L]eechy (only around when they want/need something)”
– Untrustworthy
– Disloyal “to someone [they] love”
– Not acting like “a good person”
– Someone who has “done something reprehensible”
– “[S]exual predators or rapists”

So, what does this all mean?

As suggested by my small, non-randomized sample, “pathetic” isn’t just how we describe anyone who is not fulfilling their expected gender role; it’s normally how we describe men who aren’t living up to our masculine expectations of them. They are the men who aren’t socially powerful. They aren’t successful, in control, confident, likeable, or able to attract and satisfy sexual partners.

Even when my participants listed identical traits for men and women, most of these characteristics are overwhelmingly associated with a failed attempt at masculinity.

The same way that our culture uses “crazy” almost exclusively to describe women, I hypothesize that we use “pathetic” almost exclusively to describe men. These are both heavily-gendered terms, based on how our culture has defined what it means to be a man, to be a woman, to be feminine, and to be masculine.

My amateur sampling is not scientific and holds no empirical validity. It does, however, suggest a gender conceptualization which could be extremely beneficial for social scientists to explore in greater depth, both for the phenomenon, itself, as well as for its subsequent societal consequences.

13 thoughts on “What Makes a Man Pathetic?

  1. Don’t take this as an insult, but I would like to say that your demographic is too tiny to be statistically relevant. Given that there are over 7 billion humans on the planet, 7 men and 9 women is not nearly enough participants for this type of census data. Even the minimal standard 100 people, is considered very low in terms of accuracy.
    So while, I personally believe in much of what the people here say, I cannot confirm nor endorse a project made up of only 16 individuals.


  2. Hi, Alven! Thanks very much for reading, and for sharing a glimpse into your relationship with your son. I am so sorry to hear of what you have been through, and also sorry to hear of the challenge your family has endured as a result. ❤


  3. One word, “pathetic” means to me (no dictionary here) is that an individual has no redeeming qualities at all, just a worthless piece of sh–. This is exactly what my Son of 49 told me, that I’m a “pathetic little man”, there is no excuse for a Son or child to call their 69 y/o Father (a pathetic little man”.

    Since his email remark, we have or I have decided to let him live his life, void of any Father, who raised him since he was 12 y/o, people please think and then re-think, the words you are about to use, they can destroy families.

    There is nothing Pathetic about myself, so I will not defend myself to individuals who have no idea of who I’am.

    Just, Please, choose your words “carefully”


    1. I sincerely hope you do not mean that. Please, please seek immediate medical attention if you are having suicidal thoughts. My brother died of suicide nearly 9 years ago, and forever broke my family’s hearts. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (if you’re U.S. based) is 1-800-273-8255.


  4. A little defense here for “pathetic” men and for “crazy” women. I’ve never been considered “pathetic” as a man because I’m tall, blue-eyed, was blonde until my hair turned gray and have had a varied and active sex life. I’m also personable and can be an “A Type” personality when the situation suits me, though I tend to feel most comfortable when I can just be laid back. Your survey does bring up some interesting insights into how people feel about others.

    When it comes to male I find it interesting that someone might be considered “pathetic” if they are of “small stature” or “small penised”. Now I’ve been 6′ since I was 13 and most people see me as bigger because of my larger sized head. As far as penis size goes I’m fine. However, these ideas are all bullshit when it comes to society, life or our personal sexuality. There are scientific studies that do show that people perceive taller men as being more “manly” and more attractive. I think I’ve personally benefited because of my size and because of my looks. Yet, I’ve had many male friends, acquaintances and business associates who were short men. Some extremely successful at life, others less so, but other than societal pre-judgment none pathetic. For me a “pathetic” person, though I would almost never use that term, is someone unable to connect with others meaningfully. Perhaps too someone who has been incapable of achieving a sense of purpose in their lives.

    We have in America a skewed idea of what it is to be male. We are a society of “macho” that places the wrong emphasis on our concepts of male power and potency. Sexually, our society presents the immaturity and ignorance of the Victorian Age. As an older guy I actually lived through the time when our country was supposedly undergoing a “sexual revolution”, but it wasn’t. It was merely reaching a more mature understanding of what sexuality is and can be. Yet even coming through that “revolution” into the 1980’s, America was still behind the curve sexually and remains so to this day, although I have hope for those under 40 who seem to have their sexual act more together.

    When Bill Clinton looked into the camera and said “I did not have sex with that woman” I believed that from his perspective he was telling the truth. At the time survey showed that more than 65% of the people in this country defined “sex” as intercourse. To me that showed the fact that our country was still far behind in its ideas of sexuality. Sex is so much more that intercourse. Orgasm is not the object of sex, pleasure is. And pleasure is how the individual and their partner(s) define it, not some rigid rules of correctness most likely laid down by people lacking their own sexual fulfillment. I’ve experimented with just about everything sexually, but that’s because I’ve always approached sex from the idea of finding my own pleasures and providing for my partner’s pleasures.

    I’m sorry for going on like this, but your post struck a chord in me about subjects that I’ve long been interested in. Let me just close with why I think like I do and live like I have. Born in the mid 40’s I was lucky to be born two parents who had quite healthy ideas about sexuality. Sex was openly discussed in our home from the time I was of an early age and I was aware from the discussion that it was something enjoyed by both my father and my mother, in an era when women were only supposed to “put up with sex” for a man’s pleasure. At that time some of the greatest novels of the 20th Century were banned in America for their sexual content. While my parents were dead by the time I was 18, their attitude had prepared me or my own sexual explorations. Because of my mother’s liberated (liberal?) nature I was taught to respect females and their sexual urges. It was this respect that I think made me a desirable and perhaps a better lover. Though even those words convey a mis-characterization of sexuality. It is not an athletic event to be judged by prowess, it is a wonderful pastime to be judged by the pleasures one gives and one receives,


    1. Thank you for sharing your insights; I absolutely agree! Yes, our culture is heavily misguided about how a healthy masculinity should look, and yes, sex IS so much more than just a few acts. It’s an experience best enjoyed as overall pleasure, one which I strongly discourage others from viewing as strictly orgasm-centric.


  5. Yeah, plenty of crazy and pathetic people. Now, i’ll take a smart and kind and funny dwarf over any tall, good looking man or woman full of shit and righteoussness, which is the case for a large number of them, having no clue (it’s often the case among youngens) and that, to me, render them pathetic. In bullshit they trust ! Also, any man with a bit of experience will lengthen that woman’s list quite a bit. Yes social role will affect our perceptions but the fact remains that idiocy is very well spread equally among genders (and others).


  6. I do think there might be some gender weighting, but I know too many pathetic women and crazy men to think it’s very specific.

    I do think male social roles are more narrowly defined (and confining), so it’s more common to perceive men as not manly than women as not womanly. Just consider how sexy a woman wearing a fedora and a tie can be. Especially if that’s all she’s wearing. Even boxer shorts can look sexy on a woman, but panties or a bra on a guy? That never works.

    Strictly speaking, pathetic is more about what is evoked than what causes the response, which I expect is one reason you got such a range of definitions. Consider two examples:

    “The puppy’s pathetic cries brought its mother running!” Versus: “You got an ‘F’ in basket-weaving? That’s pathetic!”

    I wonder to what extent the pity response is part of your attraction to a type. The problem with people is that, while pathetic puppies are cute, adult humans, usually not so much. The scorn response generally is due, as your survey notes, to some form of inadequacy.

    A vexing question for you might be, if your lovers outgrow their inexperience and need to be submissive, where does that leave you? Do people tend to remain in that state forever?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Love this post and the look it gives the audience into what people think everyday about this topic. It really puts it into perspective about how we are trying to speak of genders equally but certain adjectives are more normal for one or the other. Love the research put into this and the layout of the post<3.

    Liked by 1 person

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