How (Not) to Date a Nerd

A friend of mine sent me a link yesterday to a Gizmodo post titled “My Brief Affair with a World Champion Magic: The Gathering Player.” The date goes precisely as a nerd might fear it would.

At dinner I got straight down to it. Did he still play? “Yes.” Strike one. How often? “I’m preparing for a tournament this weekend.” Strike two. Who did he hang out with? “I’ve met all my best friends through Magic.” Strike three. I smiled and nodded and listened. […]

So what did I learn? Google the shit out of your next online date. Like, hardcore.

I’m not writing this to condemn the author of this article; a sizable portion of the internet seems to have done so quite extensively already. Nor am I writing this to speculate about what Gizmodo, a heavily nerd-trafficked blog, was thinking in running the article (though the “nerd bait” theory seems reasonable). Rather, I’m writing this because I think I might disagree with the message many of my fellow nerds take from this story.

The message I saw implied in many responses to this story – mostly in the form of tweets and blog posts – was that this is why we geeks have to hide who we are. I see just the opposite. This is an excellent example of why we shouldn’t feel the need to hide who we are.

I can see why people get the other message from it. This is precisely what we were conditioned to fear growing up: irrational judgment, and public dismissal by those we can’t help but admire and find attractive. From the outside, this looks like a geek nightmare come true. The savvy but hapless nerd gets a date, only to get laughed to his face. The embarrassment goes public, and the geek is mocked in front of the entire world. (A post about your dating life on a blog with many millions of viewers is certainly public on a broader scale than high school gossip, but high school sure feels like the entirety of the world while you’re there.) It is easy to point at this and ask if it’s any mystery why we would hide our own interests.

Take a moment, though, to see this from another perspective. The story doesn’t end with that Gizmodo post. Soon after I read it, the story exploded in my Twitter feed, with links and responses among the folks I follow.

Leigh Alexander (@leighalexander)
i think magic the gathering is incredibly nerdy. but i’m not a champion at anything. would TOTES date him.

Joey Comeau (@joeycomeau)
I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but I’d way rather go out with a Magic: TG champ than a Gizmodo editor. Any day.

Gus Mastrapa (@triphibian)
If you are not a geek ally you are a geek enemy.

I also had a spirited little side discussion with some friends about how the fellow in the article probably wasn’t interested in having his real name used this way, but perhaps that’s neither here nor there.

The responses I’ve seen to this have been overwhelmingly condemning of the original post. That may represent a minority opinion in our culture at large, but it’s still part of a broader trend of people being unashamed of their geekiness and less judgmental toward nerds. In high school, we might have belonged to just a small group of geeks. As adults, however, it’s a lot easier to find others like us. And on the internet – perhaps even on internet dating sites? – we are legion. This story started with a single person’s snap judgment, but blossomed into a showing of nerd support.

I’m not saying that you should make your Magic: The Gathering and D&D exploits the centerpiece of your online dating profile. For better or worse, managing how we present ourselves in everyday life is fundamental to normal social interaction in our culture. I hope this story illustrates, though, that we don’t need to actively hide who we are for fear of judgment, at least as adults. Yes, sometimes we will be judged, but our world is bigger than it was in high school. We no longer have to deal on a personal level with those who dismiss out of hand, once we’ve been dismissed (or dismissed them ourselves). And once we’ve gone our separate ways, we can get back to to dealing with those who are more open-minded – and those who might even leap to defend our nerdiness in front of the world.

5 thoughts on “How (Not) to Date a Nerd

  1. In some ways, I think being mocked on the Internet isn’t actually as bad as high school. The claustrophobic social circles of most high schools mean that everybody kind of knows who you are—on the Internet, they might “know” you, but at least most of them are strangers. Maybe that’s just me!

  2. That’s fair (both of you).

    If I may be permitted to comment on my own post: It occurred to me, sometime after I posted this, that I should make clear that I don’t mean to trivialize or minimize the pain of rejection in itself. Perhaps it’s insensitive of me to take the tone I’m taking in this post – effectively, “we’re gonna get judged and rejected sometimes, so deal with it and move on.” I think it’s good advice (that’s why I said it), but I suppose it’s worth admitting that even beyond any of the highschoolish, ancillary stuff related to being rejected (like feeling embarrassed in front of other people), it really just feels awful to try to get to know somebody and then get rejected entirely. (I’m speaking generally here, of course, as I have no idea how the dates went between the world champion of Magic and a Gizmodo blogger.)

    Yeah, feeling rejected and judged is unpleasant. But I think living in fear of these things is probably worse.

  3. Everyone is different, but I feel there is a time to talk gaming, and there is a time to talk everything else. There is nothing wrong with becoming that buried in gaming, if that’s how you want to live your life. I agree that the points about high school are true, as it is such a small sub-section of the world. Once high school is over, life really begins!

  4. I agree with general sentiment of this post. I think geeks should portray a great deal more of themselves than many do. If you have decent self-esteem, then the way another person views your interests has less to do with you than it does with them. So you can easily filter the people in your life by being unabashed about who you are. Someone doesn’t like you because you play MTG? Well, maybe it’s not worth bothering to earn their affections then.

    Along those lines, I applaud the MTG player for being forthright in his answers to the dating questions. He could have lied for fear of judgment, but he didn’t and he found out quickly he was sitting across from a prejudiced person. Good for him.

    And as a longtime MTG player, I can assure you that I am unbiased!

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