By Eric Smith, excerpted from The Geek’s Guide to Dating.
“Being clever’s a fine thing, but sometimes a boy just needs to get out of the house and meet some girls.” Such is the wisdom of Flex Mentallo, wrestler/superhero/metafictional comic book character. He’s advising the angsty teen who not only is Flex’s creator but may also be on the verge of destroying reality and preventing a group of fictional superheroes from becoming real and . . . well, it’s a Grant Morrison story, so let’s stop there, before the metaphysics get too thick. The point is, Flex is right: the real world is the natural habitat of most women. (Jerry, in an early Seinfeld episode, points this out to George: “There’s girls everywhere. … Look, look, there’s one over there. Look, there’s another one. Soon as I walk outside, there’ll be girls out there.”)
Now, you sure won’t get any criticism from me for using the power of the Interwebs to search for a romantic partner; I think the previous section of this chapter makes that pretty clear. But, to put on the Spock ears for a moment, it’s a matter of logic. If you don’t also look for opportunities in the physical, nondigital world, you’re significantly limiting your options. The real world is where women go about their business and, as every fisherman (and Aquaman) knows, you have to fish where the fish are.
Planet Earth is a big place, of course, even if it’s not a gas giant or a Dyson sphere. So we’re going to narrow our search parameters to a few key coordinates. But first, I want to share two important principles that you should keep in mind when mining for that heart of gold.
First: If you want to maximize your opportunities, it’s very important to go questing off-map. In a study conducted several years ago, researchers used cell phone transmissions to track the movements of 100,000 people over the course of six months (the identities of the trackees were kept anonymous—so they say). The researchers found that people tend to spend most of their time visiting the same few places over and over again. Not exactly surprising, maybe, but think about what that means, Player One: the person you’ve been looking for might very well buy her coffee at Cup O’ Joe’s every afternoon, but you’ll never meet her because you only patronize Caffeineey Meeny Miney Moe’s, just across the street. Your mission: vary your routine. Every time you boldly go where you’ve never gone before, you’re likely to cross paths with people you otherwise never would have encountered (because they never step out of their ruts either).
And second, you really should try to expand your social network—not in the Zuckerberg sense, but in the people-with-whom-I-interact-offline sense. Surprisingly, your best bet is to increase the number of casual friendships you have, instead of spending all your time with a small, close-knit group. The reason: people who you know well probably know all the same people that you do. But that guy who goes out for beers with your brother now and then? Or the dude two cubes down who eats lunch in the break room a few times a week? They’re potential connections to whole new social networks—women included—if you just get to know them a bit better.
SEARCH OPTIMIZATION, PART 1: WHERE TO MEET GEEKS
Finding someone to date shouldn’t be like trying to party up in an MMORPG: running around, repeatedly spamming chat channels for a group, and anxiously seeking a random encounter. (Random, casual encounters are for Craigslist. This isn’t that kind of book.) No, seeking out Player Two is more like an old-school RPG: a grad-ual progression that, with the right walkthrough, becomes much, much easier.
So let’s start with suggestions for traversing familiar terrain, places where you’re almost guaranteed to find gals who share some of your geeky interests. Of course, these aren’t the only places where geeks are found—we don’t lurk only in niche locations. As mentioned, it’s to your advantage to change up your routine; try the comics shop or video game store on the other side of town now and then. But, home quadrant or no, one of these locales is more than likely to harbor the fem geek of your dreams. And the next time she crosses your path, you’ll know how to turn a chance encounter into a conversation.
The comic book store:
Every one of your geek brethren wants to ask out the cute girl who turns up at the comic book shop. But keep your cool, Player One. Just because a girl joins you in freaking out over a model TARDIS or a signed, limited-edition comic book vari-ant doesn’t mean she wants to join you for coffee (after all, it’s not like every guy you bond with over X-Men becomes your best friend). Plus, if the girl in question works at the store, what you see as playful ?irting might just be her doing her job.So take a breath, and don’t present yourself as another drooling geek guy trying to land the only gal in town who knows the differ-ence between the Phantom Zone and the Negative Zone. Here’s how to approach your geek store crush:
Observe the girl in question. The local comic book store is a bastion in your neighborhood geek community. If someone is shop-ping in there, she’s got a geek card in her wallet. Is she browsing the new releases? Eyeing up the limited-edition collectible toys? Asking questions about an upcoming signing? Quickly assess her interests to have fodder for conversation. Don’t take a long time, and don’t stare; you’re not Jack Bauer or Ethan Hunt, so eventually she’s going to notice that you have her under surveillance.
Approach her. If she looks up as you walk over, make eye con-tact and smile. Don’t hesitate—a lack of confidence will quickly mark you as creepy.
Break in with a question. Using the observations you’ve made about her interests, make a relevant query requesting her opinion, advice, or expertise. Hold back on your own opinions for now. Judgment might seem suave, but it’s more likely to come off as condescending.
Start a conversation, not a debate. No matter what she says, react positively, or at least neutrally. Sneering at someone’s taste is not a surefire way to getting a date. If you hold a different opinion, try to find some common ground.
Comic book shops are a lot more than just brick-and-mortar establishments for finding your latest issue of X-Men or scoring collectable statuettes. They also serve as a social gathering place, especially on certain days. New Book Day (every Wednesday, when new releases come out) and Free Comic Book Day (the first Saturday of every May in the U.S.) are when geeks descend upon the local shops like a ravenous Galactus on a defenseless planet. In other words, these are great days to meet passionate fellow geeks. Plus, Free Comic Book Day often falls on the same weekend as the opening of a major (geeky) motion picture. Instant date idea!
If it’s a clerk you’ve got your eye on, proceed with caution. If you make a move and she shoots you down, your favorite hangout may become an incredibly awkward place to visit. If you do connect but things don’t work out, will you really want to keep shopping there if your ex will be at the register? Maybe yes, maybe no—just make sure you weigh the potential pros and cons.
The video game store:
Dust off that second controller, Player One, and scope out the local video game shop. Just as with comic book stores, gamers can often be found at their local retailer when the new inventory arrives (most new console games come out on Tuesdays). And just like comic stores, there’s plenty to talk about. The walkthrough is similar:
Observe. Is she buying or trading something? What’s her console of choice?
Approach. Eye contact, smile, quick nod hello. If she seems put off, abort mission to avoid lurking.
Speak up. Again, try to solicit her expertise on something. No geek girl doesn’t like being asked her opinion.
Want to find the most passionate of video gaming geeks? Head to a midnight release party. It’s a magical time when geeks wait in line to be among the first to score a copy of the latest blockbuster title. With luck, you’ll end up standing near someone who has nothing to do but wait around and talk to you.
If the store has a demo game system set up, challenge her to a round of whatever’s on. Turbocharge it by making it “winner picks a date location.”
Don’t judge a gamer by her choices, even if she’s buying a “bad” game. The same way you wouldn’t judge a music or movie fan for liking one guilty pleasure song or film, you shouldn’t brush off a gamer just because you catch her picking up the latest piece of shovelware or critical failure. Keep an open mind.
Arcades are another great venue to meet geeks who are truly passionate about their niche. Here, you’ll often find more mature, adult geeks: the ones with a sense of nostalgia, who appreciate the past, but hopefully don’t live in it (unless it’s the world of Frogger, circa 1982. That would actually be kind of cool, if you could avoid getting crushed.) While they’re gathering places primarily for the “Remember When” crowd, remember that new games continue to come out. Here’s the launch sequence:
Don’t delay. The advantage of an arcade is that it’s hard not to notice what a girl’s doing (playing a game, duh), so you don’t have to invest too much time in figuring out what she’s into. Read the side of the console and you’re good to go.
Challenge her to a friendly bout. This is a no-brainer for a 2P game like Mortal Kombat, but it can also work for a single-player game. If she’s button-mashing at the helm of Ms. Pac Man, offer to take turns and get a wager going on who can eat the most delicious, delicious dots. And depending on the game, you may find yourself in the only actual situation appropriate to the phrase “on like Donkey Kong.” As always, if she’s not into it, be polite and move on.
Keep the momentum going. Win or lose, the end of Round 1 is a great time to invite her to try another game with you. A quick, friendly chat in between consoles can also be a great lightning-round get-to-know-ya. Just don’t be patronizing about it.
There’s a growing trend of arcade/bar combinations. See if you’ve got one of these hotspots nearby. At such hangs, there’s a good chance you’ll find a geek who isn’t just into gaming, but also knows how to be social . . . unless she’s just there to sip PBRs while playing Joust.
Arcades can be a male-centric environment, so watch out for accidental sexism. If you’re playing, say, Galaga, at your favorite gaming palace, don’t go easy on your female opponent “because she’s a girl.” You’re just wasting her time. She’s there to play the game! And she might just kick your behind.
Whether you’re at a used bookshop, a quirky indie, or a major chain, bookstores are a great place to browse for your dream geek. Here’s how to play follow the reader:
Assess the aisle. What’s she interested in? You might spot her browsing through the new releases or thumbing through the science fiction/fantasy section. Maybe she’s picking up a paranormal young adult novel or checking out the classics. Take note!
Use your words. Even more than the other venues we’ve discussed, a bookstore is a place where people of widely varying interests come together. Geeks buy and read books of all kinds, so there’s a good chance that she’s checking out something you’re unfamiliar with. Ask her about the book—just don’t try to sound like an English professor.
Again, don’t judge someone based on her selection. We’ve all picked up a Tom Clancy or Nicholas Sparks book once in our lives (though hopefully it was an accident). And maybe that copy of the latest Danielle Steele hardcover is for her mom.
Reversing this move and making your own suggestions can also work well. If she’s picking up the latest George R. R. Martin, ask her if she’s ever read Robert Jordan. Just don’t react with hostility if she rejects him—or you.
Comic Con, video game expos, anime conventions . . . these are tricky places to navigate. Maybe that good-looking cosplayer just wants to hang with her friends and be left alone. That lady rummaging like mad through the dollar comics? Maybe she could use a tip on where to find vintage issues of Astro City—but if she’s on a quest, you might just be another annoying NPC. Plot your course carefully, and follow this flight path:
Make a plan of attack. Good news: If you’re looking to meet someone at a convention, the epicenter of geekery, the con schedule may include events centered around doing just that. From geek speed dating to networking events, many conventions offer a plethora of opportunities for single fanboys and fangirls to socialize one another.
Get some one-on-one time. Whatever your context for matchmaking, try to talk with a girl without anyone else leaning in to offer his opinions (or to distract both of you). Speed dating events make this easy. In less structured situations, try to position yourself so your back is towards any potential interrupters, blocking their field of vision. (Don’t do anything that invades her space or makes her feel trapped, though. You’re not Kraven the Hunter.)
Don’t lurk or linger. Sure, asking for a picture of the girl in the handmade Card Captor Sakura outfit is an easy way to start a conversation, but chances are guys have been hitting on her all day. So if she doesn’t ask for further contact, don’t push it. Cosplayers are there to dress up, take pictures, and hang out with their like-minded friends—not humor pallid fanboys who try to get all stalkerish on them. Don’t be “that guy” (and definitely no hover hands!).
Use a strong offense. She’s at a convention. You’re at a convention. In other words, both of you are geeks. So don’t feel shy about asking her what she’s into, and be prepared for a long discussion—or even argument. Just keep it friendly. When it seems like the conversation is coming to a conclusion, drop a hint about where you’ll be later if she wants to pick up the thread.
Never, ever talk down to a girl or accuse her of “faking” geekiness to get attention from guys. If she’s put down the cash for a con (and a costume), she’s legit. Don’t ruin your chances by insisting on some kind of pedigree. Plenty of (cute!) girls love the same geeky stuff as you, but they don’t love getting harassed about it.
Eric Smith is the co-founder of Geekadelphia, a popular hyperlocal blog in Philadelphia, covering all-that-is-geek in the City of Brotherly Love. In 2011, he co-founded the Philadelphia Geek Awards with Tim Quirino and the Academy of Natural Sciences, a ceremony honoring local geeks.
His writing has appeared locally in the Philadelphia Weekly, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly.com, and you can catch him blogging almost daily on Geekadelphia. He contributes to BookRiot and his personal essays have been published in the literary journals The Apiary and The Bygone Bureau.