DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I wanted to ask… as a female that happens to be a geek how do I approach new male friendships? I try to be a social person and venture out-or even through friends of my friends on random outings. I connect to people that like what I like. As a female that likes video games and comics I find it hard because I either run in to the very males you describe in your piece “Nerds and Male Privilege”.
Mind you, I do have female friends and I’m just as happy encountering new female friends. It’s just when I DO find someone who enjoys gaming and happens to be male I feel I have to weigh out the possibility they are just hoping to get something other than friendship with me. I’m not a flirt and I make it plain that:
1) I have a boyfriend
2) I am only interested in friendship
3) Did I mention that I have a boyfriend?
So… any advice?
– Off The Market
DEAR OFF THE MARKET: I get a surprising number of questions like yours on the subject of giving guys the wave-off, especially in nerdy communities. It’s a surprisingly common problem with women in geek circles; a lot of women join a group of like-minded individuals, whether it be the local anime club, a gaming group, a fandom organization or whatnot and find that they have to establish boundaries very, very fast. Geeky guys like geeky women and even in the Year of Our Lord 2021, women with geeky interests are still perceived as being an unusual or rare commodity. It doesn’t matter how many women are into comics, anime, video games, tabletop RPGs or sci-fi; there’s still a contingent of guys who see geeky women as being thin on the ground outside of large conventions. As a result, there can be a lot of probing and testing for relationship status, unfortunate crushes and awkwardness all around.
It’s not entirely uncommon for the less well-socialized amongst my geeky brethren to see new women joining their group as potential girlfriends first and new members second. The tricky part comes in establishing that, no, you are in no way looking for a date, boyfriend, White Knight, would-be henchmen or general hangers-on without any attendant drama causing friction in the group as a whole.
My usual suggestion is to be painfully blunt about the matter — followed by a scorched earth policy of “Not just no but HELL NO, not even if a genie gave you three wishes, because I said ‘back off’ already” if they don’t get the hint. However, I’m willing to bet that you already know this technique and are looking for a better strategy.
Most guys will get the hint. Early on, casually establishing that you aren’t interested in dating or regularly mentioning your significant other should be enough to let guys know that you’re not available.
But since you’re writing to me, I’m guessing you’ve had more than a few occasions where they didn’t.
Geeks can be very good at selective hearing, especially when a crush is involved. You say “I’m do not want a boyfriend,” they hear an unspoken “…yet.” If you say “I don’t want a relationship,” they hear “…but maybe you can change my mind.” It’s the 500 Days of Summer effect: they will ignore reality in preference to the fantasy, and they will read meaning into your word choice.
This can get especially annoying if the geeky guy in question develops Oneitis.
If for whatever reason you are just not on the market – whether it’s because of heartbreak, relationship fatigue or having a significant other in the first place – then you need to be aware that geeks who want to date you — the ones who see “No, I won’t go out with you” as an opening position in a negotiation, that is — will be going over everything you say and do like it was the Zapruder film and they’re going to prove who really killed Kennedy.
If you say “I’m not looking for a relationship right now,” they are going to focus on the “right now” and take this as a sign that you will be looking for one in the near-future. That means, to them, that if they just hang in there just long enough, they’ll have a shot. Then they start trying to lay the groundwork for their future attempt.
Mentioning that you have a boyfriend (or girlfriend, really) right off the bat will ward most of them off at first. However, there’s always the stubborn types that decide to watch for any signs of an imminent collapse of the relationship so they can be there to be your shoulder to cry on, ears to complain to, and penis to rebound on.
“No thanks, I’m not interested” SHOULD be sufficient, but these are the folks who are dedicated to the idea of you, not the reality, and they don’t want to give up the fantasy. In these cases, you need to be aware of the prism that some guys will be viewing you through; anything that they can interpret as a sign that you’re starting to like them will be taken as reason to hang on to hope. Maintaining a physical distance from them, avoiding casual touching – especially if you’re a touchy or huggy person will help. Avoid agreeing to anything that sounds like it could be interpreted as a “date”. If they ask you out, don’t make up an excuse as to why you can’t go that night… once again, that will be heard as “… but I’ll be available other nights.” If it’s something you’d be interested in doing, then bring a friend.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that you should be cruel, just that you should keep and maintain boundaries. If they start crossing them – trying to find a reason to, say, take your arm, – then take a step back. If they try to flirt, don’t engage them in it. Treat it almost like a reward system. They act like a friend, you act like a friend. They start making a move towards “but… but I like you”, then you pull that friendship back a little. They’ll get the hint.
And if they don’t, that’s when you take off and nuke the site from orbit.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com