DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I turned my life around, but still can’t find a date. I suppose I’m your typical young adult geek. I live in a small apartment with collectible toys on shelves. I play video games, gossip on pop culture websites and don’t sleep well unless I’ve watched an episode of Star Trek to make me comfortable in bed. I’m also short, pudgy and often feel quite unattractive. I’ve had a single long-term relationship a few years ago, but things have been quiet since.
I felt my life was going in a direction I didn’t like — so I made a drastic move. I went to law school to become a lawyer. I learned how to network and how to build up my self-confidence. I started a busy career. I face professionals who have a lot more experience than me — and I win. It makes me proud to say that I’m good at what I do.
On the one hand, I want my story to inspire other geeks who lack self-confidence. We can use our inherent smarts to take go wherever we want to go. However, I’m somewhat more abject to admit that my dating world hasn’t changed.
I’m still the same old toy collecting Trekkie despite my “new” life. Heck, I once wrote an article in law school about how Federation captains can legally analyze their duties under the Prime Directive.
I thought a new career would make me more appealing to women. I’m a really kind person (like most geeks), and hoped that women would see me for my personality and my success. So much has changed for the better, but I’m still alone and left wondering what else society expects me to do. I like who I am — and I don’t want to change, but at the same time it hurts. I feel that no matter what, women are going to see me as a pudgy geek until the day I either get lucky — or throw my toys out and watch a football game.
Thanks for your guidance,
DEAR GEEK, ESQ: First of all, congratulations on what you’ve accomplished GE. Changing up your life is no small feat; making a hard pivot to law school and changing your career is an impressive achievement. You should be proud of yourself and what you’ve accomplished, as well as the good it’s done for you.
I understand how frustrating it can be to have made such significant changes and still feel like you’re missing something. That’s why I want to zero in, not on what has changed, but hasn’t changed.
Let’s start with the most obvious. You say a lot about what you’re doing differently with your job… but you don’t tell me about anything you’re doing differently with women. And that, I think, is one of the problems. Now, maybe there’ve been changes there too that you didn’t mention. But from what you’ve written, it sounds like you haven’t done anything differently in your social life, and that’s going to be an issue.
This was the first thing that leapt out at me: “I thought a new career would make me more appealing to women. I’m a really kind person (like most geeks), and hoped that women would see me for my personality and my success.” Again, maybe you’ve phrased things awkwardly here, but it sounds like you were hoping that just getting your law degree and starting your new career would make all the difference without having to change anything else. The thing is: that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of it works. It’s great that you have an awesome new career, that you’re having excellent success and it’s done good things for your self-esteem. But if you haven’t taken your ability to change and grow, as well as your newfound self-esteem, and applied it to your social life… well, nothing is going to change. It’s not as though women are going to hear you’re a lawyer and start sliding you their phone numbers. Nor, for that matter, are they gonna smell the success on you and do the work for you. Changing your career isn’t the end of this process; if anything, it’s just part of it.
It doesn’t do any good for you to change that aspect of your life and leave everything else the same. If you want things to be different, then you have to do things differently.
And, man, you already know this. You did this with your career. So, apply that to your social life. How much are you talking to people, making connections and building relationships with them? Not romantic relationships, but just friendships and social connections? How many times have you hung out and talked with folks just for the joy of having a conversation with a fascinating stranger? You’ve gotten better at networking… have you applied those skills at meeting folks just because they seem cool? The more you cultivate your social skills and focus on meeting people in general, the better you get at connecting with people you’re attracted to. The skills that help you make new friends are the exact same skills that help you meet potential lovers; the only difference is how you apply them.
If you haven’t started… well, hey, now you know what your next steps are. You can apply that intellect and drive that got you through law school to boosting your charisma and connecting with folks, building your social circle and helping further build out your awesome new life.
And of course, working on your social circle means that you have more opportunities to meet amazing women — either by bringing them in directly or meeting them through your friends.
However, that’s not the only thing that’s leapt out at me — nor does it sound like this is the only thing that hasn’t changed. This part is also pretty significant: “I feel that no matter what, women are going to see me as a pudgy geek until the day I either get lucky — or throw my toys out and watch a football game.”
That, quite frankly, screams to me that you feel like your being a geek is shameful or holding you back. And… well, yes, of course it is. I mean, when you’re framing this as something that you need to apologize for, or that you see as being a dealbreaker to women, it’s absolutely going to salt your game. Nobody is going to be drawn to someone who feels like the things he loves are things that nobody else could like. That sort of mindset is going to poison everything you do. It’s going to sabotage your confidence when you’re talking to people, it’s going to cut your legs out from under you when you try to talk about what you’re into, and it’s absolutely going to send up red flags to people you want to date… because you are treating it like a red flag.
Now part of the problem could well be who you’re trying to date. If you’re trying to meet and date women who just don’t like geek guys, then as the sage says: “Well there’s your problem.” The obvious answer is to put more effort into meeting women who, if they don’t share your interests, are at least able to understand and appreciate them. People who think that Star Trek is stupid or that toys are for children are demonstrably not compatible with you. You and they have conflicting values and interests; even if the two of you had steaming chemistry, the fundamental disconnect in your passions would kill that relationship deader than disco. You can’t maintain a relationship with someone who can’t at least respect your passions.
But at the same time: part of that confidence — and vulnerability, for that matter — means loving who you are and what you love without apology. When you use “geek” to describe yourself in a derogatory way, that’s a pretty strong indicator that you feel like this is something you need to compensate for, not something you’re proud of. You need to cultivate an attitude of “Damn right I’m a geek and it’s awesome,” rather than looking at it like some childish thing that needs to be put aside. If they don’t vibe with that or think that it’s something shameful then hey, that’s a them problem, not a you problem. As far as you’re concerned, they’ve self-selected out of your dating pool and the only thing you’ve missed out on is a match that would never have worked anyway.
It also sounds like you’ve got a pretty narrow idea of what a geek is or can be. That may also be part of your problem. A lot of geeky folks tend to see geekdom as being essentialist and limiting, rather than expansive. While I get that a lot of us grew up with an aversion to sports because of the jerks we met who were into them — or the popular kids at school leaning more towards athletics, for that matter — the fact is that being a geek should be a “yes, and” situation, not an “instead of”. I mean, you can binge the hell out of Deep Space Nine and Lower Decks and still enjoy sports. A good friend of mine is a giant nerd who’s also a huge sports and pro-wrestling fan. These aren’t two diametrically opposed interests; they’re just the things he loves.
If you’re dismissing folks because of their more mainstream interests, then you’re kinda making the same mistake that folks make when they dismiss you for being a geek. If you’re talking smack about someone who’s excited for the Bills take on the Saints, then you’re doing the same thing that people do if they mock you for loving video games or collecting toys. It’s important to remember that just as you want people who can at least respect your interests, you want to give them the same respect. You want to model the behavior you want to see from others in your own life.
So do yourself a favor. Do a little introspection and self-appraisal. How much have you changed your behavior towards meeting people and building your social circle? How much are you feeling as though you need to apologize for being a geek or for loving the things you love? Are you meeting folks who share or respect your interests? Just as importantly: are you respecting theirs, even if you don’t share or understand them?
Spend some time focusing on those questions, and I think you’ll start finding the areas that you need to work on. Then you should take that intellect and drive that’s brought you so far and apply it to finding some answers. When you do, I think you’ll find that your love life makes the same awesome improvements that your professional life has.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org