DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I really need advice on how to be a normal happy person that people will love. What would you do if you found it hard to relate with your fellow anime lover?
I’m a 30 year old male who has some dating experience but is still a virgin. Something I’ve found hard deal with at times. Just frustration at myself for not being a normal human. But my question is about something else….
I recently went to a anime con here in the UK. You know the best place to embrace your nerd side. To be honest, it was overall not fun at all. I did not know half the stuff there and it’s really messed with my head. Like I just found it so hard to talk with people.
I just found it all so overwhelming. There’s a big pressure to drink and party hard. I went with one friend who knew people while I was more or less there on my own. I did do some cosplay but I’m a newbie so was largely ignored. Other days it was just mostly small talk that felt awkward. I did have some fun chats as well but largely it felt very pointless.Like people naturally gravitated to people they knew. Which yea I can understand but the whole experience was so depressing at times. Both lonely and soul destroying. When wearing my cosplay my body image problems came ahead. I don’t like the way I look and my body which is average at best shows that. I ended up leaving a day early from the con. It’s really put me on a negative spin on going again.
Everyone around me was telling me I would have the time of my life. Seems like the idea of not enjoying a con is unheard off. Everyone loves it 24/7 and your a social reject if you struggle. It’s like if I can’t succeed here then maybe that’s why I find dating so hard. I also feel I let my friend down by not being up to party 24/7.
Thing is outside of this I’m overall ok socially. I have quite a few friends both male and female. I went out 5 times for my birthday with different people so it seems I can make friends. I’m a event host for two meetup groups. I’m also happy to be the center of attention. I mean I even sang a Karaoke song In front of a group of people on stage at the con. I’m out most weekends doing different things and seeing different people. I have a number of friends at work who are mostly women. I can talk to people but find it harder when there’s a drinking/ hooking up pressure around.
To be honest, the con destroyed my confidence in myself like if I can’t relate to nerd culture… what even am I? I do have some mental health issues which have affected me badly at times. Like some scars on my body
I won’t go into detail as it’s above a dating issue. But they def are something I need sort out. They also affected my confidence as people can be very judgemental about this particular mental health issue. I’ve had people call me out on them at meetups in front of people.
I guess I’m asking how do I recover from this? Don’t get me wrong I know it’s 100% my fault for my failure to be normal. I need to improve and get over myself. I just need some advice on what to do. Like how do I enjoy the next con as a normal person? How can I not let my anxiety defeat me? What you recommend I do if I’m not as big on nerd culture. Like how can I more relate to people? Do I need to change everything about myself?
DEAR OTAKU OUTSIDER: This doesn’t sound like a “can’t connect to nerd culture” problem. This sounds like a “you don’t like loud, raucous parties and a hardcore drinking culture” situation. That’s entirely legit; not everyone’s into that, nor should they be. And God knows there’re lots of folks who understandably think that a lot of cons inadvertently put a lot of emphasis on the Bar-Con aspect, which can create unintentional pressure to keep up with the folks who DO drink. So you’re hardly alone in feeling this way.
Now, notice very carefully that I said what you have is a situation, not a problem. Problem would imply that there’s something faulty in you, and there really isn’t. Nor is this a permanent, or definitional issue. It’s not that you can’t relate to your fellow nerds, it’s that you were uncomfortable in this particular situation. Which hey, that totally tracks. This was your first con, you don’t know as many people there, there was a culture you don’t vibe with and you were basically dropped head first into the deep end and your buddy f--ked off for parts unknown. That’s not a recipe for a great first experience, to be honest.
But that doesn’t mean that every con experience is going to be like this, nor does it mean that you’re somehow excluded from anime fandom.
The first thing I would suggest is working on your body image issues. Learning to be comfortable in your skin – regardless of what you look like – is important. If you don’t address that, it won’t matter what shape you’re in; you could have a six-pack that Ryan Reynolds would envy and you’d only be able to see the flaws and be convinced you’re an unf--kable homunculus. But that is a long-term project, one best addressed with a therapist.
For your con and fandom-related anxiety, however, I would suggest a different approach. To start with, you may want to find a lower-key gathering to get to know your fellow otaku. If there’s a local anime club, especially one that focuses on regular meetings and watching fun stuff, that may be more your speed than a large, rowdy convention. It would be a lower-pressure environment for you to meet and connect with fellow fans, instead of feeling like you got tossed into the deep end with no warning and no life preserver. You can also find smaller, lower-energy cons. The larger ones tend to be more boisterous and higher-energy, while the biggest cons – such as Anime Expo in the US – are like Nerd Hedonism or Nerdi Gras, where everyone is going with the intent to go bugnuts. If that’s not your thing, that’s absolutely cool; it’s not as though it’s the only way to be a fan.
Should you decide to go back and give that original con another shot – especially now that you know a bit more about what to expect – then I’d suggest a slight change in mindset. To start with, don’t worry about the fact that you don’t know what the latest fandom obsessions are; treat it as a chance to check out stuff you’ve not seen before in an environment where you can do a deeper dive than you would just on Netflix or Crunchyroll. Go to more panels that interest you; these will likely less rambunctious and less of a sea of humanity than the parties, the dealers room or the cosplay contest. And tell your buddy that you don’t know anyone there and you’d appreciate it if he could introduce you around a bit to some cool people you should know, instead of just f--king off to the bar or the Band-Maid concert or what have you. This way, you’ll have at least the beginnings of a network, rather than feeling like you’re entirely lost at sea.
And if you’re not feeling like you want to try to keep up with Bar Con – again, this is entirely legitimate – then in the evenings, take the opportunity to see what’s around that isn’t part of the con. Maybe take an introvert break and go catch a movie by yourself or meet up with friends in the area at a less high-intensity venue. While yeah, it’s easy to feel like you need to spend your every waking moment at the con, there’s nothing wrong with going off and doing non-con-related stuff. Every time I go to Emerald City Comic Con, for example, I tend to hie myself off to the Museum of Pop Culture or go to taco night with local friends. Getting away from the con can be a great way to recoup some social energy and feel ready to go ninja-running back in the next day.
Just don’t forget, if you’re not comfortable, you can always walk out and go do something else. In the words of Da ShareZone: if it sucks, hit the bricks.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org