Once, I was dumb enough to think that there were shortcuts out of this dating crapshoot we call single life. When I heard about Nerd Nite Speed Dating in DUMBO — outside my usual genre and area code — I thought I found a break.
For as long as I could remember, being a “nerd” wasn’t a desirable quality and yet, here was a neon sign, blinking with rays of acceptance. Ever since I had the bright idea to wear a Queen Amidala shirt to middle school, someone calling me a “nerd” has left a bad taste in my mouth. Back in ’99, the cutest boy in class sauntered by, saw my Star Wars T-shirt, and scoffed “Nerd!” I turned beet red and there it was. I’d been labeled and that name would follow me (albeit more affectionately) as I grew into the only girl on my dance team who’d read Phillip K. Dick and the only one of my Brooklyn friends who had an opinion on Ewoks.
I somehow expected Nerd Nite to be the place where I would cheat the vicious New York dating scene. And I was more wrong than George Lucas was when he decided that Anakin Skywalker’s immaculate conception was a plausible storyline.
But upon sitting down to speak to these could-be suitors, disaster struck: Being a self-professed nerd wasn’t giving me superhuman attractiveness. There was no radioactive spider there to heighten my dating skills. It was just as tough as “regular” dating — whatever that is.
At Nerd Nite, my quirks weren’t cute or even endearing. The parade of mismatches began with a guy who consumed documentaries and French New Wave films like so many spoonfuls of Mini-Wheats. My anecdote about Whoopi Goldberg’s epic hats on Star Trek: The Next Generation was met with a blank stare. There was the clinical scientist who I could tell was trying to assess my I.Q. with each passing word (I’m pretty sure I failed miserably). There was the guy who talked about mathematics the entire time as I looked on dumbfounded and completely lost. Here I was thinking this would feel like a scrimmage at home against my own teammates, and yet, I was fighting for my life against an all-state team. This was hard.
I’d already had more than one guy tell me, in slightly more polite terms, that being really into sci-fi and fantasy doesn’t make me a “real” nerd. Most of these guys were even a little condescending, practically patting my head over my utter lack of nerd cred. Eventually, I got angry.
The recipient of my anger sat down and immediately declared that he was a huge nerd because he didn’t even own a television. I’d had my intelligence insulted more than once that night (and make much of my living writing about TV) and I got into it with this unsuspecting, self-identified nerd. After I tried to play nice and note the multitudes of well-written, smart shows out there (apparently even Breaking Bad is swill to this dude), his rebuttal was to profess his profound concern for my heath and well-being with “all that TV rotting your brain. Like, do you even read books?” If I wasn’t in a fancy Brooklyn venue, I might have managed to muster enough Hulk strength to vault over that table and thwack him on the head with a Thomas Pynchon novel.
Thankfully, the buzzer rang, allowing me to narrowly avoid a violent outburst and move onto, a few nicer, less combative matches. There were some guys too shy for their own good and some nice guys who I’d go onto match with. But that sense of the home field advantage, of an automatic connection from which to build the conversation never came. I spoke to two girls at the bar when the ordeal was over as they expressed a similar disappointment. “These guys weren’t what I expected,” said one. “I thought we’d have more options,” said the other. “It wouldn’t have mattered,” I thought.
And it wouldn’t have. Because the truth is that by going to something as blatantly themed as “nerd” speed dating is a crock, however fun. It’s an attempt to single out members of the opposite sex more likely to like you for who you are and plop them all down in one room. It’s a shortcut. The problem is that dating in New York — or anywhere, for that matter — is hard and it always will be. Pare down your sample size and the process doesn’t get easier. Still, no matter what your shared interests are, the real difficulty is in creating meaningful connections with other people. That’s no easy way to do that, not even in Star Trek episodes. But there’s a reason Data the android is always trying to understand emotions, because when that moment happens it is magic better than Gandalf himself can wield. Part of what makes it so great is the work it takes to find it.