The shoot went really well today, thanks for all the good wishes. And thanks to Nate & Meredith at Hamburger Mary’s in Andersonville for so graciously letting us use your great space. We’ll be releasing the completed project on the web, so Awkwardeers will be the first to know when we’ve finished the cut.
And now a question. How novel!
I’m having a very hard time getting to know women, and I think that my geeky hobbies are partly to blame. Wait, hear me out, this isn’t going to be yet another rehash of the old discredited “women aren’t attracted to geeks” trope!
The roleplaying and anime communities in the city where I live are crawling with toxic misogynists, entitled Nice Guy ™ types, sexual predators, and other kinds of creeps. Because of that, women who discover through their interaction with me that I’m into roleplaying (the tabletop gaming kind, not the sexual kind), or that I watch anime, often assume that I, too, must be some kind of habitual boundary violator, and limit their contact with me.
A conversation might go like this: (exaggerated for comic effect)
HER: “Your face looks familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”
ME: “I think we might have seen each other around at [a local RPG
convention] a few years ago.”
HER: “Yes, you’re right! I stopped going there after I got tired of
constantly getting hugged from behind by strangers and getting
randomly hit on by men who were at least 10 years older than me. Oops,
I just remembered that I have to extract myself from this conversation
and never speak to you again. Bye!”
And I can’t really fault her reasoning in that interaction. People have groped me without asking for permission in this kind of events, and I seriously considered not going there anymore because of that. If
that happened to me, I imagine that women have it much worse.
But it really sucks for me. I’d like to have female friends in my life, and maybe even develop a romantic relationship someday. And I don’t think I can do that if I’m being followed around by the shadow
of all the terrible creepy people who I happen to have a hobby in common with. So my question is, how do I get women to see me as an individual person rather than yet another specimen of notoriously toxic group X?
– Same Hobbies, Different Morality
Dear Same Hobbies:
Here is your cookie for not groping people and being gross. Is it tasty?
I don’t think you are going to like what I have to say, not least because there is something ironic in asking how to make women, plural see you as an individual.
It is extremely unlikely that the nerdy women in your geographic area have banded together in a Lysistrata-style boycott of nerdy dudes to send a strong message about personal space and safety. Though, if they have, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED THERE? Also, can you put me in touch? I’d like to meet them and write about that.
Sadly, if the women in your (comically exaggerated) conversations liked you and wanted to get to know you better (either as a potential friend or romantic partner), your interest in a hobby shared by various creeps and gropers would not enough by itself to make them withdraw from your company.
So something else is going on. You’re not connecting. They don’t like you, specifically, not You, Unfairly Tarnished Avatar of Creepicus Complainicus or You, Lover of Anime and Role-Playing Games. I’m not there with you during these interactions, so I can’t tell you if you’re doing something weird or off-putting. And neither of us can read the minds of these women. Probability suggests that they each have a completely different reason for taking a powder on getting to know you better. The reasons could be:
- Some of it might absolutely be due to your hypothesis: “Ugh, entitled geeky dudes.” + flashbacks to being groped at that convention that one time. Or simply “He’s fine, but I’m taking a break from dating within this scene.”
- “He’s handsome. Too bad he looks weirdly like my ex/boss/brother.”
- “He seems okay. I need to pick up tampons, milk, toilet paper, and hot sauce at the store on the way home. And also….what did I need to buy? Oh, right. Dish soap.”
- “Not my type.” “Meh.” “Don’t like him.” “Have enough friends already, too busy to see the ones I do have.” “He didn’t do anything wrong but I’d rather talk to the people I came in with.” “Ugh, this migraine is killing me. I need to go somewhere dark and quiet.” “He’s nice, maybe I’ll see him around another time.” “Vaguely irritating in a way that I can’t put my finger on.”
- Etcetera multiplied by infinity, by which I mean, who the hell knows?
You can’t know the reasons, because women are people and people are different and you can’t see inside of their heads. And they get to unfairly and subjectively choose who they want to hang out with for bizarre unfathomable reasons and there is nothing you can really do about it. There is nothing you SHOULD try to do about this because it is a FEATURE and not a BUG of being a human with free will. I can’t give out merit badges that say “Captain Awkward says this dude is basically okay, give him a chaaaaaance!” and if I could I wouldn’t want to.
I know that feels crappy, but if you can’t control whether people like you, sometimes it helps to chalk it up to their subjective experience – “Not everyone will like me and that’s ok” – than to try to look for what might have done wrong and put effort into sucking up and appeasing. You can’t make people like you, so be kind and do the best you can and don’t worry too much about the ones who don’t like you.
Most of my dating advice is compiled concentrated here, and the comments are an amazing compendium of advice for meeting people (friends and romantic partners) and making social interactions less fraught.
I’ll give you a few pieces of advice. I don’t know that they’ll “work” or if they even should work, but they are just good things to do and keep in mind.
1) Make it a project for yourself to seek out out creative work by women. Books, movies, comics, essays, music, etc. Maybe you already do this. Do more. Why? Because it will be fun and you will come across great stuff (the comment thread here is a giant list of recs for work by women).
2) As a corollary, when you are around geeky women, make it a project to ask them for recommendations for pop culture stuff they like and that you might like. Go read or watch the stuff. Take yourself out of the role of the authority who recommends stuff, and if your conversations about fandom tend toward passionate arguments and proving your deep knowledge about things, mellow it out for a little bit.
I’m a geeky lady who hangs out with pretty great, egalitarian, feminist geeky men, and yet it still stands out to me as memorable and awesome when a man follows up on my recommendation for a book or a show he might like. It also stands out as memorable (in a bad way) when I’m discussing something I love with someone who also loves it and it becomes competitive and fansplainy. Sometimes there is a temptation among nerds to turn a shared love of something into verbal warfare. I can’t say that I’ve always been immune to the temptation to use intelligence as if it’s the one thing I’ve got going for me and make charisma my dump stat. But, “You like Dr. Who, too? Cool, let me drown you in everything I know about it and explain why the episodes I like are superior in every way to the episodes that you like, and if you make a small factual error about an episode title or name of a fictional planet, I will use that as more evidence that the things you like are wrong. Also I will talk louder and longer than you, so everyone can see that I won the conversation. Say, you’re cute when you’re mad. Want to go out sometime?” … doesn’t necessarily “impress women” or, really, anyone.
3) Take a break from looking for friends and women to date in geek spaces for a while. Say, 6 months? Not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because a) it’s not working out, which is why you wrote me and b) maybe you’re being too goal-oriented and putting too much pressure on the interactions when you do find someone you like talking to. Make your goals smaller and more focused on enjoying the present interaction than on making a deeper connection.
For example, if you’re going to a party or event, these are some good goals:
-Talk to 2 people you didn’t know. Ask them some questions and to maybe recommend something they love reading or watching right now.
-Since you seem to have an issue where other people end their conversations with you before you are ready, make it a goal to end the conversations first. Try to make yourself be the one who says “Thanks, awesome talking to you. I’m going to go get some water, see you later!” Make no noises about seeing them again. Do not latch. If you see them again, that will be a good surprise, and you’ll be able to talk about the great thing they recommended last time. Initially this will help you feel less needy about these interactions. You’re not being rejected, you’re choosing when to disengage from a conversation. Over time this will show others that you are a safe person who is chill and who doesn’t become overly invested or clingy. People will relax around you and it will be easier to get to know them.
I’m borrowing heavily from frequent commenter PomperaFirpa, who has some of the greatest instructions on basic social interactions here. An excerpt:
“3) Is casual conversation with strangers something that only happens when you are attempting to approach women, or are you one of those people who can go to a party where they only know the host, and walk away hours later with the life story of everyone in the room? I ask because I have historically been TERRIBLE at talking to strangers and the only thing that has improved that is practice. If, like me, you have a history of going to parties, discovering that you know nobody, and ending up lurking in the back pretending you’re social by petting the host’s cat, then you need more practice talking to other humans for general social purposes before you get into DATE ME PLZ mode.
4) Right now you’re not getting any reward out of talking to women, since the only reward you’re after is GET DATE GET DATE GET DATE. Shift the reward: give yourself three points apiece (based on how you think you did) for each of the following:
a) Analyze for Commonality. Figure out what you have in common with this other person.
b) Commonality Question.* Ask the other person a question related to the thing you appear to have in common.
c) Compliment. This often goes hand in hand with the Commonality Question; either one can go first. You get bonus points for adding in an indication that you are interested in this topic.
d) Follow-Up Question. This demonstrates your listening comprehension.
e) GRACEFUL/CASUAL EXIT. By which I mean that if at any point before this, you get the OH CHRIST GET AWAY FROM ME vibe, smile, say “thanks”, and mosey off. Alternately, if you discover very quickly that this person is screamingly bad company, ABORT MISSION and still give yourself full points for extricating yourself.
(Of course, the first four can be lather/rinse/repeated if things are going well, but only then.
Example from real life:
a) This woman has a Doctor Who t-shirt. I like Doctor Who!
c) “Love the t-shirt!”
b) “Where’d you get it? I’ve only seen them at WisCon.”
d) I’ve never been there, did you like it?”
e) “Cool! Thanks for the tip, great talking to you!”
I will generously award myself full points for each, a total of 15 points. Once I get to 100 points, I am totally going to go get ice cream, because while points are their own reward to me, ice cream is a TANGIBLE reward and I like it.
So just play that game for a while, at best while you’re in your happy venue. You will become used to speaking to strangers– maybe even strange women!– in a no-stress venue and a no-stress situation, and at worst you will still get a few points toward your tangible reward and another bit of practice. At a party you could pick up enough points to get, like, FIVE tangible goals. Your end-goal here is to get so used to talking to people that it ain’t no thang, and to reward yourself along the way because that shit is nerve-wracking and internal encouragement is necessary.
Note: this is good even if you are actually totally Captain Suave. It’s not just practice, it’s making it so that you have no pressure re: talking to people…
…6) Just CHILL on this whole thing for a while, and work on your awesome, on finding your venue, and on getting as many points in your conversation game as possible. If you’re not getting dates anyway, you may as well stop, improve what you can, enjoy everything you can, and start again later.”
4) Okay. I have to ask this, and you don’t have to answer because it’s a process kind of thing. Since you brought up the horribleness of the spaces you and other nerds frequent, what are you doing to make those spaces safer and better for yourself and for women? Not in a “look at me, I’m Captain Feminism here to save you” kind of way where you ask for credit for your work, but in a way where you actually do some of that work?
A lot of that work is not really tangible – it’s in the details and a million small interactions. But you complain about the community where you are. What if you started a RPG Meetup that had a harassment policy that was spelled out in advance and the group actually enforced it? And what if you invited people you knew to be Not Creepy and barred known creepers? Or what if you helped evict known problem people from the social spaces you already frequent? And what if you did this not in the hopes of getting a girlfriend, but in the hopes of playing games you love with cool people you could trust and feel safe around yourself?
For example, in your hypothetical conversations with women about the harassment they’ve experienced in geek spaces, did you:
- Say “I’m so sorry, that sucks” and then listen for a while?
- In the spirit of solidarity, relate the stories you have about creepy behavior you have suffered?
- Or, did you explain as sincerely as possible that not all men are like that and there are some good dudes around who can be trusted to act right?
There is a hierarchy of responses there. Can you see it? The third tactic is almost guaranteed to be off-putting and make people not respond well to you.
Finally, you may like Dr. Nerdlove’s advice. His whole thing is “helping the nerd get the girl” where I skew more toward “Helping the nerd (who may or may not be a girl) get whatever they want from life (which may or may not be a nerd or a girl) by speaking frankly about their desires and enforcing their boundaries.” The good Doctor breaks down a lot of social interactions around flirtation, dating, asking people out in great detail and I think you are his target audience.
Whatever’s going on with your self-confidence and approach in meeting people didn’t happen overnight and probably isn’t going to be solved overnight. The best thing anyone can do is put your best foot forward, try not to take rejection too personally, be nice to yourself, and practice your basic social skills. Somewhere out there are cool people who will like you and be into some of the stuff you’re into (though having congruent interests is not a requirement for friendship or love). Some of those people will be women. Some of the women will maybe like you That Way.