There's a hoary old truism that says geeks never date, and get laid even less than that. But at least two generations have grown up knowing that is a lie. After all, Mark Zuckerberg's courtship and marriage made headlines, while gamer geek Felicia Day is an internet pinup (in armor of course). We live in a golden age of nerd romance and eroticism. But is geek love really any different from mundane love? In some ways, yes.
Because you're all nerds or nerd sympathizers, I'm pretty sure I know exactly what you're saying right now inside your heads. First of all, what the hell does "geek" even mean? I'd better define that term before saying anything definitive about how geeks go about dating each other. And second, it's completely ridiculous that I'm trying to claim that any group of people all behave in the same way. No group is monolithic, and besides, it's not like I've done a scientific survey to back up my sensationalistic assertions. The fact that you are skeptical and ready to rip apart my argument even before you've read it is why I love you. And it's what makes you a geek.
There are a few hallmarks of geek dating rituals that reflect the fact that most of us spend a lot of time inside our heads — and we like it in there.
Extremely Transparent Courtship
Dating in the mundane world is full of subterfuge and second-guesses. Did her invite to coffee mean a date or just a hangout thing? Did his offhand comment about my "cute hair" mean that he likes me, or that likes me? There are like a billion extra shades of gray on top of the fifty that you've seen advertised on the cover of those paperbacks at the airport. For geeks, all that subtlety is both confusing and annoying. Why not just explain what you are doing and figure out what comes next in a rational manner? This was the tactic that Abed and Troy used in Community when they asked out a librarian by saying:
We are both interested in taking you to the Valentine's dance, but we are also best friends with each other. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we protect that friendship from the stresses of courting you.
If you're going to do an experiment, what would be the point of hiding all the ingredients? That's the spirit in which many geeks approach courtship with each other.
Transparency in dating is also useful for geeks because often we are the kinds of people who were scarred in childhood by people pretending to be interested in us only to turn the whole thing into a joke. Maybe that didn't happen to you, but you are just too busy thinking about code or assays to notice when the person talking to you is flirting his face off. Either way, it is best for geeks to go for the straightforward approach, stating simply, as I have done many times: "I would like to ask you out on a date." It saves time and cuts through all the layers of data analysis or insecurity or both in our heads.
I'm going to hazard a guess that this geek dating tactic helps explain why so many people into BDSM are also nerds. After all, BDSM is a method of sharing eroticism that has countless rituals of consent, and often involves planning exactly which acts you'll engage in. What could be geekier than making a list of all the things you're going to do to get off with each other, and then doing them? It's basically like generating a hypothesis and then carrying out experiments to see if the hypothesis is correct. Or, in this case, whether the hypothesis is insanely hot and awesome.
Let Me Ogle What's Inside Your Head
Geeks love hotness as much as mundanes, but they also find that hotness extends into the realm of thought. Often, geeks flirt with each other by showing how much they know about highly technical and obscure topics. There is nothing hotter than meeting somebody who can tell you in great detail about how subduction works in the context of plate tectonics, or how to create predictive models of human behavior based on data mining. And don't even get me started on how sexy it is when somebody talks about supermassive stars with authority, or tells you about the time that they patched a complicated vulnerability in the latest version of Chrome. Listening to somebody offer a truly great explanation of convergent evolution is basically the equivalent of watching a really hot person dance beautifully to your favorite song at a club. A geek with all the right mental moves is magnetically sexy.
This is, incidentally, why geek flirting often sounds a little like somebody with answer syndrome. It also explains why geeks flock to dating sites like OKCupid. I can meet people by showing how many math questions I can answer? Hell yes to that.
I'm not trying to say that geeks only look for "inner beauty" or some crap like that. Nerds are just as attracted to Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson as mundanes are. It's just that we are also attracted to what a person knows as well as what they look like. You could even say that nerds have their own version of shallow attraction to somebody based on their knowledge base rather than who that person is. I will confess that I am as guilty of this as the next person. I once slept with a guy just because I was interested in what he was studying in graduate school, but quickly dumped him when I realized he was intensely boring when he wasn't talking about his doctoral research. You know — his brain was hot until I actually got to know it.
I think that the geek obsession with cosplay might be an extension of our desire to ogle what's in each other's heads. If we can dress up like the fantasies in our imaginations, we can combine the comeliness of our geek obsessions with the comeliness of our meatsacks. And what could be sexier than that?
Thanks to Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, and Gwenda Bond for supplying many ideas for this article!