The weird thing about being an author is that months pass by when you are not. As a general rule, you don’t get a lot of feedback as an author, particularly when you write short stories; maybe a couple of Twitter-mentions, maybe Lois Tilton reviews your tale, but mostly you write a story and it vanishes after a month and then you’re back to zilch.
I mean, you know you’re an author; you’re writing. You’re talking to other writers. But the feedback from the world is negligible.
And selling a novel is weird, because the feedback comes in clusters. You get the acceptance, and it’s all WOO I CAN’T TELL MY FRIENDS YET HOLY GOD SIGN THE CONTRACT SIGN THE CONTRACT. Then you make the announcement, and it’s a voluminous roar from your friends.
Then nothing. Weeks and weeks of nothing.
Then you get the edits! A flurry of activity.
Then you get the copyedits! A flurry of activity!
Then the proofing! And holy crap, is that more boring than I can convey!
And then weeks and weeks of nothing.
So my novel has been A Thing in my life, but months have passed by where it might as well have not existed. You just sort of go on cruise control, like ya do with stories, where you wait for things to happen.
And now, things are starting to heat up.
After months of delay, the Advanced Reader Copies for reviewers are up on NetGalley. People are starting to talk about this not just as “Hey, that thing that Ferrett is doing,” but as an actual book that they’re excited about. I’m planning podcasts, blog tours, publicity – and for the record, if you want me to make a post for your blog or talk on your show, talk to me, I’ll go just about anywhere.
There’s that shivering excitement of knowing that strangers now have your book in their hands, and you hope they like it.
You oscillate between hope and despair – I’ll sell ten thousand copies! No, you’ll be lucky to sell five hundred. This will be a success! They’ll hate it. You’ve done everything you can – for me, sending in the final proofs felt slightly despairing, like, “This book is now as literally as good as it’s going to get” – and so you have that feeling of the roller coaster ratcheting upwards, knowing there’s a drop coming, unable to see over that rise in front of you.
Reviews are coming. And you’re either Ned Stark or Littlefinger.
Last night, I spent an hour writing, then an hour prepping an excerpt of my book to be read aloud in a podcast, then I answered interview questions for an hour. The work is starting. I’m still coordinating book tours, trying to figure out how all this works, getting the signing…
…and I know this will eventually explode. In March there will be a flurry of Goodreads reviews, people telling me they loved it or hated it, I’ll watch my Amazon rating like it was my heartbeat when I was in the ER for cardiac arrest.
And sometime – I expect in May – it’ll all fade again. It’ll become Just Another Book, the last thing people read, and it’ll probably have a little more traction than a short story, but this will dwindle to backlist. It’ll be something I discuss, but the excitement? Over. Except for a few fans who, hopefully, will tell me how much they loved it. (I hope I hope.) I’ll have something to sign at conventions at long last.
But for right now, I’m in that zone where I can’t quite see the drop, but the rollercoaster is rattling harder, and I hear the people out in front whooping. Is that a good whoop, and this is going to be a joyous ride? Is it a bad whoop, where you discover this next rush is lame?
I don’t know.
Yet I can feel the pull of it. Something is happening. I’ve never gone over this hill before. It’s going to be weirdly exciting even if the book flops – all the talking I’ll do, all the preparation, all the people treating these words I churned out like they were just some other book on the shelves.
I’m transitioning from “Oh my God this is important to me” to “Oh my God this is one of thousands of books published this year.” It’ll be brutal. It’ll be eye-opening. It may even be profitable.
It’s coming, and the next six weeks are only going to get crazier.
Pick-up artists. I have such a love/hate relationship with these guys. I love that there’s someone out there trying to teach socially awkward men how to get the physical affection they need…
…but then in the process of gamifying the system, they proceed to objectify women and make sex into a competition. Eventually women become like climbing mountains, where they start finding increasingly ridiculous challenges that they don’t even particularly want – they just need to take these new skills for a spin. They rank women to measure their challenges, becoming what they despise in the process.
Anyway, there’s a lot of framework and standardization among pick-up artists. You gotta “peacock,” wearing gaudy things so women will have something to comment on. (I can vouch this works, as my casual conversations with women have tripled since I got my pretty pretty princess nails.)
You go out and “neg” women, subtly insulting them to show how thoroughly Not Impressed you are. (I can also vouch this works, as it’s something I sorta do semi-organically – I don’t set out to take pretty girls down a peg, but so many women are surrounded by men who are terrified to express an opinion, lest they accidentally drive this pretty girl away. Saying, “Holy crap, NO!” on occasion actually makes you more interesting, as you’re exhibiting a form of confidence. I dislike outright insult just to drop them into defensive mode, though.)
You trot out well-worn anecdotes to try to get into the sack. (*cough*)
The thing is, the pick-up routine becomes an obsession for these guys. They fine-tune the approach. They start excluding variables. They work on it like it was a stand-up routine, constantly polishing every aspect from the opener to the closer, and…
…I don’t know how necessary that whole schtick is.
See, I don’t think the routines of the pick-up artists are as key as they think – it’s just that women like casual sex as much as men do. And while most guys claim they just want sex, it turns out they actually want commitment in a frightening way that creeps up around the edges. They say women are the commitment-hungry gender, but holy God I’ve known so many dudes who had a one-night stand with someone they liked and could not let that shit go.
A lot of women are actually fine with casual sex. It’s just that guys often try to sneak in “committed sex” under the guise of “casual sex,” and when that doesn’t work out for them then holy shit, let’s unleash a sewery tide of slut-shaming on this bitch who dared to spread her legs for me.
What a great reward system you’ve devised, guys!
So I think the routine isn’t all that important. Expressing yourself as a confident person who’s not going to follow her around for the next six weeks, constantly calling after she’s made the mistake of hooking up with you? That, my friend, is key.
I think that’s one of the reasons I – a pudgy, bug-eyed neurotic – has gotten as much sex as I have. I like you. I want to have sex with you. It’s not going to be more than that unless you want it to be. And given my lack of skills in many areas, that open-yet-unattached approach been surprisingly effective.
But hey. I get the need for a routine, in some cases. Particularly if you’re socially anxious, having the confidence of a script can help you gain the strength to talk to an attractive stranger. Breaking the ice is fucking terrifying, especially when rejections can be so offhandedly cruel, and that’s why despite my reservations about PUAs I can’t say there’s not a need for at least some of what they do.
Seriously, though. I think if you can just be actually legitimately okay with casual sex, you’d be surprised at how often it’ll happen. Even for someone like me.
I absolutely hate biopics because of the shameless way they game critical acclaim. Let’s take last year’s “Twelve Years A Slave,” for example.
I thought “Twelve Years” was a decent horror story and a thoroughly mediocre movie. It had a few nice tricks, but the directing was pedestrian, the pacing turgid (and perhaps as a conscious directorial choice to make the audience feel the endlessness of slavery, but boring is still boring), and the writing functional. On my own, I would have given it a B- in the way I did “Saw” – effective at making audiences wince, cathartic, but not much more.
But see, the magic of biopics is that if you make a film about something Truly Important, criticizing the story slurs right into criticizing the subject matter.
“How can you dislike Twelve Years?” people cried. “Well, you must be for slavery! How can you dismiss this whole experience?”
Except I’m not. I think the historical relevance of Twelve Years is great, I’m glad we got a major motion picture on slavery (which hardly ever happens), I’m thoroughly anti-slavery.
However, I thought this picture was crappy. I wish the story as presented was better. I wish we had tons of films about slavery, the same way we have endless films on white people in the Regency era swanning through England, so we could see just how tedious this was by comparison.
Likewise, a Great Film about Gandhi or Alan Turing or anyone historically important becomes immediate Oscar-bait, because if you don’t like the movie then you must not recognize the greatness of Gandhi!
Worse, biopics lend themselves to what I call “Capote syndrome,” where you make a movie with one great performance – Philip Seymour Hoffman absolutely nailed it – but the film itself is wandering, and not particularly interesting, and so yeah, it absolutely deserves to win “Best Actor” but everyone else is meh. (Likewise, I thought “Twelve Years” housed two great performances, wrapped in a big ball of meh. I liked “Lincoln” just fine, but you take Daniel Day Lewis out of that film and it vanishes.)
So no; try though people might to conflate the historical importance with the cinematic execution, it’s possible to have a mediocre movie about a transforming historical figure. And it’s possible I’m wrong about “Twelve Years” – we’ll see if anyone’s still watching it in a decade or two. We all know that critics are often wrong, and I could be so here. But my point is that thanks to public reaction, the distinction vanishes so it becomes hard to critique the film without seeming to dismiss the event.
(And that doesn’t mean that a mediocre movie won’t hit home and hit home hard for some. Right now, I’m dealing with mourning for my goddaughter, who died of brain cancer. Show me any movie about kids being sick, I fall apart. But that doesn’t make those movies great movies or anything; they’re just plucking at heartstrings that are extremely tender. Likewise, I don’t doubt that a film like, say, “The Butler” or “American Sniper” was absolutely moving for many people, but I question whether that’s because the movie was good or – like me and Rebecca – it was an average film that unearthed some super-intense memories.)
Now, after 500 words of trashing biopics….
OH MY GOD SELMA IS SO FUCKING GOOD
Selma is not some recreation of a man – it symbolizes the heart of the conflict of the Civil Rights movement, putting you firmly in the shoes of African-Americans in the 1960s and showing all the trials they had to face.
And Selma does not pull punches in the flaws of its characters, the conflicts that threatened to rip the Civil Rights movement apart. Not all Negroes cheerfully lined up behind Martin Luther King; we see the militant wing of Malcolm X nipping at his heels, the local activists who are pissed that King has swept in to make a media show of a town they’ve been working for years to improve.
It pulls no punches in saying that MLK went to a town where the Sheriff was cool-headed enough not to beat the shit out of black people on national TV, and he failed, and he is choosing Selma because it will be a nice visual bloodbath to shock America into having some febrile nature of a conscience.
It shows how easily MLK could have been crushed, if LBJ had decided that he wanted King gone, and yet for all of LBJ’s good will MLK still needed to force LBJ’s hand so once again, the Negro’s right to vote wouldn’t be shuffled under in a tide of “We’ll get to that later.”
What we get with Selma is a story – and a good story, one filled with tension, because even though you know it works out you get to see the toll it took on the men who got us there. It doesn’t pull away from the hard decisions; it leans into them, letting you see just how brave these people were without putting them on a pedestal where they’re just Big Damn Heroes.
Selma is as good as people say it is. And it’s an uncomfortable movie, but it’s also not torture porn; it shows you what you need to know, and does not shy away – that lingering shot of the dead girls at the beginning sets the stakes – but it’s more concerned with the living than the dead. When Martin Luther has to go talk to a man whose grandson has died, the scene where he tries in vain to comfort the living takes twice as long as the death scene. And that’s purposeful. We feel the resonation of the deaths long after they’re gone.
Selma is modern. It doesn’t have to stretch for parallels – though it’s largely unspoken except for one lyrical reference to Ferguson in the credits, we have a hidden set of deaths and abuse that nobody wants to look at.
There’s no modern-day analog to Martin Luther King, or even Malcolm X, and I don’t think that’s the fault of the black community. Today is a day of fractures; there’s a thousand media outlets, everyone can have a blog, everyone’s on Twitter, everyone has their own choice. I’m not sure we can have a great uniting figure any more.
When you hear the words of King, slow as syrup, each word thought through precisely, man. You wish a little that we were back in the days when one man could be lifted to such heights. Because what he said, and did, to focus the movement, to keep it on track, still resonates today.
Go see Selma. It’s so worth it.
If you date actively in the poly scene for long enough, ex-lovers will accumulate at your feet like drifts of autumn leaves. You’ll date, discover they’re not right for you, probably have a couple of seriously nasty and hurtful arguments before some final stab from hell’s heart causes you to flee the premises.
Now: What do you do with all of these exes?
If the answer is “Ensure that everyone knows what shitty people they are so that no one will ever talk to them again,” congratulations! You may have just helped shatter your community.
Before we continue, let’s set some guidelines: if you broke up because s/he physically abused you or raped you, then that’s something your community deserves to know about, because those sorts of missing stairs go on to rape and abuse other people. I am by no means suggesting that you stay silent on issues of abuse so we can draw the quiet curtain of “Don’t cause drama.”
Yet most breakups involve some level of ugliness. While there are the occasional breakups that are cool-headed, mutual partings – “Why, yes, I believe we are incompatible, let us share a final cup of tea and depart as friends” – most breakups occur because at least one person thinks they’re being reasonable and at least one other person doesn’t.
As such, most relationships involve being aggrieved for weeks, months, before you come to realize that not only are they hurting you, but they believe they’re entirely justified in fucking you over.
So when that final trauma comes smashing down and you realize that this asshole is never going to stop hurting you, some people’s first inclination is to run around ensuring that this nefarious villain will never harm anyone again! And their friends, who’ve bought into this weird idea that “loyalty” means “backing your friends blindly,” will immediately ostracize and trash-talk the ex, and snub them at parties, and do their best to cut this cancer from the community….
Which ensures you’ll never really have a community.
Look, if this was a group of monogamous people, maybe that behavior could at least reach some stable point where everyone was happily dating and no new relationships could come along to form schisms.
But you’re not. You’re a poly group. You’re this incestuous bunch of folks dating each other, and there will never come a point where someone isn’t having a falling-out with someone else.
As such, what I see in a lot of poly communities is this complete inability to actually have a community. What you have instead is this constantly shifting tide of allegiances, where Sharon can’t be in the same room with Candy, and we like Sharon better, so fuck Candy, she’s not welcome at this party, which means that Candy’s friends won’t come either. Yet oh Christ, Bob just broke up with Sharon and who doesn’t like Bob, and…
…next thing you know, you have several warring factions, each constantly regrouping as new breakups bring a fresh wave of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and Jesus the drama never stops.
So my rule is that I’ll be civil to your ex, whenever possible.
I’ll be civil to my ex, whenever possible.
If you consistently can’t stand in the same room as your ex, you’ve probably got some issues.
And again, some caveats: I don’t expect you to be immediately good with being in the same place as your ex. Nor do I think you should watch avidly as they smooch on the couch with that new lover. There needs to be some cool-down time while you readjust to this new reality.
Nor do I expect you to act like everything’s okay. You don’t have to go over and make happy conversation with them. I’m not asking you to be best friends again, I’m asking that you learn to just exist in the same space.
Nor do I expect you to thumb the “mute” button on your issues. Bitching to your friends? Fuck, that’s the reason you *have* friends. Don’t spew toxic hatred to everyone you meet, but if you gotta vent to a buddy, I say vent away. People get down on gossip, but a) you can’t really stop gossip, and b) in some cases it’s an accurate way of determining who’s worth dating. If I’m as cruel as my ex-girlfriends think I am, well, that’s something y’all should take into account when I ask you on a date.
But asking everyone around you to restructure their parties just so you never see evidence of this human waste you used to love? That’s a bit over the top.
And yeah, I hear terrible things about exes. But I also know that breakups are where people are at their worst. If you judged me exclusively by the things I did in the waning weeks in a relationship, I would be a screaming rant-monster.
The truth is, people love hero narratives. It’s a lot easier to say, “Oh, I was so perfect! She was a monster!” And those narratives are neat and clean, because you’ve got a hero (and coincidentally, it’s always you!), and you’ve got a villain, and if you get enough of your friends to agree that this ex is a jerk then you can vote that villain off the island and feel good about it.
There are relationships with clear monsters, no questions. (Let’s harken back to that “rape and physical abuse” thing earlier.) But that’s not most breakups. Most breakups involve some jerky behavior that arises because two people have differing needs.
Most breakups involve both people acting a little jerky. Yet when you’re hip-deep in the Hero Narrative Of Breakups, you dismiss all the petty stuff you pulled as entirely reasonable, and amplify the mistakes of the Evil Ex.
Yet you do not have to make every ex into a villain. Try these magic words: “We had differing needs.” Those differing needs can cause a lot of hurt; if you’re allergic to wheat and I bake you a fresh loaf of bread, that’s gonna drop you straight into the Land O’Gastrointestinal Hell.
But that doesn’t mean that the baker is some criminal mastermind out to destroy the gluten-intolerant. It means that he loves baking, and he dated someone who couldn’t deal with that, and after a lot of anguish they decided this wasn’t going to work out.
It is worthwhile to be able to see a breakup as not the result of targeted cruelty, but rather the friction caused by two differing personalities. It is worthwhile to be able to see your own part in a breakup. It’s worthwhile to see your ex as someone who is simultaneously a decent person and yet someone who will cause you endless misery when you date.
That’s chemistry, baby. Some compounds are just volatile.
And it’s super-worthwhile not to drag everyone you know into taking sides in this battle. You don’t have to rally round the circle, punish your ex with all the ostracization and demonization at your disposal for every slight, haul your friends into this war you have created.
Me? I’m going to be civil to your ex. I may think he’s a jerk for what he did to you. I’m not going to be best friends with him, nor am I going to invite him to parties at my house that consist exclusively of my friends.
Yet if I see him at a club or a convention or at someone else’s party, I won’t be offended by his mere presence. I’m going to say “hello” and make my excuses and move on to someone I do enjoy talking to. Just as I would do with one of *my* exes, if I saw them at these places.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
I’m super-lucky with my debut novel; not only have I been blogging/publishing stories for years and am friends with tons of writers, but I’ve got the mighty Angry Robot marketing engine on my side to push FLEX like it was solid gold sliced bread.
But I have friends who are launching books from small presses and low contacts. They have issues getting their books seen.
And since I’d like to be able to help people like this in the future, I’m asking you wise people for advice: If you had to start promoting your book from scratch, with a small social media footprint and no connections, where would you start?
I mean, what I’d do would be something like:
1) Compile as complete a list of book bloggers as possible. Not just the big influential ones I have little shot at, but all the smaller ones who might be amenable.
2) Polish my pitch to pristine working order, much like I’d prep a query for an agent.
3) Offer to send samples of my book to all of those people.
4) See about holding a GoodReads giveaway.
5) Investigate holding a blogging tour, pinpointing as many bloggers as I could to try to come up with fascinating takes on my book.
But would that work? Is that actually effective? I don’t know, but I know lots of you are effective self-publishers, or have crawled up to have successful books from humble starts – what worked for you? Any and all tested advice on what’s effective (and, just as effectively, what’s not) is deeply appreciated.
In my review of Annie the other day, I said that we needed a new name for the subconscious racism that permeated our system: the kind that causes cops to shoot black people twenty times more often than white people. The kind where, if you’re a black person on OKCupid, you lose three-quarters of a star rating on average merely by the color of your skin.
That’s not some sort of global phenomenon; it’s sadly American. There’s a great chapter in Dataclysm, written by one of OKC’s data analysts, discussing how that sort of racial bias isn’t as present in other cultures. But years of American standards have caused lots of people to equate “black” with “unattractive” and “threatening” – even to other black people.
And I said we needed a new word to describe that racism – that unthinking regurgitation of all the biases ground into you.
And others said, “Why do we need a new word for racism? It’s racism! That’s all one thing.”
Well, I love words because they open up new ideas. It’s sort of like how the color blue is a comparatively new invention – people used to think of the ocean as black or wine-red. But someone said, “Hey, that water deserves its own color,” and now we have a new way of thinking of stuff.
Likewise: abuse. We could just say, “Wow, that guy totally abused his wife,” and be correct. But it’s more accurate, and evocative, to say, “He totally gaslighted her,” indicating a complex pattern of mental abuse that involves manipulating the facts to undermine her self-confidence and sanity.
Or we could just say, “She perpetrated identity fraud” and be correct. But it’s more accurate to say “She catfished him,” indicating that she led him on romantically by lying about significant portions of her life.
Or heck, we could just say “They lied” and be correct in both examples! But the beauty of words is that they provide shading, nuance, the fine-grained ability to convey a concept that, perhaps, we didn’t have before now.
Likewise, “racism” is a big damn word that covers a lot of ground. It’s a word spread so thin it’s almost useless, like “liberal” or “conservative” – it could mean anything. Having more words to convey the specific kinds of racism that one can perpetrate is helpful.
And “racist” is such a loaded word – it’s one of the worst insults you can toss at a white person, for good or for ill. You say that to most white folks, it shuts down conversations. It’s often not helpful in terms of getting the people who have some racist inclinations to reflect upon what they might be doing (even as it can be terribly empowering for minority communities to call out racism accurately).
As such, having new words to make a differentiation between “You are a card-carrying member of the KKK” and “You are a decent person who has absorbed some unfortunate ideas from a racist society” will be helpful.
Not a panacea, of course. The idea of “mansplaining” is horrifically useful for women trying to outline a specific form of condescension, but of course there’s going to be disagreement over what it is. I’ve been accused of “mansplaining” to someone who expressed confusion about something I said, when I didn’t even know the gender identity of the person I was clarifying myself to. And there are doubtlessly people who do mansplain to women (including possibly me), who would argue to the hilt that they’re not doing that. So even if we got that word, we’d doubtlessly have people using it when it didn’t quite fit, and people misunderstanding it, and people denying it…
…but that’s not a reason not to want this word. That’s what happens to every word that describes a negative behavior.
Now what’ll happen next is that people will suggest all sorts of words in the comments here that could describe this subconscious bias, but all of those words will suck. And that’s not your fault! Words only really take root once they reflect a story that resonates within that culture. It’s no coincidence that “catfish” and “gaslight” both took root after a movie expressed their story. And they’re both catchy words that don’t actually describe the situation much; they just happened to connect with a tale that people could relate to.
So I suspect this word-for-subconscious-bias will be a while in coming. It’ll need some clear narrative in this country that brings it into focus – and that’s hard to do when we’re dealing with a bias that we can’t see. The Occupy movement got partway there with “the 99%,” bringing an abstract concept almost into focus with a lot of protests hammering on it. It may be that the nationwide protests for black justice find some way of highlighting this issue and bringing it into being.
And I want to see that brought into focus. Because right now, to most white people, racism involves intent – you meant to be nice to black people, you know you don’t actively work to undermine them, so you’re fine! And anyone who tells you that you’re hurting black people – you know, maybe by pulling the trigger on them twenty times sooner than you would someone with paler skin – must be trying to smear you.
But no. Truth is, we’ve got a long history of hating dark skin in this country. It’d be surprising if we could just shake it off without some active investigation of how we think. And I wish we could find a word to get across that needed nuance of “Harboring no active hatreds might not be enough to stop you from hurting people.”
My friend Rahul Kanakia wrote an excellent article called “Why Do All Sci-Fi Novels Assume That If A Person Likes All The Same Stuff As You, Then You’re Their Soulmate?” And there, he highlighted one of the major fallacies of geek culture: ZOMG IF I COULD JUST FIND A WOMAN WHO LIKES D&D, THEN WE’RE MEANT TO BE.
But honestly, while your mutual love of GI Joe cartoons is a good starting point to launch talks, it’s by no means a guarantee that you’re gonna be good at a relationship. I mean, yeah, “She loves D&D!” seems great – but if you’re a passionate roleplayer who nobly flings the rulebook aside in your quest to discover Your True Character, and you hook up with a girl who’s a merciless power-player who’d cheerfully run an orphan-slaughtering factory if the XP boost got her to twentieth level, then you’re probably not going to work out well in the long run.
That geek fallacy assumes, incorrectly, that there’s only one thing to love about any given media property – so if you both like it, then you both like the same thing. Yet every fandom’s a big place. When I say I love Star Wars, I love Luke. Others love Han. Or Darth Vader. Or Jar-Jar. And you seriously think a guy who has a room full of Jar-Jar collectibles is going to connect with the Capulet that is Lady Vader?
Now, I’m not saying love can’t blossom from the same fandom. (Frankly, I’ve never found two Terry Pratchett fans who couldn’t work it out.) But when fandom is presented as the unerring key to your heart, that leads to disaster. Because that encourages sad, lonely men (and women!) to view the opposite sex as some sort of collectible action figure – “Wait! I found the girl who likes Pokemon! That means I’m done!”
So they discard women who don’t like Pokemon, narrowing their vision to find that one Pikachu girl.
And they find her, and of course she’s surrounded by tons of other blinkered dudes who are convinced that if they can just get her attention, they are guaranteed love.
And they find her beset by men of all sorts, so many drooling dudes that it starts to erode their enjoyment in this hobby – sure, maybe she loved Pokemon once, but in a Pavlovian process she is now coming to associate “Pokemon” with “guys constantly pawing at her,” and that’s not cool.
But lo, they persevere on, pushing past all the other guys to become her friend. And they genuinely seem to believe on some level that merely a) being in close proximity to her, and b) sharing this hobby means c) hot smoochin’ FOREVER.
Yet A + B != C here.
That’s a problem with American culture in general, not just nerd culture. Every love story slurs “falling in love” and “staying in love” together, because functioning long-term relationships are hard to make dramatic. Falling in love, that’s exciting! It’s a first! Fireworks of new things! And breaking up, that’s exciting! All the arguments and final decisions!
So what we get, filtered through the lens of narrative interest, is this weird idea that “falling in love” has mostly the same mechanics as “maintaining a relationship.” And so we come to think what makes a good relationship is this constant fascination, endlessly going out for coffee and exchanging secrets and finding new places to go, because that’s what young couples do.
Except that’s the start of a relationship. All those grand gestures are because you’re finding out what the other person is like, having all of these grand talks because you don’t know them yet – and you’re trying to determine whether this is, indeed, good. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t be interested in someone, because part of maintaining a good relationship involves not going on autopilot – but too many old married couples have tried to restart their relationship by “Let’s go out for coffee,” only to discover that they actually don’t have much left to say to each other.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gini and I have been together for fifteen years. We’ve heard all our good stories. We don’t have much to talk about because we’ve been there for everything that’s happened over the last fifteen years – we catch up when someone comes back from a convention, or when the new Avengers trailer drops. But if our relationship was predicated on “all the new things we did together,” our marriage would be buried in a broken heap down at the dump.
But what nerds come to think is that this flurry of initial conversation is proof you’re compatible. And it’s not. You’re confusing the gathering of proof with the proof itself.
Sometimes you talk for hours on the phone, yes, and what you discover in those hours on the phone is that this person (or at least who this person presents themselves as) is someone you’d like to call a friend. But when you have that terrible overhang of “exploration is romance” tangled up in this, then you get some very confused people. Hey! We spent days together! I comforted them when they were down! I did all the things that romantic couples do, and romance didn’t come tumbling out, so she did something wrong!
Except she didn’t. She figured out what kind of relationship she’d like to have with you. And you’re misinformed enough to believe that this process is what creates love, instead of realizing this process is where you discover if romantic love might exist.
(I say “she” here, because guy nerds are often the most vitriolic about misunderstanding the process, but hoo boy you see women assuming that “intense discussions” are “love” as well. Nerd culture is overwhelmingly male, and I’m discussing nerd culture, but Jesus please don’t take these examples as evidence that women don’t make these mistakes often.)
So what you’ll often see in male nerd cultures is this horrendous bitterness – hey, I found a woman who likes Pokemon! And we talked! We talked for hours! And she wasn’t interested in me!
She must be a fake nerd girl.
Because yeah, of course the problem isn’t that you foolishly assumed a shared fandom was your ticket to hot cuddles. Nor was it that you assumed that your having long talks would create a lasting love. No, the problem is that she just wasn’t into Pokemon enough, and god damn it how dare someone claim they’re into Pokemon when they won’t fuck me.
Whereas the truth is, watching Pokemon cartoons is a thing you can do together. It’s a good thing to switch back to when the awkward silence falls over that first date. But loving Pokemon doesn’t say a damn thing about what love language you speak, or how you react when your lover hurts you, or whether they’re good for you in bed, or how much you pay attention to the person you’re dating as opposed to watching this brightly-colored Japanese cartoon on the screen.
That shared love you have of fandom? It’s a good start. But a good start isn’t a guaranteed finish. And worse, that attitude is slowly making fandom a hostile place for women, by reducing their fandom to a sign of romantic compatibility, and encouraging every guy to think that they deserve a shot with her, and all the angry feedback that incurs when they don’t get it.
And if you’re wonder why it’s so hard to find a girl who’s into what you are, maybe you’re part of the problem. Because they do exist. They just may have chosen to take their love into a private space, where that affection they have for Green Lantern doesn’t turn their body into a bulls-eye.