Why Your Lust For A Shared Fandom Is Fucking Up Your Relationships

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

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.

1 Comment

  1. Yet Another Laura H
    Jan 14, 2015

    I have also seen the following:
    Person A sees person B in fandom Epsilon, and pursues person B because B “likes/ will put up with/ refrain from mocking/ be able to have an informed conversation about my stuff,” or “I have an in with this person.” (This differs from “s/he does not hide the often-socially-debilitating inner geek” or “likes something for the same reasons I like it.”) They get together, and mek with der sexytimes.
    But then Person A shapes up a little bit, and Person Q finally stops being repelled by the aura of neediness. A then quite ceremoniously dumps Person B for the “normal”-looking Q, whom s/he hopes will teach him or her to “pass,” or at least look like s/he “must have something if s/he managed to snag Q.” (Alas, this tends to lead to the expected outcome of dating another person in the hopes that he or she will change you.)
    Unfortunately, the take-away for B is often, “Don’t date men [almost always men] in your fandom,” rather than “check for visible lesions and horny self-loathing before you swap fluids.”
    Sigh.

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