Nerd Love in the Time of Social Distancing

“Wait, you mean you can choose your own brand of nerd?” 

“Let’s just say I’m extremely picky.” 

This conversation happened between a friend and me after I — yet again — struck out on my dating app of choice. During our time in social distancing, I’m sure a lot of us have become Rapunzels in our own way: cleaning several times a day, rereading our favorite books, maybe even painting our walls, and talking to our pets. Thankfully, some of us are also a bit more technologically privileged and have the internet at our fingertips. Such a powerful tool allows us to not only binge-watch movies, take silly Buzzfeed quizzes, but also allows us to video chat with family, friends, and in my current case, dates. 

Most of my friends know that I have a pretty sensitive and romantic soul, coupled with my desire to be in a TNP (True Nerd Pairing). While the classification of the word “nerd” can mean of variety of things for people—as it should—for me it really comes down to an essential question: 

Does he really like Harry Potter? 

I’ve been a Harry Potter fan for as long as I can remember. I’ve read and reread the books several times. I know my House (Ravenclaw), Patronus (otter), and my wand (Chestnut, 13 inches, unicorn hair). I also have been fortunate to attend events like Leaky Con, orchestra concerts featuring the various Harry Potter soundtracks, and of course, Harry Potter trivia. (In the effort to address gatekeeping, I want to solidly inform my readers that there is NO ONE WAY to do fandom, for fandom is just as different as each one of us. Whether you have a full set of house robes (I actually don’t) or have just one HP t-shirt, once you declare yourself a fan, you are a fan. Periodt.)

Still, I knew that in my dating life, I wanted to meet a man who began in the realm of interest and maybe ended in the realm of superfan. Choosing the app Hinge, a dating site where people comment on your pictures and your “Finish the statement” questionnaire, I wanted to meet guys who not only understood my fascination with the Wizarding World, but maybe even appreciated it. So I started inviting guys to do one activity that I thought would give me some insight towards their views on relationships: binging the Harry Potter series. 

During my week of pursuing this endeavor, I was reminded of five essential lessons that I want to share regarding being a “nerd,” diving into the dating pool, and trying to keep your head above ground in the time of social distancing. 

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Geek Out 

My friends tell me all the time: “Kai, I can’t wait for the day where you live without apology!” While nerding out has privately been my comfort zone, it took a minute for me to see that my penchant for reading Amazon’s romance novels, watching Disney sing-a-longs, and of course, rifling through my Harry Potter trivia collection wasn’t embarrassing for me to share. As I’ve gotten older and have wonderfully gathered a supportive nerd community, I have come to understand that my hobbies and interests are nothing to apologize for, whether I was actively dating or not.

Watching the Harry Potter movies with my dates allowed me the range to fly my flag as boldly as I wanted to! I answered questions about differences between the movies and the books, laughed about trivia moments where I either won the day or struck out, and of course, ranted about the lack of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw victories throughout the series. Some guys found it really cool that I could teach them things that they didn’t know about the series, some even surprised me with their own tidbits of knowledge. We even started planning about other series we could binge and discuss. Most importantly, as each day and date went by, I became more comfortable and confident in how I expressed my love for Harry Potter, and geekdom in general. I think that’s a feeling any nerd should want in a healthy and fulfilling dating life, if not in a relationship. 

If you have opportunity, use this time to hone in what makes your inner nerd happy! For some it’s arts and crafts, for others it’s music. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to embrace it and share it with a potential interest or partner. Even if it doesn’t lead anywhere romantically, you still have gained friends who share your hobby, and that’s always a win! 

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Debate 

To the admiration of some and to the chagrin of others, I LIVE for a good argument. I’m definitely not saying that everything has to be a debate, but it is a good way to see the perspectives of others, gain insight on their experiences, and understand their communication styles. Whether we’re talking subs vs. dubs, what Disney palace you’d like to live in, or whether Snape is a hero or villain, I see healthy debating in the dating routine as a way for us to expand each other’s horizons, share anecdotes about ourselves, and of course, flex our knowledge of the source material. 

It’s also a great way to establish your boundaries. If you see that a potential dating partner is using fandom as an excuse to be verbally abusive or oppressive in any systematic way, take that as a HUGE red flag, use your block button, and move on. There is only room for debate, not oppression. 

3.  Take the Pressure Off 

As a Black woman in her late twenties, I can definitely understand the pressure that comes with hoping that you will eventually find “The One.” I have friends who have great partners, both nerdy and non, and can spend all day on all my social media sites pointing out examples of what I could describe as #CouplesGoals. Still, social distancing has given a lot of us the time and space to truly reflect on ourselves, and gain a new perspective on the dating process. 

Let me be clear: I understand that it is a HUGE privilege to be able to even think about dating during social distancing, much less doing it. A lot of us are working from home, homeschooling children and/or siblings, and/or trying to figure out how to make ends meet until we go back to “normal.” It is totally okay if you don’t have time to entertain whether or not the Slytherin you just met is the perfect match to your Hufflepuff. 

However, if you do find that you have a bit of time to date, allow the fact that you are in your own home to mean that you can TRULY BE YOURSELF. You can show up in a dress or you can go in pajamas (I’ve done both). You can chat for a half hour or you can stay up til dawn (also done both). Don’t be afraid to share as little or as much as you’d like, understanding that dating right now is totally different, and that means you can be a little different, too. 

2. Embrace What’s New (And What’s Not) 

Before social distancing, I HATED seeing myself on video and camera, always judging my flaws and insecurities and being afraid that this potential interest would find me flawed, too. This time, however, has given me a lot of screen time and more importantly, a lot of time with myself. Using this time to reaffirm what I like, work on what I want to change, and showing myself grace and kindness when it’s difficult to do either has made a huge difference in not only my mental health and confidence, but also how I approach “the dating game.” 

This is also the same process for my nerd journey as well. There are people who can roll their eyes and state, “Kai cares about Harry Potter WAY too much,” and you know what? Sometimes I agree with them! Finding the balance between your fandom being your comfort space and your fandom being the sole thing you depend on can be difficult, but it is not without its rewards. 

Meeting partners who are going through this process can be refreshing too. If you are going back to your old fandoms as creature comforts and use the next date as an opportunity to explore something new with your dating partner. Whether you watch a new series or take a class where neither of you is an expert, you’ll soon see that both your dating and your nerd horizons are expanding, which is a win-win!

1. Happiness is the Journey AND the Destination 

Every time I log out of trivia, a watch party, or even just a regular FaceTime date, I ask myself: “Well Kai, did you have fun?”  If the answer is yes, then I pursue that person and take a chance on doing it again. If the answer is no, then I can either allow myself to wallow in the realization that I struck out again, or I can take a bit of time to reflect on what I want to go differently next time and move forward. 

Finding what we want in a relationship, or even exploring whether we want a relationship at all, can be tough. However, just because something is tough doesn’t mean that it cannot be enjoyable. Social distancing has brought out, in a lot of us, the question of, “what would you do if you had a bunch of time?” I said earlier that this is a huge privilege to think about, so don’t feel the pressure of doing so if you in fact do not have the time. If you do, however, make sure that your time is spent on activities that fill both your need for social interaction and your interests in what you’re pursuing in a partner. 

This is not just a consideration of your time, but of their time as well. Remember that there’s another person on the other side of the screen who could be playing Hogwarts Mystery on their phone or rereading The Philosopher’s Stone for the twentieth time, and yet, they’re making time to spend time with you. 

by K. Alexandra Mills