Geek Love

Is there really a litmus test for compatibility?

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Sunday, January 01, 2012
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In a famous scene in the 1982 movie Diner, Eddie (played by Steve Guttenberg) makes his wife-to-be pass a football trivia quiz before he’ll agree to marry her. Me, I’m a fantasy and gaming geek, not a sports freak. I may not know how many yards Tom Brady has passed for this season, but I can name all nine members of the Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings, and I can tell you that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.

This has caused some problems in my dating life. Not that I’ve pulled a litmus-test stunt on prospective mates, like: Do you prefer DC Comics or Marvel? Can you name the houses at Hogwarts? Rather, it’s me who’s felt tested. Should I admit I once played Dungeons & Dragons religiously? That I was president of my high school AV Club? Revealing my dweebishness hasn’t always produced the best results. ‘Huh.. . interesting,’ more than one lady has said on a first date during my epic quest for damsels, one that has taken me from Star Wars cantina-like dive bars to the heartless land of Mordor.com, er, Match.com. “I never knew Chewbacca was from the planet Kah.. . how do you say it?”

“Kashyyyk,” I muttered, sipping my ale and deciding I’d not sing my hobbit drinking song not until at least the third date.

Because these utterances have at times been deal breakers, I’ve often mulled whether couples can bridge the differences. Can partners hail from opposite ends of the hipster-to-geek continuum or the nerd-jock divide? Need they share the same geekery to make love work? As a decorated veteran of the Dating Wars, I’m here to report the answer is mixed.

One woman I was obsessed with seemed cool with the idea of watching The Fellowship of the Ring with me. In bed. We barely made it out of the Shire. When I proposed a marathon, 12-disc extended edition viewing of the trilogy (including the ‘making of’ videos), with Middle-earth themed food, she de-friended me. I went out with another woman whose online profile declared, “I’m a sci-fi geek.” We met up at a sports bar, where my ‘Han shot first’ reference met a blank stare and my Monty Python jokes fell flat. It seemed her professed geekiness was only skin deep.

I once met a couple who found a solution, though. Both through-and-through geeks, they resided, surprisingly, in opposing Dorklands. He collected Star Trek action figures and built reproduction props from movies and TV shows like Battlestar Galactica. She baked medieval period bread, wore bodices, and kept a pseudo-Middle English blog. Still, the marriage worked. Maybe the solution to a successful relationship is not so much mutual participation in tunic-sewing and wizard rock as it is mutual respect for each other’s kooky infatuations. Yes, even that Captain Kirk command chair that dominates the den.

At least geeks today aren’t as ostracized as I was back in the ‘80s. Boys and girls of all ages get down with Wii. Plus, as it turns out, hipsters, sports nuts, and fashionistas are really geeks in disguise. Dwarf-bearded men smitten with fixed-gear bicycles have appropriated nerdy glasses. Ex-jocks play fantasy baseball. In fact, a collection of action figures has a lot in common with a shoe fetish the main difference being it’s OK to take your Manolo Blahniks out of the box. Whereas Voltron stays in his plastic bubble, forever. Plus, D&D players, adept at role-playing, make great lovers. Wizard, barbarian, or naughty secretary what’s the difference?

As for the woman I’m currently seeing, she didn’t have to pass an Elvish exam. She’s no geek. She’s a former jock who set a couple of track records back in the day. Her passion is art and graphic design, not graphic battles with orcs or zombies. But she’s cool with my playing Risk with the boys. And she’s seen me in my tunic. Recently, she agreed to accompany me on a journey to my geek-friendly ancestral home. Before I had a chance to ask, she offered, “Hey, I’d love to watch the trilogy with your family. What can I bring?”

Before I could suggest “Boba Fett feta dip” or “a nice hobbity ale,” I realized she hadn’t specified which trilogy, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. But I figured she’d be game for both.

Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms” (Lyons Press). He contributes regularly to The Boston Globe, New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, and Christian Science Monitor.

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