“Nerd Speed Dating”.
Reading those three words on a convention program inspired a bit of amusement from me. Nerds have always been (often unjustly) stereotyped as a group of people with little-to-no social skills, so putting them all together in a room with only minutes to make good first impressions seemed like a recipe for disaster. I could only imagine the Jerry Lewis-esque hem-ing and haw-ing, and how the few females to show up would surely be overwhelmed by the hordes of sweaty, unwashed men.
But lo and behold, there I was in line.
Toronto’s FanExpo had advertised this speed dating as a fun way of meeting fellow nerds, even if you were only partial to a certain genre. Over the con’s August 25-28 schedule, they held numerous sessions for specific realms, such as comic books, sci-fi and horror. The event I attended was a general crossover, intended to cover as many bases as possible. It took place on the Saturday.
Saturdays at conventions are often ludicrous affairs. As the organizers tend to pack as many people as possible into a convention hall, our gender-sequestered lines were wedged in between a stylized red carpet and a group of teenagers dancing to spastic techno. Since there was two doors into the room where the speed dating would be held, the girls stood on one side, and the guys on the other. The ratio actually wasn’t as bad as you’d expect: there was easily 30-35 ladies and 50 gentlemen, which is a bit better than a 50/50 split.
However, the proceedings happened to be governed by a certain man in a Jedi costume. For the lack of a better moniker, let’s call him Anakin.
Anakin was in charge of keeping the lines orderly, the lines quiet and the lines counted. He took to his duties with gusto, admonishing us for talking with our fellow line-mates, saying he could “kick us out in a flash if [we] kept it up.”
In short, it was the smallest amount of power I had ever seen go to someone’s head.
Naturally, the people around me had a good bit of joking at his expense: the “corrupted by the dark side” reference reflected both the general hilarity of the situation and the makeup of the guys in line. Some were in costume while others dressed normally: one even decided to be a little brave, joining the queue with a suit, tie and Leonardo DiCaprio mask. I had to applaud his creativity.
Eventually, as the other organizers got their heads on straight, Anakin stood in front of the line, put his hands on his hips and said, with gusto:
“Now who’s ready to meet some girls?!”
My line-mates and I looked at each other in disbelief. There was a number of things wrong with this.
Now, part of the reason why dating services work (well, in some cases) is that users can dictate their own experiences. If they aren’t comfortable in revealing certain things, they can leave them out; OKCupid even has a field that asks you “the most private thing you’re willing to admit.” This fosters a trust and comfort between the service and the user that’s pretty important; I mean, if you don’t think you’ll emerge from this venture with your dignity intact, why undertake it?
This system (or at least the guy that was running it) didn’t exactly have that same viewpoint. Regardless of whether the guys in line were looking for a nice conversation, something long-term or a con quickie, talking to us as if we were entering a bordello just didn’t exactly feel right. The girls on the other side weren’t pieces of meat: they were real people, and we were looking to treat them like it.
Or, at least, I would hope so. I can only imagine what he said to the them about us.
Sadly I cannot say whether I would’ve met Ms. Right in there; after ushering the first 35 entrants into the room, Anakin informed the rest of us that our attendance was appreciated, but we wouldn’t be able to get in. As one of the lucky 35 dropped out, there was a brief melee for that last spot; a large fellow (who had referred to me as a “douche-bag” for not using my press pass to get a guaranteed spot and free up the line) reigned victorious.
I wish him luck finding his Princess Peach. Hopefully the mood on the inside of that room was better than the out.
Matt Demers is a Toronto columnist and journalist. You can find more of his work on his personal Tumblr, or contact him via Twitter.