I’m only about two-thirds into The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, but I’m already ready to say that if you’re a geek girl, you need it. (The last third would basically have to be 99% YouTube comments for me to divorce it at this point, and I know it can’t be, because I still have Sam Maggs to read.)
They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and flattery is pretty much what I’m going for, because this collection is so necessary. Some of the stories so far resonated more or less with me—mostly a matter of my own personal experience—and some of them felt more carefully crafted than others, but all of them spoke to a level of honesty and vulnerability that was genuinely lovely to read. (Okay, so the online dating profile advice piece isn’t that exactly, but it’s just sound advice.)
(Just in case you wonder if this isn’t me, because I am so generally at odds with most of the stuff I read: I have noticed thus far that a handful of typos/minor spelling errors weren’t caught in my edition. So there’s that. But I found a way to get past it, obviously.)
Because my instincts are more as a writer than as a reviewer, when I’m confronted with something that’s not simple to critique, the best way I can express how I felt about it is to write back to it. So that’s where we’re at today.
My relationship with my first boyfriend was a horror show, and not the friendly Rocky Horror Picture kind where you just dress up and acknowledge your queerness (except maybe a little, given how many other girls I made out with during that time).
We met at a friend’s birthday playing DDR. They met through a live action roleplaying game folks in bathrobes with foam swords used to play in the park. Everything I was at that time in my life was defined by my friends and my interests; the person I was had been dictated to me by everything I’d latched onto outside of myself.
I let the first person I dated be one of those things, and what he told me about me was almost all, almost always bad stuff. I drifted from my closest friends; I became a lurker in fandom.
When it was finally (thankfully) over, I became—slowly, eventually—a person who knew she wasn’t bad and didn’t deserve bad stuff. I became a person who eventually knew that I had accepted the love I thought I deserved, and who learned to fight for what I wanted instead of taking what I could get.
This issue in me didn’t start with him. As a geek girl, I was always an outsider, different. As a perfectionist, I’ll always have a “not good enough” complex. But when you give someone a chance to be that Lucifer in your Sam Winchester head, it amplifies all that awful noise, and it’s not easy to build up a wall against it. But I did the work over time, the way you have to. Without supernatural intervention.
I also had my very own on-off, way too intense, “these two must be endgame” relationship in my life, with that kind of troubled, angsty, misunderstood guy you’d get in your favourite CW hit, minus the perfect jaw, plus a wicked aptitude for building Magic: the Gathering decks.
You know when you watch a show and there are characters who never get over each other and you’re so into it but you also roll your eyes because people in real life know to move on? We were so Buffy and Angel. We were not real life. We were a series of emotionally hard-hitting episodes full of passion and heartbreak and writing songs at each other (yes, we really wrote songs at each other) that most of the time skimmed over the mundane but oh-so-important everyday motions and moments of small happiness that come with a normal relationship.
We also got together and broke up over and over and over enough that reality proves itself stranger than fiction. Our on-off game would’ve given Ross and Rachel whiplash.
One of the things I loved most about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and hated the most about its series finale, actually) is that her “endgame” forever-love type relationship ends, and she has to move on and live every day, and that guy is still always gonna love her (and she’ll always love him), but they’re not good for each other and they never will be. They taught each other a lot, and they can be friendly, but they’ll never be “friends” (as Spike points out).
Because if Buffy can live with that and fight back the forces of the Hellmouth, then I have no choice but to do the same, right?
I’ve dated quite a few other guys along the way, and there are a lot of other stories (too many, actually). I have a lot less material about women, unless you count a lot of near-misses. So here’s the time to address this: in my experience, at the intersection of being a bi/pan geek girl and “male-coded” interests, there are a whole lot of single guys willing to ask you out if you just sit down long enough.
(How long you have to sit probably has to do with conventional attractiveness. My sitting times were shorter when I was that girl plus disordered eating. Sad but true facts.)
I’m sure the landscape of geekery is changing; a lot of us are pushing for space for women in a lot of former boys’ clubs, and I can actually see myself talking to women at cons. (I mean, I haven’t yet, because I am a giant dork at awesome ladies in real life. But I can envision it.) But my dating-not-dude-genders opportunities have been relatively slim.
So one of the other types of spaces I began to frequent as I got older were queer ones, and in many ways I find them more comfortable, but they do come with their own problems. It’s not the coziest place to be a bi girl (still). And I don’t always “look” queer with my long hair and equal appreciation of plaid with combat boots or dresses with ballet flats. There have been people who hesitated to go out with or even flirt with me because of my “flakiness.” (A sexuality I came out with over ten years ago is still considered by some to be flaky, I guess.)
I’ve lived a long, queer-baited life waiting for my attraction to women to be more than some semi-hookup moments and heavy subtext, but in real life bi girls don’t automatically get love interests to conveniently illustrate the diversity of their sexuality. At least we get to use the word, though. Some characters don’t even get that.
A lot of relationships now are long distance, and geek ones maybe more so. Because we meet each other online? Because we meet each other in person, but at some kind of meetup, like a con? Because common interests keep us in touch with people longer? There are probably a lot of reasons. The one I’m in began because I texted an old Magic: the Gathering friend and we started talking about the Stanley Parable. He had Correct Opinions about Jessica Jones, and I showed him my favourite horror films. Now he’s the guy I wait to go to Marvel movies with.
Long distance now is so much better than it was when I was younger. I mean, texting. (Technically we had it when I was a teen, but not everyone was doing it.) But also Snapchat. Snapchat is an LDR superstar. And also apps that let you watch stuff at the same time and chat. Even just Skype. (Yes, I know, we had phone calls and Skype is not the best app ever, but when you’ve spent eras of your life running to the 7-11 to buy phone cards, Skype seems precious.)
It’s way better than it was the last time I tried it—but dang, LDRs never stopped being hard. I mean, geeks are people who know how to talk—not all about meaningful stuff (some of us maybe struggle with that especially), but to share everything in terms of speculating about the recent Punisher casting or discussing the emotional intricacies of a conversation between Supergirl and Cat Grant. Geeks are always saying stuff to their people, the ones they know will listen, and I think that’s why a lot of geeks are looking for fellow geeks in their relationships—because having that channel open means you always have something to talk about. I always snap my partner when I catch a Pokémon I’ve been gunning for. But that’s not always enough, you know?
For us, long distance has a visible end date that we can work toward, a feeling that the struggle against evil (the evil of not currently cuddling and sharing pizza, anyway) has a purpose. But not everyone gets to claim that and make a Plan. Some people have to be as Captain America as they can in the face of overwhelming, unknowable odds. LDRs basically make you a relationship superhero.
The Secret Loves of Geek Girls covers a spectrum of the most beautiful and terrible aspects of love across a variety of sexualities in the context of being a fan of things. Not every story is my story, but many of them feel universal and timeless even in their particulars. And not every story will stick with me, but some of them definitely will, and a few might even be words I can turn back to when I need them.
And there’s a feeling of relief and comfort, I think, when you look into any kind of art (and this has a few) and see yourself reflected back. And that’s why this collection was, is, needed. Because its honesty and vulnerability will be there for you, geek girl or not—and because if you are one of us, being among your people as they negotiate love, even (or maybe especially) if it is between the covers of a book, will be comfort and relief. (Like when Captain America: Winter Soldier actually lived up to the hype.)
Thanks, The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. I’m happy to have you and pleased to know some of your contributors through the Internet.