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Journal EnlightenmentFan's Journal: Social life for nerds: the missing manual 10

It amazes me to see wizards at Java, Perl, and Unix who cower like tiny forest creatures when faced with a chance to make friends or get a date. So bring your magic wand over here and get ready to learn some new spells.

1) You're not in junior high school any more. You are in a big world with people of many ages, many interests, and many sexual orientations. Most of these people don't know that you puked on the teacher's shoes in first grade, so you get to start fresh with at least some of them. (If you are in junior high school, my list won't help you. You are in hell, my friend, so stay clear of the bullies and make friends with your computer. Life does get better.)

2) Social skills are learnable and doable. You wouldn't expect to learn Microsoft Foundation Classes without a book--would you? To become a Certified Nerd Social Success, plan for some reading, some practice--and some failures.

3) Most advice books, like most other books, are crap. The library is better than the bookstore for finding good ones. Steven Covey (7 Habits of Highly Successful People) is good. The Harvard Negotiation Project guys (Getting to Yes, Difficult Conversations) are good.

4) If you want people to be interested in you, be interested in them. If someone is talking to you, don't sit there thinking, "I hope she likes me--do my armpits stink?" Listen to people, think about why they are saying what they are saying, ask questions, and think about what you want to say yourself.

5) Common interests help get relationships started--but to make relationships grow, the main thing is time spent together. If you feel isolated, get involved in a long-term collaborative project with other people who interest you. For example, work on the website of some interesting group or help out at a local school. (This is also a good way to troll for a job.)

6) Get other people involved in interesting stuff you do by asking for their advice. Find out what they are good at and ask them to tell you more about it.

7) When someone hurts you, expect your inner troll to yell, "That hateful jerk is hurting you on purpose!" or "You hopeless creep, nobody will ever like you!" Stay calm, think of kinder possibilities, go to a cheerful movie--and try again. Relationships are like puppies. If a puppy pees on the rug, you don't shoot it and hope for a better puppy some day--at least, not if you hope to end up with a long-term, lovable dog.

8) You, as a nerd, are an interesting person with a lot of abilities and a lot of cool stories to tell. You are exactly the friend or lover some people are looking for, so throw back your shoulders, take a deep breath, and get ready to help them find you.

9) While you've got your shoulders thrown back and your chest full of air, take a look in the mirror. Tell yourself, because it's true, that the zit on your nose or the 50 pounds you've been meaning to lose will not make a bit of difference to the right person. But in finding that person, you want to look clean and confident. Wearing a crumpled shirt from the laundry bag tells people, "I'm not worth much to myself." You are worth a lot, so look as if you thought so.

10) Go get 'em, wizard!

Any of you other nerds want to join me in giving advice to our younger brethren?

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Social life for nerds: the missing manual

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  • Thanks (Score:2, Informative)

    by imroy ( 755 )

    I can't help but think that this is in response to this journal entry [slashdot.org] I posted earlier today, but maybe I'm just paranoid and need some sleep. Either way, thanks for the tips. I've been giving this topic a lot of thought lately, often in a very negative manner. I feel like I need a personal trainer or something. If I can gather up enough courage, I might ask one or both of my housemates for some help. Until then, it's time for bed.

  • Figure out how to make a few dishes well. Master them (somewhat) before you move it into production. It never ceases to amaze me how poorly most code jockeys (or men in general) can cook - this is key to saving your budget and will wow them far more than a trip to Olive Garden. Buy a cookbook with lots of pictures, watch some FoodTV, and try it. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but men get credit for time served in the kitchen. (grin)

    A corollary: Red wine is the ultimate lubricant. A $10 bottle of Ravenswood Merlot - not the cheap boxed stuff, not the $30+ a bottle 'it's so expensive I'm sure it taste good' - makes for a nice combo move...
    • In fact, maybe you can find a nice girl to swap you some cooking lessons for some time spent defragmenting her hard drive or whatever.
    • My wife and I have it worked out:

      I cook and she bakes :)

      Cooking is more relaxed and loose and you can, once you know how things go or don't go together, improvise. I am a good cook, but have zero patience for baking.

      Of course the real problem is - who's going to clean? The answer: well the answer is often $40 - for the whole house hehe.
  • Perhaps I'll do a longer takeout on this in my journal sometime (today must be social skills day -- see my journal [slashdot.org], because somehow I acculturated differently, or something, I think), but there are a few things even the nerdiest of nerds (or the geekiest of geeks) can do that make life easier:

    Remember that high school was/is: a) a long time ago, and b) not the best years of your life (choose all that apply), and that you can get over it (and your bad childhood).

    Learn to read facial expressions and body language, including (and especially) dating/flirting behaviour. (Don't laugh. Simply lots of geeks and nerds can't do this!)

    Develop a sartorial style (dress sense). It doesn't matter whether it's Brooks Brothers, Yuppie In Training, or Old High Punk, find a look that you like (and/or clothes that flatter you) and develop it. Clothes are an important social indicator, and if you want to attract people like you, you ought to look like something, even if that something is like no one else on the planet [pipcom.com]. (Yes, if you're wondering, some of those are his "street clothes.") Even looking like a total eccentric can help you find, well, other total eccentrics. (It worked for that guy, at least once!)

    And last but not least, don't (necessarily) chase the pretty ones. If you aren't lookswise up to catching a super/GQ-model, don't set yourself up for disappointment by trying to. In fact, that interesting(funny?)-looking guy/girl with the crooked nose has probably been shooting you glances all night; go talk to him/her instead. Even finding a friend instead of a girl/boyfriend is a better payoff than "Get away from me, you nerd!"

    Make sense?

    • Learn to read facial expressions and body language, including (and especially) dating/flirting behaviour. (Don't laugh. Simply lots of geeks and nerds can't do this!)

      I think one reason we have a hard time reading those subtle messages is something Imroy mentioned in his journal, that we get so good at filtering out not-so-subtle hostile messages.

      By the time I got to high school, I had social feedback so filtered out of my brain that I was also completely unable to notice any reactions, positive or negative to my behavior. With no feedback, I had no way to learn. (Of course, I did learn a lot of geeky skills in my copious spare time.)

      Then, a miracle happened. Sorry, boys, this won't happen to you, but what happened to me was -- breasts! And all of a sudden, half the human race got very, very friendly. After a while I learned that some ways I behaved made these unearned relationships get better and some ways I behaved could make things get worse. YMMV.

      • I agree with you that a lot of social messages get "spamblocked" by hostile-message filtering. I've also heard that people who've undergone abuse as children (also, probably, as adolescents) are more likely to perceive ANY incoming social cues (facial expressions, the study said) as hostile...which probably has a lot of bearing on what makes us geeky and nerdy.

        As to the matter of growing breasts, well, that's only half the battle. Guys still don't necessarily get "very very friendly" or anything but hostile unless you also look reasonably right beyond the breasts, which is partially a matter of acculturating to gender roles. (I ought to know; I take a 38D bra and was the object of much male scorn [and little male interest] in high school and elsewhere: too much weight by a few pounds [not so much the case anymore], wrong body shape for the culture, too little "femininity." Read my journal and you'll find out that's still a problem for me, but who wants to look 'girly'?!) Some of us still don't get this culture thing completely, and I've been playing this game for nearly three decades.

        The only reason I mentioned it in the first place is that my ex-boyfriend (he of the outlandish outfits) still cannot read facial expressions. He attributes it to his dyslexia; I'm not so sure.
  • Okay so you've realized that EverQuest or coding or anime, or what-have-you is not all that you want out of life (not being critical here - some people are perfectly happy doing these things for a long time - I got to a late start because I C64'd my way through high school and missed out on a lot of social development). You realize that you want someone by your side (and in your bed). Great!

    My first bit of advice: Relax!

    This is not something you want to get worked up over. It may take a long time or it may not. Meeting the right person is not something that you can force - if you try, you will be headed for trouble in various ways - ending up in the wrong relationship for you, ending up chasing someone who is not interested, or ending up absolutely devastated by a failed relationship or an unrequited crush.

    Don't worry about what negative perceptions you have about yourself. Don't worry about screwing up. Don't worry about sex. Don't worry, thinking that you are too nerdy or whatever little hang up you have about yourself.

    This bit of advice will save you much time and energy down the road! I don't know how much time was lost in my life, spent nursing a crush that didn't go forward or banging my head against the wall (metaphorically...most of the time hehe) with self doubt.

    This is easy advice to give, but it won't always be easy to follow.

    The main thing to keep in mind here is that when you meet the person who is truly your other half all of the things that you think matter aren't going to. Now that's not to say that hygiene problems, or weight problems, or manner problems can't mess things up, it just means that all of the things (included those mentioned) that you worry about aren't as important as your self-perception tells you.

    There is someone out there that will like you the way you are! (Of course even the most perfect of couples is going to have little things they don't like about each other - but I'm talking about the big picture - little problems can be lived with if the overall relationship is there) Now the biggest problem is going to be meeting them. Internet dating can help this (although in my personal view and experience, it is best used as a glorified icebreaker - I met my wife through the internet, but I'm not sure that we could've built much of a relationship if it was all email YMMV), as can interest groups etc.

    So I've rambled on and on here - but I hope my main point has come across, just in case I'll reiterate:

    Don't worry too much about your faults or the problems that you think you will have in attracting and courting your husband/wife. When the right person comes along these things, in general aren't going to matter. So relax and work on ways to meet people! Sure you should work on obvious problems - if you smell like dog crap you probably are going to have troubles meeting someone! Self improvement socially is a good thing and will help you in life outside of finding a mate. But a lot of the things that bounce around inside your head - self doubt and so forth - aren't as important as you think they are! If someone is going to be the one to fall in love with you, they will love you despite (or who knows, depending on what is - because of) these things.

    There are other problems and factors to consider in the quest to find someone of course, but this would by my advice to those starting out.

    Relax. Get out and meet people and enjoy it. Don't over analyze everything.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"