I was in the sixth grade when I first "dated" a boy. By "dated," I mean that we walked to the pizza place one day on our school lunch break. I wore a cute little dress and we held hands when we had to cross the street. My mother gave me $5 and a shiny new black purse to carry it in. Two slices of pizza and a soda was only $2.50, but she gave me enough to cover both of us in case he didn't have money to pay for himself (a safe real world practice, even today!) He sat next to me on the red leather bar stools at the pizza place, chatting about some test we had coming up, and whether I was going to someone's graduation pool party.
We walked back to the school after lunch and he hung upside down on the monkey bars, trying to kiss me like Spiderman. It was a reference I didn't get at the time, but looking back on it, I wish I had. A bunch of the other boys made fun of me that day (quite a common practice in my childhood experience) for wearing a dress, carrying a purse, and especially for dating a nerd.
What was a nerd? Was Chris a nerd because he liked comic books and science fiction stories? Was I a nerd for reading during recess and continuing to use the term "play date" instead of "hang out" well into my pre-teen years? Did attending the Program for the Academically Gifted spiral me into immediate nerd status? Did my clothes contribute to my nerdiness? Or was nerd just something that mean kids called smart kids because they were jealous of our good grades and polite manners?
All I knew in that moment was that if Chris was a nerd and I was a nerd, then we were a match made in nerd heaven and I wanted to have nerd babies with him.
*Note: Ok fine, that's not entirely true. I didn't want babies until I was into my early 20's. As a child, I actually asked my mother if I didn't want babies, could I give my uterus back because I didn't need it. I thought boys and periods and sex were GROSS!!!
What I really learned from that awful nerd experience was that boys who were mean picked on me, made fun of me, bullied me, and broke the strap of my shiny new black purse. Chris took me out to pizza lunch, and held my hand, and tried to kiss me on the playground. If Chris was a nerd, then I would only go out with nerds from then on. Nerds were clearly nicer.
My boyfriend in Junior High was a less-than-obvious nerd. He hid his nerdiness by playing basketball, but he was on the honor roll every single quarter and is still one of the kindest, smartest guys I know. He was tall and thin and had two super nerdy sidekicks who I would swear were plotting to take over the world. He kissed me in the stairwell when no one else was looking. How was I supposed to know that part of his "I'm not a nerd / please don't beat me up" cover to the cool kids was denying wanting to date me? Apparently, my nerddom had transferred up from elementary school to junior high.
My high school and college boyfriends were also nerds. I sensed a pattern in my dating life that I couldn't quite shake. Sure, I always had crushes on the captain of the football team or a rising theatre star, but those never became anything. I even followed a baseball player from our home town high school away to college, simply because I wanted four extra years to work up the courage to ask him out. Instead of the pitcher who eventually got recruited by the Seattle Mariners, I went out with a 5'6 Irish man with a receding hairline who wore sweater vests and drove his mother's 1993 maroon Ford Taurus station wagon.
*True story. I have pictures.
By comparison, I was the cool one in the relationships (sorry guys! I know you're reading this.) I was the pretty, popular girl who grew into myself as time went on. No matter how much I figured out how to dress better, or style my hair, or wear make up, or stop playing with My Little Ponies, I was still a nerd on the inside. I was a nerd who wanted to be loved by a man I found safe, compassionate, and gentle. A man who challenged me intellectually, who found my smarts to be sexy instead of intimidating, and who appreciated my weird sense of humor. Cool guys don't care if you speak Italian, or are a great writer, or won the Reading Bee at your local library every single summer. Nerds find that stuff fascinating.
Matt was no exception. We met online as so many of my relationships have started these past few years. He told me he was a scientist and I told him I was a writer. He worked in a lab during the day while going to school at night, and he was preparing for a research trip abroad. Every online conversation started something like this:
Me: Hey, I just got home from girls night! Whatcha up to?
Matt: Not much. Watching Big Bang Theory.
Me: Hello from Starbucks! How's the school work coming?
Matt: Took a break. Watching Big Bang Theory.
Me: Hey, I was thinking we could meet up this afternoon. Wanna get together?
Matt: Sure. Let me finish this episode of Big Bang Theory and I'll head out.
Ok...so he likes the Big Bang Theory. A lot. It's the only show he ever talked about. In fact, it's what he talked about more than his job, more than his school, more than his family, more than his past relationships. Matt related to the guys on the Big Bang Theory for their dry humor, their scientific lives, their women worries, their equations, their take out food meal planning. He saw himself as a character in the show, an extension of his existence in New York via Pasadena, California.
When Matt and I finally met up, he was great. He was smart and sweet and thoughtful and funny and I fell for him pretty quickly. Out of the 100+ dates I've been on, I have only kissed 5 on the first date. Matt was one of those five. He told me about his last trip to the Middle East, and his upcoming plans to spend the summer in Africa. Matt was a paleo-ethno-botanical anthropologist (which I had to practice saying several times before I got it right!) He studied the effects that plants have had on human history, where they came from, how they got there, and how they will evolve in the coming centuries. Matt was full of trivia about aloe, tea leaves, herbs, trees, ferns, flowers, and all sorts of other greenery. He was passionate and educated and a really good kisser. I distracted him with kisses when the tree talk got too intense for me. I learned that his ex was a botanical biologist and they met at grad school where he recused himself as her TA so that they could pursue a relationship. She dumped him after a year for the TA who took over his position. Apparently, she'd gotten more than tutoring lessons from the far more handsome teacher's assistant who replaced Matt in every way. He was heartbroken. Thus, he immersed himself in a world where Penny and Leonard break up and get back together a million times, love is always possible, even for the most hopeless of guys, and it doesn't matter if you wear a different superhero shirt every day of the week --- you can still get laid by a pretty (if not somewhat desperate) girl.
Matt challenged me. I loved how intelligent he was. I loved how he took care of his grandparents. I loved how he rode his bike to work to keep the Earth greener longer. I loved how he wrapped one arm around my waist when he kissed me. I loved how he told his best friend about me after only three dates. I did not love that he wouldn't go out with me until Big Bang Theory was over at night. We are not just talking about new episodes here. He wouldn't leave the house if reruns were on!!!
After a great few months and with no warning, Matt broke up with me via text message. "I don't think we have enough in common," he wrote. "I am going to Africa to study plants for the summer. Please don't try to find me."
"I don't understand!" I responded. "You couldn't tell me this in person? Don't I at least deserve a phone call?"
"Sorry," he wrote back. "Not a good time. Big Bang Theory is on."
Apparently, not ALL nerds are nicer.
I admit to being somewhat crushed when Matt ended things without a decent reason why, or an appropriate form of communication. What he will never know is that I've been watching Big Bang Theory for a while now and I find it hilarious. There is every facet of every nerd I've ever dated from comic books to Star Wars to Star Trek to role playing games to fantasy fiction to a career in something having to do with math and formulas and physics. Sure, I don't understand that stuff, but it's not like I work at the Cheesecake Factory. (Penny reference, for those of you who still haven't seen it.) The writing is spectacular, the characters have great back stories, the comedy is perfectly timed. I can see why he would enjoy the show so much, and had he ever bothered to ask, I would have watched it with him. He could have been more than the guy surrounded by million year old African flora. He could have been the guy who got laid by the hot blonde girl willing to dress up as Princess Leia.
Sucks to be him.