I'm Not The Nerd I Used To Be

Recently, I’ve begun to question my nerd cred. While I’m nowhere near the bro-main of Axe Body Spray and UFC on pay-per-view, the proclivities of my geekier friends leave me in the dust. In fact, when my girlfriend drags me into a comic book store in search of an out of print Warren Ellis book, and I blithely smile at the employees as they offer their expertise, I doubt whether I’m any kind of a nerd at all.

Honestly, I’m much more comfortable watching football at a bar than playing Magic: The Gathering. But, once the Super Bowl is over and I have some whiskey in me, I just want to play Scrabble. I’d probably crush anyone in the sports bar at a word game. And I’d hold my own against any D&D fiend on a basketball court (even a Level 18 Fighter/ Thief). I really only thrive when I’m bringing a gun to a knife-fight. I kind of win by default, but on the inside, I’m still thinking, “I hope no one realizes I have no idea how to use this gun!”

I don’t fit in with either culture. Although I speak both languages, neither the vast emptiness of deep space nor the padded mats of a gym feels like home to me. I struggled like Manny Pacquiao escaping a chokehold to get through Season One of the recent Dr. Who reboot. But, at the same time, the idea of wearing an Affliction t-shirt leaves me so cold I could crawl inside a Tauntaun for the night. As I said, I am effectively bilingual, but I only have the fluency of a tourist. Yes, I know who Nathan Fillion is, but please, please don’t quiz me on Firefly plot points. I will fail. Miserably. In the same vein, I love Kevin Garnett, but I will, without a doubt, fail to make the playoffs in any fantasy basketball league. My tastes exist in a cultural no-man’s land.

So why am I so attached to this nerd identity? In part, it’s because my sense of self developed in my formative years. As a kid, I read fantasy novels and participated in role-playing games. I did musical theater in high school. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation with my parents every week. While I played and floundered in youth sports and cowered at the violence of action movies, I excelled in the geekier pursuits.

More practically, though, I’m a much more believable dork. I look the part. Geek-chic fits my general demeanor: Helpful, polite, witty. Visually, I am very nerdy. I am not muscular. I slouch. Most notably, I wear thick-rimmed glasses. Glasses like mine were once the province of the true dweeb, the guy who needed those chunky plastic rims to hold lenses of bulletproof thickness. Now, though, they’re more fashion than function. Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo is the avatar for the bespectacled dork, even though over the last two decades, his lyrics have gone from the niche, “I’ve got a dungeon master’s guide/ I’ve got a 12-sided die,” to the more general, “Girl, if you’re wondering if I want you to… I want you to.” Like Rivers, I feel like I’ve outgrown the persona that people ascribe to me. But I still need the lenses. So what’s a guy to do?

It’s especially easy to identify as a nerd because the bar for certain things is set so low. My social skills are, to many, a pleasant surprise. Romantically speaking, it benefits me to present myself as a dweeb. Because girls who are looking for a “dude” will be put off by my lack of physical strength and refusal to tolerate housewives, real or desperate. But women who are used to meek weirdos are often dazzled by my lack of anxiety over meeting the parents or opening jars. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still plenty meek and weird. I just try to keep it at a functional level.

If I’m being honest (and isn’t that what this is all about?) I’m not a “nerd” or a “bro.” I think, technically, I’m just a “wimp.” That’s kind of hard to admit. There’s no wimp community. Bros bond over cars, sports, and Coronas; Nerds have comics, video games, and LARP-ing. It’s much harder to make friends when your common ground is compulsive politeness or a collection of Notorious B.I.G. t-shirts that you cover up with other shirts. I’m not obsessive (nerd) or abrasive (bro). I just don’t want to get in the way. The nerds have had their revenge, but sadly, that revolution was not mine. A similar wimp uprising will never take place, simply because we’d spend the entire time thinking: “Is everyone going to hate us now?”

If pressed on the issue, I’ll readily admit my lack of Nerd XP (experience points, if you lift weights). But there’s really no other way for me to dress. I can’t pull off jock, prep, thug, or Jersey Shore style. It’s argyle by default.

So if we meet, and you assume I’m a nerd, that’s fine. I probably won’t correct you. But that’s not because you’re right. It’s because wimps don’t like conflict. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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  • Lindsay

    haha. Great piece!

  • Danielle

    A man after my own heart.

  • http://mason-jar-memories.blogspot.com/ Grace Elizabeth

    This is articulates super well how I feel, but the lady version. I think ours is something like cheerleader v.s. crafter, but the idea is the same. Maybe it’s a good thing for us though that we don’t fall in either category, but can objectively pick and choose through the attributes of each. That’s how I like to think of it, at least :) Great article!

    • Guestropod

      dude what the hell are you talking about

      • http://mason-jar-memories.blogspot.com/ Grace Elizabeth

        Hmm, I thought it was a pretty simple comment. Just explaining that I felt the same way with modern female stereotypes.

      • Guestropod

        Are we really between… crafter and cheerleader, though?  I find that idea just mindblowingly depressing.

      • http://mason-jar-memories.blogspot.com/ Grace Elizabeth

        Well, no. There are endless amounts of stereotypes for men and women to be boxed into. Those are just the two I feel stuck between. And not literally either. Cheerleader for the peppy popular crowd and crafter for the introverted creative types.

      • Guestropod

        Ah, I get it.  I got stuck on ‘the lady version’ when I read your comment originally and kind of short-circuited

      • Anonymous

        Please stop commenting uselessly on people’s comments and articles.

      • Guestropod

        Hey now, I don’t always comment uselessly!  

  • Sophia

    Unrelated, but I also feel like nerd culture is becoming more popular, which is making it less genuine and niche. Really attractive, non-nerdy girls will wear “vintage” superhero tees with a pair of glasses and pretend to be nerdy. Shows like The Big Bang Theory have made nerd culture funny and much more “mainstream.” I don’t claim to be a nerd in that respect (I’m much more a “crafter” as someone mentioned in a previous comment); but does this widespread nerd culture bother real nerds, or excite them?

  • Guestropod

    Yeah, I feel like being a dilettante really sticks me here – I have a passing familiarity with most nerd shit but in conversation with an actual nerd I’m lost.  It’s like, I know how to play Magic.  But I don’t know any of the background shit or collect the cards, so regular people think I’m a loser and nerds also think I’m a loser.  

  • http://twitter.com/andrewjdupree Andrew J. Dupree

    Josh Gondelman, you speak to the deepest depths of my very soul.

  • Jesus

    Nah, b. 

  • Test

    I think everyone kind of feels like this at some point or not because stereotypes are only relative names given to people based on their social context. People that you think are nerds might feel like wimps/bros upon socializing with even more extreme nerds. There are only a select few of us who are the most nerdy/brosky of all, and so everyone who isn’t at a corner case feels a shift in identity depending on the people surrounding them. Sometimes I’m a runner, sometimes a gamer, a nerd, a hipster, a musician…it really depends on the group of friends I am around.

  • http://twitter.com/CestCharlene Charlene

    Being nerdy is what being cool used to be. It’s sort of a catch-22 situation where if you call yourself nerdy, there’s a huge chance that you’re far from it

  • chris

    Isn’t Manny Pacquiao a boxer, not an MMA fighter? Chokeholds would be illegal.

    • AirBudvsPredator

      All the better reason for him to escape one.

  • guest

    I get it. I was a HUGE nerd in high school, and a little bit in college. I got good grades, hung with the odd balls, and thought I would end up in academia because all I wanted to do was have intellectual conversations, had excellent references, and worked in labs with professors I admired. But, now, I’ve found myself more and more in the mainstream, to a point where people have thought I was a sorority girl/future house wife type (which isn’t actually a bad thing if it is a good fit, by the way), accused me of wanting to just marry a rich guy, and have been treated as if I lack any intellectual ability (which based on the person I was in high school/early college was unfathomable to me the first time this happened, I am a former pretentious prick). I even ended up working at a sports bar in where short shorts and tight tank tops were mandatory for good tips. I guess I’m realizing I don’t fit into either extreme and the more I grow the more adaptable I become and the more social skills I develop. If I need to fit in with nerds I can bring up research I used to do or The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, if I need to fit in with “sorority” types I’ll bring up make up, clothing, or a romantic experience, etc. I’ve become a social chameleon and I like it because I find most people end up falling more towards the middle anyway. Extremes are often, well, extreme.

  • ben

    I’m right there with ya buddy.

  • Hoody

    Hey dude feeling the same over here, I am what people would call a unit, I’m 120 kg , work out every day, want to be a hulk, but I have a huge thrust for knowledge, I’ll read anything I can get my hands on, can build/fix/mod my computers and am pretty good with a soldering iron. I can remebeber a lot of things other would think pointless, I find it hard to relate to the overly macho men in the mine I work at, I’d Mach rather listen to a stuff you should know podcast than talk to my co-workers, I guess I just wouldn’t have any thing to say to them, but the nerdier crowd, don’t take me seriously either.
    But it’s good to know were not alone.

    • Hoody

      Also have the affliction shirt.
      And yellow arnold singlet.
      From Australia

  • Anonymous

    I feel like i just read a teenagers diary post trying to convince thmself that they really are  some kinda unique little snowflake

  • Half-nerd

    Josh Gondelman, this piece speaks to my non-nerdy, non-preppy (sorry, girl here) soul. People think I’m normal until I bust out my extensive knowledge of the Star Wars EU. Sorry not sorry.

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