The “Intimidating” Woman

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I want to introduce you to someone.

She’s in her early to mid 20s. She’s smart. She’s articulate. She’s pretty damn good looking. She’s well educated, with a rapier wit and a willingness to use it. She has a job she loves that pays good money, money that she likes to spend on her geeky hobbies and toys.

And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t someone looking for geeky attention or a propped up fantasy. She’s geeky to her Joss-Whedon-loving core, a Whovian, Vertigo-reading, 3rd edition D&D (none of that 4th ed crap thank you very much) gamer with the con stories to prove it.

She loves her some nerd boys. And she’s single.

In fact… she’s been single for a while now.

And not for a lack of trying, mind you. She’s done it all; dating sites, meeting guys at cons, the comic store, chatting up friends from class and at work. And yet, Friday still remains the most lonely night of the week when she sees all of the happy, laughing couples making plans, having romantic dinners and enjoying all the sex while she’s at home with Fringe on the DVR and a bottle of Malbec breathing in the kitchen.


Well, whenever she’s interested in a guy – a guy who’s worth her time, because what’s the point of having standards if she’s not going to stick to ‘em? – she hears the same thing over and over again:

“You’re too intimidating…”

Does this sound familiar to you?

It might. In fact, going by the number of emails I get from my readers, it’s the most common issue that geek (or geek-curious) women encounter when they’re interested in dating.

But “intimidating” is almost uselessly vague, especially if they keeps coming up; it covers a multitude of meanings to the point that it means everything and nothing at once. While it’s true that many men will use it as a polite dodge to avoid saying “I’m not attracted to you”, when it comes up over and over again, it’s a sign that maybe there’s more to it. If a woman keeps hearing from men that she’s “intimidating”, what is she supposed to do – besides start approaching men who have more self-confidence and fewer issues?

What Does Intimidating Mean?

Being told “You’re too intimidating” is incredibly aggravating to women.  After all, women are encouraged to be assertive, accomplished and independent; being told that they’re “intimidating” sounds like they’re being told to take all of that back and pretend to be something less than what they are.

But is that really the issue? Are geek guys finding a woman’s accomplishments to be somehow threatening? Or is there something else at play?

Because “intimidating” is so subject to personal interpretation, I thought it was best to go to the source: geek guys. I conducted an informal (and utterly unscientific) poll on the Dr. NerdLove Facebook Page, trying to get a handle on what guys mean.

The results were interesting.

So let’s take a look at what men say is intimidating… and what you can do about it.

“She’s so attractive that there have to be other guys. The hotter the girl, the higher the stakes.”

Men can find beauty intimidating; the more attractive the woman, the more advantages society gives her. The more beautiful or desirable a woman, the more she can have her pick of men. Olivia Munn may be a geek1 , but how is average Joe Nerd supposed to compete with the celebrities she meets on a daily basis?

This is not to say that incredibly beautiful women will only go for the model-handsome mind you – look at Christina Hendricks2 and her admittedly less symmetrically-gifted husband.

Seriously. There is no God.

But the fact of the matter remains: the prettier you are, the more likely that guys are going to have a hard time feeling comfortable approaching you. Even if you are the one making the first move, they may feel as though they will be in constant competition with other men: ones with better jobs, fatter wallets, movie-star smiles, and abs you could do laundry on.

What Can You Do About It?

Your instinctive response may be to play down your looks, and while this can work – there’s a reason why the “beautiful-after-all” trope exists; everyone likes the idea of the librarian who’s secretly model-gorgeous – it’s ultimately putting the responsibility on you.

Instead, make a point of being approachable and friendly. Wide smiles that reach your eyes (the “Duchenne Smile”) and open, welcoming body language can make a shy or introverted guy feel more welcome. Showing genuine interest or honest appreciation in his accomplishments or hobbies can also help him overcome feelings of “What could she possibly see in me?” And I do mean genuine; shy, geeky guys are perpetually concerned that people are secretly making fun of them.

If he doesn’t have the self-esteem or confidence to get past the power differential – and beauty is a power – then move on. The last thing you want is a guy who needs constant reassurance that yes, you are happy with him and not looking for someone better.

 “She comes on too strong. She’s too loud / too boisterous / a little too non-ladylike.”

Geek culture has a way of blurring the traditional lines of gender roles. Women who have nerdy interests are frequently less traditionally “feminine”. Some were tomboys growing up and take pride in being one of the guys. Others were late bloomers or women who have had few female role models in their lives. Some women are just naturally more outgoing and rowdy; the loud group of party girls are a regular feature of many parties, bars, and club scenes.

Many guys – especially introverts – can find this upsetting or discomforting. He may feel as though he’s going to have to put on a performance in order to keep up with her. He may be overwhelmed by the force of her personality and worry that he will be forced to be the inferior partner in the relationship. Or he may just be the sort of person who prefers a quieter, demure, more “feminine” personality.

What Can You Do About It?

To start with: don’t chase after introverts. While there are plenty who can appreciate an outgoing partner – one who would compliment them, be the yang to their yin – more are likely to feel steamrolled by someone so dominant. A shy guy, even one who wishes women would be more assertive and take the initiative, can have a low threshold when it comes to directness and energy.

Similarly, if a man is interested in a woman who’s more in line with the idea of more traditionally feminine or lady-like behavior, he isn’t going to make for a good boyfriend for an outgoing, dominant or non-traditional lady. There is no reason why you should try to force yourself to be someone you’re not in order to meet somebody else’s criteria.

Now, that having been said: you may want to consider toning down your behavior somewhat. This isn’t to say that there’s something wrong with being high-energy or being a tomboy, just that there can be a fine line between being energetic and outgoing and being obnoxious. This is an issue men have as much as women do.

  1. or at least plays one on TV []
  2. drool []

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