Dear Dr. NerdLove,
It occurs to me to write for your input because of both of your interests as a nerd and a (former) PUA. For many, those two interests don’t go hand-in-hand, yet you seem to have found a comfortable balance.
So here is my trouble. I have many different hobbies, interests, and values that can group me into many different categories: jock, nerd, metalhead, hippie, cat-lady, clubber, crafter. Now, I feel that as I grow and develop, I am learning how to find balance and I happily pre-game for hockey with a Bud Lite, while dancing to Kesha as I pick out fabrics for my next quilt (really, I have done this on a Friday night). However, I am finding it difficult to find people who can share all of these interests with me.
Of course, I don’t expect to find anyone else who enjoys the same mix that I do. The problem is that while interests can be a common ground for bonds, it can also be divisive. For instance, friends that I met in school for my Environmental Studies degree (hippies) do NOT listen to metal. They actually make fun of me for it. In a friendly way, but aside from telling them I listen to metal, I can never actually talk about it with them. This makes my social life exhausting and incomplete. I can never be my full self with any one of my friends. I have to always be aware of who I am with and how we are friends, and tailor my actions accordingly.
Therefore, my question to you breaks down to two parts:
1. Given that I currently have many awesome friends whom I love and respect, how can I start to act more fully myself? Is there a gentle way I could break them in? For instance, find a way to share my passion for quilting with my hockey teammates after a game, and NOT get laughed out of the bar?
2. How do I meet new people who will be more open to someone with so many identities? Do I just keep on keeping on, making friends at each different activity, and hopefully find the random few people cool enough to enjoy the whole me?
Then there is the solution that I will never find anyone who is open to all of my interests. That social awareness is a good thing, and I should hone my ability to have appropriate conversations according to other people’s interests. Like maybe, the guy at the club doesn’t want to hear about how cute my cats looked snuggling together, and he definitely doesn’t want to see the pictures. That could be good awareness, on my part. Or do I show the pictures anyway, and if he has a problem, I’ve selected him out of my dating pool?
This might seem like I’m a myriad and interesting person. But I’ve found that people only want interesting to a point, and then they no longer identify with you. I just want to be able to stop censoring myself because I feel like it’s the only way to keep from aliening others.
I’m not entirely sure I’m seeing a problem here, FTF. I mean, what I’m seeing is that you’re a well-rounded individual who has diverse interests and tastes. This is a good thing. The big issue is how you’re looking at it.
Have you ever heard of the Geek Social Fallacies? These are social misconceptions that are especially prevalent in the geek community – mostly because of the way that we’ve seen friendship portrayed in various forms of media. Right now, you’re basically evidence of a 6th Fallacy: friends are all into the same things in equal proportion. This is comes up a lot more often than you’d think; we tend to think that people should be all things to us1 and be able to share everything together. The problem is that people – like you – are complex and have varied identities. With anyone you’re going to be friends with, you’re going to have some interest overlap – those commonalities are part of how we make friends after all – but you’re also going to have differences. Even your your closest bae or BFF isn’t going to be a perfect circle on a Venn diagram; you’re both always going to be into things that the other just doesn’t grok.
You’re looking for someone who’s into all the exact same things you’re into… and unless you happen to find a mad scientist with an interest in cloning, people who are exactly as into the things you’re into is pretty thin on the ground.
(And honestly, if Orphan Black has taught us anything, it’s that clones tend to go off and do their own thing, no matter what the original donor was like.)
But that’s not a design flaw, that’s a feature. One of the keys to a successful long-term relationship – platonic or romantic – is having interests outside of that relationship. You are complex, you contain multitudes, and no single person is going to match up with those multitudes perfectly. So it’s totally cool that you have friends who are interest-specific. There’s nothing wrong with having friends that you can geek out over the Ronnie James Dio tribute album and argue about how Atreyu’s latest single is derivative of Slipknot and other friends that you go bootie-shake to some top-40 and still others that you meet up with at a Maker Faire and try to find new and inventive uses for a 3D printer. You’re not being fake or not being your true self around them, not unless you’re actively pretending that you don’t have these other sides of you. You’re absolutely being yourself – you’re just indulging in one particular aspect over the others. Your hippie friends are no less your friends because they don’t like to throw up the horns and rock some Slayer.
Let me give a personal example: in my circle of friends, I’m one of the few guys who’s ever been into anime. They’ve given me playful shit over the years (anyone who listened to the LEOG may remember Harris’ Anime Corner), but they totally respect that I like it, even if they don’t2 . I may not geek out over Psycho-Pass with them, but I would with my friends who are into anime. One of my friends does a sports podcast. I’m not into sports, so I don’t listen to it, but I do geek out with him over mutual unironic love of b-movies.
Now if you are feeling like you have to repress certain sides of you when you’re with them – not just “not focusing on it” but actively denying that it exists – then you have a problem. See, our friends and lovers don’t have to be 100% into the same things we are, but they do have to at least respect our interests and passions if the relationship is going to work. So if your hockey buds are mocking and insulting you – as opposed to playful ribbing – for being into quilting or loving cute cat pictures, then you should seriously ditch them like a warm beer and finding better friends. If people don’t respect that you have this wide and varied identity, then they’re not people you want to associate with. Again, from my personal life: back in the early days of my time in the PUA community, I would occasionally go hit the bars with someone who thought my being a geek was going to make sex vanish into thin air and would rag on me for liking comics. Since he wouldn’t accept an “agree to disagree” armistice, I quit hanging out with him. I didn’t need someone who thought that that side of me was something shameful that I needed to pretend didn’t exist.
And hey, just because they’re not in to the exact same things you’re into doesn’t mean you can’t talk about them. One of the best things you can do is simply explain why you like the things you like. What do they mean to you, why do they make you happy, what do you get out of them?
Don’t censor yourself. If you feel like you have to, then you’re hanging out with the wrong people. Friends respect you as a whole person, even if they don’t dig everything you’re into. Be your authentic self. People who can’t handle it have self-selected out of your pool of friends or potential lovers.