Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I have a recurring problem with men in fandom, and even a few pros I’ve met over the years. That is, their tendency to make up relationships with women.
Every Geek Girl I know has had this problem, often with multiple men. At first I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was giving off some kind of bad signals, but now I realize it happens to almost every Geek Girl. If I have lunch or coffee with a guy, even only once, I have problems with this guy telling everyone he knew we are dating.
I had a comic book shop owner tell his customer he was banging me, as well as other women who came into his shop. I had a male friend some years older than me and married spend years tell people he was having a secret affair with me, even though I’d never even touched him. I thought we were friends and had him over to my house to visit and mingle with my other friends. He used the opportunity to sneak into my bedroom and go through my belongings.
I am really curious why so many men in Geekdom seem to pretend they have girlfriends. The minute you confront them with their behavior, they angrily deny everything, and can be really abusive. They even tell you you are crazy, or stuck up, or conceited, even though they are always men you would never date. If it weren’t for the fact they sent other friends of mine emails writing about their pretend relationship with me, I might have kept thinking I was seeing things. I would really appreciate some insight into this behavior. It makes me reluctant to have male geek friends. Or at least it makes me very suspicious of most of them.
– NOT Your Fantasy Lover
For a lot of men, dating brings a certain amount of status amongst their peers; the hotter or more desirable the woman, the more the status. As a result, there is often a fair amount of, shall we say, rounding up when it comes to their partners. So the woman he dated who submitted photos to Cosplay Deviants and Suicide Girls gets rounded up to “fetish model” when he brags to his friends. The woman who did some time-for-prints photo sessions with a photographer she knows is suddenly an “international bikini model”.
Sometimes it’s less of a matter of trying to make one’s date more exotic or impressive and simply exaggerating about her level of interest – a wild Broseph bragging to his friends that the girl he went on a date with is “totally all over his jock, man” when in reality, he got a chaste kiss goodnight… on the cheek.
Then of course you get the guys for whom dating at all is an achievement; they don’t want people to think that they’re sad, dateless losers, so they suddenly develop a long-distance girlfriend who is “conveniently” always out of town or otherwise indisposed when his friends are around.
Case in point.
For the most part, this is harmless; nobody’s getting hurt… except the faker’s pride as soon as his bullshit gets dragged to light by his friends.
Geeks, however, seem to have a special breed of social misfit who aren’t content to convince people that their girlfriend from Canada who can suck a golf-ball through a garden hose. Instead, they invent relationships out of whole cloth… with actual people. I have seen this happen more times than I can conveniently count in geek circles. There are some legendary stories in Harry Potter and Tolkien fandom of young women who’ve actively scammed people on the basis of their falsified relationship with big-names-in-fandom and actual celebrities.
More often however, it happens to women who’re actively involved in fandom. In fact, just about every female comic pro I know has a nightmare story about some guy or another (or several) who not only made up a relationship with them but proceeded to brag to everybody else about it.
So… what the fuck, yo? What the hell inspires people – even grown-ass men who should, in theory, know better – to act like this?
Well, there’re several reasons.
To start with, our culture – and geekdom in particular – is awash in messages of “woman as reward”. They’re status-symbols, a sign that says “Look at how fucking awesome I am! I’m so awesome because I have this hot chick! Bow down!” This message – the idea that women are consumable sexual objects – translates to the unfortunately common attitude in fandom that the only way for women to participate in fandom is for the pleasure of men. This attitude informs much of the way women are treated by the masses.
Then you get to the personality types involved.
At the bottom level, you’ve got your basic social maladjust who just is bad at reading signals or who is just so unused to interacting with people in social settings that they mistake basic politeness for flirting or overt interest. These guys are awkward but mostly harmless. Their tendency to overestimate the level of emotional involvement is usually of a case of wishful thinking than rather than any real malicious intent; the same guy who thinks that the stripper really likes him or that the bartender isn’t just being flirty because it’s a way of getting better tips. They want to find someone so desperately that they make the assumption that any niceness means that they’re in like Flynn and that a single social outing is a sign that they’re dating. These are often guys who are so self-conscious about their lack of a love-life and what it says about them that their singledom is a point of neurosis for them. Getting a girlfriend, to them, isn’t about forming a mature and loving relationship with someone, it’s a mark of achievement – it means that they’re not the loser that they and their peers believe them to be. So if they can’t get a real person to slot into that hole marked “girlfriend”, then they’ll just invent one. Sometimes it’s by assuming a relationship where there is none. Sometimes though, they’ll go the extra mile…
Incidentally, there’s an entire industry out there that caters to these guys, down to fake Facebook profiles for their “girlfriends”.
Next up you’ve got the creepers who’re invested in the fantasy that they’re in a relationship with that person specifically. They know it’s not real, but part of what gets them off is making it as real as possible. Case in point: the older married gent you knew NYFL who went through your unmentionables. These are the folks who’ve got a thing for those women in particular. They may deny it when called out… but part of the appeal of the fantasy is the idea that it could come true eventually. They’ll be the ones who try to get other people involved – if the Internet loves anything, it’s an unrequited love story – because it establishes them firmly as the hero of the story when the cold harpy refuses his love. Often, they’ll encourage their fellow travelers to descend upon their beloved like a pack of flying monkeys to plead his case and castigate her for being a heartless bitch… because, as we all know, public pressure and shaming the object of their affection is a viable way of getting into her pants.
Then you’ve got the sort of asshat who – like your creepy comic store guy – is using other people to burnish up his street cred with his peers. These are the sorts of guys who want to establish their reps as ladies men; they want to bask in the adoration of their friends and maintain their status of the alpha of the group. In those cases, it’s not enough to say “Yeah, I totally bang all these chicks you never seen or haven’t heard of”; railing someone these guys actually know (and presumably lust after themselves) is worth far more social points. So now not only is he a big stud, but he’s the stud that other people want to live through vicariously. “I’m such a bad-ass that I fuck the women you want to fuck,” they’re saying. “Bow down before the power of my magic dick.”
The chromium variant of this guy are the would-be starfuckers – the ones who invent relationships with pros and big names in fandom. These guys are hoping for a little reflected glory – they’re so unbelievably special that these celebrities want them. It’s one thing when the cute regular at the store “likes” them; it’s another entirely when they’re carrying on a secret affair with Colleen Doran or Tara Strong or Janet Varney. There’s also more than a little frustrated desire to be part of the magic involved in their favorite fandom – they’ll want to believe that they somehow contribute materially to the creation of the things they love, so they’ll try to position themselves as the “secret muse” behind some story or character. Occasionally they’ll even insist that they are the talent behind the talent, that some magic contribution of theirs is the real reason why X is successful or Y is so popular.
It’s a misogynistic way of trying to boost one’s profile by treating women like playthings or trading cards.
I’m not surprised that they’ll viciously strike back when you call them on their shit, NYFL; it’s a classic move from the “How To Argue With Women” playbook: When in doubt, deny, deflect and derail. They’re calling you stuck up and conceited because flipping it around and making you the real bad guy is another classic arguing technique. They’re trying to put you on the defensive; when you’re too busy responding to their claims that you’re so arrogant and vain that you think everyone’s in love with you, then you’re no longer calling them out. It’s not about them anymore, it’s about how you’re a horrible person and clearly imagining things. This is a not-terribly subtle form of gaslighting – they’re trying to get you to doubt yourself and decide that maybe you were just imagining things. That way, they’re free to continue holding onto their fantasy about you and burnishing their credentials with your name.
So I’ve got good news and bad news.
The bad news is that there aren’t many prescriptive actions that you can take to prevent this sort of behavior; creepers gonna creep and assholes gonna ass. There will be plenty of these guys who’ll act like this even without your active involvement, like your creepy comic shop owner. The best thing you can do is trust your instincts and not let other people tell you that you’re wrong for being mistrustful or having your guard up. You’re not obligated to give geeks a chance and they’re not automatically entitled to your company or friendship. Some vetting through mutual friends isn’t a bad idea either (if not exactly foolproof). Also: when you catch on that somebody is acting like this, call them out, loudly and preferably publicly. Don’t let the assholes make you back down and don’t let them shift the goalposts or flip the argument to make it all about you. They’ll distract you, they’ll deny it and they’ll blame you.
In addition: make sure you’ve got Team You backing you up. Some of these guys will get stalker-y and try to use your friends and social network accounts as a way of finding more material to dress up their bullshit with. Your friends – and keeping your social media locked down – are a critical defense against this, and they’re frequently your early warning system as well.
The good news is that thanks to the Internet, it’s a lot harder for people to pull this shit without it getting around to the very people they’re hoping don’t hear about it. Facebook is nothing if not a collection of gossips (especially ones who don’t know how to set their privacy settings) and it’s only a matter of time before they trip over their own dicks.
Good luck, and don’t let the bastards get you down.