As we reach the height of summer, it means that we’re approaching the climax of con season. Rooster Teeth Expo, Spill Dot Con, Anime Expo and CONvergence all occurred over the previous weekend, and the geek-gasm will be reaching it’s peak with the celebration of Nerdi Gras at the San Diego Comic-Con all next week. And, as tends to happen every con season, the letters are filtering in telling me that many of you have ignored my dictum about trying to hook up at cons.
To be sure, I do believe that love can bloom on the convention floor, but all too often people don’t understand that conventions are social and emotional pressure-cookers; by trying to compress everything into a solitary weekend (or a seeming eternity if you’re going to SDCC) you’re making everything seem more intense. Cons are hotbeds of nerdcrushes, online couples meeting for the first time in meatspace and, of course, veritable hordes of geeks who’re up all night to get lucky… or at least get into the Hentai room after the cosplay contest. Take a bunch of geeks, shove them into a hotel room with bad food, little sleep and near constant stimulation and you end up with a perfect recipe for drama and broken hearts. And drama there will be, because libidos will be running wild and so will tempers. It can be an incredible rush – everything you love under one roof, games, comics, anime, SEX… it’s like the ultimate nerd-high.
Of course, with every high comes the crash. When you throw that much sexual energy into a confined space, you end up with a crash course in some of the hardest lessons in dating in rapid succession. Everyone eventually has to go through these eventually, so the last thing you want is to have to experience them all at once.
So let’s take a look at them before you’re sitting alone in your hotel room, raiding the minibar, crying and abusing the substandard wifi to Facebook stalk your former beloved.
Er… not that I would know anything about that.
It Takes Two
As long as there has been romance, there have been people who will take advantage of other people’s interest in them.
Spend any time in almost any forum or sub-Reddit and you will inevitably hear long and tear-filled stories about “them as what done me wrong,” whether it was some lothario who dangled the hope of a relationship in front of an impressionable young woman in order to exploit her for sex or some jezebel taking advantage of a young man’s crush on her to bask in his attention while stringing him along with vague hopes that there might be something more.
Even when you filter out the bitter rantings of people who didn’t know when to give up on crushes that were going nowhere or who don’t listen when the other person says “no, we’re just friends”, there will still be those people – men and women both – who will exploit the feelings of others. Sometimes they string their victims along intentionally, dangling the promise of a relationship a little closer whenever their victim’s attention would start to wander. Sometimes they’re games players who like wielding the power that attraction gives them like a club. Sometimes they’re boosting their own self-esteem even at the eventual expense of others. And sometimes they’re legitimately unaware of how their behavior is being interpreted; one person’s meaningless touchy-feely tendencies can be mistaken for “she likes me, she really likes me!”
In the end though, whether these people are mistreating their victims deliberately or not, one hard truth remains: it takes two people to be manipulated, the manipulator and the manipulatee.
Manipulative people, whether malevolent, game-players or simply ignorant only have the power that you give them. It’s easy to complain about the person who used you for free food and entertainment or who kept stringing you along by letting you think there could be more to your relationship someday, but at the end of the day it’s entirely within your power to walk the fuck away ((Let’s make an important distinction here: there’s a difference between an abusive relationship and dealing with a manipulative person. Escaping an abusive relationship is a separate topic entirely and this shouldn’t be taken as victim blaming.)) .
This is why you need to have strong personal boundaries. People who tend to fall victim to manipulators often have a hard time standing up for themselves; they don’t believe that they have a right to call other people out for their behavior. They often have a scarcity mentality or oneitis and believe that the person toying with their emotions is their last, best chance for love and that nobody else could possibly compare. They may worry that by standing up for themselves or expressing their reservations that they will somehow offend the manipulator and thus lose any chance of getting love/sex/a relationship. And the cost of these weak boundaries is a broken heart. Being willing to confront the other person – or to simply stop letting them walk all over you – is the key. And if they are stringing you along, you can always choose to quit chasing the string and walk away.
It’s a curious game to be sure. The only way to win with a manipulative person is… not to play.
To be sure, it can be difficult to spot the users. Some will slip past your radar. Sometimes you will get false positives. It takes experience to calibrate your bullshit detectors and sometimes you only get that experience by being hurt in the first place.
But then, this is why it’s one of the hardest lessons.
You Have To Use Your Words
So let’s have a show of hands if you will: how many of you have had an online flirtation that you hoped would blossom into something more once you met in person? Or perhaps it was a long-distance friendship that seemed to show signs of turning into something more? And upon meeting up in person, how many of you found your hopes dashed upon the shoals of reality?
This is, unfortunately, one of the most common stories out there – one person builds up their expectations only to be shot down in flames. Travelling across country in hopes of “a sure thing” is a classic story – hell, how many movies about it have they made now? The problem is that lal too often, you make that trek only to find out that all of those hopes and fantasies were entirely one-sided.
I myself am as guilty of this as anyone else. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’d built up the fantasy in my mind that I’d finally get out of the Friend Zone with this one person or another, only to find out that the reality of the situation was very goddamn different. To make matters worse, this was often after I’d spent a not inconsiderable amount of time and money – because of course I’d travelled across the country for this – for the privilege of getting another broken heart and painting my balls an even deeper shade of cerulean.
Believe me, there are few things more soul-crushing than getting stuck in the middle of Dog’s Ass, New York with a raging case of Oneitis, no way to leave and nothing to do but watch your crush make out with her boyfriend instead of you.
You see, the problem is that I – like many others who’ve come before and those that will come after – hadn’t actually discussed my hopes for the trip. I simply assumed… and therein lies the problem.
I’ve seen more online relationships crash and burn because of this – they were never on the same page about what would happen when they met. They never talked about whether sex was on the table when they finally met in person, never agreed that yes, they were definitely going to hook up or otherwise said “yes, we are a couple and this is going to happen.” And when they met… well, it was broken hearts and bitterness all around.
Whether you’re planning a cross-country trip to hook up at a con with your long-distance girlfriend or hoping against hope that your flirty friend is starting to be interested in you, you need to be willing to actually talk about your plans… especially if you think sex may be an option. I can understand that this can be intimidating. Sometimes it can feel more comfortable to let things remain unspoken. It can feel as though acknowledging your hopes would cause them to disappear like poking a soap bubble. There’s always that fear that if you actually say the words then you’ll jinx everything and you’ll lose out in the end.
But sometimes letting things remain unspoken means not realizing that those dreams were never going to happen. If you’re afraid to actually talk about whether or not you’re going to hook up, the odds are you know already what the answer is: you aren’t. You’re just trying to keep the hope alive. Believe me, it’s better to accept the reality before you’ve shelled out for the plane ticket or driven 2000 miles.
If it hasn’t been explicitly discussed, there’s only one thing you can do:
Worth noting: even if you’ve both agreed that, yes you are going to wreck the hotel room with your combined passion, people can and do change their minds… and you have to accept this. A road trip or a plane ticket isn’t a binding contract. Sometimes the chemistry isn’t there. Sometimes people get nervous and have second thoughts or decide that maybe they’re not ready yet. It’s on you to accept this. Trying to pressure them into “keeping up their end of the bargain,” only gets you one thing.
You Can’t Call Dibs
There is no greater source of drama than the ever classic “You can’t like/date/sleep with her because I liked her first!” I’ve watched decades-long friendships end because one person or the other didn’t respect the “dibs” rule.
Of course, there’s a problem here… women aren’t bags of chips. Or a book. Or the front seat of a car. Women1 are autonomous beings with agency of their own, capable of making their own choices rather than objects to be passed around.
Yeah, I know. Crazypants, isn’t it?
More seriously: the idea that somebody is off-limits to everybody because you like them is childish and frankly insulting to everyone involved. “Bros before hoes” isn’t an excuse; you’re demanding that other people respect your selfish decisions simply because you don’t want your fee-fees hurt, while disregarding how they may feel. Just as importantly though, is the fact that you’re trying to take the choice away from the woman in question too. Just because you’d rather not see her date someone in your social circle doesn’t mean that she’s somehow obligated not to be attracted to anyone else, ever.
Whether it’s the girl you’ve liked since high-school, the cute student from Liberal Studies 1 or the woman dressed as Death, plucking at spider-webs to Souxsie and the Banshees during the con dance party, getting butt-hurt because someone didn’t understand that “you saw her first” meant that she is forever off-limits is simply childish. In my time I’ve seen some truly absurd rivalries form over women who’d really rather not be the center of so much drama… as though she had no say in it at all.
That having been said…
If you happen to hook up with someone that you know your friend likes – especially if it’s been a crush of long-standing – then don’t be an asshole about it. Keep things on the down low. I’m not saying pretend that the two of you aren’t together – that only makes things worse in the long run – but don’t rub his face in it. Keep the PDA to a bare minimum in front of him or her. And if at all possible, keep any hooking up out of any shared living space.
(Side note: there are occasionally the toxic friend who will chase a woman simply because his buddy likes her. In such cases, you are fully authorized to kick him in the junk often and repeatedly.)
Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down
Sometimes shit is just going to happen no matter what. It sucks when you’ve travelled some place – a convention, visiting a friend, what-have-you – only to get your heart broken. Having it happen early in the trip only adds insult to injury because now you’ve got time to wallow in your misery when you were supposed to be enjoying your vacation.
It is utterly up to you how you will deal with your pain. You can bask in self-pity and sulk, effectively wasting your time and money – not to mention bringing the rest of your friends down – or you can cowboy up and salvage your trip and remember the other reasons why you were there.
I’m a big believer in trying to push past the pain; even at times when I’ve had my heart shattered into a thousand pieces, I’ve found things that I could enjoy that would distract me from the misery… even if it was only for an hour or two. Throw yourself into the trip. If you’re at a convention, then go whole hog – go to all the panels you can, see all the sneak-previews you can bribe your way into, raid the dealer’s room like a Viking horde coming across an undefended monastery. Meet new people, make new connections. If you’re travelling, play tourist; get lost in a new city and find new adventures. Let yourself get lost in new experiences and trying new things. You can will yourself to put your pain aside for little while – just tell yourself “I have to do X thing; I can deal with my misery later.”
Just don’t try to repress it entirely. It won’t work, and all that pain and resentment will come bursting out of you at the worst possible moments. Treat it like a pressure valve; give yourself a little designated time alone to cry, vent and write all of those incredibly passive-aggressive status updates you want (but will never post… right? RIGHT?). Then stand up, wash your face and get back out there.
I won’t lie: it’s incredibly tough.You’re going to feel like your world’s ending and you’ll want everything to stop and pay attention. But life goes on, and you have to as well. No matter how much things may suck, you can push past it, even if it’s just a little at a time.
And that may be one of the hardest – and most valuable – lessons you can learn.
- and men – I’ve seen women fall victim to this before too [↩]