We return to the Nerd Role Model series, where we examine popular characters from geek culture and deconstruct just what makes them so appealing to others… and what you can learn from them. This week, we’re looking into issues of “identity“.
All too often, we unconsciously limit ourselves with self-imposed labels. We assume that our failures – especially in dating – come from who we identify as; Nice Guys vs. Assholes, Alpha Males vs. Betas or High-Status Males vs. everybody else. And if there’s one group that perennially gets caught up in the idea that they’re doomed to live sexless lives in their parents’ basements, it’s the nerd. It hardly seems fair. Sure, you may not be the most prime physical specimen, but your brain is hung like a moose…
Nerds and geeks may be dominating culture but in the “real” world, when it comes to slapping meatbits together, the jocks and the assholes still have the advantage… right?
Well… actually, no. In fact, when you look at pop culture, there’s a prime example of the sexy geek. We’re talking about someone whose appeal goes beyond the physical and focuses entirely on who he is as a whole. Someone who transcends the supposed stigma of being a “geek” and a “nerd” and has gone on to become one of the most beloved characters of all time.
I give you…
Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
Peter Parker is practically the archetype of the sexless, friendless nerd. Growing up, being raised by his aunt and uncle, he was the science-obsessed know-it-all. He was a scrawny, myopic nebbish figure who could get blown away in a stiff wind. His days at school consisted of dealing with the jocks and queen bees making his life a living hell and his nights consisted of doing “experiments” in the privacy of his own room.
But then everything changed with the interference of one radioactive spider…
… gifting Peter with immense strength, agility, a psychic ability to detect danger and, of course, the classic wall-crawling.
One bad experience with a mugger later leads to a very poignant lesson in the correlation between great power and great responsibility, and Peter Parker starts a new identity as the amazing Spider-Man. And yet for someone who swings through the urban canyons of New York City, fighting mutants, terrorists, crazed scientists and sociopaths, Peter remains one of the most relatable superheroes out there – someone who we could see ourselves in, even without powers. Yeah, having super powers would be awesome… but in reality irradiated spider bites would just give you cancer and science hasn’t exactly figured out how to create superheroes.
But it’s not Spider-Man’s powers that make him so attractive, it’s Peter Parker who is so appealing. Part of Stan Lee’s genius in creating Spider-Man was taking a nerdy everyman and giving him powers… yet still leaving him everyday problems. Those powers are cool, but they’re not a solution to everything. Peter still has to overcome things that we are all intimately familiar with: the balance of our private lives with our obligations, trying to make ends meet, dealing with our deep-held insecurities and fears – and the difficulty of finding the right relationship.
Ironically enough, it was adopting that masked identity that allowed Peter to be even more authentically himself. Yes, that spider bite may have given him powers – but the greatest gift was the initial boost of confidence that allowed him to let go of his self-limiting beliefs. By liberating himself from the expectations and self-imposed restrictions of “Peter Parker: NERD”, Peter was better able to be who he really was… without giving up the uniqueness that made him Peter. By being his best, most authentic self, he actually becomes a much more attractive and interesting figure.
He Embraces His Nerd Side
Yeah, he’s super-strong and can climb walls… but Spider-Man’s greatest strength is often the one people most forget: he’s a goddamn genius.
Long before he was Spider-Man, Peter Parker was a science and engineering geek… and he’s never forgotten this. After years of getting shoved into lockers and slapped around for being an egghead, most nerds who stumble into incredible athletic prowess might try to forget their geeky past in hopes of a new life as a star athlete. And in fairness, Peter does flirt with it briefly… but only briefly. It doesn’t take long before he’s back in his favorite spot – on the business end of a microscope. And make no mistake: he puts his brain to astounding use. From inventing a fluid that can be spun into high-tensile strength strands capable of holding up a city bus to developing a wireless remote camera shutter trigger decades before they were available commercially, to engineering a tracking system that works with his spider-sense, Peter has engineering chops that would make Tony Stark drool with envy.
Doing it all on a freelance photographer’s budget? That’s fucking amazing.
And it’s a good thing too…
How Can You Use This?
…because women love smart guys.
A 2008 study at the University of California Davis found that women saw brainy men as a turn-on. 15 men performed a series of tasks on camera including explaining the ramifications of finding life on Mars and analyzing news reports. They also took a quantitative test for verbal intelligence. 200 women then rated each man on intelligence, attractiveness, creativity and how appealing they were as a potential short term and long-term relationship. The smarter the potential male suitors, the more attractive that women found them for long-term relationships. What was surprising, however, was that they were also more desirable for one-night stands.
But before you go memorizing that quantum mechanics textbook, it’s not just about raw intelligence. It’s about intellectual engagement with the world around you. Simply being a rocket scientist isn’t going to get you anywhere if you’re permanently welded to your desk going over your equations for the hundredth time. You may be a genius, but it’s not going to do do you any good if the only thing you care about are the hard sciences… or worse, if you use your intellect like a club to beat people over the head with. In fact, social intelligence is just as importance as book-smarts.
Peter’s appeal is that he’s embraced his inner nerd, not that it’s the only thing in his life. He integrates it with his life as a whole; he may be able to talk shop with Reed Richards, but he’s still just as interested in the way the Mets suck this year (again) and getting caught up with The Walking Dead.
In fact, his nerdy appeal ties in with the next aspect of his attractiveness…
If there’s one thing Peter’s known for, it’s throwing himself into everything he does. He doesn’t do anything half-assed. If he’s into something, he loves it whole-heartedly… and that passion permeates everything he does. Whether it’s photography, science, his family or even just being Spider-Man, everything he loves is part of the core of who he is and he can’t wait to share it with the people he cares about.
Some people are defined by what they do. Peter is defined by what he loves. It keeps him centered and it drives him onward. His passion and love of life makes him excited, it gives him drive and purpose and a sense of certainty that most people don’t have.
How Can You Use This?
You may notice that passion comes up regularly whenever we talk about attractiveness… and for good reason. Passion is one of the most attractive aspects somebody can have. It makes them come alive and separates them from the people who just exist. We live in a society where people are disconnected from their interests and which disdains exuberance or loving things with abandon.
They have to hide their excitement and passion for fear of embarrassing themselves; they dance with the doors closed where nobody notices them making a fool out of themselves, or restrain themselves for fear of looking childish or strange. People with passion don’t give a shit how foolish other people think they are; they love what they love and they’re not going to pretend otherwise. People want to express themselves that freely and fearlessly but feel as though they can’t; people with passion are attractive because they can. People who are passionate are magnetic. They inspire others; even if you don’t necessarily share in their passions, you can’t help but feel carried along by their excitement and you want to feel it for yourself.
Finding your passion and making it a part of your life is a critical part of living an attractive lifestyle – something that Peter Parker has down flat.
He Knows How To Date Out Of His League
So Peter’s a nerd. Maybe 120 lbs, sopping wet with a dorky haircut and a penchant for sweater-vests and ties in high-school. More than a little on the socially awkward side.
And yet the man has racked up some of the hottest women in the Marvel universe, including marrying a super-model. Gwen Stacy, Betty Brant, Felicia Hardy and Mary-Jane… not bad for a guy who lives paycheck to paycheck and can barely make rent half of the time.
So how exactly did Peter make the jump from sexless nerd to extremely eligible bachelor?
Well, to start with, he learned how to dress better which certainly didn’t hurt. But more importantly, he learned that the key to punching above your weight class is what you bring to the table. And what does Peter have to offer? Lessee:
There are no half-measures with Peter. If he cares about you, he’ll walk through fire and crawl over broken glass for you. At one point he literally crawled out of his own grave when he realized Mary-Jane was in danger.
There is nothing more important to him than the people he cares about, from his friends to his family, and he would do anything for them. That level of commitment and loyalty can be all-too-rare in this day and age… and it’s part of why ladies love Parker.
Once Peter allowed himself to come out of his shell, it turned out he wasn’t such a stick-in-the-mud after all. Being Spider-Man brought to life a side of Peter that had never existed before: the fun-loving, trickster side. It’s that devil-may-care, joking-in-the-face-of-danger aspect of Peter that so attracted Felicia Hardy to him – he was more alive, more vibrant, more fun than anyone she’d ever met.
Considering he’s consistently yay-close to being kicked out of his appartment, you’d think Peter’d be suffering when it comes to actual dates. Not so; he has fewer resources, so he knows how to make the most out of them. He may not be able to wine-and-dine his ladies in the style that someone else – say, Harry Osborne – can… but that doesn’t mean that he can’t come up with a special date in his own way. It may be a 1 pound bag of M&Ms and a 2 liter bottle of soda instead of wine and roses, but Pete manages even the simplest date seem amazing.
For all that Spider-Man gets most of the glory1 it’s easy to forget that Peter’s pretty damn accomplished himself. Amongst other things, he’s a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer and a best-selling author, having released a book of his photos of Spider-Man. Not bad for a nerdy shut-in from Queens.
How Can You Use This?
Attraction is about more than looks. Peter’s not bad looking, no… but it’s who you are and what you do. You may not be showing up on the cover of Men’s Fitness any time soon, but that doesn’t mean that you’re only ever going to get pity dates. Attraction is about more than just looks – it’s about the complete package. Cultivate your talents. Find the things that make you uniquely yourself and celebrate them. Being able to build those all-important emotional connections – helping someone feel good, being able to excite them, intrigue them, even sweep them off their feet – is more important than whether you have pecs you could bounce quarters off of and a custom-built Porsche.
He’s Imperfect… But That Doesn’t Stop Him.
One of the most appealing aspects of Spider-Man is that he’s like us. He screws up. He makes bad decisions. He stayed in a relationship with Felicia Hardy because he was in lust with her – even knowing that she was interested in Spider-Man rather than Peter Parker. He may have the best of intentions, but he fucks up on the regular. He’s perpetually behind on all of his bills, he lets being Spider-Man get in the way of every relationship he’s ever had, and he’s almost always in over his head.
And yet he never. Ever. Gives up.
Defeat doesn’t exist in his vocabulary, whether he’s dealing with Doc Ock or trying to make rent. He knows he risks screwing up every relationship he has, but that doesn’t stop him from trying anyway. And it’s that sheer determination, that refusal to surrender, to give up, to lay down and die, that makes all the difference.
How Can You Use This?
We’re all flawed. We all make mistakes. We all fuck up. It’s an inevitable part of the human condition. But I’ve seen far too many people become obsessed with the idea that they need to be 100% perfect before they try anything; they want to avoid any chance of failure before even making the first attempt. This inevitably means that they’ve failed before they’ve even begun; they’ve locked themselves into a state where they can’t possibly attempt anything for fear of failure. Perfection thus becomes the enemy of the good.
You can’t worry about failure – it happens eventually to us all. What you should be focused on is not letting failure destroy you. So you got shot down by that cute bartender… pick yourself up, dust off your ego and try again with someone new. Your accidentally said or did something stupid during your date? Don’t freak out; keep your head straight and plow forward. You may struggle with things you feel like you should be able to do with ease. You may watch other people achieve things with ease that you have to fight for tooth and nail. Don’t let this destroy you – let it motivate you to try even harder.
Success doesn’t come just because you really, really want it. It’s a battle of inches, pushing harder than you ever thought you could just to get a little further, do a little better even when everyone is screaming that it’s impossible and you should give up.
That never-say-die attitude, that refusal to give in even when the world is against you… that can make all the difference in the world.
And in the end… the rewards make that struggle worth it.
- and the blame… [↩]