Ask Dr Nerdlove: Should I Pretend To Be Dumb In Order To Date?

Ask Dr Nerdlove: Should I Pretend To Be Dumb In Order To Date?

This week we have a letter from someone who seems to be geeky dudes’ perfect woman… so why is she so alone? Sometimes even people you think have it the easiest are just as worried about being Forever Alone as the rest of us. So, let’s dive right in.

Dear Dr Nerdlove,

Come this October, I will have been single 7 years, with the exception of a few months of casual dating here and there. One big part of this is that 4 years ago I moved to a massively large city to work on a masters degree. It is notably difficult to date here, and it’s often the subject of movies, tv shows, books and think pieces. Still, I have tried everything and even had my own blog for a while to document my tragic, yet funny, dates.

The problem, it seems, is that as appearances go, I am a pretty girly girl who loves make up, heels and dresses. However, personality-wise, I have always been a complete tomboy: I love video games, watching sports, beer with wings, working on my car, skateboarding, boxing, and I own more than my share of power tools.

I know I’ve probably already lost any sympathy from your readers, but the issue is that men who are into nerdy, smart girls are turned off by my appearance, believing I must be vapid and shallow. Alternatively, men who are attracted to my appearance balk at my hobbies and interests. My last date several months ago was set up through a regional magazine here, and included his statement that he wouldn’t see me again because “she seemed like a feminist and I just thought ‘uh oh.'” (While I am a feminist, his reasoning for thinking so was because I explained I worked in an auto shop in college and my hobby is making skateboards, to which he replied I was intimidating him and making him feel emasculated.)

My problem isn’t so much in how guys react, because I’m certain I’ll find someone at some point who thinks they have won the jackpot for meeting a girl that can change their oil while in heels, but the advice I get from people.

At this point, I’ve been told I need to start dumbing myself down, don’t tell guys my hobbies, and even avoid disclosing I have a masters until several dates in. One guy, who I met through online dating, told me that no one gives a shit about my intelligence and personality, so if I want to meet a guy I should start logging more gym hours because no guy wants to date a girl who is a size six.

People say to just smile and listen to my date without speaking, order a glass of wine instead of beer, and act more feminine. They say everyone lies in the beginning and that by hiding these things, I’ll do better.

Mostly, I tell them to go f themselves, but I’m starting to wonder if they have a point. Should I be hiding my more “masculine traits”? On my online dating profile I used to joke about them, (stuff like: I can kill spiders all on my own, but if you’d like to help, I’d appreciate it) but was told that even THAT was too intimidating.

My 29th bday is soon, and I’m terrified of another yearly call from my grandma crying and asking why I’m choosing to die alone. But should I be lying just to find love? (“Love”)

Desperately Seeking Samus

DSS, I want you to listen to me very carefully:

Those people who’re telling you that you’re too intimidating, that you’re too smart or too whatever and you need to dial it back so you don’t hurt dude’s precious fee-fees? Fuck those people.

This is, hands down, some of the shittiest advice I’ve seen since the last time I heard someone say “just be yourself”. But before I get deep into why this is shitty advice, let’s talk a little about what guys mean when they say a woman’s “too intimidating”.

In my experience – and backed up through thoroughly unscientific polls conducted via my Facebook page – people who describe women as being “intimidating” break down into certain camps.

To start with, we have the people who are intimidated by a woman’s looks. While yes, you are going to find people who will insist that an attractive woman can’t possibly have an intellectual or nerdy side, more often than not, this tends to be a rationalization. The real issue is less that she’s assumed to be stupid and more that they’re assuming they don’t have a chance with her. A beautiful woman must be deluged in suitors and can have her pick of any guy… so why should Captain Jack Nerd even bother when Studly Good Night is waiting right behind him? It’s easier to salve one’s ego with “Pffft, she’s not even a real nerd” than to admit that they didn’t even try.

Then we have the people who tend to be wed to traditional gender roles. They may protest that they believe in equality of the sexes – even protest that they want a Kaylee with some grease on her cheeks rather than an Inara with her perfectly coiffed hair and her silks – but only up to a point. Yeah, it’s cool that she may have her own tools and can repair her own car… but she’d better not be better than he is at it. The last thing this type of man wants is to be left feeling outdone in “manly” pursuits by a woman. If the gender roles get too inverted, he gets incredibly uncomfortable – in his mind, it calls his masculinity into question.

This also includes guys who like a smart woman but not too smart – she’s got to know her place, after all.

There are also some people who, while appreciating a woman with brains and strong opinions, may feel overwhelmed when she expresses them, especially if she has a strong or outgoing personality and he doesn’t. They may worry that every conversation is going to be a lecture or that they’re wandering through a verbal minefield every time they voice an opinion.

And then you’ve got people like your online date who said, “Guys don’t give a shit about your personality so get back in the gym.” That person is an arsehole, and what do we say to arseholes?

Enh, close enough.

The idea your advisors are putting forward is that you need to dumb yourself down, hide your oh-so-unattractive hobbies and interests and pretend to be someone other than, well, you. But why in pluperfect Hell would you want to date someone who can’t handle the real you?

Seriously, their logic baffles me. Unless you’re supposed to be so grateful to be dating anyone (spoiler alert: you’re not) that you’re willing to overlook a complete lack of compatibility as a minor pothole on the rocky road of love, all you’re doing is ensuring you’re going on dates with people you don’t want to date. Which, quite frankly, is worse than being single. Life’s too short to date arseholes.

So with all of that in mind, what do you do about this?

Well, to start with, you start reframing the scenario. You’re a catch. You know you’re a catch. But just know there’re going to be lots of people who will focus on one small aspect about you and assume that this is all you are… and these are people you aren’t going to want to date in the first place. Here’s the thing I tell everybody, men and women: your lifestyle is your filter. One of the things it’s going to do is filter out people you aren’t compatible with. People who freak out because you’ve got an advanced degree, know your way around an engine or because you like a good stout or IPA instead of a malbec are doing you a favour by self-selecting out of your dating pool and good goddamn riddance.

These sides of you are not defects, nor should you treat them as something to be ashamed about. Even self-deprecating jokes can make it seem as though these are aspects to your personality that you’re ashamed of. Fuck that shit; these are the selling points and people who don’t see it that way can step off.

Now admittedly, this is cold comfort because you’re still alone at the end of the day. So the other thing I suggest is that you get proactive. This is something else I’m always telling people: get involved in your passions. Despite what Paula Abdul and MC Scat Kat told us, opposites don’t attract; we tend to prefer people who are similar to us. You don’t need to be 100% in lock-step in terms of your likes and dislikes, but you do need to at least respect each other’s likes and interests. And one of the best ways to find people like that is to indulge in your passions in ways that bring you in contact with other people.

One of the best ways to do this is find events where there’s a certain amount of overlap between your interests. You’re geeky and handy… perhaps there’s a craft group or Maker fair that you might like to take part in. If you’re into sports, find an amateur sports league and sign up. Go to Nerd Nite events – most major cities have one – or pub quizzes like Geeks Who Drink.

And when you do meet some guy who catches your eye, don’t be afraid to make the first move. Guys who may be too intimidated by you to make the first move but are otherwise compatible will appreciate it and the ones who can’t handle someone else making the first move will be filtered out.

Here’s the hard part: it may be that you will have to wade through a lot of false positives and bad matches to find the right relationship. Unfortunately, that’s a part of dating and something that everyone has to go through. Dating is, to a certain extent, a numbers game. Sometimes you have to sort through a lot of dross to find the gold, and there will be times that it feels absolutely hopeless.

But when you do? When you find someone who meshes with you and it just clicks? That makes all that searching worth it.

Good luck.

Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku’s fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.

Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.


  • Dammit DSS, I know so many guys who would fall head over boots for you. Keep it up and don’t let the dirt define you but let it be a source of growth and understanding.
    I’m really enjoying these articles btw nerdlove, some really great advice and solid writing.

  • DSS, you sound amazing! Don’t follow this terrible advice from your friends. It is the equivalent of putting up fake photos on a dating site. Don’t pretend to be someone your not.

  • There’s a lot of dudes that are like this too. I myself can pass off as ‘mysterious’, and can show my geeky side etc.

    It almost seems like DSS’s own standards are causing incompatibilities, or she’s looking in the wrong places. I’mma go with the latter as the most likely.

  • Omg here’s my number – 0456813674 call me maybe? =P

    Jokes aside if the guys/gals you’re dating are asking you to change things about yourself that you’re happy with I think that’s a sure fire sign that you’re sitting across the wrong person. I can’t speak for all guys out there but personally I’m drawn to women who show fierce independence both intellectually and in day to day life, enjoy political and philosophical issues and play games =P Because GAEMZ! But like Dr Nerdlove has mentioned find groups that are more interested in your passions and sooner or later you’ll come across like minded individuals!

    Full disclaimer – That isn’t my number, forgive me internet gods it’s Friday

    • i can just picture some married dude on the other end of the phone trying to explain to his wife why he’s getting all these calls and who the hell is puppetmaster. gold…. \o/

  • Honestly?! There are dudes who still see woman like this as a threat and actually say they feel emasculated?!

    A woman who can fix my car while I design artwork for her skateboards, will box with me and drink beer while we watch sports and pool our power tools to build stuff?
    Damn, if I was single sign me up

    • Yes, yes there are. Lots of them. It’s pretty insidious.

      Am very fortunate to have found an other half who likes most of the same tv and movies as me, loves going to the same varieties of sportsball, likes the same food, cycles, reads a fair bit (different books, but the rainy-day chilling out with a cuppa and a book and sharing a comfortable silence is there), does crazy projects and is fairly handy with a drill, and even likes doing hobbies in the lounge when I’m doing playstation. Likes card and table games. Unfortunately, not a computer gamer, but you can’t have everything (and I did get a really nice headset as a present so my late night gaming wouldn’t disturb sleep…).

    • I know jacksh*t about fixing cars. If my girl knew how to fix cars that would rad, for now I call on one of my other mates.

  • This girl sounds like a catch, a pity that it’s so hard to find someone like this these days. oh and for the record 7 years isn’t that long, you should try my life, 33 years single and dateless, with no relief in sight.

  • Holy crap DSS, i need to set you up with my friend… i think you tick 95% of the boxes on his checklist…

  • Wow does this bring back memories. A guy once told me I should lower my standards and stop using so many big words because “us regular guys just like it simple” and talking to me made him feel stupid. Ugh. Thankfully I didn’t take that advice and just held out for someone that would appreciate me for who I am, which did eventually happen. Incidentally we met at work, so maybe that’s an option for DSS.

  • I thought all geeks had a thing for the female mechanic character who has that one episode where they dress up and get all the guys hot under the collar. I’ll admit though that I tend to be wary of overly pretty girls since it usually means they are vapid and self-obsessed, however, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to at least talk to them and find out whether that’s actually the case or not.

  • “But should I be lying just to find love?”
    Nope, nope nope nope nope NO!!

    I did it, was engaged to this girl thinking “this is just what it is.”
    One day realized I was unhappy in not being who I was and having to be made feel like I should be ashamed of my interests and figured I’d be happier on my own masturbating. I was very correct 🙂

    Later on, met my now wife, and I don’t have to hide a thing and neither does she. She is stronger than I am, and in some cases (some…) more intelligent. Life is far happier. Not pretending to be someone else is the greatest thing I ever did.

    … Second to buying a motorcycle.

  • This is, hands down, some of the shittiest advice I’ve seen since the last time I heard someone say “just be yourself”.

    Wait a second. Isn’t ‘just be yourself’ the point of the entire response?

  • The chick sounds like a total babe.

    Nerds shouldn’t have written her off for being too pretty.
    I’m glad the jocks can’t see the awesomeness.

    I wish you well fair maiden, surely you’ll find your match soon enough !!!!!!!

  • I’ll be honest feminism is an ideology I couldn’t mix with and wouldn’t touch, regardless of looks. I can’t imagine to many guys that would embrace that sort of belief system and want a part if it.

  • The best part about these articles are the people in the comment wishing desperately they could be with the girl.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!