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Published on June 21st, 2014 | by Ian Goodwillie

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Must Love Comic Books: Geek Speed Dating at Comic Cons

Must Love Comic Books: Ian Goodwillie takes a deeper look into nerd love and stereotype in the world of Geek Speed Dating at comic cons. 

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No matter which geek flag you fly, you can usually find something in your wheelhouse at most comic cons. As these events grow in popularity and attendance, the breadth of what’s offered increases. What were previously comic-centric events have transitioned into truly multimedia events. Gaming, science fiction, fantasy, and horror streams have all become more prevalent at these events, and all in a number of media forms.

But genre TV and film actors in particular have taken up the mantle of focus, moving comic cons more into the realm of media expos.  Take the 800 pound gorilla of comic cons, Comic-Con International: San Diego, which has so fully transitioned to being about media guests and content that many comic book creators no longer bother attending. How old school fans feel about that is determined on a case-by-case basis.

One of the positive changes in con culture has been an increase in the number of female geeks attending what used to be a damn near 100% male dominated experience. Again, how old school fans feel about that is determined on a case-by-case basis.

The increase of women at cons has definitely had an impact on the programming offered. While female geeks are there to take in everything from comics to video games and more, they are definitively leading the charge on the cosplay front. More than a few women have made names for themselves at cons as preeminent and exceptionally talented cosplayers. But the increase in female attendees has allowed cons to explore a completely different programming option; speed dating.

Geeks, particularly males ones, do not have the best romantic reputations. Modern mass media portrays us all as socially inept if not virtually afraid of the opposite sex, something particularly evident if you watch shows based on tired stereotypes like The Big Bang Theory. That being said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know lifelong comic book readers who have no idea how to talk to a woman (or a man if that’s where your heart leads you). Then again, I also know lawyers who love football with the same damn problem. This isn’t something exclusive to our section of the cultural sphere.

But for those who do have problems dating and are not confident in letting their geek flag fly in a world full of muggles, finding someone to connect with can be a truly terrifying experience. Imagine you are already someone with social anxiety issues that make it difficult enough to pursue a relationship but you also live in fear of the conversation killer, “Oh…you read comic books…” and all the assumptions that come with it. Geek speed dating presents an interesting opportunity for men and women looking to directly connect with someone who shares similar interests, with someone who gets them.

On a functional level, geeks speed dating works like normal speed dating. Men and women are paired up for short intervals, move to new partners during the course of an hour or so. And there are, of course, also LGBT groups so everyone can be included. The difference between geek speed dating and regular speed dating, as Catherine Saykaly-Stevens puts it, is the theme. Catherine, from The Networking Web, runs the geeks speed dating sessions at Calgary Expo and Edmonton Expo. She has been going to cons since the late 80s/early 90s and has been noticing the upswing in female attendees for years. The gender split is certainly still not even, which creates its own issues for geek speed dating events.

While she has noticed that the gap between the numbers of men and women that attend these events is decreasing year after year, the gap is still there. As she puts it, “the GSD ‘priority’ is stronger in men than in women.”

One woman who attended the geek speed dating event at Calgary Expo 2014 had a good experience but it wasn’t necessarily her decision to participate. ‘Stacy’ (name changed to protect her anonymity) watches science fiction like Firefly and Doctor Who, and is also a gamer. She is single but didn’t have any interest in attending geek speed dating on her own, “I’m the only one of my friends who is single so they dragged me to the door.”

Ah, the magic of peer pressure.

Once there, Stacy had a good time. She had several great interactions and met some interesting people. And when asked if she would go to another session, she said “I think I would, but only in another geek speed dating one. I liked that the event placed people with the same interests together whereas a normal speed dating one would be all small talk for 3 minutes.” It seems that Stacy had a good time and repeat business is always a sign of success in any industry. But how did the men fare?

Outside the room, an entirely different story played out. ‘Lance,’ one of the friends responsible for convincing Stacy to attend the geek speed dating session at Calgary Expo 2014, was sitting outside the room waiting for her. He is recently married so had no interest in participating but wanted to support the friend he just threw to the proverbial lions. Once the room was full, Calgary Expo volunteers cut off the line, which was all men at this point. “We are usually at full capacity,” Catherine said to The Feedback Society, “but we also run with an even male/female ratio. That can limit the amount of people attending.”

The unfortunate reality is that there are far more men trying to attend a geek speed dating event than women. It’s safe to assume this is a frequent issue with most speed dating sessions, not just geek speed dating. While the numbers of single women going to cons has increased, those numbers are still far outstripped by the numbers of unattached men in attendance. This left a lot of unhappy men stranded outside of Calgary Expo’s geek speed dating session. Lance described the following scene…

Some individuals in the line dispersed without any issue, accepting the fact that it was full and they did not arrive early enough to get in. Other individuals in the line looked like they had just received word that their mother had died. The look of sadness and desperation took over many of their faces. Some ran up to the volunteers at the door and pleaded with them to be let in… This newly formed begging event lasted for about 7-8 minutes. When the individuals realized they were not getting in, expletives were shared that described their thoughts, and they dispersed.

It should pointed out that neither Catherine Saykaly-Stevens nor Calgary Expo can in any way, shape, or form guarantee that there will be an equal number of men and woman interested in attending an event like this. And you can’t have 20 women in a room with 150 men taking turns talking to each of them for three minutes. The logistics of making that work are insane. Pre-registration for geek speed dating is used but that simply cannot ensure entry or what kind of numbers of each gender will actually show up on the day of. Realistically, there are aspects of an event like this you cannot control, only influence. If you build it, hopefully they will come, as it were. Ultimately, what happens when the session opens its doors is a crap shoot. Just like any other event at a comic con, the rule of thumb no matter what is first come, first served.

The unfortunate reality of this scene is that it demonstrates the geek tropes on shows like The Big Bang Theory that we decry are still somewhat relevant and accurate. For a lot of us, being a geek still comes with a level of social unease that can seem insurmountable at times, particularly when confronted with the gender you’re interested in pursuing a relationship with. Rather than being just another panel or facet of a con like Calgary Expo, geek speed dating sessions provide a surprisingly necessary way for people who have trouble putting themselves out there to put themselves out there amongst people they might actually be comfortable around. Such sessions are an obvious extension of why we’re all at comic cons, looking for community in those shared interests.

And if you find a little love along the way, all the better.

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About the Author

Ian Goodwillie

is an established freelance writer, a regular contributor to both Prairie books NOW and The Winnipeg Review. He also writes two blogs that very few people pay attention to, a Twitter feed no one follows, and film scripts that will never see the light of day. He is very fulfilled by his career choice.



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