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Sci-Fi Speed Dating

Looking for love in Coruscant spaces.

By / Posted on 31 October 2011

Obsessive nerdiness and well-developed social skills tend not to go hand-in-hand. Most of the geeks who pour themselves into the science fiction and fantasy they so adore tend to do so as loners, with limited social ties only to like-minded obsessives. It’s a vicious cycle that breeds continued anti-social tendencies and perdures negative stereotypes of the dork community. If only these nerds all had centralized gatherings where they could meet each other, mayhaps they might not stay in such self-imposed states of seclusion.

Oh, hey, Comic Con! That’ll do.

For the second year in a row, Ryan Glitch brought his team from Lightning Fast Speed Dating to New York Comic Con in an effort to help the hapless geeks make a love connection. Immediately, the benefits of a speed dating session at a large and insular event like New York Comic Con are obvious: almost everybody there is immersed in the same general genre of fringe entertainment, be it anime, videogames, comic books, steampunk, science fiction or fantasy. Immediately everyone is on some degree of equal footing as the convention is a safe haven for those of us shunned from polite society for our ability to identify each of the eleven Doctors by a single garment of clothing, the musical reference in every episode title from Cowboy Bebop, or the proper evolutionary methods of damn near any type of Pokémon. The outside world sees this as useless knowledge that brands the people as inferior in some way, but the confines of the second-largest comic convention in the United States embraces that quirk as ice-breaking conversation points.

Then, of course, there are the costumes. Coming to the either New York Comic Con or Lightning Fast Speed Dating in dressed as your favorite character is in no way mandatory, but a large number of attendees do it anyway. Costumes are an excellent conversation starter that don’t require talking at all and they immediately form a connection between the person who liked the character enough to dress as them and the person who is familiar enough with the character to recognize it at a crowded convention hall. Many cosplayers even attest to their costumes helping them feel more confident by allowing them to play the role of the character of their choice, be it a strong and courageous superhero or a playful and mischievous creature of myth. An added bonus for shy or anxious speed daters, some costumes involve masks or helmets that completely obscure their faces, lest anybody recognize them outside of the speed dating session.

We were fortunate enough to attend one session at this year’s NYCC as members of the press, quiet observers there to watch and never interact. Having only ever witnessed speed dating through film and television portrayals in the past, the session we observed played out pretty much exactly how we expected: girls on one side, guys on the other, girls sit down with their backs to the guys, guys then take their seats facing the girls and conversation ensues for three minutes, at which point an alarm is blared and the guys all get up and move one seat to their right as the girls stay still. (Note: Lightning Fast Speed Dating does sessions for same-sex couples as well, though there were none at the event we were invited to.) The noticeable difference here is that nobody is allowed to use their name. Every girl and every guy instead wears a number and, as the couples converse, take notes on their dates by number. Glitch explained that this was so that nobody could go home and engage in any sort of cyber-stalking (which, yes, is a valid concern in any sort of dating environment, but seeing as this is a demographic famous for spending all their time on the internet seeking out torrents of the latest Neon Genesis Evangelion fan-sub, especially valid). When all the dates are said and done, the guys and girls go to their respective sides and make a list of the numbered dates they’d like to continue talking to and, if two people choose each other, they exchange email addresses.

Glitch oversees the whole affair as a host and as a chaperone, making sure everybody is on their best behavior. Walking the aisles as a portly Qui-Gon Jin, he keeps the mood light with playful jabs the costumes in the room and the stereotypical awkwardness of the people involved. We noticed a peculiar trend toward the middle of the session for jokes that were particularly divisive (insisting that Star Wars fans are superior in every way to Star Trek fans) and surprisingly racist. At first it seemed as though Ryan simply enjoyed hearing himself talk and having a captive audience, but soon it became clear that these tactics were a manner of lightening the mood after some rather awkward couplings, giving the room a common enemy and sense of irreverence so that any negative feelings would not carry from one three-minute date to the next.

We didn’t stay for the whole session, but we did notice shortly after leaving (having stayed in the hallway for a few minutes, discussing our reactions and potential dinner plans) a number of the lady daters getting up and leaving. We weren’t sure who to feel worse for—the ladies for finding nobody worth spending even three minutes with, or the guys for being so lame as to drive these women away from anonymous speed dating at a comic convention. We were also fortunate enough to meet up with a few of the daters the following day and ask for their reactions, strictly anonymously, of course. While everybody agreed that the formula seemed sound and well-conceived, the end results left many feeling more awkward and uncomfortable coming out of the dating session than going in. While there was a sense of camaraderie and wonder going into a room full of single nerds, the fact that these sessions were being recorded as a television pilot seemed to ramp up the inherent drama, inexplicably requiring very open revelations to the full room of who was matched and who was not, causing those without any matches to be ostracized and made to feel an outcast in a convention hall full of social misfits. We were told these matters are usually handled privately on paper, but the involvement of television cameras required something more show-worthy. Of all the attendees we spoke with, none felt entirely successful with the speed dating session, but all agree that they had a fun time and would likely try it again without the film crew. Everyone also seemed to agree that Glitch seemed full of himself and was generally not funny, though none could be sure whether this was simply his personality or a grand scheme to put the attendees at ease (we like to believe the latter).

Still, social conversational skills, as all things, improve with practice, and at the very least these nerds got a lot of practice that night. Here’s hoping they can apply those skills to life in the outside world, after all, there are plenty of cute nerds hanging around the local library every day…

Special thanks to our friend Matt Hawkins for his help with this piece!

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.