Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Geeks in Love: Finding Love in Fandom: an ApolloCon 2007 panel

Description in the program book: Maybe it's flirting; maybe it's friendship; maybe it's a lifelong relationship. Finding romance in all its forms and guises in the ever-surprising world of fandom.

Panelists: Chuck Coshow, Jonathan Guthrie, Becca Leathers, Graham Leathers (moderator), Tim Miller, Val Villareal

What it was like: pretty much as advertised, only I was hoping it would be funnier and would have more quirky dating stories that are only likely to happen to geeks. In comparison, Eric and Cathy Raymonds' panel Dating 101: Remedial Flirting at Linucon 2004 was funnier.

Not surprisingly, common interests play a part in geek dating

All of the panelists met their significant others in the SF fandom, or, in the case of Tim, because of shared interests and sense of humor. Tim met his wife in high school and fell in love with her when she laughed at one of his jokes -- unlike the majority of the population, who doesn't get his sense of humor. She was also into Dr. Who. "Imagine that," he said, "a girl who had the same interests!" Val and Chuck... well, I don't remember how or where they met, but Chuck said his love for Val was clinched when he made a vaguest reference to a Disney kids show, and Val responded by singing a line from the theme song of the show. (Or something like that.) Becca and Graham Leathers met at DuckCon at Chicago 2 or 4 years ago. They were each an independent music guest, and they met in a music circle. They ended up hooking up again at a folk music festival at Winnipeg. Jonathan Guthrie met his his wife at a convention, but he had some experience with fannish women long before that: his first serious girlfriend, when he met her, was wearing a Don't Panic t-shirt.

Jonathan Guthrie, Becca and Graham Leathers
Jonathan Guthrie, filk Guests of Honor Graham and Becca Leathers

So, common interests fueled the attraction these people felt for their mates. As Becca said, it's hard to explain her interest in filk to somebody who's not a musician (or even to some fellow musicians?). The panelists valued the "he/she gets me" factor so highly that one of them even asked the audience, has anyone here ever had a successfulx relationship with a non-fan? Tim compared an interest in things fannish to an interest in politics. He knows couples where one is hard left and the other hard right, who work a lot better than couples where one is politically very involved and the other doesn't care at all. Because in the first case at least both understand each other's passion for politics. I, a sole contrarian voice, argued that a success of a relationship has little to do with whether the other person is in the fandom. But of course I have only one data point -- myself, and can't speak for the whole fandom.

But it wasn't just the geeky or fannish interests that brought those couples together. Graham said when he saw dogs listed as one of Becca's interests on her LiveJournal, it clinched his interest in her, since he had been a dog trainer himself.

How hard or easy is it to find romance at SF conventions?

Chuck. When I first started coming to conventions, in the mid-80s, there were a lot more women than men. And then you tried to meet these women, and everyone's shields were up. They were like, here is one of those assholes. Nowadays it feels OK to meet people. Does everyone feel it was like that? Women go to cons to have fun, and those geeky guys come to them and say, I roll hundreds on <some kind of RPG?>! Let's go have a coke!

A girl in the audience: it's the opposite for me. I work in theater and I don't go to bars, so my pool of available straight men is not very big. So I hope that a nice geeky guy will come talk to me [at a con]. But it doesn't happen often. They happen to be libertarians.

Tim. There is a reputation that fandom in general is a big open tent [?]. In the 70s and 80s everyone in the fandom was considered an outcast. So geeky guys thought that the girls in the fandom would automatically accept them, and then they discovered that the general rules of dating still applied even in the fandom.

So maybe there was a reason why this panel did not have much of a novelty factor: geek dating isn't very different from mundane dating.

Tim Miller and Val Villareal
Tim Miller and Val Villareal

Some said a difficulty of finding a romantic interest may also vary from con to con. One in-the-know fan in the audience dropped names of conventions that have reputations of being events where people go to get laid. Jonathan said that he had never experienced a hookup party at any convention. "Either I'm doing something wrong," he said, "or it really doesn't work this way."

Also, Becca reminded, a lot of people you meet at conventions are from out of town, so if you find romance, it's likely to be long-distance. That comes with its own challenges, and the odds for it surviving are not good (although a long distance relationship did work out for Becca and Graham). On the other hand, Graham added, if a relationship ends, the distance makes it less likely that you'll run into that person at future conventions. ;-)

Common sense advice, or conventions as churches

Overall, any advice given in this panel was only common sense. The panelists gave plenty of reminders for the guys to keep bathing and brushing their teeth if they ever want to get a date.

Chuck. It's a truism: a lot of guys come to a con and decide it's a 3-day excuse to abandon all hygiene. But [there are also] fans who go to cons try to socialize others, in the sense of teach them acceptable behaviors.

Tim. Remember the 5-3-1 rule: you have to have either 5 hours of sleep and 3 meals, or 3 hours of sleep and 5 meals, and 1 shower a day, and this will get you through the convention.

Chuck. The tub in your room doesn't just exist for icing down beer.

Val Villareal and Chuck Coshow
Val Villareal and Chuck Coshow

Other pieces of advice:

Graham. One of the worst things you can do is come across as desperate. I was pretty much resigned to being single, and I was OK with that. I just had to bump into someone who I thought we can be friends with, but it progressed beyond that. I have no regrets about that. So, be yourself.

Tim. Don't look at cons a a singles bar: look at them more like a church, where you go for a some other pur
pose, but may meet people.

Jonathan added that some people treat church as a singles bar.

Pictures from ApolloCon 2007 are in my photo gallery.

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