The Good, the Bad and the Awkwardness of Nerd Nite Speed Dating
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Nerd Nite is one of Austin’s greatest geeky gems. It’s a lot like a local monthly TED Talk with quirkier topics and a bar. You shouldn’t miss it.
In the last few months, they’ve added an extra feature before the talks - Nerd Nite Speed Dating. As a single geek, it was my duty to investigate and report back.
I have very mixed feelings about this. I’ve attended speed dating events in four states, and I used to organize speed dating events a few years ago. The idea of meeting a group of people based on everyone self-defining as geeks had a huge appeal.
The good parts were exceptional.
Unlike traditional speed dating, no one here is trying to make money. They just want to introduce like-minded geeks. The token $9 fee is a wonderful change from regular speed dating, which tends to start around $35 and can cost way more. You even get a drink to help with social lubrication.
Since the speed dating takes place before Nerd Nite, you also get to reserve choice seats for the main event. (Honestly, that’s worth $9 by itself.) While I keep calling Nerd Nite a hidden gem, the North Door is pretty much wall-to-wall bodies by the time the actual event starts. The front row reserved seat is a great perk.
Best of all, if you’re the kind of geeky woman who can name the Hero of Canton, knows the relationship between vent and steam in a gaming context, or loves crafting, this is a high quality collection of men. Every single one I met was friendly, employed, and could pass for normal in a random public setting. They even had manners. Unlike regular speed dating, none of them spent their time with me alternately looking between his watch and the prettiest girl there.
As good as that was, the bad was equally grim. The organizer bragged about spreading atmospheric lights over the couches and making sure the women had plenty of space for coats, purses, etc. For that very reason, I staked out a comfortable couch space beneath the sparkly lights early on, but was forced to move to a wobbly barstool directly under a blinding LED spotlight where I could either balance precariously with my coat, purse and book in my lap or leave them on the floor to get trampled. Since I didn’t want to put up a literal wall between myself and the men I was there to meet, I hoped my coat wouldn’t take too much damage.
I don’t know if this is a regular thing, but the organizer was also filming some kind of live action video with puppets at the same time as the speed dating. Imagine you’re quite literally squinting under the glare of a spotlight, balanced on a wobbly stool just tall enough you can’t touch the floor and preparing to break the ice with a total stranger when someone puts a camera eight inches from your face, a puppet eight inches behind your head, and shoves another stranger up against your left shoulder. Don’t look. You’re supposed to ignore the three of them holding an animated, unrelated conversation mere inches from your face while also trying not to interrupt them by talking too loud. Now’s your chance to shine! Go make some kind of meaningful contact with the total stranger to your right. No pressure.
Afterwards, I tried to tell the organizer that was a pretty awkward place to put someone. She told me I should’ve leaned over. Considering people were pressed less than a foot from my body for most of the event, that wasn’t physically possible.
Hopefully, the women on the couches had a very different experience. There were six women but only four couch spots. Since seating is apparently in alphabetical order by first name, I can’t recommend Nerd Nite’s speed dating to any woman whose name begins with A-H.
Likewise, if you’re not a fan of meeting strangers in loud, crowded places full of accidental physical contact, you might want to stick to OK Cupid. The intense physical awkwardness of the spotlight and stool compounded by unexpectedly being in the way of the organizer’s video shoot transformed what should have been a fun chance to meet other nerds into an unnecessarily uncomfortable exercise.
As I tried to wash the dirt out of my poor, trampled coat, my first instinct was to recommend against Nerd Nite’s speed dating, but the fact is, I actually liked the guys I was allowed to talk to.
Heck, even the short, awkward bits of conversation while there was a puppet behind my head and a camera lens practically up my nose were still higher quality than 90% of the conversations with guys I’ve chatted with at regular speed dating. I met a doctor working for an admirable charity, a board game designer who channeled Weird Al, someone who didn’t find Dell soul-sucking and a funny artist. I’d genuinely enjoy meeting any of these guys at a party. Mechanics aside, the organizer did a great job rounding up quality nerds.
For $9, it’s worth a try both for the novelty and for the reserved front row seats for the main Nerd Nite event. If your name is in the first third of the alphabet, lie. For this purpose, you’re Miranda. Now go meet some charming single nerds.