“Can I get a Pikachu?”
I try not to roll my eyes at the guy sitting across from me, dressed in normal clothes amongst a sea of superheroes.
Finally, I had an excuse to wear the eight-year-old-boy-sized Pokémon shirt I’d bought a couple years ago. The occasion? Speed dating at New York Comic Con, which ran October 9-12.
Comic Con seems an unlikely place to get your flirt on, but when nerds unite clad in Spandex and armor, sparks can fly. I’d gone speed dating only once before, at Minneapolis Comic Con, and heard epic tales of the speed dating scene at NYCC. One year, a woman went through nine rounds of three-minute dates with 70 guys without getting a single match…and on her tenth try, she got more than 60 numbers. Like I said, epic. I had a great time meeting fellow dorks in Minnesota, so I cleared my schedule to give it a shot in the Big Apple.
It’s early morning and I descend the escalators into the depths of the Javits Center basement to try and finagle my way into a morning speed dating session. The day before, organizers told me there was a thousands-long waiting list already, but that I should just register and show up anyway, since most of the people on the list were guys.
I find a lengthy queue already forming outside the door. Mostly men. But there are a handful of women waiting there, too, most notably a svelte Sailor Mars and a chic TARDIS. Slightly bedraggled and rain-soaked, I take my place in line and pull out a book, hoping Pikachu and a swipe of red lipstick will be enough to get me into this session.
I’m on the cusp of nerdiness. I crack Star Wars jokes and paint my nails with Doctor Who stuff, but I’ve never seen Firefly. I love Miyazaki and debate over who the best X-Men are (Rogue and Gambit, anyone?), but I couldn’t name a solid anime series. When I was a teenager, I attempted to learn Elvish — mostly because I liked Tolkien, and partly due to my (still-standing) crush on Orlando Bloom. Luckily, it’s a numbers game and not nerd trivia that gets me into Saturday’s dating session.
A guy strikes up a conversation while we wait in line, under the pretense of seeing whether or not my book is good. We talk about everything from social services in Europe to why there aren’t more writers of color (or women, for that matter) creating comics. He’s a cool, creative-minded person…the only problem is that he is one of many, many guys trying to get into this session. He doesn’t make the cut.
Eventually, I talk my way off the waiting list and into the room. I look around at fourteen couples sitting across from one another, name tags stuck onto homemade costumes and a surprising number of Superman shirts. Sadly, this is as big as the group will get. More than 50 guys who waited in line for a shot at geek love get rejected before they even have a chance.
Previous years of speed dating at New York Comic Con were helmed by Ryan Glitch of Sci-Fi Speed-Dating — a matchmaking Jedi master. This year, NY Minute Dating handles the program, and it’s immediately clear that this is a different ballgame. NY Minute Dating also runs more traditional speed dating events, so they handle the event with more pizazz and less dorky charm.
I’m not sure what first tips me off about the organization’s lack of geek cred: the Top 40 hits blasting from a sound system so loud you can barely hear the person across from you, or that the host asks, “What’s up with that blue police box thing? I’m seeing that everywhere…” That’s the TARDIS. Duh, you non-Whovian…whoops, is my geek flag flying too high?
As it turns out, you can fly that thing as high as you want at Comic Con and no one will bat an eye. Most of the people here haven’t done speed dating before — they’re experimenting outside their normal social circles.
“This seems like a less creepy way to meet people, you know?” one guy tells me. “You don’t want to just walk up to someone and try to be their friend here…that can be super weird.” Indeed.
Here, in a fluorescent-light-soaked room, we’ve got an acceptable excuse for chatting with complete strangers. Each person sits in a chair across from a member of the opposite sex, holding a sheet of paper he or she will write everybody’s name on. If you like someone, you’ll circle their name and log on to the NY Minute Dating site the next day to declare a match. The men cycle around the room every three minutes after a bell dings, while the ladies wait for a literal knight in shining armor.
A college-age guy with warpaint and a leather jacket plops down in front of me with an intense look on his face. “You look punctual. Are you punctual?” Uh, hello to you, too.
“I try to be on time!” I reply cheerfully.
“I need someone to be punctual if I’m with them. I don’t want to waste my time,” he explains. “Some people think I’m an asshole, but that’s just how I am. I’m an asshole.”
Whoa there, Nelly. Despite my best efforts to steer the conversation somewhere positive by asking what he does for fun, it doesn’t really turn out.
“I sleep,” he says plainly. “I’m like a bear. I want to hibernate and get away from the world, but you shouldn’t wake me.” I let that sleeping bear lie until our three minutes are up.
I meet a chef-turned-real estate agent with a penchant for traveling around the world…and collecting Star Wars toys. He says he dedicated a whole room in his house to playthings from a galaxy far, far away, and he’s even got a life-size Chewbacca.
A bloody vampire swoops in and we wax poetic about the new rom-com show A to Z, and I wonder if it’s difficult to talk with those super-long fangs. A future astronomer tells me about the stars and expanding human perception. I watch a guy solve a Rubik’s Cube in 50 seconds. Someone says I look like a businesswoman. One guy has just seen Adam West, and I recount one of the few old-school Batman episodes I’ve seen. To my delight, he knows exactly which episode I’m talking about.
Despite some great conversations I’ve had with a bunch of the people in the room, I watch half a dozen guys draw a big circle around my name before I even get a chance to say hi. It is one of these men, focused solely on my appearance, who asks, “Can I get a Pikachu?” (a nerdy, sometimes-creepy play on “peek at you”). I smile blankly and change the subject. Three minutes doesn’t always feel like ample time to get to know someone…but at times, it can seem much too long.
When the event wraps up in a little under an hour, I emerge from the Javits basement and into the sunlight having made some meaningful connections with people I never would have met otherwise.
Speed dating isn’t for everyone, but at Comic Con, it’s kind of like real-life Tinder for nerds. Folks at the Con are already wearing their hearts on their sleeve whether they’re in costume or not, and they’re all there for the same reason: They’re passionate about their fandom. Why not bring ’em together and see who falls for some Star-Lord cosplay or a Harry Potter joke? Just because you like sci-fi doesn’t mean it has to take light-years to find love…sometimes it’s just three minutes away.
Follow Tatiana Craine at @tatianacraine