The Most Difficult Opponent

Recently I attended a friend’s birthday party, and encountered a most unusual social barrier. Now my friend is a geek through and through, loves to program, loves board games, science fiction, and has many other interests (though none of them are anime). He’s a good friend that I’ve known for many years and I was all too glad to attend his party (even if I’ve missed out on many of them in previous years).

Being the nerd-geek that he is, his primary form of entertainment at his party was games. Board games, card games, everything from old classics to new hotness with ramps and trick shots. As most of our friends over the years have been geeks also, and we knew him well, we understood that this was pretty much how he’d want a party to be and we accepted wholeheartedly.

The “problem,” though I hesitate to call it that, was that he invited a couple of girls to the party who were not exactly into this sort of geekery. Now the two of them didn’t seem terribly interested in games, and so my friend asked them what they usually do. “We talk,” was the response.

Conversation! We know how to do those! And while we might not have anything in common, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk, right? After all, my birthday friend for example may not like anime nearly as much as I do, and my knowledge of computer science is limited, but we can still talk about our respective interests to each other and enjoy hearing what the other has to say.

And so the first question asked was, “What are your interests?”

The response? “Nothing, really.”

At this point conversation almost died entirely. It managed to recover somewhat eventually, but right after their reply the questions that followed from us were things like “do you have any hobbies?” or “do you have any favorite books?” Our natural geekish tendency to relate to others who might not necessarily have much in common with us by seeing what they were passionate about backfired as the evidence presented to us all but implied that the two of them had no passion. An odd feeling came over me, where I said to myself, “That can’t be, right? People are usually into something, even if they don’t have the time or the resources to pursue it actively.” Even if a guy only watches sports casually, you can still find out what he likes about it and why. But when asking these two after they said they “kind of like sports” about what it is they enjoy about sports, again the answers fell flat.

Another problem that I could see in hindsight is that between us geeks and the non-geeks, we had two very different ideas about what a “conversation” is. Both are predicated on the idea the conversation is “natural,” but with geeks in general I feel like conversation is rooted in our mutual curiosity. We want to find out about subjects. In this case, the subject was these two girls. But for them, conversation meant something much less intense and less active. They still wanted to learn, but not as much as we had come to expect of “conversation.” It was as if for them, conversation was more about “feeling it out” than it was an opportunity to know more.

All of this made me think about the various conversations I have with my fellow anime fans on the internet. There are times when we may disagree vehemently on the very nature of anime and what dictates a “good” or a “bad” show, but we all know that on the other side is someone who has a passion to which they devote their attention. But here, it was like there was nothing in their words that we could take a hold of in order to carry the conversation.

It felt like the most difficult person for a geek to interact with is not “girls,” as the stereotype might say, but simply people who lack interests.

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14 thoughts on “The Most Difficult Opponent

  1. This is 100% true. I don’t think it is that we (geeks/nerds/otaku) are scared of girls, it is just that the tendency for girls to have the conversation type you perfectly describe is very low. If they show no interest in the conversation then it is near impossible to have one.

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  2. And I know exactly what you mean. In my later high school years, I tried to talk to a few people who I quickly realized had absolutely nothing that I considered the fabric of even being human. There was this one girl who was very nice and very smart, the type who made straight A’s and had a great personality, but thanks to her rather mediocre looks she mostly hung out with geeks. This girl was fun to talk to but she seemed to have no interests whatsoever. I tried to pry into her weak interest in music, movies, anime (she was in my Japanese class after all but not interested in anime regardless), but she had no real care for them. I asked her ‘what the fuck do you do at home?’ and she told me she watched TV, studied, and that was about it. I found this horrible. I often teased her about it, calling her ‘fucking boring’ and such (I was always a rude guy) but it didn’t bother her at all. This always seemed as much as scary to me.

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  3. Haha, so many people like this though. In many cases, it’s not that they don’t have interests (although they might be minuscule), it’s that they don’t care to reflect and resonate in them, their passion is “doing” anything, being active, just living but not thinking about what that implies.

    For instance, my mom. If I asked her what she is interested in, I don’t think I’d get a response, but if I spend a day/week with her, I realize that she is into just being/existing/living (the moments of existence). It is a very light method of living, with so few attachments, but I tend to believe many people are naturally this way until they find something to “attach” (縋ること,多分).

    An interesting experiment would to have been to go on a walk with those girls, because more than likely, they would have enjoyed such a simple thing. Conversation isn’t always needed. ^^

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  4. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be an “interest”. I really just want to learn about well, anything when I have a conversation. This might be why I phrase a lot of my statements in conversations as questions.

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  5. Shyness is also a factor, regardless of how geeky or non-geeky you are. But it seems like it was a faux-pas on their part, more than any kind of miscommunication. Coming to a birthday party and being unenthusiastic about what makes the birthday person happy, what the birthday person clearly wants to do… well, that’s a little gauche.

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  6. My own Father and Sister are like this! Now, my dad is an Industrial Engineer, so he can usually talk about work-type stuff… But he has no hobbies.

    My sister not only has no hobbies, but isn’t even interested in her chosen career! Nothing!

    How can people live like that? When I was a kid, I only had 1 hobby: Computers.

    Now that I’m an adult and control the finances, I have like 10 hobbies, all of which are feeling neglected at all times! I constantly switch between them, and I’m hyped about all of them, all the time.

    If someone asks me, “What do you like?” I am never without an answer.

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  7. Brett: It’s not girls exclusively, it’s most people. It’s not that they don’t have interests, it’s that they either have very conventional interests, or they just don’t relate to them the way you do. Figure out what the lines are (class, race, gender, age, whatever), and you have a start on figuring out how to talk to them.

    Some people are genuinely boring, but other people are just interesting in very different ways. And some people are just turned off by the idea that you approach what is for them an unconscious process as a conscious one.

    In my experience, geeks tend to be very insular about who they associate with and what they find interesting, and that fucks us up for figuring out what’s interesting about people outside our subcultures.

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  8. Surely if they were invited to your friend’s party, they did have at least one common interest with you (i.e. your friend). I’d use that as a conversation opener.

    Also one of the absolute best things you can do is simply take a statement that they make, and turn it around into a leading question. So like, you ask what they were up to today, they say “homework” and you’re like “you were doing your homework?”. Fairly simple trick, but it makes it seem like you’re a really good listener, lets them do a lot of the talking, and you’ll find out things about them which you can use to further the conversation. It also works particularly well if you’re not someone who likes to fill up all the available time with idle chatter, because you’re essentially letting the other person do a lot of the talking.

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  9. When talking with strangers, if they don’t ask back anything, or only have a few words like “yes” or “no”, there’s a possibility they don’t want to converse with you at all. It’s not that they have no hobbies or interests, but maybe (due to some factors) they don’t want you to know.

    Factors could be them just having a bad day, shyness, negative first impressions of you (sorry but it happens to all of us once in a while), or they are pre-occupied with something else, any of which would result with them uninterested or unable to converse.

    But if this is not the case, and you see (somehow) that those girls really made an effort to talk with you despite them only having a few words to say, maybe they really have no passion at all, which is quite odd.

    (pardon the overanalysis, I’m introverted and generally paranoid about social stuff)

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  10. Perhaphs the way geeks think of a conversation is an intellectual exchange of sorts, whereas for many other people, it’s a way of connecting emotionally with each other, with little regards to what is actually being talked about?

    I guess the extreme example of that is old ladies chatting about things all of them know from the beginning, just for the pleasure of loudly agreeing with each other (ne~). For a geek, that’s boring as hell, and yet the obasans seem to enjoy it greatly.

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    • And geeks repeat the same conversation about things that happened in a certain movie multiple times over because it was awesome. Is it boring?

      As for the author’s experience, you were either bad conversation starters/followers or the girls weren’t that interested or your friend didn’t procure enough alchohol. It’s not like non-geeks don’t have things to do in life other than work, partying, having sex, and making families, but they find them in or stemming from these things. You guys just didn’t look there.

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  11. I have this problem sometimes when I’m with people who are not anime fans or fellow “geeks.” I think I have this problem more with other girls than guys, since I’m a girl and when I talk to other girls my age, they assume we’re more or less into the same “girl” things (American pop culture TV shows and music, dating, fashion/make-up, etc). Since I have no interest in these things but instead I have a passion for something that they usually don’t know anything about (anime), conversation can be awkward.

    I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone who said they had nothing they were interested in. Though most people I talk to don’t seem nearly as “into” their interests as I am into anime (perhaps being that obsessed with anything is the main defining attribute of a geek?) But I know some people who aren’t passionate about anything simply because they don’t have the time, money, or lifestyle, i.e., always busy with family matters, can’t afford to pursue hobbies, etc,.

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  12. The solution is quite easy. You need speak of several generic things, but don’t be too deep. And then speak about her. Her problems, what she like, the yesterday show, and don’t stay too much time in the same subject. After about 15 minutes say goodbye in a polite way and don’t ever talk with her (even if she think you are a great guy). If you have more than 18 years, just drink alcohol and nobody will care what you are talking about.

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