How to deal with a brand-new geek boyfriend?
September 24, 2006 5:44 PM   Subscribe

My new lover is one of those lovely geeks. He’s never had a girlfriend. He has no frame of reference for the odd sexual awkwardness, the occasional times of coolness, the unapologetic want to be alone. I’ve had lovers and know this can be worked through, but he doesn’t. Do any former geeks have advice?

So my lover of four months is the kind of geek you read about (and while checking previous askme queries I found this here). He’s in his mid-thirties and was sexually inexperienced until recently; I’m a few years older and have been in long-term relationships. For several months we’ve gotten along beautifully, except for one rather big thing: he is not used to talking.

Some of the posters here must have made the transition from being a loner to being a partner. Do you have any wisdom for him?
posted by goofyfoot to Human Relations (40 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I think that a lot of explicit, "I love/like you a lot, this is normal, I just need X for Y reason," will get you far. He hasn't learned from experience what's normal or abnormal, so he'll need you to tell him.

Also, if his skin is thick enough, maybe showing him this thread with a lot of fellow geeks saying how they got through it might be helpful.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:53 PM on September 24, 2006

Some people know how to talk and just don't like to do it; I have a (non-geek, he's a lawyer) friend who hates social small talk, and has dumped girlfriends who talked "too much". (He eventually married one who knows when he needs his quiet time; she's by no means submissive, and they can and do argue. She just doesn't natter on.)

He and I get along because I can talk but also know when not to.

Again, it's not that he's silent, he just doesn't "do" non-essential talk. Many a time he and I have eaten dinner together; we both get out a copy of the paper, and read. Then we discuss what we read. When we're done, we stop talking, and have drinks, or go home. There's no sense that we have to find something to talk about to enjoy each other's company. If we're being silent and one of us has something substantial to say, we talk. Otherwise, we don't. And if I think he's nattering, I have no problem telling him that, and he shuts up.

It's actually kind of cool when I phone him: we'll talk, and when I'm tired of talking with him, I'll just say 'anything else?" and he'll say 'no', and I'll say 'Ok, talk to you later'. No muss, no fuss.
posted by orthogonality at 5:58 PM on September 24, 2006 [5 favorites]

You might want to expand this question to include: Does anyone have any wisdom for YOU!

He may not change, he may not want to change, he may not be able to change. Be prepared that that possibility as well. If that is the case, the change might have to happen on your end in order to make this work.

Whichever way it needs to go (or not go) I wish you both the best as you explore new ways of interacting with other people.
posted by HuronBob at 6:07 PM on September 24, 2006

Ask a lot of questions. Geeks often have bigger things on their minds, and are shocked to hear that someone cares about the details of their comparatively boring life.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:16 PM on September 24, 2006

You have to be careful to balance between being helpful and being condescending. Saying something like 'When I say I want to be alone, it's not a rejection of you, and you should just take it at face value,' is fine. Saying something like 'This is the way normal people behave,' is mean, and suggests a sort of teacher/student dynamic that he may not be willing to put up with (or that he may dejectedly endure because he doesn't want you to leave him). So try not to think of this as being about you teaching him how normal people do things. This is about letting him know how YOU are and what YOU like, just like you would to any other's just that, due to his lack of experience, he may need those things spelled out a little bit more than some other guys his age. But remind yourself that there are plenty of experienced adults in relationships who still don't know how to deal with sexual awkwardness or the other person wanting to be alone, so this is about you and him building your relationship together, not you bringing him up to speed with the rest of us.
posted by bingo at 6:42 PM on September 24, 2006 [2 favorites]

I'm a geek. I've managed to find a mate whom I love dearly (a human female, no less). She talks too much. Come to think of it, just about every woman I've ever dated talks too much. Tell your geek that women talk too much, and that he's just going to have to get over it if he'd like to continue getting laid.

I've definitely found that geeks almost never enjoy smalltalk. A conversational topic of real substance is one thing, talking just for the sake of filling the air with pressure waves seems silly to most of us.
posted by Netzapper at 6:44 PM on September 24, 2006 [4 favorites]

You might want to stress that when you need space, that's you, not anything to with him. You have probably discussed previous boyfriends with him. Something like, "Yeah, Mike never really 'got' that sometimes I need my quilting time." With that first big relationship, everything feels so personal.
posted by adipocere at 6:47 PM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

He has no frame of reference for the odd sexual awkwardness, the occasional times of coolness, the unapologetic want to be alone.

I have the feeling that what you're really asking is where he can get a refill on his telepathy pills.

Make sure you're communicating in plain English, and not giving off a dipshit, passive-aggressive vibe inasmuch that if he just doesn't get you, it's his fault. 'Cuz it might be yours.
posted by frogan at 6:49 PM on September 24, 2006

Response by poster: Netzapper: my man smalltalks. That's all he does. This is a problem.
posted by goofyfoot at 6:54 PM on September 24, 2006

Lots and lots of talking. It sounds like he's mostly been a loner, which isn't a bad thing; however, it does mean that he's used to looking out for his own needs and desires, not those of others. The goal shouldn't be to totally transform him, but to make both of you balanced partners in the relationship.

I've found that a good way to deal with this is to lead by example. Be sure that you're always engaging him in your conversations; always return the ball to his court in discussions, and gently try to keep things moving if he drops it. (Oh, basketball metaphors.)

The #1 thing, as I said above, is to keep the lines of communication open. If he inadvertently hurts your feelings or isn't picking up on your emotional cues, tell him! You don't have to be rude or accusatory, just plainly tell him what you're feeling. As a bonus, if you already know what sort of response is the best to help you work through that feeling or emotion, share that with him as well. I have a tendency to fall into passive-aggression when I'm feeling down on myself, and a past boyfriend had no idea how to deal with this and would try to figure out logical solutions; after a while, I had to outright tell him that logic just makes me more passive-aggressive, and all I needed was a few minutes of brainless compliments to get back in the swing of things. From your first paragraph, it sounds like your guy is another logical geek; if you can do your best to convert emotions into logical packages, it will probably help the both of you.

It can definitely work, you just both have to be willing to work at it. Good luck, and have fun!
posted by sarahsynonymous at 6:56 PM on September 24, 2006 [2 favorites]

my man smalltalks. That's all he does.

Either get used to it, while trying to get him to talk about more weighter topics, or leave him. Not trying to humorous, but either you can stand small talk or you can't. Either you DO smalltalk or you don't. If one doesn't and the other does, those are grounds for ending a relationship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:57 PM on September 24, 2006

You say that it's going very well except that he doesn't want to talk about non-small-talk things. If it's going well, why do you need to talk about the relationship? If it's merely for validation then that is, at its core, an irrational need, and as such, as a geek, he's not going to 'get' that need.

So it will be especially difficult -- and perhaps even traumatic -- for him to have these irrational discussions at the spur-of-the-moment. As you say, he has no frame of reference to draw upon. A compromise might be for you to bring up the subject ahead of time; when you talk to him on the phone, tell him that you want to talk about whatever given subject you feel you need to talk about, but at a later date; tell him when and where, and don't draw it out for more than a few days. Impress upon him that this is not a discussion that he needs to worry about as a Bad Thing, but that you want to give him time to mull over the subject and you don't him to feel like he's having the subject sprung on him.

After a while, he will become more comfortable, but you're probably never going to have a satisfying, extemporaneous, post-coital "let's talk about us" discussion with him.

I identify with the geek you are describing. I dumped my last girlfriend partly because she kept ambushing me with Weighty Issues talks despite my repeated warnings that I didn't like to get ambushed.
posted by solid-one-love at 7:44 PM on September 24, 2006 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Jesus. We don't want to dump each other!
posted by goofyfoot at 7:57 PM on September 24, 2006

goofyfoot writes "Netzapper: my man smalltalks. That's all he does. This is a problem."

This may be a learned trick. I can and do smalltalk, grin at people, feel their pain, chat about the weather, ask about their kids/pets/hobbies, talk about popular music, sports, and other useless and pointless knowledge etc., if I'm in a situation where that's expected. If that's all I'm talking about, it means I figure you won't understand or will be bored by, what I really want to talk about, and that inside, I'm screaming in boredom.
posted by orthogonality at 8:08 PM on September 24, 2006

Nobody has suggested that you do, goofyfoot.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:08 PM on September 24, 2006

Response by poster: So, which of you were the geeks that emerged from your rooms and learned how to become partners? The ones I asked to post? My lover knows my concerns, and will see the answers to this question.
posted by goofyfoot at 8:15 PM on September 24, 2006

goofyfoot, "ITS ALL OVER GET OUT NOW" seems to be an inevitable response to Ask MeFi threads about relationships. Don't sweat it. :)

I was the "geek" in my last relationship, and although neither of us took any obvious proactive steps to fix the small talk/no small talk divide, it seemed that after a few months we just met in the middle. If she started after me with too many irrelevant (to my mind) questions, I started subconsciously giving shorter answers, and the conversation just drifted away.

I think it's good that you want to improve things -- if you're at the point where you can say what you've said in this question to your boyfriend's face, do it. Openness in communication is underrated.
posted by danb at 8:17 PM on September 24, 2006

How old is this person? And why are you all misusing the word "geek"? What you mean is NERD, dammit.
posted by davy at 9:36 PM on September 24, 2006

I think a lot of you all aren't reading this correctly. When goofyfoot said that her geeky boyfriend doesn't talk, she means that he doesn't talk about his feelings and deeper relationship issues. She wants him to open up so that she can be part of his inner life, not just the physical. Small talk isn't the problem.

I don't have any advice beyond the more you push him on sharing his feelings with you, the more he's going to pull away. Don't smother him. Try to draw him out gently and gradually, and don't get angry and frustrated when he doesn't immediately respond in the way you want.
posted by MegoSteve at 9:40 PM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I used nerd in the tags. He uses geek. And he's in his mid-thirties.
posted by goofyfoot at 9:42 PM on September 24, 2006

At least no one has piled into this thread with Asperger's Syndrome links :-) I'm not going to either. But I have been back and forth on the loner role, several times.

By myself, I'm pretty calm, and live a simple patterned life. I like to live in a neat place, and I'm a creature of comfortable habit. I don't mind not talking at all for days, and I can be irritated by the phone ringing, if the caller ID displays a call from someone I have to take.

You say "... he is not used to talking." And later you further say "my man smalltalks. That's all he does. This is a problem." But actually, the issue may be more fundemental, in that he has little to say, or he doesn't want to say it to you. Surprisingly, there are people who don't have strongly formed opinions about every topic under the sun, and don't feel obligated to develop them. They can have deep, impressive interests and knowledge in some areas, but they're not afraid of silence. My suggestion: work less on him to talk, and more on yourself to be silent with him. Go for walks together and say nothing for blocks. Go for coffee, and just drink coffee. When he has something profound to say, it would be better if he didn't have to break into your stream of conciousness unduly. It could be awhile; be patient.

Sex takes practice. If your guy isn't experienced, he may never have got much practice previously, and by his mid-30's, just resigned himself to not much sex. If he suddenly thinks he can have a lot of sex, and seems to want it more than you do, he's likely to have a hard time dealing with the confusing rush of conflicts your differing libidos create. He can show leadership and problem solving skills by finding people he can discuss this with, and who can try to give him personalized suggestions to avoiding building dysfunctional patterns into your daily lives, that are carried over from, or that carry over to, bed. There's a badly titled British TV show called The Sex Inspectors, that uses in-home video of real couples to demonstrate how small intimacy problems occur, and can sometimes be simply solved, once you understand them. Worth checking out.
posted by paulsc at 10:05 PM on September 24, 2006

I wish I could respond to this anonymously and may regret posting this.
I am only posting this because I myself have a difficult time discussing emotions or ‘the state of the relationship’ (even with friends) and maybe this perspective will help (or not). I will also admit that if things became too intense (ie., a relationship talk every time I got into the car), I usually had to get out of that situation (and ended it).

Anyway, to make things easier for me, it would have been nice if the former partners that did the above did some combo of the following:
-If there was truly a need to discuss the relationship, lots of emotions, etc., what about having part or a lot of that same conversation devoted to (insert other topic – book review, science, the news, something else)/or minimize the # of times with such conversations.
-If you truly want to discuss emotions, then volunteer how you feel. Don’t apply pressure to get a response. Talk about it, drop it, perhaps bring it up later. Give the person time to process the information.
-Even if the other person is not verbalizing how they feel, there are clues. Make observations, state why you are concluding such and such, see the response (that way the other person can just confirm or state it another way).
posted by Wolfster at 10:55 PM on September 24, 2006

Response by poster: May I say that I have no interest in discussing our relationship? We're only a few months into it - there's little to discuss.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:20 PM on September 24, 2006

I'm a geek/nerd, but found myself surrounded with girl_friends throughout highschool and college, I think it has to do with the fact that I wasn't into sports and hunting.

Anyways, being around girls has helped me understand that (and I know, I'm stereotyping, but that's what geeks tend to do, we categorize things, lump them together) girls need to be asked about what's going on. It's not simply enough to listen when a girl says something, but if you are the proactive one and do the asking, the girl will be grateful. I never learned to "share my feelings", I learned that if I bite the bullet and ask before the girl gets innundated with emotions, she's happy and will be happy with not knowing what's on your mind.

You have to feign interest and be the aggressive one, so the girl can feel satisfied that you are interested in her.

Now, this doesn't mean that your geek isn't interested in you, this means that your geek is probably just fine with observing your behaviors and analyzing them. But it's amazing how far a little song and dance will go.

()and I might as well go on the record as saying "This is not recommended for a long-term, honest, mutually-fullfilling relationship"... ()
posted by hatsix at 11:28 PM on September 24, 2006


Have you considered that maybe the problem is you? Your question is very confusing: First you say he doesn't talk. Then you say all does is smalltalk. Then you say there's little to discuss about your relationship.

So, really, what are you looking for exactly? You want him to talk about SOMETHING, more often, but what exactly?

WHATEVER it is, I suggest he attempt the make the kind of talk you're looking for a few minutes everyday. Give it to him maybe, as a problem to solve. He can research movies and books to see/learn how people talk and then mimic those movements.

But really, if this is an example of how YOU talk, he might be horribly confused as to what you're talking about, making it harder for him to respond.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:26 AM on September 25, 2006

I'm getting that goofyfoot wants him to share himself, his deeper feelings, his likes, dislikes, etc. with her. Opinions, ideas. You know, the things that closeness is based on.

If I'm right, I get exactly where goofyfoot is coming from, as I'm in a similar situation, though my nerd/geek doesn't small-talk. But through a long time of communicating these issues and willingness on both our parts to do the work, he's getting it and I'm very happy with the direction things are going.

My advice to goofyfoot is, give it time. Just be willing to work on it relaxedly, and not to pressure or point fingers.
posted by seancake at 3:29 AM on September 25, 2006

As a geek in a long-term relationship with a non-geek partner, I can say that negotiations over how I/we/he spend my/our/his time & focus never, ever ends. The only thing that's made the relationship possible is direct, honest, straightforward communication -- e.g., lots of this-is-what-I-want/need conversations. I don't think either one of us enjoys having such conversations, and, truthfully, we often put them off for longer than we should . . . but we usually do have them, eventually at least, and things inevitably get better/clearer as a result.
posted by treepour at 3:34 AM on September 25, 2006

My apologies to goofyfoot for assuming you're female, btw. I like to think I'm not so benighted, but apparently I can be.
posted by seancake at 3:41 AM on September 25, 2006

It's says in her profile that she's a....she.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:21 AM on September 25, 2006

Several hundred topics for interesting conversation, neither small talk nor state-of-the-relationship, can be found in "The Book of Questions." That the questions are posed by a neutral, outside source should keep users from wondering "Now what does he/she really mean by that?"
posted by Carol Anne at 5:07 AM on September 25, 2006

Sounds like your relationship needs structure and routine. Establish formal settings where there's a clear expectation for him to open up. Repeatedly throw him into these settings until he's been conditioned to your satisfaction. Also, get him drunk. Long, Sunday walks in the park and a bottle of wine should do the trick. While you're at it, force him to prepare dinner for you at least once a week. Give him other chores -- but not too much drudgery and of course don't nag. Eventually he'll realize that he's your lover, not your friend.
posted by nixerman at 5:43 AM on September 25, 2006

Personally speaking, one of the issues of being socially outcast for being a thinker is to retreat and spend more time in your head. It's a safe place and the voices that are there are reasonably predictable.

It is helpful to start with narrating what you're doing. You give external voice to the internal narration and suddenly those around you know what you're doing or trying to do and don't have to read your mind. Imagine that!

Sometimes it's helpful to do a my turn/your turn in a macro sense, not a small conversation. For example, plan weekend events/dates on Wednesday or Thurday and take turns taking the lead in the plans. So midweek one person comes to the table with two or three ideas, you discuss and pick one. Disucssion lets you get feedback and communication going. You help bootstrap this by modeling. For example, if he picks something you've never done before, tell him so and ask him questions about it. If you pick something that he's never done before, prompt him (lightly) for questions, etc.

And do leave room for surprises. It doesn't all have to be planned out.
posted by plinth at 7:02 AM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have noticed that there's a much higher amount of non-sequitur tolerated in geek circles than other ones. My geek husband and I will be sitting around or in the car or whatever and he'll say, "So, have you ever thought about what it would be like if, like, unicorns were pests? Or, not necessarily unicorns, but something really big, horse-sized?" And after I blink a few times, I say, "I think people would be a lot less inclined to set unicorn traps than mouse traps, or try to poison them. We'd all have a lot more electric fences. Or we'd live in trees." And then the conversation wanders around from there.

If that's the sort of talking you're talking about, just that sort of "here's what I think of the world" kind of thing, try the what-if conversation starter. We're a literal bunch, and nobody wants to commit to a unicorn removal solution without having examined all the angles.

You may find that once you've established a more larky, riffy, imagination kind of vibe and shown your willingness to accept and listen to his answers, he's happy to throw his own thoughts out there, but a lot of people with alternative social skills have been publicly crucified for thinking "weird" things or having unusual interests and have learned to tread carefully in unknown territory. Give him a safe space and see what happens.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:40 AM on September 25, 2006 [2 favorites]

I think you should go back to your question and remove all sentences which mention him being a "geek", which you seem to think is the root of the problem.

The root of the problem, from your POV, is that he doesn't talk much, or doesn't talk about the big stuff enough.

This is not a geek-specific trait. Your problem is you have a lover who doesn't talk to you like you'd like. People have this problem all the time.

If you want to get him to talk about the big stuff that you want to talk about, you're going to have to tell him.

As has been quoted here many times, guys respond to overt social cues, and not as much the subtle social ones that girls prefer to send out.

If you love this guy, you're going to have to make your needs more clear. Preferably spoken, or even written out. Leave the whole geek thing out of it and tell him, "hey, I know you might not be used to this, but as your girlfriend, I would like you to..."
posted by poppo at 8:07 AM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Your question is very confusing: First you say he doesn't talk. Then you say all does is smalltalk. Then you say there's little to discuss about your relationship.

So, really, what are you looking for exactly? You want him to talk about SOMETHING, more often, but what exactly?

What Brandon said. Please clarify.
posted by juv3nal at 10:44 AM on September 25, 2006

I previously posted a piece of advice here that seems to have been flagged and deleted, despite the fact that it answered the question succinctly. Now that we have more info from the original poster, I will restate it, a little more politely and with more detail:

Do you have any wisdom for him?

Yes. Goofy's Geek, run for the hills. Your girl can't codify what exactly it is that she wants and yet appears to put the blame for her concerns on you (vis: she asked for wisdom for you, and not for her, and not for the both of you, indicating difficulty with compromise.) She's pretty curt (at best) with people who respond to her in ways that she wasn't expecting, so I predict that you will get frustrated and hurt if you end up using a trial-and-error method to find out what it is that she wants. Little mistakes make her overreact (ask her about when her roommate locked her out of the house accidentally) and she has admitted to anger management problems in another AskMe thread.

You're in a no-win situation, my friend. If you weren't a geek (One of us! One of us!) you might be able to muddle your way through. But you should move on. Seriously.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:58 AM on September 25, 2006

What if you discussed "important" things in writing (email, IM, paper notes, etc.)?
posted by hammurderer at 8:15 PM on September 25, 2006

The less one says the less crap one has to take for it.
posted by davy at 9:53 PM on September 25, 2006

If you're serious about the relationship and this is really a deal-breaker for you, I suggest you both find a good couples therapist and go for at least a few sessions. Your health insurance might pay some amount for that. If nothing else, it really helps you to talk about things (because that's what you're there, and paying, for).
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:41 PM on September 26, 2006

Response by poster: We've read the thread. Thank you all.
posted by goofyfoot at 5:31 PM on September 26, 2006

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