May 22nd, 2004

Gripe session.

So I bought two tickets for the Friday 9:45 showing of Mr. Sinus Theatre, a local comedy troupe that gives the MST3K treatment to movies, live. This month they're doing "The Karate Kid" again, with new jokes. They usually sell out well in advance, so it's a good idea to buy tickets from their website a few days ahead of time. This time, I bought a second ticket on the theory that it would give me an excuse to find a date to drag with me.

Why do I keep doing this to myself? I'm not good at this.

You'd think it wouldn't be a problem. I'm not nervous around famous people, rich people, powerful people, smart people... I happily hold my own in crowds you'd _think_ would be intimidating. I just freeze up around women I'm at all attracted to.

I personally recruited the guest slates for Penguicon 1 (Terry Pratchett, Eric Raymond, Pete Abrams, Illiad, and CmdrTaco) and Penguicon 2. (In fact Neil Gaiman came to our event instead of going to the Nebula awards, even though he won; for Penguicon that was an outright coup), and now I'm doing Linucon. If getting dates was as easy as convincing celebrities to take time out of their busy schedules to come hundreds or even thousands of miles to entertain a crowd of strangers for free, I'd have no trouble getting dozens of 'em. But it isn't.

Back when I wrote for The Motley Fool, I addressed the board of directors of Coca-Cola at one of their annual meetings (talking directly to the CEO), had an Intel vice president track _me_ down so I could interview him, etc. I'm told my column was read by something like 15 million people by the time it had stopped being fun to do. If getting dates was as easy as getting the attention of a million people, you'd think I'd have no problem getting a dozen. (Heck, things I've done off-hand in the Linux world have been translated into (off the top of my head): german, japanese, korean, italian, spanish, portugese, chinese... And more I can't remember. Always fun to have to use babelfish to see what people are saying about you. If it was as easy to get a date as to do something people are willing to translate into another language...)

And of course the Fool gig was another case of developing a personal relationship with famous people (David and Tom Gardner, founders of TMF) that just sort of evolved into doing stuff for them, somewhere between volunteering and being asked to do it. That's why I wound up editing Eric Raymond's most recent book "The Art of Unix Programming". Because he's a friend of mine, and he thought I could help.

I'm smart. I know this empirically, I made it into Mensa. I'm one of the best computer programmers I've ever met (not _the_ best, but easily in the top 1/10th of 1%). And I'm good at a large number of things besides programming. My investment columns made the "interesting people" list, got reprinted on mp3.com back when that meant something... I remember one series got favorably reviewed by an australian lady for a german magazine (google for "landley commando", I believe the firstmonday article is the first hit). I've taught at the college level, I've dabbled in real estate and been a landlord. I study intellectual property law as a hobby. I knit chain mail. I've been known to walk a 20 miles round trip, for fun, three times in the same week (although these days I'm more likely to bike, so I go farther). I own my own home. I can cook. I have a sense of humor, to the point that more than one person has spontaneously told me I should do stand up comedy. (More than three that I can think of off the top of my head, actually.) I have literally spent more than five years of my life (admittedly not consecutive) being paid to send various people email. (For three of those years I didn't bother to have a day job. For another couple of years I held down three simultaneous paying jobs.)

But I _am_ nervous around women I'm attracted to. I freeze up. I can hardly talk to them at all, and what I do manage to say is so bland and unoffensive I might as well not bother to say anything. If they were just billionaires, or nobel laureates, or commanded a fleet of assasins or something, that would be fine. No problem. But attractive, female, and unmarried, nope. It just doesn't work, somehow.

It's like foriegn languages. I could do everything else, just not that. In college I could do any other academic subject I tried. At various points I was either majoring or minoring in psychology, chemistry, physics, history, biology... I wound up getting a computer science degree for the easy A's, fluffed my biology minor out into a second major ("General Science") with chemistry, physics, and geology courses, and then got two more minors (math and english) my last semester there. Some of it was hard (organic chemistry comes to mind), but I could do it if I put in the work. But I failed German in high school, got a D in french in college (and I _worked_ for that D), and only made it through the foriegn language requirement with two back to back summer semesters of spanish where the average grade was so bad due to the compressed schedule (the whole semester was four weeks) that 50% translated to a B+. It's some kind of mental block, apparently.

And thus, any woman who I'm actually attracted to, who is even potentially attracted to me (however remote the possibility), doesn't receive a social interaction from me, but merely an attempt to avoid some nameless disaster. I freeze up waiting for the hammer to fall and for things to fall apart. Trying not to screw up is not a recipe for success. I know this. I get mad at myself for doing it. It's a self fulfilling prophecy, the kind of belief that wraps the world around itself and makes things turn out that way despite all obstacles. Ordinarily I wield these suckers, but this one I'm on the receiving end of it seems.

Strangely, I know a number of cute, intelligent, single women. They're in places like Colorado, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. One of the ones I'm thinking of is a nude model. But I guess there's no point in being nervous if they live 1000 miles away, there's nothing to screw up. I visit for brief periods of time when I'm in town, and I can phone them up any time I like. I can't, however, invite them out to a movie to use the extra ticket I bought. These are not relationships likely to go anywhere, so there's not much at risk.

The fact I live in Austin, a city that has 106 men for every 100 women (more like 117 in my age range in Travis county) doesn't help. The down side of living in "silicon hills", 95% of computer programmers are male, and Austin companies spent a lot of relocation budget in the 90's. If every single woman were to pair off, there would be something like 35,000 single men left over. Still, I wouldn't be much better off in a place like New
York City, where the women outnumber the men
. But still, Austin's computer skewed gender ratio is an encouraging finishing touch, isn't it?

It's strange. Phsyically I'm told I'm quite good looking. Both my siblings are good looking (My brother's had dozens of girlfriends, and used to model in high school. My sister could have been a fashion model, but wasn't interested. The homosexual men who hit on my every six months (like clockwork) certainly seem to find me attractive. (They're always very nice about being let down. If I _was_ gay I'd have an easy time finding dates. But I'm not.) The thing is, men come up to me and announce their interest clearly and unambiguously. Women seldom if ever do this.

Speaking of which, ordinarily if all else failed I'd just start phoning lesbians. I get along with lesbians great; again there's nothing to be nervous about. (I only freeze up if there's something to lose.) And they're fun to hang out with; it's like dating but without the stress, the looming inevitability of failure, and the feeling that I'm disappointing the other person by missing mysterious unfathomable signals and not doing the whole dating thing right. (Theoretically, we could even go out and girl watch, although in practice it hasn't happened. Usually we just play cards or go for dinner or something.) But the most recent time I switched cell phones I didn't program in more than a dozen of my old phone numbers, and on short notice I could only find the contact info for two. One of whom had moved, the other didn't answer her phone...

I remember a couple years ago I went to a strip club (driving through north carolina, I was bored and tired of driving, it beat stopping at a McDonalds). I wound up talking with one of the dancers about her kids, providing computer advice, etc. If it wasn't against company policy she would have given me her phone number (she said she might anyway if I was still there when she got off shift, but that was several hours away and I had to drive on). Why did I get along with her so well? Because I wasn't hitting on her, didn't expect any kind of relationship with her, etc. I go from zero to platonic in seconds flat in the right circumstances. I doubt it would work the same way anywhere near I live. There would be the possiblity of actually seeing her again, thus there would be something to lose. (Yes, I know exactly how stupid this is, but I can't help it. I also have a phobia about hypodermic needles, which is about as rational...)

I also have an active dating service. (Well, more than one, some of the earlier ones had "lifetime memberships", but only one I still try to contact.) I won't go into how useless it is. They're not exactly set up for "find me somebody to go to the movies with this evening". It confuses them. I did confirm that they couldn't in this instance, though, just to go through the motions of trying to find a date to use the ticket. (As I said, this isn't my first dating service. Depending on how you want to count it's something like my eighth. This one's much better than the one that introduced me to the woman who's single because she believes that federal agents sneak into her room at night and drill holes in her skull. Or the one that matched me up with a woman who was single because over the twelve months after the service introduced us she traveled so much she was actually in town for a grand total of two weeks. And it's better than the one that made a point of letting me know it would have a much easier time matching me up if I spoke spanish. And it's better than the one that matched me up with a girl who weighed over 300 pounds and literally looked like a female version of the costume Weird Al wore in his "fat" video, only in a different outfit. With significnatly more men than women in this town, single women around here tend to be single either because they choose to be or because they have a reason to be. Doesn't leave much for the dating services to work with, really. Still, this one's seriously trying. It's apparently trying to cater to the "really picky" subsection of the choose-to-be single female crowd...)

I dunno. There's some kind of subliminal dating signal thing that I'm simply blind to. Always have been. I've had friends and relatives tell me (afterthe fact) that some woman or other was hitting on me or trying very hard to flirt with me at some event I just left, and I never see it. It's frustrating, really. (I had a custom t-shirt made once that said "single male, good condition, hardly used, make an offer". I got a ton of compliments on it. It didn't actually work, though.)

On the bright side, the Drafthouse was nice enough to trade my unused extra ticket for two matinee rate movie passes. So I get to go through the whole thing again next week. The fun never ends...

Rob