Julia Borcherts is cofounder of Nerds at Heart.
One day in 2006, my friend Bathsheba and I were talking about some friends whose speed-dating experiences had left them feeling a little smarmy about having to “sell” themselves as a prospect during three-minute interviews with strangers. These friends were what most people would consider good catches: intelligent, funny and maybe a little geeky, but in a good way—comic book enthusiasts or help-desk hotties or documentary buffs.
“Why,” Bathsheba asked, “isn’t there something for nerds, a low-pressure night where you can just hang out over board games?”
Why not, indeed? Self-proclaimed nerds like Barack Obama and Tina Fey were removing the stigma; it was no longer a mark of shame to admit that your IQ was higher than your weight or that you’d played saxophone instead of point guard in high school.
“We could call ourselves Nerds at Heart and throw a party called Dating for Nerds,” she said. I’d had event-planning experience as a Reading Under the Influence cohost, so I started devising activities to ratchet down the “nerves” and “potential rejection” quotients. We chose Guthries Tavern in Lakeview because they had an amazing wall of board games and an enclosed back porch that they were willing to loan us for the night.
Games would be the catalyst for conversation. But because nerds are often shy, we added an icebreaker quiz with questions like “Have you ever redesigned a household appliance?” and “Have you ever interrupted a cuddle session to go look something up?”
We knew that not everyone would shine at Apples to Apples or Taboo, so we offered chances to show off by interspersing the board games with trivia contests for prizes.
I went to work buying said prizes at Uncle Fun and came away with X-ray specs, Darth Vader Pez dispensers, and librarian action figures. A business in New Mexico stumbled across our website and donated a box of pocket protectors. Meanwhile, Bathsheba designed a flyer for our grassroots marketing campaign. We asked her younger (and hipper) sister for recommendations on nerd-friendly businesses to leave them. “Oh, honey,” she said, “just go everywhere you would go.”
So we went to bookstores and comics shops, coffeehouses and music co-ops. We stood outside el stops in the rain, handing flyers to people who burst out laughing when they saw we were promoting “Dating for Nerds.”
It was hot as hell that first night in July. As we arranged the tables into groupings of eight, laid out board games and set up our shrine of geeky prizes, we wondered, “Will anyone actually show up?”
They did—a group of 30 that included techies, a comic book artist, a sexy female art historian, a good-looking guy who pretended he’d wandered in off the street, a couple who’d broken up and agreed to be each other’s wingman, and—you guessed it—a guy whose mom registered him to get him out of her basement. He brought his own board game.
There were struggles to curb competitive natures in front of potential love interests. And there were so many challenges to trivia answers—hey, these people are experts on plotlines from Doctor Who and the history of calculus—that we had to start prefacing our questions with disclaimers like “According to Encyclopedia Britannica . . . ” But there was a complete absence of cliquishness, bromances sprang up between dudes who shared common interests, and many who didn’t meet a match came back the next month just because they’d enjoyed themselves.
From there, we added Queer Nerds, Eco/Green Nerds, and Twin Cities Nerds. I stepped down in 2010 but Bathsheba’s since expanded into Milwaukee and, later this year, Indianapolis and San Francisco. We’ve been responsible for six hetero and two lesbian weddings, including one where the cake was decorated with the inscription, “A Game of Apples to Apples Led to the Perfect Pear.” And last summer, we received our first Nerd Baby notice in an e-mail with the subject line, “When a Mommy nerd and a Daddy nerd love each other very much . . .”