Soapbox: Assorted Thoughts On That Gizmodo/OKCupid/Magic The Gathering Dating Essay

Even if you’re not a tech geek or a self-identified nerd, it’s highly possible that you’ve heard about an essay that ran on the blog Gizmodo on Monday (it’s received almost 800K hits as of this writing). In the piece, writer Alyssa Bereznak described how her first attempt at online dating resulted in her going out with a guy who, at first, seemed “normal,” until he revealed that he not only played that admittedly geeky card game Magic the Gathering, but was, in fact, the world champion. In the story, Bereznak also reveals his full name, generally a big time no-no when it comes to writing about personal experiences on the internet. (Although it becomes clear that she almost doesn’t have to give his name, as Jon Finkel — that’s his name — is a legend among the Magic community because of his “world champion” status.)

I don’t care what the hell your hobby is in life — sports, knitting, marathon running, competitive eating, playing the ukulele, whatever — being so good at something you do for fun and not letting it effect the work you do out of necessity or your personal life and relationships, is one of the more attractive qualities I could possibly imagine in another person.

Alyssa and Jon’s first date — during which, Alyssa notes, Jon takes her to see a one-man show based on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s life story — is clearly immediately spoiled by the fact that Jon’s hobby is terribly uncool in Alyssa’s eyes. She deems their time “unromantic” and you would think that would be the end of it; that Alyssa and Jon would go their separate ways in life. Instead, Alyssa describes going home to Google Jon and uncovers just how renowned he is for his Magic world title. The intent of the essay, as an italicized intro from, I assume, the editor, states, is to show that “judging people on shallow stuff is human nature, and the magic and absurdity of online dating is how immediately and directly it throws that into relief.” That “one person’s Magic is another person’s fingernail biting.” This notation — and I generally think that stories which apologize for their tone (in this case “mean”) in advance, need to be reedited — seeks to justify what is a rather cruel conclusion to Alyssa’s version of her and Jon’s brief love story; Alyssa judges the hell out of Jon for his hobby and critiques online dating in general because “no profile in the world is comprehensive enough to highlight every person’s peccadillo, or anticipate the inane biases that each of us lugs around.”

I don’t actually disagree with the latter. To Alyssa’s point, Jon could have revealed in his online dating profile that his particular peccadillo is that he’s a f**king master Magic the Gathering player. But maybe he didn’t because he knew it might turn off women like Alyssa who would maybe otherwise actually end up finding his hobby endearing once they got to know more about him. There are likely things he did include in his profile that didn’t occur to him might be a turnoff to potential admirers — a fondness for a certain band or a fear of heights — who thus never got in touch or returned his messages. If it wasn’t Magic, there could have been something else about Jon that turned Alyssa off on their first date. In that case, in all likelihood, they probably wouldn’t have seen each other again and the tale wouldn’t have been fodder for a blog post on a geek site because that particular peccadillo wasn’t an expertise at a nerdy card game. Stories like that are a dime a dozen. I’ve gone out on so many damn first dates, some of which have been fodder for blog posts — but always completely anonymously — and many of which have not because that’s an expected part of online dating and dating in general. You meet a lot of people, many of whom you don’t click with, but each one gets you closer to the person who you do click with so well that their little peccadilloes — and your dream man has them, Alyssa! — are endearing and wonderful in their own way.

So my problem isn’t that Alyssa attempts to point out a gaping flaw in online dating. My problem isn’t even that she does a weak job making her point. My problem is that, really, this piece barely makes a point by humiliating Jon, a dude who, frankly, sounds 100 times more awesome a human being than Alyssa.

See, I would under if Alyssa simply didn’t have a spark with Jon. I get, on some level, her finding his hobby to be super lame. I imagine that a passion for Magic is not high on the list of “super sexy dude hobbies” for many women. That’s okay. It would make sense that Alyssa wouldn’t want to go on a second date with Jon as she clearly had deduced the minute he revealed his hobby that they were not a match. But, folks, Alyssa did go out with Jon again. And proceeded to note the various “strikes” against him as he answered her questions about his experience with Magic.

At dinner I got straight down to it. Did he still play? “Yes.” Strike one. How often? “I’m preparing for a tournament this weekend.” Strike two. Who did he hang out with? “I’ve met all my best friends through Magic.” Strike three. I smiled and nodded and listened. Eventually I even felt a little bit bad that I didn’t know shit about the game. Here was a guy who had dedicated a good chunk of his life to mastering Magic, on a date with a girl who can barely play Solitaire. This is what happens, I thought, when you leave things out of your online profile.

Alyssa went out with Jon for a second time, not because she was actually interested in getting to know him better, but because she had googled him and found out how famous he was for his world title and, from what I can tell, wanted more info about how involved he was with this hobby. What could make for better fodder for a hilarious blog post about how she, Alyssa Bereznak, tried online dating and, OMG CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, ended up on a date with the nerdiest nerd in all of nerdtown. Like, what are the odds? LOL!

I think Alyssa expected her intended audience to laugh with her at this grave misfortune, to lament how sucky it is that an online dating profile will never really tell you — until it’s too late! — how geeky someone may be. “Warn your daughters!” she writes. “This could happen to you. ” I do not think Alyssa expected her readers to see what she couldn’t, even as she wrote it down, which was that Jon “Magic The Gathering World Champ” Finkel, actually sounds pretty awesome. That he sounds like a normal, well-dressed, relatively attractive dude with an active social life and successful career as a hedge fund manager. All while achieving and maintaining the title of world champion of a exceedingly popular card game. Jon’s existence dispels the myth that hardcore game enthusiasts must be jobless losers who sit around in their stained underpants all day playing and eating hot pockets that their mom microwaved and brought down to the basement. Jon is doing better in his professional life than a lot of people — I would venture to guess that he’s more successful than Alyssa — all while not only pursuing a hobby he’s passionate about, but dominating it.

I don’t care what the hell your hobby is in life — sports, knitting, marathon running, competitive eating, playing the ukulele, whatever — being so good at something you do for fun and not letting it effect the work you do out of necessity or your personal life and relationships, is one of the more attractive qualities I could possibly imagine in another person.

The fact that this point not only went over Alyssa’s head completely but that she expected her audience to LOL with her at Jon’s nerdiness — even while passively acknowledging that her bias was shallow — depressed me.

See, it finally clicked for me that dating can be just as soul-sucking and disheartening for men as it is for women. That encountering women like Alyssa could easily take the wind out of even the most confident man’s sails and make him distrustful that he won’t be judged so harshly by future dates. It made me think that perhaps some of the guys I’ve met through online dating, who frustrated me because they weren’t more clear about their intentions, were wary of taking the lead, and whose interest I questioned, might have had a few Alyssas in their recent dating past and damn if I don’t blame them for being guarded with me as a result.

So, Alyssa Bereznak, I’d like to thank you. You’ve opened my eyes to just how demoralizing online dating can be for women and men but not simply because “there’s no snapshot in the world that can account for our snap judgments.” No, it sucks because there are people out there (ahem, like you) who make snap judgments and actively allow them to take precedence over a person’s qualities that cannot be conveyed in the time it takes to snap your fingers (or write a poorly argued blog post). And that you think you are right to do so, that those shallow judgments come naturally, are not the least bit interested in overcoming them or even thinking more deeply about them, and that you would pen an entire essay, using someone’s full name, because you actually think people would laugh along with you and pat you on the back for your “honesty.” Sorry, chick, ain’t gonna happen.

As for Jon Finkel? Something tells me that if any other women read Alyssa’s story and felt the way I did — that he sounds like a smart, ambitious, and unique man who doesn’t apologize for his “peccadilloes” — well, I’m pretty sure there are a lot more dates, hopefully with anti-Alyssas, in his future.