Geeks take back online dating
Website aims to help those lonely Han Solos find their own Princess Leias
Joyce Dales went through 30 guys on Match.com before she found her Jedi Knight in shining armor.
"I was either too strange or they weren't strange enough," she said.
Eventually, she found and married Jeff Dales, a "recovering lawyer" from Nottingham, N.H., who was geek enough to sprinkle Star Wars references into his first flirtatious e-mails.
But the long list of rejections, from teachers and lawyers and other professionals scattered among the millions of profiles she encountered on popular dating sites, showed Dales that people like her had a problem: Online dating -- once the domain of geeks -- had gone completely mainstream.
"It's like the playground all over again. We're not the cool kids," said Joyce, 35, who last summer launched SweetOnGeeks.com, a safe haven where the socially awkward can find that special someone who shares their dream of building a Hobbit Hole or love of jousting.
The Dales cofounded Sweet on Geeks with James Crosby, Joyce's 37-year-old brother -- a self-identified history geek who said he was rejected when he tried to fill out a profile for eHarmony.com.
"I think if you get a little extreme in your answers, they deny you," said Crosby, who compares the big dating websites to walking into a nightclub with The Killers playing -- a nightmare for a guy whose idea of a good time involves vinyl records and a Renaissance Faire.
Sweet on Geeks is a place where throwing out a reference to a person's "midichlorian count" -- a way of measuring how strong the Force is in Star Wars -- wouldn't end a conversation the way it did when Joyce was seeking a mate on Match.com.
Users choose names such as "AlphaGeek," or "entropy73." For first impressions, they offer descriptions such as "
There are other geek dating websites out there, ranging from gk2gk.com to Trek Passions, but the geeks behind Sweet on Geeks hope their website, which incorporates some of the features people have come to expect on other social-networking websites and now has 4,000 users, will become a go-to spot for Trekkies, gamers, and others.
"We're trying to escape that one-geek stereotype of a guy sitting in a lab coat or playing games," said Crosby.
Every aspect of the site is vetted by the three founders -- "two out of three geeks must approve," Joyce says. New features are developed in a collaborative process in which the team experiments with new ideas -- on their Macs, of course -- thinking of things that make them laugh.
For the first two weeks, membership is free for users; after that, it costs $5 a month. But eventually the founders would like to make the whole website ad-supported, sponsored by geek-friendly banner ads like the Dungeons & Dragons banner that already appears on the site.
"You have to market to your audience, and we have a pretty good demographic," said Jeff Dales, 41, with a user base that likes gadgets, games, and spends a lot of time online.
But the geekiness isn't just part of the profiles; it's built into the very base of interactions on Sweet on Geeks.
When a user "winks" at another person to get the banter going, for instance, they have the option of sending any number of virtual objects -- the greek letter Pi, a unicorn, a floppy disk, a crop circle, or a dilithium crystal used to power the warp drive on Star Trek. And they can choose to inform the recipient of the reason for their wink; whether it's courtly love ("as a token of my esteem") or the nerdish version of making a move ("as a spontaneous display of reckless flirtation").
"Our site is very thoughtfully created so a person can be who they are. It's OK to be smart. There's a lot of pressure in online dating to come off as something in your profile picture," Joyce said. "We created a comfortable place to geek out a conversation, a bully-free zone."
That's something the users seem to appreciate. Alex Riviere, a 21-year-old theater geek from Atlanta, joined the site last year and posted a picture of himself with a solved Rubik's cube. He took the screen name Fimion -- that's elvish for slim man.
Riviere, who dresses as a pirate "as often as I possibly can," said the website offers something a bit more genuine than what he found browsing more conventional dating sites.
"It's for people who know that society wants to shun them. But we're really proud of the fact that we're geeks so it just takes itself very lightly," Riviere said. "Anything I put on Sweet on Geeks is going to be true and honest; on, like, a normal dating website I'd give it a little more consideration."
That is just the reaction the founders are hoping for as their site grows into a place where geeks meet, mingle, and maybe even marry.
But behind the bigger dream, there's a smaller one.
Crosby, wearing glasses with blue octagonal lenses and a shirt saying "I'm not dead yet," is still single.
Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.