Nerds seek romance

By HermineBloom

Picture an available Level 32 Barbarian with a penchant for collecting Star Wars memorabilia and wearing over sized grunge T-shirts at, say, a Lincoln Park sports bar or Wicker Park dance club, attempting to pick up a lady. The odds aren’t exactly in his favor.

Luckily, obscure references won’t elicit complacent stares from potential love interests at Nerds at Heart, a singles mixer designed for the “smart and sexy,” as co-founder Bathsheba Birman likes to call it.

Birman, a self-proclaimed nerd and matchmaker of sorts, and Julia Borcherts, adjunct faculty at Columbia, developed the original idea for Nerds at Heart two years ago after hearing the countless dating woes of their creative writer friends.

Nerds at Heart is a series of mixer events exclusively held for nerds in bars aroundChicago. Just recently, the ladies hosted their first event outside of Chicago in Minneapolis, Minn. They are also overhauling their Web site to include a social networking component, where attendees can initially meet their kind or stay in contact with the people they meet at the physical events.

The Web site should emulate “ for nerds or Facebook for dating,” Birman said.

Each event involves a particular demographic of nerds in terms of age or sexual orientation, along with cocktails, rounds of trivia and board games.

“[Nerds at Heart has] the type of feeling that you’d have hanging with your friends at home—you know the way that you would play Scrabble with your PJs [on] at home—only with a chance to meet fresh faces,” Birman said.

When a nerd inevitably wins a game of Risk or can name the most films directed by Jean-Luc Godard, he or she is awarded anything from frog pointer lasers, to switchblade pocket combs, to a kazoo. Past promotional giveaways included a chance to participate in the “25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee,” tickets for the Music Box Massacre and tickets to the Cabaret, which appeals to a wide spectrum of nerdom.

“The evening usually starts off with an icebreaker quiz to determine who is the biggest nerd,” Birman said. “A typical question would be, ‘Can you program in more than four languages? or ‘Do you own and use a museum tote bag?’”

Rather than implementing speed dating techniques where everyone has a checklist and hurriedly makes face time with anonymous people, which may or may not provide quality results, Nerds at Heart uses a more relaxed approach so everyone’s best personality comes through, Borcherts said.

“Board games are a small group event where it gives you something to talk about, where you don’t have to interview somebody or stand there and wonder what to say or how to make a good impression,” Borcherts said. “You just dive in and have a good time, especially if you’re shy.”

Birman acknowledges that love connections are the most desirable outcome, although friendships and a strong sense of community often come along with that.

Collin Souter, 36, wrote and directed a documentary called “Break-Up Date,” which illustrates what it’s like to be single in today’s culture.

Souter filmed one of Nerds at Heart’s events to include in his documentary and has attended more than five events himself.

Though he and his friends have happily won a chemistry stencil set prize or two, they’re mostly looking forward to the new online social networking component that Birman and Borcherts will soon implement.

“There’s still that feeling that at the end of the event when it’s all over and everyone’s won their prizes of, ‘I wish I could’ve talked to that girl a little bit more and now she’s with her friends and it looks like they’re on their way out,’” Souter said. “[Social networking is] what’s missing, so it’s good that they’re doing that.”

Overall, Birman and Borcherts aren’t looking to play the moms who desperately want grandchildren, although they admit to having low-key yenta qualities.

Instead, they create a friendly, comfortable environment at a bar like Guthrie’s Tavern, 1300 W. Addison St., which happens to have a pre-existing wall of board games.

Nerds at Heart has hosted up to 100 people—evolving since its days as a 30-person gathering, mostly consisting of people from Borcherts’ Rolodex.

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