I called it. I called it! There I was, back in 2007, watching My So-Called Life for the first time, because I’d been just a smidge too young for it the first time around.
“I don’t understand this Jared Leto thing,” I said to my flatmate, who lent me the box set. “Brian Krakow is clearly the catch here. He loves Angela, he’s great at maths, he’s very kind. In 20 years, he’ll be a millionaire who founded a successful start-up and Jordan Catalano will still live in their hometown and his haircut won’t be cool anymore.”
My flatmate raised an eyebrow.
“Nerds of today, husbands of tomorrow!” I cried.
Fast-forward to last week: there I was, watching Peggy Olson on a date on the new episode of Mad Men, and her suitor was played by… Brian Krakow (OK, the actor who played Brian Krakow), rendered almost unrecognizably handsome by years and a great haircut. I felt smug and satisfied: the ultimate vindication of my lifelong admiration of the grown-up nerd.
When I say lifelong, I mean lifelong: there’s nothing misty or water-colored about my crisp recollection of the first boy I ever had a crush on. He wore sweatpants to school every day (this was in an American state school, where no badly dressed person benefited from the benevolent disguise of a school uniform), he never combed his puffy hair, he told remarkably sophisticated jokes for an 11-year-old, and he was the only boy in the year who was better than me at maths class. How could I not love him? No, we never dated – we were, after all, 11, and barely spoke to each other, though I did try to get his attention by reading Anna Karenina. But, years later, when he started wearing better trousers, was the first kid at school to own a CD burner, and took a lovely girl to the prom, I felt quite proud: I’d spotted his potential way back when.
The grown-up nerd isn’t always the ideal man: you can’t assume that he will be slavishly grateful for your company
This set the pattern for the rest of my life. Tell me about your childhood stamp collection, your success on the school debating team, your adolescent glass-blowing – I’m yours. I’ve dated a professor of political philosophy, an economist with Marxist leanings, a local government expert, a geographer. On the flip side, I have never dated anyone who owned a fancy car. Tales of financial success make my eyes glaze over, but my ears perk up at the barest mention of an interesting bit of news about physics, a very specific reference to an obscure event in history, a remark about a book that I’ve been meaning to read. Forget heaving nightclubs – a heaving bookshelf is what makes my heart pound.
But let me be clear: it’s not just that men who spent their formative years reading and thinking, rather than being the life of every party, tend to have a broader range of topics to talk about. I think they tend to have more character, empathy, and creativity, too – survival traits that the thoughtful underdog must develop in order to make it to adulthood in spite of spending most teenage Saturday nights watching television with his mum.
The grown-up nerd isn’t always the ideal man – you can’t assume that he will be slavishly grateful for your company. I’ve come across a handful who, all heady with the intoxication of realizing that they’ve undergone a Krakow-style transformation, take on the attitude of Jordan Catalano, all indifferent and aloof, in motorcycle jackets. Uncool and a little bit heartbreaking! But those who can maintain their humanity in the transition between being a nerdy teen and an attractive adult are life’s winners. At least of my heart.