I hope you had a good vacation. I’m a longtime off-and-on reader and like how your advice is compassionate and sane, and most importantly doesn’t explain normal human behavior in terms of a conspiracy theory, nor does it degenerate into a word salad of redbullshit terms by the third sentence. Long story short, I haven’t asked out anyone in 10 years. My first and only attempt was after a nasty case of oneitis dating back to high school. Needless to say, I got rejected and she spent the next 4 years of college spreading rumors about me to everyone in the department, up until the last day before graduation. At one point she tried to accuse me (to our classmates) of stalking her for attending the same classes, which would be right except we were in the same major that I ultimately graduated in. Like what was I supposed to do? Drop out? Like an idiot, I didn’t do anything to confront her because I didn’t want to make it worse, I thought it would go away on its own, and I did not want believe it was actually happening. I did not speak to or of her to anyone at all, and still haven’t IRL. It was so long ago that my current social circle no longer intersects with hers, and I’m pretty sure my own family forgot how bad the oneitis was (or perhaps they’re just playing nice until they need leverage?). Due to some combination of fear of repeating history and legitimate busy-ness with school and later my career, I didn’t date at all. As a matter of fact I could not find anyone attractive either. Like I can find a woman hot (sexually attractive), but I simply don’t have the motivation to do anything about it. Despite everything that happened, I could talk to women as colleagues and even friends, but even there I felt no romantic spark, which is fine by me: your own writing says you can’t reasonably expect to be compatible with everyone.
Outside of work, I do have hobbies I believe are interesting which I regularly engage in. My primary one is historical collecting which mostly amounts to extreme thrifting on top of the usual eBay bidding wars. There’s also the research and networking component, and I have made many interesting contacts all over the world who have done some really neat things through this hobby, but their stories aren’t my stories. Collecting is the most “interesting” thing about me (I can do a few other things too), especially given that any historical interest is rare and unexpected among people in my field and of my ethnicity, but I have a hard time talking about it to others since I have gotten serious flak for it in the past. It went far beyond the typical high school tier “lol what a NNNNNNEEEEERRRRRRRDDDDDDDD” bullshit, though I’ve had my share of that. Once it got to the point where I had to hire a lawyer to defend myself when my collecting was used as evidence for a criminal legal proceeding stemming from a workplace dispute (can’t go into more specifics here; lawyers are expensive). Fortunately I didn’t become a headline since it was a false accusation. I’m far away from the workplace that pulled that on me, but I still have the scars.
Logically, I know I shouldn’t let these bad experiences define me, especially because the people I am around at work now seem to be positive and accepting, but I just can’t forget no matter what I do. Besides, if I “forget” those hard lessons, then those years would have been an even bigger waste. Most my collecting contacts are in stable relationships, many married with children even, so again, logically this hobby isn’t damning by itself. I think I have stories, but I have no idea how to present them in a positive way, meaning they can’t be told. I am certainly aware that many high fashion brands blatantly rip off vintage garments, and I know enough to dress like I just walked out of a history book or period drama, though there are few situations where LARPing in public are acceptable. I am aware of reenactments, but there have been none nearby me now for over 10 years at this point (I would have to travel across the country), and no real desire to re-start since the majority of the reenactors themselves aged out of the free time and fitness for physical activity range and because everyone’s so wary of negative press if the wannabe Nazis show up (I expect you’ll see some of them in the comments section; I also disavow and condemn any and all racist, genocidal, and extremist ideologies including but not exclusive to fascism and Nazism, so spare me your “weasel words” accusations, please). The pandemic didn’t help either. I do wear more normal-looking items (usually something like a jacket) out, but nobody has ever noticed, which is kind of the point of looking normal, and from my experience people rarely comment on each others’ clothes. Anyways, if I somehow get a relationship, eventually she’s going to have to find out what I do for fun, and what happened in the past.
I would love to find a Marion to my Indiana Jones (perhaps an over-exaggeration), but I can’t seem to open up enough to make this work. Writing this out makes me realize my problem is presentation, and I’ve read your article about it (Talkin’ Nerdy), but I’m having a hard time finding an appropriate angle. How should I talk about my hobbies in a way that won’t bring out the pitchforks and torches?
The Past is a Foreign Country
Let me start by making a suggestion, TPFC: stop playing coy by dancing around your hobbies or using creatively descriptive phrasing in order to avoid saying precisely what your hobbies are. I realize you’re hoping to get advice that isn’t colored or influenced by the polarizing nature of your interests, but the fact of the matter is that you can’t divest your hobbies from the social stigma that comes with them. It’s going to be a major factor in dictating who’s interested in you and who isn’t, who’s willing to date you and who isn’t and trying to play word games by implying thigns without actually saying it not only makes it harder to give you effective advice (and let’s be real, advice you don’t want to hear) and it’s frankly kind of insulting to do this when it’s pretty clear what you mean.
This is down to two possibilities: the Confederacy or Nazi memorabilia and artifiacts and either Civil War or WWII LARPing.
And my money, based on “extreme thrifting” and “used as evidence against me in criminal proceedings”, says it’s Nazi shit.
Now, maybe I’m wrong. But if I am… well, that’s an example of why you need to be straight about what exactly it is that you’re talking about. If you were talking about My Little Pony collections or being a member of the 501st Legion, then all this coy wordplay just makes things even worse in the minds of people you’re talking to. Talking about something that may not be mainstream or typical for a person your age and gender like it’s this huge horrific thing is only going to prime folks for a huge negative reaction that the reveal isn’t necessarily going to undo. Part about talking about your nerdy interests is about being able to talk about them to other people without shame or apology.
I read comics, watch cartoons and play video games. For a long while, that made dating tricky because folks would see that and assume that I was an overgrown manchild. And while an argument could still be made (hey, growing older is inevitable, growing up is optional), I would explain to folks precisely why I enjoy those hobbies instead of treating them like a mark of shame. There were folks who would never see those interests as anything other than kid shit, there were folks who shared my interests who were thrilled to meet me, and there were folks who didn’t share my interests but could at least understand my enjoyment of them and appreciate that they brought joy to my life.
But owning your interests also means understanding how your hobbies and habits can affect your life and others. I know people who, for example, breed rare cockroaches, or who raise venomous reptiles. I know others who do taxidermy or collect animal bones or preserved insects or obscure vintage medical instruments. They’ve long accepted that this is going to be a limit on who comes into their lives. They understood that the squick factor is going to be high for a lot of people who don’t “get” it. They’ll explain their interest in it – even if the explanation is “yeah, I’m just really into morbid shit” – but they also accept that this means they’re going to be an acquired taste for someone who isn’t also strange or unusual. Fortunately for them, the goth community’s pretty sizable, and their interests, while weird and squicky, aren’t that outre. In fact, there’re a number of sizable faires and conventions that are specifically for selling and trading such items.
If we go back to… well, me, then a lot of my choices mean accepting the consequences. I am very visibly tattooed, including the tattoos on the backs of my hands. Those are going to put a lot of folks off, and I knew it when I got them. That was always going to be part of the tradeoff. But if my hobbies and collections were getting to the point that they were creating issues in other areas then I couldn’t feasibly say that it’s not fair for folks to judge me poorly for it. if I were collecting comics to the point that I no longer had room in my home for things like, say, furniture? Yeah, that’s going to make people think about me in a less positive light. If my home looked like Attic Salt or Hot Topic exploded in it? That’s going to affect my dating prospects. And if my interests involved rocking symbols of hatred or paraphernalia associated with a community of bigots or philosophy of genocide, then people are going to rightfully feel like maybe they want nothing to do with me.
No, it’s not fair. Sometimes it’s not even reasonable. I grew up in the height of the (first) Satanic Panic. My playing D&D came very close to getting me suspended or expelled in middle-school. Thankfully if it had gone further than vague threats, my folks would’ve made sure they had a fight on their hands, but it was a risk that came from wanting to play a game with my friends.
Yes, there’re some areas where the association between the distastefulness of the thing and actual danger are vague or even nonexistent. The folks who’re into vore aren’t going to actually try to swallow people whole. People who have ravishment fantasies, do age play or hardcore BDSM get a lot of side-eye and suspicion – even having those interests used against them – but those are areas where the hype, fueled by the distastefulness of it outweighs the reality of how dangerous those people really are. And to be sure, these have been actively used against people in courts of law; divorce proceedings, child custody hearings, even criminal complaints where no actual crime had been committed.
But in a time when Nazis are marching again and openly-admitted fascists are running for political office, it’s entirely understandable that folks are going to see having a collection of Nazi shit is going to make them think twice about wanting anything to do with you. You can’t just throw your hands up and say “it’s unfair for folks to think badly of me because of this.” Your collection, hobbies and the way you dress are all choices that you’ve made, and while you may not intend it, those choices signal to others that you’re at least somewhat in alignment with those values.
Is that fair? Possibly not. But part of understanding the social context means recognizing that people are going to have reservations about people who are willingly associating themselves with symbology that tends to indicate alignment with those philosophies. If I wear Doc Martens with red laces, people are going to assume, not unreasonably, that I’m not just racist but a violent racist. If I wear certain Fred Perry polos, people would have every reason to believe that I was signaling my membership in the Proud Boys, even if I was just wearing it because the colors look good with my complexion. Someone may be a sweet and wonderful person, but if I see them rocking a Thor’s hammer, raven and rune tattoos and an undercut, I’m gonna require some really persuasive explanations and a fair amount of evidence before I accept that they’re just really into their Scandinavian heritage and not a member of Wolves of Vinland or something.
Shit, my love of heavy metal means I spend a LOT of time Googling “band name + white power” and “band name + nazi” whenever I start getting into a new band. Even stuff I know isn’t connected but sounds like it could be gets me tense. Much as I may like Sabaton – The Night Witches and The White Death are straight bangers – I tend to not put many of their songs in my playlists.
Being into something means that you accept responsibility and ownership for liking it, especially if it’s problematic or worse. That’s just life. If you want to try to, say, reclaim the fedora or trillby, then you’re going to have to own the fact that wearing those hats sends a particular message to people around you. If you’re going to collect Nazi shit, you’re going to have to deal with folks assuming that you believe Nazi shit until proven otherwise.
And if I’m being honest? It doesn’t sound like you do a lot of owning your choices or taking responsibility for making them. Your letter has a lot of “it’s unfair, what else am I supposed to do?” in it, including in places where there was a lot you could do. Being willing to say “ok, this situation sucks and I’m sorry to have caused it or contributed to it” – even if you feel it’s completely unfair or unreasonable – is important, as is doing your best to avoid making things worse. And quite frankly, if my hobby was being used as evidence in court against me on criminal charges… I’d be putting some serious thought into how much that hobby means to me. Especially if it were something that was already making people deeply uncomfortable.
So what do you do about all of this?
Well to start with, I would suggest is to start deciding how important this hobby is to you and do your best to pull out of the sunk-cost fallacy you’ve found yourself in. You say “if I “forget” those hard lessons, then those years would have been an even bigger waste.” Ok… how so? What was so valuable or important about those lessons that you need to hold onto them or that you’ve learned from them? What is it about your collection that’s so important that you’re not willing to say “maybe I need to let this go?” There’re a lot of things in my life that I’ve enjoyed that I’ve looked at and said “maybe it’s time to let this be in my past instead of my present”, and other things that I’ve looked at and said “this is actively harmful to me/people around me and I need to step away from it”. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was hard, but each time I had to make a choice and decide if it was better to hang onto something and damn the consequences, or to decide that the costs of holding onto it were simply more than I was willing to pay.
If you do decide that you’re going to keep collecting Nazi paraphernalia – including wearing parts of the outfits – then you’re going to have to accept that the cost is going to include people thinking incredibly poorly of you for it. You’re going to have to quit playing coy and take ownership of your interests and actions. That means not dodging around the topic or hinting at it or getting pre-emptively defensive about it like you do here. If you’re wearing a Reichsmarshall hat or a Wehrmacht greatcoat, you’re already comfortable enough signaling to people that this is pretty important to you. To pretend otherwise in order to avoid being judged is disingenuous at best.
You accept that, if you’re going to keep your collection and keep collecting and letting these interests be a big part of your sense of self, you’re going to have to take people’s responses to it too. You can explain what it is about the items that appeal to you, why you enjoy collecting them and you can try to separate them from the political context – I’ve seen folks talk about the engineering of Luftwaffe planes while threading the needle of “not inadvertently endorsing the Third Reich” – but you’re going to have to accept that people are going to make judgements about you, about your associations and what you believe. You can talk about rejecting extremist ideologies and not being a fascist, but if you’re collecting fascist shit, people are going to associate you with fascist beliefs. Especially if you only are collecting Nazi shit and not just World War II memorabilia in general. It going to come with the collections, so you’re going to have to make your peace with it if that hobby is so important to you.
If you don’t vibe with Nazi and fascist beliefs – and let me tell you, there better never be a “BUT” in that sentence; to paraphrase wint, you don’t have to hand it to the Wehrmacht – then should seriously consider finding a new hobby. It can still be based around a love of history and even collecting artifacts; there’s literally thousands of years of human existence to pull from that doesn’t involve genocide on an industrial level from an era that’s still in living memory. But no matter how apolitical you’re going to want to claim your interest is, the associations are still there. Even if some of this stuff has real meaning for you, you have to weigh just how much that meaning has vs. the price it carries. There’s a serious difference between “this is the luger my grandfather took from a German kriegsmarine officer he captured” and “wanna see my totemkopf pins and SS uniforms?”
Yeah I know. It feels like I’m telling you to change who you are in order to date. And that would be because that’s exactly what I’m doing. Yes, we all grew up on lessons about not changing yourself for other people and why being yourself is important. But there’s a difference between changing just to be popular or pretending to be someone you’re not in order to fit in with the “cool” kids and evolving and growing past things that are actively harming you or causing harm to others. You can say “I’m just being myself” all you want, but we still live in a society, and part of that means accepting the social context. Fred Perry polos may have started out as just another shirt but now it signifies being the member of a fascist street gang, just as the swastika may be a symbol that appears in ancient cultures around the world but now just means Nazis. You can’t separate them from that context or the associations that come with it.
“You” are a fluid concept; the things that make up “you” change constantly. Sometimes those changes occur without effort on our part. Sometimes those changes occur because we choose to make them. And in this case, you need to choose what aspects of history you want to be part of that concept of “you”.
But seriously, ditch the Nazi shit already.
This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com and is republished on Medium.
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