The Sensitive Geek
My first love was a TV trope.
I was first exposed to the Sensitive Geek through Seth Cohen, a character from the The OC. He loved anime, video games, and depressing music. He made lame puns that fell flat among his vapid classmates--but I appreciated them. All we needed to do was find each other.
I was sure college would be a wonderland full of this type. He’d be the barista serving me coffee in the not-Starbucks. He’d be the guy who’d disagree with me in class, but then ask me out for Thai food later.
With my eyes set on this prototype, I dumped my high school boyfriend. I packed for college: red Chuck Taylors, a Death Cab for Cutie poster, the movie Garden State. I was ready to find him.
First, there was Andrew. I met him at orientation, and the surface level of the Sensitive Geek was there. He had dark, beautiful, disheveled hair. He loved to take pictures, and one night I sat on his bed with him while he played guitar. God, we were so alive.
I invited him to come with me to a concert downtown, since I was reviewing it for the paper. But outside in the line, I already sensed something was off. Instead of talking to me, Andrew was meeting strangers and asking if they’d heard this rare version of a cover of an 80’s punk song. Once inside the venue, we had a good enough time. We took pictures. We danced a little but we were trying not to try too hard.
The next day, he sent me the pictures he took over Instant Messenger. Each time he sent me one, he reminded me: if you use my pictures, you have to give me a photo credit. By the eighth picture, I knew it was over.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t planning to give him credit. But his need for credit disgusted me. I’ve never liked people who took themselves too seriously. Seth Cohen would never pester someone about something like that.
After Andrew, there was Sam.
The spring of my first year of college, I took a class called “Self, Solitude, Connectedness.” We read Kafka and Delillo and had discussions I’d always dreamed of having. The human self. Connection to others. Everything is connected--or is it? I was blowing my young mind every day.
I walked back from class one day, playing indie tracks from my over-the-ear headphones. So did Sam, who I hadn’t met yet. As our walk ended, he pulled his headphones down and looked in my eyes. I pulled mine down and looked back. He stuck out his hand.
“It was nice walking awkwardly next to you,” he said.
“Likewise,” I said.
Like any self-respecting college girl, I pretty much teleported back to my dorm to look him up on Facebook. And sure enough, just as I’d hoped, his favorite books...were my favorites. His favorite quotes...were from my favorite songs. He liked a lot of sad things. I thought we could make each other happy, or at least be sad together.
Summer came and separated us just after we met, so I started talking to Sam online. We talked about concerts; we asked about opinions on new albums. When we got back from break, we started to hang out in real life.
He made many a Sensitive Geek relationship faux-pas, and in doing so, charmed me with his spineless inexperience. One night, I tried to kiss him, but he sort of dodged my kiss and kissed me on the cheek. A gentleman!
The next night, he said something like, “Let’s do this for real this time.” It was like something someone would say on TV before the beginning of a long, passionate relationship, ending in marriage. Wasn’t it?
There was an upcoming Death Cab concert on the horizon, and to my sheer jubilation, he got us tickets. The concert was two hours away, so it meant a mini-road trip together. I tried to play it cool, but in reality I was about to explode.
A few weeks before our trip, it was Halloween, which happens to be my favorite holiday. I saved my best costume for Friday night, when I had plans with Sam. I was Hester Prynne. They say Halloween is the one time of year nice girls get to be sluts. I took this both literally and literarily. I’m not sure how historically accurate my costume was, but I looked damn good.
Sam was set to pick me up at 9:30.
Around 11, I decided to give him a call. It went straight to voicemail.
I went on AOL Instant Messenger. He was not online.
I went on Facebook. His profile picture had been changed to a graphic of Hello Kitty, among an array of suspect changes. I signed on to my other screen name to see if he was blocking me. He was. And the next day, he kept blocking me. We never spoke again.
There isn’t much to be said about Sam that I didn’t already write in my article in the alternative newspaper after we parted ways. Thank god my college computer has crashed, because otherwise I’d have lasting reminders of this emotionally turbulent piece where I gave him the pseudonym of “Dick” and ripped apart the concept of serendipity.
It wasn’t my best moment, but I felt like the Sensitive Geek had failed me. He was supposed to be awkward and shy for sure, but not a coward. After all, Seth Cohen did stand on top of that coffee cart and profess his love for Summer. He didn’t just disappear and ignore her calls. Then there wouldn’t be a TV show.
After a painful last season, The OC was over, and I thought I was done with the Sensitive Geek for good...until I met Drew.
I stayed up all night thinking about him, wondering if this insomnia was what married people were talking about when they said when you meet the one, “you just know.” He was a friend of my roommate’s boyfriend from another school a few hours away, and we hit it off right away when he recognized a random CD I had in my car.
For our first date, he arranged for us to meet halfway between our schools, in Natural Bridge. There we saw sights such as Foamhenge, a drive-through zoo, and a haunted house tour given by a large teenager. The first time he came to visit me, he asked me what I wanted for lunch. I shrugged, and he walked me to a map of the downtown mall. He closed his eyes, spun his hand around, and picked a random restaurant.
The time we spent together was dream-like. Maybe it’s because we spent a lot of sleepless nights together--and I don’t mean that how it sounds. Once we rode two hours to a concert in DC, then he drove me back to Charlottesville and dropped me off. He gave me a mix CD he’d made me as I was leaving and told me to call him with a review as soon as I’d listen to it. I went straight to my living room with a CD player, and in this half-awake half-asleep state, heard these beautiful, mysterious lyrics that left me feeling surreal. I called him at 4 AM, sleepily enumerating the tracks I’d liked best. He told me he was about to fall asleep at the wheel and my call might’ve saved his life.
Being a Sensitive Geek who cared about everyone, his attention was still partially drawn to his ex, who was “having a difficult time.” They went to the same college and had all of the same friends. He tried his best to ignore her, like when she called him at 2 AM just to tell him to turn his clock back for Daylight Savings Time. But at other times--like when we were all at the same concert and she started crying about something-- he didn’t. He bought us both the same poster to apologize. To her, for whatever reason she was crying. To me, for going to comfort her.
I’m not positive his ex-girlfriend was our fatal blow. We were different in irreconcilable ways, like our attitude towards religion, and our reaction to the Maury clip where the man is told he’s not the father. (He thought it was hilarious. I thought it was kind of sad.) I’ve listened back to his CD and while I still like the songs, they send a weird message. Track one compares a cruel woman to a wasps nest. Track two is about a married woman no longer sexually excited by her partner. Were these things he thought about me?
I look back on our relationship with an impulsive swoon followed by an informed eye-roll. All of the sweetness and spontaneity, in retrospect, seemed pretty prescribed. It was almost as if he’d watched a cute couple falling in love on film and tried to replicate it in real life.
Four years later, I’m watching Dawson’s Creek with my roommate Sarah. Friday nights are a time when we change into sweatpants, make bags of popcorn, and watch endless episodes of this show.
Dawson Leary is the Sensitive Geek here. He’s passive and wimpy. He’s a nerdy outcast so obsessed with movies that he often confuses them with real life. He’s emotional, and he’s always being torn by the ladies around him.
Sarah and I hate him.
There’s an iconic episode where the girl he loves decides to spend the summer on a tiny boat with his best friend. I’m not sure if the actor was ad libbing or getting deep into character or what, but with his creek behind him, he contorts his face and begins crying the most feminine, earnest sob.
Sarah and I double over, laughing so hard we make no sound. We throw our popcorn at the screen.
“Loser!” we jeer when we regain control of our breathing.
Because of modern technology, we are able to rewind this scene and watch it in an unforgiving loop.
The harder Dawson sobs, the harder we laugh.
Marissa "Mazzer" D'Orazio is a fiction writer and teacher living in the DC area. She holds an MFA in fiction writing from George Mason University. Her work has been published in Your Impossible Voice, The Rumpus, Carbon Culture Review, Scary Mommy, and elsewhere. She has a podcast called Terrible Writing where she reads and critiques bad things she wrote long ago. Follow her @MazzerCD