During the past decade or so, popular media has crowed that finally, it truly is “hip to be square” (see Weird Al, White and Nerdy, the first Sony Spider-man films, and so on in the early 2000s). Between revived Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, streaming services like Crunchy Roll and Twitch, and more fanart than Deviant Art can handle, we are in a golden age of fandom.
But you’re really only experiencing the best of it if you’re a woman in the throes of your Nerdy Thirties.
As a teenager in the early 2000s, I was constantly looking for ways to have the things I loved. I rationed gas money so that I could buy branded lunch boxes, t-shirts, trade paperbacks, and graphic novels. I sought recognition from my parents for the smallest achievements in the hopes of monetizing them. When that failed, Napster, Morpheus, and Kazaa introduced me to more anime albums than I even knew existed. My school binder was lovingly plastered with home-printed images of my Marvel and DC heroes like Rogue and Harley Quinn, SO MUCH Tim Burton crap, and a well-placed Shinzon from Star Trek: Nemesis (don’t judge, Tom Hardy was hot even with a prosthetic nose). My best friend introduced me to series after series of anime with bootleg VHS that she had likewise scrimped and saved and found all manner of creative ways to acquire.
The hunger is real.
Now, when I see something I want (within reason), I just fucking buy it. MST3K Live is coming to town? BAM. Tickets purchased. Chuck Tingle t-shirt? Mine. Oh, that movie on the history of the Theremin isn’t in print anymore? Shucks, guess I’ll just have to rent it off Amazon. Who even has time for piracy? I’ll just pay HBO the $15 a month for the sheer convenience of not having to search for something.
If only my 16-year old self could see how much my Gigabit Internet is going to waste…
In addition to the outward transformation of having expendable income, inner growth likewise shapes how you experience fandom as an adult. Despite being the co-founder and president of the Sci-Fi and Anime Club in high school, there we some things that I felt were just too nerdy for me to touch.
I dabbled with online role playing with friends on AIM and on Star Wars message boards from ages 13-16, but D&D and any tabletop role-playing (or anything with any actual rules or, like, structure) was a bridge too far. Similarly, I secretly envied the cosplayers I saw looking incredible in their costumes, emulating the characters I wanted so badly to be. But when I looked over the edge of that cliff, I just wasn’t ready to take the leap because I was too self-conscious. At Dickens Faire and Renaissance Faire in my early 20s, I sneered at the saucy lasses with their awesome boobage, and the adorkable guys in their Steampunk or Pirate attire. In my heart of hearts, I feared that I was as nerdy as they were (spoiler: I was). Secretly, desperately, I wanted to throw myself into the geekdom as passionately as they had.
But I just couldn’t.
As a 31-year old woman, I now look forward to Renaissance Faire and I am scouring Etsy almost daily looking for the perfect bodice to give me that same awesome boobage. I’m in the middle of a Pathfinder campaign with some of my closest friends. I’m weaseling my way into my best friend’s cosplay group so I can be the Bobo to her Pearl Forrester.
I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ANYMORE WHAT ANYONE THINKS ABOUT IT!
Nowadays, I have absolutely no fear of being seen as uncool. Hell, my personalized license plate is the Klingon word for “Success” (and a damn good hand in License Plate Poker), and I have no compunctions about telling people precisely what it means. (I even got a “Live Long and Prosper” from some stranger on the freeway last weekend.) I have a pretty cool job and an advanced degree and my boobs are still perky and you can’t take that away from me no matter what you think of my hobbies.
There’s a certain confidence that comes with hitting your 30s. Even though I still struggle with the same crippling moments of self-doubt that I always have, they are much fewer and further between and about completely different things.
Picture it like this: You take a look in the mirror one day and see the lines that are just starting to appear, the ways your body is changing, and you know that soon you will no longer be what society at large considers hot. And that’s when you think to yourself, “Well, it’s now or never for that Slave Leia cosplay!”
That there are 58k+ members of the Over 30 Cosplay group on Facebook says I might be onto something here.
Admittedly, I haven’t done a whole hell of a lot in terms of going to cons or other events where I could show off a kick-ass cosplay, sexy or not. Why? Because in my teens and early 20s, they were a PAIN IN THE ASS to get to. First, I had to scrape together the cash for a ticket. Second, I had to work out transportation. Third, I had to figure out lodging. When it came down to it, usually things just fell apart and I never made it. Something about sharing a room with one double bed at the Super 8 with seven other sweaty nerds just doesn’t appeal, in the end.
The one time I did go to San Diego Comic Con, I was in my friend’s car with no A/C for at least five hours just to get there. When we arrived, I was hot and miserable and I barely had the energy to enjoy the Exhibit Hall. I don’t think I even bought anything. Frankly the only thing I really remember was my seething anger at Southern California for even daring to exist during Summer, and the awkwardness of running into my ex and his new girlfriend in their Link and Saria cosplay. The one time I went to Anime Expo, I met a very cute Leon (of Final Fantasy VII fame), but was unable to take it further than clandestine kissing in a viewing room because he was sharing his hotel room with several other people.
If I go to Wondercon with Loryn in the Spring, it will be mercifully simple. I’ll fly to Southern California. I’ll stay with family or get a hotel room. I’ll go to the con with Loryn. I won’t make out with anyone because I’m married and I’m pretty sure Bobo gets zero play. But I’ll definitely have the energy and the cash to get the most out of the Exhibit Hall.
Admittedly, time becomes more of a limited resource when you’re a working, functioning adult. But that just means that I prioritize how I spend it. 31-year old me doesn’t spend time or energy on things I just don’t like, and I’m okay with that.
I recently came to the conclusion that no matter how hard I want it, I HATE CAMPING. I will never be a cool, fun, outdoorsy chick. Similarly, I don’t care for Joss Whedon’s work. I will never like Firefly. I think Dr. Horrible is trite. I didn’t think the first Avengers was that great. And guess what? I’m not gonna try to like them anymore. I cut my teeth on Star Trek, and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and loved Deep Space Nine when I finally got around to watching it. But I’m just not trying with Voyager or Enterprise anymore. They have their fans (who are wrong, super wrong), and I’m not among them. I’ll just go right back and rewatch TNG and DS9 over and over again. I’ll definitely try new things (see my love of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), but I do not believe in sunk cost when it comes to the media I consume. I’ll bail on a show halfway through a season in a heartbeat (see Star Trek Voyager Season 2 Episode 15: Threshold).
When it comes right down to it, I’ve just become pickier over the years. I feel like I’ve honed a pretty good critical eye from years of consumption, a solid education in fine art and in art curating, and the experiences that have shaped my three decades on this planet.
One of the best parts of getting older is getting to share your geekdom with the next generation. I’m so excited to show my nephew, my god-children, and any other kid who can’t move too quickly the movies, TV series, books, and comics that defined my youth. I don’t remember when I saw my first Star Wars film– it felt like it was always there– but I want to be there the first time my niece Leia gets to see her namesake kick ass and take names in A New Hope. My nephew is crazy about pirates and I hope his mom lets me take him to Ren Faire soon. And seeing how much my nephew Avery adores the Legend of Zelda is just too much for my heart to take.
There are, of course, a few downsides to your nerdy thirties…
If you’re lucky enough not to be stuck at home with your folks while you get out from under that insane loan you took out for college, you’re either paying substantial rent or an even more substantial mortgage. Either way, you’ve got a home to set up and maintain and that shit is no joke. I’ve still got so many great posters, but I’m just too dang old to put them up with tape or pushpins (also that damages the print and affects the value, so…). That shit has got to be framed, dude! (Also: hung on the wall with a 58”-60” midline, out of the sun, away from moisture, out of reach of pets or children, behind UV-resistant glass, thank you very much).
Gone are the weekends of sleeping until 2pm and playing video games without pants on until your eyes bleed. You have to buy food, make sure bills get paid, mow the lawn while there’s still light out, clean up dog or tiny human shit, separate the recycling from the compost, reseal the deck, pick up your dry cleaning, return that internet purchase… fuck, I need a beer just thinking about it. And here’s the real kicker, if you’re a woman with a male domestic partner, you’re doing MORE of that kind of work. By some estimates, 36%-52% more work. But we’ll get to my rad-fem rant on unpaid labor another time.
I can’t speak personally to the amount of work that goes into childcare, but my understanding from my friends and family with children is that they are basically black holes that absorb time, money, and energy. Seeing my friends juggle the logistics of child-rearing while still trying to have a life outside of their kids, much less a nerd life, is insane. Typically, it ends up that someone’s child is dragged along to kick it with us.
For what it’s worth, sometimes that’s an absolute pleasure.
At this point in my life, after being in school basically forever, I’ve opted for the career. If you’ve been in the workforce consistently since graduating college, you’re probably in a position with increased responsibility. Hence, you can’t always just clock out and check out until 9am Monday. Case in point: Recently, I was called in to work unexpectedly on a Sunday afternoon. My plans for the day had previously involved being hung over and playing Fallout 4, all from the comfort of my couch. Not this time! I had to pull my groggy ass together and get out the door. I also recall a recent viewing of Transformers: The Movie (which may or may not have involved taking a drink every time the bots transform). My friend who was hosting was on-call that night, and faster than you can say, “Laserbeak,” he was off in another room putting out a fire at work. Think of the important plot points he missed!
Your 30s seem to be where the grim reality of aging starts to kick in. It’s not that your body is falling apart just yet, but the “Check Engine” light does start to come on every now and again. More and more I hear friends tell me they can’t eat/drink [insert awesome thing here] anymore because it gives them gas/heartburn/a headache/vicious diarrhea. So, when you’ve got your adventuring party together for an afternoon, you can’t just put out beer, chips, and pizza like you used to (or maybe you do, but you pay for it with a turbulent rebellion in your gut). Like a well-loved VW Rabbit, your body is still running great but just requires a little more maintenance and upkeep than it used to. You’ve gotta moisturize. Don’t forget that sunscreen. Get plenty of sleep. Get off your ass and move once in a while. If you don’t, your body will find ways to remind you.
Even for the few downsides, I wouldn’t give up being a woman in my Nerdy Thirties for anything. It beats the hell out of anything else I’ve been so far.
And you know, I’m looking forward to being a geeky old codger soon enough, too.
Tierney doesn’t have to go camping, but you can find her camping out on Twitter.
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