How to get a Convention Girlfriend or Boyfriend: American Otaku Dating

1920s-datingDating sucks, particularly for those who like anime. In the US,  anime and manga fans are still stigmatized as loser neckbeards (including girls!). While this unfounded stereotype is wrong and slowly fading, it still hangs on in many areas. Because of this, many anime conventions feature speed dating events to help anime fans meet. The rules of these events vary, but they typically involve a fast meeting session coupled with a few minute chat with those that impressed you (Holt, 2006). After these chats, ladies select the people they found most interesting to attend another event with.

When it comes to heterosexual relationships, tradition still holds. Guys approach, and ladies select. American otaku dating follows the same dance steps as standard dating. Have you ever wondered how that dance developed?

The History of American Dating

American dating is a tangle of unspoken rules, etiquette, and expectations. clark-gable-carole-lombardIt is amazing people find dating fun! Despite being around for nearly a century, dating is still a confused process. Dating is a way to find someone to marry, or it describes a permanent relationship that replaced marriage. There are also hook-ups, which are different from dating but still related. The rules for dating are changing, but some of the oldest rules (such as the man opening doors and walking on the right of his partner) remain consistent. Dating rules are changing because of same-sex relationships and other sexual identities. Dating came from Victorian practices when sexual identity was clearly defined.

Before the 1920s, people didn’t date. Instead, they practiced “calling.” Calling was when a man visited a woman at her parents’ house under their supervision. Remember, this was before same-sex and other relationships were out in the open. Dating (two partners making plans to leave the house together) didn’t appear until college campuses became common and the spread of new urban forms of entertainment, such as film. Originally, marriage in the West was an economic decision. Over time, romance replaced arranged marriages and concerns about household finances (Krause & Kwalski, 2013).

Because dating originated from calling, some of calling’s rules lived on. Walking a partner to the entrance and the (chaste) kiss goodnight are among these rules.

The definition of dating is contested. It depends on who you ask. However, academics decided to pin down a single definition (Krause & Kwalski, 2013):

A date is a planned meeting with a potential or actual romantic partner in which that romantic feeling is explicitly acknowledged by both partners.

The acknowledgement of romantic feelings by both people is the sticky point with dating. Without both people knowing the romantic interest of the other, confusion about whether the meeting was a date or not is common. “Does he feel the same way as me? Does she know I am into her?”

Dating is sometimes seen as a step toward marriage, but it can be viewed as a threatening alternative to marriage. The threat dating poses to marriage is how the practice separates sex from marriage. Traditionally in the United States, sex was unacceptable outside of marriage. Sex outside of marriage is sin according to Protestant Christianity. The idea still hangs on today, and that is why dating can be seen as a danger for marriage, particularly when partners live with each other. Of course, the US is a male-dominated society, and dating reflects this. The ideal is for a woman to remain a virgin until she marries. Guys are expected to have sex. Time has changed this view, but it stubbornly lives on.

Speaking of this,“hooking up” is meeting to have sex without any of the long-term commitment dating contains. The idea of a one-night stand is a hook-up. Many religious people in the US frown upon hook-ups and see them as a threat to marriage and a sign of the country’s moral decline.

Interviewing for Romance

Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Holiday., Photograph © Columbia Pictures/Photofest.
Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Holiday., Photograph © Columbia Pictures/Photofest.

Americans approach dating similar to a job interview. For example. the anime speed dating event Holt (2006) describes reminds me of a job fair. Compared to Berliners, according to Krause and Kowalski’s study in 2013, people dating in New York show higher self awareness of their body language and worry about sending the right signals according to the rules of dating. American dating is highly formalized and bound by rules, much like a job interview. People on dates are interviewing each other for suitability, so they are looking for signals such as body language that show interest, openness, honesty, and other traits deemed desirable.

In fact, 72% of Americans surveyed conduct some kind of search on the person they are dating or considering dating (Marketwired, 2013).  We perform our own version of an employer’s background check when considering a romantic relationship with someone. Ethnicity also plans a role in dating. Interracial marriages are rare in the US. Only 4% of marriages are between people of different ethnicity (Fishman, Iyengar, et al, 2008). In the Fishman’s study, Americans viewed Asian men and women as the lowest rated marriageable partners. These social pressures influence who Americans choose to date. It is often not acceptable to date outside of one’s ethnicity or to date Asian people. Doing so runs the risk of being heckled by friends or, in the worst case, being ostracized.

The Rules of Dating

Okay, with all that background, we can look into the standard rules of dating. Because American otakus are products of the culture, these rules will apply. After we cover these, I will look at otaku specific rules and cautions. Rules vary based on region, family culture, and other factors. So there isn’t a set rulebook you can consult. The rules are unspoken, but at the same time they are ingrained in Americans’ expectations of romance. A study in 2001 (Larson and others) found family culture is a large factor in attitudes and dating practices. Family rules such as “Don’t talk about your feelings” carry over to dating.

Many of the unspoken rules of dating are outdated or often ignored. The list I will provide is by no means complete or updated. Many of the rules will come off as sexist. These rules come from the days of calling. I am not vindicating these rules. I consider many of them silly like “Don’t hurry to contact after a date.” These are simply tendencies in American culture that shapes how we develop relationships.

  • Men pay the bill (women offer to pay)
  • Don’t hurry to contact after a date.
  • Don’t have sex on the first date (in some parts of the US the rule reads: “Don’t have sex until marriage”)
  • Never date a coworker
  • Start with public dates and work toward private picnics, Netflix, and other dates.
  • Meeting the parents is for serious relationships.
  • Men: Be chivalrous and confident. Open doors, walk her to her door, pull out chairs.
  • Women: Be hard to get.
  • Friends need to like your partner
  • Steadily progress: hand holding to kissing and the like.

Most dates involve coffee, movies, and dinner. They slowly work their way into private meetings like picnics and Netflix nights at one person’s house. Of course, I am just generalizing. Dating progresses at different paces, and many of the rules do not apply. It is common to date dutch, both partners pay the dinner tab. Expectations vary based on the area of the US and the people dating.

There are other ideas such as “going steady” which is more than just dating but less than being engaged. It is also a good idea to speak with your partner about your own dating rules. This helps you know where the relationship’s boundaries are.

You may have noticed how I haven’t mentioned homosexual dating. As a straight man, I am not qualified to explain (nor do I know) the rules of the game. I surmise they are mostly the same because of the influence American culture has upon all those within it.  While this is a gaping hole in this article, I have to acknowledge I cannot comment on what I do not understand.

Dating Advice for Otaku


The stereotype of male otaku being awkward, perverted, and strange exists for a reason. A notable population of American anime fans are this way. One of the rules of convention dating for ladies is to never give your full name and number for this very reason (Holt, 2006). This behavior isn’t attractive from any gender.

Guys, it is up to you to be confident and make the first approach. Ladies find confidence attractive. But what is confidence? Confidence is self-acceptance. It is knowing who you are, liking who you are, and accepting your weaknesses. Confidence accepts responsibility for mistakes and has courage to make those mistakes. It involves saying what you mean and taking a stand for what you believe.

Ladies, guys find confidence attractive too. We also want you to help us in conversations. That means asking questions and offering explanations. Guys get tired of leading conversation and receiving only short answers. Geek guys often struggle with leading conversation so help them out a bit.

Ladies and guys, hygiene is important. Con-funk is unattractive and reduces your ability to meet someone who is well-adjusted. Body odor is a deal breaker for most people. This goes for everyday life too.

Good communication underpins relationships. You must be able to string together coherent thoughts and listen to the other person’s thoughts. Without this, relationships die.

Act normal. Sure, it is fun to be in character, but how can you tell if someone is interested in you if you are not being you?

Guys, stop with the perversity. Women have problems with unwanted, violating actions like skirt flipping and breast gropes at cons.  In an informal survey at Comic Con, as many as 1 in 4 women report sexual  harassment (Zennie, 2014). Skimpy costumes are not a license to touch or leer. It only hurts your chances of finding a date. It makes you creepy, and creepy is a turn off.  Be a gentleman instead. You will stand out and be noticed.

Gentleman and gentle-ladies:

  • treat everyone with respect.
  • seek ways to help people.
  • communicate well.  This involves listening.

Cons provide a great opportunity to meet people who share your interests. While it is meant to be  fun event, if you want find a relationship, you need to behave in ways that attracts the right people. That also means doing the American dating dance.

I can’t provide a checklist of how to attract someone. But I can say this, be confident and learn how to communicate. This will increase the odds of finding a con-date that may well turn into a lasting relationship. A final caveat: don’t go to cons looking for dates. The point of a con is to have fun, not to seek dates. Ironically, not looking increases your chances of finding someone who clicks. Looking often keeps you from finding.


Carlson, C. (2013). Dating Rules: Break or Bend?. Women’s Health, 10(3), 87-89.

Chung, M., (2007) Conventional love affairs, Toronto Star.

Fishman, R., Iyengar, S. S., Kamenica, E., & Simonson, I. (2008). Racial Preferences in Dating. Review Of Economic Studies, 75(1), 117-132. doi:10.1111/j.1467-937X.2007.00465.x

Holt, K. (2006). Anime fans up to speed on dating scene. Destin Log, The (FL).

Krause, M. & Kowalski, A. (2013). Reflexive habits: dating and rationalized conduct in New York and Berlin. The Sociological Review. 61 21-40.

Larson, J. H., Taggart-Reedy, M., & Wilson, S. M. (2001). The Effects of Perceived Dysfunctional Family-of-Origin Rules on the Dating Relationships of Young Adults. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 23(4), 489-512.

Marketwired. (2013, October 17). When It Comes to Dating, 72% of US Adults Become “Private Investigators”. Marketwire (English).

Zennie, M. (2014). Comic Con’s sexual harassment problem: Female fantasy fans complain creepy geeks are groping them in their costumes. DailyMail.