Nerdy Romance Mistakes

As much as I hate the stereotype that nerds are hopeless at romance (and social life in general) today’s SMBC comic cracked me up:

At first it seemed like an example of the conjunction fallacy, in which people think the general conditions are less likely than a more specific example of the conditions.  (That’s mathematically impossible.)  But the comic isn’t about probability, it’s about utility.  And you know, it’s not just a GIVEN that owning the world has net positive utility!  It would be extraordinarily time-consuming to rule the world.

Yeah, I know, it’s a stretch.

And I’m forced to plead guilty to a similar situation.  A number of years back, a girl I was dating told me she worried sometimes that she liked me more than I liked her.  My unthinking response at the time was, “Well, it’s unlikely to be exactly equal.  Someone has to like the other more.”

I’ve gotten much better since then.

If only I’d heard of the Maxims of Conversation earlier:


  • Say no less than the conversation requires.
  • Say no more than the conversation requires.


  • Don’t say what you believe to be false.
  • Don’t say things for which you lack evidence.


  • Don’t be obscure.
  • Don’t be ambiguous.
  • Be brief.
  • Be orderly.


  • Be relevant.

We tend to assume that people are following these maxims in conversation.  While my reply is true in a strict sense, it implied a whole lot more.

Ah well, live and learn.

14 Responses to Nerdy Romance Mistakes

  1. I fear the Maxims of Conversation are going to fail you. See how far you get with that the next time an object of your lust asks “Do these pants make me look fat?”

  2. “And I’m forced to plead guilty to a similar situation. A number of years back, a girl I was dating told me she worried sometimes that she liked me more than I liked her. My unthinking response at the time was, “Well, it’s unlikely to be exactly equal. Someone has to like the other more.”

    I’ve gotten much better since then.”
    Holy shite. I think I had that same conversation.

  3. Barry says:

    So, when conversing about a matter that’s really important, I should remember the law of “Conversation of Matter”?

    (and its converse, I suppose…)

  4. Graham says:

    Funny, as soon as I read the comic today I posted it on Facebook saying “It’s probably a bad sign that I found his response completely reasonable.” But it reminded me of your post “When Literal Honesty Goes Awry” so I came here to re-read it, only to find you posted the comic!

    Uh, socially inept nerdy minds think alike?

    • Jesse Galef says:

      Seriously! I mean, we were all thinking that, right? The world contains everyone, so…

      Wait, not everyone thinks like that?

  5. NascentDreaming says:

    The truth is whats applicable. So if a premise is not completely applicable then it is at least partially untrue. In this case the female character says “I wouldn’t trade you for the world” which implies several things. A) the act of trading implies two separate objects, so when he replies that she is a subset of the other object he would be trading he has used poor reasoning. The world could mean many things. You might argue she could say the universe but one could also argue that their are other universes and which universe is she talking about . . . ect. So when she says “I wouldn’t trade you for the world” she is talking about trading her boyfriend for something distinct from her boyfriend. I think it is reasonable to assume she is saying ownership of the planet she lives on since that is an easily identifiable object which also means world. Which leads us to B) Which is that she is implying the utils of the world are not equivalent to her boyfriend. She uses ownership of the world to imply that the utils gained from ownership would be incredibly high but still not enough to want her to trade the utils gained from being with her boyfriend. If she was trying to give an example of low or negative net utils she could of easily picked something else like a job detecting land mines. C) And most importantly he is demonstrating with his answer that he is not in tune with his girlfriend. There are two conditions which could of caused this but none of them are going to satisfy her.
    1) He is incompetent -made a poor joke, did not understand how to relate to her statement ect.
    2) He is apathetic – does not care about their relationship, is too busy with other priorities ect.
    Most of communication in relationships is empirical rather than theoretical and this is why “nerds” are so socially inept. It is just a matter of how an individual spends their time.

  6. Jeffrey says:

    I don’t mean to be the one who states the obvious, but you’ve lived an xkcd:

  7. Dave says:

    Maybe you could have admitted that she liked you more at the time, but then worked out mathematically that your rate of liking her is growing at a faster rate and thus she’ll be better off in the long run. Or maybe that she may like you more in this universe but in an alternate universe you like her more. …And if you’re feeling really romantic, explain why you probably like her more in most universes.

  8. Richard Wein says:

    When I was a young child and wouldn’t eat my food, my mother would sometimes say, “There are starving children in the world who’d give their right arm for that food,” a common saying at that time. I’d think to myself, “Then why don’t they just eat their right arm?” But as nerdy as I was, I could still sense it wouldn’t be a good idea to express this thought out loud.

    And I’ve just remembered another nerdy joke (specifically for programmers). A programmer is found starved to death in the shower. Next to him is a bottle of shampoo bearing the instructions: “Wash. Rinse. Repeat.”

    (I expect a true nerd would object that the shampoo would have run out long before the programmer starved.)

    (Does feeling the need to mention that objection make me a true nerd?)

  9. commenter says:

    had you possesed your now superior powers of communucation when she asked you that, how would/should you have responded

Leave a Reply to Jeffrey KiblerCancel reply