About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.

I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.


Nerd Q&A: How Much Do Looks Matter?

Performer by The Lost Gallery
Here's a question I see a lot, both from girls, boys, women and men. In some form or another it boils down to, “how much do looks matter?”

I'd love to tell you that looks don't matter, but that would be a lie, and I'm not going to lie to you. They matter. Everyone knows this is true, and anyone telling you otherwise is trying to sell you something.

(Unless the person is visually impaired, in which case you can skip down to the hygiene section.)

Looks matter to everyone, even you.

That's right. I said it, and I can hear the plaintive, “but looks don't matter to me at all!” Just stop. You're not fooling anyone.

Think about it for a second. Before you hear a person's voice, before you smell her, before you know his sense of humor, you get one huge piece of information about anyone you meet: what they look like. Maybe you honestly don't care how much people weigh, the color of their hair, the kind of clothes they wear, or how old they are, but you do make judgments about people based on how they look.

Consider these two groups:

People Laughing by Richard Foster
Zombie Attack by Thierry Ehrmann

You might think that the people on the left need to adjust their Prozac, but you aren't going to run from them and barricade yourself inside your zombie-proof bunker, and you wouldn't share a nice glass of pinot with the group on the right.

Or, maybe you would.

The point is, we make judgments based on available data, and the first data we normally get about a person is with our eyes.

Now that the horrible truth is out of the way, lets consider how much looks matter? That's a trickier answer, which depends entirely on the person. One person might like athletic boys who wear expensive clothes, while another person might like shy musicians who wear thrift store outfits, while another person might like studious girls who wear glasses and Mary Jane shoes. It's all up in the air.

Looks matter to everyone, and everyone likes different looks.

If you're a lanky redhead, there is someone out there who likes how you look. Overweight and hairy? There are entire forums on the Internet full of people who want to meet you. Short? Sweaty? Hunchbacked? Wheelchair-bound? There is always someone who will be attracted to how you look.

If you're in high school, take a breath. Nothing outside high school works the way high school does. Fortunately, it will be over in a very short time and none of the (very limited sample of) people around you will matter if they aren't already your friends. It's easiest to just find people who like the same stuff you do and let common interests outweigh physical attributes. Have some fun for a little while before you go to college.

And now I can hear the depressed mewling, “but I want a specific person to like me.”


At some point, you need to realize that justifying your own worth by another person's values is a pointless transaction. But I realize that's a difficult mountain for most people to climb.

Ideally, if you want a specific person to like you, it's smart to find out what that person likes. If the person is judgmental, concerned with fashion, or has a very specific “type”, then you will have to do some work. Is she a fashionista? Wear the kind of clothes she likes. Does he really go for an athletic build? Hit the gym. Does she exclusively date tall men? If you're not tall, sorry, there isn't anything you can do except get over her and move on.

Sometimes this can be an opportunity to improve yourself. Maybe you've always meant to buy better clothes or learn tae kwon do, but generally speaking if you change just to make someone like you, you're being dishonest. At some point you will get tired of the costume you've put on, and someone's going to get hurt.

Fortunately, not everyone has a set in stone “type”. Most people have preferences, but they can usually reserve judgments about a person until they've had a conversation or two. All you have to do is fit within a range of acceptability so you have a chance to talk.

Bear with me while I get a tiny bit nerdy. Generally speaking, you can consider any population's aesthetic preferences as a bell curve where most people, the ones under the greatest area of the curve, are similar. The people at the ends of the curve are unusual and like things other people don't. This explains why pop music all sounds similar and there are tons of reality shows on TV. It also means they have similar tastes in the kinds of looks they prefer. All you have to do is fit into that average part of the bell curve, which shouldn't require a lot of change on your part.

Tips on becoming the most attractive common denominator:

Without spending a lot of money and effort, there are plenty of things you can do to make yourself more attractive to more people.

The simplest thing you can do is stand up straight. Not like you have a rod up your butt, but look at people's eyes instead of their feet, and pull your shoulders back. Eye contact lets people know you're aware of them, and pulling your shoulders back makes you look solid.
Look where you're walking, not at your phone or the ground.
Smiles are attractive and contagious. You don't have to smile constantly, but flashing a grin once in a while makes people think you know something cool, funny or interesting. A smile will also make you feel better.

Soap won't turn you into someone's dream, but body odor will turn most people off. Unless you're camping, shower once a day.
Brush and floss your teeth at least once a day. This not only keeps your mouth smelling good, but keeps your teeth and gums healthy, which your future self will thank you for.
Comb or brush your hair (unless you're bald or otherwise can't do this).
Go out and get some sun, but wear sunscreen. Vitamin D deficiency can make you sick, so go outside once a day, even if it's just to make sure the zombies haven't taken over.

I know this is tough for almost everyone, even non-nerds, but exercise not only improves your coordination and your confidence, it keeps you healthy. You don't have to run a marathon, just do something fun that involves movement.
Play Frisbee,
walk the dog,
ride your bike,
dancing games on XBox count
Exercise is easier if you do it with someone, so finding other people doing the same sort of exercise is a good way to make it more enjoyable (or less of a chore).

Wear clean clothes. Fashion is subjective, but grubby clothes aren't, so stay on top of the laundry.
Iron your business or dress clothes (or pay a cleaner to press them). Even if your work uniform is a polo shirt and khaki pants, ironing them will make you look like a pro.
Alternate wearing different pairs of shoes each day so they have a chance to air out.
Unless you're wearing something that is intentionally distressed, like jeans or a biker jacket, replace any clothes that are torn, stained, threadbare or in otherwise poor condition. Even if it's your favorite T-shirt, those pit stains are going to repel a lot of people.

This isn't completely about looks, but it's connected.
Look at people when they talk to you. This shows you're interested in what they're saying and allows you to gauge by their facial expressions how they are reacting to you.
Look around at other people in a group when one person is talking. This shows you're interested in them, it also gives you a chance to consider their facial reactions, and you can usually tell if they're getting ready to say something so you can judge if you want to talk or let them have a turn.

None of these suggestions require you to stop being you, they just help you present yourself effectively so people are open to finding out more about who you are.

Pro tip:
I'll wrap this up with one solid piece of advice.
Find people who like the way you look instead of trying to fit what a person likes. Generally this is as simple as talking to people. If they don't run away screaming, you've accomplished 90% of your goal. Take an interest in people who take an interest in you, and the rest will take care of itself. 

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