The first date with Devin* was at a coffee shop, and over the next week, we decided to meet for dinner. We went to a restaurant that’s part of a large US chain. We opened the slightly unwieldy menus.
“My oh my, what to order.” He used a funny, silly voice. “I think I’ll order the kreplach.”
I peered over the menu. “Did you just speak Klingon?”
Devin didn’t smile. Then in a long, guttural, drawn out voice like Ogre from the 1984 film Revenge of the Nerds he said, “Neeeeeeeeeeeeerd.”
Heat ran up my chest from my lower abdomen and collected at my neck. Devin ignored any cue to talk about Star Trek or actual kreplach and moved on to whether the mushroom Swiss burger might be any good.
Devin wasn’t the first person with whom I had a date and who invoked similar words. Ren quite frequently would text only the word “dork” after I said something. Ridley’s every other sentence to me was a variation of “you are weird.”
I don’t begin talking about E=mc2 or quantum theory on a date. But I see the world in a unique and intense way, and that apparently presents itself verbally during dates. When I said, “This prime rib is intimidating. It’s intimidating me,” during a formal dinner, it didn’t seem to win admiration from my date, Hal.
Judy Galbraith and Dr. Jim Delisle say in The Gifted Teen Survival Guide: Smart, Sharp, and Ready for Almost Anything , “The truth is that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of giftedness. After all, we’re all supposed to be equal, so when some people (especially kids) seem more equal than others in the brainpower department, others look for ways to artificially equalize them.”1
Nerd. Dork. Weird. I’ve vacillated back and forth my entire life between hating being called those names and embracing being called those names. Stacy in junior high called me Dex. It was the first time someone used one of those words. But she also had a self-deprecating wit and infectious laugh that made Dex less biting. I wasn’t affected by the word. During high school, I had good friends and greatly enjoyed the four years, but I just didn’t emotionally or socially understand a lot of what I saw happening around me. Dating and romantic relationships were challenges for me to understand, and I certainly wasn’t well-equipped to navigate them. I began telling people I was raised by wolves. During our senior year, the entire class had matching T-shirts with chosen nicknames imprinted on them. Mine read, “Polish Wolf.”
Not long after the dates with Devin, Ren, and Ridley, I had a consistent few years when I was not hearing the terms nerd, dork, or weird and slowly was no longer identifying with the words. Then I was working for a publisher with a niche in gifted education and psychology and was presenting at the 2015 Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted conference in Denver, CO. A high school friend lived in town, and we went to a nearby restaurant after the conference ended. Laura asked me about the event name, audience, and purpose. I told her, and she asked, “Are you gifted?” I said without pause, “No, no. I’m not gifted. I’m just weird.”
I felt myself falling backwards into age seventeen, latching onto a familiar and slightly comforting archetype. If I had my Polish Wolf T-shirt, I might have slipped it over my head.
Stephanie Tolan’s 2009 article, “Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem and the Gifted Adult” examines the idea that we’ll see giftedness in others but not in ourselves. Tolan also uses the phrase I thought I was the first to utter: “I’m Not Gifted. I’m Just Weird.”2
I argue we grab ahold of an archetype or adopt an identity to mask what we don’t want others to see. We create an Other when we feel an Other is ourselves. It seems easier to distance ourselves before they distance us. Be as quirky, silly, and zany as possible. Gifted is vibrant and wonderful in many ways. But it’s not always shiny and pretty and glittery and looks like the ending of a romantic comedy. By co-opting the word weird for myself or when others do it, is it an attempt to hide the fact that despite the cognitive flexibility that giftedness brings, we’re not comfortable revealing the more intense and darker parts of who we are?
You won’t hear me call someone—gifted or not— a nerd, dork, or weird. It’s not my right to assign them that identity.
Perhaps I should begin saying, “I’m Not Weird. I’m Just Gifted.” But even I am just not there yet.
*Names of people with whom I had dates have been changed.
1. Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle. The Gifted Teen Survival Guide: Smart, Sharp, and Ready for Almost Anything (4th edition) (Golden Valley: Free Spirit Publishing, 2011).
2. Stephanie Tolan. “Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem and the Gifted Adult,” originally published in Advanced Development Journal, 1999, http://www.stephanietolan.com/self-knowledge.htm.