As an introverted nerd growing up in the 1990s (pre-internet and pre-cell phone) I found myself unable to make friends and instead took shelter in the ever-present reruns of Star Trek. It was the perfect blend of optimistic, intelligent, and dorkily earnest science fiction that, with many repeated viewings, comforted my anxious soul while giving me hope that tomorrow would be better. The Next Generation became a foundational element of both my pop-culture predilections and my philosophical worldview.
In retrospect, the show also shaped my romantic interests. The characters I crushed hard on growing up would become the archetypal models for the partners I would pursue as a teenager and adult. Not necessarily their physical characteristics (though LeVar Burton was, and is still, a snack), but their personalities — warts and all. And so I’ve decided to catalog my exes (and myself) via the lens of my biggest love — Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Let’s face it. When you’re a nerdy teenage girl going to high school in a small town, every teenage boy is either an awkward yet relatable nerd like Wesley Crusher, or they’re a jock — in which case they might as well be Tamarian because their language and culture are completely alien to you. And while I’m sure my high school ex would strongly object to being classified as a Wesley (partly because he is 6’3” and not white, and partly because no one wants to be Wesley) if the rainbow striped turtleneck fits…
Much like young Wesley, my high school ex was extremely intelligent, but prone to self-sabotage and finding himself in hot water both at school and in his relationships. He struggled academically and he often broke the law in minor ways — though, thankfully, he was never as close to execution as Wesley was for stepping on that darn lawn. Like most tumultuous teen romances ours was short lived. He kissed another girl at a party and instead of coming clean about it, he enacted a Nova Squadron level cover-up and broke up with me for a fictional reason. But unlike Wesley, there was no Picard in his life to pressure him into telling the truth, and so he didn’t come clean until five years after the fact.
Geordi La Forge
My college boyfriend (and first serious relationship) was a Geordi. Highly intelligent and a natural leader, he went from directing our campus production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (how we met) to organizing and helming several strikes and sit-ins as a full-fledged union rep. He was not afraid of getting into trouble if he felt the cause was just. And, like Geordi, he needs some optical assistance. He was also very shy around women and tended to put his romantic interests on a pedestal. But ultimately, he was extremely loyal, often willing to try and make things work long after it was time for us to go our separate ways.
William T Riker
Fresh out of undergrad and freshly single, grad school was my time of self-discovery — I was trying to find out who I was and what I wanted romantically and sexually. Naturally what I discovered was a whole lot of — for lack of a better word — fuckboys, which henceforth, will be dubbed Rikers.
I met a lot of Rikers in grad school; the guys who are handsome, charming, and maybe a little too cocky. Not all of them hopped over chairs backwards in order to sit down, but I know they all tried it at one point. There was one Riker that seemed to plague the entire three years of my MFA, and funnily enough he did kind of look like pre-beard, season one Riker. Dark hair, striking blue eyes, and hunky in that late 80s to early 90s sort of way.
Like Riker and Troi we kept circling back to each other, or rather, whenever our latest dalliances would end it was easier to sleep with each other than to go home alone. He would claim that we were friends, but I think that was a lie he told to both of us (me and himself) to make our arrangement feel less shallow. Because every Riker thinks of himself as a good guy who just wants to settle down with the right woman at the end of the day — but you know deep down that if he ever does settle, it isn’t going to be with you.
Grad school was also where I met my Worf. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He had a beautiful head of hair. He had a strong nose. He looked like a real “man’s man.” Like a Klingon he was stoic and gruff, but also passionate — hiding a deeply sensitive and romantic core. We were star-crossed in a sense, as when we got together it was with the knowledge that he was going to be moving far away in a few months. But what I didn’t know at the time, was that treating our relationship as undefined and casual (something we both agreed to) deeply hurt his pride, and his honor. It finally became too much for him and he broke it off.
The bigger the crush, the longer the impact. And much like Tasha Yar, I found myself crushing hard on Data... and was therefore doomed to fall for a series of emotionally unavailable nerds as an adult. There have been at least three Datas in my life. The first, another grad school romance, was quiet, polite, and artistically quite gifted. And like Data and Jenna D’Sora, he was the one who pushed for us to “experiment” with having a relationship while pursuing our degrees. But he was a man of strict routines and he realized that the thing he wanted — a romantic relationship — was something he was incapable of maintaining.
Then there was the boyfriend I met when I first moved to Los Angeles. He was what I like to refer to as “damaged emotion chip Data,” who in his endless pursuit of humanity and human emotions loses control when the chip is activated. This ex was much the same way. His mood swings were wild. He craved constant attention and intimacy and yet was simultaneously terrified of it. He sobbed in my arms when he told me he was incapable of loving me.
My final Data was much like my first. Courteous and reserved, he excelled at all the trappings of relationships — he was good at maintaining communication, thoughtful gifts, and was extremely punctual. But once again the inability to be emotionally intimate reared its cybernetic head. Instead of saying “I love you” he came up with a list of strange experiments (including “monitoring our cuddling”) for us to try. He did take very good care of his cat though.
Saving the worst for last, it’s time to talk about Q. Every girl secretly fantasizes about the “bad boy” and I was no different. But rather than thinking of myself as the one who could change him, I pictured myself more as a Vash. I thought that I would be the one to take Q up on his exciting offer of infinite adventures, turning a willfully blind eye to the inevitability that he would eventually grow bored of me.
And that’s what happened with my real-life Q. He was hyper-intelligent, charming, funny, and a total sociopath. He had money and an important job, and he convinced me, over time, to let him take care of me financially. He took me on adventures. We moved in together. But over time, the appealing parts of Q gave way to reveal his cruelty, his fickleness, his petty scheming against his colleagues, his eagerness to experiment and play mind games. And eventually, he tired of me and cast me aside (immune to the direness of my situation) in favor of a shiny new toy. It was for the best — leaving the Q continuum always is — but it was a harsh and painful drop back into reality.
Acknowledging these patterns and archetypes in others helped me to reflect on my own tendencies as well. I always knew that I was not a Deanna Troi - I’ve never felt at home with traditional femininity. And while I longed to have the confidence (and ability to attract older men) of Vash, deep down I knew that I did not. Instead, I have had to accept and own the fact that I am a Tasha Yar. I had a difficult childhood (though nothing compared to hers), I am fiercely independent, and even if I am constantly falling for the wrong person, I can rock a pixie cut like nobody’s business. Just remind me to avoid Vegra II at all costs.
Brittany Knupper (she/her) is a Los Angeles based writer and burlesque performer. She is an editor at NerdsandBeyond.com and a frequent contributor at The Mary Sue. Find Brittany on Twitter @MsGeorgiaOQueef.