What Eleven Fictional Hackers Can Teach Us About Love and Dating

"The password to unlocking the secrets of the heart… is Swordfish."

Whether we’re talking about Henry Dorsett Case in William Gibson’s iconic Neuromancer, Claudia Donovan in Warehouse 13, or Barbara Gordon as Oracle, if you take a moment to examine the geek canon, it’s easy to spot the prevalent role hackers have played in many of our favorite works.

And as any of these fictional hackers would tell you, as experienced people who have broken into secret government files (Anna Grimsdottir), seemingly unstoppable killing machines (John Connor), and even their own minds (Johnny Mnemonic), the password to unlocking the secrets of the heart… is Swordfish.

Okay. No its not. I’m sorry for that.

But, the whole heart thing… well, you’d be surprised at the lessons you can find within works featuring hackers. Seriously! Let’s take a look.

Don't Wait Too Long, Go For It

David Lightman (WarGames)

When Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy) suggests David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) swim off an island they’re stranded on, David explains to her that he can’t swim. With a terribly sad look on his face, he tells her “I never got around to it, okay? I always thought there was gonna be plenty of time!”

Go ahead and watch the video, to relive that moment. Sure, he’s talking about swimming… but he could easily be talking about anything else.

The lesson here? Don’t wait too long. Don’t assume there’s always going to be more time to do anything, not just swimming. That guy you’ve always wanted to talk to, but you’ve always felt too shy? That girl you’ve spotted looking at you, but you’re a bit too anxious to say anything? To quote Dashboard Confessional, “don’t wait.”

Go up, say hi, and maybe invite them to play a nice game of chess. Real chess, maybe in the park or something. Not NORAD chess.

Eric Smiths's The Geek's Guide to Dating is available from Amazon.

Date Outside Your Comfort Zone

Marcus “W1n5t0n / M1K3Y” Yallow (Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow)

Even though Marcus is already a character deeply invested in things that are dangerous, what with the whole revolution-against-the-Department-of-Homeland-Security thing, he takes additional risks over the course of the story… with his dating choices.

His love interest, Angela “Ange” Carvelli, is, in some respects, an even more intense figure than Marcus is. She’s bold, speaks her mind loudly, openly. Marcus remarks that he’d never dated an aggressive woman before, but luckily takes the jump.

The lesson here? Take risks, date out of your comfort zone.

I’m not saying you should start zapping your food with sweet, delicious pepper spray just to impress your date who does the same… but don’t be afraid to take a chance on someone different. Those differences can make someone all the more interesting, the relationship exciting, and gives you room to grow, as that person broadens your horizons.

Watch for Catfishing

Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Before Willow became an all-powerful witch; everyone adored her as a nervous, bookish, computer hacker in Season 1 of Buffy. It’s this love of computers that eventually leads to her really delving into magic, when her computer science teacher, Jenny Calendar, is murdered by Angelus in Season 2.

Oh, poor Giles. Let’s all take a moment to remember those feelings we had. Okay? Okay.

During her sophomore year, Willow starts a relationship up with a guy she meets on the Internet. She ignores her friends, despite their concern and reservations regarding this mystery boy (and her increasingly strange behavior), only to discover her Internet crush is actually a demon by the name of Moloch.

The lesson here? Look, it’s not like Willow was looking to start online dating. But there’s absolutely a lesson in catfishing here. Be careful when you’re out there, meeting people and dating on the Internet. Ask questions, listen to your friends. Not everyone on sites like OkCupid are demons-in-waiting… but still. Be alert.

Also See: Stanley Jobson. In Swordfish, this hacker gets tricked and pushed around throughout the entirety of this I’ll-admit-it's-bad-but-still-fun movie. Probably should have asked a few more questions, before jumping into a situation that was too-good-to-be-true.

Trust Your Wingman (or Wingwoman)!

R2-D2 (Star Wars)

R2-D2 is more than just a supporting character in the Star Wars saga. He’s one of the key heroes, pushing the story along and driving the protagonists. He carries the Death Star plans, delivers important messages, and is an expert hacker. *

Bottom line, he is an awesome wingman.

In dating, it’s important to have a wingman (or wingmen) you can trust. Friends who will look out for you, keep your best interests in mind. R2-D2 looks out for everyone, frequently saving the day. Everyone should have an R2-D2 in his or her life.

Also See: Chloe O’Brien. She has an incredibly complicated relationship with Jack Bauer throughout 24, but he couldn’t have done anything without her. An amazing hacker, she risks everything to help Jack, almost losing her job in the process. Because a good wingman (or wingwoman!) is there to the end.


* There’s a fantastic essay about R2-D2 as the hero of the Star Wars saga that you can find here. Big thanks to my pal Ben Novack for introducing me to this.

The Importance of Trust and Dealing with Jealousy

Chloe Sullivan (Smallville)

It’s hard not to adore Chloe Sullivan. Fans love her so much that she even has a spinoff series with the Chloe Chronicles.

As Clark Kent’s best friend, Chloe helps him with a number of important missions throughout the series, using her skills a brilliant hacker and computer expert. However, her unrequited love for him is a major point in the series, and leads to some problems in her love life later on.

See, Chloe and Jimmy Olsen (no, I will not use the term “Chimmy” don’t even… ah, too late), frequently run into issues over the course of their relationship, dealing with jealousy and trust. From Jimmy’s frequent jealousy over Clark to Chloe having to hide her meteor powers from Jimmy, they spend a lot of time being afraid of each other, rather than being open and honest.

The lesson in all this? Be open in your relationships. Establishing trust is incredibly important to have a happy one. And if you trust your significant other enough, well, jealousy really shouldn’t be a problem, right? Right.

Fight for Who You Love

Kevin and Sam Flynn (Tron and Tron: Legacy)

Kevin and Sam Flynn are prolific programmers and hackers that go out of their way to fight not only for the programs, but for the world that might be under siege by those programs if they don’t make a difference in these virtual realms.

More is at stake in Tron: Legacy. The programs are planning to invade the human world, but they also want to destroy Sam’s love interest, the intelligent and beautiful “isometric algorithm” known as Quorra. On top of all that, he’s on a mission to save his father.

The lesson here is clear. Fighting for who you love. In Sam’s case, it’s the world, his father, and Quorra.

Also See: Thomas A. Anderson. Also known as Neo in The Matrix series, his fight to rescue mankind from the clutches of the machines becomes more than just that. He falls in love with Trinity, and finds himself with even more to fight for. He’s fighting for the woman he loves.

Be Kind to Your Exes

Hiro Protagonist (Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson)

So what can the last of the freelance hackers and the greatest swordfighter in the world teach you, besides how to walk around having one of the greatest names in all of literature? Well, he can slice out a valuable piece of information about love. Particularly, about love once lost.

After Hiro meets everyone’s favorite skateboarding cyberpunk Yours Truly (Y.T.) and the two begin to learn more about the nature of this cybernetic drug called Snow Crash, he’s inspired to really start investigating at the prompting of an interesting character.

His ex-girlfriend.

For those of you who haven’t read the science fiction masterpiece… well, I’ll avoid spoilers, but if it weren’t for a certain Juanita Marquez, a lot of what Hiro discovers and unravels wouldn’t have happened. Her guidance and help pushes him in the right direction, and sets forth in motion some serious change.

Point is, you can learn a lot from Hiro and this situation. Breakups are hard, obviously. People get hurt and sometimes are quick to villainize their exes. Try your best not to do that. If you can maintain some sort of friendship later down the line, go for it. You might not end up mankind like Hiro, but you never know.

Also See: Jack Marshall. In The Hacker Files, a device given to him by his ex-wife Kathy Spencer helps him save the day… as well as himself.

Published 3:17 pm Fri, Dec 20, 2013

About the Author

Eric Smith is cofounder of Geekadelphia, a popular blog covering all-that-is-geek in the City of Brotherly Love, as well as the Philadelphia Geek Awards, an annual honors show held at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He's the author of The Geek's Guide to Dating. He lives in Philadelphia.

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