Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Romantic pointers from Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon

Photo by Christie Smith
Photo by Christie Smith
Illustration for article titled Romantic pointers from Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon

When seeking a source for relationship advice, it’s hard to beat a husband and wife with three weddings (to each other) under their belts: Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s marriage began with a courthouse wedding, which was followed by a three-day Muslim Pakistani ceremony with Nanjiani’s family and a several-years-belated reception with the couple’s friends. Today, Nanjiani and Gordon—he’s a stand-up comedian and co-star of HBO’s Silicon Valley; she’s a former therapist and current writer whose byline has appeared in Rookie, Vulture, and elsewhere—co-host a gaming podcast (The Indoor Kids) and put on the weekly Meltdown stand-up showcase in Los Angeles. Following in the footsteps of other Hollywood power couples like Dan Harmon and Erin McGathy and Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, Nanjiani and Gordon responded to the first of two A.V. Club Valentine’s Day questionnaires for 2015, applying their expertise to questions submitted by our readers.

Dear Kumail and Emily,
I’m in my mid-20s and ever since graduating college it’s become increasingly difficult to meet single women my age. I’m not really into the bar scene, and most people in my social circle have already gotten married and/or started to have kids, which makes it harder to find a wing-person for a night out. I don’t live in a major city so it can feel like my options for entertainment/reasons for leaving my apartment are limited. Do you have any advice on how to break out of a rut? The last time I tried talking to a girl, I asked her if she liked hobbies. So… I’m thinking I might need some low-pressure pointers.
Astronaut Mike Dexter


Emily V. Gordon: First off, he’s an astronaut. He should probably lead with that, don’t you think?

Kumail Nanjiani: I don’t know, if someone comes up to you and they’re like, “Hey, I’m an astronaut”—


EVG: I’d be like, “Yeah, get in here!”

KN: You’d be like, “Oh, there’s some kind of line coming, like, ‘Oh, you fell from space or something’”?


EVG: Or that he’s really into acid.

I think you always find the things that you’re even tangentially interested in—like, you’re into movies, go find screenings of movies in your area. Take a class in something you’re interested in.


KN: Oh, like a cooking class or something?

EVG: Yeah.

KN: That’s good. It seems like he’s into hobbies.

EVG: Obviously. Find a girl who’s into hobbies. I always tell people, take a class or volunteer. It really helps you get out of your own little pocket of people you always see and gets you exposed to a new group of people. And then you also have the guarantee of telling strangers, “Oh, I’m taking this class” or, “Oh, I’m volunteering at this place.” And that always gets the ladies hot.


KN: Yeah, go to, like, a cat shelter or a dog shelter. Those guys always need help.

EVG: And then you look really cool at parties!

KN: Or just get Tinder.

EVG: Or get Tinder. That could probably be our answer for most of the questions.


The A.V. Club: Are Tinder and other hookup apps making romantic-advice columns irrelevant?

EVG: A little bit, although those things creep me out. I think, if I was single, I would probably be asking very similar questions to Astronaut Mike Dexter. Wow. Big ups to me for remembering that name, first off. Is that his name?


AVC: I think it’s Liz Lemon’s fake boyfriend from 30 Rock.

EVG: I forgot about that! Just go to a 30 Rock convention.

KN: There’s always stuff in small towns. Sometimes I’ll do a show and go look up weird stuff in the newspaper and we’ll go do it.


EVG: Get out of your comfort zone and try something new.

Dear Kumail,
You spoke with Thomas Middleditch at my school last year, where you delivered an endearing account of the summer in which you discovered your own sexuality. I was hoping you could share that once more with us readers.
A. Student


KN: I discovered masturbation and I was doing it a lot. That’s basically it. You have nothing, and suddenly you find something, like, “Okay, let’s pour some of my life into this for a while.”

EVG: Some of your life? All of your life.

KN: All of your life. I mean, literally. It’s a long stand-up bit, I’m not going to get into it. [To Emily.] What was yours? For me, it was pretty intense. It was a few times a day.


EVG: Very intense. And then I would do a lot of stuffed-animal work.

KN: Stuffed-animal work?

EVG: Yeah, it’s unfortunate. Except I had one stuffed animal—she was my favorite, so I was like, “I’m not going to sully her with my gross sex stuff.”


KN: Oh! Like in The Fall, where he kills women, but he loves his own daughter.

EVG: Yeah, exactly.

KN: Great.

EVG: That was a terrible answer for that question.

KN: I probably set records. Like, I was at six for the longest time—

EVG: A day?

KN: Yeah.

EVG: Whew.

KN: And then I got to—I think I beat it eventually. But six—

EVG: He was rushed to the hospital with dehydration. [Laughs.]

Dear Kumail and Emily,
First off, you two are by far Hollywood’s best power couple. My question is: If tabloids were to mash up your names, would you prefer to be called “Kumily” or “E-Mail”? This is a serious question, and I expect a in-depth response.
Cordially yours,
Luke [Last Name Withheld]


KN: What about Justin Timberlake and—

EVG: Jessica Biel?

KN: They’re a power couple.

EVG: I’m thinking Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

KN: We’re the power couple of the L.A. podcast scene. No, wait—[Scott] Aukerman and Kulap [Vilaysack]!


EVG: Oh, no! We’re nothing.

KN: We get Kumily a lot.

EVG: We do get Kumily a lot. E-mail is fun, you know, but it’s hard to differentiate between just the word email.


KN: “E-mail was seen at the farmer’s market today buying way too much…” well, peaches? Peaches aren’t around anymore. “They walked by the empanada four or five times before finally giving in…”

EVG: “…getting 15 empanadas!”

KN: What if we do our last names? We could be Gornjiani.

KN: Or Nandon? Nandon’s no good. I think it would be Kumily Gornjiani.

EVG: It sounds like a Russian dancer. It’s not, it’s us.

Dear Kumail and Emily,
Hey guys, I’m a big fan. I love Kumail’s stand-up, Silicon Valley, Harmontown, and The Meltdown.

On to my question. I’m a male junior in high school who’s never been on a date or hooked up with anyone. It hasn’t been for lack of trying. I’ve liked many people, but it hasn’t worked out. In the past I’ve gone from crush to crush really quickly, but it’s been more than a year since I’ve met anyone I’ve been interested in. I go to a private school so there aren’t that many people in my school. I also have obscure interests, mostly indie music and other niche media, which makes it hard for me to relate to people. I was wondering if you guys could offer any advice on places to meet weird people like myself, potentially of the other gender. Thanks for doing this!
Lonely Teenager


KN: I didn’t do anything in high school or junior high school, so I’m the one who’s writing in the question.

EVG: And I was the weird teenager who had strange interests.

KN: But you had your community—you found your people.

EVG: Here’s what you do: You go to concerts of bands that you like. You go to concerts even if you don’t know the band or you only kind of know the band because there’s going to be a subset of people there that you’re going to relate to more. You go to weird video stores, you go to comic book stores. This is where our people are. And then you just strike up conversations. You’ve got to realize that—how do I put this?—your interests are niche, but they’re not that niche, so don’t worry: You’re not such a special snowflake that you can’t find anybody. You might find a girl who’s not into exactly the same things you are—maybe she’s into anime instead of Cronenberg or whatever—but at a certain point you realize the person that’s good for you doesn’t have to be a person who is exactly into the exact same stuff you are. Sometimes they’re a person that’s just also into weird stuff. So open up your horizons a little bit in that regard.


KN: Yeah. Like, for instance, Emily and I, we like niche stuff, but in different ways. Like, I think Raiders Of The Lost Ark is the best one, and Emily thinks Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade is the best one.

EVG: [Laughs.]

KN: But you know, there’s a huge difference, so—

EVG: Not a great example.

KN: But we managed to find some common ground.

I’ll also say, it sounds to me like he’s coming out of a little slump with some of the ladies.


EVG: A little slump.

KN: That’s the sense I’m getting. You know, you’re not in control of things that are going on. It’s like you’re behind this huge rocket ship—


EVG: You’re talking about his penis?

KN: Well, I just mean sexuality in general. But do what I did that summer, I guess: Bide your time and practice on yourself.


EVG: Bide your time, practice on yourself, and go to events and go to shows, even if it may not be your favorite band, because a girl doesn’t have to like exactly the same things you like. She can like similarly weird and niche things, but she doesn’t have to like the things that you like. You’re going to get there and you’re going to be fine.

KN: I know it seems like, when you’re there, that you’re like, “I am never going to have sex!” And it really feels very, very real, but it’ll be okay.


EVG: This too shall pass.

AVC: It’s interesting that this question came up after the first one, because it’s kind of like the same problem, but at different times of life. Is it easier for a teenager to go to these sort of cultural events and find their people? Does that get more difficult as you get older?


EVG: I definitely do. Absolutely. I remember being a teenager and feeling like I could talk to anyone anywhere about anything. And it’s not like I’m less bold now, but I’m like, “Well, no reason to go talk to a stranger.” [Laughs.] It just doesn’t occur to me as much.

KN: I’m the opposite, though. I didn’t talk to anybody in school, but now I feel like I could talk to anybody.


EVG: I definitely think when you’re a teenager it’s more forgiving to talk to strangers and go up to people at a mall or whatever. But nobody’s going to do that shit when you’re, like, in your 30s. Like, “Hey, girls. You guys going to Sbarro later?” That’s creepy if that happens to you in your 30s. But when you’re a teenager, that’s how you meet men. Boys. [Laughs.]

KN: Yeah, don’t meet men when you’re a teenager.

AVC: And don’t meet girls when you’re a grown man.

EVG: Yeah!

KN: Yeah.

EVG: Tit for tat.

KN: Oh, god, stop it.

EVG: None of that, none of that. Tit For Tat, None Of That: That’s my new album.

How do you feel working in close quarters together (on The Meltdown, The Indoor Kids) has impacted your relationship for better or for worse?


EVG: Good question.

KN: I think you have to figure that out, right? We’ve been doing this a few years—we figured out certain things. One rule that Emily set up was, if we’re going to talk about work, we have to say, “Hey, this is going to be about work.”


EVG: You have to ask for permission before you do it.

KN: Otherwise, all day can be about work, right? And you don’t want a professional relationship with your significant other. But I think part of it was trying to separate your emotional feelings from the work at hand, and also drawing these lines between work time and, like—


EVG and KN: [Simultaneously.] Play time.

EVG: We have gotten better at it. I think at first we struggled with, “Well, this is something a wife should do and this is something a husband should do,” versus, “This is something a co-worker should do.” And I think we’ve gotten pretty good about that. You just have to keep talking about it and do your best to take all the emotions out of it because it’s just like negotiating business arrangements with a person you already know quite well. It can be a little sensitive, but you just have to keep talking about it and eventually it gets easier and easier. And I really like working with Kumail. And I think it’s been good for our relationship. We both have stuff we’re doing without the other person, which I think is also good.


KN: Yes, I think you have to have your own stuff going on, too.

EVG: But we learned ways, like when we’re doing Meltdown, we basically function as partners rather than as husband and wife. Although sometimes I’ll sneak a quick smooch on your face. But for the most part we’re not, like, lovey-dovey all over each other—we’re just trying to get work done, trying to get the show done. And then when we go home, we can hang out.


AVC: Have you ever had to record a podcast episode in the middle of a fight?

EVG: I will say—[To Kumail.] do you mind if I say this?

KN: What is it?

EVG: We nearly made a whole podcast out of times that we started recording on our own and then we kind of start squabbling and then have to stop recording the podcast. We don’t fight a lot, but it is extra humiliating when it’s being recorded.


KN: Yeah, like, “Delete that.”

EVG: [Laughs.] This is going to crush the children that listen to us.

KN: And sometimes we’ll have an argument and start recording, and during the course of recording, we’ll just sort of become okay.


EVG: We’ll get over it. It goes both ways. But, yeah, it would be breathtakingly horrible if we released all the times we had to stop recording because we started snapping at each other.

KN: It’s not many times. It’s been probably three years we’ve been recording and maybe, like, three or four times?


EVG: Probably. But, man—holy shit! We mentioned it to a friend of ours and he was like, “You have to release those!” I was like, “Never! That belongs to us. You don’t get to have that!”

KN: No. Even I don’t want it.

EVG: No, nobody wants it. [Laughs.]

KN: Throw it in the ocean!

I’m horrible at being in relationships because I’m a stupid butthole. I’m not like a fundamentally bad person (I think), I’m just an insecure coward, so I hurt people. Consequently I don’t have any interest in being in relationships anymore. What do you think I should do?


KN: Emily?

EVG: [Laughs.] This is where the former therapist in me comes out. I think you’re completely right for not wanting to be in a relationship right now. It is quite clear you need to work on the relationship you’re already in, which is the relationship with yourself. You cannot be in a relationship with another person while you’re suffering from this much self-loathing. Because guess what? That excuse of, “That’s why I hurt people because I don’t like myself”? It’s 2015—you can’t do that anymore. That’s bullshit. It’s not bullshit 100 percent—I see how it happens—but it’s not acceptable.


KN: Just labeling yourself is different than just accepting. Like, just because you label yourself something doesn’t mean you can’t change.

EVG: Yeah, it doesn’t give you license to be a dick. Which is what it sounds like—you’re very aware of this, you’re not in a relationship right now because of this, that’s great. So what you need to do is start going on dates with yourself. You need to get to know yourself, you need to start accepting yourself how you are, and I 100 percent recommend getting some therapy. Not because you’re mentally ill, but because this relationship you have with yourself is the most fundamental one and you have to start—you have to build that foundation before you can really really start having good relationships with other people. It’s not anyone else’s job to save you and make you a whole person. It’s not anybody else’s job to make you like yourself. That’s what therapy is for. That’s why therapists are great.


KN: Yeah, like for instance: I love myself, which is why I’m great at relationships, right, Emily?

EVG: Uh huh. That’s right!

I’d say get in therapy. Not because you’re crazy, but you need to work on your relationship with yourself. And then you can start dating.


Dear Kumail and Emily,
I’ve been battling depression for nearly a decade now. I know that’s not really got anything to do with dating, but the good news is that in the last 18 to 24 months I’ve started making real progress and actually started getting on the up. I’m not there yet, but I’m gonna make it.

The real question is, how do I throw myself into the world of dating? I’ve spent so long establishing routines for myself and maintaining strict control over my emotions for fear of relapse into dark emotional states that letting go of everything and jumping into dating is slightly terrifying.
Also, you two are adorable.


EVG: Oh, happycookieday, I’m so so happy for you that you are on the up-and-up. I think that is wonderful. I love when people are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s a daily struggle. It’s always going to be a struggle, and I’m very happy that this person is struggling with it. Kumail, do you have anything you want to add for this one?

KN: I mean, this is your specialty.

EVG: I know, I mean, I just feel bad—

KN: No, no, it’s good. I get the “summer of masturbation” questions, you get the—[Laughs.]


EVG: Depression questions?

KN: Yeah.

EVG: I would say, you’ve got to really start with close relationships that are maybe not romantic relationships, and start experimenting with some vulnerability there. I think this idea that being in a relationship means giving your all and throwing yourself into the abyss of another person—I don’t really subscribe to that so much. I think you dip your toe in, you very slowly wade in, but the instincts that have made this person better and helped them fight their depression are the instincts they need to listen to when getting in relationships. You do it slowly, you do it over time, and you experiment. When something starts to feel uncomfortable and starts to feel like you’re losing yourself and losing your grip on your depression, then you’ve got to back off a little bit. You just need to take it slowly, do it with a therapist’s help, explain to the other person that you want to be in a relationship with them. And start with friendship, because intimacy can happen in those, too. And just start slowly building up intimacy and see where that takes you. Love is great because you get to lose yourself in it, but you can’t lose yourself so much that you lose yourself.


KN: Which is a T-shirt Emily is selling.

EVG: It’s true. It’s very long—it doesn’t look right on anyone’s body.

KN: It continues on the back.

EVG: Yeah, it just says “lose yourself” and then people are like, “Oh, Eminem fan—great!”


But their instincts are good—it sounds like they know what they’re doing. They just need to keep going on the path they’re going on, and go slow.

Dear Kumail and Emily,
I know you are perfect for this question: I’m religious. I really believe the dogma and really am pushed to be a better and more serving person because of it. It’s amazing, except that few people in their 20s are more than nominal believers these days.


I’m also, I suppose, a hipster, in that I wrote comedy at an Ivy, get really rejuvenated by “serious art,” and think a great date idea is going to see Kumail’s stand-up. (She loved it and you both were so nice in person.)

I end up getting stuck between two worlds: Either the woman values what I value but is boring, or she’s exciting but we run into irresolvable sex/kids/big ideas conflicts.


Assuming someone who bridges both doesn’t show up, which is less painful: settling spiritually or settling for day-to-day mundaneness?
Q, 27, Milwaukee

EVG: Holy smokes.

KN: Don’t you think it’s possible—first of all, I’m sure it’s possible to find someone who shares your interests—


EVG: And is also religious.

KN: And is also religious in the way that you would like them to be religious. I think it’s very possible. [To Emily.] A little while ago we saw that hip L.A. church, do you remember that?


EVG: Yeah.

KN: There was a church service and all these hipsters walking out and I was like, “Is it a gallery?” No, it was a church. I think that there are a lot more churches for people of all different kinds—so there’re certainly places like that you could go to. But also don’t you think, Emily, it’s possible to be in a serious relationship with someone and not agree about—but I guess with kids it’s weird.


EVG: I think it makes it tough long-term. I think that it’s definitely negotiable. I wouldn’t want this guy to give up either one. I wouldn’t want him to settle in to a boring life with someone who’s also religious because—

KN: That’s not what love is.

EVG: Yeah, and then he’ll start resenting her and it’ll be gross. I don’t want him to have to compromise what he believes. I think it’s badass when people are passionate about anything, including religion. I think we should use this column to find this guy a mate.


KN: Oh, yeah.

EVG: I think if you are in the Milwaukee area, if you are religious, but you have cool bangs, ladies—


KN: And if you’re reading this, chances are—

EVG: Chances are you’re right up his alley. I think we can find this guy a mate. I think there are more religious people out there than most of us think and I think it’s whatever floats your boat. And that’s what floats his boat, and I’m sure there’s a lady who wants to get in that boat with him.


KN: [Laughs.] That’s another T-shirt.

I do think people our age think it’s become, like, uncool to be religious.

EVG: There are definitely exceptions to the rule and I think, in this day and age, maybe what’s the most punk rock is being religious in the face of everything. We’re finding all kinds of new ways that people can be religious that are very open and tolerant, and just are about personal beliefs.


Let’s find a lady for this guy. Milwaukee, come at me! Come at me, I’ll handle it personally.

KN: Come at this guy.

EVG: Oh, yeah: Come at this guy. I was going to handle it personally, but maybe I’ll let him do it.


KN: No, no, no: The A.V. Club’s got it.

AVC: We’ll vet all potential candidates in the comments section and then contact Q.


Dear Emily and Kumail,
I’ve been dating my girlfriend for a while now and we’ve yet to tell her parents that she’s in a serious relationship. The reason for this is that she and her parents are white, Russian Baptists and I’m neither of those. I’m Mexican and Catholic and so we’re worried about how they (mainly her father) will react, since he wants her to date within her religion and race. Were you two in a similar situation with your parents? How did they react? Any advice would help. Thanks!
A Fellow Indoor Kid


KN: We certainly were in that position, but what you realize is you don’t give your parents enough credit. For the most part, you have to do what makes you happy. You can’t live for your parents. They’re wonderful, but they represent your past. And your loves and your friends represent your future. So, I think you have to do what’s right and hope that your parents go with it. Like, my parents: Emily wasn’t the kind of bride that they pictured in their head, but now they love her and have a very, very wonderful relationship with her. And I think you have to hope and trust that that’s what will happen.

EVG: What you told me, Kumail, was that your parents ultimately loved you more than they were concerned about who you would end up marrying, to the extent that they wanted you to be happy. And if you were happy, they were going to find a way to be okay with it, too.


I think it’s doing you a disservice if you stay clamped down on this stuff and keep secrets from people. I understand there are some cultures where that’s the kind of thing you just do. You just keep certain things from your parents and it’s an understood thing. But if it’s really causing you a lot of stress and anxiety, I think be forthright and let them know that this is not just you fucking around—you’re actually in love with someone. And trust that they’re going to come along for the ride. My parents were very open for the whole thing all the way because—

KN: They were excited about it. They were certainly the coolest.

EVG: So much exotic new family to have. So I’m saying this from a place of not having personally dealt with this, but definitely with Kumail—


KN: Yeah, but you’re in the position he’s in.

EVG: Sure.

KN: Because it’s her parents who are the ones who are—

EVG: I would say be patient with her—which, I had a hard time with you sometimes—but be patient with her.


KN: I forgave you.

EVG: Thank you, honey. [Laughs.]

Be patient with your girlfriend as she does this because this is a really, really big deal to her and it’s not that big of a deal to you, as it wasn’t to me. Know that, if it’s a big deal to her, you have to go at her pace. But know that, if your parents love you, they’re going to love you and hopefully that love will triumph any social mores.


KN: And she’s going to get in a fight, and she’s going to be in a bad mood, and she’s probably going to fight with you. And you just have to understand that.

EVG: Ha!

KN: It’s a stressful situation. It was stressful with my parents. I’m stressed out, and then, you know, I’m probably not the most—


EVG: You’re an angel all the time.

KN: But sometimes the angel acts out.

EVG: The angel’s got a little bit of dickhead streak every once in a while. [Laughs.]


KN: Angels have swords too, you know?

EVG: There’s your T-shirt.

KN: So you just have to be patient and understand that you’re not going to fully understand this. To you, you think that they’re being unreasonable and crazy—


EVG: The parents.

KN: Yeah. And you just have to understand that you don’t understand, and hope that you guys are strong enough to be able to deal with it.


EVG: Yeah, you may never see eye-to-eye on it, but maybe seeing eye-to-eye isn’t the end result that you are looking for. Maybe just acceptance is the result you’re looking for. And acceptance is different than understanding.

KN: Begrudging acceptance.

EVG: Begrudging acceptance that eventually turns into, “Oh, she likes spicy food! We love her!” [Laughs.] Not that that happened in our case.


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