Intellect Required

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A friend and I were recently discussing her breakup when she said something I’d been thinking for at least a year now.

“I feel kind of like a bad person,” she started, “but is it too much to ask to want to date a guy who meets a certain intelligence requirement?”

My answer: absolutely not.

Now, my friend’s ex wasn’t necessarily an idiot. He was successful in what he did, pulled in a decent salary, and generally seemed like he had his act together. The problem was, for my friend at least, that he never finished high school. I’ve been in similar situations, where the guys I dated either dropped out of college or were finishing their associate’s degree, and each time, I came to the same conclusion as my friend.

The main issue was that they had no desire to educate themselves, and having conversations with these guys was like pulling teeth with no nitrous. Sentences had to be repeated; words had to be defined; background information had to be established. By the time all that was squared away, no one even cared about the conversation anymore. It was exhausting, not to mention frustrating. I mean, really? You don’t know there are three branches of government? Or who Stephen Hawking is? How is that possible?

I’m aware that this seems like intellectual snobbery and judgmental dating at its worst, but bear with me. Neither my friend nor I claim to be geniuses, and these guys aren’t morons, but clearly we have different priorities and sit on different sides of the intellect spectrum.

Of course, some people will say, “but opposites attract!” Just like two oppositely charged magnets. And yes, they sure do! But do you know why two oppositely charged magnets attract? Because they’re both magnets. They have that in common; in their opposition, they’re actually quite similar. They aren’t just drawn to each other because they’re opposites, but because they both happen to be magnetized metal objects. There’s common ground there, a foundation, something to hold them together.

This is the flaw when you apply the “opposites attract” theory to people. People are attracted to each other not simply because they have very different personalities or interests, but because they have something else in common. Can a metal head and a Lady Gaga fan hit it off? Sure, they can, if there’s something else to make up for the difference. Can a Harvard graduate and a high school dropout make it work? Why not, provided there’s a common interest and enough to talk about. A Sox fan and a Yankees fan? Whoa, let’s not get crazy. Look, I would really love to sit here and write that love is enough, and if you truly care about someone, you’re willing to look past their faults and shortcomings; I would also really love to write that I look like Heidi Klum and sing like Ella Fitzgerald. There’s a reason I don’t.

Naturally, attraction is different for everyone. However, I believe that couples with similar backgrounds or frames of reference tend to last longer. For my friend and me, both in our mid-twenties, the majority of our lives has been spent in school, and most of the things we’ve done have happened through that outlet. To not be able to share our experiences with our significant others because they can’t relate throws a huge wrench in the relationship.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a checklist at the ready of every date, and if the guy didn’t graduate cum laude with a double major in Astrophysics and History, we give him the boot. What it does mean is that we’d prefer to be with someone with a thirst for knowledge, who understands where we’re coming from when we reference literary characters, historical figures, or important cultural events and phenomena. Cars and beer are great conversation topics, but variety is the spice of life, and sometimes conversations need a little kick—or a big kick, in my friend’s case.

Let me be perfectly clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking cars or beer. Being able to identify cars by their headlights or chug a 40 in mere minutes doesn’t make you a dolt. Being able to do only those things—and being content to do only those things—does.

So, is it completely unreasonable for an econ major to want to date someone who knows who Adam Smith was? Or for a political science major to want to be with someone who can have an in-depth discussion about health care reform or illegal immigration? Or for someone who went to a women’s college, speaks French, and heard Gloria Steinem speak at her graduation to want the guy she dates to know who Simone de Beauvoir was? Or for any of these people to want to have something in common with the people they date?

Again, I say: absolutely not.

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28 comments

  • Whats Your Point?

    Who would argue with your proposition that similarly minded people should date? This blog topic seems like filler.

    People who look down on others’ intelligence are ridiculous. Your friend should have realized that she was a superficial twat before she ever dated this guy. It’s her fault, not the guy’s. The guy’s better off without her. She can go be enlightened (but miserable) at an art gallery….by herself…while he will be having a ton of fun at a monster truck rally.

    • This is one of the more stupid comment I’ve ever seen. People have standards and deal-breakers, as simple as that. I’m sure that “Whats Your Point?” – whose name should, in fact, be “What’s Your Point?” – would not argue with a post by a man stating that standards of physicality and attractiveness are OK. I have incredibly high standards for intelligence in dating because I am usually only attracted to men who are smarter than me (as arrogant as that sounds). I’m not ashamed of this, in any way, because I could never be happy with a man who I couldn’t hold an intelligent discussion with. I would go completely crazy, if I dated someone who constantly made grammar mistakes, didn’t know who Mao was, or (see lamebook) didn’t know that Africa was a continent. *What’s Your Point” is simply upset by the fact that his/her genes would probably be excluded from the gene pool if all women maintained these higher, but entirely reasonable standards.

  • Whats Your Point? :
    Who would argue with your proposition that similarly minded people should date?
    People who look down on others’ intelligence are ridiculous. Your friend should have realized that she was a superficial twat .

    Wow! The previous commenter is suffering from schizophrenia! He/she first agrees entirely with your point, and then goes on to blame and insult your friend for wanting to live that way! I agree wholeheartedly with your blog, and your friend is NOT superficial for wanting to have intellect in common. I consider common intellect a “deal-breaker.” And it’s not “judgmental” or “superficial” to be attracted only to someone who can hold up their end of whatever conversations excite you. Common ground – it’s just one more piece of the puzzle when it comes to finding a person with whom you “fit.”

  • Whats Your Point?

    LRS is suffering from overuse of quotation marks.

  • Going to collage doesn’t necessarily make someone interesting. I haven’t been to collage and I’m having this problem with a guy. He went to collage and is smart in computers but having a conversation with him is tough, it’s sex and his job and driking. Ok I like sex too but I don’t understand his job and he doesn’t have an interest in talking about anything else. 🙁 Bums me out cuz I kinda liked him

  • Well, no, schooling doesn’t make someone interesting. It can do the exact opposite with prolonged exposure. But Wynter, your situation is what I’m talking about. Different things are important to different people, but the ability to have a mutually-exciting conversation is a pretty universal desire for most people when it comes to relationships. For me, since I like having intellectual conversations, I need the guy I date to be able to hold up is end of them; for you, it may be something else. The point is that we need to recognize what those non-negotiable factors are and not be afraid to want our significant others to possess them.

  • Can I comment without registering (which would reveal my secret identity to yet another person)?

    I just wanted to say that I liked the article, but I felt you were holding back, being a little too careful and considerate. I realize that this is a very (perhaps just about uselessly) vague critique to make, but I’m not trying to be your editor, I’m just sayin’.

  • I really hate when people confuse knowledge/intellect with education. I have no education. I’m a senior engineer at a power plant. All of my subordinates have their masters degrees. None of them are really that bright. They just come from families that could afford for them to hang out for a few years after high school. A piece of paper from an accredited piece of paper giving institute does not make you smart.

  • usually its the women who are dolts. i have noticed. most women have neither an intellect nor a sense of humour, but i’m generalising here. i can only speak about the rather huge subset of women my buddies and i have screwed. they were morons. but hot. so i disagree with this article, for no real reason

    • More women graduate from college than men. Oh, and by the way, it’s “generalizing” and “humor” (unless you’re from the UK). 😉 I find it entertaining that so many men have issues with women having reasonable standards of intelligence, while no one has a problem with men having incredibly high standards for women.

  • Good point about the magnets. And great examples of opposing personalities that can work provided the two people have something else in common. Enjoyed that.

    Now, as for the rest of this… I’m totally with you there. I don’t particularly think of myself as an “intellect,” honestly. But I love learning new things and I’m intensely interested in language and literature. To not be able to share those things with the guy I’m dating actually makes me feel LONELY, which is not how you should feel when dating xD

    Some of the commenters picked on you for what you said about educated guys. But this is what *I* heard:

    “The main issue was that they had no desire to educate themselves.”

    You’re talking about the guys that don’t WANT to learn, not the guys who just couldn’t afford to go to school. There’s a big difference.

  • Can I just say that I LOVED you paragraph on magnets. Oh, the giggling.

    Just to pick up on what Rachel was saying, I think it’s important to be interested more than knowledgeable. I am not an expert on medieval history, a topic my husband adores, but I love learning about it. He’ll tell me stories, suggest books, etc. and I have fun learning and chatting with him about it. Because I’m interested.

    Conversely, he’s interested in my areas of expertise (Mythology, folklore, etc.) and though he’s not an expert, we can discuss and still have a pleasant conversation because he’s interested in what I have to say. I love learning new things, and I try not to let areas of ignorance hinder me. If I don’t know something, I’ll tell you and then let you explain. This does two things, allows you to talk about something you clearly enjoy and are knowledgeable in, and I’m learning. It’s awesome.

  • I also disagree with the idea that intelligence and formal education are one and the same. The problem? He didn’t finish “X” level of school. Seriously? My ex and the guy I’m currently dating are both college drop-outs who have done very well for themselves: homeowners, good career, interesting personalities, and both of them, despite lacking a college education, are fantastically smart. I have a BA and will probably go back for an MA in 5 years – and I’d rather date a smart drop-out than a clueless moron with a degree.

  • Again, I’m not arguing that intelligence and formal education are equivalent. I’ve had great conversations with college dropouts, and I’ve had horrible ones with guys with a Ph.D. The issue is that the guys in question really had no desire to learn anything, or better themselves through any sort of education whatsoever. You can be smart and not have a degree, and you can be a total idiot and have multiple degrees, but if you’re an idiot without a degree, and you have no drive to get one, I can’t date you.
     
    There are also the commonality aspect and the added bonus of having college experiences to talk about, although that could be any given thing you have in common with someone else. But in my opinion, with someone who didn’t go to college, doesn’t know who the vice president is, and doesn’t care to, there are deeper issues at hand than just the absence of a degree.

  • Oh man, I was having this conversation with myself for months before (and after) my husband and I started dating. Here’s what I’ve brought out of it:
    1)education =/= intelligence and vice versa.
    2)it’s not the _level_ of perceived intelligence that matters, it’s the desire to learn that is far more important
    3)even if you end up falling for someone who doesn’t necessarily “love” learning like you but doesn’t shut it out to sit happily in their ignorance, so long as there are enough other things in common to hold you together, it can work. Just be sure to surround yourself with like-minded friends/co-workers to keep that part of your brain stimulated.

    In the end, #3 was the most important factor. My husband is no idiot, but he’s quick to point out that I’m “smarter” (read: more educated) than him so I’m constantly explaining things to him. You’re right, it does get frustrating at times, but I just have to keep in mind the fact that he’s asking me to explain it, means that he’s interested and therefore willing to learn. And so long as he’s still listening, I’m happy to teach him.

    I know I can be an intellectual snob at times, but he’s always there to keep me grounded. It’s because of our intellectual differences that he makes me a better person. 🙂

  • And this is where it ties in to my absolute dealbreaker post. Someone who is set in their ways and not willing to change (i.e., an absolutist) won’t have this desire to learn new things. So THAT’s the ultimate dealbreaker.

    By the way, Sam, why the grim face? 😉

  • Bc Dennis, your blog seems to think I’m a mean, nasty, bitter person. How did it discover my true form? :p

  • @sam: Well, another option is to be a surprised-looking triangle (see Pete above). Take your pick….

  • I have been with the same man for 10 years. And he is the one with the degree eductation. I have a minimal degree enough to be a nurse. From the begining I feared the different back grounds. But there was alot of other common ground things to keep us together. And he reassured me my fears were not founded. Untill lately. I was shocked to hear him say comments like what is written on this reply board. And I know this is not entirely true. I have been by this man’s side for ten years. Through thick and thin. And now he is using the lack of intellectual stimulas as a reason for what ? No intamacy. What the #$%%^ is that all about ? Some man out there please tell me,this too shall pass.

  • Obviously, I don’t know your significant other, so take what I say with a grain of salt….

    This is something I’ve seen happen quite a bit when someone is becoming dissatisfied with the relationship, but doesn’t have any tangible reasons. So, they latch on to whatever reason they can. Maybe the intellectual thing bothered him just so slightly in the back of his mind before, but it was never an issue because he wanted to be with you (by the way: ummm, don’t nurses have pretty skilled jobs that require a good amount of training and intelligence?!?).

    But now that he’s (perhaps) growing more dissatisfied with the relationship, he’s making it an issue, whether consciously or subconsciously.

    For what it’s worth then, I would suggest that you delve deeper and try to figure out if there’s something else about the relationships he’s unhappy with, if there’s some reason he might be using your education as a scapegoat. Because scapegoating seems like what he’s doing.

    Again, grain of salt, please. And good luck.

  • This article seems to have spawned a pretty passionate set of comments. Since I have a few issues with it myself, allow me to join the fray!

    Allison, I have a teeny tinsy correction to make: you’re not searching for a guy with intellect, but with a similar cultural background or at least an interest in *your* cultural background. Other commenters have touched on this but not very clearly.
    I don’t have a great ability of synthesizing information, but I’ll try to keep it short:
    Intelligence=the capacity for solving problems (the most general definition).
    Knowledge=the accumulation of data and the ability to recall it in a timely manner.*
    (*Note: both are my personal definitions, feel free to disagree with them, I won’t shoot you for it 😉 ).

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is that an intelligent person doesn’t necessarily make a knowledgeable dialogue partner and viceversa; also, knowledge and intelligence alone are not enough for a pleasant conversation – other conversational skills are required (like tactfulness, common courtesy, a sense of humor etc.)

    Even further, KNOWLEDGE, as a whole, encompasses an astronomical array of fields; it’s extremely unlikely to find someone interested in ALL of them. So, even if you meet someone who is very intelligent, with a Ph.D (or several) AND interested in learning more about a variety of subjects, you STILL might not be able to have an interesting conversation with him, because it’s entirely possible the he’s just not into what sparks your interest, and you’re dreadfully bored by his areas of interest.

    Example: HE has a Ph.D in astrophysics, likes working out and outdoor activities (mountain climbing, bike riding, that sort of stuff) and is a HUGE fan of cartoons like Futurama; he hates classical cultural events (like going to classical music concerts, visiting art galleries and museums, and such) because they are so boring that they lull him to sleep.
    SHE has a Ph.D in Sociology, loves piano music (and is a proficient player herself), is an urban, indoorsy type of person who has a fascination with medieval history and art, and she can’t stand adults watching cartoons (a pet peeve). They both want to engage in conversations that are both intellectually stimulating and an opportunity to learn new things.
    They’re both intellectually compatible, but their interests are extremely different. Do you think their relation might work?
    Maybe, IF they manage to get past their “boxes” and meet on common ground. But what if the genuinely cannot find common subjects of interest? Not because they’re “absolutists” like Dennis Hong’s deal-breakers, but because that’s just how they are (e.g. I’m not interested in BDSM, not because of prejudice, but because I genuinely don’t like it)?

    Sooo, what was my point? *stares for a few second at the ceiling trying to remember*(dammit, I gotta lay off the booze, it’s starting to affect my memory…) *suddenly remembers and snaps his fingers* Ahh yes, here it is: it’s not “intellect” that is required, but “cultural compatibility” – and by that I mean common interests! Deceivingly similar, but vastly different!

    (“I don’t have a great ability of synthesizing information, but I’ll try to keep it short”?! Man, I’m so full of s**t! This reply is almost turning into a friggin’ essey! Oh well… 😉 )

    • I agree that common ground is essential, but I do stick by my initial, if problematic, point that the guy I date has to be intelligent. I consider myself to be an intelligent person, and I’d like my mate to be able to keep up with and even challenge me, and vice versa. In a way, you can count intelligence as just one other thing I’d like to have in common with the guy I’m with.

      But as you said, “cultural compatibility” is what is essential, and to me, having spent the majority of my life as student, I would like to be able to share those experiences with my boyfriend. If we don’t have that academic background in common, it’s going to be a lot harder for us to relate to each other. And if we do have that academic background in common, then it’s likely our minds are at similar levels. I don’t automatically write off anyone without an education, but after meeting and talking with someone, if I don’t think we match each other intellectually, we won’t be seeing much more of each other.

  • But then again, “Intellect Required” is a big eye-catcher, and definitely makes a great title for your article! ;D

    • This is true. It’s not a very complicated or intellectual title, so you don’t have to have a degree to understand it. I don’t really want to date simple-minded people; I just want them to read my articles! 😉

  • Allison, I second you!
    I’m just saying that if you meet an intelligent and educated person, don’t be too disappointed if you won’t be able to have an intelligent conversation with him/her. It has happened to me all too often… 🙁
    Oh, and if you’ll be kind enough to indulge me a curiosity: is your icon a bottle or beer-can or something similar?

    • Oh, I’ve had many conversations with Dennis. I know how disappointing smart people can be. 😛

      My icon is a cold glass of Guinness, poured at St. James Gate, in Dublin.

  • 1. Hmm, I’ve been waiting for Dennis to leave a witty comeback, but he seems to be laying low. Allison, you’ve so owned his ass… 😉
    2. A-ha!

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