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.