How to cut out the pretension and make new friends.
June 12, 2016 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently 26. Mentally capable, polite, reserved, and forthright. And most everyone bugs the fuck out of me. I'd like to not experience that!

There's possibly a few reasons as to why. I was in TAG in school for about 9 years, I was in all the advanced classes. It was pressed into me that I was super smart, smarter than most people. I was in smart kid competitions, my parents lauded me for my intelligence, and I bought it hook line and sinker. The side effect of that is that I started thinking everyone was an idiot. In time I was humbled, I marched the cruel march of learning what hard work is, was wrong a million times over and made a bunch of mistakes. But I held on to that belief that I was smarter than most everyone else.

In time, I actually got competent at my artistic pursuit. People I respected started calling me a genius, which is a fantastic complement but it only fed my pretension. Folks I'm friends with say I'm very well put together mentally-emotionally for being 26. Also feeds my pretension.

I went to a party last night of folks about the same age as me (about 25 or so folks, I knew only one of them) and the pretension flared up hardcore. Everyone was pretty much a stranger to everyone else. I wasn't overtly asshole-ish to anyone, but I made almost no effort to strike up conversation or join in on what I considered idiotic conversation. Either I found the subject matter idiotic (like the how the latest Marvel release holds up) or the consensus take on the subject matter idiotic (Capitalism is destroying children's minds!) I was polite, but definitely not friendly. Conversely, they were all super friendly with each other, and it hammered into me how isolating pretension can be.

This attitude has made me more and more of a hermit over the years. I find myself lonely sometimes but my idea of people is worse than the loneliness. I often feel closed off to the ideas and philosophy of other people. I rarely go out due to me being sober, I barely maintain what friendships I have, dating is incredibly sparse, and all in all I can see this heading in a very bad direction. Like "the deceased philipschall is remembered fondly by his angry manuscripts and pet cactus" bad. I HAVE TO overcome my pretentious attitude toward others.

What would you recommend?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (81 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
– Take up an activity that involves socializing with people in mixed age groups, including people older than yourself, with more life experience.
– Travel, and go to some bigger, older cities than you're used to.
– Go teach English in some cultures older and more complicated than your own.
– Volunteer, and meet people whose life experience is more varied than yours, even if they're broke, disabled or otherwise worse off than you in obvious ways

...?
posted by zadcat at 6:50 PM on June 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


Intelligence is one of many traits that people can have. Not wanting to talk to people because you automatically assume that they lack the one trait you think that you have an abundance of isn't very intelligent in and of itself.

You obviously WANT to make friends, so that leads me to believe that deep down you know that interacting with other people has some value. Maybe explore what that is? Find things to admire in other people and become curious about those things. Satisfy those curiosities by striking up conversations and maybe making some friendships!
posted by destructive cactus at 6:50 PM on June 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


The phrase which came to mind for me is 'would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?' As you have realized, the high horse can be a very lonely ride :-)

So, firstly, I would suggest breaking down this idea that any one person you meet has to be your perfect match in all areas. My husband, who I consider to be a very smart person, collects baseball cards. I don't get it. I see why baseball as a sport appeals to him, but the collecting of the cards, I don't get it at all. And yet, there are obviously other aspects of him which appeal to me, or I wouldn't have married him. So in your case, you may not care about the Marvel movie. But you can still partake in food and drink and enjoy an evening with some probably perfectly nice people. They don't have to be your soulmate twins to make the experience worthwhile.

Secondly, I would break down this idea that intelligence is an absolute thing. You can be smarter than these folks about some things, and dumber than they are in other areas (for instance, they all found the social encounter you described much easier than you did). It is not that you are the special snowflake and they are the common plebes. People are just more multifaceted than that. Roll with that and people may start to seem less scary to you.

Finally, I would suggest that perhaps you start with activities that are less 'pure social' and more focused on a task. For example, in university, I regularly went to an indoor climbing gym with several folks from my class. I don't recall that we talked about much other than the task at hand because it was physically demanding, and when you were partnered with someone, you were responsible for their safety, so you kind of had to focus. A few of these people became better friends and we did do other social things. But some of them were definitely just people I saw there and that was that.
posted by JoannaC at 6:58 PM on June 12, 2016 [30 favorites]


If you try, you'll find that most people will be better than you in at least one thing. You can make it a game when you meet people to find out that one thing then learn from them. It might be astrophysics or philosophy, or it might be knitting and ukulele, or it might just be comic books and finding fun things to do in a city.

I used to think small talk (such as marvel releases) was stupid but I realized it's just part of social decorum like making eye contact when you shake hands so that you can eventually get to the good stuff in conversation.

On the other hand, you can try to seek out people who are smarter than you in your field and be humbled that way. Hang out with older folks if you need to.
posted by just.good.enough at 6:59 PM on June 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Understand that 1) conversations between strangers about Marvel comics or capitalism at parties are usually just cover for people feeling each other out and 2) people vary in conversational skill. Be generous about both those things.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:02 PM on June 12, 2016 [38 favorites]


Ah, yes; I grew up rather like this (except I don't know WTF "TAG" is and neither does anybody else not in your age cohort and geographical area, and this jumped out at me as a possible little "this guy is really a bit isolated" tell). It takes a while to realise you are ordinary and flawed just like anybody else.

You need to stop thinking of intelligence as the most important thing. I did for years, and I had a number of completely terrible relationships with men with sky-high IQs and the mental illnesses and unfortunate personality traits that like to accompany that if nobody slaps any sense into them at any point. Some could be real assholes; I was young; it was, I told myself, better than dating somebody I might find a bit sub-par intellectually. How boring!

You need to really come to terms with how much thinking of yourself as smart and thinking that that is very important has screwed up your life, and start prioritizing other traits. Stop hanging out with pretentious people who are a little smart but, dammit, not quite as smart as you. Forget it. Go and hang out with people who are kind, with people who are witty, with people who are leading lives happier than yours -- they have way, way more to teach you than the other Mensa nut jobs.

You behave poorly at parties. You are short on friends. I am being harsh here because this is critical to recovery: you need to get it out of your mind that being smart is something that people should look up to you for, and that other people having minds different from your own is something to look down upon. Your being smart has caused you to behave unpleasantly, develop lousy personality traits, and be a not very nice person. What good is it, then? Stop paying attention to it. It is the gifted kid's folly to think it makes them a superior person, just as it is the popular kid's folly to think that the pretty hair and plethora of party invites will hold any meaning when high school ends.

Humble thyself and start doing volunteer work -- give freely of yourself, give until it starts to hurt; if it is easy for you to donate $100, donate $500. If you cannot yet be generous with your kindness, be generous in other ways -- next time you are invited to a party, show up with a bottle of expensive booze and a plate of homemade cream-filled cookies that took you all day to make as a gift for everybody there. Just keep giving until you have inadvertently given away all the bad parts in the process of trying to be kind and charitable.
posted by kmennie at 7:05 PM on June 12, 2016 [92 favorites]


So, out of curiosity, did you take part in starting any interesting conversations at this party? Or did you just listen to the people all around you as they started and evolved conversations, and dismiss them all as uninteresting and inferior?

I ask because social skills are actual valuable, learnable skills. Being able to start interesting conversations that draw people to you for engaging conversation is a skill. Sounds like it might be one that you haven't mastered yet.

Something that might help along the way: focusing on compassion. Compassion for others, but probably even more important than that, compassion for yourself. There's usually a reason why people cling so tightly to the notion that they're superior than other people, and that's usually the belief somewhere down in there that they're actually pretty inferior after all. When you get to the point that you really believe that you yourself are valuable, and that everyone else is just as valuable as you, they'll probably start to come across as way more interesting. It's a thought.
posted by Sublimity at 7:05 PM on June 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


As special as you think you are, I believe this is a common problem with people your age. Honestly, that was not meant to be snarky. You've just couched your issue in relative terms to your situation. Ultimately, many many people hit a period after college when they feel disconnected from having a circle of friends with the same quality of connection they had in high school and college. And we think we'll never find our tribe, our place, our self-made "chosen family". I think many here on Metafilter are reasonably intelligent and have gone through a period just as you describe. I know I certainly did, and that was 35 years ago! I hate small talk, shallow people, and trivial pursuits. And I had several years of despairing that I would ever find a place to fit in.

I do believe the key is to pursue hobby groups that appeal to your own unique set of sensibilities. And keep going until you find or build a group that shares your level of intelligence. Learn along the way to be emotionally available, it's pretty easy once you find people that you actually care about being with. And then, of course, you have to put in the time and effort to be there for your circle of friends. But they ARE out there, you just have to keep looking.
posted by raisingsand at 7:09 PM on June 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


If you're sincerely bored, it's not a pretense. Maybe try hanging out with older people, or at least figure out what your interests are and find people who share them.
posted by amtho at 7:15 PM on June 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Everyone is smarter than you in some way. Everyone has some aspect of intelligence that is waaasy better than yours. Everyone has wonderful experiences that you don't. It's scary you've made it to 26 without realizing school smarts are basically worthless as far as most folks lives are concerned. Heck, even as an MD or PhD its hard to get by with just book smarts. And you'reyou're not even one of those. Everyone is smarter than you and worth talking to. You are similar to the high school quarter back retelling that one pass. Over and over. Move on!
posted by Kalmya at 7:23 PM on June 12, 2016 [14 favorites]


One idea: assume that everyone is as smart as you are, but have radically different preferences. So, when someone is completely ignorant on a topic, ascribe that to them (for some reason) just not caring at all about it. Intelligent people can disagree on what is important to know about. People value different things. So when people are spending time talking about banal topics, they probably have a reason, and it's not stupidity.

Look up loving-kindness meditation. There's at least some evidence that it increases "social connectedness," which sounds like something you're missing.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:24 PM on June 12, 2016 [21 favorites]


Hi there! I am not unlike you in many respects! Also, I hate parties.

One thing I've learned over many years: large group conversations are often dumber [more generalist, more lightweight - not necessarily boring or unfun, but less cerebral] than conversations with small groups or individuals. Sometimes a large group can have a dynamic that is really annoying to me - boisterous, clowning around in dumb, childish ways - even though I quite like most of the people in the group. People are trying to create a sort of lowest-common-denominator conversation in which everyone can join, so they're talking about comics or received ideas.

1. I don't go to a lot of parties, because I tend to hate them. I stop in briefly at friends' parties to show the flag, drop off a little gift and then I motor. Knowing that I'm leaving shortly makes the time I spend more fun.

2. If I'm bored by big group conversations, I try to find a small group conversation.

3. I have noticed that even a "here's how the Captain America movie looked and sounded" conversation can get complexified if you ask questions. Ask people relatively sophisticated questions, listen to the answers and respond, just as you would if they were talking about, like, Agamben.

4. I've learned from running a community ed class for the past few years that most people - educated or not, "smart" or not - can do pretty sophisticated thinking (about general culture topics, true, not quantum theory) given a few prompting questions. Also, many people are afraid of seeming ignorant, seeming pretentious or boring others and so they keep their best insights between their ears. If you listen and pay attention, you will be amazed at how smart random "average" people can be. I did not initially realize this, and it made me a worse teacher.

5. In re "capitalism is ruining children's minds": in my experience, people who say that kind of thing are interested in and capable of more sophisticated thinking, but they do not have access to the community, books, time and language that fosters it. You don't want to sit there trying to run a seminar - that's arrogant - but why not just ask some questions about what they mean? Get them to give examples. Try the "yes, and" approach - "yeah, [because of capitalism THING happens] and similarly I notice [my idea about children and/or capitalism]". If you build on someone's idea in a nice way, they will be flattered and want to participate in a conversation with you.

6. Now, this may not be true for you, but for me a part of my reflexive contempt for parties, "the normals", etc, etc, has always been based in fear and childhood crap. Was your childhood of braininess uncomplicated and happy? Mine wasn't, and that's marked me. If you're having a really strong emotional reaction to all this, maybe think about what prompts that.

7. There is a real tension that will always persist if you're of a scholarly turn of mind but don't have a scholarly community. I think it's important to distinguish between wishing for the company of "smart" people and wishing for a scholarly community. (Man, there can be some dumb people in scholarly communities.) If what you're feeling is a yearning for a scholarly community, you should seek one out now while you're young enough to uproot yourself. (If there's one real life regret I have, it's that I did not do this - I have some brilliant friends, really brilliant, and I value them immensely. But sometimes you find yourself wanting even the most average-brained specialist in your field of study, just so you can talk shop.)
posted by Frowner at 7:28 PM on June 12, 2016 [43 favorites]


Here's the thing about talking to people you don't know: it needs lube. What you're probably witnessing a lot of the time with these conversations you disdain is people liberally applying social lubricant. They are talking about things that contain common points of cultural knowledge and interest, they are probably not each talking about things that they deep down find meaningful, scintillating and or even true (I've been present at any number of conversations where a single dude with a half-baked ass-pull sociopolitical opinion gets going and five other people are standing there nodding and smiling, and it's not because they agree with him). So do keep in mind when you hear people making small talk that they are making small talk. It's not supposed to be intellectually rigorous, it's just supposed to lube up the social interaction enough that everyone can have a laugh and feel less awkward.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:30 PM on June 12, 2016 [14 favorites]


I was in Talented and Gifted, and I'm empirically smarter than most people, as determined by various rounds of standardized testing. I'm probably smarter than you, at least in some areas. It hasn't done me a lot of good, and most of the best things in my life have little to do with whether or not I got a perfect score on the GRE. You need to get over yourself a bit. Smart people can like comic book movies, and also think that capitalism is destroying children's minds (I probably agree with that statement, but I'd need to hear more about it). You're probably wrong about a lot of things that you think you're right about. I don't know what the right path here is, or how you can accomplish this, because only life can teach it to you, but the best thing would be for you to learn a little humility. People who score lower on IQ tests than you might have more wisdom than you think, and not everything has to be high-falutin. Get drunk and take a rope-swing into a river. Let go of whatever you're holding on to so tight you can't have fun.
posted by dis_integration at 7:36 PM on June 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


Also: a couple of years ago I went with a friend to see an X-men movie. It was very loud and pretty terrible and full of bad ideas. And yet I'm so glad I went - I ended up getting interested in depictions of disability and superheroes and also reading a number of novels and memoirs by and about Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany; my interest in superhero comics led to several really fascinating conversations with a comics expert about genre, pacing and characterization in X-Men comics; and I could participate in a bunch of conversations that I would have been bored by in the past. You want to talk about the X-Men? I can talk about the X-Men! Indeed, I will enjoy almost any conversation about the X-Men now, whether we are discussing how Judaism appears in the comics versus the movies or our feelings about omega class mutants generally.

When I was 26 you wouldn't have caught me dead at a movie about superheroes. I would have said that life was too short to waste even a few hours on a lousy, fascist movie full of explosions. And that's kind of true - it's not like I go to see loud, dumb movies just on spec. But the occasional loud, dumb movie can lead you really interesting places.
posted by Frowner at 7:44 PM on June 12, 2016 [16 favorites]


The concept of intelligence is not well defined nor can it truly be measured. In fact, believing in the fallacy of "true intelligence" is not exactly a smart thing to do.

Every person you meet is really goddamn good at something, or smart about a particular subject. You're probably not hearing that because no one really goes to a party to have deep discussions. They're there to be casual. Don't be shocked when casual conversation is all that's on offer.

For actual actions you can take to get over this feeling and feel a little more unified with people I'd suggest volunteering in an area you know nothing about. Like working at an animal rescue. It's hard and requires a crap ton of skills to be learned, and learning them from other people and being mentored might be a good change of pace.

You need to break down the idea that intelligence means authority. Intelligence is not linear. It is very complicated and nuanced, it does not neatly fit into a test or a number.
posted by InkDrinker at 7:47 PM on June 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have been where you are! So this advice is completely sincere, not snarky. Just breathe deeply and get a little older. For me, somewhere in the years between 26 and 36, life events took over and made me less interested in raw intelligence. And do volunteer work. Use your powers to help level the playing field for people with the same natural talents you have, but fewer outlets for them.
posted by 8603 at 7:47 PM on June 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Either I found the subject matter idiotic (like the how the latest Marvel release holds up) or the consensus take on the subject matter idiotic (Capitalism is destroying children's minds!) I was polite, but definitely not friendly. Conversely, they were all super friendly with each other, and it hammered into me how isolating pretension can be.

A few things.

#1: Be curious, or learn how to be if you aren't
I suggest what follows as someone who is not a Marvel fan, but will use it as an example..... Have you tried taking on an attitude of curiosity, rather than judgment? Instead of immediately assuming that the Marvel conversation is idiotic, why not asking them how they became interested in the series? People LOVE to talk about things they are passionate about (obviously!) but just because it isn't YOUR passion doesn't make it idiotic. It may seem boring to you, but that's because you don't see it the way they do. If you inhabit a curious instead of judgmental place in your mind, you will find many, many opportunities to get to know others better.

#2: Develop a sense of humor in social situations
So, the capitalism discussion. Here's the thing - if it's the consensus that believes X, and you believe Y, and you're so confident in your intellectual abilities, why not have a little fun and play devil's advocate? Not in a mean way, or a "look how smart I am" way, but in a way that encourages the discussion and puts you in it. Show a little humor. It sounds like you take yourself pretty seriously, which is fine when you wan to reach a goal or something, but if you can't take a debate or discussion lightly at a party when you're not even participating in it (assuming it's not about racism or some political hot-button issue), it might be something you want to think about. Is it an underlying anxiety, like if you're not in 100% agreement with the conversation at hand, you actively dismiss it as "idiotic" because you can't relate to it?

#3. Challenge yourself to do something new
What's the one thing that is COMPLETELY out of your element? Go and do that, take a lesson in it. Anything to get you out of your own ego.

Also, I disagree with your statement that "pretentiousness distances" you from people. Reading your post, it sounds like you're the one who distances yourself from other people, not This Thing Out There called "pretension." Acting pretentious and judgmental is a choice, albeit an unconscious one - but it's still a choice. Pretentiousness is a description of a trait - it's not written in stone, it's not permanent and it is really only useful to describe a set of behaviors. If you want to act less like the world revolves around you, then, well.... you have to respect other people not for the measure of their intelligence (which, in reality, you have no idea about) but who they are as another living, breathing, feeling person on this planet.

Regardless of their intelligence, or lack thereof, they deserve every bit of respect and regard that you do.

Good luck.
posted by onecircleaday at 8:00 PM on June 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think you might be using your feelings of intellectual superiority to mask deeper, more uncomfortable feelings of social anxiety. Honestly, you sound like you don't like yourself very much--your high opinion of your own intelligence and capability notwithstanding--and that is something people tend to pick up on. Personally, I don't find it appealing to be friends with people who don't like themselves! I know this is a constant refrain in AskMe, but have you thought about seeing a counsellor or therapist to work through some of these feelings?

But more immediately, I think it might help if you just stop making excuses for *why* you don't interact with people, and work on changing how you actually behave at parties or other social settings. You can set yourself a challenge that you will initiate at least one conversation with someone. Or that you'll join a conversation and participate in it for at least 10 minutes. Or something else concrete like that. Otherwise, you might just find yourself getting stuck in a paralyzing navel-gazing loop, agonizing over your inability to find other people worthy of your attention, but never doing anything to break out of that loop.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:05 PM on June 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


And one more thing, because I didn't express it well in my first wall-of-text:

"Intelligence" in conversation gets framed as individual - brilliant people interacting brilliantly. And it's true that a brainy conversation between brainy people is brainy, usually, unless they're being assholes. For a long time I thought that was the only way that smart conversations could happen - put a bunch of intellectuals together and watch them go.

Teaching has shown me otherwise. People who are attuned to each other and engaged in a common intellectual project can have amazingly exciting, educational conversations regardless of where they are in terms of education and [the complex of stuff that gets labeled general intelligence]. You can support conversations that sparkle and fascinate - and that will surprise you - by asking questions, by building on people's statements and by introducing concepts and ideas that excite the other participants in the conversation. What is more, as you get to know people and click with them, it will become easier and easier to do this because the social circle/group will build its own habits of speech and thought.

Some people have more [general intelligence stuff] than others, it's true. But this doesn't necessarily have a clear relationship to the degree of insight they have or the kind of analysis they can produce in conversation.

Also, learn to listen well. If you are at all like me, you may have trouble recognizing intelligence if it's not couched in the language you know - learn to rephrase what people say in your head, learn to look for the unexpected observation.

To return to capitalism and its ability to ruin the minds of children - capitalism produces an artificial scarcity of intelligence. Lots of smart people out there whose intelligence is invisible because not standardized.
posted by Frowner at 8:07 PM on June 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


Make a list of things you are bad at. Sounds like socialising at parties should be on there, for example. Maybe (to stereotype wildly) some physical pursuits.

When you next socialise with people you are having negative thoughts about, play a game of trying to find one of them who is good at something on your list. And then try to find out how they got good at it, what their secrets are, what you would have to do to get where they are. In the process, you'll have a good conversation with an actual goal instead of small talk, you'll learn something, and you might flatter them enough that they like hanging out with you.
posted by lollusc at 8:23 PM on June 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Find smarter people. You can respect people who aren't as smart as you without actually having fun trying to talk to them. There's a floor of understanding beneath which trying to talk to someone is just really hard work and/or unpleasant, and you should try to find people who are above that floor.

Secondly, if you're really so smart, how come you aren't great at making people like you, hmm? Treat interacting with people in a way that they enjoy like a goal/game. This is a double-edged sword because you will make a lot of friends who feel like work to be around...but you'll have the skills if you ever need them which can't hurt.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:24 PM on June 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


(Also, it's not about being better than someone or something...it really is kind of unpleasant to try to have a conversation with people who literally can't understand you. So go easy on yourself a little bit here.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:24 PM on June 12, 2016


I think I might be the person you're trying to be. Same background - high intelligence, feelings of superiority, easily bored and irritated, except I come across as comfortable and competent in social situations despite some inner anxiety. I've even judged people at a party for talking about comic books, even though they were objectively intelligent (one was a Google engineer). And I have to tell you, it's not that great. I don't feel like being able to make small talk at parties or chat at the water cooler at work has made my life better. I don't even really think I've made any friends. I just don't want people to think of me as a dick. Low expectations, but it seems to have worked. People invite me to stuff I don't care about all the time.

Three pieces of advice for you: 1) Create a social character and act the part when you're in public. 2) Find a small group of good friends, and interact deeply with them rather than having shallow interactions with a bunch of people. Aside from my wife and my brother, pretty much every single person I enjoy spending time with is someone I met in college; i.e., people I met in a more intellectual context. Last year I met up with a guy I hadn't seen in ten years, and I had a more interesting time in three hours than I have in any number of after-work happy hours. Quality over quantity.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:26 PM on June 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Two things.

First, those conversations sound pretty lame to me...sometimes conversations at parties just kind of stink, and sometimes you just aren't going to be friends with everyone at a party. It's ok to roll your eyes at parties sometimes...just not all the time.

Second, I think you actually have to find *people* interesting, not just their ideas or intellect. Who are those people, what have they done, where have they gone and been, what is their job...sometimes you'll be at a party where the answer to all those things is "not much", but sometimes it can pretty interesting. Next party, maybe work on asking those questions.
posted by Toddles at 8:37 PM on June 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Can I just say: I know a group of people which includes tenured professors in the humanities, people who graduated summa from HYP, former Supreme Court clerks, award-winning writers, that took quite an interest in the latest Marvel movie. There aren't too many dull subjects, just dull approaches to them.

Try taking up some entirely new group activity--maybe a class for some type of physical activity, or improv, or the like. Learn how wide the fields of knowledge are and how small your own field of view is.
posted by praemunire at 8:45 PM on June 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I realize it may not be "accepted science" but I think it would be good for you to do a quick read of Theory of Multiple Intelligences. FWIW.
posted by forthright at 9:03 PM on June 12, 2016


You gotta learn how to code switch, dude.

Look, when you talk to your art people, you have one attitude and set of terms and standards. When you write dumb tweets you have a different one. When you visit your family for the holidays you act and talk and feel differently. When you're with your oldest friends you change again. So, too, must you develop a vernacular and response set for casual social situations.

Thing is, once you get to know someone better, you can let other aspects of yourself filter in depending on their interests and relationship to you. Maybe you meet someone at this party by listening to the Marvel movie conversation and you learn that they are an illustrator interested in feminist representation - well then you can engage with them about your art stuff and use the kinds of terminology and graciousness you would include in conversations with your art people. Or whatever, just, as you meet new people you can share different parts of yourself with them that you think is applicable.

Your claims of pretension strike me as a bit false. I mean, are you that self-effacing without it being a front for anything? If you were to suddenly become super enthusiastic about something sort of cheesy or low-brow, like a reality competition or a pop musician or a wildly popular series of books, would you eschew all engagement with that thing and the other people who like that thing? Or would you bring your own brain to the party and write interesting analysis or create beautiful fanworks or otherwise engage critically? I think you would do the latter. But because you don't have common ground with the seemingly facile conversation of these real life party goers, you have nothing to springboard off of.

Work on your listening skills. Listen to what people are really talking about during these casual conversations. Most of this entry level getting to know you stuff is really just feeling out other peoples' interests and preferences. Everyone acts a little unlike themselves at parties. But you can glean a lot from them anyway. If someone asks someone else about their job and they sigh and grind out an answer, you know they're unhappy with their work and probably have other more important interests. If someone asks someone else if they have tried the new weird restaurant, you can learn about their food preferences from their answers - and if they say "no! but i've wanted to, I just don't have an excuse to go!" you can say "me too! let's go try it out!" and so on. In the case of the capitalism conversation, watch carefully. Is someone covertly rolling their eyes? Does anybody in the group actually have a child for their mind to be ruined? Make a little joke and engage them in a different topic so the silly people can be silly elsewhere.

I can talk endlessly about idiotic things. I can talk endlessly about very fancy ivory tower things. At parties I tend to seek out the person who wants to teach me about science or music or a different culture and ask them lots of engaging questions. Most of the time if we were to sit down and get tested I'd be much "smarter" than that person who is teaching me new things. It means absolutely nothing. What's meaningful is that this other person has had experiences I have not and they're willing to share them with me, and I them.
posted by Mizu at 9:19 PM on June 12, 2016 [23 favorites]


Three ideas:

First, I hold the view that everybody has something to share. Everybody is beautiful, wise and expert in their own way. They may not be expert in English grammar but they are expert in how to love a child who has a learning disability. They are expert in coping with stress at work. They are expert at applying makeup. They are really good at standing at an assembly line all day--something I would struggle with. They sacrifice for their families. They are great at getting their dog to do tricks. They know just how to put together a satisfying dinner for their aging mother who has a dozen dietary restrictions. I want to understand what people see in themselves that they are proud of.

Second, I access the idea of multiple intelligences by observing and analyzing all the ways people are demonstrating their uniqueness: communication style, conflict style, ask versus tell, whether they like the other people, where they see themselves in the social pecking order, what their goal is for the interaction, what they value, etc. I try to observe and name these expressions and traits, and compare them between people. I just find this fascinating!

But it's important to do this in a way that doesn't distract from your ability to be in the moment. It works better for me if I make some predictions ahead of time or decide what couple of things I'm going to observe. After the interaction, I think about it and figure out my analysis. These days, after years of pondering these social cues and miniature life stories, I can notice a lot of that stuff in the moment and respond to it. I don't spend as much time analyzing. Some of us need that extra effort and training to get to a place of social ease that others seem to have inhabited from the start.

After that you can take it to another level and use the power for good--for example, to figure out how to affirm someone or bring energy to the conversation in a way that's uniquely good for that particular setting.

I have a whirlwind mind. This has been a helpful way to use it to support stronger, more fulfilling social interactions.

Third, you could think about value and priorities. When you go out, decide that you will determine "success" not as impressing people with some fact or skill of yours, or increasing their knowledge; but rather by the number of people who made a genuine smile while talking with you; or the number of people who let you know that your words have helped or comforted them. Choose a different metric of a good interaction.
posted by ramenopres at 9:23 PM on June 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


Take up a group or team activity that is impossible to do by yourself. You'll find yourself needing to rely on others, and come to appreciate them.

I was a rather pretentious computer scientist who took an improv comedy class that changed my life, allowing me to value and cooperate with others in the goal of creating entertaining scenes and shows. Now I own an improv school, and help pretentious people become less so every day :)
posted by adamk at 9:29 PM on June 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


"When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people." -Abraham Joshua Heschel

I, too, am far more clever than kind. It took me until my 40s to realize that I had it all backwards.
posted by Barnifer at 9:29 PM on June 12, 2016 [43 favorites]


I don't care how 'intelligent' you are, everyone knows something you don't know. Possibly they know something YOU think is interesting.

More likely, the thing they know IS interesting, you're just too dumb to know it. Like the old saying, 90% of everything is crap? It seems like it's all crap when you aren't looking very hard. But it's also true that everything is more complicated than it looks, and THAT's interesting. What makes a Marvel movie good vs. bad? Do you know?

You aren't going to have stimulating conversation with people when you first meet them. There's a getting comfortable part that almost pro forma. Cut and pasted from playbooks, like a chess opening. Oh he moved the pawn. Boring, might as well not watch this game, right? Hang in there, it gets interesting later. People need to be comfortable that you're not judging them or being a dick before they can open up. It sounds like you're not giving them that comfort (because that's exactly what you ARE doing), and so they won't.
posted by ctmf at 10:17 PM on June 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you're so smart, why don't you already know how to build lasting friendships? It's not snark, more like a question to ponder.
posted by salvia at 11:12 PM on June 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


People who talk about the idea of 'multiple intelligences' and the idea that 'everybody you meet is going to be smarter than you at something' and that 'being sociable is an important type of intelligence' aren't wrong, but I also don't think that this precisely speaks to your question, given the way you've phrased it. If I am reading you correctly, in your mind, there are people who are simply all-around more intelligent and interesting to talk to, and there are people who are less. Sure, I can get that. Continuing along the same line of thought, though, people who "click" will naturally find their groove with one another over time, and I'm sure there are people out there who exist on an entirely higher plane of intelligence in all areas, with whom you don't typically or ever interact with, because they're busy chatting away about comic books at their own parties. The problem isn't the stratification, or the idea that different levels of intelligence exist (personally, I think they do). The problem is that you're assigning a moral value judgement to it, and this is holding you back.

Part of this is due to not really having a firm identity beyond this notion of being an Intelligent Person, and that is something that comes with being young (and I'm younger than you are, and in many ways in the same boat, so I'm not being condescending here). I think children quickly learn how to get their basic needs of recognition and esteem met. Your approach towards this happened to be a particular flavor of intelligence (doing well in school, artistic creativity and productivity). It's completely understandable that you have this unshakable view of intelligence as a vital proof of your self-worth, because that's what you were taught very early on, as you alluded to in your question. It literally got you through your childhood.

All judgement is self-judgement. When I read your description of the party you attended, I see terror-- terror of having your identity swept out from underneath, dispelled, shattered by engaging in a banal conversation that should be beneath not you, per se, but your idea of the kind of person you want to be (i.e., an "intelligent" person). How exhausting, walking that tightrope 24/7! Well, you can expand and rework your definition of a so-called intelligent person.

It sounds like you have a lot of inward-facing energy that cuts you off from others, and this is why people are suggesting that you volunteer, work as a barista or something, travel and see that the world is a big place, and that people build their livelihoods around things other than sheer brainpower-- generosity and compassion, for one.

Sometimes reading the oft-cited This is Water is helpful.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 11:32 PM on June 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


IQ is not the same as emotional intelligence. You can be good at taking tests, retaining information, developing concrete skills in areas that are important to you, and still be dumb as fuck when it comes to being empathetic. I say this as a fellow TAG student who also fumbled along the narrow path of always assuming I was the smartest person in the room, and that it mattered.

Then I dated someone for a long while who was, hands down, the smartest person I have ever met. He got a perfect score on his SATs. He got accepted into every Ivy League school there is, and got *paid* to go to Harvard. He got a Fullbright scholarship to do research in Africa for a year. He's teaching at a university in Germany right now, with just an undergrad degree. But you know what? He would meet people from any walk of life, any background, and talk with them as if they were just as important, just as interesting to him, as any of his Harvard professors. There are people who have known him for ages who didn't even know he went to Harvard. They thought he was kind, and insightful, but he never pushed his ego into conversations, or tried to show off. If anything, he kept it tightly under wraps and tried to meet people where they were. His humbleness was a lesson to me.

I hope it can be a lesson to you too.
posted by ananci at 12:08 AM on June 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


"Thermodynamic miracles... events with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter... Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold... that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle."

"But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget... I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from the another's vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away"
posted by fullerine at 12:49 AM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


It sounds like you are going to these parties and being disappointed, both in what the people have to offer (as if the conversation is an herb tray) and you own distaste toward what then amounts to, well, the entertainment. What if everyone approached the party that way, as a gathering of other people whose verbal performance was being judged worthy or not? No one would enjoy that. You also help create a group's conversations (and, eventually, curiosities and interests). A flagging conversation is your responsibility as well. This is an opportunity.

Communities are made up of the people who stay in them; to make friends as an adult involves a necessary bit of square peg/round hole. You can't expect that there's a you-shaped vacancy waiting, like how you were sent down the hall to find your people in the TAG program. It's the opposite; you must have faith your chosen group of people is interested in what you have to say and will be able to understand you. Then you must work to give them that same confidence. The rewards are immense, though. There is nothing better than finding your people.
posted by sweltering at 1:02 AM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


When I was young, and full of it, and infatuated with my own intelligence I thought that to be intelligent was the greatest gift.

When I was less young, and still pretty full of it, I came to believe that intelligence without direction and judgment is useless and I began to feel that it would be better to become wise.

I'm older now and less inclined to think myself smart or wise but I hope that I am at least marginally less full of shit. Nowadays I tend to think the greatest thing is to be kind. Sometimes I really have to work at it, but when I manage to do it right it gives me more satisfaction than I ever got out of trying to be smart or wise.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:09 AM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Two things. First: have you ever tried to do something you're pretty bad at, or that you just don't have a natural talent for? Or do you just stick with things that come easily to you and that are comfortable? It's a known problem that kids who get told they're gifted a lot also get really scared of failure. I think this can lead to a very narrow world view, because if you only do things you're already good at, then it can give you an inflated sense of your own intelligence. So my first recommendation would be: try something new that's completely outside of your wheelhouse. Try many things that are outside of your wheelhouse and see what you can learn from that.

Second: it sounds like you need to work on your social skills. It can be harder to learn to make small talk without drinking, but it's possible. It takes practice though, and you're never going to learn how those skills by holding yourself back at parties and feeling superior to everyone around you. And it took me a long time to realize this, but did you know that small talk is just a building block to bigger, more interesting conversations?

Every conversation with a new person starts out with banalities: "Hi, I'm Sammy. How do you know the host of the party?" or "Awful weather today, isn't it?" etc. And then if the person wants to chat, you chat about innocuous things for a little while and feel each other out. If there's some friend-chemistry there, the conversation usually takes a turn somewhere and moves on into more interesting things. But you have to start out with the innocuous stuff first. If you refuse to engage in the first steps of the dance, you'll never get any farther, and so you'll get more and more entrenched in your belief that people are dumb and shallow and not as smart as you, because all around you the most obvious conversations will be the feeling-each-other-out conversations. The more interesting conversations tend to break off from the group and happen off in the kitchen somewhere, or over in a corner of the room.

You should also go read the SIRC Guide to Flirting.
posted by colfax at 1:19 AM on June 13, 2016


There are a lot of people in my profession who are very invested in how smart they think they are, so I might be able to give you some advice. First of all, I’d like to compliment you on your self-awareness. I think you’re going to be just fine. Second, I’d echo everyone above who’s suggesting that you give a little more thought to how you’re defining intelligence.

But my more basic question to you is this: have you really considered whether you’re justified in placing so much emphasis on intelligence? Is it truly a more valuable quality than kindness, or warmth, or creativity, or humor, or the ability to build community? Why or why not?

Not everyone can be in the right tail of the IQ distribution, but most of the curve is out there living meaningful, interesting lives. So, what other qualities do you personally value in people?

You might also pay attention to how you’re hearing conversations. Are you dismissing certain topics out of hand without really listening to what people are saying? It’s perfectly fine not to be into superhero movies, but when you encounter a conversation about one, can you listen to that conversation generously? Because I suspect that the Marvel conversation at the party wasn’t just a bunch people standing around saying “Oh man, explosions are AWESOME,” but your biases might have tricked you into hearing it that way. I’m not much of a Marvel buff either, but I for sure have had some brainy-ass conversations about television. I’ve also had plenty of frivolous conversations about pop culture. Those can be fun too.

Once you’re good at noticing what people are bringing to the table and listening/conversing generously, there are all sorts of higher level skills that you can work on, like how to introduce topics of conversation that are interesting to you in a way that makes you The Cool Guy Who Started That Fascinating Conversation About X, and not The Guy Who Makes You Feel Like You’ve Walked Into A Pop Quiz. I promise, there are tons of people who would love to have a brainy conversation with you in the corner of a party, as long as you approach it gracefully and make it a real conversation and not a lecture.

I also second the advice to try to be okay with a little bit of small talk. Nine times out of ten there’s no non-awkward way to launch into a conversation about the nature of the universe without exchanging a couple of pleasantries first. It’s also a good way to get sense of what interests you and your conversation partner might share.

If your brain works this way, you can try approaching it like a project or game: make it a goal to learn something interesting about or from the person you’re talking to in the course of a natural conversation (no badgering). Bonus points if that something is outside your normal range of interests. Try to notice how people shine when they’re talking about things they care about. Right now you seem inclined to wait around for people to entertain or impress you, so setting a goal for yourself might be a good reminder to engage with people actively, in an open and curious way.

Good luck!
posted by Radish at 1:42 AM on June 13, 2016


As someone who also, in my early 20s, used to dismiss "frivolous" conversation topics, looked down on what I considered non-serious people, and scorned pop culture and those who embraced it (what a load of fun I was!) - a couple of thoughts.

1) I masked social insecurity through intellectual superiority. I knew I couldn't be as funny or cool or popular, but I could be smarter. So I stuck with that. This may or may not be you. With confidence and some more living under your belt, the utter smallness of this view is unmissable. To my mind, and I apologize if this sounds harsh, it is a fundamentally undergraduate mindset and you're right to try to overcome.

2) You are smart, that's good. Are you courageous? Insatiably curious? Witty? Do you make people laugh? Do you spark a room when you walk into it? Are you magnetic? Are you bold? Are you generous? Do you have a profound capacity for compassion or empathy? Do you inspire others? Can you lead? You don't have to be all or even any of these other things. But I bet some people in those parties are those things. Many of the people we remember as great people -- or heck, just the people who are prized dinner party guests - are not geniuses, are not off-the-chart IQ beasts, but are some combination of these other things.

Or how about these: can you rewire a house? have you built a small business? have you ever had to fire someone? can you handle a roomful of toddlers? can you reach a troubled teen? what do you understand about violence in the home or deprivation? what's it like to overcome an addiction? How about the million varieties of love and heartbreak? How many do you know?

There's a lot of life around you. Be curious. Confidence in your strengths is not incompatible with a larger appreciation of the human experience.
posted by oneaday at 2:16 AM on June 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


Nurture your curiosity. You bring up all these avenues you've closed off to yourself as potentially interesting. Honestly, I think it's because you're afraid. Afraid that your kneejerk reactions are wrong. Afraid that you won't be the smartest about a particular subject. Afraid that you will come across foolishly. Most importantly, afraid to find out that you enjoy some trivial things. You are so very attached to this conception of yourself as being deep and intelligent that expanding your horizons is going to require you to do something very scary. You are going to have to be willing to be wrong about yourself.

You are going to have to nurture that tiny piece of yourself that is having fun when something inane or whimsical is going on. You are gonna have to be your own manic pixie dream girl. You need to return to an innate curiosity about everything around you. Because everything is worth being curious about. Even if your curiosity is delving deeply into the question "what about this topic is so abhorrent or threatening or uncomfortable or just plain stupid to me?" And don't give up with easy answers, because easy answers are usually just thought stopping cliches in disguise.

You are not going to continue being brilliant or interesting if you can't recapture your childlike interest in the world. Your intelligence came from insatiable curiosity as a child. You are now calcifying. You will stop making interesting connections between concepts shortly, if you haven't already. Play is critical to brain health. Cutting off avenues of goofy fun is counterproductive to your intelligence.

Remember how great discovery felt, and stop being so scared to look ignorant that you give up one of the true pleasures of life.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:26 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


People are like icebergs. There is a lot more beneath the surface than you can see from casual passing in party conversations. There is so so much going on with everyone, on so many levels. People can always surprise you. From your current position, they will definitely surprise you. I learn so much from other people, all the time, that amazes me.

If you approach people/social situations from your current mindset, they will be able to pick up on your attitude. If I meet someone, and I feel that they evaluating my intelligence as if I need to pass some necessary quota before I am deemed interesting or worthy, I will make superficial small talk and exit the conversation. Approach others with the idea that they need to impress you, and you won't see colour and intelligence because they won't show you. I think this is especially important in light of your creative pursuit - you will miss out on other peoples experience, insight and perspectives to expand and add to your own and it could limit your artistic growth.

Also (if you can imagine tone of voice, I am not saying this harshly, but more inquisitively, as you seem very capable of self-analysis) - perhaps you should think about why you needed to add that your friends say you are "very well put together mentally emotionally for being 26" and "people I respected started calling me a genius". Ask yourself some questions. How important is it to you that others perceive you in a certain way? What is the self-image you are trying to project and why? And how much could this be influencing the way you perceive and interact with other people? If you let go of this self-image, how might your approach to life change?

Between 25 and 30, I changed so much. A lot of the core things I used to identify myself underwent a complete 180. I look back at things I wrote five years ago, and can barely recognize myself. You'll be so different in five years time, you will struggle to imagine the person who asked this question.
posted by Nilehorse at 3:30 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


You gotta learn how to code switch, dude.

Look, when you talk to your art people, you have one attitude and set of terms and standards. When you write dumb tweets you have a different one. When you visit your family for the holidays you act and talk and feel differently. When you're with your oldest friends you change again. So, too, must you develop a vernacular and response set for casual social situations.


I came here to echo this. I graduated top of my class, went to an Ivy, graduated with double major and honors, now (currently) work in i-banking, previous job was of a professional scientific nature.

I use different vernaculars which differ depending on the group I talk to. The 'win' of any social situation or party is not to find someone who speaks and thinks exactly like you. The 'win' is to find someone who is different from you and find your common ground, your 'aha' moment. When you feel isolated and different from others, that's your emotions telling you that you have failed in connecting with others.

I try to watch some tv so that I know the latest developments and can speak about them in a social context. I speak to my family in English patois because that's how we speak. I have different accents depending on who I speak to. I try to find common ground -- psychology, science, work, latest news, entertainment, sports, travel, etc. I shift my vocabulary depending on context and formality. I am expressing different sides of myself.

There's some serious disconnect here in your words.

Because when you say that you are "smarter than most people" and have trouble relating with others -- there's no cause and effect here. Being smarter than others does not equate to being unable to related to other. However, being boring or having no interests outside of your own artistic pursuit does mean you will have trouble relating to others. Not being able to make small talk or not being able to discover connection with others does mean you will be isolated.

Only connect.
posted by moiraine at 4:40 AM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


OK, for a more focused answer, all the really smart/gifted in the schooling sense people I know talk about nonsense like toddlers. Yup, all the professors I know talk about poop with me. Because people can relate to kids. What are your hobbies? Have you tried any Sci fi? When I was an undergrad at big name engineering school, all the smartest folks I knew got drunk and played board games/watched Sci fi.

So find some approachable subjects you like. And be ready to discuss those. It's how people make connections and find common ground to talk about. Hiking. Cooking. A popular TV show. Most folks don't want to talk about nature papers or politics at a party. There are a few, and if that's what you're looking for, search and then hand out with those people.
posted by Kalmya at 5:25 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Parties are excruciating for a lot of people. You don't mention how or why you got sober but you probably already know that the pressure of socializing is why a lot of people get into booze or drugs-- as a social lubricant. When they quit drinking and using, they often re-discover they don't like parties.

Also, I don't think you are pretentious, as such. That connotes someone who's making unjustified claims about themself or thinks they are smarter than they actually are. I think maybe you overvalue a certain kind of intelligence. A lot of people go through life that way though, and it doesn't cause them a lot of problems. They find friends and partners who are like-minded. There is no reason why you need to hang out with people who you think are not smart.

I think you still need to figure out what the real problem is here. What do you really want, and what's stopping you from getting it? It's not pretentiousness as such, I am pretty sure.
posted by BibiRose at 5:53 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Try and visualise the people around you as being more Jackson Pollock painting than line graph. If you've been trained to only view and judge people using one narrow value (intelligence), it's hard not to instantly put new people on that one line, with you at the higher end, and everyone else way down below.

But humanity's not a line graph. There's no line. Everyone's just a different splatter of paint in a different corner of the canvas. You like the colour of some splatters more than others, and gravitate towards those, but the whole thing only really works because they're all there together, in all their difference.
posted by penguin pie at 6:14 AM on June 13, 2016


I just read your first line and said to Mrs. RKS - "the age is different, but otherwise this is me."

The age for me, in fact, is almost double. I wrestle less with concern that people are less intelligent than me, but more the concern that people are unreliable, flaky, and no damn good.

There is a corny poem/homily/FB graphic wall of text that goes around, attributed to Mother Teresa* - I'll spare you the whole thing, but the gist is -- People do, and are, all these bad things, but love them anyway, forgive them anyway, etc. And the one that sticks out is - Be happy anyway.

I don't want to seem to preach on Mefi, but the answer, if there is one, is to put your trust in something other than people, and to put your focus on something other than yourself.

On a more practical level, to avoid pretension - recognize that when larger groups of people converse, it's going to have to resolve to the lowest common denominator. That's a phrase that gets a bad rap, and deservedly so when the LCD is talking about Judge Judy or the like. Don't like the latest Marvel movie? Smile and nod. Odds are most of the group there talking about it recognize that it's not Shakespeare. There are ways to talk about it, and even slyly acknowledge its shortcomings, without sounding like you're there to pop everyone's balloon. IOW you don't have to be a hypocrite and say you thought it was great when it wasn't.

When all else fails the self-deprecatory "it's not you, it's me" deflection works wonders, in the right context: "Ah, I missed opening weekend because I was trying to decide whether to arrange my Miles Davis first edition vinyl alphabetically or chronologically," said with a chuckle that acknowledges this is a crazy thing to do.

I'm just the right age that I've been able to chart the transition of the term "nerd" from insult to badge of honor, and it plays very well when acknowledging that you're out of the loop on something everybody else is more interested in. You'll generally find that once you out yourself, at least one other member of the large group will admit it too.




*and probably Stephen Hawking, Abraham Lincoln, and Morgan Freeman...
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:44 AM on June 13, 2016


Hey, back again, because your question really resonates with me (ahem). First of all, I think that some comments here are a little hard on you. There's nothing wrong with seeking out raw intelligence. Second, to expand on what I said about life events taking over. Did you ever, let's say in college, have the experience of whining about your parents with someone whose own parents do the exact same thing? "No. No WAY. I thought my mother made this up to torture me. Your mom does that too?!" Well, as life continues, you'll have more and more life events on which to commiserate with others. Jobs, partners, kids, or friends' annoying kids...
posted by 8603 at 6:46 AM on June 13, 2016


Hi! I used to live upstairs from you. No really, you were super smart and we hung out quite a few times (by default, i was tight with your flatmate) and you flat out disregarded everything I said in all our conversations. until, one glorious day you found to your horror (my delight) that we were seated alone at your kitchen table and I got to tell you that. just that. You almost bounced up outta your chair denying that shit until you realized that yes, you kinda thought i was a bit of a dingbat and thus not worth getting to know. So you, well, the guy, whos actually now a dear friend, studied his hands for awhile and took a long look at me and asked what that album was that i was playing earlier. And later he asked about a girl we both knew, and i told him to just ask her out for coffee (you should have seen his face, i might have told him to go arrest some cartel dude) and now they're married with kiddos. SO while i might not be able to really discuss quantum kitteehs with you (but might hope to learn from you) i might be able to recommend some really chill coffee shop with killer mudcake for you and your date.Thats the sweet part about being human, you dont have to be amazing in all the things, we can search out each other to fill in the missing parts.
posted by speakeasy at 6:48 AM on June 13, 2016 [15 favorites]


It sounds like you feel contempt for these people. In my experience, my contempt came from this feeling that being smart was all I had, it was my only point of worth, and I was resentful that these people could relax and enjoy silly things while I had to hold on to this idea of myself as smart or my whole self-image would crumble. Anything that didn't reinforce my image of myself as smart? Waste of time. I needed to constantly be affirming my smartness to myself and, hopefully, to others, because it was my one source of social capital.

But being intelligent isn't innate. It's about opportunity, access to the right institutions/language/information, having the privilege to spend time thinking about cerebral things (usually in a way that's completely detached from people's lived experiences), and being isolated within a group of folks who value intelligence above everything else. You aren't intelligent because you've worked for it, you're intelligent because you've been fortunate enough to have had opportunities that prized being intelligent. It's also largely a white upper class construct here in the Americas.

The key for me was realizing that I didn't know anything beyond my very narrow view of intelligence. I may have been a "very mature" person for my age under some circumstances but once i stepped out of that very narrow band of life experience, I was completely out of my depth. To be more specific, I stepped out of the world of science and into the world of activism (via LGBTQ communities focused on intersectional justice work) and I was utterly shocked by how little I knew. I realized that intelligence didn't mean anything, wasn't worth anything, outside of the ivory tower and that kindness was a far better attribute to focus on cultivating.

Do I still want to gouge my eyes out at some small talk? Sure. But I recognize that this is more of an issue of "I don't care for this topic" than "ew these people are so ~low brow~" and then I go find something else to do instead of sitting there obsessing over how much better I am for not wanting to talk about the topic. Not every conversation has to be incredibly thrilling to you personally in order to be worthwhile, especially at large group conversations at a large party.

So here is my advice:
1) Shake up your social choices. Go volunteer in a role where you are not the expert, where you can never be the expert (because it's not about you), and connect with people on their terms instead of yours.
2) Examine why you feel the need to compare yourself to people, to rank people according to YOUR top trait without giving them any credit for what they are good in.
3) Examine why intelligence seems so important to you, so sacrosanct, and look at its really ugly history (hint: it's white supremacy and eugenics). Do you really want to tie your self-esteem to something that comes from such a bad place? What about your other traits, do they have value?
4) Lower your expectations for parties. People go to parties to have fun, to have easy conversation, to leave feeling like "wow people were chill and nice and agreeable" not like "wow I had a great debate with someone who really educated me about all the things I didn't know about their niche field". Parties are not conferences or lectures. If it's just not your kind of crowd then you can leave before becoming a surly jerk. (There are some folks who's parties I never attend because I just don't enjoy them. That is fine and part of growing up means realizing that you don't need to fit in 100% of the time.)
posted by buteo at 7:04 AM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hey, I haven't read the whole thread, so apologies if this came up earlier-

You need existentialism.

The thing that knocked me out of my obsession with intelligence was a keen awareness of death.

That guy with the 160 IQ, you with your 140 IQ, and Bob over there with his 115 IQ are all going to die. Dead. Gone. Forever.

That tends to put perspective on how important "intelligence" is and how much it can really do for you.

Getting older and closer to the end of your natural life helps with this as well; it's hard not to feel invincible when you're 24.

(Also, do some thinking about population dynamics and numbers, and realize that the human race actually needs more numbers of average people over one smart person, and it's not even a close contest, like, at all. Ayn Rand was wrong about "supermen" - actually, a collaborative group of fairly average people, with their pooled brainspace and creativity, is pretty much always better than one lone genius, like 9/10 times.)
posted by quincunx at 7:06 AM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Look, I'm a nerd with esoteric interests, and I also enjoy Marvel movies, partly because they're dumb-funny ("Hey, they got my dick message!") and partly because the Marvel Universe nods to existential fears, partly to common human experiences, and partly to very specific experiences of very specific characters (Google "American captain" comic.) There's a rich fandom, which is interesting in itself, and also includes a ton of interesting material (Cf. previous parenthetical.) It's ok to like dick jokes and Miles Davis.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:50 AM on June 13, 2016


When you meet new people, forget about grading their conversation for profundity and insight. Instead, cultivate an interest in them themselves.

What do they care about most deeply? What are they best at? When are they happiest? What do they value in themselves, and what do their loved ones see in them? If you have an observant eye and an incisive mind, turn it to finding the answers to those questions. Once you really see people in that light, it's hard to dislike them completely, even if you don't have much in common.
posted by shattersock at 7:51 AM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Alternately go to some Mensa meetings and learn how obnoxious you might sound to other people. That's what I did at about 19. I saw that other folks with top % IQs were assholes, especially the ones interested in joining a club about it. Didn't take me to long to puzzle out that I was also an asshole. That helped put me on the road of not giving much of a shit about my own intelligence. Because it doesn't matter, it really doesn't. If your not changing the world with your genius than you are probably/statistically just less happy than most people... yay!

I'd trade IQ points for more empathy. I'd trade it for better health. Having a high IQ got me ... nothing so far as I can tell? A lot of pats on the head and bad social skills.

Also people who didn't grow up in your geographic area don't know what TAG is. The very name of TAG "talented and gifted" is pretentious. That combined with not explaining it, is an asshole move. And Yeah, I too was in TAG all my childhood. That fact has made zero impact on any adult relationship I've ever had.
posted by French Fry at 8:04 AM on June 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


It sounds like you feel contempt for these people.

It's this part, they can see that and read it on your face and in your tone of voice which sets up a whole negative feedback thing. You're fucked before you even got started. People in this thread seem focused on Marvel comics because you mentioned, but that has nothing to do with anything. That's just conversational currency. You can't meet someone and five minutes later be exchanging deep philosophical profundities. You need a little foreplay.
posted by fixedgear at 8:06 AM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also meant to add; you can't judge anyone by party conversation. I met Michio Kaku once at an event and it was in a group conversation about commutes and cars. Literally the most basic possible topic. I did not walk away from that interaction thinking Michio Kaku was a dumbass not worth my time.
posted by French Fry at 8:10 AM on June 13, 2016


Hm. On one hand, I sympathize: when you're in college and grad school, you're surrounded by people who were selected for their intelligence and ability to get excited about ideas. And once you leave that environment, you're thrust into the teeming masses of people whose personal and social incentives were vastly different and have different priorities.

But here are some realizations you should have: first, intelligent people who lose the pretension can be secure about their shallow side and perfectly able to enjoy and discuss Marvel comics movies. In fact, at a party, they're probably too tired and uninterested in talking about Middle East policy. And you yourself are probably uninterested in hearing someone's cliched repetition of talking points that someone read in the latest Thomas Friedman column. And smart people KNOW youre uninterested in that, so they know better to talk about those things.

I don't really think you have to force yourself to appreciate all things about all people. It's fine to be open minded, but it is good also to be discerning and to know what you like and focus on those things and those people.

I think you should hang out with people who are know quantities to you and branch out from there, understanding that your friends' friends obviously must have something going for them if your friends like them. Everyone has an interesting story. When you meet someone, try to find out what that story is. The reason they're talking to you about Marvel movies is because they're trying to probe of YOU are worth talking to.
posted by deanc at 8:17 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


So many good thoughts offered here; this one pinged me, just now

It sounds like you are going to these parties and being disappointed, both in what the people have to offer (as if the conversation is an herb tray) and you own distaste toward what then amounts to, well, the entertainment.

Are you an idealist? Do you have more faith and comfort in abstractions than in reality? Were you promised - or did you in your lonely young years console yourself with the idea - that someday, people would be (for want of another word) "better" than they were on the playground? Unfortunately, we are rarely above pack dynamics (through much of life, though this mellows in later years). Because we're animals (still). I can understand that getting arguments right, getting at truths, might matter to you. It does matter, yes, and you should find appropriate playmates and fora for those kinds of discussions, because you need them. But life will be harder for you if you don't accept and learn to get comfortable with our animal ways. (See also - our messiness, irrationality, lack of internal consistency, stupidity, etc. Smart people have all these blind spots, too.)

I feel that Hesse's Siddartha might be a good read for you right now (if you haven't already read it).
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:12 AM on June 13, 2016


But life will be harder for you if you don't accept and learn to get comfortable with our animal ways.

I just want to add that it is perfectly ok to decide that you want to deal with more difficulty. I was recently at a social gathering where a bunch of poorly uninformed, anti-intellectual people were in a corner loudly discussing the latest bullshit they had read in an email forward. I suppose my life would have been more enjoyable if I could join in and accepted that "it's better to be kind than right," but instead I checked out of the gathering early and went back to my home and my city.

Learn to find what is valuable and worthwhile about all people. Learn, also to discern what you want, what makes you happy, and going after it, rather than expecting everyone to fit the mold you wish they would.

(also, if you find people who constantly talk about some super-intellectual thing, odds are they're actually tedious and covering up their intellectual and social insecurity by putting on a "show" about how intellectual they are)
posted by deanc at 10:04 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


You know what, your "pretension," if you decide to remain attached to it, might find a comfortable home in academia, where an acronym assigned to you as a child in school for being better at school than the other children in school might (might) still be worth a damn; or maybe in some rarefied art scene, where they discuss niche topics and compete over who doesn't even own a television more. Though if your problem is a superiority complex, you will feel the same among your "equals" or "betters" as you do among us cavepeople. (Look how easy it is for me to look down on academia and the art scene for being silly and shallow, for example. A person can look down on anything if they feel alienated or insecure enough, which many of us often do.)

The thing is, even if you are smarter than everyone by whichever standard you subscribe to, you still have to live in the world. What sort of people would you like by your side in this world? Is a person who is e.g. hilarious, at ease, and unshakably loyal acceptable even if they like comic book movies? Is a person who likes exactly what you do and nothing you don't the sort of person you would prefer to be around, even if they are, say, cruel or dull? I think you need to think about and refine what your values are and seek out others who can help you live out those values.

Party conversations can suck for many of us (even those of us who seem to enjoy them: some of us are politely faking; some of us could listen to someone read the phone book if we like their company.) By nature this kind of talk tends to be lowest-common-denominator because it's hard to go deep with a group composed of individuals of diverse interests and expertise. The people you observed in this conversation were practicing emotional and social intelligence-- if you call upon yourself to see it that way instead of picking on their topic of choice, you may even find them admirable.

One-on-one interaction works better for a lot of us because you can dispense with some of the chit-chat and go deep on whatever it is you have in common. It's perfectly fine to be that sort of person. I'd guess most adults are and that's why they get married and hang out primarily with their spouse. A lot of this will fade as you get older, I promise.

I think you get over this by developing real closeness with a small number of people. You don't have to like everyone at a party; the party is a success if you can talk to someone alone for five minutes and feel you know them a little better. Try dating or getting in touch with an old friend. Try joining a group in alignment with your opinions or hobbies and instead of trying to like the entire group, find one soul you like to talk to outside of the group. Let yourself be surprised-- one of those superhero movie people might have a lot to offer you one-on-one.
posted by kapers at 10:17 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's fine to decide that there are some conversations that are so stupid you don't want to join in. Completely fine. There are numerous topics that send me off to the kitchen to get a new drink when they come up in conversation at parties. The error that you're making is assuming that that has any correlation with the intelligence of the people taking part in the conversation.

You may also do better talking to people in smaller groups, or just not at parties. I don't think I have ever made a new friend at parties, I usually talk to my existing friends and spend the rest of the time dancing. I've had the odd bit of chitchat with randoms, but that doesn't translate into "new bestie" very often (unless we already have mutual friends and have met each other before at other events).

For the less-stupid-but-still-not-really-your-thing topics, you just have to bear in mind that intellectual curiosity is a major part of intelligence, and that having a breadth of knowledge is just as important as depth. Ask questions, listen, synthesise some new knowledge. Treat it as if you're researching a postgrad essay and are aiming for a distinction (if you don't yet have a masters, take it from me that you will not be set on fire by every single essay you write, but you still have to go through the motions).

You may have to read around the topic a lot before you find an angle you can get your teeth into, or in this case sit and chat about pointless stuff for a while before you hit on something you both want to talk about. It is a bit of an effort, just like researching an essay is a bit of an effort, but you just have to buckle down and do it.
posted by tinkletown at 10:28 AM on June 13, 2016


"Act like a dumbshit and they'll treat you as an equal." - Timeless wisdom from the Church of the Subgenius.
posted by whuppy at 10:35 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't know what TAG is. But I also grew up with advanced classes and I definitely think I'm above average on the IQ scale.

But that doesn't mean I know everything. So it's always interesting to listen to other people who (1) can tell me about something they know more about, whether it's Marvel releases or some other mundane thing or (2) can tell me something about people in general, such as how they think Capitalism works. Those are interesting things to hear about!

Besides, the point of a party and having friends is to have fun! Enjoy good times! Not everything has to be serious or be (directly) meaningful. Have you seen the Ignobel Prizes? Those are intelligent people doing fun things that sometimes leads to more meaningful results (but sometimes don't). Conversations are like that, too. Enjoy yourself, let your conversation partner enjoy him- or herself, and see where it leads. Don't put too much gravitas on it.

Lastly, "I'm very well put together mentally-emotionally for being 26" just means that you're on the more mature end of the cohort. But you know, at 26, you shouldn't be only hanging out and comparing with other 26 year olds. Successful late 20s people can be friends and compete (socially and career-wise) with people in their 30s and sometimes even in their 40s. To me, that you're satisfied being on the mature end of a 26-year-old actually tells me that you're not really stretching your abilities or not setting your sights very high.

In fact, most writers/artists/scientists peak in their late 20s or early 30s. (Not saying all do, but statistically, this is true.) So consider that you might only have a few more years to do the best work you will ever do. Then compare that to the greats out there. If you want to be one of them, you'll have to work pretty hard!
posted by ethidda at 10:40 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


I feel you so hard. In my experience, even if you don't life a finger, the real world will kick this shit out of you. One day, you're going to be floored by the genius of someone you barely thought of as human. And then it's going to keep coming and your definition of intelligence is going to broaden wide up.

One I felt that coming on, I started to be proactive in searching out ways to make myself more human and open minded.

But I do have a concrete suggestion for you. Go volunteer at a hospice. You have to do training and pass a background check, but it's pretty easy. And then you sit with someone who is dying. And you cannot judge the things they say, because these are their last expressions of being a human on Earth. You feel honored to be with them, even if they are dumb as a rock. And you have miles more tolerance for everyone else too.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 11:02 AM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


What would you recommend?

I recommend that you watch some episodes of Columbo. There are seven seasons on Netflix, or you can also find full episodes other places online.

Take note of how Columbo gets information out of people. Columbo doesn't walk into a room and expect people to already be talking about the things he wants to talk about. Typically, people are trying to distract him with whatever frame-up they've concocted. But Columbo is patient. He is willing to wait to hear things from them. Anyone might be a person of interest, so by default, Columbo is interested in what they have to say.

Columbo is also compassionate. In the pilot episode, there's a whole scene of Columbo making an omelette for a woman in her own kitchen. He has a feeling that she has things to tell him, so making sure she is comfortable and can talk freely is his first priority.

Be like Columbo. Listen. Assume people are interesting, even if the current topic is not your jam. They are giving you hints. Assume 90% of the people at the party are just as uncomfortable as you, so do a little homework so you have some topics ready to go. Be compassionate.
posted by ewok_academy at 12:07 PM on June 13, 2016 [18 favorites]


Volunteer, and/or engage in some other goal-oriented social activity where you actually have to do things alongside others. Choose an activity in which you are not a self-proclaimed expert. Learn something new. It's hard to just walk up to people and start talking to them - you start to feel like a panda being encouraged by zookeepers to mate - but it's a thousand times easier when you're all actually doing something, together as peers.

To be frank, your post gives me the impression that you are still quite insecure and that you are still wrestling with the heavy, gray "I'm not so special after all" which lurks at the heart of the world. It is okay to be insecure. It is necessary to wrestle with all the difficult things in life. However, you will never get what you want out of life until you realize that these problems are what should *connect* you to other people.

You will never get past your issues until you truly appreciate the fact that you are not even remotely unique for having these problems. This is not some kind of "my gift is a curse!" price for your other talents. There was never any tradeoff between your grade school success and your ability to relate to your fellow humans. There are people more accomplished than you, people "smarter" than you, who are also better at running a room. You're just frustrated because you need to develop some life skills - a fair problem, a human problem, not a sin, just something that lumps you in with the other 6 billion people on the planet.

The thing is, your frustrations about conversations, dating, alienation, etc. are famously normal. E-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y faces these challenges in life. Yes, yes, each life is unique, and yes, yes, I'm sure that your own particular background has defined your own particular experiences. Doesn't change how common your problems really are. Do you have *any* idea how many people stomp around thinking, "ugh, so much of the same old thing, why can't anybody talk about anything that matters, why do people have such dumb opinions, who do people enjoy such trash"...? Do you have *any* idea how many people - including myself - did well at school, achieved real accomplishments, etc.? And on the flipside, have you ever really considered the fact that the average person with "poor" taste in movies, etc. has far more to teach you than the other way around?

I can't help you talk about (or not talk about) Captain America in and of itself. Nobody is saying that you have to like, dislike, or ever even watch a Marvel movie. However, if someone at a party were to snort, "ugh, they're talking about Marvel movies, how idiotic", then I would join the fandom out of spite.

Like many people, I've met a wide variety of people who are at the tops of their professions, in art and law and beyond. The tippy-top people have open minds and diverse cultural palates. At the very least, they're too busy doing things to take snort breaks. You stop seeing the "ugh, philistines" crowd after a certain point - and even regarding those people, once you move to a different social circle and/or area of expertise, you quickly realize that their opinions do. not. matter.

And, hell, I don't even really have the time to read comics anymore, but not only do I know plenty of people who do, but I also have dear friends in that specific industry. They are all passionate, intelligent, well-credentialed people, who also have interesting lives beyond their work. Perhaps if you were to engage them in conversation, you would not only learn something, but you would actually enjoy yourself, because they're also friendly people who put others at ease.

But, none of this is really about Marvel. It's about writing things off as being idiotic. People don't just look down on it because it's "naughty" - it is a problem at the heart of *your* problem.

Conversation is about *making* connections - to make others interested in you, to allow yourself to become interested in others, to shape and navigate a conversation away from going awry.

Ask yourself: who *do* you want to meet? What *do* you want to talk about? Why *should* people talk to you? How would you feel, and what would you say, if somebody decided that your opinions weren't very interesting, or that your opinions were beneath them, or that your topic of choice didn't matter to them? Non-rhetorical question: if you were in the midst of a great conversation, and then your partner said, "hey, have you seen Civil War yet", what would you say? Why?
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:13 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have a tough-love suggestion. Take a writing class or join a writing group, where you'll get a lot of frank feedback. As a certified smart person, I'm assuming you think your writing is tops. It's not. Your supposedly intellectually inferior classmates will humble you with their feedback on your spelling ("complement"), punctuation and lack thereof, and failure to explain your idiosyncratic turns of phrase ("TAG", "due to me being sober").

Your defense might be that an AskMe post is not serious writing, so you didn't bother to do your best work. If that's the case, then you fail at respecting your audience, whom you're asking for help. Always do your best work.

Also, a writing group would be the kind of cooperative, goal-oriented group activity others have recommended above as a way to form friendships.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:14 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


You sound more afraid than contemptuous to me. Which is good, because that gives you a place to start.

So you've had all this external praise all your life. You knew the rules; do A thing get B reward. But life outside of school doesn't work exactly like that. People are strange and complicated and they don't follow the script (or not the script you want them to) and you don't know what button to push to get the reward anymore. Or even what reward you want. Also it's hard to find people that you can feel comfortable with.

So your choice is, withdraw because life doesn't match your desired shape (you've tried that) or stop trying to impose that shape on life and try to figure out who and what you are and how you want to live (Much harder.)

The thing about fear is, it usually points you towards things you should be paying attention to. You are afraid of being alone; why? Because that's just a bad thing, it means you're unsuccessful/weird/not as bright a star as others think? Because you just feel lonely? Because you need relief from your own thoughts and feel like you're thinking in circles/going stale? There's lots of different reasons to seek out other people, but you need to know what's broken before you start trying to fix it.

And maybe if you're just lonely but not wanting anything besides companionship, why not get a pet? Pets are great for getting you out of your own head, especially if you have to take them on walks.

If you're worried about what other people think but are otherwise fine being alone, then that's something you need to pay attention to/work on/maybe try therapy if you think you need it.

If you feel like you're going stale intellectually, start learning a new skill/take a class/join a club of people doing something you like.

If it's about sex/romance, well, I gotta tell you, you should probably work on yourself first so that you have something to offer a partner. The good thing about that is that working on yourself/getting out in the world ups your odds by making you more interesting and helping you meet people.

Or maybe some other thing is driving you that this random internet person knows nothing about. Try to figure out what that is and create a solution that addresses it.
posted by emjaybee at 3:46 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have such a relevant username!

My favorite quotation throughout my twenties was from Maxine Hong Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey:

"We're such geniuses, we can like anything."

If you're as intelligent as you say, you might never like the Marvel movies, but you can think of something interesting to say about them. Smart people who are good at talking can have scintillating conversations about dirt. Sure, the people you're with might not fascinate you, but if you're not holding up your end of the conversation by coming up with a creative take on the subject, you've got no grounds to judge anyone else. Maybe everyone else at that party is dying to have a discussion that moves beyond the consensus take on capitalism, but no one knows where to begin. You're the genius, genius. Why is it everybody else's job to move the conversation somewhere new?

That said, this questions screams "Big fish, small pond," to me. You want to stop feeling like you're the smartest person in the room? Get yourself into some rooms where you're the dumbest. Trust me, they're out there. The best thing my PhD program ever did for me was to smack me in the face, over and over again, with how little I knew. It never quite stops being hellish to be clinging to the edge of comprehension with the tips of your fingernails, but only once it's drummed into you how far you will ever be from being the actual smartest or the best can you start getting genuinely good at what it is you do.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:15 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I had a similar upbringing so I can sympathize with your current frame of mind. I wonder if the root of your problem is that you don't really know who you are yet. You think of yourself as "that smart guy." But that is a characteristic you have, rather than something that you are at your core. For me, being a smart kid and knowing a lot of big words was pretty much the only way I could get positive attention from my parents, rather than intermittent emotional neglect and scapegoating for their own narcissistic wounds. I constructed a people-pleasing false self out of intellectual superiority, and this false self failed miserably at attracting friends in school by showing off a large vocabulary. Quite the opposite; I was bullied. Then I became "the smart kid who is downtrodden by evil and stupid bullies" and that became my identity. Who needed those shallow, conformist sheeple anyway? Not me because I was so much better than they were. This became my default approach to other people and I am much older than you and still unlearning it.

If you have a similar false construction of self, based on people-pleasing or bolstering yourself due to bullying or anything along those lines, that's not really you. You are something much more than a collection of traits, with "smart" being the most revered one. You are a person with interests and passions and causes you support, and preferences for certain things and dislikes for other things. Right now it seems like you are sort of outside yourself, not owning your feelings. You say you're bored and irritated by people. Why not own that? What is so boring and irritating about them? You can learn about yourself by exploring this and other questions. What do you love and have passion for? What are your deeply held values? Rather than being remembered for angry writings and a cactus, what do you want to be remembered for? What makes you furious and is something you would change if you could? The first thing that jumps to mind?

You sound lonely, but it's possible to be lonely in a crowd if you don't know yourself well enough to connect with other people. Whether super-intelligent or not, everyone has similar emotional needs, and it's on that level that you will connect with others. I think you'll find this sort of friendship deeply satisfying. And the more you know yourself, the more you'll attract like-minded people. But it might be that a period of self-discovery, a vision quest of sorts, is needed first.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 5:27 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Nearly everyone in the world is interesting and fascinated by something. It's your job to ask the right questions to get to their expertise, their passion, the things they own a hundred books about, the conundrum they lie awake at night trying to solve. You can learn something from everyone. It's your challenge to learn how to do that.

In my experience, striking up conversations with strangers at a coffeeshop is one of the best ways to practice. You'll be surprised to find out the aspects of their lives you wouldn't have expected based on their presentation or small talk. Baristas can often point you in the direction of regulars who can talk your ear off.

I am reminded of something a wise person told me when I was a young snob: if you think you're the smartest person around, it's your duty to manifest that in all areas of your life, especially how you treat others.
posted by kelegraph at 5:49 PM on June 13, 2016


I have something for you to try. Learn a foreign language, then make conversation in that foreign language with native speakers. Without falling back on English.

You will initially have such a hard time understanding what the other person says and articulating yourself that you won't be able to think about whether or not the conversation is intellectually stimulating or how smart the other person is. You'll be happy to barely keep up. You won't be able to sound smart yourself - in fact, you will likely sound quite stupid for some time. You just need to talk and communicate on the most basic level. It's very humbling.

Communicating in a foreign language can be a very liberating experience - all the baggage or "persona" you have built up in your native language is gone. And you will find even the most basic of conversational exchanges rewarding in a way that you may not appreciate in English.
posted by pravit at 7:08 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm so curious if you're sitting there scorning all of these answers. (I see I'm not the first person to wonder whether, in your own eyes, the fact that you misspelled "compliment" would make you a less worthy person to know than someone with perfect spelling.)

Anyway, I think the fact that you didn't enter the conversational fray played a big part in why it remained uninteresting. Conversations are about building bridges, (or realizing the impossibility of doing so), and you gave no indication where your "shore" was, nor helped with the bridge-building.

I'm thinking back to times I've felt this way, and one factor was that I was somewhere I didn't want to be. Deep down, I didn't want to connect with all the people around me, because I actually just wanted to leave -- to move, to change colleges, to get out of that particular city, to find a better job, etc. Is there something you need to change about your life to be more in the mood to find people you connect with?
posted by salvia at 9:09 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Correction to my post, above:

"Since you're [[As]] a certified smart person, I'm assuming you think your writing is tops. ..."

Thanks to "mysterious stranger" for the correction.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:01 AM on June 14, 2016


How superior do feel at socializing? Being kind to others? Intimacy? Connecting with all sorts of people (not just those on meeting your secret checklist of acceptability?

Maybe the judgment is coming from an inner sense of inadequacy? It sounds like your early years trained you to see your value in what you can do, not who you are. Maybe unless you can perform and be stellar and fawned over, you don't really know how to relate to others, and that makes you uncomfortable. I'm curious if you have (m)any perfectionist tendencies...

Read about Carol Dweck's work with Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets. Check out Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration. Brene Brown's 2 TED Talks also have some good info for this type of circumstance.
posted by dancing leaves at 4:34 AM on June 14, 2016


Folks I'm friends with say I'm very well put together mentally-emotionally for being 26. Also feeds my pretension.

I mean, people may say this to you, but they are clearly wrong. Feeling contempt for people because they enjoy mainstream media is not the sign of someone who is well put together mentally and emotionally. If even your friends don't know you well enough to recognize that, then that means your friendships are fairly shallow-- they are only seeing your surface, your constructed persona. They aren't seeing you. They don't know that you are struggling, or hurting, or longing for change.

In my mid-twenties, it seemed hugely, impossibly important to me that I should seem clever and witty and on top of my life. The idea of expressing my vulnerabilities to even my closest friends made my skin crawl. I cared more about offering up a minimum number of bon mots than making people feel heard and cared for and loved.

In retrospect, it was all about fear, and an incredibly fragile identity built on being smart/funny, rather than a sustainable self that would be able to survive the many challenges of an actual human life. Your intellect will not protect you from pain. Your talent will not protect you from loss. A community of people who love you for who you are rather than "what you have to offer" makes a lot more difference in the long run.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:24 AM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hm.. I think you come across as someone who enjoys learning/mastering new skills.
Perhaps it would help if you studied Emotional Intelligence / Cultural and social awareness in the same way that you studied your AP subjects? By reading the theory and then putting it into practice?

You might learn about yourself and make a few friends along the way!
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 1:12 PM on June 14, 2016


I'm surprised that you're not getting more of the standard "hie thee to therapy" response that MeFi so often gives. Usually people who feel superior/arrogant/self-congratulatory are also very insecure. So the first thing I recommend is that you try to get some help exploring and mending the deep roots of your insecurity. Starting here is a good first step, but I really think it'll require more sustained and specific work.

You're brave to enunciate something about yourself that keeps you from connecting with others and makes you unhappy. A lot of the responses above are quite harsh in tone--I hope when you read them you imagine that harshness as being directed at the problem you're trying to solve, rather than you, yourself.

Of course you're not going to "click" with everyone, and it takes ongoing time and work to find the people that you'd like to be around. Try not to get too down on yourself for being in a less socially-connected period in your life.
I wonder if you're in that vicious cycle where you are lonely, which makes you feel cranky, which makes it hard to connect with people, which makes you lonely, and so on. That's a rough one.

One suggestion I have is that you try to remember to take responsibility for/in your conversations. If you're bored by the topic of conversation someone else has raised, are you trying to offer a topic of conversation that is more appealing to you? Or are you just going through the motions without much investment? It's a lot of work to be polite and real with someone, especially when you're feeling unhappy. When the person you're talking to says something, do your best to put in the intellectual work of coming up with a response that is honest but not alienating. Like, if someone says "Capitalism is just ruining kids these days" and you think it's a fatuous generalization, you could do the work of asking for examples, or trying to think of why you don't agree and asking them (politely and with real openness) what they think about your counter-example. You could ask them what about capitalism is the problem, or whether they think it's useful to think in such broad terms. Alternatively, you could turn to conversing about whether you agree that children are being "ruined," offering something that seems to be a positive effect on kids, etc. The more you invest in your conversations with people, the easier and more rewarding subsequent interactions with them will be.

It's hard to invest in social interactions (rather than checking out or just putting in the minimum) when you don't have much energy/happiness for that investment. You sound like you're in relationship poverty, so to speak, and so it's going to be hard to get out of that hole.
That is, having good relationships gives you optimism and self-regard and enthusiasm. Those are also the things you need to bring to social interactions in order for people to want to be around you.

So, you need to put in every little investment you can in those things. What can you do that will make you feel interesting and valuable? What do you like about other people? How can you acquire those qualities in yourself?

The more you can be happy with yourself, the less annoyed with everyone else you will feel. The more you like yourself, the more others will like you, and the more you will like them. Or at least this has been the case in my experience.
posted by Edna Million at 2:25 PM on June 14, 2016


Wow. So much great advice here!

I was just like you into my early 30's. I was bussed off to the gifted and talented school every week until junior high, can play a couple of musical instruments, did well on my SATs, have a knack for drawing and making, won all the awards when I was in college, generally looked down on "dumb people and their silly small talk," had a few breakups where I was told I was too smart for my own good, and realized I was incredibly lonely and that maybe there was a lot more to being a good person than having a big brain.

I mean, I would get invited to go out with people and spend hours beforehand figuring out how to bow out so I could avoid an evening of "inferior" conversation topics. I look back on those days now and laugh that I was even like that.

I started volunteering, I joined a nonprofit with people from all walks of life, I got out of my comfort zone (and continue to do that now), I read Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends and Influence People" without irony, I learned to ask questions and really listen to the responses, I started to see how small talk is about people wanting to share our innate socialness with one another, and discovered that it slowly opens the door to the good stuff. I realized I wasn't smart at all and had a ton of catching up to do.

As others here have said, there's always someone better than you or more experienced than you at something, and what people value covers the entire spectrum. And as different as we all might seem, we're all just looking for connections. I'm still learning how to get better at being social, and I just have to say that people are generally pretty awesome, but you have to let them be awesome on their terms and not yours. The more you do that, the happier you become because you discover that you're still growing, and seeing those changes in yourself is pretty cool. Give people a chance. They can and will surprise you.

It's also kind of cool when people who know me in one or two social settings find out that I'm good at one skill or another, and it has a way of strengthening our friendship. I don't wear the things I'm good at on my sleeve or try to steer conversations to that stuff, so when it does come out, they take more interest in me, which allows me to reciprocate, and that then takes our friendship to a deeper level.

TL;DR: Get over yourself. You're not as awesome as you think you are, and letting go of that is more than worth it.
posted by subliminable at 7:01 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


You go to a party and don't talk to anyone and then post an AskMe wondering why you feel closed off to the philosophies and ideas of people. Have you considered it's because you willfully close yourself off to the philosophies and ideas of people?

I made it through high school with honors, a great private college with honors, and law school while probably doing less than 30% of the reading homework due to undiagnosed ADHD. And that's not because oh, gee whiz, I'm so smart it came easy to me, but I'm incredibly charming. I'm smart to be sure, but I'm also an incredible liar. You could talk with me at that party about whatever 'pretentious' topic you wanted, I'd blow smoke up your ass for a half hour and you'd leave thinking you found a peer. And I wouldn't do that to be an asshole, I'd do that because I'm never going to see you again, you want to talk about that thing, and I want you to have a good time at the party because that makes me feel good.

My job requires me to talk with retail employees and I'm tempted to laugh sometimes at the 20-somethings who barely finished high school. Sometimes we communicate in writing where they tell me something was offincive, another thing was spechul, and they want to have a more in-depth conversasian with me at my earliest convenyance. On the phone they misuse big words to try to sound smarter: "He was delegating me to come in early and I told him I was officiating the store later in the day but he didn't care." But when we get down to the substance I feel like an idiot 60% of the day because I have never worked in the store.

You're smarter than everyone else? Go to a grocery store. Walk around. Ask yourself how they know how many cans of tomatoes to put out and why they put what where and why they put it there. If you think some team at the corporate office thought of all that you're right, but next I want you to understand that employees in *that* store can tell you where the canned tomatoes...and frozen pizza and toilet paper and papayas and those little balls of lime juice and EVERYTHING ELSE go and how they got on the shelves and how to unload the truck they come on and how to operate the register and - this will blow your mind - how to commit fraud to the tune of thousands of dollars standing at a register selling you potatoes. Next time you're in a check-out line understand that while the person is almost certainly not committing a fraud when they're ringing you out, they can probably explain in great detail what Derek was doing that got him fired in June and you won't understand a word of it.

So in addition to bullshitting to sound smart you also have to know how to play dumb to gain knowledge. Watching Columbo? Spot on recommendation. Also The Andy Griffith Show. I need to figure out if people are doing something incorrectly when I don't even know how to do it; I need to understand how to take the only information the person can articulate - "my manager is racist" - and figure out what the real issue is (they don't understand how the schedule is generated and the manager isn't explaining it well). I need to rope-a-dope people so they think I'm looking into another issue when what I'm really doing is looking into them, because they will freely tell you everything you need to know about them.

Empathy plays a HUGE part in all of this, btw. I LOVE talking about myself and I know how good it feels and so I know what to say to get the person to tell me what I need. I speak to the employee about the scheduling and know what it's like to feel excluded by a group and picked on; it also took me forever to understand our scheduling system. Consequently I'm able to help her both by answering her question but explaining it in a way that acknowledges her emotions, because I don't want her to feel so hurt and resentful.

So there's a lot of stuff I'm really good at that you are, by your own admission, not good at. What's the pretension for? What's its utility? Sounds more like defensiveness than anything else to me. The best way to feel less closed off is to talk to people. The best way to connect with people is to listen to them, validate them, and empathize with them. Even if you think Marvel is crap, imagine how you would feel if you were talking about the thing you wanted to talk about and the other person cared. Then, try to make them feel that way.
posted by good lorneing at 10:05 PM on June 14, 2016


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