Can a Ph.D. woman be happy with a nonintellectual man?
June 29, 2010 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Put yourself in these shoes: You are an overly-educated (Ph.D.) woman with creative and intellectual ambitions....voracious bookworm, writer, lover of ideas. Can you be happy in a romantic relationship with a nonintellectual man? He IS smart, but not a brainiac....and has every other quality you would want in a man....kind, generous, funny, hard-working, full of character. Responses from men and women, based on opinion and/or experience, are all welcome.
posted by smokingloon to Human Relations (66 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
I could be happy with someone you describe. I'm sure lots of people could. And lots of people couldn't. The question is could you?
posted by chunking express at 1:12 PM on June 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

I think you have to try it to find out. It's more a question of "are you happy" than "should you be happy with this person" or "is it okay to be happy with this person."
posted by corey flood at 1:13 PM on June 29, 2010

My first reaction is that you are looking into his "lack of intellect" pejoratively, and however comprehensive your list of good qualities may be, he would be better off rid of you. There will always be the "he's wonderful, BUT. . ." I would not want to have that hanging over my head.

Actually that is my reaction, period. You should look for someone who is your intellectual equal, knowing that you will probably need to hire out even the most minor plumbing and electrical repairs.
posted by Danf at 1:13 PM on June 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

"Can you be happy.....?"

Well, here's the problem, what the universal "you" can be happy with may not have any relation to what YOU will be happy with....

You're going to have to look at your priorities in a relationship, if intellectual equity is near the top of the list, you have your answer....
posted by HuronBob at 1:14 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

What is meant by 'smart, but not a braniac'? Does one have to have a Ph.D to be an 'intellectual'? Because I am pretty fucking clever, but for various reasons (illness, not having ten million pounds to get a masters then fund my way through further ed. ) do not have a Ph.D - and my friend who does likes making animated videos about fart jokes as well as tinkering with physics.

The worst relationships I have been in have not been with people less intelligent or even intellectual than I, much of a pain in the ass as that may be - they've been with people who thought that they were, and refused any proof to the contrary. The best were like the best Scrabble partners - just as intelligent, hopefully a little bit more, and even better if they know a lot about something you don't. And best of all is when they're willing to learn a lot about something you do.
posted by mippy at 1:15 PM on June 29, 2010 [17 favorites]

I'd say you should consider yourself lucky, honestly. He sounds like a catch. Hopefully he is not made to feel intellectually inferior to you in any way - if he can keep up with most of your conversations, I don't see a problem. My husband and I are about the same intellectually, but we have such different opinions and interests that I often talk to friends instead of him when it comes to those opinions. I still think he's great, wonderful, and amazing, I just won't count on him to agree with me politically.

On the flip side, I've also been unable to continue relationships because the other person just did not understand me, and it was at least partly due to intelligence differences. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed but I can't deal with someone who wouldn't pass sixth grade and is willfully ignorant. So I get what you're getting at, but you say he's smart... you have your answer, it seems.
posted by kpht at 1:15 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

And though not quite the same situation, my wife and I have very dissimilar interests, but get along just fine. If I want to discuss computers and junk like that, I have other outlets. I think finding a good person to be with is more important than finding someone who shares your particular set of interests.
posted by chunking express at 1:16 PM on June 29, 2010

Yes, but it depends on the dynamics of the relationship and both of your expectations.

If you and he are both the kind of people who are comfortable with the other devoting some time apart to pursuing separate hobbies and having some separate groups of friends, then sure.

If you and/or he are the kind of person/people who feel like the other should enjoy the same things and participate in the same activities, then maybe not so much. If either of you has a jealous streak, also not so much.
posted by desuetude at 1:17 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know many women who have post-college degrees married to men who work in the trades or similar. It's becoming much more common and there's far less of a stigma than there used to be. (I am assuming that you're asking because others have said, "OMG, you'll be sorry!" which women who are perceived as marrying "down" hear a lot.)

There's no guarantee that you'll share the same tastes with someone who's your official intellectual equal, anyway ... my husband and I are both "overeducated" and I LOVE modern art and 20th-century poets, and he hates them with the fire of a thousand suns. Oh well.

I have not particularly noticed that everyday family life depends a ton on intellect and education, but kindness, generosity, humor, and hard-work sure come up a lot.

This occurred to me while I was writing that last sentence, and perhaps it's out of line, but ... what if we changed it to: "You are an overly-educated (Ph.D.) woman with creative and intellectual ambitions....voracious bookworm, writer, lover of ideas. Can you be happy as the parent of a mentally disabled child?" or "Would you still love your spouse if he suffered brain damage, or aged and fell into senile dementia?" Basing love on intellect seems ... well, problematic at the least.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:20 PM on June 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

What I want, being a person much like you (although someone who would never be able to get a Ph.D. based on my lack of discipline rather than smarts,) is someone who is curious. Someone who wants to know how the world works in whatever little area is theirs. Mine might be media -- I love literature, film, television and all the intersections between them. However, I know nothing about mountain climbing, the internal combustion engine or musical theory. Yet, all these are intellectual ambitions, just not academic ones, or at least not the sort of academics you are used to.

Does he want to learn? Does he spend his time satisfying an bottomless, inner curiosity? Then you should be good. If you're me, that is.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on June 29, 2010 [14 favorites]

(Then again, I am a dude and no matter how enlightened my attitude toward women may be, the things I unconsciously desire in a relationship thanks to 25 years of socialization are quite different than the things you do. YMMV.)
posted by griphus at 1:22 PM on June 29, 2010

Yes, it's absolutely possible to be in a wonderful relationship with someone who's on a different intellectual level. I'm a thinker and a reader; he's a talker and a doer. It totally works.

I've used this answer before, but here it is:
This is only a dealbreaker if you want it to be. If it's an issue for you, then it won't work out. It is not intrinsically disastrous.
posted by specialagentwebb at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I guess if your whole identity and vision for yourself is wrapped up in feeling intellectual and doing intellectual things, and you can't genuinely love, respect, and admire someone who you categorize as being non-intellectual because your love of self is based on thinking you're intellectual, then I guess you can't make that partnership happen.
posted by anniecat at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

My girlfriend is 23 and runs a flower garden, and I am 33 and have worked as a software developer for 15 years. I have two college degrees, and she's a college dropout. We don't have to connect intellectually, because we connect physically, emotionally, and have many common artistic interests. I get all the "intellectual" stimulation I require at work and prefer it that way. I've never been happier. YMMV.
posted by brand-gnu at 1:25 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar situation (but no PhD...).

I admire the things he's good at and try to stuff my pretentious classist bullshit when necessary. (Not saying that's the deal with you, but I definitely get OMG HE DOESN'T KNOW ABOUT OPERA...??? WHAT AN IDIOT!) moments which I'm not proud of.

But happy! Oh so happy...!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:25 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

May I just add....that when I say someone is not an intellectual, not a brainiac, not a Ph.D., etc., I do not mean for it to be pejorative AT ALL. I do not think I am better/smarter than anyone else because I have a Ph.D.
posted by smokingloon at 1:26 PM on June 29, 2010

Sure it can work, but if you have to talk yourself into it, no. There are plenty of intelligent people who aren't "book smart", as they say, but if his type of intelligence doesn't mesh with yours, it's not going to work.

I'll admit to breaking up with someone because he wasn't smart enough - at least, not my kind of smart. He would just agree with whatever I said in any kind of serious conversation and it drove me nuts that he wouldn't think for himself. He was a very sweet, capable guy, but his brain and mine just weren't meant to be.
posted by something something at 1:26 PM on June 29, 2010

Anecdata: I recently got out of a relationship with a woman who is a resident in veterinary neurosurgery and one of the chief problems was that she did not have the mental space for me while she is in her program. Now, this could have changed in a year when she graduated and passed all of her boards, but the practical result was that she was not capable of being interested in ME.

I am not a surgery resident (nor even a veterinary assistant) and I don't own pets, but I was endlessly intrigued by what she was doing. I asked tons of questions and was very curious and did my part to remind her that cutting into the throat of a chihuahua to get to its spine was perfectly normal and naturally given to Monday-morning quarterbacking. All of this energy and interest I expended was basically for naught.

I am currently starting my own business that involves many current and cutting-edge website features, both as a freelancer and a site-builder of my own designs. However, whenever she asked about this stuff I would describe something in layman's terms, and she would respond with pretty much nothing. "I don't know anything about the Internet," she would say. Well gee, that's what I'm describing to you. Ask some questions! They never came, and our conversations would hit a wall. "I like it when you talk nerdy." Well, I'm not just here for my image, but you're welcome.

So, when I read your question and saw that you describe all of these discrete attributes of his that you like (or that you deem favorable), the first thing I wondered was whether that was all he is to you: a list of qualities?

tl;dr: Einstein was married.
posted by rhizome at 1:27 PM on June 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think an intellectual type can be in a great relationship with a smart non-intellectual type, especially someone who seems to have so many other good qualities (especially being funny.) People are probably chiming in right now with anecdotes supporting or denying this, though, so how to decide? I guess it comes down to this:

- Do you care what other people think? If you would be embarrassed among academic friends because he doesn't have a degree, either change that attitude promptly or split up so that you don't shame and hurt him. I don't read anything in your question to make me think this, BTW, but this is something you need to run as a real gut-check.

- Would you be bored around him because he doesn't know as much stuff as you? If he doesn't keep up with a field that you simply must talk about a lot, and being among academic friends who do know this stuff isn't enough for you, this could be a deal breaker. But if you love his non-schooled intelligence and natural wit, and you aren't bored around him because you can talk about all kinds of other things, all should be well.

I've recently realized that all the men I have clicked with best shared the trait of verbal playfulness. I remember turning down perfectly nice, smart and very attractive men for no reason that I could explain to my friends. On paper, these were all great guys. But they were incapable of the gentle teasing, sarcasm and one-upmanship that ruled in my family, and I couldn't connect with them. It sounds as if this naturally smart and funny guy has connected with you, too, despite his lack of a degree.

Be tough on yourself and fair to him. This really could work, but a bit of introspection on your part may help you find out the answer.
posted by rosebuddy at 1:28 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

What are his interests? It may help us to know what exactly his passions, hobbies and career are.
posted by griphus at 1:29 PM on June 29, 2010

Think of all the Ph.D. men with non-Ph.D. wives.
posted by millipede at 1:29 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, absolutely. I have a master's degree, publish art books, and have lately been reading the collected letters of Samuel Beckett for fun. My boyfriend -- who is, just as you describe, "smart, but not a brainiac, and has every other quality you would want in a man: kind, generous, funny, hard-working, full of character" -- didn't go to college.

We recently celebrated our five-year anniversary -- the longest relationship for either of us. It's the happiest, healthiest partnership of both of our lives. I wouldn't trade him for all the Ph.D's in China (nor any of the over-educated brainiacs I dated before him). It did require some recalibration on my part regarding what's truly important to have in common -- namely, that qualities (kindness, loyalty, honesty, etc.) matter more than things and preferences (education, books, music, vacations involving museums vs. cabins in the woods, etc.). Or, as my brother-in-law put it: "having things in common is overrated. Having each other in common is what's rare."

Here's a little story. About a year or so into our relationship, an ex-boyfriend (and the guy I'd been carrying a torch for since -- I am not kidding -- the Reagan administration) moved to L.A. He has a Ph.D, teaches art history, and -- from an intellectual standpoint -- appears to be my perfect match. We started hanging out again and discovered -- scarily -- that our old chemistry was, well, still pretty fizzy. Long story short, he eventually offered to leave his wife for me if I would leave my boyfriend for him. "Come on," he said. "Do you really want to be in a relationship where you'll never get to discuss Walter Benjamin after sex ever again?"

And suddenly, right there, I had my answer: all due respect to Walter Benjamin (who I totally love), but fuck that. Anyone who would ask me to participate in breaking the hearts of two other people in order to discuss critical theory naked is missing too many important qualities for a good relationship. I immediately stopped flirting with the fantasy of running off to intellectual heaven with my old flame, and very firmly went back to the real world of warmth, safety, commitment, and love with the best man I know.

Best decision I ever made.
posted by scody at 1:29 PM on June 29, 2010 [334 favorites]

Can you be happy in a romantic relationship with a nonintellectual man?

Probably not.

I'm (vaguely) educated, my ex was not. While he was a good person in many ways, we had nothing in common and therefore nothing to talk about. He never went to a museum or a con with me, never read any of the books I gave him that I was certain he'd enjoy, and his preferred form of entertainment was television. He wouldn't watch foreign films because of the subtitling.

I went to too many demolition derbies and gun shows to count and I learned how to talk about his work, his interests, his hobbies with him. He couldn't meet me halfway; he was never going to discuss historical dramas or read Patanjali just so we'd have dinner conversation. His mind hadn't been trained that way. His idea of worth was different, his values were different.

Eventually, not being able to share the things that really excite you - ideas - with him will start to undermine your comfort and devotion. You'll wonder why he doesn't love you enough to read this book or watch that PBS series, even though you'll know it has nothing to do with love but native ability. Eventually you'll begin to doubt his intelligence - not publicly, but even worse: in your own heart, and he'll say or do things that will begin to fill you with pity first and disgust later.

I don't think it's likely that a modern, educated woman can truly respect a man whose intellect is less refined than her own, even if he is gentle, sweet-natured, and the embodiment of fidelity.

All of this sounds horrible, I realize, but it's happened to me. A good man is good, but a man who doesn't understand your life of mind is likely to leave you lonely.
posted by goblinbox at 1:30 PM on June 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

Depends what you mean by "non-intellectual." Does that mean not highly educated in the formal sense, or not curious, or not interested in the world around him? I could be with a man who was not highly formally educated, but I could never be with someone who did not have a natural curiousity about the world around him, with lots of opinions and ideas, and the willingness and vocabulary to hash it all out over nice glass of alcohol.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:34 PM on June 29, 2010 [12 favorites]

He couldn't meet me halfway,

I have to say that it doesn't sound like he was nonintellectual -- I've studied firearms and the inner workings of a gun are still a mystery to me -- just selfish.
posted by griphus at 1:35 PM on June 29, 2010 [11 favorites]

The reason these concepts tend to be issues in relationships isn't because of the big picture, it's because of the small stuff - not "he doesn't value literature!!" but "I wish I had more time at home with my writing project..."; not "she's so pretentious!!" but "I wish she would watch (movie) with me..." so if you're finding plenty of things to enjoy about each other, and finding ways to compromise so you each get to do what you like best in your "time off", then you're golden!

As things continue, your difference in backgrounds might rear up, but framed differently as you approach new issues - expectations for setting up house, having kids, raising and educating kids, etc. But those aren't intrinsic to your backgrounds and educations, they're just a part of who you both are and how you fit together. Focus on each interaction as fitting two small puzzle pieces together, and don't worry about forming the big picture - that will take shape over time as all your daily interactions fall into place.
posted by aimedwander at 1:38 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depends what you mean by "non-intellectual." Does that mean not highly educated in the formal sense, or not curious, or not interested in the world around him? I could be with a man who was not highly formally educated, but I could never be with someone who did not have a natural curiousity about the world around him, with lots of opinions and ideas, and the willingness and vocabulary to hash it all out over nice glass of alcohol.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:34 PM on June 29 [+] [!]

This. As long as he is curious, I think the relationship will work because he will want to know more about what you're into (and you should want to know more about what he's into).

Just because someone has or has not been formally educated means nothing. I work at a big, prestigious school and a solid half of the PhD students are total mouth breathers that can barely tie their shoes. They might be idiot savants.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:38 PM on June 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

You seem to put a lot of stock in educational credentials, so you're probably not a good match for someone who either doesn't have the credentials or doesn't value them the way you do. That rules out quite a few "intellectual" people (maybe especially ones who have been through many years of education).

An completely separate issue is interests: date someone you can talk to about things that interest you and who will participate in the activities you enjoy. Don't worry about whether your partner's interests are "intellectual"; worry about whether they're the same as yours.

You don't need to have all your interests in common, so how much is enough? I would say enough that you could talk to that person every day for years and still not get bored. That's a tall order, but no one said it was supposed to be easy.
posted by k. at 1:40 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar position to you (well haven't got the PhD quite yet, but working on it). All the guys I have ever dated have been extremely intelligent and intellectual. It is a HUGE turn on for me. I don't think it's a question of a PhD or not a PhD or a question of any sort of qualification -- it's about intellectual curiosity -- I need to be with someone who's as interested as I am in teasing out the details of some political issue; or in seeing the latest performance at the local theater; or in reading really good fiction and discussing it. These are all essential parts of a good relationship for me and I doubt I could be really happy with anyone who wasn't like that. It is hard though, because often men don't seem to feel the same need to be with women who are intellectual -- so you are limiting you dating pool. But ultimately, if that's what's important to you, you might have to make some hard choices to get it.
posted by peacheater at 1:42 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dan Savage: The Price of Admission.

I love this and think this is exactly what relationships are... even the perfect ones. :)
posted by eatdonuts at 1:42 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sorry linker!
posted by eatdonuts at 1:42 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

In some sense, it depends on what you enjoy sharing with a partner, and how you enjoy sharing it.

Sex, for example, does not require great wit or years of penury in ivory towers. Amazing lovers rarely learned in classrooms, or approach academically.

Conversation, on the other hand, can be a real problem. It's tiring to talk to someone who is uninterested ("I don't care about X or Y", "I'll never understand Z"), and it can sometimes take the spark out of something to always be explaining the basics (and tiring to the other party), or draining to you to withhold excitement because the back-explanation would be too arduous, or the point too fine.

I have friends (and have had partners) who are not absolute genii, but are the best ever companions, comrades, and experience-buddies. Far more important than book-learning or raw wit was their approach to life and the chemistry between us. In my world, the desire to try new things and a "who's gonna stop us??!" bold approach is worth gold. Turn the knob! Jump the line! Eat the menu item you don't understand! Timidity and cautiousness is the opposite, a real mood-killer. One great quality can compensate for others.

One relationship I had was with someone with whom I had an uncanny shared sense of aesthetics, in art, food, objects, everything. It was a very powerful thing. That shared sense of enjoyment (which extended across much of everyday life) was a sustaining force for us. I loved spending time with her because it was enjoyable to share our delight in the stuff we like. The other thing was, it gave us a lot to talk about, and suggested new experiences. Intellectual equals are great, but sometimes their narrowness -- or the fact that you haven't read the same books, or something, can be a bit of a bore over time. Shared experiences can mitigate that. On the other hand, seeing something (art, music, the street) with someone brain enough to reveal it, peel it apart, and expose it for what it is... priceless.

Your question is really about what you value in a relationship -- which is sharing your life with another person for some time. You have to decide (or really, figure out) what you want to share with your partner, and how. If you can't get it from them, you have to find another source for that thing. That path may or may not exclude the partner who can't or won't share the thing you love, depending on how you go.

The answer to this question is different for everyone, and probably unique to each partner. Some rare people will overwhelmingly hit on all but one or two points -- and overcome whatever's "missing". Some will not, but brains will overcome frailty or other flaws. For many, just a stunning sense of humor keeps them endlessly love-smacked.

For what it's worth, I have become less interested in getting involved with people who don't understand my technical interests. These things are all-consuming for me, and not understanding them, or worse, being uninterested in them, means in some sense that I can't share a huge part of my existence.

But with that in mind, never forget that sometimes someone with a different approach, a different background or education, can reveal the world to you in a way that no like-minded person can. Maybe your person of interest has this quality, and you've more to learn from them and more to share with them than you think.
posted by fake at 1:43 PM on June 29, 2010 [20 favorites]

I am a late 40's male. But if I were a woman with a PhD and found a guy who was smart, kind, funny and full of character, the only question I would have would be, "Does he satisfy me sexually?" If I was looking for a brianiac [your word]and found what you have found I might throw him back into the pool. But, I would realize a few years down the line that I had made a mistake.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:46 PM on June 29, 2010

I'm not as educated as you, but I'm pretty nerdy. I definitely find I have a preference for salt-of-the-earth, smart-but-not-as-educated-as-me guys. I like the perspective they bring to our conversations.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:48 PM on June 29, 2010

Ha. If I wasn't in a committed partnership, I'd think you were talking about me. I also think you may be wrong about relative capacities.

For example, I don't even have a bachelor's degree. Simply put, I don't value them that highly. I'm not anti-intellectual, I just don't value academic degrees with an automatic reverence. Even more so, I do not think of myself as an intellectual, and (more importantly) don't put a big value on the company of those who think that "intellectual" is a goal or achievement.

Here's the thing. I am almost overwhelmingly smart in a symbol-manipulation kind of way. I hate to put it like that, it sounds so arrogant. Additionally, whenever one makes a claim about intelligence, picky parsing of sentence structure is sure to follow. So be it.

Many of the problems in my life have been based on the fact that unlike most people, I understand new ideas and areas-of-study quickly, thoroughly, and permanently. I also have a very large and fast memory. These were all great capacities when I was in school, and remain so as an adult. Yet, I had a hard time making and keeping friends until I realized that despite my symbol-manipulation powers, I am not universally good at everything.

All arrogance aside, this realization was a breakthrough for me. I am not good at natural languages, for example. I am also not good at physical learning. I am not even a quarter as fast as some of my friends at picking up a new salsa move. Also, My emotional intelligence is fair-to-middlin'. It takes me a while to understand people who are more attuned to emotions.

These are all areas that are quite important for adults, and yet often don't quite get considered when talking about intelligence.

The advice part

I find that as I age (mid 40's now), more and more I value partners with different strengths than mine. I even value partners who are objectively my inferior in the symbol-manipulation skills (what most people mean when they say "intelligent"). I value them because without exception, they are much better than me at some other useful, valuable, interesting area of adulthood.
posted by Invoke at 1:49 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I could be happy with someone you describe. I'm sure lots of people could. And lots of people couldn't. The question is could you?

This is the only answer worth reading. Your question is no different than can a tall women ever love a short man? Well, WHICH tall woman? WHICH short man.

For what it's worth, I couldn't be in a relationship with someone too far from me in terms of intellectual and artistic matters. A huge amount of my relationship with my wife (and, indeed, with former girlfriends -- and even with platonic friends) revolves around discussing art and ideas. I guess I'm limited in that I don't know how to meaningfully relate (long-term) in other ways. That's the point: I DON'T know. I don't play sports; I'm not that into gossip ... I'm a geek. I'm into ideas. I want to be with someone kind and caring (and, luckily, I am), bit it's not enough. On Wednesday night at 8pm, what are we going to talk about? Being kind and caring?

Note: the only way I know how to be in a long-term relationship is for that person to also be my best friend (e.g. the person I talk to about the things that matter to me). If you have a separate best friend, then it may not matter to you so much.

Finally, I would do some serious soul-searching about what "intellectualism" means to you. Is it about surface-trappings or true thinking. Via my definition, it has NOTHING to do with advanced degrees, what you've read or whether you use "correct" grammar or not.

It has to do with (1) desire to learn; (2) ability and desire to discuss abstract concepts; (3) ability to think logically. An auto-mechanic is just as likely (if not more likely) to have those abilities as a PhD. If I bring up "existentialism," I don't care if my wife doesn't know what that means. But I WOULD care if she didn't ask what it means. And I WOULD care if she got bored halfway through my explanation of what it means. (If she did, that wouldn't make her a bad person. It would just make us incompatible.)
posted by grumblebee at 1:49 PM on June 29, 2010 [9 favorites]

If intelligence is important for you in a partner then it's important (for me: non smoker. That was right at the top of my list of "must haves". YMMV). But don't put it at the top of the list just because you think you should, put it there because it matters to you. Everyone else can judge you or not as they choose. You'll know that he can fix anything in the house, always empties the dishwasher without being asked, and can make you laugh whatever your mood (which, to your surprise, you've discovered are the most important things for you. Who knew?).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:50 PM on June 29, 2010

You place a lot of value on your credential as an indicator of personal qualities you feel you have and he doesn't. This isn't going to end well for you or him.
posted by vincele at 1:51 PM on June 29, 2010

Funny matters more than educated.

I think being with someone who is different can lead to you gaining a better sense of yourself, to taking yourself less seriously, and not "doubling down" on the shared identity. Blah blah more well-rounded human.

Also I think it's quite possible that if you make "intelligence" (or whatever you want to call it) a big overriding factor in picking someone, then when you find someone eventually you will work out that one of you two is, after all, maybe just a leeeeeettle bit smarter and that difference will seem to grow bit by bit. Don't be a genius groupie.

Perhaps more to the point: the cringe reaction goes away, if you let it, and later you'll feel dumb for thinking it was important.
posted by fleacircus at 1:51 PM on June 29, 2010

The difference is going to be much less important than how each of you see and treat that difference. You say that you are a bookworm, a writer, a lover of ideas. Will you be needing to talk with your SO about the books that you're worming? How would you want your SO to fit into your interest in writing? How do you mean you love ideas - do you crave being able to talk about higher ideas with your SO?

And as for his side - upthread in this post, we had the story of the ex who was into gun shows when the wife was not. The problem wasn't that they had different interests, but that they couldn't meet halfway. Will he meet you halfway to the extent that you need him to? Will you do the same for him?

The difference in your interests is significant, but it is by no means fatal to your relationship. It all depends on you two.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:56 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

The answer to your question is YES. I sometimes think my relationship/marriage works because of these differences and not in spite of them. (And will MeMail you more.)
posted by bluedaisy at 2:03 PM on June 29, 2010

bluedaisy, if you're planning on using MeMail because you want privacy, than of course that's fine. But please don't use it because you don't want to derail the thread with personal details. I am interested in how your relationship works, and I think it's 100% germane to this thread.
posted by grumblebee at 2:07 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not normally.
posted by tarvuz at 2:07 PM on June 29, 2010

My mother (born in the 50s) has a master's degree. For several years, she had a perfectly decent relationship with a man who:

--Had a high school education
--Worked in a tire manufacturing plant
--Was 12 years her junior

Yes, it can be done. But my mother told me that she never thought booksmarts were the only definition of intelligence, and that she respected her boyfriend for his own talents and intelligence. She must have, because they were together for quite a while, and split up eventually for unrelated reasons.
posted by Coatlicue at 2:07 PM on June 29, 2010

Not to toot my horn, I'm pretty damn clever but I don't actually look for that in a partner - I'm not interested in intense intellectual discussions with my romantic partner. I want that stuff beyond qualifications; curiosity, awareness of the wider world, streetsmarts, empathy. I have dated post docs that had none of these, quite frankly.

I mean, you're either sympatico, or you're not. If *you* need that level of intellectual engagement on an every day level then maybe this relationship isn't for you, but it is certainly not the same for all of us. Personally, I like my man to make me laugh til I puke and be able to put up shelves.
posted by poissonrouge at 2:15 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Intellectualism has at least two disparate components, the way I think of it. First: love of learning, ideas and general intellectual curiosity. Second: the cultural comportment habituated by immersion among like people. I guess I think of "intellect" and the "ualism" as distiguishable.

I, for one, as a PhD candidate and a woman, find the former an absolute necessity and turn-on in all companions, and observe that it commands a high amount of my respect, as attributes go.

However, the second component is, to me, a turn-OFF. I come from a generally working-class family, and some of the hot-house flower, hip, ironic, droll, urbane affectations I have observed among my academic peers of bluer blood or otherwise thoroughly cultured backgrounds (and yes, I am showing something of a preference against SOME people from highly educated families here) are tiresome, alienating, or somehow otherwise unattractive.

So, for myself, I could never see myself close in any regard with a person who is either 1. incurious or 2. mannered.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:16 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine is in a similar situation. She's a very bright, educated, intellectual person--likes to discuss the deeper meanings of everything from Shakespeare to X-men comics. Her partner just isn't wired that way, but is warm, funny, loving, sane, supportive, and a good cook (among other positive qualities). It has been a struggle at times, but my friend has decided that if she wants to see a certain kind of movie and have a certain kind of conversation about it, that's just something she's going to have to do with other friends. It is a compromise for her; I think in her ideal world she'd have gotten the whole package in one person. But I believe she's made peace with it and is very happy.
posted by not that girl at 2:20 PM on June 29, 2010

Thanks to everyone who responded honestly without jumping to the conclusion that I am some pretentious asshole who expects everyone to call me Doctor. This has been very helpful.
posted by smokingloon at 2:25 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Relationships also depend quite a bit on temperament, which, for me, means one's basic inclinations.

I was once in a relationship with a man who was, in many ways, an interesting, experienced and worldly type who could tell great stories. We were matched in our preferences for introversion, but he sought movement and speed where I preferred stillness; I loved my dissertation research and he loved the fussiness of engines and fiddly technical stuff. I leaned toward intellect and he leaned toward concrete knowledge. That was a bigger difference than I could handle because it meant that I was the one who always wanted to talk and think about the meanings of things, and had no partner in that enterprise. Consequently, my sense of self was never completely at ease.

So my question is: Are you temperamentally suited to one another? Are you at home with him, truly yourself in his presence?
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:44 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's a quote from John Stuart Mill that I like:
What marriage may be in the case of two persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opinions and purposes, between whom there exists that best kind of equality, similarity of powers and reciprocal superiority in them—so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other, and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and of being led in the path of development—I will not attempt to describe. To those who can conceive it, there is no need; to those who cannot, it would appear the dream of an enthusiast.
Happily, I think we've come a long way from his time and for many of us, this is the kind of ideal picture of a good relationship. I'm assuming you're interested in this picture of a relationship, where equality is important.

If so, the question is do you have reciprocal superiority? If he has areas of superiority that you can genuinely respect and learn from and admire, and he genuinely respects yours, then yes.

I know a number of highly educated and intellectual women who are in satisfying relationships with men who are not intellectuals by any stretch. But their partners have strengths (practicality, real-world knowledge, emotional resilience and warmth, etc), that my friends genuinely respect.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:56 PM on June 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

Will he go to plays with you? When you travel, will he go to museums with you? If you go to a dinner party, will he hate it if it's a group of well-educated people playing word games? Will you go fishing with him? If you go to a barbecue and his friends are talking about hunting, will you hate it?

Shared experiences build the relationship. Shared values are critical. Think about what you want the relationship to be like in 15 years; if you can totally imagine him there, that's a good sign.
posted by theora55 at 3:32 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have two bachelors degree and 1 masters degree. My husband just has a high school diploma. We've been happily married for 18 years.
posted by GlowWyrm at 4:40 PM on June 29, 2010

My parents had a fairly significant intelligence gap, but it wasn't a problem - they both loved to travel and see new things, even if the reasons for doing so were different. For example, they'd go to a museum because my dad was interested in how things worked, and my mom in how things looked. But the important thing was that they liked to discover new things together, even if they didn't or couldn't share what they saw on the same level.

There is a huge difference in personality types between "calculus is tricky for me to wrap my head around" and flat-out, "I hate learning". If curiosity, creativity, or a willingness to experiment are among your man's good traits, I don't think an IQ gap will be a problem.

But, if he is the sort of non-intellectual who staunchly opposes even the very idea of learning something new (and I'm talking simple things like appreciating new foods, going to a unique tourist spot over a theme park, etc.), then you are going to feel stifled.
posted by Wossname at 4:52 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, I could... perhaps... but ONLY if he is a reader. Otherwise, deal breaker.
posted by Knowyournuts at 5:02 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another thing to ask yourself is whether your partner has any inferiority / self-esteem issues around his educational achievement or intelligence. I have had two serious relationships with people who didn't go to college. The main place this difference manifested as a potential problem was when they expressed concerns that they didn't belong in "my world" or would be looked down on by my grad school friends. It took one or two "no way, you're great and smart, and fuck them if they can't see that"-type comments with one person for this issue to go away entirely, but with the other, it became an ongoing issue that made it hard to have a shared social world. It also came up during fights ("you just think you can outsmart me if we keep discussing this!"). Even without being judgmental or pretentious in the slightest, your guy could project his own insecurities onto the education gap.

Me though? I really enjoyed dating men who applied their skills and intelligence to the physical and interpersonal worlds as opposed to the intellectual book world, and I had more than enough neurotic intellectual overachieverdom for us both. :)
posted by salvia at 5:42 PM on June 29, 2010

My SO grew up as an orphan in a third world country. Our educations are vastly different in nature, although he is both smart and has his 3 Rs (readin ritin & rithmatic). Unrelated issues in our relationship aside, I find the biggest trap in the intellectual divide is that you tend to have & keep very different interests.

Am I embarassed by him when he's around my educated friends? No. And more judgemental friends tend to disappear on their own in these sorts of situations. But he's understandably non-contributory in a gathering of my friends, since 95% of the conversational topics that come up in those circles have nothing to do with what he knows & is interested in.

I'm not embarassed, I'm just acutely aware that we're boring him. So the tendency is to either not go to these types of get-together (which has distanced me from a lot of people), or to go without him.

The trouble with this second solution is that it distances you from each other. I suppose that's true in any relationship --too much of separate lives leads to a lack of "togetherness"-- but it's particularly pronounced when you didn't have a lot of common ground to start with.

Good luck. It can be really interesting learning to live with & around someone so very different from you. But it definitely includes its own special challenges, and finding good, relationship-feeding common activities is one of them.
posted by Ys at 5:43 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding LobsterMitten. As a data point: I have a Ph.D., my husband did not go to college. We've been married for 17 years.
posted by Quietgal at 5:46 PM on June 29, 2010

Well, now... there's smart, and then there's smart, and then there are the =trappings= of smart. If you're worried that he doesn't play the same kind of role you play when it comes to your brains, take a step back and observe - is that he's not a brainiac, or is it that he doesn't adhere to the stereotypes and subculture of the highly educated?

Me? Common as mulch. Hard core Swamp Yankee, and I know more about baseball and fixing up old Cadillacs than I do about 20th century literature and postmodernism. I don't think I've ever read a novel without at least one sword fight or spaceship. I flunked out of photography school, twice.

My wife? Summa-cum-laude in English, headed for a 4.0 in Business Management. The local librarians are honored and challenged when she asks them for a reading recommendation.

We get along great, despite the fact she lapses into a three-day coma if she so much as hears a ballgame on someone's TV, and I think Tori Morrison is a fine Horror fiction writer.

So, if he's smart and funny and engaging, but not intellectual, he's your guy. If he's too stout and doesn't wear turtlenecks and tweed blazers while namedropping - he's still your guy. If you look at his dumb ass and think, "There is the most fun person on the planet," you two will do OK.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:57 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

As a woman in a similar position, I have always agreed with Dorothy Parker:

Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much . . .
Diarists, critics, and similar roe
Never say nothing, and never say no.
People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;
God, for a man that solicits insurance!

posted by Countess Elena at 5:57 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine is very intellectual -- bookish, creative, a planner. Went most of the way through a PhD, all the way through a Masters in Public Administration, dated similar academic guys who, frankly, all sucked for her. When she formed a couple with any of them, it was overthinkcity.

When she met a cute, bright but not at all bookish electrician, she was worried almost identically to your question. My answer to her was, "Are you kidding?"

My daughter was the flower girl in their wedding. He balances out her book smarts with street smarts, book keeping with the ability to fix things, spontaneity to her orderliness. They're good for each other in ways that few other couples I know are.

To me, judging someone by their degree is like judging them for the car they drive. Yes, it's a reflection of their taste and priorities, but it's not a critical part of their being. Many paths to enlightenment. So few hard working, nice, loving guys.

You may have to overcome the checklist you made in your head, which might threaten your sense of accomplishment and self just a bit. But if he's as good as you say, it's worth a *try*.
posted by Gucky at 7:21 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am in the most part smarter than my partner, but she is good at drawing and sports. So I call her smart at drawing. Isn't it natural that one of you is going to be smarter than the other? Don't be so sure that people of a perceived lesser intellect can't point things out to you that you would have never considered, but are inciteful and relevant. My partner dreamed of sitting in coffee shops on lazy afternoons and relaxing with her unknown love... I don't drink coffee and hate sitting around, she can still do these things with her friends, compromise does not diminish our love for one another. Yes you can be happy.
posted by Shocked22 at 12:37 AM on June 30, 2010

I don't see why not. Should give it a go to see where it leads! I think that academics shouldn't play that much of an issue between mates, but that's just me. My main pet peeves are smoking and excessive indulgence with alchohol.

All the best!
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:55 AM on June 30, 2010

Here's another data point: I'm a woman in her late 20's and I'm currently ABD (hopefully I'll defend this fall/winter). I'm coming up on my second wedding anniversary. My husband is intelligent, funny, cute, and pretty much everything that I have ever wanted in a partner. Our marriage isn't a perfect parallel to your situation because he is also interested in ideas, but the ideas that I'm most interested in aren't necessarily the ideas that he's the most interested in. Also, he is way more practical in his nature than I am, and he knows how to do things that involve power tools.

We have some intellectual compatibility: we both like politics, current events, and the same kinds of music, and we have similar tastes in literature. However, he's more interested in computer programming and information systems than I am, and I'm interested in biological sciences and actually making music (neither of which he cares about very much). This kind of worried me at first, given that the majority of my waking hours are spent either doing or thinking about science and music.

Our marriage is awesome. He does his computer-y stuff while I'm working on my thesis or playing piano, we're both happy, and his personality and mine complement each other very well. I think that compatibility for dating/marriage purposes is completely different from intellectual compatibility, but there are three main conditions that need to be met for both partners to be happy when they're interested in different things: a) enough overlap in things that you both enjoy so the two of you can be happy doing things together, b) you both have other friends to pursue your interests with, and c) you don't get jealous of each other's individual pursuits. Somewhere along the line, people get fed some weird idea of romance in which your spouse is supposed to be everything to you and you aren't supposed to need anyone else, but that's bullshit and doesn't really work in reality. There's a big difference between a life partner and a life-support system.
posted by kataclysm at 7:11 AM on June 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

My boyfriend, although a high school dropout (he educated himself from 16 on), is highly intelligent. He is a self taught software engineer. While I hold the college degree, I'm nowhere near his level of intellect. This was a concern to me for a while, and I recently brought up my concerns to him about not being on his level. His answer : the conversations we have together are more interesting then the conversations he had in former relationship with a woman on his level, because I'm curious, and open to new ideas and ways of thinking. This woman he was with for a brief period of time, was intellectually rigid. Also, I bring balance to his life that he didn't have before. I bring him down to earth. I keep is life manageable, and organized; and I take him out to cultural events that he would not normally do without me. I bring richness to his life. He told me that my qualities have brought him out of depression, and that he has grown intellectually because of me.
posted by 7AM at 8:59 AM on June 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Bookworm and non-bookworm? I think this would be the biggest mismatch, not the degree.
posted by zippy at 9:21 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, I am a lady bookworm M.Sc. and I have been happy for a decade with a man who has read one book (1984, and hated it, it took him three years) since I met him and never finished his degree.

I think the bigger issue is whether you have anything else to talk about. We've never had a lull in the conversation all these years because of shared other interests (pets, botany, building, renovating an old house). If you two have projects to share that are time consuming and the conversation flows for years and you are happy, I don't see how the rest matters. I'm surprised at all the people who need someone to read with them. Book club?
posted by Acer_saccharum at 7:32 PM on July 4, 2010

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