Can an intellectual and a simpler, down-to-earth type stay in love?
April 25, 2012 7:31 AM   Subscribe

MeFites! Can a relationship work between a hyper-intellectual and a simpler, more down-to-earth type? (special snowflake details inside..)

I'm brainy and I like it! If you knew where I worked, you'd think, "yup, she's pretty smart." Most of my friends are writers, academics or journalists. For most of my life, friends thought I would end up with a much older man, maybe a PhD or academic, someone who could appreciate my brainy side.

My most significant relationship lasted four years with a brilliant, charming man. A writer, who, during the good times, was whip-smart and kept me intellectually challenged. We taught each other new words, I edited his books, he helped me with my thesis, we shared our thousands of books, and frequently discussed literature and ideas and the world. We spent time with famous intellectuals at glittering parties. He told his friends I was the smartest woman in the city. Those were the good times —— He was also verbally abusive and a serious alcoholic. He was not supportive of my career success, which was eclipsing his. He took a lot of my time, energy, money and generosity. He cheated on me and walked out very suddenly two years ago. We have not spoken since. Since that mess ended, I spent a lot of time working on myself, getting myself healthy and together. I dated around a little, but focused on work and exercise and friends and my own feelings and life goals.

This year, I felt ready to really approach dating more seriously again. I decided that "smart" was less important than "kind" and started scanning the world for radically different kinds of people. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the universe has thrown me a curveball. A kind, strong, generous, sensitive, masculine, solid, amazing, sexy curveball.

Four months ago I met a man who is honest, trustworthy, considerate, open with his emotions, caring, tender, and we connect very deeply on an emotional and physical level. We have amazing time together. So much fun. I feel radiantly calm with him at all times. I can be silly and open and free with him. And we're having the best sex of our lives. While he's not stupid at all (he's both insightful and streetsmart) he doesn't really read books or know much about them. So I worry. Can a super-brainy girl have a lasting relationship with a salt-of-the-earth guy who likes Kung Fu movies and goofy frat humor? Will I get bored and eventually bail for a less-worthy man who can talk about the oeuvre of Edmund Wilson? Who speaks Latin? Who can walk me through a museum and teach me something I don't already know?

How important is intellectual compatibility in a relationship where everything else is crazygood?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (67 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Intellectual and intelligent aren't necessarily the same thing. Lots of intelligent people are not necessarily intellectuals. And some intellectuals can be very foolish about certain things.

So, if the chemistry is good in other areas why not relax and see how it works out.

Just because this guy likes moves that you don't like doesn't mean you two are not compatible.
posted by dfriedman at 7:36 AM on April 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

It sounds like you're looking for trouble where there is none. You have no way of knowing that you WILL get bored; there's also the possibility that you can foster more of an interest in learning in him, while his honesty and trustworthiness grounds you in a way you need.

Or you could find he's kind of like my father; my father isn't much of a reader as such, and never really was (as my brother observed recently, he was kind of like "Ponyboy" from The Outsiders as a kid), but even so -- the guy thinks about stuff. A lot. He likes examining social and societal and other questions from all angles just for the sake of thinking about them. That's how he learns; he'll spark conversation, and listen to everyone make their own arguments for and against the different positions on a situation, and think about them.

It's just a different kind of intellectualism. Sometimes people who don't read much are still really intellectually curious.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:43 AM on April 25, 2012 [39 favorites]

If you were looking for different kinds of people and you found one, sounds like a fast pitch.

Truthfully, you'll probably become frustrated by him at times, but if as you say he encourages your career, then you'll have plenty of time for intellectual discussion. Also, people change, and you might not think of you and him as brainy and otherwise in 20 years. His character qualities are more likely to endure.
posted by michaelh at 7:43 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it is extremely rare that a partner satisfies all needs for the other person. If everything else is good, having friends that enjoy hobbies (reading books, etc) that you like and he doesn't can fill that lack.

But note that I said hobbies. It probably won't work out if you view his lack of interest in reading books, etc., as making him inferior to you. You'd have to view it as a different and equally valid choice. If you can't, after the honeymoon glow of the newness of the relationship fades, disrespectful judgments start to flow. That's not fair to either of you. And lack of respect for your partner is a death knell in relationships.

So really ask yourself, am I more intelligent? Or is he equally smart with different life experiences and passions? Your answers to those questions will tell you how important this compatibility is to you. And if you do decide that you do feel an imbalance, be kind and break up with him now and find a better fit for you.
posted by vegartanipla at 7:43 AM on April 25, 2012 [14 favorites]

You can always get intellectual stimulation outside of your relationship. Honestly being friends and liking and respecting each other is the important part. As long as he understands that intellectual stimulation is something you need and won't resent you spending time perusing those interests, and you don't resent him I can't see at all why it won't work.
posted by wwax at 7:44 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

It sounds like your problem is worrying, not this new man or the shortcomings you're anxious may someday cause hypothetical problems.
posted by clockzero at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

You ask because your intellectual nature won't let you just accept. You will continue to ask for the same reason. Can you live with that?
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

When you boil it down, it sounds like you're really happy with the guy and the only thing wrong is that you're not sure if you're supposed to be happy or not. It sounds like you're second-guessing yourself, a little.

Look, here's a story: I used to work at a call center. Sometimes people would call up - say, from Russia - and they'd apologize for their terrible English. And I'd always tell them, "Listen, your English is better than my Russian." And that would make them feel better.

What I mean is that there are different kinds of smart. I may not necessarily be great at math, but (for example) I was watching a bunch of old sci-fi trailers with friends once and spotted a sign for Hobbs End and knew we were watching the trailer for Quatermass and the Pit (I was right). I then started rattling off a bunch of interesting stuff about the movie and its history even though I'd never actually seen it - this was just stuff I knew. A friend of mine said something like, "It's crazy that this kind of knowledge isn't seen as being as legitimate as equally extensive knowledge about Shakespeare or whatever."

I have friends in doctorate programs who still come to me for advice about relationships. Everyone's smart about some things and dumb about others.

So if someone seems smart but not an intellectual, ask them about something they're interested in and watch them go. Society thinks of braininess as being associated with certain signifiers, but it doesn't have to be all elbow patches and treatises on Coleridge.

I personally love the idea of dating someone who's smart in ways I'm not. I feel like alloys are stronger, you know?

But really: Only you can decide if this is going to be a problem or not, which is to say, only you can decide how important it is to you that he display intellectualism in the ways to which you're accustomed. If I were you, I'd just relax and enjoy myself. You've got a Good Thing™ so why not let it be good for a while and see what happens?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2012 [11 favorites]

teach me something I don't already know?

I think you should open your mind to the idea that he IS teaching you things you don't already know. Like how to be more honest, trustworthy, considerate, open with your emotions, caring, and tender, how to be radiantly calm and silly and open and free and streetsmart.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2012 [62 favorites]

I think a lot of it depends on if you both can have a real respect for the other person's interests and accomplishments. That is, contempt sours relationships no matter where it originates.

That is something that it takes some time to figure out, in my experience.
posted by Arethusa at 7:48 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

You sound really happy right now, which is great. As for the future, well, nothing is ever certain, right? You might grow dissatisfied with his non-intellectualism (not a word, I know!) or you might not. The relationship also might end at some point for another reason - you're at the four-month mark now, and you just can't see the future.

But don't borrow trouble. I know this is hard to do for us analytical types, but please just try to enjoy what sounds like a wonderful relationship - deal with problems if and when they come up, not before they do.
posted by lunasol at 7:49 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've discussed this repeatedly with my friend. The thing that seemed to resonate with him was, quite simply, "is the person I'm dating my peer?" If the answer is yes, proceed. If the answer is no, then it simply won't work.
posted by bfranklin at 7:51 AM on April 25, 2012 [10 favorites]

I've done this. Four years in and still going fine. Our strengths are complementary, and I think this helps. It makes us a good team!

I'd be more worried about disparities in things like where and how you like to live, rather than in what kind of books you do or don't read.
posted by emilyw at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

While he's not stupid at all (he's both insightful and streetsmart) he doesn't really read books or know much about them. So I worry

In my experience at least I think as you get older, being close to someone is less about sharing relatively superficial interests like taste in books, films, music, etc. and more about how you interact and compliment one another at a fundamental level as people. And really, high brow versus low brow is more a matter of taste than anything else. Having an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball stats is just as mentally difficult as having an encyclopedic knowledge of classical poetry, but classical poetry is considered a more high brow and intellectual topic. Different tastes is really only a problem if it causes practical issues in interacting together. So if he can't genuinely enjoy going to a museum every so often with you or you can't genuinely enjoy seeing a goofy low brow comedy with him, that's something you would have to work out. But in general interests that aren't directly related to things that you have to do with your significant other don't have to be shared with them, you can have "your thing" and he can have "his thing" and you can both be happy.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:57 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

How do you fell about his lack of experience in all those fields you mentioned? When you say he doesn't read books, for instance, do you consider that a failure on his behalf, or just a as-yet missed opportunity or respectable person choice? Is his love of kung-fu movies (which, as an aside, are an natural and accepted extension of an aspect of Chinese culture that's been around for a very long time) a thing he likes and you don't care for, or do you think it's an expression of unrefined tastes?

As long as you're open to his experiences and his point of view, and vice versa, you don't have anything on him, and he doesn't have anything on you.
posted by griphus at 8:01 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

It really comes down to this.

Most intelligent people think that's all there is.....much as charming, strong, mechanically gifted, spiritual, or creative people think that's all there is. There is a deep-seated feeling that other faculties are lesser and more superficial.

This leads to two fallacious conclusions, often unconsciously held: 1. anyone deficient in your go-to faculty is eerily MISSING something absolutely essential, and 2. the faculties YOU'RE missing don't matter so very much. I.e. lack of intelligence is forgivable, but the things you lack are much more "optional".

How clearly can you see this dynamic within yourself? And how interested are you in exploring, admiring, and respecting other faculties? Can you settle into a dynamic of people with parallel powers banding together for common cause, like a comic book? Can the otherness be spun positive?

I'm overly intelligent, myself, and for years I was one of those all-problems-look-like-nails-when-you're-holding-a-hammer types. I looked down on people who couldn't think fast, talk fast, and who didn't know stuff. But I've come to notice my own deficiencies in so many other realms. And noticed that they aren't hard barriers; there are areas where I'm slow and thick as molasses, but come up with richer results because of my struggles. And I started to also notice that some slow-minded people likewise can astound me, not with their speed or ease of intellect, but with the rich, deep conclusions they sometimes are able to draw....which my speedy/gifted self could never match.

It takes all kinds, and intelligence is not the end-all/be-all. I've come to see the limits of intelligence, and realized it's actually a quite a narrow and feeble faculty for getting through life. So I completely respect/admire someone with a different set of faculties (it took years, though).

So how do you feel reading this? Does what I'm saying ring any bells in you? If not, you may be, as I was for so long, trapped in your intelligence and unable to see its limits. In that case, yeah, this guy will eventually prove deeply, viscerally disappointing to you.

But if what I say speaks to you, this may be an opportunity to develop some wisdom about the spectrum of human faculties. You can come to fully respect him, and grow as a result of your time with him.

The question has nothing to do with him. It has to do with you, and how you view yourself. So I'd suggest you consider the above with no reference to him at all.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:01 AM on April 25, 2012 [58 favorites]

I think it will become clear fairly quickly if this is going to work or not - give it a few more months.

I once broke up with a smart, non-intellectual person because we didn't have enough in common...and it was exactly that. We didn't have enough to talk about. It wasn't precisely a question of smarts or books - I have non-intellectual friends with whom I always have a ton to discuss. It was more that the non-intellectualness was a subcategory of "not enough in common" rather than a thing in itself.

People really want to believe that you don't have to have much in common to make a life together - "opposites attract" and so on. I have not found this to be true. If something truly is the core of your self, you aren't going to get very far with a person to whom this thing is forever closed or boring. That's why I don't date musicians any more - I have a tin ear and just don't get the total focus and commitment you need to play professionally, plus I'm not a sophisticated or appreciative audience and I can't talk about the nuances of a composition.

It's funny - I've found it perfectly socially acceptable to say that I don't date musicians because I am not a good partner for them, but it's some kind of inexcusable snobbery to suggest that I don't want to date non-readers because I've found that I get bored when we can't talk books.

A litmus test might be - can you do something "intellectual" like go to a film-snob movie or a museum or a talk and each enjoy it from a different standpoint? Are there things you can talk about in depth together? Are there things you can do together and discuss?

I imagine that this will become clear pretty quickly once the novelty wears off.
posted by Frowner at 8:02 AM on April 25, 2012 [11 favorites]

In my experience problems arise not when someone you're dating isn't as intellectual as you are, but when they resent or disrespect your intellect. I've dated guys with a variety of educational backgrounds and the relationships that became a problem were the ones where the guys with less education or less interest in intellectual pursuits than I had felt threatened by or otherwise disparaged my intellect. If your guy likes that you're smart, then great. As long as you have things in common and like are willing to compromise with each other in terms of types of things you're willing to do, you should be fine all things being equal.
posted by Kimberly at 8:08 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

There was a similar sort of question from about a year ago, I think. Ah, here it is: Can a Ph.D. woman be happy with a non-intellectual man? I bring it up not as some sort of gotcha! but to give you some more stories to weigh.
posted by colfax at 8:12 AM on April 25, 2012

Anecdata: 10 years ago this week, I met a man who does not have the same intellectual bent that I do. We're quite happily married and things are great. No, I don't go to the dumb action movies with him - but I do go to other kinds of movies with him. No, he doesn't read the same books I read - but he does like to hear about what I'm reading. It works fine.

To my mind, the potential pitfall here is not boredom, it's feeling superior. That'll kill things quick.

It sounds like you've got the start of something that could be very nice - so just enjoy this wonderful person in your life. Don't fret about whether he's read all the books you've read or not - if you end up in the long haul together, that will be the least of your concerns.
posted by agentmitten at 8:18 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

To play a bit of the Devils Advocate:

Imagine being married to someone who adores People Magazine, watches what you think of as very dumb tv shows, daily, endlessly; has no interest in the news, local or world; loves movies you would never want to see; reads perhaps two books a year and they bad by most standards; thinks music is whatever is sung on Glee etc etc...would that not be bothersome?
posted by Postroad at 8:20 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

This can work fine, as long as you don't look down at him.

one of the most joyous things about a relationship can be learning about what the other person loves- and why they love it. No one is exactly matched in all interests. heck, no one is exactly as smart as their partner.

My boyfriend is brilliant. He's absolutely "smarter" than me in a lot of ways. His music tastes, his technical interests, all that stuff- is way over my head- but what's important is that we don't resent each other. When he is excited about something that normally would be completely not my thing, I get excited because his excitement makes me happy. At the same time- my boyfriend will listen to my brainy (and to him uninteresting) pursuits just as intently as my obsession with something incredibly lowbrow.

You can't be with someone who you disrespect- or think is "stupid." Can you talk to your gentleman about your pursuits without you becoming a lecturer? Does he demonstrate a willingness to understand why you enjoy these things? Can you find a way to enjoy his interests at a reasonable level?
posted by Blisterlips at 8:21 AM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

Argh, typo

I.e. lack of intelligence is forgivable, but the things you lack are much more "optional".

I.e. lack of intelligence is unforgivable, but the things you lack are much more "optional".
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:21 AM on April 25, 2012

Who can walk me through a museum and teach me something I don't already know?

I'll bet $10 that there are dozens of things you don't know that he could teach you. How to rebuild an engine, or how to make a room full of screaming kids to calm down and smile, or how to catch and fillet a fish, maybe. Or something totally different, I don't know -- but I can guarantee with all the certainty in the world that no matter how many degrees you have and how much you know, there is always something you can learn.
posted by Forktine at 8:26 AM on April 25, 2012 [16 favorites]

To oversimplify dramatically, it seems to me that there are really two basic ways that couples interact:

To look at the world and discuss it together (a mode for which shared intellectual curiosities are key); or

To go out into the world and experience it together (a mode in which different but complementary lifestyles often produce enlarging experiences for both people).

To put it less succinctly: if you're with someone who shares your taste in books, social theory, and other kinds of intellectual pursuits, you'll have great conversations but your comfort zone may never get stretched and expanded in the same way it might when you're with someone who takes pleasure in entirely different things than occupy your attention. To work, this latter kind of relationship requires certain things that the former doesn't: trust, mutual respect, and a spirit of adventure.

If your guy respects and is interested in the way you see the world (AND VICE-VERSA), and you share real chemistry and rapport, AND your fundamental values and ethics line up, I think you're in for a really lovely adventure.
posted by artemisia at 8:27 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

Oops, to amend: obviously both kinds of relationships require respect and trust to be good ones. But when an intellect is with someone who engages with the world in a different way, respect and trust become all the more critical to figuring out a path whereby both of you feel satisfied by each other.
posted by artemisia at 8:29 AM on April 25, 2012

There aren't many deep conversations on pathophysiology or on macroeconomic indicators. This is actually a relief to me, because we don't have to be "on" intellectually in that way all of the time. The time we have at home is about connecting, emotional growth, building a home, health and fitness and a whole range of other topics.

True, but as someone mentioned above, it's likely you view your spouse as a peer, because you are both professionals with direction, even though they're two intellectually different directions.

The question is whether the OP can view her SO the same way, as a peer.
posted by deanc at 8:29 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

My version worked well when we were raising kids, building a house, running a smallholding. When I went back to work full time, developed/redeveloped friendships with intellectual people, started to get my writing published etc etc we got into difficulties. He saw it as a threat and I wasn't able to reassure him that it wasn't a threat. That is obviously a very simplified version.
But I'd be the first to say enjoy and don't go looking for trouble. We had very, very good years and I learnt so much from him.
Don't at any point (and it's very easy to do if you ever get to the stage of having children) hide or ignore your intellectual side, so that it's a surprise if it resurfaces. Perhaps that was a mistake I made.
posted by sianifach at 8:30 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Once you figure out what movies to watch, you're golden.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:31 AM on April 25, 2012

I just saw showbiz_liz's great reply. The shift of perspective she suggested is identical to the one I proposed, though very differently expressed.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:32 AM on April 25, 2012

Some questions which I've learned to ask myself:

- Do you feel like you have to hold yourself back intellectually when you're around him?
- Do you feel like you have to coddle him or shield him when you're in groups?
- Do you feel like you have to hide certain parts of yourself, or downplay your intelligence in any way, when you're around him?
- Does he ever seem resentful of you for any reason (not just intellectual)?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then you've got a problem (or he does, or both of you do). If the answer to all of those questions is no, you may have a winner on your hands.
posted by ourobouros at 8:42 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

I broadly agree with Frowner here:

I think it will become clear fairly quickly if this is going to work or not - give it a few more months ... If something truly is the core of your self, you aren't going to get very far with a person to whom this thing is forever closed or boring

I think this is true, but also that "core of your self" can be extremely non-obvious. Sometimes it's buried under a lot of odd beliefs about who we think we ought to be.

Put another way, when you holed up with yourself for a while and healed and reflected, you came to this decision:

I decided that "smart" was less important than "kind"

Now is a moment when you should remind yourself of that decision, respect it, let it play out. You will learn, through this relationship and/or others like it, how much that was the voice of you being hurt by your abusive ex, and how much that was actually your heart speaking to your mind about the "core of your self". Worrying about it won't answer that question, only living through your own emotional responses will. Pay attention to them.
posted by ead at 8:46 AM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

This is essentially my relationship with my wife.

She graduated with honors from her university, is currently working on her Master's degree, and grew up in a highly educated, very liberal household in a high income suburban area.

I never finished community college, and am only now, 10+years later finally going back for an accounting degree, and was raised dirt poor in a rural farming community, but am intelligent despite all this.

We've been married for over 7 years, and currently have a 2 month old son.

There were difficulties brought up because of our differing backgrounds/lifestyles, and arguments, but we made it work despite those problems. One thing that helps is remembering that we can learn from each other, and that our respective knowledge bases are complimentary.
Because of her background/knowledge, my standard of living, income, and bank accounts have all grown greatly, and I've found a new love of international travel and some higher arts.
For my part I've introduced her to the serenity of country living, the joys of livestock/fresh food, and generally helped her calm down and not view life as a race to the finish line (in terms of both work and "life".)
We still learn from each other on a regular basis.

I guess in summary, don't view your differences as hurdles or problems, but as benefits to be gained, and maybe a view into a different world that you may not have otherwise been introduced. It can work if you both want it to!
posted by Monkeyswithguns at 8:51 AM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

Imagine being married to someone who adores People Magazine, watches what you think of as very dumb tv shows, daily, endlessly; has no interest in the news, local or world; loves movies you would never want to see; reads perhaps two books a year and they bad by most standards; thinks music is whatever is sung on Glee etc etc...would that not be bothersome?

That person sounds dreadful, except for the fact that I've been married to that person for over 20 years and absolutely adore her in every way possible. So you know, who the hell knows? Trying to predict the future of relationships is pointless.

That’s how it goes in this world. Life doesn’t turn out the way you think. You just hold on to each other. That’s the trick.

Negro League baseball player Buck O'Neil, on the secret to his 51 year marriage.
posted by COD at 9:15 AM on April 25, 2012 [15 favorites]

Sounds like he might be brilliant on an emotional scale. Many theoretically smart people (like your ex) are emotionally idiotic. It's good to have things in common, but it's also good to have different interests; does he really have to read the same books?

Some people simply don't like staring at a lot of text. Some people prefer to use simpler terms. It doesn't mean they're dumb or not intellectually curious. There are a lot of blue-collar types out there who are insanely smart. They simply know what appeals to them and what doesn't.

It sounds like he's a great guy. Whatever you do, don't try to change him. You'll influence him without trying -- and he'll influence you, too.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:21 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'd like to direct your attention to scody's comment.
posted by fake at 9:25 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've been married almost 7 years to a carpenter that loves skiing and surfing. The only trouble we have is finding a suitable vacation - museums and fancy food won't cut it? If I want intellectual stimulation, I just go to work.

There's another unseen benefit to this setup - because we are so different, we don't compete with each other, we don't have debates over ideas that turn into fights, and we don't try to outsmart each other. We each have our own areas of expertise so it is easy to defer to one another. Makes life peaceful.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:32 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Intellectual compatibility is important, but not the way you're defining it.

There's nowhere you could tell me you work that would automatically make me think you were anything more than average and driven to succeed. The fact that *you* think where you work identifies you as smart? That tells me something.

Is it your intention to frame this as a matter of intelligence rather than different interests? Because that's what it sounds like. Maybe I'm misreading your question, but it sounds like you've lived in a completely insular literary fantasy world for too long, you're being a pretentious ass, or both.

There are a few people in this world who are genuinely uninteresting, but I've never found myself wanting to spend time with one. Deep down, I suspect you recognize that this guy is more than he appears, or you wouldn't be into him in the first place. If you can't have a conversation with him or if he has no real interests or curiosity, by all means, walk away. That doesn't sound like the problem, though. It sounds more like a cultural issue than an intellectual one.

If you can't get over this, or if you don't feel like he has anything to teach you, or if you feel like you're slumming when you're around him, or if you'd be embarrassed to take him to one of your glittery soirees, you should spare him the grief and go. It's unfair for him to get stuck with a partner who thinks he's just a sexy, sensitive, goofy, warm chunk of meat with nothing to offer.
posted by pjaust at 10:09 AM on April 25, 2012 [13 favorites]

The answer will reveal itself to you in time. The reason I think you ARE able to stay in love is that often, "signs" of compatibility are misleading. The following things you mention are in fact what compatibility is about:
We have amazing time together. So much fun. I feel radiantly calm with him at all times. I can be silly and open and free with him. And we're having the best sex of our lives.

Initially, meeting someone with the same (obscure, intelligent) interests can make it feel like you click so much and are meant to be!! So much to talk about! But don't let that overtake the real important characters that make a relationship stick and two people good for each other. It sounds like you got a great guy!
posted by ichomp at 10:36 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are a couple of things that seem to turn up in answers to this type of question that bug me a little -

1. How much work should a relationship be? Honestly, I know a bunch of non-readers with whom, if we were the only queer/genderqueer folks in the state, I could work to build a happy-enough relationship. If you're 100% dedicated to the relationship, you can be happy enough with most any reasonably decent person whose values are not diametrically opposed to yours. I've been happy-enough with everyone I've ever dated. They've all been nice people with good qualities, and if we were forced into an arranged marriage we would undoubtedly have developed many common interests as we created a home, raised a family and cared for each other. But it would have been a lot of work, much more work than being with someone whose values and interests I shared.

Answers to this question seem to revolve around "learn to learn from your unlike-you partner! You can be interested in anything!" and "accept that you need to put work into a relationship"! But at what point does work get to be too much?

2. What makes a person themselves? In these questions there's always some buried anti-intellectualism - reading and thinking are implicitly trivial, compared to the "real" of....well, there's also the assumption that if you're not a reader/thinker then you must be earthy and compassionate and good at fixing things, and that those things are sorta-kinda more meaningful. And the goal of the relationship is always to get the reader/thinker to shift from thinking about themselves as, first and foremost, a reader/thinker/writer/scholar and define themselves differently. There's also an assumption that prioritizing scholarly stuff is selfish and ridiculous.

Now, of course, a selfish and mean intellectual is no good at all, but I'm wary of how this always gets framed.

First, intellectual life is about community, even if it's only imagined - there's a community of writers and readers, a scholarly community. The internet has certainly made it easier to participate in intellectual communities without being in the academy or the metropolis, but when you're reading and thinking about things, that's not a solitary activity, though maybe at times your only companions are books. If reading and thinking about stuff is really important to you, it's stifling to spend the core parts of your life unable to do these things. Lest you doubt, there are many memoirs by working class intellectuals and women intellectuals which describe this very stifling.

My point is, it's not negligible to say "the person to whom I am closest in the world will also be a person who has little interest in the things I care about most deeply in the world."

And women in particular have historically been told to choose against their writing/reading/scholarship. We're told that we have to pick "good family men" or "caring" men and that this means foregoing an intellectual partnership. (That itself is because "intellectual", in the English-speaking world, is coded to mean "cold, selfish, deficient".) We're told that we're not as smart as we think we are (which has happened in this thread). How dare we put down some good man for not being intellectual? How dare we say that thinking about things is important to us, more important than feelings? How dare we be critical of a man who after all loves us, implicitly despite our intellectual snobbery and frivolity?

Obviously, if you're happy with someone who doesn't share your interests, that's great. But it's not misguided to want intellectual companionship; you don't need to fix that about yourself.
posted by Frowner at 10:39 AM on April 25, 2012 [51 favorites]

Ah- Frowner made excellent points that made me reconsider my answer. Being a non- think/reader/scholar is as valid a reason for not staying with someone as other qualities, in terms of compatibility. Especially the aspect about being a women who like

In terms of finding a partner/being happy in a relationship, I want to say the OP should stay with her guy because IMO, it's harder to identify someone you get along with than it is to identify an intellectual. If you wanted to find an intellectual (in the traditional scholar/reader sense), you know where to look. But it's harder to find an earthy/trustworthy guy because there's no defined community of them.

The two are not mutually exclusive of course. It's just that good relationships are hard to come by and it's hard to say intellectualism/anti-intellectualism is a flaw when two people get along well enough.
posted by ichomp at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2012

*being a woman who likes to examine/read/think about the world rigorously-- which is an awesome thing to do
posted by ichomp at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2012

I've always been a fan of this comment, from a similar thread.

One way to think about it is, you don't want to spend your life with a carbon copy of yourself--you wouldn't have any reason to grow as a person, or see life in different terms, plus it's kind of egotistical, like wanting to date a mirror. You want someone who respects you and can appreciate you, and you them, but also complements you, which means being things you aren't and vice versa.

Agreed with those mentioning the caveat you have to respect each other though. If you find yourself truly looking down on or judging your partner for not being "intellectual" enough (also agree with those saying there's a zillion ways to be smart/insightful, so this is sort of dumb categorization anyway), it won't be good at all.
posted by ifjuly at 11:46 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

It all depends on what you like to do on a day to day basis. My sweetie is a genius (I think) but we often watch reality tv instead of discussing Kant.
posted by yarly at 11:56 AM on April 25, 2012

I think it kind of comes down to whether you think intellectualism is *better* than non-intellectualism. Like, do you think all people would be intellectuals if they could hack it, and people who aren't intellectuals are missing out? Do you think that people who are not intellectuals are being lazy or are leading less-fulfilling lives? Because if you subscribe to that kind of belief it's going to be really hard for you to respect a non-intellectual as a peer.

(Your potential partner's feelings also come into this, obviously; if he feels like you're better than him then that's a problem. Also intellectual pursuits can seem INCREDIBLY WANKY to non-intellectuals, and I say this as a half-intellectual myself.)
posted by mskyle at 12:16 PM on April 25, 2012

To expand on my earlier answer, this really does, in my experience, come down to whether you can enjoy various activities together and enjoy living together. I am married to someone who is not nearly as educated as I am or as well-read, and the big conflicts we have dealt with that relate to this are:

1. Sometimes it drives me nuts when I need him to read something because he doesn't read (this wasn't annoying before we had a baby)

2. He doesn't get jokes that reference liberal-arts-grad stuff (doesn't bother me unless my ego is particularly delicate at that moment)

3. We have some different tastes in media (this used to annoy, not so much after we discovered our overlap and both made an effort to keep an open mind--frankly a lot of this might be because we're on the cusp of being from different generations).

Other than that it's no big thing. We have the same values, he respects me and my interests, and I am happy that we're together. Just thinking about him makes me smile.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:28 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is he curious about things, about life, about what's happening out there in the world?
posted by infini at 12:41 PM on April 25, 2012

My most significant relationship lasted four years with a brilliant, charming man. A writer, who, during the good times, was whip-smart and kept me intellectually challenged. We taught each other new words, I edited his books, he helped me with my thesis, we shared our thousands of books, and frequently discussed literature and ideas and the world. We spent time with famous intellectuals at glittering parties. He told his friends I was the smartest woman in the city.

One thing that occurs to me, reading your question, is that your dilemma may be LESS about "dating an intellectual" versus "dating a non-intellectual," but rather, "dating the type of person who tends to be an intellectual," versus "dating the type of person who tends not to be an intellectual.

Hear me out.

I don't think it is so much intellectual versus non-intellectual that really makes or breaks a person's suitability for long-term companionship. But the qualities that these respective types tend to have, can. For example, I think intellectual types tend to be more neurotic, depressive, insecure, sanctimonious, remote, aloof, etc., than non-intellectual types. The Casaubon character in Middlemarch was not just conjured out of thin air with no basis in reality -- those types are very common. And it's not because they're intellectuals that they're that way. They're intellectuals because they're that way. So it's not their being intellectuals that makes them less suitable partners. Being intellectual and being less suitable partners flowed from the same source.

A more conventional, mainstream person, who has an "ordinary" job and fairly mainstream interests may be a much more boon companion, for lots of reasons. Maybe they're not so argumentative. Maybe they go with the flow. Etc. An intellectual can be this way, of course. But you may be more likely to find a great companion who is NOT an intellectual. And if you find that person I think you should hang onto him.

(My experience is based on many years in grad school around some super-smart people, many of whom were simply weird as hell. And even the seemingly normal ones were weird, too.)
posted by jayder at 1:53 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

An important thing I haven't heard mentioned yet (though maybe I skimmed over it) is the philosophy that your partner doesn't need to be responsible for fulfilling every part of your life. And many say they shouldn't.

There's nothing wrong with needing intellectual, academic discussions and getting them outside your romantic relationship.

Do you respect him? Do you feel like you are equal members of the relationship team? ("peer" sounds too cold and academic to me) Most importantly, do you like who you are with him?
Relax and enjoy!
posted by itesser at 3:42 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's just one aspect of your relationship, and it can totally work. It's nice to have home be about love and togetherness and not an extention of the classroom.

As I read somewhere: When all this is over, the only thing that will matter is how we treated each other.
posted by huckit at 3:45 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you seem to value "academic credentials", let me give you my background for context. People generally tell me that I'm a pretty smart guy. I scored top 1% on the SAT and GMAT, speak three languages (and have used them professionally), and taught myself graphics programming in three days. (Granted, it wasn't the GREATEST graphics programming, but it was enough to let me create a decent computer game so that my friend could pass his CS final.)

From my perspective, you seem like the less intelligent person in this relationship, since the things that you value (ie, "the oeuvre of Edmund Wilson" or "Speaking Latin") are all skills that are utterly useless in achieving things. My personal definition (and many other people's definition) of intelligence is "the ability to accomplish concrete goals using limited resources." Fortunately I try not to JUDGE people based on my own definition since I believe in Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences (which you might want to look at).

I think that you are mistaking intellectual pretentiousness for intelligence, and you need to be reorient your thinking to respect other types of intelligence, not just the type that you happen to excel at.

(P.S. Brand new member, and this is my first post! How did I do - was I too harsh? I'm not used to Metafilter yet.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:07 PM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am in your position. That kind of relationship can go both ways, and it just depends on your personalities, not so much your intellectual background.

When you go home from work, do you like to unwind, or do you need to chatter on about what you did that day? If you like to chatter about what you did, do you need a partner who can talk in specifics about what you did--i.e. offer very specific solutions to technical problems ("Oh I read that author's paper in this esoteric journal in your field and I think blah blah blah") or do you just need someone who is offering a sympathetic ear and perhaps thoughtful advice to the social dynamics of a situation? If you are the type of person who gets frustrated if your partner is not able to engage with you on the technical specifics of your work, then the relationship will probably not work for you (and really, no relationship will unless it's with someone from your field or very familiar with it).

As for him, does he like to engage with you? Is he interested in learning new things, in pursuing his own projects and talking about them with you? Is he interested in having conversations about the world, politics, the news, any of the stuff that he does know, even if there might be a subject where you know details a bit better? That is, is he curious and does he like to think and talk about the world around him? If he's a curious, interesting guy, then intellectual stimulation will not be an issue--you'll be able to challenge him, and he'll likely be able to challenge you with viewpoints about topics that you've never encountered. The one thing you'll have to be careful of is that you don't automatically assume that your opinion is better than his own, or that you know more about a topic than he does.

But if he's the type of guy who's bright, but has no interest in the world, doesn't read, doesn't really try to learn about new topics, doesn't want to talk about anything that interests you or anything that challenges him (or you) intellectually . . . well, I can tell you from experience that it gets really, really frustrating, and will ultimately not have long-term potential.

Being interested or not interested in the world around you has nothing to do with whether you like kung-fu movies or frat humor or Edmund Wilson. Those preferences are results of the culture in which we grow up, and it is probably worth it for you to recognize it and not judge someone based on where Jackie Chan's latest movie falls on their "All Time Favorites" list. It is an innate personality trait that can be shared by lovely kind people and horrible mean people alike. It is OK for some relationships, but I suspect for you it would not be.
posted by schroedinger at 5:06 PM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, of course it can work.

The red flag I see here, is that it seems you have a need to be seen as smart.

"If you knew where I worked, you'd think, "yup, she's pretty smart."He told his friends I was the smartest woman in the city."

"If you knew where I worked, you'd think, "yup, she's pretty smart."

Your identity seems wrapped up in your intellectualism. You need to really look at that first, and see if you can compartmentalize it in some way that you are sure it is a part of the whole, not your whole identity/security.

If you can do that, then, yes, you can make this work. Your "couple identity" is not going to be the Smart Couple. If your self esteem is strong enough to not care if people think you are an intellectual or not, that's awesome. But insecurity is fear based. If you are uncomfortable with someone not perceiving you as smart, then this fear is going to raise it's ugly head. It's from our reptilian/survival part of our brain, so it can be hard to rout out.

Start from there, and see where it goes. I personally think the intellectual/down-to-earth combo is lovely.
posted by Vaike at 5:07 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

messed up the quotes, sorry.
posted by Vaike at 5:08 PM on April 25, 2012

Will I get bored and eventually bail for a less-worthy man who can talk about the oeuvre of Edmund Wilson? Who speaks Latin? Who can walk me through a museum and teach me something I don't already know?

My husband is brilliant (academically, as a Ph.D research scientist, as well as with other of the multiple intelligences) and he couldn't give a rat's ass about any of that. So I do stuff like that with my friends.

Also, Edmund Wilson is mostly crap, though there are some good things in Patriotic Gore and To the Finland Station. Memoirs of Hecate County is just a waste of paper. To have pulled Edmund Wilson out as an example rather than Kenneth Burke (if you're going to talk about literary critics of the mid-20th century) shows a lack of breadth. See! I am judging you intellectually right now! How does it feel? Doesn't feel good, does it? How would you like to be in a relationship with someone who did this?
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:32 PM on April 25, 2012 [12 favorites]

He told his friends I was the smartest woman in the city

By which he meant that you weren't as smart as him. Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:33 PM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think you've created a false dichotomy here. You and several of the other commenters seem to believe brilliant and down-to-earth can't exist in the same person -- I think it definitely can. This last guy wasn't good for you because he just wasn't very nice. But it's definitely possible to find intellectual, brilliant men who are very nice, kind and down-to-earth. It's entirely possible that this guy is just not for you, however down-to-earth he may be because you need different kinds of stimulation in day to day life.
posted by peacheater at 5:37 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've had a similar arc in my relationship history - an intellectually stimulating marriage with Mensa dude, but, as Sidhedevil says of your ex, he was a condescending prig about his sense of superiority to me. As yours was of you. When we studied the same post-grad degree and I 'beat' him academically and won scholarships and prizes, he acted out his injuries by fucking other people and other dramatic interpersonal cliches. It was a competitive and immature relationship based on quite a bit of narcissistic supply issues. I was competitive, immature and narcissistic and observable intellectual achievement was how I felt validated as a human being.

Your self-story sounds familiar to me. I've moved away from being satisfied by those who have literary allusions at their intellectual fingertips and want to wander through museums spouting uber-factoids. It actually sounds boring. I am with a practical, under-educated guy now. I've wondered, like you do about your current beau, about intellectual compatibilty. I've grown up a lot since we've been together and feel this growth has occurred by learning to respect the many ways of knowing the world that others, particularly intimate others, have shown me. I'm less inclined to define my Self through the narrow prism of my academic achievement or career and in fact I'm often in awe at the stuff he knows, and I've learned so many cool things about stuff I would have dismissed as shallow: how to DJ, House music, F1, street art, blogging, rock-climbing, fringe artists... And he's learned a lot from me too. It's nice not to be in competition with my partner and I'm a more well-rounded thinker and do-er.

What might it mean to you not be defined by job or academic transcripts? Who you are is more than this - and the fact that you identified so many personal attributes of this new man, makes me think you are ready to define 'success' in relationships in a more encompassing manner.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:29 PM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

I couldn't live with someone who didn't love to read. But it's not about intellectual compatibility - it's about the fact I have just this one major passion in my life and I have to fit my person around that. I imagine if I were a driven surfer, I'd need to be with someone who didn't hate sand and wind, at the very least.

So if you're going to be deeply antsy to pursue that life of the mind during your leisure time, you are not going to be able to make it work with someone who doesn't at least have complementary interests. But if you find your work fulfills your need to read and think, and you just want to connect with another person and it's okay to watch Kung Fu movies or whatever, you'll be fine.

And that glittering-cocktail-party-smartest-woman thing? People are not trophies. Anyone who evaluates you principally in terms of your arm candy potential is a bad partner choice, irrespective of gender.
posted by gingerest at 7:26 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

While he's not stupid at all (he's both insightful and streetsmart) he doesn't really read books or know much about them

Here's another thing I didn't see mentioned: I don't know what your future plans are in life,but if you want children, you'll probably want to inculcate them with an intellectual value system that emphasizes the importance of reading. This guy might have a lot of redeeming qualities, but if you want your children to grow up in an environment that values learning (and books are important here-- there's really no substitute for that), having this be a major point of division between the two of you on a basic matter of intellectual temperament will make that more difficult.
posted by deanc at 8:43 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

"People" can be happy with others they consider to have less intellectual capacity than themselves. Whether you can be happy with such a person, only you can determine.
posted by lalala1234 at 10:02 PM on April 25, 2012

Of course it can work, as many have affirmed above. I'm looking at your post through my own lens and here's my one red flag: at about 4 months into a relationship is when I usually start to assess the long term possibilities of the relationship, and sometimes the red flags disguise themselves as red herrings. It's possible that you are worried about some incompatibility that you're experiencing with this completely wonderful guy who meets all the criteria that you've deliberately and clearly decided are important to you, but you can't exactly name or understand what the incompatibility might be, because he fits all your criteria! So, the one thing that is name-able and obvious is that he's not as intellectual as you, and therefore you latch onto that as the thing that might be the thing that's "not quite right". It may be the intellectualism that's the problem, or it may be something else, or it may be nothing and you'll be fine and stay together forever in a strong and healthy relationship. Just try to be honest with yourself and trust your instincts.
posted by gubenuj at 10:29 PM on April 25, 2012

You raise the possibility of getting bored with him, but I would respectfully suggest that you look at two other issues: (1) whether you respect him and (2) whether you are comfortable being with him around your academic and intellectual friends. If you don't respect him and/or are embarassed by him, that will poison the relationship. He'll notice if you start acting condescending or embarassed.

As for boredom, I think only more time will tell. You may well find that your need for that sort of stimulation are met through your formal academic pursuits, discussions with friends, and your personal reading. You may also find that there is a real advantage in being with someone with whom you are not competing.
posted by Area Man at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you guys complement each other well.

>Imagine being married to someone who adores People Magazine, watches what you think of as very dumb tv shows, daily, endlessly; has no interest in the news, local or world; loves movies you would never want to see; reads perhaps two books a year and they bad by most standards; thinks music is whatever is sung on Glee etc etc...would that not be bothersome?

And that sounds a lot like my wife, who is great.
posted by callmejay at 4:43 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look, the most important thing to evaluate a potential life partner on is how freely they offer moral, emotional, and financial support to your intellectual endeavors/projects. After the chemistry is gone in a decade, you absolutely need to ensure your partner will appreciate your passions both in private and in front of your future children. I watched my brilliant Dad had to sneak around the house hiding from my simple, unsophisticated mother because she thought his research and that the things he taught my siblings and I were "time and money wasters."

If there's anything I've learned from watching their (dysfunctional) relationship, it's that you should marry someone that is a good match for you both intellectually and emotionally because you'll have less in common once the chemistry fades and old age becomes a reality. Case in point: when my Dad isn't seeing his patients, he spends his time reading and engaging in his intellectual hobbies; my mother, on the other hand, does nothing but watch Indian soap operas and gossip with her friends.
posted by lotusmish at 7:20 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

You know, it's funny you mention kung-fu movies and goofy humor... I don't know, maybe I'm not smart enough (but I am!), but man, I love goofy humor and kung-fu (isn't kung-fu hot? or maybe I just find Keanu Reeves hot, who knows). I mean, if you said 'football and fart jokes', I'd be like, 'you know, maybe not'. But kung-fu and goofiness? It really depends on two things: just how 'streetsmart' is he-- that is, not book-smart, but smart-smart, just how well does he understand your thinking? Alternatively and as a flipside, how willing are you to relax and enjoy hot guys kicking each other in slow-mo? With capes on.

Anyway, I think you're conflating levels of higher education with actual intelligence or 'intellectualness', which has stymied your reasoning a bit. Plenty of intellectuals were blue-collar types, in the old days who debated Marx and Plato on their free time, maybe without having ever read them (just as an aside). Also, the sort of smartitude to be had from external markers such as familiarity with 'smart topics' is boring in general and only exciting in specific if I'm fannish about something. But that's me, not you. More to the point, it's when you love something that you want to share it, and that sharing is the thing that's important. Understanding, sharing, discussing. I mean, let me give you a silly example: for the longest time, my ex-boyfriend talked to me about Harry Potter (and its slash fanfiction, no less) without having ever read the books. Then he did read the books. But the quality of our conversations depended mostly on him being pretty smart (differently smart than I) and quick on the uptake. I could just go on and on, and he'd give me opinions. Because I respected his opinions, this was cool and what I wanted. A man unable to give opinions on what I said-- that's crazy-making. A man who doesn't also love Harry Potter-- that's just normal.

The problem I see is in segregating 'smart' and 'kind' or 'real', associating intelligence with cerebralness. I mean, this is especially problematic with women, who're frequently earthy and intuitive/emotional in their intelligence. But more to the point, it denigrates the high value of 'streetsmarts' and the capacity of human beings to influence each other and to grow. Intelligence matters insofar as it impacts your communication ability and growth potential, and to the extent it would hinder your respect or contribute to eventual contempt. You want to avoid contempt at all costs. If instead you've got some hidden curiosity about kung-fu (doesn't everyone?) and he's got some off-the-cuff commentary to make on Marxist economics (say), you could have a very productive and passionate relationship long-term. The opposite of contempt isn't admiration, it's curiosity.
posted by reenka at 10:07 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I got linked here from a similar question on Ask Metafilter, and I'm going to comment even though this question's old. Because although there's lots of good advice and insight here, I think there's a gender aspect nobody's explicitly called out yet.

Traditionally in our culture, women marry up and men marry down. It's considered fine and indeed normal for men to marry someone less smart than they are (also less rich, less accomplished, younger, etc.), because our culture is sexist.

This means that among intellectuals and quasi-intellectuals, the conventional male/female relationship has been mentor/mentee. The man is conventionally older, sometimes actually the woman's teacher, and definitely functioning in a teacher role -- expounding about Edmund Wilson, Latin, the museum. Stereotypically the woman in this relationship will be valued for being some combination of curious, a good listener, asking clever questions, showing "promise," being pretty, letting herself be guided, and being a supportive caretaker for her partner.

This model works fine for some people in some circumstances, but it's not for everyone. The trouble is, it's been the dominant model for so long that it's hard for us to even imagine other models -- if you're a smart woman, this may be the only pattern you've ever seen in which you recognize yourself at all. And you will recognize yourself -- because yeah, you like smart men, you like museums, you want to hang around smart people and be understood yourself as such. The price you pay for that as a woman in a sexist society (needing to be adoring, needing to listen more than you talk, putting your career second to his) may be mostly or completely invisible to you, like water or air.

So. You are framing your current relationship as a step down for you -- from being with your intellectual equal to being with your intellectual lesser. But I'm not actually sure that's the most useful framing. What about this, instead: In every relationship, somebody has to be the more intellectual one. Why are you uncomfortable with the idea that it could be you?
posted by Susan PG at 9:34 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

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