How do we improve our intellectual connection?
November 23, 2015 8:13 PM   Subscribe

I’m dating a man who is my kindred spirit in many ways. However, we have been dating for a year now, and I have felt over most of this time a sense of yearning for challenging conversation that I just don’t get with him. How have you seen people develop their critical thinking, abstract reasoning, and complex verbal expression abilities as adults? Conversely, if you have found happiness being with someone with whom you don’t have an intellectual connection, how have you managed around this on an everyday basis?

I’m a 31-year-old woman dating a 27-year-old man who is my kindred spirit in many ways. However, we have been dating for a year now, and I have felt over most of this time a sense of yearning for dynamic, challenging conversation that I just don’t get with him. What’s kept us together and happy for much of this year is that we can both be abnormally playful together. We are very high on the “openness” and honesty scales, we both have strong work ethics. He is my superior in experiencing gratitude and delight in small things, and is an endlessly kind, patient, generous, adventurous, sexy man.

He’s a successful surgery resident, so he has intellectual strengths particular to his field of study, but I suspect due to his upbringing within a strict fundamentalist Baptist family, he has had more limited opportunities to acquire critical thinking skills and knowledge of history, cultures, literature, etc. He is also naturally more oriented toward “doing” and less toward developing his inner world. He is a superb rock climber, and growing up, he loved to make art for the technical, hands-on aspects of art, not the philosophical, spiritual, etc. I’m the product of a liberal arts education, and I find deep fulfillment in the world of ideas, in the pursuit of novel truths and beauty. He agrees that I am more versed in this type of thinking, and has told me repeatedly that he would like to develop this side of him. He has expressed unequivocal enthusiasm the many times I’ve asked whether he wouldn’t be happier focusing on his natural passions.

I’ve read two brilliant threads related to this topic on MetaFilter (one, two); I’ve read David Burns’ “Feeling Good Together”; I’ve been to over three months of individual therapy to address this; we’ve gone through two months of couples therapy; I’ve gotten him a primer on critical thinking that he’s working through; I’ve written four pages on general principles of intellectual connection. I’ve considered and tried to challenge whether my self-identity is too wrapped up in being “an intellectual,” I’ve considered not expecting intellectual challenge from him and looking for it elsewhere. But what kills me is that I don’t turn to him to share ideas I find exciting and important, the way I do with people I consider my closest friends. We also have friction over everyday questions because I’m neurotically logical, rigorous, and precise in how I think and express myself, whereas he is rather imprecise and can skip steps. This has been a problem that some of his attending doctors have called out at times.

When we have tried to have substantive conversations, he has to put in a lot of effort to express himself, and his thoughts on these subjects can be surface-level or logically unsound. I find myself trying to guide him via Socratic questioning and clarifying/re-stating his thoughts for him, and while this used to be enjoyable to some extent, it’s now a cause for frustration and a sense of disconnect.

Everyday topic:
**I: “I’m not sure if I would want to train my baby to sleep through the night by letting it cry itself to sleep, or comforting it back to sleep when it cries.”
**He: “I think babies are manipulative, and if you feed them whenever they cry, they’d take advantage of that. They could grow into deceptive kids if you let them have their way as a baby.”
**I: “What do you mean by manipulative? Like, a baby has the ability to determine its ideal feeding schedule, and consciously modulate its behavior to get what it wants? At what age would a baby be able to do this?”
**He: “I just mean that babies are manipulative. I don’t know what age, exactly. Aren’t I being clear?”

We had to talk about this for over an hour before we got in the neighborhood of an understanding, and I still don’t entirely know how he justifies his views, except he says his dad, a fundamentalist Christian, holds the view that humans are born immoral. He tends to accept authority figures’ views as authoritative, whereas I’m skeptical of everything I hear that doesn’t jive with my own reasoning, even from subject matter experts.

Conventionally challenging topic:
**I: “If you knew that this life is all we have, and there’s no afterlife, would you appreciate this moment more or less?”
**He: “I think more. Although do I really have anything if it’s all going to end when I die? I think that at this stage in my life, as a young man and wanting to experience so much more, I would want for there to be an afterlife, whereas when I’m old and senile, I wouldn’t mind dying as much and would be more okay with the idea that there’s no afterlife.”
**My take: I found his answer confusing. It skims over disjointed ideas. He starts by saying he’d appreciate the moment more if he knew life ends at death. He then overturns this thought and questions the value of life if it ends with death. He then reflects on how quantity of experience and soundness of mind could affect how he would view death and his desires for an afterlife. I’m left not having an answer to my original question, and disjointed threads to parse out, which would be okay, except that my follow-up questions receive answers that are similarly disjointed.

Example of a discussion he finds hard to follow:
**I: “My friend said she has a theory that AI researchers try to program AI that are as humanlike as possible due to a subconscious, narcissistic impulse to create something in their own likeness, even if their explicitly stated purpose is to build a humanlike AI for utilitarian reasons.”
**What happened: He asked me to repeat this sentence several times, told me it was complicated with big words, and that he was more used to short, declarative sentences. I find it interesting that he can read and retain very dry, complicated medical literature with nested clauses for hours, but finds the AI sentence challenging.

In case you’re wondering about his stance on all this, he is patient, egoless, and resolute in wanting to work through this, but also frustrated and sad sometimes. He feels like I don’t recognize the merits of what he does bring to our conversations. He’s aware of this thread and is curious how MeFi will respond.

My questions to this community are, how have you seen people develop their critical thinking, abstract reasoning, and complex verbal expression abilities as adults? What have they done to develop these faculties? Is this something that takes years to develop (as it has for me), or is there some sort of fast-track option?

Conversely, I know that my focus on intellectual connection could be seen as shallow, unnecessary, etc., but I don’t know what other paradigm is possible for me. The difference between my boyfriend and me is not around hobbies or topical and vocational expertise, it’s like we see different dimensions when we look at the world. If you have found happiness being with someone with whom you don’t have an intellectual connection, how have you managed this on an everyday, nuts-and-bolts basis? What do you talk about? How have you framed this in positive ways? How have you shifted your paradigm?
posted by forasong to Human Relations (88 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, but I don't think it can really be you. I've totally seen friends grow in this way, but the way I know how to takes a long time and a lot of gently mocking superficial thinking. A lot of "ok, lets assume your idea. How would that work? Wouldn't that result in [other negative thing?]"

The problem kind of is that sets up a condescending kind of smart/dumb, professor/student, parent/child dynamic that really isn't great in a relationship. I spent years frustrated being 12 years younger. She wasn't mean about it, but the unspoken "well, when you're older and wiser you'll see" thing was rough for a while. Maybe he's got qualities you admire and wish you had, and you could trade off feeling inadequate?

And there's nothing wrong with having friends for that, and just accepting your BF for the things you do love about him, which I'm sure are many.
posted by ctmf at 8:41 PM on November 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Whew. It feels like this is probably sort of exhausting for him, and I'm amazed he isn't insulted, as it seems like you're intimating that he's intellectually your inferior. It's not actually all that uncommon for people in medicine, especially in highly technical forms like surgery, to be more concrete thinkers and have greater strengths at systematization than at blue-sky-type thinking. It really doesn't sound as though there's much wrong with him; he's likely not at all your inferior, and it's likely someone like you would make a terrible surgeon.

What about your other friends? You say, "But what kills me is that I don’t turn to him to share ideas I find exciting and important, the way I do with people I consider my closest friends." Is it really so necessary that your partner be stepping in perfect time with you conversationally that you're putting him through a curriculum of study? Why not let him be who he is, and have your more intellectual conversations with those other close friends? Partners, after all, don't need to be twins in terms of learning preferences and thinking patterns.
posted by Miko at 8:42 PM on November 23, 2015 [126 favorites]


Just stop trying to change him. I've been in this relationship, in your position, and all that ended up with was my ex feeling patronized and me feeling sad about him not being a good conversational partner. It was exhausting for everyone, and trust me, even if you get him to play ball with you you'll end up hating yourself for it.

Ultimately, we didn't break up because he didn't share my love of blue-sky thinking - it was more because I found that in some big, important ways, he wasn't so much a very concrete thinker so much as he was someone who missed the point in terms of relating to people. But your SO doesn't sound like he has that problem, so maybe don't push him so hard.
posted by blerghamot at 8:51 PM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


It sounds like you two have a lovely connection and great relationship overall, something that's really working for both of you. I think it's perfectly legitimate to want a partner who shares an intellectual connection: not having that could be a dealbreaker if it's one of the most important things to you or totally a non-issue if it's more of a wish than need. I'd assume you fall into the latter category but you're also writing us here so maybe you're a bit more in the first camp? However, it's rare if not impossible to find a partner who meets all of our wants and needs (at least until human cloning takes off, but that's a different can of worms.) It's OK to decide this amazing man isn't for you, and it's also OK to focus on what you two DO have and let it go.

The bottom line is that he will likely never change his personality or interests, and it'd be ideal to try to truly accept this. He can certainly expand them and be curious due to his love for you and the person you are. I mean, let's give this man some credit: he's becoming a surgeon and that takes a lot of smarts! And people can be religious and still be philosophical so perhaps it's less of a background thing and more of personality thing.

I'd try not to look at his lack of interest or ability in the discussions you'd like as a limitation or deficiency on his part but rather one of the differences that draw you two together. You're totally welcome to end this and find a different partner who feels like a better intellectual companion but you could also just look for that in other friendships or forums, including online discussion boards like MetaFilter. My partner is smart and philosophical but more streetsmart than intellectual, and I love that about him because it helps make him who he is. He'd probably never join MetaFilter but will gladly discuss the themes or comments with me, and this works just fine for us! Could getting meta together help, like your talking about what topics interest you and why rather than speaking about the actual specifics of the topics?
posted by smorgasbord at 8:52 PM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Conversely, I know that my focus on intellectual connection could be seen as shallow, unnecessary, etc., but I don’t know what other paradigm is possible for me.

It is neither shallow or unnecessary if this is one of the primary ways you bond deeply with someone. But I don't think it is something you can force.

I think you'll have to accept that this isn't one of the ways you're going to bond with him, and concentrate on the ways you do feel connection - and it sounds like you have a lot of those to enjoy together!

You're the only one who truly knows how important that sort of connection is, though. I don't think it would be shallow or unreasonable if you decide that you know, deep down, this sort of connection is something you can't go without in a partner.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:52 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it might be instructive to consider why, when you fail to understand him, it's his fault, and when he fails to understand you, it's also his fault. Your focus seems to be on how he's failing to live up to your ideals of an intellectual challenge, but there's a baseline assumption that your way is better or more correct.

Logic is a valid way to approach the world (it's certainly my choice) but intuition is also a valuable way to approach the world, especially since many of the things that happen in the world are driven by people acting in ways that are not logical. Unfortunately, most of the stuff you can find on the net about building intuition is new age hokey bullshit. (Err, that might be my logical side talking.)

There are issues with the Gardner theory of multiple intelligences, but it might be a useful way to frame the differences so you can at least come to a place where you can recognize that the problem is not that your partner is less intelligent than you, but intelligent in a different way. He might have the kind of observing and categorizing intelligence that's captured in the naturalist intelligence category.

Right now, it seems like you're mainly looking for a way to get him to engage with you on your own level. Is there any way you can derive intellectual challenge from attempting to engage him on his, instead? Instead of trying to poke holes in his ideas, try to find the truth and value in them, or at least to understand where they're coming from without just asking him to re-explain himself in your preferred language.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:54 PM on November 23, 2015 [92 favorites]


You don't have to have the same kind of intellectual engagement to enjoy each other's company or to love each other. That kind of conversational interplay can be a lot of fun, but is it the single most important thing to you? Does it matter more than kindness? Sexual compatibility? Honesty? There's no right or wrong answer here; it's just that different things matter more to different people. If intensely intellectual verbal sparring is one of your super-important things, then yes, you may not be suited.

Everyone has different strengths. Different ways of thinking about an issue can be an attractive thing rather than a drawback. To use a radically different hypothetical, what if he were an artist and you were a scientist and every time you talked about a particular line of scientific research you were engaged in, he found a way to appreciate it aesthetically? Would that annoy you or would you find it amazing? If you were an extrovert and he were an introvert, would you try really hard to convert him into going out to parties and force him to socialise with all your friends all the time? Or would you love him and accept him for who he is, find things that you can do together that you love each other for even though you have some fundamental differences?

These are questions for you to answer. There is no One True Way. Practical vs theoretical; intuition vs logic; nutting out what you think about something by verbalising or waiting to speak until you have a fully-formed argument - these sound like what you are dealing with. If you can appreciate him for who he is instead of trying to make him into someone he's not, I think you have a chance. Otherwise it's kinder to end it sooner rather than later.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:59 PM on November 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


To me, there's nothing sexier than intellectually stimulating conversation. But putting that aside, his babies are manipulative thing would be a deal breaker. Intellectual conversation can grow, but that's a huge fundamental difference in potential parenting styles.
posted by Ruki at 9:02 PM on November 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


So, in the first example you give, the problem isn't that his arguments are illogical, it's that you disagree with him. Why not give him your reasons that you don't think babies are capable of being manipulative, and see if you can convince him that way?

In the second example, I think he's being perfectly clear and am not sure why you're having a hard time understanding him. If he died young, he'd feel like there was a lot he missed out on in life, so he'd hope for an afterlife to make up for that. If he died when he was old he'd have done most of the things he wanted to do. Seems like a perfectly valid take on things to me.

I find your sentence in the third example hard to follow and I'm someone who works in academia and is accustomed to the kind of conversations that you think you should be having with your boyfriend. He's not wrong to be baffled. You didn't state your premise clearly.

I think you really need to decide if this is the hill you want to die on. If you're going to keep patronizing him by assuming your way of thinking is logical and therefore necessarily better, dump him now because nothing is worse that being with someone who thinks your way of processing the world is wrong. But first very carefully examine your own belief that "logic" isn't as prone to error as emotion.
posted by MsMolly at 9:05 PM on November 23, 2015 [91 favorites]


My mom is a doctor and ranks highly nationwide for her specialty, has been a mentor and teacher to many, and can't follow Love Actually because "who are these people? Why all this moving around? Why all this hugging in an airport? So much dialogue! " She just... She read all of the obamacare legislation, but if something is non linear or has Kiera knightley crying over posterboard she can't follow.

I also dated a guy who was a millionaire entrepreneur but couldn't follow poetry or political debate. He was just super linear, and didn't have much intellectual curiosity for things outside a narrow range of topics important to him. Because he was so smart, he just felt like if he made up something about poetry or politics, it was probably close enough to true that it didn't really matter. That's kind of what I see happening with the "babies are manipulative" topic of yours.

You might just like more intellectual rigor around certain topics than he does. I think that's unlikely to change, but in your situation Id just find the debate you want within your friend groups if you like everything else about the relationship.
posted by sweetkid at 9:12 PM on November 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think you need to ask yourself what you want from this relationship. Honestly I have had both kinds of relationships- intense emotional attraction or intense intellectual attraction. At this point in my life- I have been married, had kids, and have a life, and for me the intense emotional attraction has won out after a bit of a personal struggle between two relationships. However, I know I wouldn't be able to have children with my current partner, nor do I want to do any sort of traditional relationship sort of stuff with him currently- don't want to get married, don't want to live together, don't want to own anything etc. From reading your post, I would say that if you can't rectify his opinions and ways of communicating, I would say that you if you are looking forward to kids and marriage, then I would keep looking for someone that I gelled with better intellectually.

The other thing I am a little hesitant to say, because as my 17 year old tells me all the time, the gender binary is so restrictive, but parts of what you write sound like a lot of guys I know, a bit emotionally stunted, and they don't have the ability to go head to head like I can with my female friends.
posted by momochan at 9:14 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


"My questions to this community are, how have you seen people develop their critical thinking, abstract reasoning, and complex verbal expression abilities as adults? "

The fact that you assume he has none of these speaks poorly of you, not of him. I find this particularly troubling after reading the examples you gave since one of them shows an inability on your part, not his (Babies are manipulative in the sense that, if you rush in every single time the baby cries, the baby will learn to manipulate you by crying even when he or she is perfectly fine. In other words, crying to produce positive results becomes a learned behavior).

That being said, if your boyfriend doesn't enjoy rigorous debate, he probably never will. It's not necessarily a case of him not being intellectual. It could be that he doesn't enjoy debate for debate's sake. I tend to be that way. I absolutely love witty banter and deep meaningful intellectual conversations, but debate for the sake of a debate is exhausting for me. It's exhausting. It feels like wasting time on negativity. If there's a problem, I'd rather solve it and get back to something positive - but that's me. I dated a woman who loved to debate and even fight. Looking back on it, I regret dating her at all. She wasn't a bad person, but we weren't a match.

Are you two really a match? If the answer to that question is dependent on whether or not HE will change to become someone he isn't... the answer is no.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:24 PM on November 23, 2015 [57 favorites]


(So - this is from someone who empathizes with you more than him, and actually ended a relationship for similar reasons. So this is all coming from with empathy and friendliness. Apologies in advance if my tone comes off as a little brusque!)

Can I guess - you're a writer / academic / historian / cultural critic / thinker? Logical rigorousness and coherence matters a lot to you, and you place great importance in the specificity of words and meanings. That's why you reject his second answer as being 'disjointed', because the lack of internal coherence to his answer matters more to you than the fact that he responded honestly, emotionally, and to be honest, in a quite profound way.

I think there are three things going on here: 1) You believe that your communication style and way of thinking is superior, which leads you condescending over him, 2) you're perhaps a less effective and logical communicator than you think you are, and 3) perhaps it may be exploring whether or not your intellectual paradigm is flawed.

1) Condescension:

I'd like to gently note that the tone of your question has a great deal of condescension, from your need to 'guide' him via Socratic reasoning, to your statement that his thoughts are 'surface-level or logically unsound'. I'm not going to go into this too much, but I can almost feel your impatience in your writing, and can't help but imagine that the tone itself must be getting in the way of communication.

Perhaps it may be important to remind yourself if your conversations are going both ways. What things are you learning from him, intellectual, emotional, or otherwise? What things does he know that you have no idea, and don't know that you don't know?

2) Communication:

Your first and second example seem like highly interesting exchanges to me, yet you cut off his comments because you're interested in pedantic specificities (or you're frustrated by the lack of his specificity), rather than being interested in the general intent of his meaning.

For example, I would interpret "At what age would a baby be able to do this?" as a trick question, because it's structured to be not-easily unanswerable, akin to replying "do you have any concrete proof?" as a response to an stated opinion, and thus a debate tactic designed to invalidate the responder's argument without discussing the meaning at hand.

Good conversational partners (rather than debate partners) ask questions that allow the other person to speak more; I don't think that you're actively taking steps to do so. It's more like you're trying to play tennis, and you're playing especially aggressively -- spiking the ball, playing super fast serves -- then being exasperated that your partner's skill isn't perfectly matching yours. If you want to play tennis with your partner, then you have to play with slow lobs, relaxed tempos, and it will be highly enjoyable for both of you.

As it is, you may be communicating information proficiently, but it doesn't seem that you're able to facilitate the conversation itself in a positive, discussion-oriented manner.

For example - to the discussion about manipulative babies, you could ask: "what other similar behaviors do you consider manipulative", or simply ask "what makes you say that babies are manipulative?", and wait patiently for him to elaborate.

3) Paradigm:

Lastly - my paradigm has been changed, from yours to something else entirely. So I'm going to be totally projecting, but perhaps you might find it interesting and/or helpful.

Currently, I'm assuming that you equate intellectual knowledge as being unequivocally valuable; the more intellectual knowledge you acquire, the more valuable it is (and the more interesting it is). Not only that, I'm guessing that you consider intellectual knowledge to be at the apex of thought: Why would you not think about the world? Why would one not want to debate and challenge each other intellectually? And so - not only do you not want to share this domain of activity with a partner, you're also confused because you feel like they're missing out on this crucial domain of activity that is most important in the world.

In other words, your privileging of intellectualism over all other paradigms of knowledge is one of the main sources of friction in your relationship. (It was for me, in my relationship as well.) And this friction isn't coming from him, but coming from you.

But is this the case? Why not explore other paradigms? After all, some supposed sense of 'logical coherence' got in the way of you fully understanding his emotional views on death, as if classical formal logic was the impediment to your comprehension.

To use an intellectual reference to discuss what I'm talking about - the philosopher Gilbert Ryle talks about a distinction between Knowing-how and Knowing-that; the former being a kind of ability to do something, and the latter being an understanding of a fact. Are these two distinct? Is the former a subset of the latter, or vice-versa? In philosophy, these stances are actually called intellectualism vs. anti-intellectualism, and I find myself sliding towards the latter lately.

The paradigm that you inhabit currently privileges thought over technique, discussion over action, and theory over heuristic. This is why, in these worlds, discussion and writing matters a great deal over skill, strategy, or impact. However, your partner is a surgery resident, in a residency structure that specifically privileges the process of learning-through-doing rather than through the absorption of book-knowledge (him having done that in medical school). He's riding a bicycle; you're reading about the theory of bicycles. If one privileges exploration, then riding a bicycle itself is the prime paradigm that enables one to explore and engage more with an unknown world (the town yonder), while the theory of bicycles enables one to gain a mental understanding in the form of an explanation that satisfies the self, at the expense of less interaction with an unknown world.

So consider that your (and my) paradigm of intellectual discourse is quite limiting, because it allows less access to aspects of the total unknown, and it pursues explanations that satiate a quite personal desire for stable, fixed, internally coherent answers. How interesting, but selfish and narrow! On the other hand, the world of doing, scientific experimentation and prototyping is very fascinating in its ability to provide a whole bevy of responses that are unstable, unclear, and incoherent.

Indeed, this is why the scientists/engineer friends I know are completely used to dealing with unclear, fuzzy results from messy, inexact situations, while the intellectuals/academic friends I know usually desire exact answers to precise questions.

Conclusion:

Wow, this was long. But as I mentioned above, I was in a wonderful relationship a few years ago, and eventually broke it off because I considered this lack of intellectual debate a dealbreaker.

Spoiler: I was completely wrong, and belatedly realized how supportive and wonderful the relationship had been, and how much I had been unfairly imposing my desires for a specific form of conversation into the relationship. A desire for intellectual conversation had been disguised as 'a desire for virtue', because I was unable to disassociate intellectual conversation with goodness.

I'm now good friends with that partner, and am more than past it. But I think it would be quite a shame to continue having tensions in (what sounds like) a wonderful relationship because of the specific requirements you're imposing on the relationship. Understanding that your specific requirements are, in fact, quite specific, and perhaps not with their full merit, might be the realization you need to reexamine your relationship with your relationship so that it can get even healthier. Good luck! (and I'm more than happy to continue talking about this over MeMail, etc!)
posted by suedehead at 9:27 PM on November 23, 2015 [89 favorites]


Your 4th paragraph is troubling, not least because you felt compelled to lean on external authorities to support this presentation of your bf, but mostly because of the amount of effort and concern that's already gone into trying to get around this difference. Being on the same wavelength just is important to you, obviously. You can try to talk yourself past it, but it sounds like this is kind of necessary for you.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:38 PM on November 23, 2015


"My questions to this community are, how have you seen people develop their critical thinking, abstract reasoning, and complex verbal expression abilities as adults? "

Simply: yes is the answer. Just as you could spend a few years and learn his world of suturing, laparotomies and chemistry, he could definitely develop critical thinking commensurate with your philosophical bent. But perhaps you could reflect that he is very young and has been in a career specific curriculum for his whole young life, and before that, he was training his brain like mad to pass the tests to get into this career specific curriculum. Where was/is he supposed to learn this philosophical curriculum, and how was it even relevant to him until now?

As you have read above, his intelligences are actually parse-able. What's that Irish saying giving a lost man directions? "... well, I wouldn't start from here..."

I've been trying to learn that people in a relationship with me are not attending Honey-Barbara-School. I've been an academic and a teacher and a bossy boots, and I'm trying to unwind from my apparent need to use big words to insult the [differing] intelligences of my partners and to shoehorn them into my imagined Partner-Improvement curriculum. Your way/my way isn't the only way to celebrate a life of the mind.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:38 PM on November 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


You're not going to change the way his mind works, and no he's not going to start learning how to think a whole new way in his thirties, at least not in any under-control directional way, and most certainly not because someone else wants it. The only cases I can think of where someone changed so fundamentally was because of life-changing stressors like religious awakenings or near-death experiences or what have you.

You have boundless energy and focus and analytical skill that you're applying to this, but perhaps it should all be redirected, laser-like, to the single question of whether you can be happy if (when) he doesn't change in this way you wish he would.

Because it's not gonna happen. So move on to the next step, the now-what, and work on only that.
posted by rokusan at 9:59 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother. (Einstein, ostensibly)

You should consider whether your meta-goals match in these conversations -- is it to connect with and show attention to your partner, roleplay as "intellectuals" for ego gratification, dig deep to truly answer an interesting question, lightly exercise critical thinking for enjoyment, etc? In your language I recognize an enjoyment of precision in articulating complex ideas, which can be very fun when you want to play a certain kind of ball. At extreme ends of the spectrum, I think this is nice when undertaken earnestly from a love of ideas, and a little gross when pedants are grandstanding and tacitly judging other kinds of expression and engagement.

I loved my ex-boyfriend (getting philosophy PhD at top uni) very much, and we had rewarding analytical conversations on many philosophical topics. We both shared a drive to get down to foundational questions, and whether those could be somewhat answered or only described in contour of our limitations. There were times when we were trying to find our way closer to the truth that we talked in clumsy terms, but we had a determined grasp on the content -- that pathway of abstract understanding that unfolds in the mind -- which sometimes grudgingly, sometimes with fleet freedom, but always, would yield itself to words. What helped was an egolessness and passionately sharing the same hardcore meta-goal. Do you judge your partner, or acknowledge differences? Understanding requires real generosity, of communicating rather than winning or trying to roleplay what an intellectual conversation is supposed to look like.

That said, I think you have to decide what kinds of connection are essential to you, if you're feeling unsatisfied constantly on this point. I think everyone is a mirror, positive or negative, for our own potentialities. Your partner amplifies your playfulness and reinforces a basis of goodness and kindness in personhood. That's friggin special!!! Do you know yourself? Is that enough, on that basis could you decide to love him and truly respect your differences? In any partnership some traits will be mutually amplified and some muted. Of course a daily partner has an enormous influence, even while individuation opportunities are always available in relationships, so it comes down to:

What do up you want your one life to look like?

This question ain't no cakewalk, to know yourself and in the most vulnerable spaces what you're trying to compensate for, and you may be surprised at the answers and the kinds of people you are drawn to when you've learned to truly accept your imperfections and see others for who they are without personalizing differences as perceived deficiencies. And the thing is, I think there will always be tradeoffs and no perfect partner. But there is an incomparable richness and virtue in livng out a choice.

I'm hella projecting my own deep lessons here, so discard non-topical chaff as needed. Hope something is useful :)
posted by pengwings at 10:02 PM on November 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


I can relate to this because I have trouble dating men who aren't funny. Humor is one of the primary ways I relate to the world and the people in it, so I get bored and even lonely when a prospective partner doesn't have a quick wit or a sense of the absurd.

Are you bored and lonely? Leave, it will not get better. You can't "coach" a partner to be something they're not. (And it's gross to try.) If you're happy overall, relax your expectations and revel in the different perspectives your boyfriend brings to the relationship. It's illogical to assume our partners should fulfill every need we have.
posted by jessca84 at 10:03 PM on November 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


The babies are manipulative thing was the example that threw me off at first, and I was almost ready to jump to a possible DTMFA, but I realized that the issue here may be in part language. I don't think babies can be manipulative in the way that an adult would be. At the same time, it is true that by reinforcing a particular behavior (baby cries, you come into the room), you could train the baby so that it learns it can "manipulate" you into coming when it cries. But that's not high level manipulation, more learned behavior. I also don't think that would anyway correlate with a deceptive or manipulative child, unless you continued a particular pattern throughout the later years.

I find myself trying to guide him via Socratic questioning and clarifying/re-stating his thoughts for him

This seems like it could come off as super condescending, and I would never put up with this. In the baby example, rather than hitting him with twenty questions, you could have had a more open, collaborative conversation about what you each meant by "manipulative" or any number of other options. It's like, you automatically assume you're right and he's wrong, and that's not a great place to start with a relationship.

For your second example, that seems like your hang up more than his. I'm all for intellectual conversations, but at the same time, a conversation isn't a philosophy midterm. His response seemed perfectly cogent, and it actually showed a good level of nuance.

In terms of your third example, one thing to keep in mind is that some people do better with reading than with listening. I consider myself a pretty literate person, but for various reasons, I can struggle more with auditory comprehension. (I do much better when I'm on my ADHD meds, but when I'm not on them, I can have a hard time engaging with more longwinded or academic topics.) I could see myself not following that sentence as well if it was spoken, and even on the printed page, it's still not as clear as it could be. I wouldn't consider it evidence of poor intellectual development if someone didn't follow it right away.

Now, more broadly, I really think you should stop approaching your relationship like you're the teacher, and he's the student. That's not going to help anyone. It sounds like you guys have different ways of engaging with intellectual topics, and maybe for you that's a fundamental incompatibility. If so, I think you need to move on.

However, if this relationship is important enough to you, then I think you should continue to get the specific intellectual interactions that you crave from other people in your life, and then with your SO, try to approach these topics from a more collaborative, open minded perspective. It sounds like you both approach the world from a somewhat different perspective, so rather than assuming he's wrong and you're right (or vice versa), maybe focus on trying to understand the other person's point of view. Also, focus on the things you do share and enjoy about each other.

Personally, i've found it's not so difficult to find outlets for my intellectual needs, and from what you've written, it sounds like you have a pretty awesome relationship in a lot of other respects, so I would think long and hard before throwing this away because of what you perceive to be his intellectual shortcomings.

On re-read, I feel like I may be coming off as kind of harsh. Just to give you some background for my perspective on this, I come from a family of very culturally literate, open minded people (including one parent who is an academic in the humanities). I used to be a lot more judgmental about people who didn't read books that I considered to be great literature or who didn't follow current events, etc, etc, but over the years, I've worked hard to move past that because I've realized that "intellectual" can be a pretty subjective term, and it's often not nearly as important as I used to think it was.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:17 PM on November 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


You say your boyfriend doesn't debate on the same intellectual level as you. I don't think that's the case. What I think is happening is that he doesn't agree with you, and you view this as him being a poor conversationalist and not your intellectual equal. Aside from being quite condescending, imagine how dull your discussions would be if both of you were just agreeing back and forth about how right you were.

It appears that you're saying the only way of building a connection is if both of you think and agree in exactly the same way, in which case, you'll have no intellectual debate or sparring at at all.

Also, I'm kinda gobsmacked at the lengths you've gone to train him to intellectualise more like you, therapy, books, courses - the hoops you've made this man jump through, well, all I can see is that even if he's not conversing exactly how you would like, he clearly loves you very, very much. If you still decide it's a deal breaker, (and it's fine if you do!) please, let him go - there's many women out there who would kill for a man who would go that far to please them.
posted by Jubey at 10:25 PM on November 23, 2015 [44 favorites]


In answer to your questions, I would say no. But I have seen people who, in my personal view, are pedantically obsessed with "rationality" and "logic" uber alles in high school or college come to be more relaxed and able to appreciate a conversation that isn't an argument about who's right and who's wrong, as they get older.

I hope that doesn't just sound mean - I just want to point out that from another perspective, your own way of approaching this seems less mature to me than his does. I would say that I myself used to be one of those people who was constantly rules-lawyering at people and spoiling for an argument - or if not an argument per se, at least a bit of a combative exchange. Now in my "old age" (I'm about 5 years older than you) I spend a lot less time arguing with people on the internet and a lot more time enjoying life. So I guess my bottom line is that I think there's hope for your relationship yet, maybe just not in the way that you think right now, and I don't necessarily think you should break up with this lovely sounding man.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:35 PM on November 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


When I started reading your general descriptions, I identified much more with you than with him. I'd have no patience for anyone who told me not to worry about "intellectual connection" because it's "shallow" (not sure how that could possibly be considered shallow, by the way). But then, when I read your specific examples, I sympathized more with him.

With the baby and afterlife examples, I could see his point. I also understand your critiques, but you seem to be inspecting his statements for anything technically wrong with them, instead of trying to understand the gist of what he's saying. You're paraphrasing real-life conversations here, and people rarely express themselves perfectly in real life. Look, I'm a lawyer — I have professional skills in picking apart the logic of people's statements, and even I found your critiques kind of eye-rolling.

He's concerned that giving babies whatever they ask for could be unwittingly training them to become more and more skilled at manipulating their parents and others down the line. Once he expresses that, you now know that's his concern. Grilling him about when or how exactly he thinks that would start to happen isn't going to alleviate his concern.

And on the afterlife question, he gave a reasonably thoughtful, introspective answer about how at this point in his life he'd be disappointed if there weren't an afterlife, but he might feel more satisfied in old age. Yes, I see your point that his initial reaction is technically inconsistent with his elaboration about how he feels now, but he ended up making himself pretty clear, so why does that matter? Give the guy a break!

I couldn't count the number of times I've been engaged in an intellectual discussion with someone when I can find some flaws in their statements, but I don't comment on it — I just let it go. Maybe they're not the greatest at expressing themselves, or maybe they misspoke, or maybe I missed something. Whatever it is, conversations generally work better if you focus on the positive — on what you can get out of what the person is saying — rather than focusing on the negative — how the person's communication is falling short of your ideal or how you would have said it. Isn't the former approach more likely to create an intellectual connection?

The babies example seems particularly concerning, since it suggests that you're contemplating having children, and that your conversations about how to raise those children could lead to a lot of impasses.

I found your AI statement clear (and very interesting), but I don't know what conclusion to draw from the fact that he found it confusing. I'm understanding it in written form, which is often easier to understand because you can read at your own pace and backtrack. It's a kind of an elaborate thought, and it might be harder to absorb if someone spontaneously drops it into a conversation.

Oh, and if I were ever dating someone who expressed a need for me to "develop my critical thinking, abstract reasoning, and complex verbal expression abilities," I would get up and politely excuse myself from the relationship. No amount of eloquence and euphemisms can gloss over what you're trying to say about him. My advice is to decide, now, whether you can accept each other for who you are, now. Do you accept him with his individual mind, or will you only accept him if you can turn him into someone smarter?
posted by John Cohen at 10:46 PM on November 23, 2015 [24 favorites]


I think babies are manipulative...

He asked me to repeat this sentence several times, told me it was complicated with big words...


Yeah, ick. No, sorry. I don't see where you're going to turn that into what you want -- and I don't blame you in the least for wanting it.

There are loads of people who are very gifted in certain complicated fields, and sometimes, not much else. And hooray for them, because surgeons and good toaster designers and so on make our lives vastly better.

But they will not turn into people with whom you can have the sort of discussions you want to have. You can't coax, train, or cadge him out of this. You either need to take it as is or leave.

I would leave. Lack of respect is an incredible death knell for a relationship, and I don't think you respect this guy. And why should you? He has cruel and asinine views about infants -- ones apparently PDOOMAed (or PDOOFather'sA) -- and, christ on a bike, "a theory that AI researchers try to program AI that are as humanlike as possible due to a subconscious, narcissistic impulse to create something in their own likeness, even if their explicitly stated purpose is to build a humanlike AI for utilitarian reasons" is very clear. I would have been cringing on the first date. I'm sure he has many other lovely qualities, but this sort of mis-match would make my life miserable, and I don't think you'd be asking this question if it wasn't a sticking point for you too.

Other people have done a nice job in pointing out some problematic lines of thought here. That's fine. I give you permission to dump this guy for somebody more intellectually on the same ball as you. Because there is no way to make this un-frustrating. I can have friends like this, but not very close ones, and certainly not intimate partners. It is totally okay for "This idiot doesn't understand English half the time" frustrations to be a dealbreaker, even if some people will think you are being a snob. Life is short -- be a snob.
posted by kmennie at 10:46 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


You say you went to couples therapy over this issue. What did the therapist say?
posted by whitewall at 10:47 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is more than one way to build an intellectual connection; so far it appears you've mostly tried debating. Which I love and do without even meaning to and is kind of fundamental to my own relationship, so I can't fault you for wanting it. But it seems he doesn't-- and the reasons may have not that much to do with intellectual ability. Maybe he's just conflict-averse.

Other options include puzzles (maybe he's great at word puzzles but you like logic ones), games (I'm thinking board games here; they come in many varieties), and other puzzle-like activities.

One of the big ones is rock climbing. It depends a bit on which kind of climbing he prefers, but especially if he's a boulderer, then he's got the power of analysis even if it isn't verbal. And in fact all kinds of climbing require not just physical ability but also mental prowess to figure out how to apply that ability.

So I think y'all should go climbing together. If you don't climb, he'll be immeasurably better than you, so it'll give you a chance to appreciate his skill. And also I think it'll demonstrate some of his analytical prowess to you, especially if you can watch him discuss with someone else how to approach a particular climb.

And if climbing isn't an option for some reason, then I'd suggest you learn a new thing together. Appreciating the intellectual capacity and challenge he does bring to the relationship may help you feel better about getting your debate on somewhere else.
posted by nat at 10:54 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, also, short declarative sentences are *good communication* in many circumstances. View it as a challenge to you-- how can I communicate this idea more succinctly? (I say this as a lover of the subclause, who gets very frustrated learning new languages because of my inability to express myself in the means to which I am accustomed. This is my problem, not anyone else's.)
posted by nat at 10:57 PM on November 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


this is a hard question. it's not technically hard that he arrive where you want him to be, mentally. it's just that it involves an entire shift in someone's worldview, and he could very well arrive at being a different (unpredictably different) person in the end. and why would anyone want that?


some possible technical steps:
-have him hang around and converse with people of 'that' ilk. people that are good at the verbal arts, and good conversationalists (bear in mind that being a good conversationalist consumes time and energy and might be at odds with his career)
-subscription to the new yorker or the salon or a literary journal
-travel to 'alternative' locations/cultures

this question speaks to me for some reason. i'm currently in law school, and one of the reasons i struggled so much with choosing to be here in my undergrad was that i wanted to be a novelist. and i believed that immersing myself in legal reasoning and legal literature would make my prose dry and hamper my creativity. i do notice my spontaneity decreasing as my organizational skills increase and various other inverse developments. but it's something i actively choose to do.

the only way you can make this egalitarian and not create resentment between the two of you (in the far, far future), is if you put in effort as well into immersing yourself in his worldview. his answers remind me of my chinese speaking friends and relatives, among whom i grew up. the act of thinking in chinese (in opposition to english) makes you think in a completely different manner. there is far less nuance, but ideas can be condensed so that conversation flows quickly and the natural contrast among some ideas make for deep, aesthetic/visual thought (chinese characters are highly visual). his answer of wanting an afterlife as a young man and being alright with death as an older man reminds me of chinese philosophy and beliefs, which do not carry with them the numerous premises that western thinking does (i think therefore i am et al).
which is to say, neither of you is the correct thinker. but to create a shared language you have to contribute to it equally as well (which would mean immersing yourself in his -baptist? medical?- beliefs).
posted by kinoeye at 11:00 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


You've invested five therapy-months (maybe with some overlap, ok) out of twelve relationship-months on actively trying to change him, and the rest wanting to and feeling dissatisfied because that hasn't happened (though agree with others, it shouldn't). Despite his obvious devotion.

It is weird (and etc.) that you're doing this. It's also weird that he wants to let you. Unbalanced and unfair, definitely.

That said: yes, feeling loved is important, but so is feeling understood. It's really important to you. Can you find a new paradigm? Sure, crossing your Ts and dotting your Is will probably matter less to you in five or ten years, but it matters a lot now. Is he going to (all of a sudden) learn to do logical backflips the way you like them? People can change in lots of ways, but probably not in this one.

(Re one of your questions - I've seen people who aren't at all academically inclined [so, not like your bf] or trained find their way, through life experience and reflection, to some of the same conclusions as Montaigne and Aristotle. They talk about it in plain language, though, and they're not interested in riffing on the latest whatever article in whatever.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:16 PM on November 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


This man is a successful surgery resident so he must be working basically non-stop and be exhausted. He is obviously an extremely intelligent person to have the career he has - have you thought about any of this from his perspective? He's working long hours in an extremely stressful, fast-paced, technicsl, physically demanding, high-stakes profession, and in his likely limited spare time you are making him train to become more rigorous in intellectual conversation.

Please just let this poor man go and seek out someone you don't have to change and let him find someone that loves him just the way he is.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 11:16 PM on November 23, 2015 [32 favorites]


You've obviously put a lot of thought into this. As someone who did similar levels of thinking at an early point in one of my relationships, my experience was that my attempts to describe and diagnose the dynamic only inhibited my ability to deal with its complex and shifting reality. I'm not saying you're wrong, exactly, at least in describing your own experience in recent moments, only that it also may not get you anywhere.

What worked better for me was focusing on what I respected about the person. It helped me find a way past the sense of disconnection, past my frustration about that, and past blaming him for that. Once I relaxed and realized that there was nothing inherently more "right" about my approach, then I could better understand and respect how he saw the world. Our conversations got more satisfying, and I better appreciated the connection we already had, relaxing into a happiness that had basically always been there beneath my over-thinking on one area where we weren't connecting.

I know if you're really dissatisfied, that might seem like a non-answer, but it sounds like your relationship has many strengths. It sounds like he has many strengths. And over time, you will probably both shape each other's approach to thinking and talking. But I wouldn't count on any particular change happening. I'd focus on deepening your appreciation for him and the connection you have now.
posted by salvia at 11:27 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, I agree that going climbing together is a good idea.
posted by salvia at 11:29 PM on November 23, 2015


Something like this sort of connection is necessary for me. If it's not there, the relarionship is doomed. But I'm an academic philosopher, and philosophical conversation isn't super-important to me. What is is intellectual curiosity and general smarts.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:14 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


All I can say is that if your answer to yourself is "I need him to change in order for me to be satisfied," whatever the change, move on and spare yourselves the heartache. I once had a girlfriend who talked about me to my face and behind my back in the terms you used (over similar, but not identical differences). She's my former girlfriend because, while she has every right to want certain things from a relationship, I have every right to say "well, not only do I not really want to change, the way you articulated it makes me really not want to be in this relationship."

It's entirely possible that these things are not dealbreakers for you, in which case I 100% agree with everyone who has suggested ways of reframing things to help you find peace with who he is and accept that he may or may not change, at his own pace. If they are dealbreakers and you're sure, be kind to both of you and move on, though.
posted by Alterscape at 12:18 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


My questions to this community are, how have you seen people develop their critical thinking, abstract reasoning, and complex verbal expression abilities as adults?

This sounds like a Learning Outcomes profile in a University course, not desired characteristics in a partner.

I can tell that you are intelligent, forasong, and you're probably someone I'd like to have discussions with myself. But I feel that you and your partner aren't a good fit intellectually. And parts of your question, while I'm sure this was unintentional, smacked of being very condescending… 'skip steps', 'his thoughts on these subjects can be surface-level or logically unsound' (!!!) etc.

I feel you're pushing and pushing this man to come up to your 'level', to be what you want him to be.

In terms of this working long term, well, it clearly isn't. Two months of couple's therapy out of a one year relationship?

A friend of mine is in a long term relationship with a man who is absolutely lovely and very good to her. She describes a similar dynamic, in that she longs for conversations with depth, to be intellectually challenged, but she says his mind just 'stops' at a certain point and he can't go further. Her solution has been, in effect, to be unfaithful to her partner, unbeknownst to him, and carry out affairs with other men. I think that's a pretty terrible solution, personally, as it's a classic case of having her cake and eating it too, with someone's feelings involved. Anyway, food for thought.
posted by NatalieWood at 1:53 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Normally I'm very much on the "intellectual conversation is underrated and women are pushed to put aside their interests in the name of a 'good' relationship with a 'nice' man" side, but I find your sample conversations confusing and this makes me wonder if you're not looking at a communication issue.

If your conversations really are as reported - and I know it's difficult to report these kinds of things - it seems like you're not listening charitably or intuitively. In the first case, I immediately wanted to explore the question of whether babies were "manipulative' like cats are (ie, my cat always wants more and more treats, and will do everything she thinks will get me to give them to her, but there's no moral content or intellectual strategy to this) and how this might relate to "deception" - like, what does he think a deceptive child is doing? There were - to me - interesting ideas lurking in this conversation, just not the ones I tend to believe.

In the second conversation, I felt similarly - he's introducing some ideas into the conversation, but you're not picking them up to continue with. You're saying "here's a question" and he's saying "my response to the question is to [implicitly] question its premises". Like, you start the question off on this almost yes/no basis, and he shifts it to feelings and individual perceptions and how they modulate beliefs. I thought his response was pretty interesting.

The third conversation, okay, I understood it fine and it's a valid SFnal premise, but I feel like I wouldn't have much to say to it since I'm not an expert in AI design, and I think a lot of people might feel that it was just an invitation to blanket speculation, either about hubris or about AI.

In these snippets you describe, it seems like you have one way you want the conversation to go, so instead of trying to work with his conversational overtures, you get frustrated. But I feel like conversation is a bit like improvisational dance, and the success of the conversation lies in the grace with which different elements are incorporated, not the conversation's progress through a set of fixed points.

Again, I understand that it's difficult to describe these things.

I find myself wondering if you are really looking for a partner in working out ideas, and that's where this is falling down - not that you literally expect him to present his reasoning about the nature of babies, but that you want him to work with you to test a series of intellectual premises so that you discover what you think. If that's the case, I could see how your conversations could be very frustrating. Also, if you want to talk about AI, etc, and he doesn't, really, that's going to be hard.

I wonder if you're just not clicking enough and you're trying to come up with a legit reason to explain it.

People can change, however. A long-term partner of mine went, unexpectedly, to college later in life, and it really saved the relationship by giving us a lot more in common. I do think that was because they wanted a particular set of critical thinking skills that made us a better match - that is, they were already interested in the thing on their own, not because I was pushing it.

The one thing I wonder: have you had much time [given that I bet you're both busy] to do things like visit museums together, go to interesting films and talks, etc? It might be that if you work on building a common repertoire of ideas and experiences, you'll evolve a language for talking about abstract stuff that is satisfying to both of you. Your partner probably has access to some super interesting medical ethics, racial justice, etc, talks all the time through his program - at least I see flyers for stuff like that around the local medical school all the time, and very occasionally find time to go.
posted by Frowner at 2:27 AM on November 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


I’ve read two brilliant threads related to this topic on MetaFilter (one, two); I’ve read David Burns’ “Feeling Good Together”; I’ve been to over three months of individual therapy to address this; we’ve gone through two months of couples therapy; I’ve gotten him a primer on critical thinking that he’s working through; I’ve written four pages on general principles of intellectual connection.

Phew, that's a lot of work for a non-marriage. How long have you guys been together?

My suggestion is that YOU change something: either be patient and accept that this is the way he is, or break up. After all that work it is pretty clear that waiting on him to change is not working.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:33 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


From your examples, what struck me most is that you guys haven't mastered the skill of just having a basic conversation together yet, and that isn't just his fault. From your examples, it seems like you're in conversations to win them, rather than having a conversation to just enjoy talking to someone. And it also sounds like you start conversations about topics with a clear idea of how you want the conversation to go, and then you get sort of mad when he goes off in an entirely different direction than you expected. I think instead of giving him critical thinking worksheets, you should both practice active listening with each other and that you should work on approaching his ideas more generously and less condescendingly. I used to be someone who always wanted to correct people when they were wrong about anything, but I've discovered that conversations are actually a lot more fun if you stop lecturing people and policing other people's language.

As for helping him develop his understanding of history, music, culture, etc, do you guys read aloud to each other or trade interesting articles or go to museum exhibits or art exhibits together? Do you go to concerts or listen to them on YouTube or just listen to music around the house? Do you watch comedy/news shows like The Daily Show or John Oliver's show and chat about it afterwards? Do you get out the paints and spend a Saturday afternoon painting together? You don't mention any of that sort of stuff at all, and it seems odd to me that you're so focused on improving his critical thinking skills with worksheets instead of just continuing to chat with him about art and music and culture and politics and slowly building a foundation of common experiences and understanding together.
posted by colfax at 3:46 AM on November 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


Conventionally challenging topic:
**I: “If you knew that this life is all we have, and there’s no afterlife, would you appreciate this moment more or less?”

I agree with the answers that say you're inappropriately assuming a position of your own superiority and treating him with undeserved condescension. Your complaint about his lack of "rigor" and his "disjointed" and "skimming" reply seems a bit immature in relation to the question above, in part because the question itself is not rigorously rational; you set up a speculative, subjective framework and his response makes perfect sense within that. Overall, he sounds as if he is obviously a really smart guy, and his natural intellectual style is more tied to data; yours is tied not really to logic or rationality as you keep saying, but to a love of impressionistic, speculative topics. That's fine, many people like to talk that way (I do myself) but it's not inherently the most "rigorous" way to think. The question isn't can he become more rational because your taste in intellectual topics is really not more rational or logical than a data-driven, scientific one, a style which you have not valued in him enough to improve in yourself.
posted by flourpot at 3:51 AM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I hate to be the one to say it, especially when others have touched upon it, but as lovely and talented and bright as this guy is, you may have uncovered a fundamental flaw in your relationship.

Your conversations don't jump off from your points, you don't end up with give-and-take that leads to more understanding. You've also discovered that his core beliefs chafe you. He's not stupid, he just isn't interested in the same things that you are and he's not as interested in conversing for the sake of following a subject down a rabbit hole.

I think that your desire to teach him critical thinking is off-base. He thinks critically, he's just not interested in the same things that you are, and he's not interested in plumbing the depths of those thoughts.

When a relationship is pleasant and there's nothing really wrong, it's hard to walk away. But for me this would be a deal-breaker, and it's okay for it to be one for you too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:23 AM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I feel compelled to add, as someone who studied child development, he's absolutely not wrong that babies are manipulative. That's a matter of professional consensus. They come into this world wired and with the tools to do certain behaviors to get their needs met, and they learn systems that allow them to do that, as adults respond to them and they learn to recreate the responses. "Consciously," as you said? No. But evolution has prepared them with the means to shape the behavior of the adults around them. He's not wrong there - the best understandings of infants confirm what he is saying - but you leapt to a conclusion that compared babies to older children or adults in their ability to consciously manipulate. How logical is that?
posted by Miko at 5:36 AM on November 24, 2015 [13 favorites]


Everyone's hit all the high points I would have typed out, so I feel okay about just cutting to the chase:

The only chance for this relationship to become what I'd consider a successful, healthy one is if you'd be better served by doing some individual self-development. It's not clear to me whether you "need" this. But I'm not seeing in your description that he does (which doesn't mean he doesn't, but your depiction of him seems too colored by your perspective for me to be comfortable drawing conclusions).

If you two want and could find a really competent couples therapist you might also get there.

Only you (or he) can say whether it's worth the effort.

Best wishes...
posted by dancing leaves at 6:09 AM on November 24, 2015


Having read your question above the fold, I was surprised by your examples. To me, they don't make your boyfriend sound dense or incurious or lacking in logical rigor. He thinks a little differently from you but I daresay not worse. He listens to your questions; he is clearly thinking as he speaks. And also, he's interested in engaging with you. I think you might learn a lot from trying to meet him in the middle more. If you are convinced that he is intellectually limited by his background, it's going to continue to seem that way to you.
posted by BibiRose at 6:15 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are words people and non-words people. It seems you are a words person and he is a non-words person. Words people traffic entirely in the domain of...words. We think in paragraph form. It is hard for us to understand why someone may not choose the best and most clear word in any situation. Muddied, imprecise explanations are excruciating. Non-words people just don't find diction in everyday conversation as important. It doesn't mean they are stupid. It does mean it can be harder to have a conversation you, as a words person, find fulfilling with them.

My mom told me something once, in the way of relationship advice, and that's this: you can't get all your needs met by one person. Two people can have an ideal relationship but one of them loves skydiving and the other hates it--the skydiver can't get a skydiving partner out of that relationship, and maybe that's ok. Skydiving is something you can do with friends. So is having intellectual conversations.

I'm a words person too. And my boyfriend is not (he's a math person). We also have the silliness you two seem to have. And we don't really have the kind of conversations I might have with a words person...but we have gotten better at it through time, because it is important to both of us to have some sort of intellectual connection, even if it's not especially easy. I do a lot of "can you explain what you mean by xword?" and "that's interesting, can you go into more detail about what you mean?" Those help.
posted by millipede at 6:29 AM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was in a relationship where I was the partner who didn't want to debate and have big long conversations, I wanted to just enjoy being together, I saw the philosophizing as a distraction from quality time. It was basic incompatibility. I found it exhausting and frustrating and just wanted to spend time together enjoying things like cooking and listening to music, visiting friends, going for walks, things that I find restorative and want to share with someone without plumbing the depths of my consciousness all the time. My work takes too much energy for me to want to keep thinking and talking at an abstract level the rest of the time (I have a social sciences phd and work in my area of specialization).

I have a partner now who has a laser-like ability to think and plan, I am continually amazed at how quickly his mind works, but he's more of a concrete do-er than an abstract thinker/talker and I'm so much happier in this relationship. We both value spending our time in the same way and we value kindness more than anything else in a partner. We each trust that the other person is a good person who wants to make the other person happy. At the end of the day I don't care if he doesn't understand the nuances of my research or why my code isn't working and he doesn't care if I don't understand his electrical wiring issues or the specifics of his hobbies (although I happily listen and go out to events that are important to him). I don't expect my friends or even my coworkers to grasp those things either. I know that's not quite the same as trying to reach agreement on AI or the meaning of life but those are definitely things my ex wanted to discuss, I could grasp them, but I'm just not motivated to discuss them or pick arguments apart. In my current relationship we talk about trips we'd like to take, we talk about things we'd like to accomplish, we talk about good times we've shared, we talk plans for our living spaces, we talk about the world/news a little bit, we talk about our past experiences, we go out and talk to our friends and just shoot the shit. Much more of a daily life/future event focus than an abstract focus for sure.

I think you need to accept him as he is and continue enjoying time together (and he might just grow and change with you), but I don't think it should be framed as him lacking skills. If you can't be happy with things as they are, especially after therapy and so on, I would try just accepting and seeing if you can be happy, if not it's time to break up. You also need to ask yourself if you're focusing on this because it is really really important to you, or are there other issues that you're avoiding? I know I get caught up on things that are less central to my life when I'm avoiding something I'm afraid to look at.
posted by lafemma at 7:42 AM on November 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Obviously sustained intellectual conversation means a lot to you. Do you have another outlet for it in your life? I kinda get the vibe that is an identity thing for you, and looking to one's partner to maintain the markers of one's own identity is a bad path to go down. Like others above, I don't have the impression that your partner lacks curiosity or intelligence. He just seems not as into the verbal back and forth as you are.

I think the happiest relationships come from a shared set of values rather than a shared set of interests. I think you guys aren't hopeless. Normally I would say that couples' counseling less than a year into a relationship indicates that it's just not worth the bother, break up already. But the fact that you and he have already gone suggests to me that you both do share some fundamental values. Residents are busy and therapy is not easy. Also, you've given no indication that he doesn't accept you and your conversational style for who you are. Would he be supportive of you taking more individual time for intellectual pursuits?

My impression is that something is missing from your life, but it's not necessarily missing from your relationship.
posted by stowaway at 7:45 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow! Thank you for all of the time and thought you put into your responses.

(1) One major theme across several posts seems to be the perception that I am condescending, not a generous enough listener, overly prone to argument and winning points, not appreciative enough of intuitive vs. logical thinking. I can see how my examples could give that impression (they are highly condensed paraphrases in my words of more meandering discussion). However, I'm not dating a doormat who finds it acceptable to be insulted. We're both interested in figuring out how to develop a better intellectual connection, and while one worthwhile approach I will try is to practice more generosity as a conversationalist, another non-mutually exclusive possibility is that he continue to explore what it means to be an independent, evidence based thinker. This time last year, God's will was the guiding principle behind his life decisions. The answer to all questions was in the literal word of the Bible. Going to an unaccredited fundamentalist college was an explicit requirement for not being an outcast in his family. Beyond the existential ramifications of living under this paradigm since birth, you have to imagine that it puts a cramp in your critical thinking style.

Here's another example of something he said: "I haven't thought this through, and I know how this might sound, but it's interesting that Africans used to sell one another into slavery, and that there's so much social strife in black communities. I wonder if there's an epigenetic component?" I'm sure that he's not a racist. The question is fair (any honest question is), and his logic follows, but the premises are overly general and dismissible through quick tests against historical and present day contributing factors. He finds it effortful and time intensive to crunch through permutations in the range of possible answers to open-ended social/cultural/moral/etc. questions. He just hasn't done it much before, but he wants to. He tells me regularly that he wants to expand his intellectual breadth, with time as a very real, major constraint given his current occupation.

My point is that people possess critical thinking/expression skills to varying degrees. How do you improve them? Just lots of time and effort with challenging reading material and conversation?

(2) I find fascinating the posts that describe how your paradigms or relationships have changed over time and/or with different partners. I'm curious how paradigm shifts happen and what it looks like in concrete terms. If you went through these changes, was it a slow process or sudden wake up call? How did your conversations differ? I think there are also many people who don't expect intellectual connection to be part of their relationship. What does that look like?
posted by forasong at 7:59 AM on November 24, 2015


Your response makes it more clear to me that he's trying desperately to be what you want and that's really sad to me.
posted by shesbenevolent at 8:15 AM on November 24, 2015 [33 favorites]


You seem to use really big words and long, convoluted sentences for no real practical reason. I'm having trouble following, really. Is that how you talk in your relationship when having these intellectual conversations with your bf?
posted by sweetkid at 8:27 AM on November 24, 2015 [18 favorites]


This actually reminds me of the Meyers Briggs thread over on the grey. It seems like you have very different personality styles. And it sounds like it is making both of you pretty sad and uncomfortable. There are other fish in the sea! Find one who is on your wavelength rather than trying to change someone at a pretty fundamental level.
posted by instamatic at 8:33 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of us have trouble figuring out what advice to give, because it seems like there are three distinct questions all wrapped up in one:
1) How can I, forasong, better communicate and interact with my partner?
2) How can I, forasong's partner, develop a greater capacity for critical insight?
3) How can we, forasong and forasong's partner, work together in a romantic relationship, given our differences?

I think a lot of people have helped with 1 and 3. I think there has been a lot less help with 2, here, because, well: you're the one asking the question, not him. What you're in a position to emphasize is your desire to see him change, and that's all we have to work with. We, Mefites, are left looking at a question and considering what advice best to give to someone who wants their partner to change.

Now, there are a number of places in your question where it sounds like, actually, your partner wants to change. They're subtle, though, and we're hearing about them from you, rather than him. But, on the assumption that this really is his desire and he wants advice, I think it's worth considering what can be said in answer to 2. You said your partner is reading this thread, so, I'm going to talk directly to him.

Dear forasong's partner:

Hi! This thread probably is a bit confounding and confusing. But, I hear from forasong that you're interested in developing some critical thinking skills and better communication skills. Is that right? Now, note, you don't have to want to. It sounds like you're a very successful person, and it sounds like you're also a really good person, so it sounds like you're doing okay. Do you want to find different, more critical ways of analyzing things? Do you want to develop a wider set of communication methods? If so, here are some suggestions:

--Take critical thinking classes at a local community college. I'm willing to bet they'll be very easy for someone who's made it through med school. (And since you'd be doing it just for your own fun, you could just give up if the homework gets too boring/annoying!) Or, really, take any classes that emphasize thinking, reading, and writing at a community college. They'll stretch your mind, and they'll be fun.

The downside is this: they take time. You'll probably be able to find a variety of night classes: one night a week, meeting for three hours at a time. I'm willing to bet you don't exactly have a lot of free time, so I'm willing to bet this doesn't actually work as a suggestion for you. But it may be something to keep as a goal in your back pocket: why not try out some classes covering philosophy, history, sociology, or some other such field at some point in the future?

--Read Metafilter. We're a pretty critical bunch. Discussions here can be incredibly insightful and meaningful. And you can read them at your leisure. It also sounds like forasong would be willing to talk to you about what's going on in them, so you'd have ways of thinking about them and interacting with the ideas in them, even if you're not participating in the threads themselves. And Metafilter is such an expansive site, I'm sure there are plenty of discussions in the archives on topics that interest you. (For instance, here is a discussion about the intersection of rock climbing, standards of beauty, and gender. Does that sound interesting?)

--Read literature. Literature is absolutely amazing, and, from what forasong says, it sounds like you've probably not been able to interact with too much of it in your past. The world opens up through literature. You get to encounter perspectives you have never thought of before, and you get to examine different worldviews. Not all literature is made equal, of course. I'm not sure what you'd enjoy the most. I don't know you well enough to make recommendations. But novels can be fun and exciting and intellectually stimulating.

--Watch documentaries. Not all documentaries are worth the same, of course, but they encourage interacting with ideas. One I'd suggest right off the bat is Hot Coffee. It's fascinating, and it comes into close contact with issues that matter for you, professionally. Documentaries don't require as much of a commitment as novels or books, but watching them still involves thought and analysis.

--Listen to books on tape. Maybe you don't have time to dedicate to sitting down and reading a novel or watching a two-hour documentary. But you probably have time to listen to audiobooks. The world of audiobooks is vast, and there are so many different types of subjects out there... There's plenty that I'm sure you'll find interesting.

--Talk about what you read and see. Join reading groups, or maybe try to participate in Metafilter, or maybe just talk with forasong. Maybe you two can read a book at the same time, and discuss what you encounter together. Maybe you can check out a documentary, then try fleshing out your ideas on your own. Maybe keep a journal, for this sort of thing? The goal, here, is just to find space and opportunity to try out ideas and see where they go. The more you get to talk and write and read and think, the better you'll get at it. Skills are about doing, so the more you do, the better those skills will develop.

--Be careful about what your goal is. Here's what I suggest as a goal: "I want more thoughtful engagement with the world around me." Not, "I want to be a better critical thinker," and not "I want to develop skills I don't have." Those latter two potential goals are boring and frustrating: they make it sound like the point of living thoughtfully is just the development of skills so you can impress people or meet some standard. But there's no critical thinking test you have to pass, here. The goal is just getting what you want out of life, and it sounds like what you want is more opportunity to think through challenging ideas and develop your own opinions in ways you find satisfying.So, seek out a more thoughtful life, and let the thinking/communication skills develop through the living of that life.

--All of the above is working towards this: explore. Explore viewpoints and worldviews different from your own. Explore topics you've never encountered before. Explore.... Because exploring is amazing and wonderful and exciting and life-affirming. Because it helps fill up life. Explore for the sake of exploring. So: what do you want to explore?

Do you want specific suggestions? AskMe can be great. Maybe write a question for AskMe on your own, and have forasong post it. Say what sorts of topics you're interested in, and we can suggest books, movies, etc., that you can explore. Give us more information about what you want, and we can point you to ways of getting it.
posted by meese at 8:42 AM on November 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Why did you choose that particular example for an AskMetafilter audience, of all the ones (you say) you had to hand? You wanted to show us how "bad" it is. Well, you're right, that's a pretty obtuse thing for a grown person to say. Are you gratified that I confirmed that?

So, ok, just literally answering your explicit question - there are 18 year olds who do move on from those sorts of ideas, and from a dogmatic reliance on the New Testament, to a place where they can enjoy convos about AI as narcissism. After a few years of full-time undergrad study. Your bf could, conceivably, audit a critical thinking class and a few humanities classes (and on preview do what meese suggests).

But do you understand how nutty it is to make this kind of imposition on an adult? A busy surgery resident? As a condition of continuing a romantic relationship?
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:45 AM on November 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


Based on your update, I would say: either work on accepting this guy as he is or break up with him. Trying to force him into the box of what you think an intellectual should look like is going to make both of you miserable, I think.
posted by colfax at 8:48 AM on November 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, this might be a sort of odd suggestion, but has he ever considered joining a Unitarian Universalist church? It sounds like he dropped out of the Fundamentalist Baptist church cold turkey and that sounds hard. If I were him, I think I'd still be trying to get my bearings a little. I've heard really good things about the Unitarian Universalist churches: they're very socially minded and the people there are very accepting, so they might expose him to some new interesting perspectives and ideas but in a slightly more familiar setting, which might make it easier to digest those things.
posted by colfax at 9:03 AM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Again you're assuming that being a fundamentalist Christian means that you lack critical thinking skills. I think quite the contrary -- sure, there are sects that are not very rigorous thinkers, but many serious evangelicals are careful intellectuals. They may start with different premises and a different corpus of evidence than you, but with salvation on the line they are deeply committed to correctly trying to understand what they see as God's Word in as rigorous and disciplined a way as possible. Hermeneutics is a Christian word, after all.

Frankly, as others have said, your boyfriend sounds like he can think things through just fine and is game to have the kind of conversations that you want. Your boyfriend just disagrees with you -- your most recent question about Africa is a case in point. To read between the lines, the problem here is not critical thinking or that "his premises are overly general," but that the question is one you find completely inappropriate.

I mean, how much thinking and research have you actually done about the epigenetics of African-American communities? Could you prove that which you and I believe, that there are no substantive epigenetic differences between African-Americans and other Americans? I couldn't. I trust authorities who tell me that this is in fact the case, and I suspect that this is your situation as well -- in which case you're not so different from your boyfriend. In general I think you should look at yourself. While you characterize yourself as "neurotically logical, rigorous, and precise," the examples you provide don't back up your self-characterization much at all -- an odd failure for someone who defines themselves as rigorous and precise.

I think all this is less about molding your boyfriend into a better intellectual thinker, and more about recreating him as the sort of polite upper-middle class liberal that you could have gone to college with (I'm sensing an elite SLAC from you FWIW, Swarthmore, Oberlin, etc.). That's a project that's doomed to failure.

It would be interesting to see your four pages on general principles of intellectual connection if you wanted to share. I think that would be very helpful for getting a sense of what exactly you mean by 'intellectual connection' and how this relationship is not providing it.
posted by crazy with stars at 9:06 AM on November 24, 2015 [18 favorites]


Have you thought about what you'll do if you send him through Intellectual Boot Camp only to find that he still basically has thoughts you disagree with and find screwy and lame? If he never naturally arrives at what you feel is the correct, coherent answer to "how would you feel if there was no afterlife"?

After reading your update I get the sense that you think anyone would just naturally arrive at the same conclusions you do, if only they had proper rigor. But like...that isn't how humans are. I think you're just not super-compatible with this guy, which hurts and sucks and you don't want to face it. But you really ought to, before you drag both of y'all through the mind-muck only to eventually break up anyway.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:07 AM on November 24, 2015 [26 favorites]


Based on my experience with a dramatically unsuccessful first marriage and a spectacularly successful second marriage, I believe that small and medium stuff is negotiable but big stuff like mindset is not. To me, nothing is more important in a partner than intellectual compatibility. If that's true for you, I'd move on. Living with someone whose thinking is alien is a lonely business.
posted by markcmyers at 9:17 AM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


This time last year, God's will was the guiding principle behind his life decisions

It seems like you're pretty invested in this narrative of him emerging from a place of complete critical-thinking inferiority.

Even if the two of you agree on that, his growth won't take the exact course you're imagining it could. It was probably useful for you to identify and communicate this issue to him once, but now that that's done, the theory-building and solution-hunting is probably not going to take you too much further than it already has. Like any map of the world, your current mental map of his intellectual-development location and trajectory is a flawed representation of reality. It may also be counterproductive on the level where you're truly seeking relief.

What I think is behind this theory you've constructed are some real feelings. They might include sparks of annoyance or disdain, loneliness and dissatisfaction, frustration, etc. Responding to these feelings by making increasingly strenuous and specific demands that he change doesn't seem like a kind or appropriate approach. You have chosen to be with him despite being fully aware of this situation.

As you've seen, a solid subset of comments have said "hey, if you don't accept him as he is, leave." I have a slightly more optimistic approach, which is to assume that although this aspect of him frustrates you, on balance the relationship is one you want. I will double down on my suggestion from above that focusing on why you nevertheless choose to be with him -- e.g., bringing feelings of love and respect to the fore -- will do much more to ease those moments of "arrgh, why is it so hard to communicate?" and will also do more for your relationship as a whole in the long term.
posted by salvia at 9:18 AM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


He’s a successful surgery resident

At 27, he's either in his first or second year of residency. Each residency is it's own hell, and surgical residency is probably the worst. It's endless shifts of making the occasional life and death decision mixed in with hundreds of non-life and death decisions. It's also being the least qualified person on the floor and trying to figure out what you can do on your own and when to wake up the chief resident. Some of the people that I knew during their residencies became completely different people once they got through residency and on to fellowship or practice. He's developing his surgical knowledge and skills - do you have any idea what the questioning in M&M is like for residents? I'm not surprised that he comes home with little gas in his intellectual tank.

As I read your question, I thought you should break up - at least for the years of his residency. He needs someone to support that goal during one of the longest and most difficult apprentice programs.
posted by 26.2 at 9:48 AM on November 24, 2015 [26 favorites]


Bluntly, as a Formerly Gifted Child who went to intellectual nerd school...he is going from one family who believed he needed to inculcate the One True Way to think and be in the world to a new family, you, who also believes there is One True Way to think and be in the world.

Intellectual fundamentalism is real and it has potential to hurt people, because it is valuing people for their ability to follow a particular Western tradition over their value as human beings.

You know what you want from him but what do you want for him?

True intellectual curiosity is not tradition-specific. Your issue isn't that he's not thinking; he clearly is, in all your examples...he's just on his own path. If you don't find that interesting, that's ok, but it's about your tastes and where you are on your journey.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:12 AM on November 24, 2015 [32 favorites]


However, we have been dating for a year now

This time last year, God's will was the guiding principle behind his life decisions.

I really do not think these two facts are unrelated, but you completely gloss over his religious conversion and how it's connected to your relationship. I'm very concerned about what this says about his self-esteem and self-care, particularly when combined with the extremely unusual amount of energy he's investing in changing his conversation style to match your preferred style. I'm getting the sense that he's idolizing you and/or willing to do anything to stay with you, which is an extremely harmful dynamic for him and not particularly healthy for you either.

You say "he is patient, egoless, and resolute in wanting to work through this, but also frustrated and sad sometimes. He feels like I don’t recognize the merits of what he does bring to our conversations." No mention that he has any arguments about your preferred style being the One True Way, despite the many people in this thread who disagree that your examples show that he has any bit less "critical thinking" or "intellectual" ability than you. Just unhappiness and a plea for you to acknowledge that he does bring some meager value to your conversations, even though it obviously isn't on the same level as your contributions. That may be a totally incorrect impression, and I hope it is, because otherwise it's a very troubling scenario. The level of change you need from him, and the level of change he's willing to give, are both so large that I don't know if they're even possible for a healthy relationship of equal partners. If it is possible, it will only be through considerable solo therapy (for you, not him) and introspection to help you figure out what you absolutely need from a partner, and how to stop (subconsciously or otherwise) pressuring him to shape himself into that mold. And it's worth asking yourself whether that effort, and that risk of being in a damaging relationship dynamic, are worth it for someone you've only been dating a year, when there are certainly people out there who already prefer your conversational style.
posted by randomnity at 10:42 AM on November 24, 2015 [18 favorites]


Some people are perfectly happy laying next to someone with a big brain and a small heart. Or a big wallet and a small d*ck. A small percentage of us are lucky enough to get it all. It is up to you to decide what and how much is important.

For most of us, our needs will be met from a variety of places. Lovers, friends, family, strangers on the internet, mentors, clergy, shamans, fictional characters, whatever. You need to decide if a) you want to keep rolling the dice to find your 'jack of all trades', or b) find different people to meet your needs.

My wife has no time / capacity for pondering life's questions, wondering if babies are manipulative, or why AI researchers are blinded by narcissism. What she does have time for is loving the sh*t out of her friends and family, creating a awesome home for our family, and being a really awesome person of character. I made a choice that she will never meet my intellectual needs but it doesn't matter. If I need to meet those needs, I will go on Metafilter. I am sure Elizabeth Holmes is a great conversationalist, but I am not sure if she has much time / capacity to meet my personal needs.

You need to decide 1) what your interpersonal needs are and 2) who needs to fill them. Just because I love college football doesn't mean that my wife needs to get excited about Michigan vs. Ohio State. And if you immediately consider intellectual discourse superior to college football, you may be smart, but you don't have much wisdom when it comes to mature and loving relationships. The sooner you stop keeping intellectual score, the sooner you will better appreciate your man. I still struggle with this. Good luck.
posted by jasondigitized at 10:56 AM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Do you want a romantic relationship/partnership, or a philosophy seminar? Because listen, I'm a person who values intellectual debate and critical thinking, but if I'm coming home to my partner after a long day of work, I do not want to be plunged into the equivalent of an upper-level undergrad seminar, which seems to be what you're expecting. When I do want that, I come to Metafilter or other online spaces where I can discuss that kind of thing. And I mean, my job is nowhere near as stressful as being a surgical resident. As it is, your partner seems to have gone above and beyond to meet your needs on this. Let the poor guy go if you're unable to do the same for him.

You've been dating for less than a year and you're already trying to change him and going to couples therapy, all while he has an extremely stressful and demanding job. If you truly value this relationship and want to make it work, I'd suggest meeting more of your intellectual needs elsewhere, and accepting that netflix and chill or climbing a giant rock are preferable couple activities to rigorous debates about AI or whatever. Time and life experience will do their thing to develop him into more of a critical thinker.
posted by yasaman at 10:57 AM on November 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


Upon reading your update, I am concerned that this is not the most emotionally healthy relationship for your partner. It seems like he's exchanged one domineering force in his life (fundamentalist father) for another (you). Y'all should focus on just enjoying your time together rather than trying to fast-forward his intellectual development to satisfy you.
posted by stowaway at 11:01 AM on November 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


Just wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t just commenting on the troubling relationship dynamic, I’m also explicitly challenging your premise that your boyfriend has any deficit in critical thinking or intellectual ability whatsoever, either relative to you or to the overall population, based on your examples here (including the followup). If anything, his answers show that he clearly is able to think critically and give intellectual, well-reasoned, logic-based answers. You just disagree with them, which is fine. Your interpretation (and his) of this disagreement is where the troubling dynamic comes in.
posted by randomnity at 11:05 AM on November 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


Speaking of charity - in terms of reading the OP charitably, I find myself wondering:

OP, it sounds like your partner - even if he's a good guy in his actual life - believes some really unattractive things. If someone started speculating on bell curve epigenetics shit to me, I might feel like that had to be a deal-breaker, morally speaking, and I think negotiating that would be really difficult. It would be especially difficult if I felt like the guy was not consciously racist or racist in his interactions with people, but that his reasoning on this point was racist, and that his reasoning was fundamentally rooted in an ignorant and racist upbringing.

Is it that you find it easier to assume that the problem is intellectual communication, because that allows you a way to deal with these really unappealing beliefs?

Honestly, while the whole "teach him to reason better" thing is unappealing, if it's really "teach him not to be a racist and a Christian discipline child-rearer" thing, I don't have much problem with that. There are many people I admire who worked hard to get their partners to lose racist or patriarchal beliefs, and their partners were the better for it.
posted by Frowner at 11:09 AM on November 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


I can empathize with your partner, somewhat. It's not that I can't think critically, but these aren't the kind of conversations I prefer to have in my free time. (I like talking about concrete solutions to problems in the world or our lives, mostly). I've dated some people who wanted to have more intellectual or pseudo-intellectual debates, and I found it wearying and, ultimately, a reason for me to leave. On the other side, I've also dated someone who was less of a critical thinker and believed in, for example, astrology. That didn't work for me either.

If the type of conversation you have with a partner is this important to you, I think you should find a new partner. More importantly, I don't think it's ever advisable, or fair, to try to change your partner—especially in this regard.
posted by three_red_balloons at 12:00 PM on November 24, 2015


The epigenetics comment is actually incredibly nuanced

Epigenetics is interesting in its own right, but the quote provided wasn't a nuanced comment, and pretending it is is disingenuous. Almost all the cultures we know about have been built upon & through more or less oppressive relationships, and have done so on the basis of varying (category-based, usually essentializing) conceptions of personhood, citizenship, etc. Using the whole "Africans enslaved themselves" idea to explain contemporary issues with race in the US, via epigenetics, is racist (albeit unconscious racism, more than likely) and does ignore multiple factors, and consensus expert opinion. It isn't "different" thinking, either, it's inaccurate (within a confidence interval of whatever), and morally wrong. And yes, working on critical thinking, and deliberately exposing oneself to a formal or informal "liberal arts" curriculum would help unpack a lot of that. (And, although there are surely fundamentalist Christians who engage with their text and beliefs in a profoundly critical way, let's not kid ourselves and assume that that's necessarily what's going on. People are being very generous liberals, here.)

I'm throwing some $2 (101 or 201) words around. The reality is, they cost at least that much, or the equivalent in time spent towards self-instruction. It's good that your partner is motivated to do that, but he doesn't have the kind of time required, just now.

So, imo, you either accept him as he is and cope with your frustration, or don't.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:10 PM on November 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


and while one worthwhile approach I will try is to practice more generosity as a conversationalist, another non-mutually exclusive possibility is that he continue to explore what it means to be an independent, evidence based thinker

Another possibility is that you're requiring a very specific kind of thought and justifying it under the rubric of being "independent and evidence-based", whereas you yourself seem to fail at practicing careful, open-minded, independent thought. As a result, the conversations you have are failing.

A prediction: your response to this AskMe is going to be a intellectually reactionary one, in which you dissect each response in this thread and arrive at conclusions of how each response is flawed or illogical.

May I suggest that you, for a moment, see if you can deduce patterns of underlying sentiment through all of these responses, rather than rejecting each one?
posted by suedehead at 12:48 PM on November 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


The examples you've given are less about critical thinking, in most cases, and more about lack of knowledge. He could certainly go back for a bachelor's degree to learn some of the things he didn't learn as a child and teenager, but he's in a surgery residency right now and so I'm guessing African history and the history of race-relations in the US is probably not the primary thing he needs to be studying. But I would stop framing this as a "critical thinking" issue and start giving the guy a break for simply not learning the basic facts that most of us do in school. That's not about being stupid, it's about being deprived.
posted by jaguar at 1:13 PM on November 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


After rereading your post and the comments several times again, I realized that I apologize for starting off on a bad premise. Perhaps, he has not had a chance to enjoy the practice of inquiry, especially in a liberal arts setting.

I think the outlying structural relationship of his background in religious fundamentalism and deference towards specific types of unskeptical thinking directly clashes with how you process and engage with the world. Some of the most dissecting people I know have been rehabitated from fundamentalist religion, and have talked about recovering from the "trauma of religion." But they also ended up wildly swinging towards reactionary atheism as a result, and I decline to say anything more about them because they have not fully addressed their trauma.

Does he feel incompatiable with his beliefs when he talks with you? Does he believe that he has a valid point, and doesn't think that his premise is unfounded? I think perhaps the coaching you are doing is something that he has to willingly pursue on his own, through books and dialogues and self-interrogations. You can only plant that seed and continue to try to have nuanced questions.

I will explore my own situated history, in order to share with my perspective on how to pursue inquiry. I'm basically a leftist radical in my knowledge, but I also had the luck of being able to do four years of activism and taking a lot of ethnic studies classes, and engaging myself with a diverse friend group that keeps feeding me knowledge after knowledge. This was in direct reaction to growing up in a suffocating libertarian scientific dogmatic school environment, and with an ex-boyfriend who was a dogmatic Men's Rights Activist who was too traumatized to really give a shit about empathy since he cared too much about his victimizing. But what chained it together? Taking a Science and Technology Studies course, and being exposed to the feminist scientific and evolutionary biologist philosopher, Donna Haraway. Her Situated Knowledges article freed me, and let me know there was different ways of practicing science and critical thinking. But I was also extremely fortunate to come across that.

My knowledge-seeking has a history, and they are deeply interconnected with constantly questioning dogma in every surrounding. Maybe he hasn't had the chance yet to really investigate, get challenged, and know where to find resources? Maybe he doesn't know how to start conversations with other medical professionals, who maybe have different access to social justice knowledges than he does? My best friend who is applying to medical school, also spent several years doing activism work, so they has a far greater depth and breadth of expertise in it than her colleagues. However, they has to spend so much time preparing for the MCATs, that I would be surprised if now they was able to engage in that level of depth of exploration.

From an intellectual perspective, is he excited to question himself? Does he feel excited to know that there are things and premises that he doesn't know? Or does he feel punished for not knowing enough? And maybe, you need to re-evaluate your own pedagogical skills and examine your history of how you have come to learn and have had the access to understanding a lot of things.

Trauma from Religion
Critical Thinking Where To Begin
Why Inquiry?
posted by yueliang at 1:25 PM on November 24, 2015


Jaguar's point about deprivation is an important one. It gives me another perspective on your dynamics for your consideration.

I had a very oppressive upbringing with religionist family members and untangling that was (and still is) a super hard trek. I worked hard at university - yes, a sub par one like the one you (sorry to say this,) derided as you presented parts of your man's narrative. In my university life I had to gradually figure out that my values and attitudes were based on judgmental and fantasy thinking that was ushered by authoritarian and religiously dogmatic parenting. A lot of that kind of authoritarian parenting has been explored in Metafilter threads in Ask and on the front page. It was often embarrassing to be out of the loop of the cooler people who just seemed to know intelligent stuff. I was the only one to argue in my theology classes, for example, that the bible was the literal, inerrant word of God. Exegesis and the flow of my classes helped me to put that idea to one side and think of faith differently.

I also thought that a woman would never need an abortion after being raped because women's bodies just know how to make sure that doesn't happen. Hence abortion was never morally justified or acceptable. What the fuck. I thought that South Africa was a mess post-apartheid era because black people can run countries very well. What the fuck.

These thoughts and ideas are shit but how I got through them was to grow older - get out of home, move to the city and assiduously diluting my parents' influences with: education, travel, experience, a range of friendships, new hobbies, misbehaving, writing, reading everything, having many different kinds of lovers with a range of abilities and interests. My twenties were full of a wide range of experiences and that made me feel I had a legitimate source of knowledge and authority in and of myself.

What strikes me in my new angle of vision about Jaguar's notion of deprivation, is that the first thing I did when I moved out of that parental paradigm is supplicated myself to a person who reinstated that authority. I tried hard to please, to adopt his language, to take up his words and this was an act of substitution and masquerade that is still being unpacked two decades later. There may be room for you to consider how the conversational dynamic you are describing is verging on a parental control patterns.

Your follow up is all very attentive to us, your audience, but you do some linguistic quicksteps that resemble the kinds of things people are taking you to task for here - you are being condescending. You expect us to point and gasp, and my hackles are up about the kinds of relationships I had in my twenties as I unfurled the legacy of my highly controlled intellectual childhood environment.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:50 PM on November 24, 2015 [20 favorites]


First of all, what jacquilynne said: I think it might be instructive to consider why, when you fail to understand him, it's his fault, and when he fails to understand you, it's also his fault. Your focus seems to be on how he's failing to live up to your ideals of an intellectual challenge, but there's a baseline assumption that your way is better or more correct.

When he doesn't understand your AI sentence, it's his fault for not following logically, but when you don't understand his afterlife beliefs, it's his fault for not explaining it logically. While certain logic can be "exact" in a way, I urge you to stop thinking of logical conversations like this. Obviously people come to different logical conclusions about things.

Now you probably understand this but may be upset that he's not explaining a "logical" train of thoughts. So I would urge you to focus not on his logical path, but what he actually thinks or feels. And yes, why he thinks or feels that way, but slow down on the hammer of logic. EVERYONE has beliefs or ideas that are not logical, and I'm sure if you looked hard and objectively enough you would find even you do. And that's not always a bad thing.

FWIW, I'm an engineer and very logical and I had to read your AI sentence 2 1/2 times to understand what you were saying. And that was READING. I can imagine listening to someone say it, someone who might be excited about it and talking fast, and who I'm already feeling like I have to sprint to keep up with their normal mind gymnastics, and feeling confused.

So my advice would be to not focus on HOW LOGICAL HIS ARGUMENTS ARE, but on what he is actually trying to TELL you. Yes, this will obviously involve some logic, like why do you think that way or where does that belief come from, but I think that focusing so heavily on the framing of the arguments instead of the meaning is key here. I'm sure you can understand things that don't follow strict logic.

Let's take his afterlife thought, for instance:
"I think more. Although do I really have anything if it's all going to end when I die? I think that at this stage in my life, as a young man and wanting to experience so much more, I would want for there to be an afterlife, whereas when I'm old and senile, I wouldn't mind dying as much and would be more okay with the idea that there's no afterlife."
What does this stance tell me?
1 - He's not sure. You mentioned the religious upbringing. So he is still working through these questions obviously, and even someone with a different religious background works through these questions for their WHOLE LIVES. He's kind of putting his thoughts together while talking to you, not coming in with a preconceived answer.
2 - He thinks he may appreciate the moment more, because that's all there is, but at the same time, what's the point if this is all there is? So why would he even bother to appreciate it, if it doesn't mean anything in a larger-than-life way? Sure, these are "conflicting" in a way, but you can appreciate and understand and even FEEL or BELIEVE both. They are very intertwined, and humans are very capable of having conflicting thoughts/feelings/beliefs on all sorts of things, without being mutually exclusive.
3 - By the time he's old, he might have lived life so much and appreciated life so much that his feelings have changed, it's been enough for him, and he no longer cares if there is an afterlife. So yes, maybe then he will appreciate the moment more.

So in the end, maybe you don't know if he'd appreciate this moment more or less. Maybe HE doesn't actually know either. But you DID just learn a lot about him, if you can understand that your logical/debate team way of reasoning is not the only way, and that his conversational style is just as valid.

You do have a disconnect in your styles of communication, which I know is really your question, but I think the key is less Teaching Him How to Debate than Both Trying To Understand Each Other. Come at it with compassion, from both sides, and have your end goal not be to change each other, but to undesrstand each other. In the end, if you can't do that on this level, you both need to decide if this is a deal-breaker or not.
posted by sillysally at 2:07 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


The more I look at your situation, the more I see your relationship with him as being, "He would be the perfect guy if only he'd change to become X". Where X isn't something a simple behavioural change like learning to put the toilet seat up but a major paradigm shift that involves rejecting his entire upbringing, faith and changing his previous brainwashing thinking to adapt to your flavour of brainwashing instead.

It just won't work. He will be miserable trying to twist himself into a pretzel to fit your demands and you'll constantly be looking at him thinking, I'd be happy if only you'd just...

Sadly, I've been on the sidelines for the demise of more than a few marriages where at least one person went in thinking their partner would eventually change enough to become what they wanted, and it was a train wreck all around. You can change small things people do, you can't change core aspects about who they are and it's unfair to both of you to attempt it.

Plus, the idea that because he's a Christian automatically means he's backwards and needs to become progressive like you is so insulting I don't know where to start. Try substituting 'Muslim' in that sentence and ask yourself if you'd feel comfortable saying that? I think you need to let this one go, for both your sakes.
posted by Jubey at 2:26 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for your update and for being so open to hearing feedback, some of it very much tough love! You had asked to hear more about people's personal experiences so I can share mine. I don't know if they'll be very helpful since each situation is unique. For me, the priority shift was gradual and the result of many prior relationships where I could figure out what I wanted and what worked. I was raised in a very intellectual, critical family where being booksmart and educated is not so much a goal but a given, although not something snobby or exclusive. To this day I don't see people as being "smart" or "stupid" as much as having different experiences and interests. Still, I've tended to seek out friends and partners with that same set of values; however, I've also learned from experience that intelligence and education are not the be all, end all. I had one ex who was a brilliant and funny intellectual partner but with whom I had a complete emotional disconnect. I had another who is a professor with whom conversations made my head explode with delightful intellectual twists and turns but was incredibly flakey and unreliable when it came to the day-to-day stuff.

My current partner is finishing his undergraduate degree after taking time off to work and give back to his community since his immigration status meant he could not attend college for many years. He's building his own intellectual arsenal and we have great discussions about education, immigration, LGBT rights, feminism, race and ethnicity, the upcoming presidential election (ugh!), and more (heck yeah, intersectionality.) A lot of these are inspired by our real-life experience as well as articles we share and activism we do separately and together. He grew up Catholic (albeit a different version than the average American) and identifies as strongly Christian and is also a big critical thinker (like he doesn't not follow the pope as a spiritual leader, take communion, etc.) I am a lifelong atheist with a great deal of respect for people's different religious beliefs and identities. Frankly, that bit is practically a non-issue for us so I'm not sure if we're the best couple to compare yourself to? We don't debate stuff for the sake of debate, say, which theorist from the Frankfurt School is most relevant today. (That's a fine topic, and kudos to those who DO discuss that every day with their partners.) Like any relationship, there are challenges and differences (some internal and some external) and there was mutual assessment of whether we wanted to continue or not when certain big things came up. Obviously, we've stuck together and plan to for the future, although there's no rush.

Here's the thing about the other people I've dated in the past: they were all awesome people in their own ways, and I really enjoyed being in relationships with them. However, time showed me (or them, ha) that we had a fundamental difference or two that didn't negate all the BUT that outweighed it. If you two really want to make this relationship work, then I say keep proceeding and working together to build your life. However, it sounds awful hard and stressful on the both of you when there's really nothing wrong per se about either of your approaches. I would be exhausted: I've been there in relationships, and I don't ever want to go back to that (even if I continue to respect and value those exes as good people and our relationships as mostly happy times.) I don't know what the future will hold for you two but I think it's good to recognize that the status quo isn't working. Could you perhaps just focus more on enjoying your day-to-day? I think it's great he wants to expand his horizons but that's a lot to add on top of his job and schooling, and being someone's teacher AND a partner can be really difficult. (It's certainly not for me!) Perhaps you two could learn something new together, such as taking a beginning French class or joining a film discussion group, where you can BOTH be partners and learners and there's plenty of room for differences of opinion and perspective. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 2:51 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


What a great range of responses! They are converging on the "spare him, break up, you're an intellectual dictator" camp, but there is also variation on a few axes. There are those who think his snippets are perfectly sound, others who think they could indicate a lack of knowledge, still others who see them as reprehensible. My writing is clear to some and convoluted to others, perhaps most. Some people see validity in the idea that fundamentalism constrains independent, rigorous thought, others find the linkage to be offensive, and others hold both views. There is the widely expressed idea that I'm overly particular and totalitarian in what I'm imposing, and it's unreasonable to frame these skills as a deficiency in someone you perceive as possessing fine abilities. There seems to be a unanimous, near-visceral aversion to the idea of my wanting to "change" my partner (I didn't use the word "change" in my posts, but I can definitely see why you would have this impression) that I find intriguing...it signals a core belief about love. Your aversion is an expression of kindness and decency, I think, in complementary tension with the hostility you show toward the antagonist (me :).

I hear ya, I hope.

I think it's best that I refrain from defending myself and speaking for my boyfriend so that you keep hearing about his desires and own sense of agency secondhand. He is welcome to use my account to post, so perhaps he will if he thinks it'd be helpful, and if he has the time. Meese, I mentioned you had addressed a thoughtful set of suggestions to him directly, and he's excited to see them.

I do appreciate all your responses and will keep reading as they come in.
posted by forasong at 4:38 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not dating a doormat who finds it acceptable to be insulted.
Cool. From my perspective: I am not a doormat, and have never really been a doormat. And yet I dated a guy who treated me exactly the way you are treating your boyfriend. He wanted to "train" me to be more intellectual. At the time I was a doctoral student (now I am a professor) and I was not by any means "unintellectual." And yet... he still wanted to train me to have certain types of conversations with him.

I am no longer with this man and my life is so much better for it. I will say this, though: I still worry, constantly, especially when meeting new people, that I am not intellectually rigorous enough. This is not because of the ever-present imposter syndrome in academia: it is directly tied to the way my ex spoke to me, the things he thought about me and my intellectual merit.

Being with him was exhausting. After awhile, I just stopped talking altogether. It was futile, because he thought I wasn't his intellectual equal and he let me know it nearly every time I opened my mouth.

This is not how we think of people that we love. This is not how we treat people that we love. I think it sounds like you have some work to do on your own concerning why you think training your romantic partner is an acceptable way to treat them. Unless you are a teacher, a mentor, or a parent, that is not your role.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 5:02 PM on November 24, 2015 [31 favorites]


You're right, you didn't use the word "change." You started with the word "improve" and built from there. Improving him literally means changing him, just for the better. There is unanimous reaction is to your intent, to your motives. an unkind reading is that you're now splitting hairs in a way to defend yourself without creating the perception that you are.

Wanting a change in your partner, wanting them to better themselves, is not a bad impulse in and of itself. It's one you have to own up to, though. He is trying to improve your connection. He might not be progressing at the rate or coming to the same conclusions you want. It doesn't take away from his efforts. He is putting forth the effort to change for you.

My ex-boyfriend wanted me to be more logical/less emotional and to lose 20 pounds. Exactly none of those ended up happening. However, I did end up switching career paths by identifying my passion in life. I can't say whether or not this was directly due to the philosophical conversations he tried to have with me. I can say that ended up contributing to our break-up.
posted by RainyJay at 5:04 PM on November 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


I've been happily and faithfully married to my husband for more than 18 years. We are very much on the same wavelength intellectually. While there are some issues we disagree about, we still have thoughtful and fun conversations about them. We also have similarly weird and wacky senses of humor. We've managed to raise a terrific son through all kinds of challenges.

What am I not mentioning about our relationship? Well, don't ask me how long it's been since we've had sex, because I can't remember.

Sometimes people aren't consistently compatible on every axis. Maybe you ought to count your blessings, enjoy life with him, and find intellectual conversation here on Metafilter.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:11 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, my partner and I sound a lot like you and your partner - I'm a nerdy-elite-LAC graduate and he's an astrophysicist-turned-data scientist. We're both smart, but I'm a lot more likely to want to analyze the racism in Gremlins while he's a lot more interested in seeking concrete patterns and connections in data sets. We have fantastic conversations, but we have to meet each other where we're at - his intelligence is so different from mine, and I love it. You don't talk much about how conversations go when you discuss his areas of expertise.

It sounds like he completely values what you bring to the intellectual table, while you're being dismissive of his offerings. I think you're more focused on the presentation rather than the content of his ideas. I totally get the impulse, but i think you're missing out.
posted by superlibby at 8:25 PM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have read your initial question, your follow ups, and the other comments. I absolutely understand the desire to have intellectually balanced conversation with someone you love. There is an amazing energy in that. Amazing.

But there is something that I just feel is underlying all this. It may actually be an aside to the initial question, but I think it is important to the health of a relationship. I am hearing you needing to be right in your belief system. Your first follow up, about the implied racism, felt really manipulating (pull out a hot topic to support your statement?). That is ok., but that is what first made me question your needs here. And that is about how you value yourself in terms of your view of the world, and needing it to fit your personal way of being (and if you are an intellectual, you know that there are billions of ways of being, yes?) What would it be like if the Socratic Method weren't the be all, end all, that you seem to need it to be? Who would YOU be? What if your belief system was wrong? How would you value yourself? Would you know who you are? I am reading some insecurity in your statements, and I am wondering if it might be healthy for the relationship for you to examine that? Just some thoughts, but I feel they might leave you feeling a bit awash in the sea, which is scary, but ok.

Also, I know he is saying that he wants to develop his critical thought and curiosity. But you do know that a big part of that is to make you happy, yes? (this understanding of humanity is just as crucial, or even moreso, than a perfect debate.)

No human can fill all of another's needs. There are plenty of humans out there that would be happy to fulfill this part for you. This is something that will come to you as you age, and it will be wonderfully expansive, I promise.
posted by Vaike at 8:42 PM on November 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm thinking he probably was already taught some critical thinking around evidence based medicine in medical school, as it's likely a part of the curriculum. What does he say about his journal clubs, discussing the flaws in peer-reviewed articles on which surgical techniques lead to lower mortality? Did he have a patient with (unusual disease) where he needed to look up current best practice treatment? If part of the gap is due to him not having knowledge of (racism), then have you tried talking to him about an area where he has the knowledge? Or does this sort of talking feel like another assignment, or exhausting?
posted by quercus23 at 9:14 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your update really struck me as such a difficult place from which to approach a relationship.

I feel so sad for you both that a relationship you describe as so good is foundering on such a limited view of intellectual discourse. As someone who has been privileged to be around some great minds, one thing I can say about people I grew up with who have made great contributions to academe and to science and to medicine, before they were Rhodes scholars etc., is that they were all strongly unique individuals. Their intellectual passions often took them down weird twisty paths and had them asking questions other people thought were too simple to be asked, giving answers that were outside of the tradition, even as they absorbed it.

I've seen the strengths and weaknesses of our various relationships up to midlife and what stands out to me is that what makes the strongest connection between two intelligent people is mutual respect.

I hate to go as far back as the Nicomachean Ethics but since we all read it maybe that's why it sticks with me - sophia kind of needs phronesis and to be truly virtuous you need to be a good friend and all of that. I strongly encourage both of you to go ahead and read Aristotle together, and step back from the concept of "a good partner" or even a good intellectual as someone who says and thinks the "right" things to someone who asks good questions, is open to new ideas or combining ideas in a new way, and who treats each other well and I think there will be more clarity for how to get to happy...rather than right. Aristotle has a lot to say on that too.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:40 AM on November 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


He sounds like a nice decent guy. But it sounds like you and him are essentially not on the same basic wavelength. Wavelength is a funny metaphor, but it's important in relationships. You may never be perfectly content in this scenario.
posted by ovvl at 4:57 PM on November 25, 2015


a suggestion: get a mentally strenuous job. after a day in the mental trenches, i'm a walking zombie.
posted by kinoeye at 9:39 PM on November 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


It looks like you are not trying to improve your intellectual connection, but rather are trying to turn your partner into something he is not. I'm even surprised he hasn't yet balked at that level of condescension.

That Miko's comment has been favourited more than a hundred times shows you clearly what the Green thinks.

I think you should step back, relax, let your boyfriend be who he is, and leave your intellectually challenging conversations for your friends.
posted by Kwadeng at 11:36 PM on November 25, 2015


On a side note, about the Africans selling each other as slaves, tell him the Romans, and the Greeks, and the Phoenicians, all were slave cultures. Those were the times.

And yes, this definitely sounds racist.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:16 AM on November 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


One pair of siblings I've known for over a decade have displayed a similar pattern. The older male is a stereotypical, hardcore engineer. The younger sibling is social sciences and humanities, and active in politics. When I met them, the gap between attitudes to political, social issues, intellectual interests and skills seemed almost ridiculous, though both were clearly very competent and capable in what they were doing. There seemed to be a very strong bond between them: they could attack each others opinions when in company, but there were clearly some lines they didn't want to cross with each others.

In 15 years, the engineer still has tendency for spouting insensitive quick fix solutions to complex societal problems, but he recognizes that yeah, they would benefit from some deeper examination. He has supported sibling's political activities through actions and participation even when his opinions are not 100% there, he kind of trusts that the sibling is on right track. There are few parts of sibling's 'canon' that he has taken personal liking and read them and around them. I don't know how much pushing there has been behind it, probably quite a lot, but clearly time and space has been involved in discovering and developing shared interests. So yes, it can become better, but maybe that surgery residency is not giving him the required time and space for intellectual exploration without pressure for results. For me it seems that both are proud of what the other has accomplished, though still they can irritate each other.
posted by Free word order! at 2:09 AM on November 26, 2015


My wife and I are both lawyers. When we were newlyweds, we discovered that we had a tendency to occasionally start getting Socratic with each other, in spite of (or because of) having been subjected to the hell that is three years of Socratic questioning in law school.

Just as the law professor's goal in using Socratic questioning is not any genuine interest in learning what the student really thinks about a subject, we determined that Socratic questioning played no useful role in our communication with each other. Instead, we found that, if we didn't understand the other's point of view, it was a lot more useful to just tell them we didn't understand their point of view, explain what we didn't understand, and then let them explain - and then actually try to understand the other's view and accept that it may have greater merit than our own.

Socratic questioning, it seemed, had been drilled into us in law school as a mechanism for shutting down the other person or, as you put it in the question, to "guide" the other person to what we thought would be the "correct" view.

Fortunately, we figured that out very early on. Well, she figured it out and pointed it out to me very politely. And we developed some simple ways to flag it when it started happening so the culprit could cut it out and start actually communicating. It's been a decade and a half now, and a raised eyebrow or the word "objection" usually does the trick. Our kids call us out on it occasionally, too. But I don't think we do it very often, because we both recognize that it's just a terrible thing.

I mean, it's bad enough to act like a lawyer when you're actually being a lawyer. But to bring it home and into the relationship? I'll accept that maybe someone somewhere has a relationship that thrives with that, but I haven't met them yet.

You said yourself that you're doing it to "guide" him, and I think you're right - and that's a huge problem. If you're the one guiding him, you'll never get to where he's trying to take you. So maybe don't do that anymore.

(I also suspect that letting him explain what he means by "manipulative" in the context of babies would help clear up the misunderstanding, since I think he's just using a poorly-selected word to describe a very real phenomenon - and I wonder if your taking issue with that term is something you're doing as a way of "winning" the issue, rather than a genuine attempt to understand his assertion.)
posted by The World Famous at 3:16 PM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


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