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Dating Maze #241 -  Intellectual Inequality
Dating Advice 241

Dating Maze #241 - Intellectual Inequality

Can she build a life with a man who is not providing intellectual stimulation?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm dating a guy and I think he's great. He's generous, kind, loving, and treats me well. There's just one problem: I don't think he's very smart! The last guy I dated was by far intellectually superior, and I got used to being more stimulated in that department.

My current guy has very simple views on life and doesn't really take on intellectual challenges. I think that might be preventing him from growing. I'm not sure I will be able to respect him in the long term. Am I being petty?


Dear Aliza ,

You're not being petty to want to connect to the man you are dating on an intellectual level. However, there are a number of ways to connect to someone intellectually, and dating partners, as well as life partners, don't have to be intellectual equals in order to relate to each other well.

Before we explain this further, we'd like you to ask yourself a series of questions about your friendship with this man:

  • Can you talk to him about your feelings, thoughts and ideas about practical, day-to-day life matters? Are you comfortable exposing yourself to him in this way? Do you feel that he responds in a reasoned, appropriate way, and that he knows which issues are sensitive to you? Can he open up to you on a similar level, and do you believe your responses are appropriate for him? Are you satisfied with the way you relate to each other in this regard?

  • Do you get frustrated because you feel you cannot communicate on the same level? Do your conversations with him lack depth? Is that because he's emotionally blocked and cannot reveal his feelings and thoughts, or because he cannot articulate them, or because although he can convey them easily you are frustrated because his outlook seems much simpler than yours?

  • What do you mean by his not being willing to take on intellectual challenges? Does that mean enrolling in school or training that can increase his ability to earn a good livelihood? Does he resist exploring ideas that make him uncomfortable and challenge his worldview? Is this because he's incapable of understanding these ideas, or because he's worked things out in a way that brings him peace of mind, and he's not willing to become unsettled by different ideas? Do you think his resistance to intellectual challenges will adversely affect his ability to earn a living, get along with others, relate to you on many levels, or be respected by you or by his and your peers?

  • On that note, is your frustration about his not being smart related to how you feel about him when you are together in public? Are you afraid others will think less of him (and consequently less of you) because he's not smart, can't relate to them socially, has a job you are embarrassed about, or can't express himself well?

  • Do you have a great need to be intellectually stimulated in a relationship that may lead to marriage? Or, do you think that you communicate well enough with each other and connect with each other well enough that you can find this intellectual stimulation from another source? Are you afraid that someday you will become bored with him?

After you've answered these questions, we'd like you to think about the following observations we've made over the years in working with couples:

If you can communicate and relate well to each other on a day-to-day basis, and feel that you can connect deeply in certain areas, your relationship may be very satisfying. It isn't necessary for your partner to fulfill all of your intellectual and emotional needs. In fact, that's a mistake many people make when they are dating, or even when they are newly married. In reality, though, sometimes people can communicate well with each other, but they have different intellectual interests. She likes to talk about esoteric topics, or he's an abstract thinker and she's more practical, or he's fascinated by politics and she by relationships or business. Consequently, each finds the intellectual stimulation they enjoy with colleagues or friends.

Often, someone who appears to be a simple thinker actually has other kinds of intelligence. (Did you ever see the movie "I.Q.", in which a man with superior spatial and mechanical abilities pursued a woman with high verbal intelligence?) The man you are dating may have a lot of "emotional intelligence." He may also be able to understand and absorb new information, but be content with the way he views life and doesn't want to challenge it. It's also possible that he is capable of growing intellectually, but is afraid to try because he lacks self confidence or has a learning disability.

The fact that he may not be "growing" is frustrating to you because you are comparing this to your former relationship, and you expect the same type of intellectualism from the man you are currently dating.

It could happen that in the future, he does become more interested in growing intellectually. But this is not something that you should expect or insist upon -- the desire to learn and to grow has to come from within him. You may decide that you can be fulfilled and satisfied with your relationship as it is. However, if you are still troubled by the different intellectual levels, we don't think you should invest more than a number of weeks, if that long, into trying to come to terms with this difference. That's because if a person cannot come to terms with a major point such as this within a matter of several weeks, he usually cannot come to terms with it at all. We've seen people try for months to do so, because they see so many positive qualities in the person they are dating. But all they end up doing is prolonging an inevitable break-up.

We hope you will soon be able to decide if this is the right man for you. With our best wishes,

Rosie & Sherry

October 6, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 20

(20) Dana Williams, January 2, 2017 8:08 AM

Interpretation of challenge vs curiosity

I do not believe you can conform yourself to someone's different intellect or IQ, or another's widely different subjective method, tactic, or reason for their own belief system or interpretations. I believe by settling you are eliminating future opportunities with like minded individuals that can intellectually stimulate you on higher levels that YOU enjoy. Don't settle just because you are alone...the theory of quality over quantity applies to this situation.
There is a broad or large variance over the interpretations of challenge vs curiosity intellect. Most "challenges" include lower level games, objective reason, reaching goals that lack meaning, or over compensating another personal area which would be construed by psychoanalytic evaluation as maladaptive or dysfunctional. When challenge becomes too integrated in one's life, whether intellectual or not, one can become exhausted with manifestations of secondary physiological and/or psychological comorbidites.

Intellectual curiosity is just that...curiosity... that stimulates/feeds the mind to create further cognitive expansion, growth, and self fulfillment. Unlike challenges, it carries a framework of subjective, personal beliefs with personal values and is not a short term winning outcome. Natural curiosity with too many challenges that can do the reverse and exhaust a mind considerably.

Many people are unaware of the difference between intellectual challenges and intellectual curiosity. Delve deeper into the correlation between subjective or objective rationales of each word with their approaches and levels of personable meaning and principles integrated.

(19) Anonymous, January 26, 2014 4:22 PM

I just married the love of my life. He has a sweet spirit and I'm very attracted to him physically. We dated for 13 years before we got married. I'm very sad that this may not work. I'm working on my phd, and have large goals to challenge myself and he's been in the same position since I first met him, without much initiative for anything or himself. I know he's emotionally blocked and has very low self-esteem, but I don't know how much time we have, or energy I want to spend to gently guide him. I'm trying so hard to just nudge him, so he can do the work himself but he does not remember without reminding. And even then, I often wonder if our insightful talks ever set in. I am drained and frustrated. All I want us to do is work hard and move on, save money, have a prospective mortgage for a house. Be adults. I'd like for us to work together, period. But he's completely stuck with an attitude of just going through the motions. He was just laid off, and the year prior we discussed that he should start saving money for added security. I even laid out all our expenses on paper to help. Has he been doing that? No. Now he hardly has 400 in his bank account. This is completely unacceptable and I can't imagine bringing children into the picture if he doesn't have a sence of self, which is what you need to even start understanding why building a nest egg is so important.

(18) Joe, September 19, 2013 3:15 PM

Differing opinion

I had this issue with an x-wife. I found I wanted to talk about science and/or tech and I couldn't talk to her about those things. She had her talents but they were far from mine. I don't want to stereotype but as a shortcut to understanding think stereotype of a hairdresser paired with a quantum physicist and the physicist would like to discuss the things he's dealing with.

Our marriage counsellor told me that different intellectual levels are one of the hardest things to deal with in a marriage. That seems the opposite of your advice. Any thoughts on that difference of opinion? Was my marriage counsellor wrong?

(17) Emma, August 15, 2010 6:29 PM

Intellectual Disparity

I broke-up w/my boyfriend due to such a vast difference in intellect, that even my friends were commenting behind my back. He is a good man w/a good heart, attractive & kind, but whenever he opened his mouth around my friends, I would cringe, waiting for something embarrassing to come out & it always did. I kept trying to see past it in light of his other attractive qualities, but in the end, his ignorance proved too much for me to want to deal w/any longer. I was no longer happy & I believe he started to resent me in some ways for encouraging him to go to school and further his education. I hope he will do whatever is necesary to expand his horizons, but I cannot be the one to encourage anymore. He's a grown man and at 40, it's time for him to do what he needs to do without my guidance. I wish him well, but know it was best for us to part ways. And, after his last ridiculous decision about something, I deduced it was time to exit stage left. I can't be with someone I don't respect. The comments from my friends about him while somewhat hurtful, were pretty much on the money. They merely vocalized what I had been feeling and thinking for a long time, but would never say to anyone. My point? If there's an intellectual disparity between yourself and the one you love, you can continue loving them as their friend without having to continue committing yourself to a relationship that isn't fulfilling to you in the way everyone deserves. If your needs aren't being met, then it's time to go.

(16) feather, October 31, 2007 10:01 PM

all I would like to say is I was wowed by the objective views of the therapist who answered her questions! To be able to give someone those kind of questions to ponder is true intelligence....and for the receiver to give them in depth review, speaks of more intelligence. I want that therapist! (although mine is pretty good, I must say (:

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