Everyone says they want to go out with someone smart. We claim we're willing to make all sorts of compromises on anatomy, personality and income; but we adamantly refuse a sped-class relationship. Yet somehow, at some time or another, each of us finds ourselves with someone just a little bit dumber than we are. I'm not talking about gaps in cultural knowledge or that big oxymoron known as "emotional intelligence." I'm talking about the bulb that never quite makes it past soft white at 60 watts, the person whose depth of intellectual curiosity goes only as far as TiVo will take them... and no farther.
A friend of mine is living with someone with whom she has a real partnership, shared interests... a good life together. But when it comes to having a philosophical conversation, or getting into an analysis of the movie they just watched, her boyfriend would rather start planning their next travel excursion. I briefly dated someone who, also, never quite seemed to connect all the dots -- his job as a programmer required intelligence, so I know he possessed some, but in many ways talking with him was like talking with a friendly alien, one unfamiliar with the words spanakopita or Nabokov. He confessed to me with a rather smug expression that the problem with his last ex was that she just wasn't smart enough for him, which meant either that he had a shocking lack of self-awareness, or I had him all wrong. Still, he was really cute.
I know another person in this situation: my current boyfriend. Now, don't get me wrong: BF never makes me feel stupid, and if you asked him he would certainly tell you I'm smart. He has to tell you -- and himself -- that, because I'm his girlfriend. Even when your significant other is kind of dumber than you are, you can't really admit it to yourself until later. Instead, you pretend the person is smart in some way that they themselves do not have the brain power to imagine. It's like trickle-down: You help the less fortunate by using your smarts to manufacture some aspect of cleverness to bestow upon your beneficiary. "Sasha is an absolute genius when it comes to organizing the products in our bathroom. I don't know how she does it!" "Paul just devours books. He reads a ton of James Patterson, I can't keep up." "Gina is some kind of savant when it comes to relationships. She just reads people really well... I never realized how much thought goes into nurturing."
My problem is not stupidity so much as laziness, but the effect is the same. I like discussing movies, when I can actually be coaxed into accomplishing the feat sitting down for two hours and concentrating on something. And I don't mind a philosophical discussion, until the food comes. But the main conversational hurdle for BF and me is politics and economics. He devoured media at a rate I found unfathomable for someone who was also pursuing a dual masters degree while earning money as a freelance programmer and interning at high-profile Washington, D.C. institutions. Throughout the campaign year, he had dozens of interesting theories and revelations about the impending election, so that sometimes being with him was like living in an extended edition of 'Crossfire' -- where the studio audience is empty. I always want to tell him he should find someone who is interested in analyses of topics with more heft than, say, the marketing of ketchup and mustard, which is really all I'd rather talk about. When he launches into a commentary on steel tariffs, I raise the latest issues aired on Celebrity Fit Club. He wants to convince me that children need to be taught theology in school; I want to convince him that it's worth listening to "Here We Go" by Trina. I think his reaction to the latest David Brooks column is all well and good, but what does he think about the fact that my four-year-old nephew's first school pictures have a yearbook-style reflection pose?
Just as I was starting to think that it was only a matter of time before I was ditched for a woman with a master's degree and a mean grasp of game theory, I saw that column by Maureen Dowd entitled "Men Just Want Mommy." The thrust of the column was that my desire to talk about the low-hanging fruit of life's conversation topics may actually make me a keeper. Dowd's point was that increasingly, men just want to marry their assistants or someone like their moms: Someone who will take care of them, someone who looks upon them as 'the moon, the sun and the stars.' It is true that I like to take care of my boyfriend, and I do marvel at his ability to expound upon serious subjects, even if I sometimes get distracted by water spots on my hardwood floor, or a well-made martini. Besides, Dowd writes, "Men think that women with important jobs are more likely to cheat on them." My job as a Web editor for a media outlet is hardly threatening. Does the fact that I'm not paging through Bush-administration exposes or citing the New York Review of Books will imply that I'm just too vapid to do anything but listen and nod politely? Any man who assumes as much (bf is not guilty of this) deserves to be cheated on.