College Advice: Dating Dumber

Hi VVM,

I am currently in a relationship with a cutie, but not particularly a smartie (relatively). We are currently going strong on a six month relationship with little to no bumps on the road, except for this personal problem of mine.

Problem: I am unable to share my intellectual thoughts with my boyfriend.

My boyfriend attended community college and claims to have read less than 50 books in his life. I attended an ivy league college and consider reading a leisure activity.

My problem hasn’t really limited our relationship thus far since I feel that he is intelligent and because we share similar interest (watching foreign films, going to museums). However as we get to know each other better and hang out on a regular basis, I am more and more frequently the one to pick out movies to watch and museums to go to.

While I know that he is smart, I don’t think that he knows how to express his thoughts. As I mentioned, this isn’t a real problem as of yet, but I’m not sure that I can see us going long term if he we can’t hold an intellectual conversation. I’ve tried buying him books that I’ve read just so that we can talk about them, but whenever conversations start to get to deep he just agrees with me without any original input. I think that he might react this way because he’s a little intimidated and doesn’t want to share his thoughts out of fear that I might think he’s dumb. How do I get him to express himself intellectually to me? Also, am i unrealistic in wanting to have everything? This is really my ONLY problem in the relationship.

Thanks

Dear Thanks,

Before we look for an answer, let’s unpack your problem a little bit. Although you yourself wrote that your problem is that “I am unable to share my intellectual thoughts with my boyfriend,” I suspect that that’s not quite it. I have the feeling that if you knew, for instance, that you would never be able to share those thoughts with him, you’d end your relationship on the spot; but, on the other hand, if you were equally sure it was merely a matter of confidence, you probably wouldn’t be asking me if you were “unrealistic in wanting to have everything.”

Since you write that you’ve been going out for six months and are still quite happy, you may want to start by considering both how you define “intellectual” conversations, and how much they really matter to you. Is an intellectual conversation just an educated, witty, literary conversation, or is it one which gets to the core of your personal beliefs?

If you mean the latter, then you might want to start by asking yourself whether your boyfriend really understands who you are and what you care about. If the answer is “yes,” then no matter what vocabulary you’re using and what tools he has at his disposal, the two of you are having intellectual conversations. If you’re not sure, then maybe that’s the best question to focus your attention on.

If what you mean by “intellectual” is “educated,” however, we’re left with a different set of questions. How much does education matter to you, Thanks? You wrote that reading is a “leisure activity” for you. If that’s what it really is — a hobby — then I don’t think you’ll have a problem dating him. Shared hobbies are nice, but I’ve never dated anyone who shared my interest in fashion, something I (embarrassingly, but incontestably) think about all the time, and it’s never been an obstacle in my relationships. It’s a genuine interest, but it isn’t one that’s central to my sense of self. By contrast, I don’t think I could really fall for a man who didn’t love opera once introduced to it, because I’d feel that someone who didn’t understand something I loved so much would never understand me, either — not because I have a “musical personality,” but because my own ideals have been shaped by operas; because when I’m having an operatic experience, I feel, for just an instant, that I know exactly what I want from life, what I’m living for, and even who I am. It’s not unlike a sexual orientation: it’s not love itself, but it’s deeply related.

I’m sorry to meander. Do you see the distinction I’m trying to make? If the issue at hand is just your boyfriend’s education, not his values, then you may want to examine the way you view your own education, and how central it is to your own sense of identity.

Another thing you may want to think about is how he thinks about intellectual life. If he’s just shy, as you theorized, but also cares about philosophical questions in his own way, you’re on solid ground. However, we live in a largely anti-intellectual society, and I’ve noticed that people who are made to feel unintelligent from an early age often develop aversions to intellectual life that are deeply ingrained in their personalities — sometimes just an “I’m not that kind of guy” attitude, but often something more hostile. If your boyfriend is just humoring you, but has no real interest, when you’re talking about the things that matter most to you, then even though you may be right — even though it is, at heart, an insecurity thing — getting him to your level in terms of confidence and open-mindedness is going to be difficult, maybe impossible. Over the years, his insecurity will have become a part of the way he perceives himself, of his identity. If he were just a friend of yours, I’d encourage you to support him anyway, and help him deal with those anxieties; but as your boyfriend, I think it’s a lost cause. You can’t found a relationship on the basis of what you think someone could be. You have to found it on admiration for who he already is. Otherwise you’ll come to hate each other.

One way to figure out how he thinks about intellectual life might be to focus on the artistic experiences you share — these museum trips and movie dates. You say that he enjoys them, but that you always pick the movies and museums. Is that a matter of preference, or of exposure? Is it just because you’ve already visited all the museums he knows of, and he lacks the resources or experience to find more cool things to do? Or is it because he doesn’t really enjoy that kind of stimulation as much as you do?

Look, Thanks, all of this analysis is really just another way of asking you to figure out what your needs are and whether he can meet them — and you don’t actually have to articulate either of those things to get an answer. Needs are needs, and we’re stuck with them, even if they are unrealistic. If you feel like he understands the things you love about yourself and loves them too, if you feel like it’s always interesting to talk to him, if you feel like sometimes, at rare, perfect moments, things are beautiful with him, then you’ll know he’s meeting your needs — even if you yourself can’t define them. But if you feel trapped, if you feel like some core part of yourself isn’t being expressed in your relationship, if you feel like you’re not really living when you’re together, then listen to your instincts and let it go.

-VVM

Veronica Mittnacht is a lifelong New Yorker. She has written for TheRumpus.net, ilikemystyle.net, Soap Opera Digest, Flavorwire, Boldtype, The New York Egotist, and Human Rights First, and once attend ...read more

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