In My Own Write: The high price of over-thinking

If love is in the air, why are so many smart, intelligent people not getting their share?

November 23, 2010 23:08
Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

We look around and see that hardly anyone is too ugly or disagreeable to find a wife or husband if he or she wants one, whilst many old maids and bachelors are above the average in quality and culture...
– George Bernard Shaw, afterword to ‘Pygmalion,’1912

Sorting through some old files while YouTube serenaded me with Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall in Love” – a rare clip shows the legendary singer accompanying himself on the piano – it struck me anew how the overwhelming majority of songs, today’s included, seem to be about finding the right person; being happy (or unhappy) with that person; losing that person, dreaming about that person, and so on, in endless variation.

Love is, and always has been, in the air. Which makes it surprising – and sad – that many people of “quality and culture,” as Shaw put it, find it hard to get their share.

These reflections tied in with my coming across two 2009 Washington Post pieces that I had deemed sufficiently interesting to print out; rereading them more than a year and a half later, I found them as thought-provoking as ever.

In the first, “Do smarts matter? Readers speak their mind” (April 2), Ellen McCarthy presented a variety of spirited responses to an earlier column by hypnotherapist and author Dr. Alex Benzer titled “Why the smartest people have the toughest time dating.”

The fact that Benzer writes with humor only sharpens his observations.

BENZER isolates five “challenges” common to most smart people.

“Smart kids,” he begins, “usually come from smart families. And smart families are usually achievement-oriented. ‘Bring me home those straight As, son. Get into those top colleges, daughter. Take piano, violin, tennis, swimming and Tibetan throat-singing lessons. Win every award in the book. Be well-rounded...’” While such children should of course develop their talents, Benzer points out the danger of ending up “a little lopsided.... Time spent studying, doing homework and practicing the violin is time not spent doing other things – like chasing boys or girls, which turns out is fairly instrumental in making you a wellrounded human.”

Once in college, Benzer goes on, smart people generally continue doing even more of what they were doing before.

“Dating is at best another extracurricular, No. 6 or No. 7, somewhere between Model UN and intramural badminton.”

Things tend to get worse once smart people graduate, Benzer notes, “and if you’re frustrated with your love life, you just might try to compensate by working harder and achieving even more to fill the void.

“I know people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond,” he says, “who still haven’t figured out how to create an intimate connection with another human being.”

‘SMART people” – Benzer’s second challenge – “feel they’re entitled to love because of their achievements.” After all, good results always meant “kudos and positive reinforcement, respect from peers and love from parents... so it only makes sense that in the romantic arena, it should work the same way.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t, he says. Being smart “may get you a first date, but it’s probably not going to get you a second date” (think of the brilliant but socially inept Facebook founder character played by Jesse Eisenberg in the film The Social Network, whose girlfriend abandons him early in the movie).

THE third point Benzer makes is that clever kids get “pegged” early in life as “the smart one” in the family, and this often becomes their principal identity.

“Maybe you dress frumpy and don’t pay a lot of attention to your appearance,” he suggests. “Or never bothered to cultivate your sensuality as a woman. Or your sexual aggression as a male” – without which, he points out quite reasonably, “you’re not going to attract a suitable companion of the opposite sex.”

In sum, “you don’t feel like a fully realized sexual being, and therefore don’t act like one.”

WHICH leads Benzer to his fourth “challenge” for the smart person: “You are exceptionally talented at getting in the way of your own romantic success.”

His advice: Let your frontal (cerebral) lobe go on vacation from time to time, and allow your lizard (primitive) brain – which “knows exactly how” to act around “that cute girl” or “handsome hunk” – to do its thing.

“Actually,” he advises, only half-humorously, “just stop thinking altogether.”

‘BY virtue (or vice) of being smart” – Benzer’s final challenge – “you eliminate most of the planet’s inhabitants as a dating prospect.... Well, congratulations.”

His advice: “Loosen up... and learn to appreciate people for what they have to offer. And love them for that.

“Nobody’s asking you to lower your standards; you should still spend time only with worthwhile company. But do question those standards to see whether they’re serving you, or you’re serving them.

“Given a choice between happy-go-lucky and pickybut- lonely, happy sounds like more fun.”

MANY women readers who responded to Benzer’s Washington Post column felt that their intelligence was an obstacle to successful dating.

One woman, 46, wrote that out of her crowd of very smart friends, all the men except one “chose women who weren’t quite as smart or well-educated” as they were.

“I find dating in my thirties to be difficult,” wrote another. “I think my own intelligence has turned some men off... still, I find that I am getting dumber as I get older, so maybe there is hope for me yet!” A 49-year-old recalled that as a college student, she and a friend “were fairly good-looking women who watched the interest fade in men’s eyes when we answered the usual intro question – what’s your major? “Instead of admitting we were international relations and biomedical engineering students, we started telling them we were nurses or teachers. Then we had dates.”

Many women pointed out, though, that it was “hard to keep playing stupid.”

Surprisingly – or not – none of the men who wrote to the paper “said that what they really wanted was a woman of sub-par intelligence,” McCarthy revealed.

“Give me an intelligent woman with an outspoken mind and I’m in heaven, every time,” wrote one man, “even if they are much higher maintenance.”

“No quality is more attractive in a woman than her brilliance,” wrote another, obviously smart, guy; adding, however, that “intelligent people tend to over-think and overanalyze dating situations.”

What rang most true for McCarthy was the 30-yearold man who echoed a dating coach’s belief that “the problem isn’t too much intelligence, but rather too little emotional intelligence” – that is, the ability to “converse” on the feeling level, intuitively, without a single word being uttered.

SO – is smartness more likely to make or break a relationship? How crucial is it to successful pairing? Intellectual compatibility between a couple adds much to the quality of their relationship. That is unarguable. But I stand with the 30-year-old who pinpointed “too little emotional intelligence” as the root of the difficulty.

I am convinced, both from personal experience and from talking to others, that the emotional tie between a couple and not the intellectual one is the factor that will ultimately make a relationship “jell” and endure, however stimulating their brain-bonding may be. We humans want to be understood, appreciated and supported at heart- and gut-level, where it is most painful to feel alone.

Clearly, however, “dumbing down” one’s achievements – as I remember an attractive and gifted fellow student at my university doing whenever she went out on a date – is no solution to anything, for women or men. We want to be known and loved for what we are; and if part of what we are is smart, well, we want to be loved for that, too.

The clue to where “smarts” becomes a problem lies in Benzer’s use of the word “lopsided” – where a smart person has allowed his or her emotional and physical side to wither in the service of the intellectual one.

It seems to me that the path to successful dating – followed by a happy and fulfilling permanent partnership – is perhaps the hardest one: taking one’s whole being and entire self confidently along to every encounter.

How much of that being and self we ultimately decide to share with any one individual is, of course, also a matter of judgment, and here the mind does have an important role to play.

“Nobody’s asking you to marry the first hillbilly who turns the corner,” Benzer writes. “Rather, this is about practicing openness.

“And when you embody openness regularly, you’re more likely to capture the attention of Mr. or Ms.Right when they come sauntering along.

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