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Do Smarts Matter? Readers Speak Their Mind.

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 17, 2009

Two weeks ago we ran a column discussing author Alex Benzer's theory that dating is more difficult for smart people.

Intelligent folks are more focused on achievement rather than on relationships, he asserts, their pool is incredibly narrow and they often feel entitled to an easy, perfect relationship.

And heavens, did you people have something to say about that.

Mostly, you agreed that it was the story of your lives. A few dissenters thought that it was nonsense and that it just provided a convenient excuse for the socially inept.

And enough of you saw yourselves reflected in the sentiment to make us briefly consider dropping journalism to launch a "gifted and talented" dating service.

At any rate, many of you asked what others had to say on the topic, so we're turned this space over to you, to talk amongst yourselves.

We'll give the floor to a few of the ladies first.

"Being smart does make it harder to date, and I think it's worse for smart women," writes Katherine Wertheim, 46, from Ventura, Calif. Wertheim says she found "the dilemma of dating-while-intelligent (DWI)" less troublesome when she lived in Washington, "a town filled with smart people." Still, she says, out of her crowd of very smart friends, all the men except one "chose women who weren't quite as smart or well educated."

Tammy Jarocki, a 35-year-old from Austin, agrees. "Whether because I'm too intellectually intelligent or too emotionally dumb, I find dating in my 30s to be difficult. I do find intelligence in a man attractive, and I think my own intelligence has turned some men off -- perhaps speaking less would be better? Still, I find that I am getting dumber as I get older, so maybe there is hope for me yet!"

Kirsten Paulson, 49, of Rockville remembers that as a college student she and her roommate "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."

But Eleanor, a 40-year-old lawyer who didn't want her last name used, warns against that game: "I have tried playing stupid before, just to see how that works out -- and it works out fine, so long as you can keep it up. But of course, that is a social experiment rather than a way to find a decent companion."

Sheila, a 43-year-old from Arlington who asked that we use only her first name, takes issue with the suggestion from dating coach Amy Schoen that struggling smarty-pants should pay more attention to a potential mate's values than to the degrees on a résumé. "I agree that asking for someone's collegiate credentials is a shallow social tool, but shared values don't necessarily provide for real world harmony," she writes, recalling a relationship with a man who matched her on the values front but was in a different league culturally and intellectually. "He's now married to a lovely, if somewhat vapid, young lady, and we're all relieved and content," Sheila says. "I've returned to my previous savvy dating religion and am much happier for it. It's the religion of 'It Is Better to Be Alone Than With the Wrong Person.' "

But don't think this a female-centric problem. We got an equal number of letters from men, none of whom said what they really wanted was a woman of sub-par intelligence.

Fletcher Long, 45, who lives in Orlando, writes: "Give me an intelligent woman with an outspoken mind and I'm in heaven, every time. Even if they are much higher maintenance."

Nick Lepham, a 24-year-old District man, agrees. "I think most (perhaps smart) men would agree that no quality is more attractive in a woman than her brilliance," he says. Lepham does, however, believe that smarts can get in the way for both sexes. "Intelligent people tend to over-think and over-analyze dating situations because their critical thinking skills are responsible for their academic successes, so they naturally trust and instinctively turn to them to try and succeed in dating."

So, wonders Steve Walker, 49, who lives near Boston, "As for the smart, single women that you keep mentioning in your dating articles -- where are they?" (See above, buddy.)

A couple of guys found Benzer's assessment absurd.

Daniel C. Winn of Des Moines writes: "A truly intelligent person would not blame their loneliness on their own perceived superiority."

Shannon, a 30-year-old guy from Falls Church, says it was McLean dating coach Toni Coleman's point that the problem isn't too much intelligence, but rather, too little emotional intelligence, that rang most true. "I've never been a fan of small talk, and I've often been accused of being too intellectual and/or serious. The water cooler and the bar scene have eternally confounded me," he writes.

"I have to chuckle, however," he continues, "because to whomever this article resonates (myself included), it means they consider themselves smarter than the average bear. This might be half the root of their dating problems."

If you've got more to add to the discussion or have another dating tip or rant, drop us a line at dating@washpost.com.

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