Ashley: So, I don’t really remember how this came up, but we were taking last week about marriage and I mentioned that I’ve had a friend or two declare that they’d never marry someone smarter. One male, a few females. I know I offered to start this debate–which usually means come out swinging with some sort of calculated opening statement meant to stun the other with my hammer of rhetoric–but… who the fuck would say that? Crazy people? Crazy people.
Jennifer: Did they actually just, like, drunkenly at a cocktail party loudly intone, between gulps of their champagne, “I’d never marry someone smarter than me!” slices of salmon and caviar spittle flying from their mouths? Also, is your friend say Norman Mailer, or some equivalent thereof?
Ashley: Huh. I could see sloshing your drink at a cocktail party, falling into the canapes, drunkenly declaring, “I’d never marry Norman Mailer,” but someone smarter? As in, anyone smarter? That you liked?
Jennifer: Well, I think we live in an interesting age, Ashley.
Ashley: I hate you for doing this but… “why,” Jen? Why?
Jennifer: Thank you, Ashley! I love spontaneous questions that allow me to share my wisdom! I think there was a period, sometime, 50 years ago, where if someone asked you “is Bob dumb?” you would have two options. You could say “yes” or you could say “no.” Now the correct answer is, say it for me..
Ashley: “There are different kinds of intellect.”
Jennifer: Exactly! But the thing is, there aren’t. It’s a subjective question, really. You have a perfectly formed opinion on whether you think Bob is smart or dumb by your standards. Even if you say some shit like “he is a genius at knowing how to love.”
Ashley: “He has emotional intelligence!”
Jennifer: “His Kindness IQ is 175!” No. As soon as you start saying that, all you mean is “Bob is a fucking idiot.”
Ashley: Maybe Bob should keep his big Bob mouth shut.
Jennifer: Bob ruins every cocktail party with influential literary figures because he’s all like “is Hemingway a type of sewing machine?”
Ashley: “I eated the soap!”
Jennifer: Norman Mailer isn’t even going to come anymore, no matter how much salmon and beluga you stuff down his mouth.
Ashley: Norman Mailer’s a jerk. But we’re really demonizing this imaginary Bob character. He may not be book smart, but he is very bright.
Jennifer: He’s kind, is what he is. And he has a “wonderful willingness to learn.”
Ashley: I had a boyfriend once, who was pretty dumb–whatever, I was a teenager–and people would ask me if he was smart, and I would say, “He’s… extremely logical.” This was great and diplomatic because it made him sound really good at math, I thought, but what I actually meant was “he is astonishingly literal and has almost no capacity for abstract thought.” Also. You know we sound likes pricks right now, right?
Jennifer: I already knew that about us. But – one thing that struck me so much on Girls – was when one of the characters is marrying this Venture Capitalist who seems awful. And on the altar, she was talking about how, initially, he struck her as awful, but then she realized he had “a wonderful willingness to learn.” And I thought “oh, well, that marriage is doomed.”
Jennifer: Could you be happy with someone you thought was dumber?
Ashley: Well, here’s the thing. I don’t think intellect–especially as we’re satirizing its use–is terribly important on its own. And I don’t think a big brain is enough to make up for other shortcomings. I also think putting restrictions on potential romantic interests as “smarter” or “dumber” is silly. How do quantify that? Here’s what I will say: I don’t think being “educated” is important, I don’t think being well-read is important, and I don’t think rotely memorizing facts to sound interesting at parties is necessary either. I do, however, think intellectual curiosity is important, and I think being funny is important, both tend to align with being smart.
Jennifer: I have never met someone who made me laugh who I didn’t think was somewhat intelligent. That said, I think the world is built for people with IQs of 120. I’m generally pretty attracted to people who seem successful and ambitious, and those aren’t traits that necessarily go along with reading Puskin and debating what happiness MEANS.
Ashley: I think it’s well established that you’re much more attracted to ambition than you are to kind of straight forward intellect. I also can’t help but think you find sitting around talking about Plato a waste of time, ultimately. It’s probably why the classes you best remember from college are “waltz parties” and “champagne.”
Jennifer: I also remember “tea time” and “after class drinks with professors.” And sailing! Sailing was a fun class.
Ashley: Look, my point is that I don’t think being smart is a terribly admirable quality in and of itself. But other things that kind of hinge on intelligence–like humor, like insight, like perceptiveness–those are important. So the answer to the question of “Would you date refuse to date someone smarter?” is more like, “Stop rolling out invisible checklists before you fucking meet people.”
Jennifer: Okay, but lets say you were dating someone and you thought “this person has the brain of a child.” Could you keep dating them? And marry them? And have babies with them? I will say – not to flatter you too much – but one of the reasons I do not worry about an excess of “book learnin'” in my romantic partners is, well, because I have you for that. And I expect different people in my life to meet different needs.
Ashley: Well, I’ve dated people with child brains before and… it didn’t work out. But they also didn’t have very many other good qualities. What I’m saying is there are a lot of things that can come together and make an interesting person and book learnin’ doesn’t need to be one.
Jennifer: But it’s SO MUCH FUN to be able to talk about books. Then men I’ve probably been most attracted to – not happiest, not happiest with by a long shot – are the ones I’ve thought were the most intellectual.
Ashley: Well, what makes you happy can be really different from qualities you convince yourself you want.
Jennifer: I will contradict that by saying that what makes your meat brain happy is not what makes your human brain happy. But maybe if you’d taken “scotch class” in college you’d have learned that, hmm?
Ashley: ALL THAT WASTED TIME. Also, my meat brain wants men who don’t shower and Thai delivery.
Jennifer: My meat brain wants a bottle of Bolly and some old movies. And an ice cream sundae. The same things it always wants.
Ashley: Our meat brains are keeping us from being happy.
Jennifer: Let’s go feed them some drinks and try to reason with them. Maybe Mailer has some passages that can help us out.