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Dating Someone More or Less Intellectual Than You: Can it Work?

by Dr. Seth Meyers - April 25, 2017

While your mom or dad may have lectured you about the birds and the bees, they may not have given you such a clear directive on the types of emotional or personality characteristics to look for as you try to find a partner. Among the traits that matter most are the degree to which a person is or isn’t intellectual. You have to think a lot about how similar the two of you are in this department because it’s the conversations that the two of you have – and not your sexual attraction or any other factor – that will largely determine if the relationship will last or fizzle out over the course of months or even years.

First, how intellectual are you?
Think for a moment about where you would place yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 in the intellectual department. Don’t focus on what you imagine or know your IQ to be. (My mother told me mine when I was a teenager, and I have always wondered if that was a good or bad idea!) How intellectual you are doesn’t refer to your GPA in high school or college, or what you would score on standardized tests. It doesn’t refer to how many independent art house films you see in a year. How intellectual you are, in simple terms, refers to how much you like to talk or think about serious subjects. Think about how much you enjoy talking about social, political, or academic issues. Think also about how much you enjoy reading, and the kinds of things you read. Do you read books regularly? Magazines? If you read books or magazines, are they light reads or do you prefer more in-depth fare?

How important is it to find someone who cares about the same intellectual issues you care about? There is no right or wrong answer about which issues a person should care about, but someone who is more intellectually-minded will usually need to think and talk about serious subjects. While some people like to keep things light and don’t like to weigh themselves down by exploring the inner workings of an issue, men and women who are more intellectual like and need to go deeper. (Note that neither way isn’t necessarily better, but relationships tend to last longer when there is a similarity in the intellectual department.)

Picture yourself on a vacation with the person you’re dating, and imagine that the two of you have reached the three-year mark. What kinds of things could you picture the two of you talking about? If you are someone who cares passionately about certain issues, you are probably going to want to have someone to discuss those things with on vacation. Would your partner be that person? Do you have enough in common intellectually? Do you care enough about the same kinds of issues?

Intellectual levels matter for the longevity of relationships.
In the beginning, the newness of that person, as well as lust, can keep things interesting – for a while. But after the honeymoon phase – say, a year or two – the tie that will bind a couple together is sharing similar values and intellectual interests. If you’re an intellectually-minded person, you don’t need the one you’re with to share the exact same interests, but you will respect the fact that they have other intellectual interests, and you can talk to each other about the things that fascinate you. But if you are an intellectually-minded person and the person you’re with really isn’t interested in discussing things in depth, the two of you are going to run out of things to talk about, and you are going to start to feel disconnected emotionally from that person because you feel disconnected intellectually.

Reminders to take with you…
When you start dating someone, take time to consider whether that person likes to talk about light subjects or whether he or she likes to talk about serious issues. In the beginning, it is easy to overlook major differences – including how intellectual each of you is – because it is is so exciting and you can distract yourself with lust and getting to know that person. But the newness wears off surprisingly quickly, and ultimately you will be left with his or her brain and the things it comes up with in everyday conversation. When you meet someone, ask yourself this very basic question: In a few years, will I still find this person interesting?


About the Author:

Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.