Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Your Intellectual Equal

Someone has wondered if women can be happy marrying someone who is not their intellectual equal. My first thought is, "Of course. You can be terribly happy married to a man much smarter than you. All you have to do is admit that he is smarter from time to time and use the fruits of his intelligence to buy more shoes."

However, I know deep down that's not the issue. Possibly it has not occurred to my gentle readers that men can be smarter than you, or that you will be allowed to live if you admit that one or two might be. What you're worried about is whether you will be bored if you marry a man who did not go to one of the Top 50 American Colleges or one of the colleges ranked rather near your college.  And if so, you had better ask yourself if you are worried about intelligence or class.

I don't know how it happened, but the USA has managed to create two class systems, one based on money and one based on the rankings of its private colleges. American Catholics managed to get around the second one temporarily by creating their own colleges, but now Notre Dame, Boston College, et alia are in the private college rankings, too. Ah, Mammon! Ah, Worldly Honour! Remove that crucifix? Yessir! Right way, SIR!

Amusingly (but understandably), some Americans exaggerate the glory of their Alma Mater. At BC I was constantly diverted by students standing up at meetings to whine, "As a Top 15 School, BC should...", "As a Top 10 School, BC should...", "As the Catholic Harvard, BC should...." Puh-leeze.

Canada does not have a class system based on where you go for your post-secondary education because almost all of our universities are state-funded (although they do lap up the foreign student fees from such American students who hope having gone to McGill [for example] will impress future employers). Therefore, Canadians take only a cursory and friendly interest in where other Canadians went to university, if they did.

Meanwhile, I was in university for a very long time and can tell you that there are a lot of people there who are as dumb as rocks, and others who are as lazy as sloths, and still others who are absolute whizzes in their field, but not very clever about people or at all rooted in reality. Meanwhile, far from us all becoming glamorous intellectuals, doctors and lawyers, a frightening number flail about in entrance-level pink-collar office jobs (men, too)  before we return to education, chastened, for professional training.

Many a time I have envied the smart and pretty owners of beauty salons, who finished high school at 16 or so, went to beauty school, worked while taking business courses, started their own businesses and are growing increasingly wealthy.  I think they are tremendously clever. Indeed, I think any tradesman who got out of school ASAP and got himself professional training and then his own business is tremendously clever.

Of course, such a man may or may not be interested in theology, philosophy, the opera, or any of those other things that are popularly considered symbols of intelligence or class. He might watch a lot of television or even prefer to eat supper in front of the television. Yikes.  On the other hand, he might be a real-life version of Ronnie in Moonstruck: sweatily working in the family bakery by day and going to the opera at night. A girl can dream, and Italians of all kinds love the opera, so why not?

Really, the important thing is that you not marry a man who bores you or is mean to you or disgusts you with his social manners. (And so-called upper-class manners can be just as disgusting as so-called working-class manners to a so-called middle-class person.)  Many of us deep down want a man who is rather like our dads and our brothers because those are the sort of men around whom we are most comfortable. I know a brilliant Ph.D. who married a plumber, and it just so happens that she comes from a line of plumbers herself. Her dad was a plumber, her grandfather was a plumber, and now her husband is a plumber. I don't know her husband well enough to know if he has any intellectual interests, but he certainly has a good job and his own house, and he makes my brainy friend very happy. He must be rather clever.

What you don't want to do is get married and then torture yourself with the thought that you are yoked for life to somebody dumb. It wouldn't be so great for the guy, either, to be stuck with a woman who inwardly sneered at him all day or worse. Either you must get over yourself or you must break up with your not-as-smart-as-you man before you start treating him with contempt. One of the secrets of a happy marriage is the woman telling the man over and over again (in whatever locally acceptable way) how wonderful and clever he is. If you don't think you can do that easily and without choking, don't marry him.

Update: Margaret Thatcher nee Roberts took a second-class degree at Oxford and  married a man who left school at 18 to work in his family's paint business. (Her father owned a business, too--a grocery shop.) The Thatchers were a very happy couple. She became Prime Minister. He didn't. Still, you'll notice she was known as MRS Thatcher until her husband was made a baronet.
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21 comments:

sciencegirl said...

LOL, having attended a large state party school for my undergraduate education, I never had these kinds of conversations! "The Catholic Harvard," indeed! Plus, I've now taught some real slackers at a Top 10 school, so I know that the ability to get into a great university as a high school senior doesn't mean all that much in the way of adult intellect or depth of knowledge.

I always wanted a man who is as smart as me so I could be myself around him without feeling like I did in grade school. I just want to feel normal and happy, that's it, really.

Anonymous said...


If he doesn't complain about my reading a million books then I'm happy. If he's interested in chatting about ideas more than people then I'd feel really lucky. I hate the Mr. Gradgrind education where you are considered smart because you can ring off the facts. I have plenty of qualifications but am often an idiot.

Lately I've developed a huge crush on a carpenter I know. Not Jesus ladies, not Jesus! :-D He can do stuff, that's attractive and is self-employed which I really respect. Happy Sigh.

By the way Seraphic, there's something weird going on with your site, around the posts there's a red border now and it's really harsh on the eyes.

Sinéad.

Seraphic said...

Really? How weird? I can't see it on my machine. I'll look again.

Seraphic said...

Really? How weird? I can't see it on my machine. I'll look again.

Anonymous said...


Also I should add that there are different types of smart and the main point, as Seraphic notes is about respect and I would add admiration. Are you proud of him? Does he have sense and is he able to assess a situation quickly in that way that men do, straight to the heart of it? Do you look up to him in his areas of strength and expertise? If you think he has none then yeah, let him go.

Sinéad.

Anonymous said...

All your posts now have red/dark pink borders except for the first paragraph of the top post. That happened with the intellectual post too when it was top. Could be me though due a trip to Specsavers.

Sinéad.

Magdalen Hobbs said...

Your blog looks the same as ever to me, Seraphic.

My primary mode of living is analysis and reflection. I read and discuss history, theology, and philosophy for fun. I love the going to museums, the opera, the ballet, and the symphony. And I always seem to meet men who wouldn't pick up a book that wasn't required on pain of death. My family of origin emphasized intellectual curiosity and debate, and I don't know that I would be happy marrying someone who wasn't like that as well.

There is some snobbery within the Canadian system, at least to my recollection- I attended Trinity College because at 17 it reminded me of Harry Potter and Gaudy Night and Oxford was too expensive, but other people apparently did because it was "prestigious", for the "connections".

Magdalen Hobbs said...

Also, apparently Maureen Dowd wasn't that bad in 2008. She posted a list of very sensible "Whom Not To Marry" advice from Fr. Pat Connor, distilled from his decades of marital counselling. An excerpt:

“Hollywood says you can be deeply in love with someone and then your marriage will work... But you can be deeply in love with someone to whom you cannot be successfully married.”


http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/opinion/06dowd.html?ex=1216094400&en=3b118bc10f2cb226&ei=5070&emc=eta1

Domestic Diva said...

I grew up in the era of Thatcher, Reagan, and Gorbachev, and my family's political sensibilities were very pro-Thatcher. But your post and linked obit has shown me the woman, not just the politician. I think I have a new role model...not because of her politics, but because of her ability to remain very much a woman in a very male-dominated sphere. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts in this post.

Domestic Diva said...

Sorry, I thought I was commenting on your post on Mrs. Thatcher.

KimP said...

A carpenter asked me to marry him and I said yes, even though all the men on my family had college degrees, and even post-graduate degrees. I also have a post-graduate degree, so I thought I would marry what I was born into. No one was more surprised than me when I married a man who left school at 18, learned his trade, and began his own construction company. He's smart and interested in many subjects, and people. Admittedly, he doesn't like to read, and is watching television right now even as I type. And he's watching about four shows at once: a renovation construction show; a National Geographic special on Columbia, South America; and a documentary about Roman stone architecture. He's pretty darned smart and good at what he does, and I don't mind telling him so on those days when he is tired and a little discouraged. He's also incredibly kind to everyone, which is probably one of his most wonderful qualities. I say, give those working men a chance, if they treat you well, and take care of their mothers . . .

Seraphic said...

Amen, amen!

One thing we women must keep in mind is that most men don't read as much as we do. They really don't. A few do read in the evenings instead of watching TV or before going to bed, but women are more likely to buy books and use libraries. Unless you marry a scholar, author or a sci-fi addict, don't expect him to read a lot. If he wonders why you read a lot, shout "Girls read!"

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing Kim! I love true life stories and the clothes you make are beautiful.

If you don't mind, can I ask if your family had any concern? Also when did you realise that he was a good egg, did you have any initial bias and if so, what got you over that hump?

In admiring your blog there I can imagine you share a similiar interest in construction and creation, although ending up with very different products. :-D

Sinéad.

Rae said...

Two things. First, can you please change the picture on this post or add a different one to come up in my blog feed? I have four younger brothers who are bound to walk in on me at odd times, and to be honest, I don't see where it is adding to this post.

That said, lots of great points in this post. One of the facts that helped me quickly move on from my last relationship was the realization that I didn't actually think he was as smart as I was. Although I knew he was smart in a lot of ways, it always seemed to surprise me when he showed it. Poor grammar may have been to blame. Funny how much that bugged me without my taking notice.

KimP said...

Sinead, my family had absolutely no concern about it AT ALL. Of course, by the time I met him, I was 45 years old, so maybe they were just relieved I met someone! : ) Seriously, they loved him from the first time they met him. He charmed everyone. The first Christmas I took him home to spend time with the whole family at once, I hardly got to spend any time at all with him - they all wanted his attention.

Probably the first month I went out him I had concerns about the education/profession gap. As a matter of fact, every time I saw him coming up the walk to my townhouse for a date I thought to myself, "This can't work out." But by the end of the date, I had to admit I had such a good time. We truly enjoyed talking to each other. He won me over bit by bit.

Three things swung me in his favor the first month. First, he started going to mass with me on Sunday. Which was impressive since he wasn't Catholic. Second, after about a month of dating, I suggested we go to his place one Sunday afternoon - I wanted to see where he lived. I found that he lived in a cottage built in the 1830's as a summer kitchen for a plantation home - it was exactly the sort of place I imagined a carpenter would live, surrounded by antique furniture and photos of his family, and I thought, "Maybe there is something to this guy." And third, one night while making dinner together, he said something about how smart I was. And I confessed, "You know, I kinda am." And he told me, "Well, don't hold back on my account - you just be as smart as you are." And from that day forward, I knew I could be myself around him and not hold back on my opinions, ideas, or theories.

Thanks for all your kind words on my sewing creations, Sinead! I think you are right - the Carpenter and I do share a creative streak, we just work with different materials. So I understand when he becomes obsessed with a project - I've been there!

Seraphic said...

@Rae. I don't mind taking it down to spare the little brothers (almost definitive of "the weaker brethren"!). The model was a BC Law student, and her cover came out when I was at BC and I was horrified. Now I think it is a bit funny--one of those laugh or cry things, you know?

KimP, your story makes me want to cry. There's a movie in their somewhere. What intelligent woman does not want to hear a great guy say, "You just be as smart as you are?" Wah!!!!

And, you know, there's some astonishing humility in there, too. I very rarely meet men who think there is a possibility some woman might be smarter in some ways than they. On the other hand, I am not lucky enough to know many skilled tradesmen!

I should do a poll on how many readers now kind of have a mini-crush on KimP's husband.

Seraphic said...

Ooh...for their, read there. Shocking!

Seraphic said...

By the way, tell 'em how old you were when the Carpenter first appeared. I don't think it can be stressed enough how long it can take Mr Right to show up and how worth the wait he is!

Anonymous said...


Seraphic I can hardly believe that Kim is 45 years old, I had put her mid-thirties, tops! I need to slap on the sunscreen as soon as the sun comes out. And sleep, get some sleep. And steal her skin routine!

I think that The Carpenter's response shows a huge amount of confidence which is, in itself, really attractive, no? Nobody wants to feel as if they're embarrassing a man. Thanks so much for your honesty Kim, so many women try to pretend that beauty/weight for women and smarts/job for men do not matter. They do though, your response was refreshingly honest and helpful. Thank you.

Seraphic regarding your law student we had a similiar case here with Chris de Burgh's daughter, Rosanna Davison. So sad and needless, she wasn't posing for a lack of cash. Silly girl, gorgeous but stupid. Works a bit in the media now. Ruined reputation and you can never get that back. Sharon Ní Bheoláin is just as lovely, didn't take her clothes off and now reads the national news. Reputation matters, her dad should have stepped in instead of supporting her publicly.

Sinéad.

Seraphic said...

Oh, yeah! She did say how old. I just get all excited about it because it is ammunition against readers Life-Ends-at-25 worries.

Sinead, not to exaggerate the democracy of the USA, but class really is different there than in the UK, and probably is different from how it is in Ireland, too.

So although an individual American/Canadian woman might worry about becoming bored or having to shut down her brain by marrying a guy without a university education, she doesn't have to worry about going down some semi-imaginary and yet strangely long-lived class ladder, from Miss Higher Class to Mrs Lower Class.

(Of course, women who honestly believe paying A TOP RANKED COLLEGE for their post-secondary education in whatever makes them The American Elite might indeed have a sad and difficult mental hurdle to overcome.)

One of my biggest headaches in the UK is the class system. It just seems so crazy that it still exists, but it does! Like in India! The BBC--of all the super-lefty institutions--even made up a quiz for people to find out what class they now belong to (based on how much they make and own, what our interests are, and which people in what professions we socialize with)!

To a Canadian, that's just nuts, but I suppose there must be some deeply Canadian things the British would find nutty.

Anyway, that's my class rant. The only thing I liked about communism is that it at least paid lip service to the idea that all men and women were social equals and comrades, no matter what they do for a living.

KimP said...

You should see the crushes the women in my Prayer Group have on the Carpenter - they are all grandmothers and think he is the bee's knees! When I met him, they said, "You can't break up with him without our express permission."

I think one factor that really helped in our relationship was that he came from a family of very smart, well educated women - his mother and sister, actually. He has enormous respect for both. His mother was a nurse, and his sister is a medical researcher who is now, at age 56, working for the Peace Corp in South Africa. I think if you are interested in any man it is important to note his relationships with his closest female relatives - it is probably a portent of things to come.

And the two biggest agers of skin: the sun and cigarettes. Avoid both!!!!!