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December 12, 2009

"Smart Women" and Relationships

Tigerhawk has posted a tasty bit of sex-and-relationships fodder. As part of our never ending efforts to keep the Oink Cadre from getting mopey, we have decided to give in to BillT's incessant demands for more posts about feeeeeeeeelings.

Women. We give and we give and we give:

In my fairly limited experience, there is more than a little truth in this list of reasons why there seem to be a lot of very smart, single, and frustrated women floating around. Number 5 strikes me as especially true, but your results may vary.

First of all, let's define "smart women". The author of the linked post defines intelligence like this:

I confess: I love smart women. I love it when she can write a sonnet, use Euler's formula, code Perl, play a concerto, speak half a dozen languages, run a company, quote Chaucer, diagnose diabetes, compose a quartet and converse brilliantly. Especially in a big city like Los Angeles or New York, looks alone do not suffice. I need, nay, require the intellectual engagement, and legions of smart, educated men feel similarly.

One suspects Dr. Benzer of indulging in a bit of literary hyperbole. Still, if you accept his definition at face value, the distinguishing characteristic of this "smart woman" is not her intelligence, but her accomplishments. Intelligence is not always easy to measure. Two widely used yardsticks are IQ and SAT scores. So it made sense to me to measure myself against those benchmarks.

I've taken several IQ tests over the years and the results have been fairly close. Using the lowest score I received (I simply don't remember which tests I took), I looked up the percentile rank for that score to see where I fall.

I did the same thing with my SAT scores. The result for both measures put me at about the 99th percentile. So if one accepts that IQ or SAT scores are a reasonable proxy for intelligence, I should easily qualify as "smart". And yet I can't do half the things on the author's list. I can do many things, but I wouldn't exactly call myself a high achiever.

So if I'm so smart, why haven't I accomplished more? No one who knows me well would say that I'm lazy. The answer, perhaps, lies here:

Most people have about four or five strong talents out of the roughly two dozen independent aptitudes known to exist. Most jobs require about four or five. As many as 10% of the population has double that number of aptitudes--and that is a problem for them and their employers. The Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, the oldest aptitude-testing organization in the country, has statistical evidence that people with too many aptitudes (TMAs) are less likely to obtain advanced education and/or succeed in a career than those with an average number of talents.

Perhaps part of the problem with high achieving women isn't one of intelligence but of focus? Strong ambition and high achievement in school or a career require intense effort that detracts from other areas in which women have traditionally excelled, such as interpersonal skills.

During my growing up years, boys were a top priority of mine in a way that school never was. School was easy. Boys, on the other hand, were challenging and fun so I spent a lot of time trying to understand them and working on my relationship skills. There is little doubt that my schoolwork suffered as a result.

Eventually I was admitted to an Ivy League school where I studied just enough to pull fairly mediocre grades and partied a lot. Many of my friends had to study 3 times as much as I did just to stay afloat, but being young and irresponsible, I studied only as much as I had to and only to the extent that a subject interested me. I left school for a lot of reasons. One is that I knew I wasn't serious about school yet and felt it would be unforgivable to continue wasting my parents' money.

But the other reason is important, too. As I looked around, I realized that my priorities were very different than those of most of my peers. This isn't a politically correct thing to say, but I knew - even at 18 - that I wanted to marry and have children. What's more, I wanted to raise my children myself. It made absolutely no sense to me to place a home and family last on my "to do" list when it was first or second on the list of things that were important to me. And it made no sense to me to spend years and years prepping myself for a high powered career I would have to give up almost as soon as I attained it.

As it turned out, I quit school, got married within a few years, raised my boys and then went back to school as an adult. In school, I was very much a high achiever because this time there was no conflict between my values and doing well. The effort made sense because it consorted well with what was important to me.

So I wonder if part of the problem with these smart (or perhaps just high achieving) women is that relationships aren't a priority for them and they haven't developed the right skill set to succeed in love?

But there's another side of the equation too - one the author hints at indirectly but doesn't address: the male side. Men have different goals and different wants when it comes to relationships. Intelligence is important to them, but not as important (generally) as good looks and a woman's ability to make them feel happy, wanted, and most of all needed. Given how persistently men pursue women, it came as a great surprise to me to realize just how hesitant a man can be in this area. A man can be very interested in a woman and yet decide not to get involved with her because he perceives her as "too much work". Men also are more likely to chat up a woman who appears to be receptive to their advances: while they enjoy a bit of a challenge, they don't like risking rejection.

And finally there's the timing factor. Women tend to want commitment far earlier in their lives (and far earlier in a relationship) than men do. Men, on the other hand, view commitment very seriously and often won't even entertain a commitment until all the right moving parts are in place: career, a feeling that they've experimented enough and are ready for something different, a desire to have children. One of the ironies of the sexual revolution is that while it made it easier for women to enter into uncommitted sexual relationships, it made it harder for them to attain what most of us really want: a committed, long term relationship.

In this area, women who have not made understanding and relating to men a priority may find themselves competing with younger women who are willing to give men everything they want without demanding anything in return. That competitive hurdle may be difficult to overcome. By the time her male peers are ready to settle down, they can still attract younger, more complaisant women while her perceived attractiveness has begun to wane. That's a hurdle I didn't have to face in my youth for a variety of reasons.

I thought it was a bit strange that the author only looked at one half of the relationship equation: the female half. Failing to consider what "smart women" have to offer potential male partner from the male point of view doesn't strike me as all that "smart". In most relationships, it isn't solely the man or solely the woman who determines whether that fleeting feeling we call love turns into something permanent. It's a joint effort.

Feel free to opine in the comments section, but please don't let Bill go on and on about his feelings :p It frightens the horses.

Posted by Cassandra at December 12, 2009 07:12 AM

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Don't frighten the horses, Bill.

On intelligence v. accomplishment, I would say: intelligence is a good quality. Laziness is a bad quality. If you meet a smart person with few accomplishments, they are either very young or very lazy.

Laziness, in general, is a greater evil in a husband or wife than is intelligence a good. I'm not sure if that's true with dating, but once you approach marriage, it's dependable drive that matters.

Posted by: Grim at December 12, 2009 09:57 AM

Of course laziness is a bad quality. So a lopsided focus that prevents you from attaining what you really want in life.

Most choices in life involve tradeoffs.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 12, 2009 10:21 AM

A commonplace in men's fiction, Cass, is the gunfighter whose vow to destroy those who slaughtered his family/friends/dog comes to interfere with his wish to build a life and find a woman to love him. (See, for example, Comstock Lode by Louis L'amour for a classic in this genre.)

However, at least in the fiction, the same focus that lets the man do the one thing is also what he needs to do the other. The same man who is the focused hunter of vengeance is also the one who works hardest at working cattle or building a mine, or a town, or whatever task he is appointed in the novel. The point is that the best kind of man is always working at something, and just a bit harder than most everyone else.

That drive means that others can depend on him. That's what makes him successful, and one of the qualities (along with chivalrous behavior) that makes him worthy of love. In fact, I think these novels are very often much less about the vengeance quest, which is only a hook; they are mostly about ethics, manhood, and the qualities that divide strong men from weak ones, or good men from bad ones.

In any event, at least for a man, I find little to respect in a clever, charming fellow who has never actually done anything he can prove. That is a strong marker for a bad kind of man.

A woman's accomplishments may be different, but I expect the best woman will have some.

Posted by: Grim at December 12, 2009 11:05 AM

This is a difficult topic to address. One of the main problems, right from the start, is defining what you mean by "smart woman". In the MSM, "smart woman" is usually code for snobby, man-hating bitch, a la Maureen Dowd and other feminists of her ilk. Because they can't accept the fact that its their snobbiness, man-hating, or bitchiness that drive men away, they lie to themselves and say men can't handle them because they are "smart".

Posted by: a former european at December 12, 2009 01:14 PM

Generically speaking as a fellow who took his wedding vows at the end of the Little Ice Age, I will refrain from commenting on the desirability of theoretical Mensa babes. I might be a bit crazy but I'm not dumb enough to comment, in print, for posterity, on the particulars thank you... I'm quite happy with Walkin' Boss.

Yes, weighing trade offs and making good decisions, possessing a sense of curiosity and imagination, setting and pursuing goals, having a strong work ethic or sense of industry, or whatever you want to call it, along with having the intellect required to excel at processing information, plus deftly manage the aforementioned items, are desirable traits in a mate, a partner, an associate, or a friend. As is a sense of proportion, perspective, humor, and loyality.

Accomplishments... For men, certainly what Grim said. But I'll go on to say that the accomplishment yardstick is a measure that means different things to different people.

For instance, IMHO raising children is an awesome accomplishment. Just as steadily working for decades to provide for the spouse and children is an accomplishment, however modest the provisions.

Yup, on a topographical representation of human accomplishment, people map to all elevations. Abilities, talent, intellect, education, drive, judgment, all these elements factor in, contrary to what the Equality of Outcomes proponents would have us believe. Some folk gravitate towards fame and fortune, some power, some to selflessly serving others, and yet others to family and hearth. Thankfully I might add, at least IMHO.

To each his/her own. Or as a fictional LEO once quipped, ,

"a man's got to know his limitations"
as well as his happy spots.

*hobbles back to the garage before going to feed the horses*

I'll be mindful as to whether they seem to be unusually spooked.

Posted by: bthun at December 12, 2009 01:20 PM

IMHO raising children is an awesome accomplishment. Just as steadily working for decades to provide for the spouse and children is an accomplishment, however modest the provisions.

I think so, too. Or as the old saying goes:

To everything there is a season
And a time to every purpose under heaven.

Me? I wasn't so preoccupied with resume building in my younger years, but rather on becoming the kind of person I wanted to be. My brother and his wife had their PhDs before I even graduated from college.

But I raised two fine sons and ran a household well and efficiently. And my support enabled my husband to have a family and concentrate on his career. A lot of folks sneer at that sort of thing, but I always wondered why society would want only the "stupider" sort of women to raise the next generation.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 12, 2009 01:27 PM

M'lady, you clarify the point that I attempted to make, in my usual ham fisted sort of way.

The job that you performed in your marriage is priceless and undeniably selfless. And I will admit that I could not hack running a house, raising the chilluns and all of the other things that you and so many others, like my Walkin' Boss did.

I'd much prefer to crawl from the cave each sunrise, lope across the savannah, smite something and drag it back the cave at dusk. Must be a chemical thing.

Posted by: bt_of-the-dragged-knuckles-clan_hun at December 12, 2009 01:36 PM

Oh, I thought you did just fine, bthun.

I think it helps, too, if a man and woman are evenly matched. It doesn't always have to be "smarts" they match on. I've known people who are not book smart but have piles of common sense and very good people skills.

Others have technical intelligence up the ying yang but can't boil an egg to save their lives, nor manage to get along with others.

I think it's a mistake to focus too much on one type of intelligence - sometimes the best match is one where the woman or man is "smarter" or a higher achiever but the other partner rounds out their skill set or talents with a different set of abilities.

My husband is a lot smarter than I am, we seem to be pretty evenly matched despite that. He can do all sorts of things I don't do well, and vice versa.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 12, 2009 01:53 PM

Funny how that stuff works, on 28 different dimensions, no less.

Warning: Rockabilly Music content.

Then one day, before you know it, some crazy little thing is happening...

Posted by: bt_of-the-dragged-knuckles-clan_hun at December 12, 2009 02:07 PM

Heh. Sounds just like the long version of what I put in the comments of that post. :) Well said.

Posted by: silvermine at December 12, 2009 02:26 PM

I haven't read the comments above, but I have to say that I found the article under discussion terribly depressing, because... Before I clicked, I thought to myself, "Hmm... maybe it'll explain my problem." Well, apparently I'm not smart. 'Cause nothing on that list applied to me. :P

Posted by: FbL at December 12, 2009 11:32 PM

Ephesians 5:33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

Love and respect as parameters to a good marriage seem to have been around for a while.

Posted by: Russ at December 13, 2009 03:52 AM

Same here, FbL. I have always considered myself to be on the "smarter" side (though I know many people are much more intelligent than me), but I can't do those things. Only one on the list I'd be mildly interested in having the ability to do is play a concerto (always wanted to be able to play piano, but never had the opportunity as a child, and as an adult, I haven't been able to devote the time, when I had access to a piano on which to practice), and maybe know more languages (if I spoke Spanish - which I don't at all - well enough to pass an oral certification exam, I'd have had a teaching job a long time ago).

I won't rehash thoughts on why this "smart woman" hasn't been able to get a date...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at December 13, 2009 04:14 AM

Miss Ladybug, I was referring to the list of things in the article that Tigerhawk links.

Since I don't do those things that reportedly cause smart women relationship problems, I must not be smart after all. So terribly depressing... ;)

Posted by: FbL at December 13, 2009 09:44 AM

Yeah, I got that. I must not be smart, either, was my point. It is depressing...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at December 13, 2009 12:12 PM

One thing that I've come to realize over the years is that other people are smarter than I generally give them credit for. Not all intelligence is measured on a Wechsler scale. How would my guy and I compare if our IQs were side by side? Honestly, I don't care. I have so much respect and admiration for him the way he is and he deeply cares for me too. It doesn't get better than that.

When your focus is on enjoying the hell out of what you have, rather than complaining about what you don't have, life is so much better.

Posted by: Deb at December 13, 2009 04:22 PM

Maybe I'm just having a cranky day but most of Dr. Benzer's points sound an awful lot like the advice magazines for teenage girls used to give when I was young (about a hundred years ago):

1. Boys don't like girls who compete with them. Let *him* shine.

2. Boys don't like bossy girls. Let him decide what movie to see or where to go for that after-school shake.

3. A boy wants to know he's the most important thing in the world to you. If you don't have time for him, there are plenty of other girls who will.


6. Boys don't care if a girl is really good at sports. They want to see you in dresses and they love long hair!

7. Be sure to tell your boyfriend how special he is. Make him feel like a million bucks and he'll treat you like a million bucks.

There's nothing especially wrong with that advice except that for high-achieving women it boils down to "pretend to be someone you're not".

I think the problem is two-fold. First, being a high achiever takes time. These women are not working 40-hour weeks and they're not working 9 to 5. That means they may not be able to make that all-important company party or hostess that intimate dinner for a few good clients. Second, it takes energy. They're not going to have a lot left to give at the end of a long day saving children or staying at work until midnight to finish a program or a hostile takeover.

This is also true of high-achieving men of course but I think high-achieving men are more willing to settle for second fiddle wives than women are to settle for second fiddle husbands. A high-achieving woman probably needs a husband who doesn't have his own high-octane career, probably doesn't make as much money as she does, and perhaps even isn't as bright as she is. My impression is that a lot of high-achieving women aren't willing to accept that kind of husband so they end up being interested in only the kind of man who doesn't want their kind of wife.

(I really am having a cranky day, aren't I?)

Posted by: Elise at December 13, 2009 05:22 PM

Most smart guys like smart; the trick is in figuring out which ones like "pushy," and how pushy they want you to be--or will tolerate you being.

And in which areas. Even now, though I dare not correct things my husband says (even when I know they are quite simply wrong), there are matters he'll ask me to handle because he knows that I'm better at 'em than he is.

But some guys like a girl to be a bit feisty; it's a personal thing.

It's never a matter of showing off one's mind; they all like that. It's only a matter of when and how one is going to take control or manage a situation, and the conflict-intolerant guys versus the ones who like a good argument.

Posted by: Little Miss Attila at December 13, 2009 06:18 PM

No Elise, you're not being cranky :p

When I read that article, I thought exactly the same thing.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 13, 2009 06:28 PM

One thing that I've come to realize over the years is that other people are smarter than I generally give them credit for. Not all intelligence is measured on a Wechsler scale.

I could not agree more, Deb.

I've never thought much of IQ tests, myself. I think some people are better at taking tests than others (IOW, there are times when I'm not sure the tests measure intelligence so much as test taking ability).

I know people tons smarter than I am who don't test well. And certainly I've accomplished very little in life to go with those test scores, so I've never been certain what use they were :p

Posted by: Cassandra at December 13, 2009 06:31 PM

To me, to be smart is to have noble goals, have the ability to achieve them and the focus to actually achieve them.

Otherwise, it's just grading people like microprocessors.

Posted by: tomg51 at December 14, 2009 08:41 AM

I like those comments on intelligence!

(I fear I didn't express myself very well above--my comments about it being depressing that I apparenty wasn't intelligent were intended to be tongue-in-cheek, a sort of backdoor comment on what in some ways seemed a silly article).

Posted by: FbL at December 14, 2009 09:06 AM

I agree Tom (and FbL). I really hesitated about using the IQ/SAT example because it sounds as though you're bragging. But the fact is that I have never really thought either one was a very good measure of overall intelligence, so I don't take them that seriously.

In my original post I used the word "proxy" rather than "yardstick" to reflect this. Can't recall why I changed it.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 14, 2009 09:14 AM

I always scored very well on tests (including IQ and SAT). I considered they showed I was both intelligent AND was able to demonstrate it through that particular testing mechanism. But those tests didn't prove someone else who didn't perform as well on them WASN'T intelligent. They just showed that I happened to be both intelligent AND a good test taker.

At least that was my theory...

Posted by: FbL at December 14, 2009 10:33 AM

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. - Heinlein

Re: Dr Benzer's list of "smart" traits --

I can't do half of Heinlein's list either, but I don't think he was saying I'm only fit to be an insect.

You may, of course, disagree :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 14, 2009 12:21 PM

Smart women and smart men rarely get along because they try to “one up” each other all the time proving how smart they are. Men and women can barely communicate as it is. Throw intelligence on the fire and you’ve got a battle that will go on for a while.

Posted by: thé ceylon at December 23, 2009 08:08 AM