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February 09, 2006

More On Nerd Love

It's worth saying that in Garance's otherwise excellent riff on my post observing that intelligence and ambition have become prized dating characteristics, "intellectual arm candy" really isn't the right term. Arm candy denotes a sweet chosen solely because she makes you look good through a quality (attractiveness) with little-to-no intrinsic worth. I'm not sure I totally agree with that devaluation of beauty (which is desired even by those who deride it), but nevertheless. The intellectual stuff, however, isn't so much about heuristics. Interesting lives make for interesting folks.

In my example, someone uninterested in politics wouldn't much enjoy either my obsession or my group of friends. And I'd be similarly nonplussed spending massive quantities of time with someone who couldn't relate to my primary passion -- I'm just not good enough at sectioning off my life. While I've no doubt there's an element of pride in dating girls who do great things (and I know the reverse to be true), there's a larger degree of necessity.

This is conjectural, but my read is that a couple generations back, folks didn't necessarily expect intellectual stimulation and conversation in their mate. Other characteristics were deemed more important, and mental fulfillment came from work and/or buddies and/or friends and/or book clubs. That doesn't hold true across the board, but it was a more prevalent approach than it is now. But as marriage transitioned from a system of cooperative ties to a division to labor to the current "soulmate" model, the expectations for what a partner provides were magnified, and now mental stimulation, if you're into that, is high atop the list. Which means it's not really about arm candy but expectations. As for its public components, it used to be that a hot/rich mate signified success given the criteria of the time. Presently, at least in some circles, a relationship that lacks intellectual equality and spark is obviously not the sort of bond you'd want. It's a whole different metric, and one that's more substantive and transferrable to the private incarnation than its predecessor.

February 9, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

Oh, you naive romantic you. Just wait til you have kids -- the whole allegedly outmoded "division of labor" model will come roaring back in, and you better hope at that point that your mate is something more than a good conversationalist.

Posted by: realish | Feb 9, 2006 5:24:16 PM

I generally agree with you, Ezra (minus a few of the generalizations in your last post)... but maybe that's because we come from similar places. I think your "couple generations back" theory works because people are waiting to get married till their late 20s or 30s, as opposed to straight out of high school.

There's nothing wrong with being a naive romantic.

Posted by: lauren | Feb 9, 2006 5:57:20 PM

Oh... well that last paragraph is just crap. There's been plenty of intellectual back and forth in my family for generations. Smart people, I think, like the exchange of ideas. That doesn't really change. This has gootn rather far afield of the basic point that the women's movement has changed how men and women relate to each other. There's not some intellectual higher plane for straight couples now that's somehow different from before.

Posted by: weboy | Feb 9, 2006 6:01:23 PM

That's certainly an accurate description of my (childless) 23 year marriage. My husband, like me, is a psychologist (met in grad school), and intellectual conversation is definitely a big part of the relationship. He doesn't like either politics or sports as much as I do, though.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, RN, PhD | Feb 9, 2006 6:07:19 PM

The intellectual arm candy thing sorta depends, I think. I maybe was hung up on having someone educated, etc. when I was younger but then got over it when I found that maybe that limited me way too much. Having a sense of humor is the biggie for me. Which I define in the strictly masculine sense--laughs at my jokes.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Feb 9, 2006 9:54:35 PM

Better, or at least more explanatory and thought-provoking. Working on it. For now, anyone who doesn't believe interesting conversation can come from the 90% of the population not as smart as we in the blogosphere can go read some Studs Terkel interview books.

Working was my favorite.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 9, 2006 10:53:58 PM

I suspect that people only date those of their social/educational class anyway.

Posted by: Steve | Feb 10, 2006 1:17:53 AM

What's that old bit...Men marry "up" while women marry "down"?

Intellectual arm candy - absolutely exists. The guy who wants that capivating conversationalist wife who can impress the boss at those corporate get togethers.

Look - the things that lead to attraction have very little to do with sitting down and deciding who you're going to be attracted to. Sadly (creepily) it has more to do with your family of origin...and the marriage model of your parents...thekeez

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Posted by: judy | Oct 1, 2007 5:05:57 AM

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