January 7, 2005

The pros and cons of marrying someone smarter than you.

Yesterday's post "A high IQ is a hindrance for women" brought this email:
OK, data: I'm a man and I want to marry a smart woman. I would find most attractive a woman who was smarter than me, if she found me attractive. Validation for my ego! Plus, smart people are (ceteris paribus) usually more fun to be around than less-smart people, and a smarter woman ought to be more valuable as a marriage partner for numerous practical reasons. I'll bet lots of men, particularly smart men, feel the same way as I do. Look at the male-blogger fascination with Condoleezza Rice (not to mention various smart female bloggers), for example. OTOH, I might worry that a woman who was much smarter than me would eventually lose interest in me. But if men can be satisfied to be married to women who are less smart than they are, perhaps the converse is also possible. There is hope!

Unfortunately I am still unmarried. Perhaps this means that the smart women I find attractive are so smart that they don't find me attractive? Probably I shouldn't overthink this issue.

Well, that other post was a lot of speculation about why men and women might have different preferences about wanting a partner who was more/less/equally intelligent. But let's look at why everyone doesn't prefer a partner who is smarter than they are, or at least why the preference isn't as widespread as the preference for someone who is more attractive than oneself.

Here are some advantages I can think of in having mate that is smarter than you. He/she can can be trusted to handle various difficult family tasks -- such as finances, taxes, figuring out technical manuals -- that you would find exasperating. He/she might be good at solving problems and helping you or the kids get out of the various jams you might be dumb enough to get yourselves into. He/she would not need as much help him/herself. He/she might have lots of interesting things to say and be smart enough to notice when he/she is boring the pants off of you.

Against this we must weigh the disadvantages. He/she might use that superior intelligence to figure out ways to avoid difficult tasks or to convince you that you really are much better at them. He/she might find your mundane problems too boring to engage with. As for dealing with the kids, he/she might find the routines of childrearing too tedious. A mate who doesn't need your help may prove aloof and solitary. And when it comes to conversation, he/she might be so fascinated with the workings of his/her own mind that he/she pontificates and holds the floor too long and really doesn't care about your feeble contributions.

For every possible advantage to having someone smarter, there's a corresponding disadvantage. I think we need to know whether this smart person is kind and considerate or pretty much of a jerk before we know how this intelligence is going to play out. From what I've seen, a very smart person is at least as likely as an average person to be pretty much of a jerk. One thing about beauty: what you see is what you get. If you're fascinated by brilliance, it make take a while to notice the problems. Remember this wily character is going to be good at hiding the problems, great at explaining them away if you point them out, and a genius at demonstrating why it is in fact your fault!

I'm not really writing an advice column here. Note how I didn't actually help the emailer!

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