Where the Smart Women At?

I found myself unable to target traits in women that would result in the (healthy) relationship I wanted, because my limited understanding of what a smart woman looked like was skewed.

Ask any heterosexual dude what he’s looking for in a woman and he’ll tell you some variation of the same thing: a woman who’s beautiful, understanding, and smart. Due to a terrible misreading of the quote “knowledge is power,” we as a society have created a troublesome correlation of power and intelligence when it comes to selecting romantic partners. We look to our partners to reflect the high value we’ve placed on intelligence and yet when faced with the reality of dating a smart woman, many men are left feeling challenged and unfulfilled.

Some people ask "where the smart women at?" as though they are some kind of modern invention. To me, this emphasis on commodifying a woman’s intelligence is just as troubling as when people over-validate me as a black man for being “articulate” and “well spoken.” In both cases these people see intelligence as far removed form the societal norm expected of women and black folk. From Marie Curie to Ban Zhao in Han Dynasty China, women have been at the intellectual center of most societies since the beginning of time.

I myself was raised by an incredibly smart woman. It has never ceased to astound me the things she’s been able to accomplish. She’s been working in aerospace engineering for the last 30 years as a black woman in America, which for all you readers out there is basically playing America at one of the hardest difficulty settings. For as long as I can remember, she was the primary breadwinner for my family.

Because of my background, for the longest time when choosing a romantic partner I focused exclusively on intelligence as the main factor for compatibility. My mom was smart and because of Freud, or whatever, it made sense that I would look for someone who had what I believed to be my mother's greatest trait.

I also fell into the trap of wanting to date a smart woman in order to reflect my own status. Despite the fact that I was raised by a family of incredibly smart women I still seemed to internalize the idea that intelligent women were rare and to be coveted, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

When I started college everything changed. I went to a highly selective liberal arts college in Portland. Nearly every woman I encountered during my time there was highly gifted and ambitious. Now that I no longer had to hunt down the “smart ones,” I found that I really didn’t know what I wanted in a relationship. I hadn’t been prepared to deal with looking for a romantic partner outside the context of intelligence and beauty. Now that every woman in the school fit the bill for what I thought was most important to me, I was no longer able make an informed decision on who was worth spending my time with. I basically ended up dating whoever gave me the time of day or whoever ended up being into the weird shit that I liked. This strategy resulted in a lot of unhealthy relationships.

I found myself unable to target traits in women that would result in the (healthy) relationship I wanted, because my limited understanding of what a smart woman looked like was skewed.

In Dungeons & Dragons (nerd alert), a character’s “smarts” are comprised of a combination of three ability scores: intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. Intelligence is book smarts, wisdom comes from experience and insight, and charisma essentially boils down to emotional intelligence. Of the three types of smarts, intelligence is the easiest to see and measure in people.

Because of this, men (myself included) conflate smart women exclusively with performative intelligence, choosing out of ignorance or laziness to eschew acknowledging and valuing the other two types. This perpetuates the dating strategies that men, who seemingly value smart women, tend to employ. Online dating allows men to filter for education level and income. Both of these are seen as tactile ways for men to superficially judge a woman’s intelligence. They can also scan for other personality aspects of the profile, which may include taste in music, movies and TV shows. Guys tend to look for what the zeitgeist has tagged as the latest display of intelligence, whether that's brains or boobs.

This dogmatic pursuit of smartness in women means that for many guys, important traits like kindness and personal conviction go by the wayside. My mother is more than just a brain in a jar; she's strong enough to push me to my potential, generously shares  her copious amounts of wisdom and yes, occasionally the ideal intellectual debate opponent.

The goal here is to stop only valuing women through a narrow lens of intelligence and begin to recognize them for who they truly are: complex people with hopes and dreams to be valued for more than what we are able to gain from them.