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Dating Advice #58 - The Bookworm Quandary

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

He's a super-intellectual and she's not. Is this a deal-breaker?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I just stumbled across your articles and found them to be a breath of much-needed fresh air. Thank you so much.

My question is this: I had been dating a wonderful woman for the past six months. I looked at the list of important qualities for a relationship that you posted in Dating Maze #35, and this woman definitely has the qualities you describe.

However, one major problem I had throughout our dating is that she is simply not as educated as I am. I am a bookworm-intellectual-geek who has been reading everything under the sun since I was a child. I love information and knowledge.

She is the opposite. In fact, at times she simply shocked me by her lack of knowledge about things I consider basic. Her vocabulary is as bad as her spelling. She moved to America from Israel when she was a child, but I don't think that has much to do with it. She is not well-read, bright, insightful, or at all an intellectual type.

So, you ask, why am I even attracted to her? I don't know. She amazes me in many other areas. We stopped dating about two months ago, but she is still ingrained very deeply in my head. Not a day (and sometimes not an hour) goes by without me thinking about her.

When we stopped dating, I found it very hard to "let go." We e-mailed a bit afterward, but I think I bugged her too much. She felt "used" and on an emotional yo-yo, so I finally let her go. But I am always finding myself thinking about when we will get back together. I worry about when I will overcome this, and if I made a mistake. So what if she never heard of Jonathan Pollard and I had to teach her the word "limbo"? I have been torturing myself for the past two months and do not seem to be able to let her go. I have dated others since, but no one matches up!

So, my question is: Should one's level of education and intelligence be a key factor in a marriage? Have I made a terrible mistake by ending our courtship? I appreciate any insights you have.


Dear Mitchell,

You say that you and this woman had all of the qualities we listed as vital to a healthy relationship. Yet one of these qualities is mutual respect, and it seems that you are having difficulty with how that quality relates to your courtship.

There are many happy marriages between an intellectual and a non-intellectual, a well educated person and a modestly-educated one, or an individual who reads everything she can get her hands on and someone who is content to only know the essential information in life. In these marriages, the more intellectual, educated or more well-read person has a great deal of respect for his/her spouse.

Spouses should not be expected to meet each other's every need. You can receive intellectual stimulation from your work or your friends. As long as you make the marriage your priority, you can also have good outside friendships.

We know of very happy marriages between a super-jock and a non-athlete, a talented sculptor and someone who can only draw stick-figures, a singer/guitarist and someone who is tone deaf, a gourmet cook and someone who can't boil water. In each of these marriages the husbands and wives admire qualities in each other, are mutually supportive of their pursuits (intellectual, artistic, culinary), and do not feel intimidated or diminished by the differences between them. Actually, they feel that their differences complement each other.

So you have got to decide if you truly respect this woman and whether you can see the intellectual gap as simply a function of personality, rather than a deficiency in her that must be fixed in order to make a future marriage work.

It also might be that the woman you dated actually enjoyed the fact that you broadened her horizons with your knowledge. Perhaps no one ever piqued her intellectual curiosity before.

You should also consider the possibility that her limited vocabulary and cultural awareness may be the result of a language barrier. A child who moves to a new country at age 10 may always lag behind in the new language and culture. Or she may have a learning disability that was never diagnosed.

So where do you go from here? If you can honestly say that you respect and admire this woman and can accept your different intellectual natures, then you and she need to have a long talk about how you feel about each other and whether you both want to renew the courtship.

If you can't accept your intellectual differences and respect her in spite of them, then you did the right thing by ending things. In that case, we suggest using a self-help book to help you mourn the loss and move on with your life.

With best wishes,

Rosie & Sherry

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