Ask Maranda is an advice column focusing on mental health & creativity for self-identified weirdos, queerdos, fuck-ups and artists.
Becca Manner, age 26, asks: I have depression, anxiety and OCD. I recently dumped my boyfriend and for the same reason I’ve dumped a couple past boyfriends. These people don’t seem able to keep up with me intellectually. I don’t feel like this should be difficult. I’m smart, I’ve read a lot, but the only formal education I have is a GED and a yoga teacher training certificate. When a romantic partner can’t keep up with me intellectually I end up having to explain what I feel are very basic things. Then my anxiety skyrockets and my OCD goes into overdrive which causes me to be even more critical of their concepts, grammar, etc. I feel like I’m being overly picky, analytical, harsh or superior and I am often told that I am. I don’t want to be these things and I know there are other people out there with brains, but I’m constantly being made to feel that my expectations are too high, that if my partner is good to me, who cares if they’re not smart? But I do care. How can I have a meaningful conversation with someone if they don’t know anything of meaning and/or don’t understand what I’m talking about? So my question is: Am I completely off the mark here? If I’m not, how do I protect and nurture my desire for intelligent people in my life?
First things first, I’d like to talk about cultivating a healthy acceptance of alone-time, and a deep understanding that being alone need not mean feeling lonely. As someone with myriad mental illnesses, I often feel unable to connect with other humans. Even while having conversations that go beyond small talk, I still feel potentially misunderstood, especially if me and the person I’m talking with have different experiences or different grasps on language.
Sometimes I feel like my expectations are too high, too. I often find solace within books, creative projects, and friendships, rather than romantic relationships. It’s important to be comfortable being alone, and to always be learning more about yourself, so you can be confident in drawing the kinds of folks you want to be with closer to you. And, in getting to know yourself more, you might also become less critical of other people’s perceived levels of intelligence. It’s possible that the people you’ve been involved in relationships have their own fears and habits and social conditionings holding them back from deeper conversations, and they may feel just as frustrated as you.
While there’ve been times when I’ve felt “too smart” for someone, there’ve also been times when I’ve felt “too dumb” for someone, so I feel like I can speak from both sides. I dropped out of high school in when I was fourteen, and got (and am still getting!) my education through zines, books, pen pals, mental hospitals, recovery groups, and the Tarot.
It’s possible that the people you’ve been with who “can’t keep up intellectually” simply have different methods of understanding and communicating. For example, when I want to have a serious conversation with my partner, I often feel unable to say what I need to say face-to-face, so I write an email instead – and it’s not necessarily that what I want to say is complicated, or scary, or anything, it just feels easier for me when it’s written. When you’re communicating with a romantic partner, what things do you like to talk about? What do you mean by “having to explain basic things”? Are you referring to emotions, literature, spirituality, politics…? Have you told romantic partners about these feelings? If so, how have they responded?
When you meet new people, be upfront about skipping small talk! You’ll likely find that they feel it’s just as tedious as you do, and from there, you can move on to more meaningful conversations. Also, think about the kinds of questions you’re asking during conversations with new friends or potential partners; ask open-ended questions (“What did you think of that book?”) instead of yes-and-no questions (“Did you like that book?”), and be patient and open with their answers. Also, try writing a list of qualities you’d like to find in a potential partner (and a list of reasons you want to be in a relationship anyway)! Keep it with you, or keep it somewhere in your home where you’ll see it often and reflect.
Spend time in libraries, go to zine and lit readings, poetry slams, and workshops. Keep a diary. Go to free lectures and speaking events on all kinds of subjects. Write a ridiculously honest OkCupid profile!