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‘I’m worried that if I marry my boyfriend, I’ll miss being with someone smart’

Ask Roe: ‘I usually know more than he does and he doesn’t challenge me like my exes did’

Dear Roe,
I’m a 32-year-old woman and I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years. We’ve recently been lightly broaching the topic of getting married. These conversations have made me think about our relationship and it’s largely fantastic. My boyfriend is incredibly kind, patient and open-hearted which fuels his work and our relationship. He’s funny and good to my family and our sex life is fantastic. He also loves me and makes that very clear all the time. He tells me I’m beautiful and wonderful and he appreciates that I’m smart, which is important to me.

But that’s also my one niggling problem. He’s not intellectual like many of my other boyfriends have been. He appreciates my opinions and we can talk about books and films and politics, but I usually know more than he does and he doesn’t challenge me like my exes did. Granted, most of my exes were terrible – they’d cheat or they weren’t kind to me or were patronising – so I don’t want them back. But I’m worried that if I marry my boyfriend, I’ll miss being with someone smart.

Here’s the problem: you’re confusing being intellectual with being intelligent, and you’re prioritising being smart over being wise.

Your exes challenged you intellectually because they didn’t listen to you, and didn’t respect you. They talked over you, made you feel small, cheated on you, convinced you that you were less interesting and important than they were. You were emotionally and intellectually chasing after these men – not because they were actually better than you, but because they told you they were, and you believed them.

And you read that not as cruelty, but as a challenge; the chance to prove yourself. Except you were never going to be able to prove yourself to these men, because they didn’t want an equal – they wanted to be worshipped. They wanted to cheat and talk over you and make you feel bad about yourself.

And now you have a man who is emotionally and socially intelligent, kind, decent – and wise. He’s wise enough to know what he does not know. He’s wise enough to know that you’re smart, and so he is able to listen to you without feeling the need to interrupt or talk over you or tell you that you’re wrong. You say that being appreciated for being smart is important to you; he appreciates you. That’s why he listens to you. The other men didn’t appreciate your smarts; they appreciated your ability to appreciate theirs, nothing more.

You’ve normalised prioritising the voices of your boyfriends over your own for so long and now that a man is finally listening to you, it feels weird. Let it. Get used to it. Embrace it. You will always be able to find intellectual stimulation in the world around you, but you can’t substitute a great partner.

When it comes to marriage and possibly having children, being kind and patient and loving are far more important than being an arrogant, emotionally distant genius.

You’re smart. But when you think about what you want your life to be, your priorities to be, your relationship to be, be wise.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford.

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe

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