Dr. Alex Benzer’s Stupid Prejudice Against Smart People

I’m not really sure that Dr. Alex Benzer, who is publisizing his book, The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Embracing Your Inner Goddess & Finding the Fulfillment You Deserve on Huffington Post with an article entitled, “Why the Smartest People Have the Toughest Time Dating,” went to Harvard, his assertions seem so much more, well Princeton-esque (if you went to one of Dr. Benzer’s approved elite institutions, you’ll understand that sentence perfectly).  If not, shrug it off. It’s elitist dribble.

According to Dr. Benzer, smart people have a hard time dating because they are (we are) too cerebral. If you’re a smart person you probably “never bothered to cultivate your sensuality as a woman. Or your sexual aggression as a male,” and thus have never been successful in romantic relationships or casual dating. Dr. Benzer gives 5 examples of how smart people are disadvantaged when it comes to dating and love:

1. Smart people spent more time on achievements than on relationships when growing up.

2. Smart people feel that they’re entitled to love because of their achievements.

3. You don’t feel like a fully-realized sexual being, and therefore don’t act like one.

4. You’re exceptionally talented at getting in the way of your own romantic success.

5. By virtue (or vice) of being smart, you eliminate most of the planet’s inhabitants as a dating prospect.

I won’t fault Dr. Benzer for trying to help those struggling with love and dating – or for addressing the fact that when folks  are too cerebral, it can be difficult to make an emotional connection. It’s kind of Dr. Benzer to offer some advice.  I think he has some good points: high achieving folks may have a different approach to closeness, when you’re studying (or doing any activity all the time) and not socializing you may have less opportunity to meet people to date, people who are closed from their emotions tend to struggle with intimate relationships. Ok check. But that’s where Benzer and I take different roads.

Benzer seems to be talking to a certain kind of smart person – a person with a certain kind of learning style, perhaps mostly book learning, and maybe more than a twinge of type A personality.  Achievement doesn’t necessarily mean smart, and having many achievements does not mean that one is socially inept. But perhaps most importantly, Benzer is forgetting how annoying and difficult it is to be a smart person surrounded by not terribly sophisticated or critical thinking folks. He’s neglected to mention that foolish people are a chore! It’s not smart people’s fault; it’s stupid people creating all the trouble.

Wait, let me be more serious here, providing my own rebuttal of Benzer’s reasons why it’s so hard for smart people to mate.

1. Smart people spent more time on achievements than on relationships when growing up.

How is “smart” being defined? Dr. Benzer offers a definition that highlights elite educational institutions including, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Swarthmore, Amherst, Dartmouth, Brown, Oxford, Cambridge, Berkeley, Penn, Caltech, Duke. So really what Benzer is focusing on, are those students who went to Ivy League or elite institutions. It’s important to note, however, that going to those schools doesn’t necessarily mean that one has innate intelligence. Anyone whose attended any of those schools can tell you there are plenty of book smart folks, some plain dumb folks, a whole bunch of legacies, someone whose family built a library, and an exceptional group of sophisticated intellectuals.

How many legacies after all does Harvard admit? No, attending such schools proves, in many, but not all cases, that an individual can play the admission’s game – and they may also be very smart.
That gets us back to the question of what being “smart” means. There are, according to Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences, several ways to be “smart.” From interpersonal intelligence to kinesthetic intelligence.  So is Benzer talking about a particularly kind of stunted book smart individual? That doesn’t even make sense according to Benzer’s own logic. Benzer says, 

“Smart kids usually come from smart families. And smart families are usually achievement-oriented. Bring me home those straight As, son. Get into those top colleges, daughter. Take piano, violin, tennis, swimming and Tibetan throat-singing lessons. Win every award there is in the book. Be ‘well-rounded.'”

If smart people were born – someone had to make them (or will Benzer be using a helpful Creationism model as explanation for the existence of smart people?) so somehow two smart people managed to get together to procreate. If it happened once, whose to say it won’t continue to happen? Benzer seems to forget that one of the reasons that “smart’ children are so active, is because they need the stimulation in order to feel at peace and fulfilled. What may seem like the pursuit of accomplishments to others, may in fact be a deeply intelligent person’s way to connect and engage with the world.

A special title on your diploma doesn’t equal an automatic pass into being smart. But if someone feels they must be smart only because of their alma mater or accomplishments, that’s the very first indication that they might not have much sense, social acumen, or observation skills. As a nation we’re so caught up in the “The Best And The Brightest” approach, we only acknowledge one kind of smart – nevermind that we have evidence to show us what happens when we narrowly group “smartness.” 

 is lamenting the procreation problems of an “elite” class.

How does Benzer know that smart people spent more time on achievements than on relationships? Being part of groups that achieve doesn’t mean that you’re not building relationships. And why is this lobbed at smart people, but not say, athletes, who might also have focused for long hours on one task? One could imagine that the discipline of learning or doing a sport teaches you the discipline and work of a long-term relationship. And besides, when it comes to relationships, they’re not built simply on accomplishments but on something deeper,you share with the person you partner with like shared values, shared interests, a commitment to caring, a curiousity about the world.

This seems a great example of mocking and dismissing folks who are smart. As Patricia Cohen said in a New York Times article, “Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?” writing about Susan Jacoby  she “knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history.”

2. Smart people feel that they’re entitled to love because of their achievements.

Say what, word? Benzer tell us that,

“For most of their lives, smart people inhabit a seemingly meritocratic universe: if they work hard, they get good results (or, in the case of really smart folks, even if they don’t work hard, they still get good results). Good results mean kudos, strokes, positive reinforcement, respect from peers, love from parents. So it only makes sense that in the romantic arena, it should work the same way. Right? The more stuff I do, the more accomplishments and awards I have, the more girls (or boys) will like me. Right? Please say I’m right, because I’ve spent a LOT of time and energy accumulating this mental jewelry, and I’m going to be really bummed if you tell me it’s not going to get me laid. Well, it’s not going to get you laid, brother (or sister). Here’s the thing: your romantic success has nothing to do with your mental jewelry and everything to do with how you make the other person feel. In other words, you need to earn love (or at least lust).”

Hmmm, well yes, people do like to be loved or liked for who they are. They like to feel affirmed. They like not needing to hide that they live a life of the mind and are engaged, excited, and curious about the world around them. Benzer does a poor job of distinguishing between a calculated check-list of accomplishments, that have nothing to do with whether someone is kind, thoughtful or fun to be around, and whether a person is  as he says “well rounded.” There are many intellectuals who balance their love of the life mind, with activities that give them a break from thinking. Turns out those violin lessons balanced with calculus actually do give folks a sense of harmony.

Benzer is talking about obnoxious people who think that because they’ve been identified by others as smart, or feel themselves to be smart, they should have an edge or should be specially admired. That’s narcissism. And that’s different. But so what if you think you should be loved because you’re smart. Have you noticed the crazy ignorant folks running around here, smartness is special, it’s in limited supply, and it does make folks special. If someone wants to be loved for being smart, well then, they have that right and desire. It’s like telling someone they shouldn’t want to feel loved for being funny.

There are lots of folks, smart and not so smart, who believe they should be loved because of what they’ve done,  how much money they make, and not because of who they are. But in many cases, smart people are asking to be loved for who they are, and their intelligence is inextricably linked with who they experience themselves to be. For truly smart people, the accomplishments are what they are, it is their sense of being mentally engaged that matters. Maybe that’s part of the issue, Benzer uses “smart” too loosely – and being smart and being an intellectual or even a bit genius-esque is beyond just being someone who passes the test.

Most smart people, truly brilliant folks, learn early on that their smartness is not an asset socially. That it may get them awards, but it also raises scorn, a sense of isolation and loneliness, and it can also be very threatening to others. Sure, folks may know you’re smart, but that’s not going to make others like you, you still may have to prove you’re likeable some other way. Some people learn to cover their intelligence in order to fit in or minimize how intelligent they are. It’s a replay of what so many womyn through the ages have been encouraged to do – “just play dumb,” so you’ll be liked. Which can be interpreted in many ways, but for womyn usually means, “be more cute and complacent.” But damn, like Anthony Hamilton says, “everybody needs love in their life, everyone needs a little sunshine in their life,” don’t brainiacs get to be loved too?

Many of the wounds and social awkwardness Benzer talks about come from smart people being traumatized or otherwise excluded because of their intelligence – from being mocked, to chastised for being excited to learn, from the different perspective they offer. It can create a sense that somehow one doesn’t belong and isn’t entitled to the same kind of social gains. And our society often treats smart people differently. Assuming that they “aren’t like other people,” furthering that sense of difference and isolation and the need to cover.  Benzer focuses so much on smart people’s supposed insecurities he doesn’t pay any attention to how smart people threaten those who are not as smart. Nor does he consider, how hard it is to be around stupid people on a regular basis. It is damn hard work!

3. You don’t feel like a fully-realized sexual being, and therefore don’t act like one.

Personally, I think smarts are sexy as hell. What I think often happens is that womyn who are seen as smart are denied being seen as sexy. Is Benzer unaware of the sexy librarian phenomenon?  Heterosezual men need to have varied images of womyn, so they’re able to avoid the socialization that teaches that a smart womyn in a threat to be avoided and desexualized. What is being a fully-realized sexual being exactly and according to whom? Now did he do his own personal research or…

What Benzer may be right about, is the way that American hostility toward intelligence, works to exclude and stigmatize smart people in ways that disqualify many smart people, particularly smart womyn, from participation in the dance that is traditional heterosexual dating. And let’s be clear that there is a double standard. Being a confident smart womyn with an Ivy League pedigree presents all sorts of issues of power and perception of attractiveness, but be a male with the same pedigree and magic and eligibility collide.

According to Benzer,”Attracting a partner is all about the dance of polarity. Energy flows between positive and negative electrodes, anode and cathode, magnetic north and south. Unless you actually convey femininity as a woman or masculinity as a man, you’re not going to attract a suitable companion of the opposite sex.” Benzer’s statement is patently heterosexist and quite frankly sexist, assuming that normative masculinity and femininity will attract a partner, that attraction is that simple or consistent, and that men or womyn of the opposite sex need you to “act your biological gender.”  He goes on to share on his website that

“Your sensuality is your most powerful resource for attracting men. Here are some suggestions from a guy who knows what turns him into putty.”

“How to bring out the best in a man. The power has always been within you to be a great woman to your man — here’s how. p. 224”

We learn that smart womyn in particular are an unfeminine threat who cannot, because of their intelligence, tap into their major power as womyn, their sexuality and sensuality. Oh really, for real? Let me just push up my cleavage  so I can get that cutie to come near. Nevermind, the possibility, that a man could be genuinely intrigued by a womyn’s rather substantial brain cleavage. My brain cleavage enables me to do all sorts of things: quote Foucault and the best Seinfeld episodes, remember NCAA stats, recall the best place to get a good beer, find the best pizza in a tri-state area, mange to change a tire, and when needed get what I need done, done. 

What about all those people, male and female who are really attracted to intelligent people – people who move from music to politics, to goofy jokes, to dancing to good food?

4. You’re exceptionally talented at getting in the way of your own romantic success.

What a way to suggest, as Susan Jacoby has said, that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing.” Boys and girls, too much learning can prevent you from getting romantic love. Going to an elite institution means you’re too uptight to know how to reproduce. I feel as if I’m reading a mid-century text that is going to chide me for being a frigid womyn. Social awkwardness hits folks at all places of the social, smartness, and class spectrum. What Benzer runs the risk of doing is suggesting that wealthy people smart people, are innately socially awkward, and therefore ineffectual at seduction.

Is Benzer unfamiliar with say Bill Clinton who has a long storied history of womanizing and is unquestionably brilliant. Or Lord Shelley who had elaborate affairs. Baudelaire? Or intellectuals who’ve had long time romantic partners?

Sure, really smart people are more likely to be a tad neurotic, questioning each movement, moment, and the meaning behind it. And yes, that is indeed distracting when trying to just go with one’s heart. But blaming smart people, or suggesting that their intelligence is the culprit of failed romances is inaccurate and misleading. Might it be instead some narcissism, that they may not be as interesting as they think, that their socially awkward, not ready for a relationship, or any number of things that have to do with personality and character and not one’s IQ.

Which brings us to Benzer’s last reason why smart people are so unsuccessful in love

5. By virtue (or vice) of being smart, you eliminate most of the planet’s inhabitants as a dating prospect

Benzer further qualifies who is he talking about when he says smart,

Let’s say by ‘smart’ we mean ‘in the top 5% of the population in terms of intelligence and education’. Generally speaking, smart people seek out other smart people to hang out with, simply because they get bored otherwise. And if they’re going to spend a lot of time with someone, intelligence in a partner is pretty much a requirement.

Well, congratulations — you’ve just eliminated 95% of the world’s population as a potential mate, Mr or Ms Smartypants. Now, luckily, the world’s kinda big, so the remaining 5% of the gender of your choice is still a plentiful 160 million or so people. Even if only 1% of those are single enough, good-looking enough, local enough and just all-around cool enough for you, that’s over a million people you can date out there.

Yes there are limited folks to date. Keep in mind that according to a National Geographic study done in 2006, “only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.” And that “nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution,” not in a critical thinking, philosophy or religion class, but as a science class. Benzer doesn’t seem to realize that as Jacoby says “the United States seems particularly vulnerable to a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism.”

 In other words, there are lots of crazy mixed up folks out there with no good sense, without even taking into account “smarts,” or varying “smartness” levels. This combined with a dislike of smart people, or people who are perceived as asking too many questions, thinking too critically, or thinking too creatively/too divergently, means that its a cultural bias against smart people that impacts “smartness” being perceived as attractive – and not the actual smart people, that are the issue.

Besides, if one has good sense, you have to  eliminate folks – for all sorts of crazy “elitist” reasons: racist, sexist, homophobic behavior, lack of interests in the world, incompatibility, lack of shared values or dreams, or you know, an inability to locate major geopolitical nations on a map when the country has been intensively in the news for 8 years. Sacrifices have to be made. The fact is, it’s harder for smart people to date, because of the U.S.’s hostility toward smart, independently creative (meaning creative in a way that Gap, google, or Apple can’t co-opt and make into a kick ass viral commercial), critical thinkers has reached such a level that those people are  being driven to the margins.

Also keep in mind, that generally folks in Gen X and Y are more prone, in certain circles, to hook ups than dating, generally. It’s not just smart people who are struggling to make connections and create intimacy, we live in a time and space in which, all of us are struggling to make authentic connections. Asserting or suggesting it’d all be better if those smarty pants could just stop being so smart and be a little more emotional, a little less likely to correct your geography, a little less uptight, is not only unhelpful it’s not accurate. It’s intelligence, real intelligence, not some “smarts” you got out of a book your TA made you read at Harvard, but a commitment to learning, knowledge, and curiosity that sometimes encourages a person to really want to speak to another, learn about their life, be observant enough to get them a touching gift, be reflective enough to understand or seek to understand their emotional motives, and perceptive enough to dig deep for the hard work of loving. Why not help smart people understand how their gifts can be an asset in a loving relationship? Why not help others learn how to truly appreciate and love a divergent thinker or smart partner?

One thing is for sure, Benzer has a smart marketing strategy. Tapping into the lifetime of isolation and mocking that many smart folks endure, in order to sell them a book that explains their isolation and teaches them “how” to be better is quite a strategy. Benzer is also smart enough to get folks who think they’re smarty pants to buy his book as well. After all it’s the perfect explanation for their failure in romance, “I’m not dating, it must be because I’m sooo smart I don’t know how to do it!” He’ll get all sorts of smarty pants with such a strategy….

And just think, I didn’t even mention how race, class, gender and sexuality impact our thinking of what’s attractive and what’s not…

Top 5 Ways Stupid People Ruin Dating

1. They keep using words like amazing and totally, with an inflection that ends in a question, so you can’t ever  really tell what they like because the tool box of adjectives is so limited.

2. You have an idea and they make fun of you for the idea, but later someone invents the same damn thing and makes a million dollars.

3. You want to try the Kama Sutra but they want to know “Kama who…? I don’t do foreign food.”

4. They literally do not understand “the words that are coming out of my mouth.” Logic is a difficult concept, especially as they are busy contradicting themselves. After all the conversation you are trying to have with them was not on their task list.

5. There’s nothing interesting to talk about outside of what they saw on Fox the other day or alternatively, they haven’t read anything worthy of poaching from The Atlantic, Harper’s, Vanity Fair, or Foucault lately.

See how obnoxious it is….

But then again, take it or leave it, I’m just a super geek in search of love….


One Response to “Dr. Alex Benzer’s Stupid Prejudice Against Smart People”

  1. brownstocking Says:

    Hilarious take, thank you! I surfed in from Racialicious, and I’m glad I did!

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