On Reconciling an Intelligence Gap in a Relationship

Let me preface this by saying that I believe the concepts of IQ, knowledge, and genius are all rooted in ableism and a need to subjugate the ‘feeble-minded’–or whomever seems like a threat to those in power. But I’m sure everyone knows someone they’d consider a genius. Be it a figure from history, a friend, or even yourself, someone’s face appears in your head when you hear the word “genius.”

My partner is a genius.

My partner, I should clarify, is a genius in their field. They’re an uber-critical, well-read student with an excellent memory for anything that has to do with their area of study. They’ve gotten jobs at high-profile institutions with high-profile individuals. They inspire me to take my own scholarly pursuits more seriously and to seek out opportunities I never considered possible for someone my age.

But they’re always one step ahead of me. It doesn’t help that they’re a year above me in a college ranked higher than my own. Every article I send them is one they’ve already read. At the gym, they can always run farther and faster than I can. Whereas I’m doing a major and a minor, they’re practically finished with their double major.

The problem isn’t necessarily that I feel stupid, however, but that we’re studying completely different things.

While our non-academic interests intersect at almost every point (music, television, video games, books), our class schedules could not be more different. They’re in the humanities, I’m in the sciences. They write papers, I take tests. Their classes are all discussion, mine are all lecture. I recently shocked them by throwing away a source because it was written before 2010.

“It needs to be current,” I said, changing my date range on Google Scholar. My partner laughed. “Ten years to a historian is one hundred to a psychologist.”

This ignorance regarding one another’s field is mutual, however. No matter how many times we talk about politics, my partner always mentions a name I’ve never encountered or a law I only vaguely remember. For example, I spent years assuming that Marbury v. Madison was a court case in the capitol of Wisconsin. My partner, on the other hand, mixes up the Stanford Prison Experiment with the Milgram Obedience Study. But we’re both trying.

In a time of political unrest, however, knowing how a Supreme Court Justice is appointed is probably more useful than being able to rattle off Piaget’s stages of development, and I find that almost every conversation I have turns to political critique at some point. I’m constantly reminded of my partner’s eerily perfect grasp of anything and everything political, as well as my own ineptitude in that area. “You have to teach me about America,” I once pleaded with a friend of mine, also a history student. “There’s an entire century of presidents I can’t name.”

This raises the question: how much do partners need to have in common in order to be happy? Although it’s sometimes difficult for my partner and I to discuss our classes, what we have in common is our intense passion for academics of all kinds. We’re united by a love of learning and an excitement about our future professional pursuits. We also share common interests in our extracurriculars and a similar political persuasion. What if we shared the same career, too?

The idea of the ‘power couple’ has taken over TV and movies, exemplified by characters like the Underwoods from House of Cards, Leslie and Ben from Parks and Recreation, or Cookie and Lucious from Empire. Power couples exist in real life, too. Both of my parents have Ph.D.’s in molecular biology. Both of my partner’s parents went to law school. A close friend’s parents run a law firm together. Another friend’s parents are both high school math teachers. These couples have each been together for more than twenty years. It seems logical to assume that sharing the same career path would bring my partner and I closer together. But as a jealous person, I think it would tear us apart.

Although a partner in your field may fully understand your job-related problems, it may be difficult to leave your work at the door when you come home. A study done at the University of Bedfordshire found that couples in the same profession tended to work harder and longer than couples with different jobs and were more likely to let work invade their personal life (Gilman 2012). As someone with a competitive streak, I’d be worried about compromising a relationship because my partner advanced when I didn’t.

What I really love about my relationship is that my partner’s achievements truly make me happy. We’re never fighting for internships or classes, and we’re able to support each other’s pursuits without letting them get in the way of our own. We may not be experts in each other’s field, but that just means that we get to learn new things every day.

If you feel distanced from your partner because of your differing interests, take it as an opportunity to introduce them to something you’re passionate about. Or, experience something new by trying something neither of you has done. The key to a connection is facilitating an environment where a connection can grow. In other words, if you don’t try to connect, you never will. So, to all the people out there who feel stupid because they don’t know anything about their partner’s field: Keep loving and keep learning.

Adela Pfaff PZ ’19 is a psychology major from San Diego. Their future aspirations include running a lab, giving a TEDtalk, and hand-feeding sharks.

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