Smart is a flower dying in the desert

current book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

For most of my adult life, I’ve tended to hang around people who were… well, is it rude to say people who aren’t as bright as me? I hesitate to say that, because intelligence is relative. I have book-smarts, but I don’t have much in the way of street smarts or social intelligence. Anyway, I’ve gotten so used to my social circles at this point I don’t even feel comfortable hanging around other educated people. They come across as self-absorbed and into their own “thing”–whatever that happens to be. And why not? I am.

I have this prejudice that less educated people are nicer, more other-centered than self-centered. Not in love with the sight of their own navels. My experience with other intelligent, educated friends is that we want the other person to talk about what we want to talk about, not what they want to talk about. We want to look at each other and see reflections of ourselves. And get two such people together and you have two mirrors facing each other. An infinite reflection of reflections, without any real communication.

So when seeking friends, I go to the mainstream places. I avoid other intellectually-minded folks.

The upshot of all this, though, is that in everyday life I end up having to compartmentalize a big part of myself. If I start talking philosophy or theology or science or any other topics, my friend’s eyes start to glaze over and I’ve lost them. You learn not to talk about such things, except in solitude (which is really more thinking than talking to myself. Sort of).

Well, naturally that changed a little when I started doing my website. Or at least a few years into my website. In the beginning, there was no ATPo board, there was just me, putting up episode analyses and occasionally getting email. I didn’t really want to know what other people thought, because I figured they’d tell me I was full of shit and didn’t know the first thing about Kant or Sartre or Spike or Whedon’s vampires.

But then I actually started to recognize the names of some of the folks who emailed me regularly, and I knew that I had Readers. They would tell me there really needed to be a board, so on one hot day in June, I made one. That little demon (it wasn’t a Voynak then) grew up quickly and left the nest and became something much larger and more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. Or kept up with.

But I digress. This wasn’t supposed to be a ramble about the board. My point was that I met Smart People on the board, and they were nice. Of course they wanted to talk about literature and social theory and myth and other stuff they were into that I don’t have a clue about, but that wasn’t all they wanted to talk about. And they read stuff I wrote. They read stuff I wrote and commented on it and were interested in me.

And yet still, in everyday life, I had friends I didn’t dare talk to about philosophy or other highbrow topics. In fact, I had friends who asked me not to talk philosophy. Presumably, because they wouldn’t get it. Which I understand, but living in a closet can really be confining. Confining until it’s painful. And you don’t realize the effect it’s having on you because you get so used to it.

I’ve had the experience a few times when my life became especially suffocating in this way of talking to someone of some intelligence and feeling like a woman dying in the desert who had suddenly been given water. You don’t even know you’re dying until some random person appears out of nowhere and hands you a cup, and it’s so sweet and pure and wet and wonderful and then suddenly you know you’ve been killing yourself.

Looking over my love life, I can see this is especially so. I’ve dated a variety of women, but the ones I ended up with in long-term relationships were not just “uneducated”, they were the type who would never become “self-educated” either. I have good friends who never went to college, but who have such a broad life experience and who are so well read it doesn’t matter. This would not describe my ex-girlfriends. I remember the day I decided I was going to have to break up with my first serious girlfriend, Judy. It was when I made some random comment about the solar system and she said to me, “The sun’s a star?”

Once she thought about it, she realized it was true, but the point is, she had never thought about it. I realized I was going to have to break up with her because it wasn’t the first time this had happened. It happened a lot. We walked in totally different worlds. Her world was full of the mundane realities of everyday life–getting the car serviced and paying the bills and where we would go dancing this weekend. Had she never looked up into the sky and wondered about the nature of the universe? Now this particular woman had an almost bottomless capacity for kindness and care-taking. I’m not speaking ill of her here, I’m just telling it like it is. In fact, fourteen years after we broke up, I still love her.

What set off this whole journal entry in the first place is that I’ve been doing that getting-back-into-the-dating-scene thing. I have a difficult time dating. Most of the women I meet on a day-to-day basis don’t interest me. I’m “too picky” according to my friends. Well, even according to me. I tell myself that all the time. But I’m wondering if there isn’t a legitimate reason why. Maybe after walking into the same brick wall over and over again, I’m wary of it. I meet the women I meet and it’s Judy all over again, except not half as nice or caring. Yet another woman who isn’t going to ask me what my dissertation was about, or if she does politely ask, or even curiously ask, I lose her after the first few sentences. And my dissertation topic wasn’t even that esoteric.

To save my dating chances, I learn to keep quiet about such things.

But see, the prospect of dating women who would actually engage me is daunting and scary. I’m scared of intelligent women. I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up with them. When they start talking about the stuff they’re into, stuff I know little or nothing about, I start BS-ing and putting my foot in the mouth and it’s not pretty. Or I doze off and do not ask them any engaging questions about their interests because I’m a self-centered navel-gazer who doesn’t care about social theory or 18th century history or whatever it is.

My life coach would say at this point that I’m distorting my reality or creating a self-fulfilling prophecy or being avoidant. “You don’t want what you want.” And what you want is someone to be yourself with.

I recently started an email correspondence with a very bright woman who has (I think) a doctorate of Divinity. We’re talking about some rarefied topics in theology. Now this is Very Weird. I’ve done the internet dating thing before, and I usually say a few things about my novel, my day-job, my cats. I talk about living in San Francisco. Maybe I scare them by giving them the URL of my website. I’ve learned not to do this anymore, though. Quickest way to guarantee they will never write back again. Oh, sometimes we get to the point of a first date, and they say politely over dinner or coffee, “Well… it was… interesting.” And that’s the last we talk of it.

This is my dating life, and I wonder why I find it so difficult to face. I always assumed it was because I’m shy and dating makes me nervous. Which is true, of course, but that’s not the whole story. I actually LIKE talking to this woman. Well, we haven’t actually talked, we’ve emailed, but still–I look forward to coming up with things to say in the email. Usually I’m stumped for topics. Emailing, talking on the phone, talking over coffee–it’s all agony. Let’s see, I’ve already mentioned my cats, I’ve already mentioned my novel. I don’t share her interest in sports or politics or her taste in books or television shows. And my life is pretty uneventful, so what else is there to say? Conversation over, have a nice life.

But see, my life isn’t uneventful. It’s just cerebral. I’m struggling to understand and develop the metaphors in my novel. I’m uncovering the philosophical richness of my favorite television shows. I’m undertaking this amazing spiritual journey, but I can’t talk about these events in my life with most people because they don’t get passages like,

“One of the things about pantheism that appealed to me was the non-personhood of god, the non-anthropomorphizing of god. But at the same time, I am not attracted to the idea of a universe arising and operating out of completely blind, random processes, either. Finding some comfortable ‘in between’ view is sort of a spiritual project for me.”

And they certainly don’t reply with, “Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do, too.”

It’s not that I think I’ve found my soul-mate here. In fact, this particular woman’s about 90% heterosexual and toying with the idea of dating a woman and from the picture I’ve seen of her, I’m not attracted to her. Probably more trouble than she’s worth, dating-wise. But to have friends like her, and someday, a partner like her? That’s an amazing idea to me. Because I’ve spent most of my life running from people like that.

I usually run when I see them coming. Because intellectual = rude and self-absorbed and boring and inscrutable. Bye! And then I meet people who are so not like that (most of them on the board, and so naturally half-way across the country or the world). And once again I realize that I’m a woman dying of thirst in the desert. Or maybe a flower dying of thirst in the desert. A tropical flower transplanted where it doesn’t belong.

There really are people like that in the world?

And if there are, would they be friends with me?

And would I be able to keep up? Would I be able to keep them?