Sunday, January 10, 2010

Intelligence In A Shidduch Prospect

I know this issue has been discussed to death, and I would hate to be yet another blogger to plant a proverbial boot into the flank of an already abused, rotting equine carcass, but I think my perspective is a little different than most posts readers may have seen thus far. First, basically every blogger that has written about this subject has been female (that I have seen, and I could very easily be wrong, considering how many untold numbers of Jewish bloggers discussing shidduchim are out there). Second, my views on the subject of a date's intelligence are probably not typical at any rate, as are most things I think or write about. Therefore, I hope I can present a fairly unique perspective, rather than repeat points previously expressed, by people who, at any rate, probably write better than I do.

There are many things that people often prioritize when thinking about considering a potential marriage partner (see Bad for Shidduchim and A Mother in Israel). I emphatically agree with many commenters on both sites that list kindness as a top priority. I think that possessing a firm essence of kindness is especially significant since kindness is a very important "foundational trait" of sorts that many other positive attributes, such as being giving, expressing patience, and having the will to work out problems, can, and do stem from. I'll safely place kindness as the number one choice of what one should look for (both men and women).

But what about intelligence?

Everyone, to one degree or another, has some functional level of intelligence. However, is it wrong to desire a spouse (or in my case a wife) who enjoys actively participating in deeper discussions of Judaism-related topics (hashkafa, halacha, learning, etc) and/or secular matters (science, literature, etc)?

Just to clarify, even though I would personally very much like to have a wife who can hold her own in talking about some area of Judaic studies, I am not looking for a "chevrusa," as one of my rabbeim in Israel so eloquently put it. It is true that husband and wife often find some matter to study together, such as a beautiful example of a friend's parents who regularly studied the Chofetz Chaim's works on Lashon Hara together, even though the daily grind of kids running around the house can detract from such regular paired study. Even someone who has some level of exposure to Gemara study (whether minimal, or significant) doesn't worry me, but I don't anticipate spending the evenings of Shana Rishona immersed in a night-seder chevrusa in my apartment instead of in the beis medrish.

I am not frightened of the idea of even having a wife who could very well be smarter or more intelligent than I am (as in I would never be scared off like the guy from Bad for Shidduchim's story). If anything, I find a woman displaying higher levels of intelligence, or who is accomplished in her studies to be a potential source of inspiration. Rather than creating a childish competition of "who's smarter," I feel as though I would admire such a person. Instead of letting myself be complacent, and potentially backsliding over the course of my life (as in, if you don't use it, you DO lose it), I would do my very best to continue developing in Torah study and elsewhere. I also think I would shep nachas from a wife who could deliver interesting and engaging shiurim.

Upon bringing this idea up with my parents, Mom quickly replied that this shouldn't be a significant factor in evaluating a date. She basically said that the general craziness of married life and the particular unending job of raising children would preclude any possibility of ever having serious, intellectually stimulating conversation with my wife. While she would know far better than I about what it's like to deal with kids running around the house, I must respectfully disagree on her second point - I don't think one can make such a broad statement about looking for intelligence in a spouse.

Having seen examples of relatives and friends' parents who have started settling into their older years sprawled out on a couch, passively watching TV, is it wrong to want someone who would rather read a book? Reading and discussing books is a pastime long forgotten in many places in the world we live in today, and can provide very meaningful interaction and exchange of ideas. It may just be me, but I find the image of my wife and I sitting side by side reading together to be inherently more romantic than perched on a sofa, my arm around her shoulders, viewing the latest hit TV show or blockbuster movie.

I'm not trying to make an anti TV rant here. While there is indeed a glut of mind-wasting sludge out there (*cough* reality TV *cough*), there is programming worth watching as well (anyone seen episodes from the Discovery Channel's "Planet Earth" series? It's absolutely fascinating and features gorgeous footage of the incredible world we live in). My point is that preferring leisure activities/forms of entertainment that are intellectually stimulating should be a person's priority (which doesn't remove the license for a little fun on the more mindless side of things every now and then).

Intelligence is certainly attractive, and I think it is something that can make someone even more attractive than their physical features alone. Unlike what I presume most guys would choose - I would much rather have a wife who does not possess super modelesque looks and proportions (but whom I find physically attractive) and can give me a run for my money in the intellectual arena, than a woman who could easily be featured on the cover of a fashion magazine and not know who Shakespeare was.

I just feel as though there is a whole additional level of connection in the cerebral realm between husband and wife. Certainly, the physical attraction component must exist, as well as the emotional connection - the will to place the other person ahead of your own needs (IE kindness, giving, loving him/her more than yourself etc), and a level of spiritual compatibility (similar religious levels, values, hashkafic viewpoints). But the ability to engage in intellectual discourse - a sort of melding of minds - even if the particular educational perspectives are different (as they inherently will be, to some degree) seems like something worth desiring in a mate.

I agree that you can't presume your spouse will be able to fulfill every single intellectual need you have, that's what friends and rabbeim/teachers/chevrusas are for. I just don't believe that this is an area that is so easily compromised as say, an interest in a particular area of popular culture. I can live with the fact that my wife doesn't like _____ as much as I do (or at all, for that matter) - I can discuss it with my guy friends when I get the chance. But to entirely lack that deeper, brainier sort of relationship with the one woman who I'm going to share the rest of my life with, partner with to raise a family, and hopefully create a positive communal impact beyond the walls of our home, is a big issue in my mind.

Also, just to make something clear - I am not the most brilliant genius that has ever graced the YU campus (my GPA is NOT 4.0). I have plenty of friends who I will willingly recognize as making better grades and quite likely possess an IQ higher than mine. This post isn't about me being intellectually arrogant and putting down others who are not as smart as I might be. There are definitely guys and girls out there who could really care less how smart their husbands/wives are, as long as they are fun, easy to get along with, and will be a great person to help run a family. I certainly respect those who need that kind of spouse, and who they themselves are not the more intellectual type. As a commenter or two said in the above linked posts (check second paragraph), intelligence is a G-d given ability, so far be it from me to be a snob about a person's natural abilities, whatever level they are on. I merely feel that this is a level of connection that seems very essential to a successful, long-lasting relationship with my future wife. I could survive without this component, but I don't think I would be as fulfilled without it.

Maybe this is why I tend to think girls who wear glasses are more attractive than those who don't?


  1. Thank you for putting up this post! It's refreshing and informative to hear about this issue from a guy's perspective, especially since what I most often hear is, "Guys want to marry a wife, not a sefer! They don't want someone who wants to discuss Torah, philosophy and literature!"

    I find that extremely offensive and degrading to women -- that people believe we should just focus on how we cook and how we take care of a family and forget about cultivating our minds and challenging ourselves.

    While I know that there are plenty of guys who might be intimidated by intelligent discussions with their dates/wives, it is good to know that there are also plenty out there who appreciate such discussions.

  2. Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I am not so sure I'd say there are "plenty" of us out there who desire a more intellectually-driven wife. I do have a small group of friends who probably fit that categorization, but they are in the minority amongst all the guys I know.

    I went through a phase of reading some of the more pro-women English sefarim out there (I wouldn't call them feminist per se) as a sort of preparation for encountering the type of girl I might meet from Stern. While I haven't dated anyone leaning toward the feminist side, I have become much more understanding and appreciative of those who have greater ambition than being a stay-at-home mother.

    In general, I think a potential shidduch is infinitely more fascinating if she has a great mind - and that much more fun to talk to. It has been a frustrating experience during the dates that I've attempted to throw out starting points for conversational topics that I presumed would lead to a deeper intellectual discussion, only to have my efforts fall flat.

    So yes, we are out there... we just need to be found, I guess.

  3. Being somewhat of a feminist is not a prerequisite for supporting female intellectuality. I've been known to say things that cause my feminist friends to accuse me of sexism, and yet I believe that women should develop their minds more than they usually do.

    I suppose I just believe that if you are given a brain, you are meant to use it.

    I'm just a bit amused at your glasses comment though.. especially when most people prefer to wear lenses, and many of the.. um.. not-so-bright little bulbs are wearing glasses because they think it makes them look smarter until they open their mouths.

  4. I agree - they are not the same thing. The books I read weren't the rah-rah feminist type anyway (being written by men), just more pro-women equal consideration without being controversial in halacha (this was where my view that women learning Gemara isn't inherently a bad thing came from).

    I also agree that people should use the intelligence they've been blessed with. The lazy genius who doesn't feel like trying has always been a persona that bothered me.

    Most girls that I've known, gone out with, and in general have found attractive have been the genuinely intelligent kind. They will then in turn eschew glasses because they think it detracts from their beauty.

    If women seem to be concerned about being smart in fashion that is overwhelming for a guy - why would they want to encourage that stereotypical image?

  5. I don't claim to be an expert on women, as I can only offer my own opinion, and it will not apply to everyone, but women do have the desire to look attractive, even if they do not want to be defined by their beauty alone. And who says that beauty and intelligence are mutually exclusive? Why should a woman not have both? I dislike those who place beauty before brains and are preoccupied by how they look, spending hours on their appearance, and not wanting to spend an extra minute on their minds. But if someone can be -- and IS -- both, why should there be a problem?

  6. Every, male or female, should do their best to maintain an attractive appearance while dating. However, women do seem to be a bit more preoccupied with this area of preparation.

    I do not think that beauty and intelligence are mutually exclusive. A woman is both beautiful as well as very intelligent would be a perfect combination in my mind.

    My point in the post was that I think intelligence plus looks that aren't super model quality (not that she is unnatractive, rather that she is not the type that will cause men to leer from across the street) outweighs that drop-dead gorgeous, typical or below average intelligence type.

  7. They don't call it the "Boob tube" for nothing.

  8. Shades, it's uncanny. It's almost as if I was reading my own potential post!

    However, I put intelligence as the number one priority, although I do hope to marry a kind woman (but not the type who is overly sweet i.e. as I call it, 'honey oozing from her pores'). I need a certain toughness and confidence in my potential wife to match my personality. An oak, not a willow (not that I suggest you are looking for a willow).

    It always amazed me that there are guys who would not want a smarter wife (and I DID have a 4.0 through my bachelors and masters). Their loss will hopefully be our gain.

  9. Intelligence is also at the top of my list, but I must say that intelligence without kindness will not help a marriage -- there must be some sort of combination. But when a person is describing a potential guy's most outstanding qualities, I want intelligence to be at the top of that list.

    lawschooldrunk -- A 4.0 GPA does not always indicate intelligence. A person might have a good memory and be able to take tests and complete assignments well without truly thinking. I know people with a 4.0 GPA who just work themselves half to death for their marks, but outside of school, they are not interested in learning more or gaining knowledge, and they are not interested in having philosophical or intelligent discussions on dates.

  10. Interesting. Although well out of the parsha, my DH and I are very involved with chassanim/kallos. I find that the smart girls NEVER settle for a guy that isn't as smart, while a guy can go lots of different ways depending on what his thoughts/expectations are about the "ideal wife." I often say (to myself of course)- why did such a smart guy marry such a ditz!

  11. Ink, I was merely using the example/criteria Shades used as a factor of intelligence.

    However, I am a guy who never goes anywhere without a book or a sefer. (And I did not work myself "half to death" for my "marks.")

  12. That's why I said that a 4.0 GPA does not clearly show what a person is like -- it can either be someone who is intelligent and truly interested in gaining knowledge, or it can just be a very hard-working, determined individual who cares about the marks but not about the actual knowledge.

  13. I agree with inkstainedhands. My only purpose in even mentioning GPA at all was to demonstrate that I wasn't approaching the issue riding on a high horse of intellectual arrogance.

    lawschooldrunk - it wasn't entirely necessary to mention your numeric academic success. Someone could be a very creative, artistic person with many intellectual interests, but not have the best grades. I don't think a 4.0 is a clear indicator in either direction, other than showing that a person either a) worked very hard and/or b) is gifted in the arena of school work, as inkstainedhands said.

    I definitely think that intellectualism has to be tempered by kindness - very smart people tend to be quite critical and not the easiest people to get along with. Hence, chesed has to be the overriding factor that reigns in those arrogant/uncooperative tendencies. So while I value a potential wife's intelligence/smartness, I would pick someone who is kinder, but less intellectual over someone who is very bright but no inclined toward kindness.

  14. "Everyone, to one degree or another, has some functional level of intelligence..."
    This is false. Many people are robots whose only intllectual capacity is the ability to pursue their physical gratification.

    Other than that, this post could have been written, almost word for word, by me. I don't understand the guys on either end of the spectrum. I'm not interested in marrying a housekeeper; we've got illegal immigrants for that. And I would not be intimidated by, in fact I would be more attracted to, a girl with superior intelligence. However, she must be fully aware of whence these gifts come, and she must possess an understanding of the fact that there are no free gifts; intelligence, and all other talents that we have, are to be used to enhance our service to others, not to allow us to put them down.
    Thanks for the insightful post!

  15. didn't think eyekanspel was a guy...!

  16. So since you guys are all into the intelligent women etc junk, I'll give you a piece of dating advice that you should remember for the future. Do NOT tell your date what your GPA is. If you are dating intelligent women, it's possible that their GPA is higher than yours (yes that girl said no to you cuz you told her that your GPA is a 3.5). And take it from me-no woman wants to marry a guy whose GPA can't match hers...I'd rather be ignorant than know that my GPA is a 4.0, while my date's is a 3.5 (and no, a 3.5 is not a bad GPA).

  17. @ Law (are you the sober version of lawschooldrunk, or are you actually two different people?)

    How does that comment tell you I'm a guy? I could just be a lady who is into other ladies...
    But in all seriousness, yes I am a guy, and I'm curious to know what I've written that makes me come across as a girl (not that it bothers me; I'm just curious).

    @ NTGND
    GPA is not a very good measure of intelligence. It's only definite use is as a measure of how badly the student wants a 4.0. GPA can be manipulated by choice of classes and very often the most intelligent students do not have a 4.0 (although they sometimes do), while those with a 4.0, though not unintelligent, may be only of above average intelligence. So if you've determined that a particular guy is sufficiently intelligent for you, I don't see why his GPA should be that important. Still, I do agree that it's really just inappropriate to be bragging about SATs or GPA or any other such fancy acronyms on a date; let your conversations, not your numbers, display your intelligence. I'm certainly no genius, so please do take everything I say with two grains of salt. Ok, I'll shut up now.

  18. I agree with (not) The Girl Next Door and Eyekanspel - a guy proclaiming his GPA on a date is the nerd equivalent of a guy rolling up sleeve, flexing his bicep, and inquiring if she has been invited to the "gun show." Both are horrendous displays of immaturity in my book.

  19. i want my kid to have intelligent genes
    (although i agree that gpa isn't the greatest measure)

  20. RE: The GPA question.

    There a MANY factors involved. Did someone have to work 30 hours a week and take 16 credits? Or did they live at home, take 12/13 credit, not work and mommy did their laundry and feed them. You have no idea how much time it eats up to cook, clean and do laundry.

    "I'm not interested in marrying a housekeeper; we've got illegal immigrants for that."

    Not everyone who works as a housekeeper is stupid. Some of us have done it because it pays off the books and if you keep kosher and speak English, people will pay a pretty nice rate, not too mention bonuses EVERY Jewish holiday and your birthday. Babysitters get paid off the books but, it's less flexible and it doesn't pay as well, because there is more competition from old ladies who's kids are grown.

  21. Michal,
    I agree with your comment. My comment was meant mostly as a joke, with just a hint of seriousness thrown in. My point was that intelligence is not required for housekeeping, even if some housekeepers (such as yourself) may be intelligent.

  22. I once dated a girl for a while who was quite a bit more intelligent than me. Her GPA was higher and she was in a more intellectually demanding field. At a certain point I asked her why she is interested in me if we both know she is smarter, her reply was "you have several redeeming qualities, such as being kind as well as being sensitive to my needs, and that's what I'm looking for" (like I said, a smart girl)

    personally i always liked when the girl is smarter than me. I am not intimidated by intelligence in females (partially because i grew up with highly intelligent, motivated women). I don't measure myself in terms of a potential spouse, its not a competition.

    Of course, I am well aware that I am no slouch either, and recognize that I do better with the more intelligent girls, however you never know what g-d has in mind, and i recognize that i could fall for a girl who is way below the threshold I thought i needed.

    (shades- recently discovered your blog. while i may not agree with everything you write, i do appreciate trying to give across a guys POV. It is sorely lacking in the female dominated dating-blog world)

  23. Welcome aboard, harry-er. I can say the same back at ya (just discovered your blog)- I wish I had more time right now to read more of your posts and comment...

    I don't expect everyone (or anyone) for that matter to agree with everything I write. With the eccentric/quirky mixture of different perspectives within Torah Observant Judaism (and my general personal background as well), I would say I'm not exactly the typical guy - if my views happen to coincide with the general male populace, great - but I don't claim to be an authority on the standard male perspective.

    I'll contribute in my own way, hoping to benefit and enlighten readers as I go...

  24. I am going to put up a post on the issue and link to you here.

  25. I found your post through my wife's link and just want to reassure you that your mother is completely wrong in this case! If all life consisted of was work, raising kids, and coping with the daily grind, I for one would have died of boredom years ago. If you are the type person who enjoys intellectual stimulation, you need a wife who can appreciate the same. Sadly, I think people like yourself are a small minority, but on the bright side, I have no doubt than when you find your match you will both continue to grow your knowledge and intelligence together, and your lives will be all the richer for having shared wisdom in addition to shared chores.

  26. I struggled with a similar question when I was dating a girl who I really liked, I wouldn't say that she was stupid but I don't think she had any idea of anything that went on outside of her little world and she didn't think very deeply about anything unless someone pushed her to. I decided that it didn't matter as long as we could talk about the things we had in common and we both understood each other. In the end it did matter b/c instead of talking through issues that came up she just took the easy way out. I still don't think my wife has to be an "intellectual" but I think it's important that she is capable of making intelligent decisions instead of acting solely on emotions.

  27. Chaim B - Thanks for the vote of confidence.

    Bored Jewish Guy - Your approach was exactly my mindset going into (and during) the third date. It was simply fact that she and I had minds that worked on very different wavelengths, which made us out of sync with one another.

  28. Just on the last line- many of us wear contacts. :D
    Try looking for intelligence clues in the way they act/talk- my husband came home to my MIL after our first date and told her that my English vocabulary was more than most people know in a lifetime.
    Excellent post though.


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