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clioi's avatar

I can't relate to my boyfriend intellectually, what should I do?

Asked by clioi (532points) June 24th, 2010

My boyfriend is one of the nicest, humblest, and least judgmental people you will ever meet. But I’ve been struggling for the longest time with his intelligence. Before I go further, I’d like to make clear that I am no stranger to stupidity or being naive. I’ve said and done my share of stupid things, but after six years of being with him it seems like he makes a lifestyle out of it. For one thing, he constantly forgets things, and not even complicated or easily forgotten things – like basic words. It’s difficult to carry on a conversation with him for over 20 minutes about, say, shopping at our local mini-mall, without him struggling for a few seconds to bring up the word “plaza” from the dark depths of his mind. Also, i’m almost certain that he’s guilty of any and every grammar or spelling mistake that peeves anyone anywhere. We just recently had a conversation because he insisted that the correct way to spell the phrase “supposed to” was “suppose to” (and likewise with “used to” > “use to”). We were also around that time talking about working out and weight loss and he was astounded when in the course of the talk he discovered that carbs and fat were not the same thing. I really can’t give a detailed description of how many ditsy things he does and says because they happen so often. I know that I’m probably being overbearing about these things; it’s more important that he’s a really good person and that I enjoy being with him. It’s just so frustrating sometimes. To say that I can’t relate to him intellectually is sort of an understatement, because he’s now a senior in college and he still seems ignorant of some of the stuff that you’d think you’d learn in middle school. I want very much to get off my high horse and get over this issue (believe me, if we are going to fight about things there are much better things that we have to fight about). Sorry for such a long winded question and any advice would be appreciated.

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46 Answers

janbb's avatar

To cut to the chase, this would be a dealbreaker for me. I hear you saying that he’s a good and kind person, but this sounds like it is too constant an annoyance to you to get over. I know it isn’t easy to face, but I would at least consider breaking up with him. Intellectual compatibility is very important – at least to me and it sounds like it is to you – in a relationship.

CMaz's avatar

After 6 years? Sounds like the 7 year itch is coming on.

partyparty's avatar

If you are arguing about things like this after six years, then I don’t hold out much hope for you both.
Is he a nice person? Is he kind towards you? Does he love you? Is he your best friend?
If you can say yes to these questions, then surely this is all that matters.
Getting things wrong like this should be a minor glitch in your relationship. Look at the whole person, the good points.
If this doesn’t work then I think I would end your relationship.

cookieman's avatar

Perhaps he is dyslexic or has an undiagnosed learning disability.

Merriment's avatar

All I can offer you is this:

I have been married nearly 30 years and in the course of that time everything my spouse has said or done has annoyed me to one degree or another at one time or another. And the same is true for him regarding me, I’m sure.

It boils down to this…do you have a mutual “big picture”? Do you love each other warts and all?

If you do, look at his differences and hope he looks at yours as what each of you bring to the table to encourage growth in the other.

If you can’t do that and you find yourself being critical of him all the time because he just isn’t “right” for you…then do the right thing and set this nice, humble and non-judgmental man free to find someone who loves him for who he is not who he could be.

Coloma's avatar

In my experience ( being married to what I considered an intellectual mismatch ) I’d say it’s not going to be a longterm match.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an intellectual peer in a relationship, someone that can go head to head with you and pow wow on all sorts of curious and intelligent topics, not to mention the intellectual creativity of a more diverse thinker.

My marriage had other issues of course that led to it’s demise, but..I gotta say…that intellect is hugley important to me. We can all make do and find other sources of stimulating people, but…to have and to hold til death do you part with a simpleton….pretty unsatisfying.

It has been found that when both partners feel well matched intellectually and in intelligence a better match is likely.

Spider's avatar

It’s possible that you feel you are being judged by the level of intelligence of your boyfriend. It’s possible that you want to be in a relationship that challenges you intellectually. AND, it’s possible to find intellectual relationships outside this relationship… one thing I learned it that a significant other cannot be EVERYTHING to someone.

They way you feel about him tells you what kind of a relationship it actually is, regardless of whether it’s what you or he wants. No one can force a relationship to be what it isn’t.

I can’t tell whether you are seeking for reasons to make it work, or justifications to break-up. Either choice is the right answer, depending on what you are looking for in a relationship. Try to determine what you want before letting go of what you have.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Yeah, I’d leave. In fact, I did leave over this.

marinelife's avatar

I think that you had better reconsider a future with him. You already look down on your boyfriend. Your annoyance is going to turn into contempt through the years.

By the way, yes, it is important to be with a nice person, but I also consider it to be vitaly important to be with someone who is my intellectual equal. Someone who gets all my references and jokes.

Coloma's avatar


Yes..I used to refer to my ex and I as being a donkey and a racehorse. lol

Nothing wrong with donkeys, they are rather cute and have their charms..but they are no match when it comes to running on the same track as a thoroughbred. haha

The old ’ equally yoked’ mantra…the donkey will forever feel dragged along against it’s will, unable to keep up, and the racehorse will feel stifled and held back from it’s true potential.

Same thing applies to the deep and shallow scene.

The person of depth will always be hitting their head in the shallow persons pond, and the shallow person will feel like they are drowning, fighting for breath in the deep end of the pool. hahahaha

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

As someone whose life is tied so much to my intellect, I would feel like a person who can’t get enough oxygen from the air. The discomfort would just grow over time because as part of a couple so intellectually mismatched, I would_feel held back_ from continuing to grow as a person in such a relationship.

I spent 30+ years in the academic community and I have several degrees. My wife, despite having not completed her university education is intelligent, well read and stimulating company not just because I love her intensely. She continually amazes with with the breadth of her knowledge.

For a relationship to be satisfying, you must share an intellectual life that compliments your physical and social relationship. Would you willingly be tied to a person whose intellectual life is so limited and who seems unconcerned about that aspect of life.

Surely you can find someone who is a better match for you.

rebbel's avatar

Wow, some answers seem to be a bit cruel, in my opinion.
Maybe he is dyslexic, like @cprevite said?
Maybe he is starting to forget things due to his age (don’t know his age though)?
My girlfriend, for example, has this thing where you are dyslexic with numbers and notice of time and – direction (she can’t add 12 and 19, for example (32)).
This bemused and, sometimes, annoyed me in the beginning of our relationship (mainly because i was not aware of the condition) but now it doesn’t anymore, i just help her where needed.
The only thing that is a bit worrying to me, is the fact that he argues with you about some of his ‘mistakes’.
Good luck.

Edit: I just read @Dr_Lawrence ‘s answer and realized i forgot to state that my girlfriend is an intelligent woman, more intelligent then i am (if that says something :-) )

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@rebbel 12+19 is 31. :-)

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

He’s obviously not unintelligent, or he wouldn’t have made it to his senior year in college. I’ve known a lot of adults who weren’t well-educated in the grammar basics, as well as those that didn’t read quality material on a regular basis.

My S/O feels the same way you do, and he is mortified daily by the errors in things that his family members post on Facebook.

If you have time, take a look at the link below. It is a description of one personal characteristic from a self-assessment developed by The Gallup Organization. I think you might relate to it.

Draconess25's avatar

@Dr_Dredd Really? I thought it was 37!

rebbel's avatar

It was my girlfriend’s result :-)

Coloma's avatar

Yes, well…case in point:

My ex once read a dining reciept of ‘Chg. due’ in a Chinese restaurant and exclaimed….

” Chung du? Chung du?...We didn’t order anything called Chung Du! ”

Okay…he was moderately intoxicated…but STILL! lololol

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

You might fall for him because of the cute things he does, you marry the brains he has.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@rebbel I wouldn’t leave if they had dyslexia – but I did leave because he couldn’t stand to hear anything I found interesting and it was all too ‘complicated’ and it was all so bothersome – besides, the OP doesn’t seem to be the impulsive type…if for 6 years I felt this way…well it wouldn’t be me…as soon as my ex-husband and I started to drift apart intellectually, it wasn’t even a couple of months before I said good-bye.

janbb's avatar

We can argue the point ad nauseum, the bottom line is whether it is a dealbreaker for you or not. Can you/do you want to live with intellectual disparity?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@janbb True story and for you and me, this is.

zophu's avatar

Are you sure you haven’t just caught a bit of the snobbles?

Is he really that bad? Maybe you just don’t spark his interest enough in the average conversation. Just because he stumbles over words doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some intellect to offer. Human brains can be messed up in all sorts of ways and still show unique value.

edit: wait six years? i think you guys are done. you’re just trying to rationalize it.

wundayatta's avatar

This is just another aspect of relationships where people can be matched or unmatched. It goes together with libido, and interests, and maybe even taste in music or travel preferences and on and on.

Of course, conversation is pretty important. You’re going to be spending a lot of time doing that. Unless you both are somewhat laconic. The same could be said about sex: you’ll both be doing quite a bit of it together, unless you both aren’t that interested. If you need intellectual stimulation from your partner, and you aren’t getting it, well, you can see down that road: it’s straight and narrow and leads right over the edge of a cliff.

My question is why this is even an issue for you. Are you asking just for confirmation of what you already know? Are you looking for some kind of moral justification that let’s you off the hot plate for dumping a nice guy? Are you trying to assuage your guilt?

You’re not a good person or a bad person. You’re just living your life, learning from mistakes, and trying to be happy. If you are doing this, don’t beat yourself up for doing what you know is better for both of you in the long run. If I’m reading too much into this (and people accuse me of that regularly), then I agree with most. The relationship is not going to be a happy one. Best to end it.

rebbel's avatar

I can fully understand that.

drClaw's avatar

You’ll be fine, as long as your boyfriend is older than you. At least that’s what this study says…

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@drClaw Lol, good thing we have that study to help us figure love out – what a bunch of bs

Coloma's avatar

Lets run with the dull knife theory…dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones..why?

Cuz you gotta apply more pressure! hahahaha

Seriously thoguh..there is no shame or snobbery involved with desiring an intellectual equal in a relationship.

Prefernces don’t make someone a snob.

It’s like buying a car, you want it all…...looks, speed, reliability, good handling.

Back to donkeys and racehorse and Corvettes and Kias. lol

le_inferno's avatar

I understand the dilemma one faces when your SO is an all-around great person… just not quite on your level. It’s hard to leave him, but in the end, you’ll be so much happier with someone you feel is an intellectual match for you. Your relationship will be richer and more fulfilling.

Jeruba's avatar

How important is intellectual companionship to you? To me it would be (is) essential. Sex appeal wears off. Physical ability wears off. Good times and fun that depend on able-bodied activity wear off. If niceness depends on feeling good, niceness can wear off.

Picture your wrinkled, gray-headed selves sitting side by side in rockers on the porch of the old folks’ home, with little left but conversation. Is this the guy you want to have to talk to and laugh with when not much else is still working? If you care about the difference between “supposed to” and “suppose to” (and there’s no shame in caring, remember), maybe the answer isn’t yes.

Coloma's avatar

And….IF someone is not the sharpest kinfe in the drawer AND they are heavy drinkers..well..what little edge there is erodes at warp speed. lol

Alrighty…this has been a fun, off to see the intellectual movie of the year..Toy Story 3! haha

clioi's avatar

For the record, he’s 21, i’m 20. Thanks for all the input everybody.
@zophu that’s sort of what i’m afraid of. i’m worried that i’m just setting unreasonable standards and looking for an excuse for it to be over.
@Coloma that seems like the sort of thing my boyfriend would do.
@Pied_Pfeffer he’s majoring in musical theater. he has a very nice singing voice and loves the drama and theater world. he’s not gotten good grades in his non-music classes but he does well in his major

ubersiren's avatar

I’d suggest taking some time off from him. If it makes you feel better, explain that to him. Tell him you’re less stressed with him out of the picture (more nicely than that, probably). If it turns out you can’t live without him, then you’ll know. Give it a test drive without him so you’ll know exactly how you feel. You need to figure out if this one personality aspect is worth leaving or worth dealing with. Everyone deserves happiness.

clioi's avatar

@ubersiren we’ve had an on off relationship. we’ve usually been on during the summer and off during the school year (we go to school in different states so our relationship has been largely long-distance). so i know what it’s like to be apart from him and my thoughts during those periods have often turned to him. i do love being around him and being with him but i just get really frustrated with him sometimes.

—addendum: as another example, during our conversation about “supposed to” vs “suppose to”, he asked me if the word “suppose” was a verb

Jeruba's avatar

For what it’s worth, I was engaged to an extremely nice, kind, and pleasant young man who sounds a lot like your boyfriend. In personality and character he was admirable. He too was musical. We were mostly apart during the school year, so I saw a lot of his writing, with wrong words, misspellings, and juvenile script. This might not have been important to a lot of people, but it was to me.

After we broke up (for other reasons), I realized that I would not have been able to stand a lifetime with someone to whom I had to explain so much, who mispronounced so many words, who didn’t read or write on a par with me, and who didn’t understand my sense of humor. He was nice, no doubt about it. And he was no less nice for all his limitations. But he was just not the partner for me. Breaking it off was difficult and painful, but necessary.

ubersiren's avatar

@clioi Some people aren’t good at grammar or spelling. What’s he like in other areas? Math and science? Just to be clear, I’m not advocating for either side, I’m just trying to get a grip.

If you miss him when you’re apart, it’ll be hard to break up, but in the long run, may make you the happiest. Do you feel that he is your best friend or soul mate?

Aster's avatar

Call me difficult but “intellectually superior to me” (not difficult to achieve) was a necessity for a relationship to grow. If a guy was terribly sweet and fun but used ANY bad grammar—I just couldn’t hack it. I think it comes from having an engineer for a father. I’ve wondered sometimes why college couplings dissolved and you’ve made me realize why. Thank you. If it wasn’t bad grammar (shudder) it was just a matter of him not knowing a lot more than I did . Like marries like, right?

SuperMouse's avatar

Regardless of whether this individual really is less intelligent than you, the fact of the matter is, if these things keep him from being a good fit for you, it is destined for failure in the long run. I know that sounds harsh but it is the truth. If one of your needs is stimulating, interesting, grammatically correct conversation, any relationship without that is never going to work.

josie's avatar

You either appreciate him, or you don’t. Why put up with it if it is a bother?
May I speculate that if you teamed up with a guy that could eat your lunch intellectually, you probably would not like that either. And good luck finding somebody who is totally your “equal”. No offense, but can’t help but wonder.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@josie It’s possible. And just because it’s difficult to find doesn’t mean one has to settle for second best.

josie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir That’s my point.

SublimeLover's avatar

I remember advice from those older than I that was ” Marry someone you can TALK to” because that trait will be invaluable in your golden yrs. It sounds as though this is an ongoing challenge for you because you are on different levels of intellect. I believe the hidden meaning of that statement is that ‘talk to’ also means ‘relate to’. Also, I say marry someone that GETS you because those special inside jokes and what not that you share are what creates intimacy on the emotional level and results in a happy relationship. I say find someone that GETS you more and good luck!

Coloma's avatar


Yep, 35 years of staring at the back of a newspaper every morning..I’d have to strike a match sooner or later. lol

navamanas's avatar

“he asked me if the word “suppose” was a verb”

I’m not sure why that would be a problem since it is a verb.—

Regardless – knowing how to break down the structural rules that govern the composition of linguistics isn’t really essential to having an intelligent conversation. I enjoy languages, but I know very little about any language (English is my second language), however I still manage to communicate relatively easily.

Have you ever considered that your BF may have aphasia or anomia? It’s not a disease – it’s just a brain with alternate pathways. That can come from many things – head injuries, developmental difficulties, or being born prematurely. They all have to do with the way that the brain processes language.

It’s best not to hold everyone else up to a bar that you place yourself at – there are probably a few people who know you who have a similar opinion of you.

Jeruba's avatar

@navamanas, I think it was a problem for the OP because he didn’t know whether it was a verb and had to ask, and not because she thought the answer was “no.”

Her question was not about judging people but about whether she could salvage a relationship in which their evident intellectual incompatibility bothered her. If a person is bothered by any kind of incompatibility with a partner, it’s the incompatibility that’s the issue and not the fact that the person is bothered. If you’re bothered, you’re bothered, and it isn’t arguable. I don’t see how telling her not to be so superior is going to improve their relationship.

clioi's avatar

@Jeruba for the record, i’m a boy
and also thankyou for the comment!

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