Over the last year, much of my free time has been spent writing my dissertation, defending my dissertation, and celebrating being done with my doctorate. During this time, I have experienced all range of emotions, as anyone going through this process has. Frustration, exhaustion, excitement, sadness, happiness; you name it, I felt it. But ultimately, I have felt pride. Pride in the fact that I finished a doctorate program in three years while working full time. Pride in the fact that at the beginning of my program a professor said to us, “Whatever you do, do not change anything about your life circumstances in the next three years” …and instead, I went through a major breakup, a move, and a job change and still finished in three years. Pride in the fact that I finished my degree before age 30, which wasn’t even really a specific goal I had, but I just think it’s cool to say. During all of this excitement and all of my post-defense celebrations, traveling around the US and Europe visiting friends and family, reveling in my new-found free time, this was a time when most things in my life (aside from my bank account) have been getting drastically easier, lighter, and more fun. But there has been one area of my life that has gotten significantly harder during this time: dating.
I have been on dating apps for a little over two years. During that time, my life has looked very similar to the way it looks now. I’ve had a master’s degree that entire time. I have worked at the same organization that entire time. I have lived in the same apartment that entire time. I volunteered at the same places that entire time — in fact, prior to getting into the actual writing phase of my dissertation, I volunteered a lot more because I had more time to. So, I didn’t expect a change in my education level to make a huge impact on my dating life because all other aspects of my life have remained the same. But, I guess one thing I hadn’t considered is that prior to my dissertation, I didn’t really talk about some of this stuff with men I was just meeting. I would talk about my job if they asked, and maybe mention some of my volunteer projects, but I didn’t really specifically mention my degree. It was irrelevant to anything I would be talking about with new men. That somewhat changed as soon as I started the writing phase, because it was taking up such a big portion of my life. I was making progress, and I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to share my excitement with guys I was meeting, and I also wanted to explain why my free time was limited. I wanted to tell them about the celebratory trips I took. I wanted to tell them about my decisions on whether to job search or not. Over the last year or so, I have been really happy with the direction my life is heading, and I have been really excited to finally be done with such a major accomplishment. But, as soon as I started doing this, I started getting a variety of comments from men.
This is too hard. You do ALL of this, while I am ONLY a driver.
You’re so smart, so intellectual, and I feel like such an idiot for suggesting such lame dates. Let’s just call it off.
Why do you want to be with someone who hates school?
You’re probably too smart for me, but I hope you give me a chance.
Wow, you are a professor and I never even went to school. I feel like an idiot.
Those are just a few examples. I’ve been shocked by this, because I feel like I am finally at a point in my life where I have more free time, I am less stressed, and I am overall happier and more fun to be around than I was before. Instead of being excited that they are getting the best version of me that has existed in quite some time, these men seem to be LESS interested because I have accomplished something. I don’t expect men to have had the same educational path as I have had. I spent so much time in school because it made sense for me — for my skill set, my interests, and my career path. It doesn’t make sense for everyone. I am 100k in debt; my student debt will negatively impact my life forever. I would never advocate someone getting themselves into a similar situation unless it truly made sense for themselves and their career goals. In fact, if given the choice, I would prefer to date a man in a completely different industry; someone with totally different skills than I have. But lately, it feels like that choice is being taken away from me because men can’t handle the fact that I am excited about something I accomplished.
While I think a lot of this is in connection to finishing my degree and mentioning it a lot over the past year, sometimes this happens totally unconnected to anything school-related. And that is honestly even worse. At least when I can connect it to my degree, I can tell myself that some men are just insecure. Maybe they have met women who expect them to match their education level. Maybe women have made them feel bad for not having a degree. I can chalk it up to their past experience; I can remind myself that it isn’t truly about me. But sometimes, it is about me, which is even more frustrating.
I was recently having a discussion about politics with a man on a dating app. This is a topic I know a fair amount about. It’s a personal interest of mine, and it aligns with a lot of my work. My answers were thorough, but he was the one who started this line of conversation, and he is the one who kept making follow up comments like he wanted it to continue; I enjoy that subject so I was happy to oblige. After a bit of back-and-forth, he commented that while he feels like he knows a little about a lot, I “come off as super intelligent and well spoken…and it’s just a tad intimidating.” In the context of the conversation, he might have meant it playfully or in a flirty way. But it still made me cringe because I hadn’t done anything except…have opinions? Articulate them? Talk about something I am interested in? I was following HIS lead in the conversation, and yet I somehow still made him feel bad about himself by just…being myself? This isn’t the first time a guy has said something similar to me, but it is the first time it has happened so early in conversation and that the guy has been so blunt about it. I tried to tell him that people don’t like to hear that, it makes us feel like we should be toning ourselves down, and I asked him to take it back. He insisted he meant it as a compliment, and it’s quite possible he did. But it doesn’t feel like a compliment. It feels like all the comments that men have been making about my degree the last year.
At this point, I am fed up. And honestly, I am sad. I feel like my life is the best it has been in years, but I now have an even HARDER time in dating than I did before. Men left and right are assuming that I won’t want to be with them because I’m too smart, too accomplished, too whatever. It frustrates me so much because I feel like I ALREADY have a hard time finding guys that I am into and who are also into me, and now I feel like I have even fewer options because people are making assumptions about me or people find my opinions “intimidating.” Lately, it feels like men take the things I’m most proud of about myself or respect most about myself and use it as reasons not to date me. And not even because THEY don’t like it, which I could handle. If a man told me I was too opinionated, too intense, too whatever else, I could accept that. It wouldn’t be the first or last time I heard similar criticism. I could tell myself that this person clearly isn’t right for me because they don’t truly appreciate me for me. I would be okay with that. But that isn’t even what is happening. Instead, men are assuming I won’t like THEM because they aren’t exactly like me. It’s not that they are finding me too much; it’s that they are finding themselves not enough. And the end result of that is both parties, myself and them, end up potentially missing out on something great just because…because of what? I don’t even know.
Isn’t this running contrary to the most simple, most basic dating advice? Make the most of your own life. Live your best life at all times. People will want to be in your life once you are truly happy. This is advice I truly believe in, and give to people all the time. But it turns out that for women, this advice often has a limit. Make the most of your own life…but at a certain point you will make a lot of men insecure. Live your best life at all times…but if you become too independent, men aren’t going to be interested. People will want to be in your life once you are truly happy…but not if your happiness makes them feel bad about themselves.
Men: when you call a woman intimidating, or anything along similar lines, you are getting yourself into a lose-lose situation. You are either telling this woman that you are unworthy of her, or you are asking her to make herself smaller so that you can feel bigger. I am self-assured enough that for me, it is usually the former. But for many women, it becomes the latter, even if they don’t mean it to. They will start toning themselves down. They will try to be less intense, less loquacious, less opinionated. They will lose their essence in an effort to make you more comfortable. Because as women, we are socialized from a young age to make people around us comfortable, even if we don’t consciously realize we are doing that. But is that really what you want from women in a dating sense? Do you really want to dull someone else’s flame instead of igniting your own? Maybe some men do, but I would think most men don’t.
And most women, even the smartest and most accomplished among us, don’t actually feel the way you think we feel. The things you are insecure about, most of us don’t care about them. We don’t expect your lives to look exactly like our lives do. Do I want an intelligent guy? Yes. But to me intelligence isn’t measured in formal degrees or types of jobs. It is measured in someone’s ability to hold a conversation, to have passions, to have a few areas of knowledge (even if they are different than mine). It is measured in whether someone keeps up with current events and can articulate their opinions about them. It is measured on whether they are passionate about something — anything — and can teach me about it. Beyond this, we just want good guys. People who like to try new things. People who are fun to be around. People we can bring around our friends. People who are going to be there for us, who are going to support us emotionally — most of us are not expecting you to support us financially, you just have to be able to support yourself in that way. People who show up when they say they will show up, who are men of their word. People who are excited to be with us and aren’t always looking for the next best thing. People who love all of the things we love about ourselves and even some of the things we don’t. People who are impressed by us and not intimidated by us.
So, what can you tell these women instead? When you are impressed by their accomplishments, in awe of their conversational ability, and you find yourself questioning why they are giving you the time of day? Say anything else. Tell her that her intelligence is a turn-on. Tell her all of her accomplishments amaze you. Tell her how much you are enjoying getting to know her, how you can’t wait to further explore her mind and learn about what makes her tick. Tell her that talking to her, seeing the knowledge she has of certain subjects, is invigorating. Tell her that her passion inspires you. Tell her you feel lucky to know her. Tell her you are going to do everything in your power to make her feel as appreciated as she deserves to feel. Tell her that you know she could have her pick of men and you feel honored that she has chosen you.
Just please, please, don’t tell her she’s intimidating.