A reader alerts me to this Daily Mail article which asks the following question:
I’m single at 50. Why?
The author, one Kate Mulvey, believes it’s because:
Men hate me being brainier than them
Which may be true. However, I suspect there are other factors at play which will become apparent as the article goes on. Let’s take a look.
Three months ago I went to Italy with my then boyfriend, Philip. As we were checking into the hotel, I struck up a conversation with the receptionist in Italian (just one of the five languages I speak). But while I was enjoying myself, chatting away, it became clear that Philip most certainly was not.
Well, were you having a quick chat with a local or showing off? I know the difference because I regularly do both, and if I’m doing the latter I need to make sure I’m impressing the person I’m with, not pissing them off.
He shuffled from foot to foot, muttered something under his breath and rolled his eyes like a stroppy teenager.
Then in the lift he turned on me. ‘I was wondering when you were going to let me join your conversation,’ he snapped. I tried to laugh it off but I knew this was the beginning of yet another argument.
It sounds as though you were showing off, Philip knew it, and didn’t like it.
‘You always have to be the star of the show,’ he continued in our bedroom, as he began to systematically work his way through the mini-bar. Apparently I was argumentative, a know-all and an intellectual snob.
I’m only a few paragraphs in, but I’m already thinking Phil might have been onto something.
What had I done? It should be depressingly obvious. I had dared to dent his fragile male ego. By speaking in a language Philip didn’t know, I had managed to make him – a successful writer, ten years my senior – feel small. How selfish of me to embarrass him in public with my linguistic prowess!
Well, yes. Most sensible men could appreciate the difference between having a quick chat with a local and showing off. I wasn’t there but Philip was, and the body-language would have said it all. It sounds to me as though this woman knows it makes him uncomfortable but went ahead and did it anyway, then made sneering remarks about his “fragile male ego”. Well, we all have an ego and we all have our insecurities. What if Philip had engaged in a lengthy conversation with the hot young waitress with the nice ass, complete with little jokes that made her laugh? Could he complain about Kate’s “fragile female ego” or would he stand accused of being pretty damned rude?
Like so many of the men I’ve dated, it was clear he expected me to play second fiddle to him at all times. It wasn’t the first time we had rowed about such things. One night, we ended up arguing over a BBC4 documentary on the origins of jazz. When he became annoyed that his attempts to outsmart my knowledge on the subject failed, he started singing loudly, to drown me out altogether.
This is a slightly separate issue, but related to the other. The truth is, most men couldn’t care less about a woman’s intellect provided she’s not dumb as a box of rocks. They’d rather date a pretty young waitress than a haggard old professor. The other truth is that women are attracted to a man’s intelligence, very much so. This is why the men of equal intelligence to Kate Marvey were married off long ago, leaving her scraping the metaphorical barrel of relative dumbasses. Not that I think Phil’s a dumbass:
But the pointless fight over the receptionist was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Needless to say, our year-long romance didn’t last long beyond the flight home.
Wise move, Phil.
I was reminded of our contretemps last week, when research in the APA Journal of Personality and Social Psychology confirmed what I’d always suspected – that men simply can’t handle it if a woman outshines them. According to the study, rather than bask in the reflected glory of a partner’s success, men feel worse about themselves.
Yes, which is why it is not a good idea for women to upstage their male partner in public.
‘A lot of men feel threatened if a woman outshines them,’ says Professor Sandi Mann, psychologist and author of Hiding What We Feel and Saying What We Don’t Feel. ‘It harks back to cavemen days, when men had to provide the resources. If a woman is too intelligent, a man subconsciously thinks she’s taking over his role.’
Yes, it’s a normal, natural way to feel – just as women feel threatened by younger, more attractive women.
For me, this is stating the blindingly obvious. I’ve lost count of the times men have rejected or insulted me simply because I was brighter, wittier or cleverer than they are.
So it’s blindingly obvious, yet you put your partner in an uncomfortable position in Italy knowing full well how it would make him feel? That was nice of you.
They have called me ‘intimidating’, ‘scary’, ‘difficult’ and ‘opinionated’. Translated, that means: ‘You are too clever and I don’t like it.’
I expect they also find you rather unpleasant. Not all men mind being with a more intelligent woman, especially if the man is pretty smart himself. Possibly the cleverest person I ever met was a female engineer in the year below me at university, and we dated for about 6 months. She didn’t intimidate me partly because I was perfectly happy with how smart I was, but more importantly she didn’t make the difference an issue in our relationship. If she’d gone out of her way to demonstrate her superior intellect every five minutes, going so far as to embarrass me in public, we’d have split up pretty quickly. Being smart, she knew not to. What excuse this Mulvey woman?
An older male friend – supposedly tired of me dominating dinner-party conversation – even wagged his podgy finger and told me I would never get married because I was too confident and demanding.
And he was right, although I’d bet he never used the word “confident”.
Then there was my dalliance with the criminal lawyer who, whenever we went to a party, criticised my hair, weight and choice of outfit before we set off. He was so terrified I might outshine him socially, he made sure I felt as bad as possible before I’d even got out of the door.
You sound made for each other.
I’m convinced that the reason I’m still booking a table for one instead of settling down with a significant other is not because I’m a year off turning 50, but because men are so threatened by my intelligence.
It’s mainly because you’re turning 50. It’s also because you are quite likely an awful person to be around. Those who are put off solely by your intelligence are robust fellows indeed.
I might have a successful career as an author and broadcaster, but I have never been engaged, let alone married, and my longest relationship lasted just seven years.
She was in a 7-year relationship but never got engaged or married? So much for her being a confident, assertive type. Women with half her IQ points would have told the man to put a ring on it or pack his things within 2 years, tops.
Sometimes I wonder if isn’t all my father’s fault
Aaaaand here come the Daddy Issues.
ever since I could talk, he encouraged me to hold my own in an argument. But little did he know, as he exhorted me to ‘get a good degree’ or add yet another language to my repertoire, he was reducing my chances of getting hitched altogether.
Okay, go on.
As a child, I went to one of Britain’s most academic girls’ schools, Godolphin & Latymer, where I got three top A-levels, then breezed through an Italian and French degree at the University of Kent, getting a 2:1, while keeping up conversational German on the side.
If you’re going to hold up your father’s advice to “get a good degree” as the reason for your lifelong failings with the opposite sex, I’d expect something a bit better than a 2:1 in Italian and French from the University of Kent. I’d also have expected more impressive credentials from someone who thinks their entire problem is being too clever.
I grew into a bright and confident young woman, keen to flex my intellectual muscles and to never let a man get the last word just because of his sex.
So you deliberately set out to put men off?
My bedside table has always buckled beneath the weight of substantial, intellectually challenging books. I devour cultural documentaries and love nothing more than taking another evening class (Spanish, the most recent; philosophy set to be the next).
Which is great, but none of this is the slightest bit interesting to men. It’s the equivalent of a man citing his love of football in a screed about why he’s single.
The backlash against my brainpower began in earnest in my 20s, when I was a struggling writer going out with Sebastian, a high-flying City trader. Initially he loved dating a writer – even (or, perhaps, particularly) a constantly broke one, and he had to rescue me by paying for everything. But as my career and social life suddenly took off, his affection turned to resentment.
My career entailed a round of seminars, high-profile dinners and exciting parties. Sebastian might have made million-pound deals but he couldn’t handle being my ‘plus one’. After three years he told me he’d met someone who ‘needed’ him.
This might be true. Alternatively, he might have found your success made you awfully big-headed and a pain to be around. It might come as a surprise to Ms Mulvey, but not all successful women are hopeless, lonely wrecks.
One boyfriend told my father he hated the way I never used short words, when a lengthy one would do.
So he found you so pretentious he felt the need to mention it to your father?
My boyfriends would speak over me at dinner parties, put me down in public, tell me my books – of which I have published eight – were just stocking-fillers,
This is unfair, given she’s written such weighty tomes as “How to Date a Younger Man: The Cougar’s Guide to Cubhunting” and “1920s Style: How to Get the Look of the Decade”.
In my late 30s, I decided this would be easily remedied by dating older men.
Heh! Yeah, I’m sure the men your own age and younger were just queuing up, weren’t they?
Surely, I thought, an ageing alpha male, secure in his achievements, would not be jealous of his girlfriend’s accomplishments? Sadly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Julian, a handsome 61-year-old lawyer, was a case in point. One night he invited me to meet some of his old friends in Geneva. As I sat there tucking into fondue bourguignonne and making jokes in French, he lashed out, jealous at not being the one getting the laughs.
I find it rather hard to believe this 61-year old alpha-male lawyer was angered by her intelligence.
We broke up soon after and he went on to marry an unthreatening woman with tidy hair and the personality of a wet rag.
I’m glad she’s not bitter. Here’s the photo of her in 2000, aged 31:
Now looks aren’t everything, but if you don’t have ’em, your personality better make up for it.
And that’s the thing. When it comes to love and marriage, I have watched with depressing regularity so many brilliant men choose beautiful but dull women.
Who says they’re dull? You? Because they can’t dominate a dinner table conversation with “the finer points of Ed Miliband taking on the trade unions”?
As a friend of mine said the other week: ‘Kate, you are far more likely to get ahead romantically if you push your cleavage, rather than your opinions, in a man’s face.’
Perhaps she is right. But it’s too late for me to change.
It’s too late for you to be pushing cleavage in their face, too. By about 25 years.
Unlike the canny girls who learnt how to flirt with men from an early age, the brainy ones, like me, were too busy with their books to master the art of flattery. Instead we challenge rather than charm, we control rather than compromise. No wonder men find it hard to like us.
I like the causal assumption that clever women cannot be charming and are incapable of compromise. If you’re a controlling woman who cannot compromise, no man will like you period, and it has nothing to do with your supposed intellect.
I tell myself I shouldn’t have to dumb down my intelligence or omit to mention my achievements just to make myself more attractive.
Maybe try being a bit nicer, and more considerate of the other person? I know a few couples where the woman is smarter than the man, and it works out fine because the woman is, well, nice.
But as I watch a lot of clever women morph into Stepford wives at the merest whiff of testosterone, I wonder whether, by refusing to show any chinks in my intellectual armour, I’m the one who is losing out.
She’s gonna cling to this “I’m too clever for everyone” right until the end, isn’t she?
I was sorely tempted to join the giggly man-pleasers last week as I watched a friend of mine, a 48-year-old, highly educated PR executive, swipe a potential suitor from under my nose with a ‘dumb blonde’ act. While I ribbed and joshed with him, engaging in a battle of equals, she batted her eyelids and told him in a breathy voice how young and attractive he looked. She ended up with a glass of champagne and an invitation to dinner. I stood there glumly nursing an empty glass.
I’m struggling to imagine a sadder scene than two aged women fighting over some bloke who’s probably looking for no more than a quick shag, one playing the slapper and the other desperately trying to show how clever she is.
I reassured myself that I had preserved my dignity. But I couldn’t help but wonder if, once again, my brain might have done too brilliant a job of protecting my heart.
Self-awareness is rarely a strong point among women featured in the Daily Mail, but I think this one breaks all records. She actually has a book out called “Flirting with the Barman: The Big Girl’s Guide to Growing Old Disgracefully”. Yes, really.