This post from Shava Nerad originally appeared on Quora as a response to the question “How do you handle someone who has about 40 IQ points on you?”
I am with someone who is way smarter than me. I am quite above average IQ-wise, but he is still much smarter. The thing is that I literally cannot win an argument with him, and I have given up trying now. I just end up getting angry and frustrated. Also, some things he thinks are obvious just aren’t to me or the average person. He gets frustrated because he thinks I am just not trying, when, in fact, I just don’t get it. We have talked about this and try to understand each others’ perspectives, but what is the best way to handle a situation like this?
My IQ clocks in north of 185. I have spent a good deal of my bandwidth over a long career trying to figure out how to effectively communicate with people who don’t think like I do.
Most of the time I feel like an alien, and I get in deep funks where, despite a strong desire to improve society, I can’t abide the behavior of nearly any individual and all crowds/groups/organizations/mobs.
But I feel a strong need to connect to people. It’s hugely frustrating.
Often, people around me admire me for what I do, but don’t find me particularly pleasant company. I am intense, serious, passionate.
I didn’t find out until my 50s that I’m aspie, but I have neurotypical friends who disbelieve it because my understanding of non-verbal communication as a second language surpasses most humans’ masteries as a native language. But yes, I am a little “off,” I’m sure. Mad genius. Put her in a back room and wind her up.
I’ve had public roles, but my, I would rather write and coach the speech than give it. People wear me out.
I spent my 20s into my 30s in something akin to your partners’ struggle, perhaps, trying to tune my instrument. Debate helped me understand how really differently I thought and required me to “show the work” in what often seemed axiomatic or obvious.
Researchers such as Miraca Gross have shown that children who are highly and profoundly gifted have the same social problems integrating with peers of other IQ levels as kids the same standard deviations on the other tail of the bell curve.
So, a child with an IQ of 145 should have about the same emotional adjustment and communications issues as a child with an IQ of 55. You can’t just leave the really smart kids to fend for themselves — they’ll flounder. I hate to think I might have the same issues as a kid with an IQ of 15 or below — the model has to break down. But my childhood was not fun.
Really really bright people simply don’t see the world in the same ways, and our ability to translate to another person’s models has to be rigorously trained. It doesn’t come naturally, and it isn’t an aspect of empathy or emotional intelligence per se. It’s cognitive modeling.
It may be that your boyfriend loves you and is incapable of conceiving that you could see the world fundamentally differently.
This could actually be him trying to say, “No, I know you can do this, you just aren’t trying hard enough. If I show you the bread crumbs, maybe you can follow me out of that forest of bad habits you are in. I see glimmers of a beautiful mind — how can you not see this?” Be … like … me … please …
I know. I’ve been there. It didn’t work, but I didn’t mean disrespect at the time. I really thought it was just some mistake in pedagogy, some switch that could be flipped with the proper stimulus. Some discipline that could be Pygmalioned in.
An answer here talked about how your boyfriend might not be enlightened. I could be entirely wrong, but he could be trying — in an ill-conceived way — to show you a world he thinks is exquisite and enlightened. Beauty you haven’t yet tasted. A gift.
Parts of this can work. It’s why I write. It makes me hypergraphic. But if he is trying the failed Pygmalion experiment of my youth, he is likely to disappoint you both.
It is so hard for really profoundly gifted people to come to grips with how alone they are. Many don’t communicate well with most people on a broad spectrum of intelligences, not even with their fellow PGs.
That may sound arrogant, but it is a life sentence. We are generally on the outside looking in, trading our crystalline intellects (and it is really beautiful, the more I have learned about the differences of how I think, I can’t imagine giving it up either) for the easy demeanor of others’ lives.
But it is like being a stranger in a strange land …
Shava Nerad spent nearly four decades in a distinguished career in public and private internet at DEC, MIT, Varian, eMarket Group, and more — notably as founding executive director of the Tor Project. A catastrophic stroke in 2007 sidelined her, and now she is working her way back from full disability by crowdfunding her writing on Patreon.
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