I was 18 when I was certain I would end up with my high school boyfriend. And there was nothing my parents could do to force me to attend a better college, in a city far away from him.
Looking back at my silly high school self, this story seems so irrational (and unbelievably out-of-character). Sometimes, I don’t even believe that I ever acted that way, until my parents bring up the stories: “Do you remember offering to clean the house so that we would let you go to the same school?” “Do you remember fighting over schools for an entire month?”
I could blame the whole thing on teenage hormones and drop the subject. But now I realize what I didn’t know then: my willingness to give up mind-broadening opportunities for love is something that plenty of women do everyday. And women compromising for men may be a new externality of the dating market—an unavoidable consequence of women being too darn smart for their own good.
When I was in high school, being in a solid relationship was #goals. I wasn’t popular, and I desperately wanted to believe in true love, the kind that would post “flair” on my Facebook wall and write me poems set to rock music. My favorite movies (A Walk to Remember) idealized young romance, the kind that went straight from graduation into marriage. (I’m having trouble typing these words. Young me was a USELESS romantic).
High school Brittney had plenty of good grades and plenty of awards. What I really wanted was a boyfriend, who would prove that love might exist for nerdy, awkward girls.
The problem was, the boy I started dating at the time was astonishingly different from me. If he didn’t do well, he complained about the fairness of the test and blamed the obstacles surrounding his failure. This was completely counter to my family’s attitude that systemic obstacles could always be overcome with a little work and cleverness. Soon, I too adopted his attitude: there was no point in trying if the whole system was rigged.
This attitude soon manifested in ugly ways. My boyfriend and I took Comp Sci together, and although it was one of my favorite subjects, my quiz grades started slacking. Like Cady from Mean Girls, I couldn’t seem like I was out-doing my crush, so I sabotaged my own success (Ironically, this boy is now a Comp Sci major, so at least one of us enjoyed that year of Comp Sci). I also tried to get him into competitive academic events, but when he announced that his intelligence couldn’t be measured in a timed test, I too gave up that event (although I retained my domination in other events that he had no interest in). And perhaps most shockingly, I never had my varsity letter jacket embroidered because my boyfriend had never lettered in any event. I couldn’t seem like I was better than him, could I?
Things came to a head when love-struck Brittney told her parents she would rather attend the public university where her boyfriend was going, instead of a prestigious private college. My parents, who
didn’t believe in true love knew better than an 18-year old, trotted me off to private university. And even by the end of my freshman year, I knew they had done the right thing. A guy should never stop me from achieving, right?
The trouble was, I didn’t stop my bad habits once I got to university. I started dating another guy, a bright engineering major. He wasn’t into competitive events either, so my decision to join Speech and Debate was hard on our relationship. For Debate, I travelled almost every other week to other universities to debate in 3- or 4- day tournaments. I missed a lot of school, a lot of social events, and I really didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked in my “college love story.”
I was just about to drop Speech and Debate when the relationship ended, which was actually a great breaking point for me: I was able to throw myself into my passions completely, and achieved success at the national debate tournament. I also started writing a fashion column for my college newspaper, and became interested in Asian-American advocacy work, landing two back-to-back internships in Washington D.C.
You’d think that I would have learned my lesson. But maddeningly, I kept making the same mistake over and over: “dumbing” down my achievements in order not to intimidate my new dating partners so I could become more accommodating to their time demands. When I was accepted into schools and internships, I actually found myself comparing the distance between them and my then-boyfriend’s place of work, just so that I could be closer to him. Never mind the academic credentials of the institution!
Each time, my parents or my better judgment would prevent me from making the emotionally-tempting decision to give up my ambitions for my love life. But I kept coming back to this tug-of-war. Wasn’t I an educated, smart woman who shouldn’t be bound by these constraints? And why did none of my dating partners think of moving or changing career paths to accommodate me?
Sad thing is, I’m not alone. Even now, at law school, plenty of my female classmates and I discuss whether to search for jobs in a smaller, secondary market just so we can be closer to our boyfriends/fiances. A few female law students wonder how many years they’ll last in the workforce before they will have to leave to start families.
Other female law students bemoan a slightly different problem: the lack of educated guys who can keep up with them. The ironic thing is that they maybe be objectively correct: there is a lack of educated men in the dating pool because more and more women are being admitted to college, which makes dating more difficult for seemingly brilliant women.
Does this mean that I had the right idea to hide my intelligence to get more guys? I want to say the answer is “NO,” and of course the answer should be “no.” But when a woman’s intelligence might lead to increased chance of singledom, and when studies show men are intimidated by smart women even if they say they prefer an intelligent partner, I’m actually really confused whether my 18-year old self was high on hormones, or if she was onto something deeper.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to people seeking a life partner who “prioritizes their life in a way that’s compatible with how you prioritize yours.” Unfortunately, women are the parties who are likelier to accommodate others. Maybe there is a dating discrepancy for smart women because men haven’t gotten around to the idea that they can change their life to support their female partners.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, because I wanted to show my little sister and her friends (hi guys! thanks for reading) that women shouldn’t have to give up academics for love, and that chasing intelligence is just as rewarding as beautifying one’s appearance. But really, the answer is much more complicated. Maybe you’ll have more dating opportunities if you don’t intimidate men with your grades. But do you really want to date a guy who would disappear if you beat him in a math competition (happened to me…)? Or a guy that says he can’t “do long-distance” with the implication that I should move to a new city (also me…)?
I decided the best way to let readers make up their own mind is to recant my own personal tale, up until this moment. I started dating my current boyfriend right around the time I got into law school. After calling my parents to inform them of my admission, I immediately asked the boyfriend if he would be okay with a long-distance relationship.
“I can just go to another school,” I had said, “if that will be closer—.”
“Brittney,” he said. “Are you crazy? You got into Harvard. Go to Harvard. I wanna see you kick butt.”
The enormous relief that I felt at that moment was overwhelming. I didn’t have to choose between my future success and my future romantic prospects. I don’t want to think about what I would have done if he had an actual problem with my plans, but I sincerely hope that I would have had the wisdom to pursue my academic dreams nonetheless. Now I feel free to show off, because someone wants to see me soar and my boyfriend will admire my success instead of letting it threaten his self-esteem.
Moreover, he keeps reminding me of how short-sighted I am when I try to downplay my achievements. (“Brittney, why in the world would you not accept that job with a prestigious law firm. You’re smarter than this.”) I’m hoping his attitude becomes more commonplace, so that we don’t live in a world where a girl’s grade in Comp Sci will send boys running for the hills.
I’m not saying it’s a fairy tale ending for me, yet. But it’s nice to know that those movies didn’t lie to me—love for brainy girls may exist after all.
“There Is No Boy Cute Enough or Interesting Enough to Stop You From Getting Your Education”