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Smart love: I will date or marry you, only if you are intelligent

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Women fear that men who are intellectually challenged suffer from an inferiority complex.

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“Is it too much to ask for a man to be a little intelligent? I mean, you can achieve that through reading and staying current,” wrote a 32-year-old engineer looking for love.

She talks of a day she was texting a new love interest and found he did not know the difference between “fan” and “fun”; and “lose”, “loose” and “lose”.

“Lord knows I can’t stand illiterate people. If you don’t know plurals, lose my number too,” she said.

Dating or marrying intelligence – people commonly known as sapiosexuals who get attracted to only smart women and men – regardless of the other person’s looks has become a hot debate of late. Some argue that when it comes to relationships, brains matter; that physical looks only catch the eye but brains capture the heart.

But others say that if a man is making enough money for the family, why care about marrying an intelligent woman? The requirements should be: can the woman make a good meal and carry babies? Is she a homemaker?

As relationships take a new shape, thanks to modernity and the influence of social media, a pertinent question arises: is intelligence the secret ingredient to a lasting bond?

Does true intellectual compatibility go beyond academic achievements?

“I want an easy life,” Ivy Chepkoech tells Lifestyle. “For me, intelligence means not having to constantly explain myself.”

Choleric temperament

Ivy, who describes herself as having a choleric temperament (bad-tempered or irritable), says she is seeking a partner who understands the nuances of human personality. She values education highly, considering a Master’s degree the bare minimum. However, book-smart alone does not cut it.

“I want someone who, besides reading widely, interacts with people and has exposure to life,” she explains. “Someone who understands that all women don’t have to look or behave the same way.”

For Ivy, true intelligence manifests in a man’s confidence. She says she is not looking for someone to “fix” her outspoken nature or ambitious drive. Instead, she wants a partner secure enough to give her room to grow.

Faith Mwende, a 29-year-old who has a Master’s degree, tops Ivy’s list of non-negotiables in a relationship. “Even if I met the most amazing man in the world, if he doesn’t have a relationship with God, it can’t work,” she says. “Of course, intelligence is number two. I struggle to have feelings for uneducated and uncultured men.”

Faith admits she has dropped a few potential suitors because they are not avid readers, drink wine and have never stepped in church, save for Sunday school. Suzanne Anyango, a clinical officer, says she is drawn to intellectual stimulation in her romantic pursuits.

“An intelligent guy doesn’t necessarily mean being book-smart,” the 24-year-old says. “You have to be emotionally intelligent, financially smart at least for me to consider having a thing with you.”

“I ghost people based on things like that,” she admits, referring to superficial conversations.

She is not alone. A man who wrote “femass” instead of famous, not once but numerous times, was ditched by the third date.

Himbo

Women fear that men who are intellectually challenged suffer from an inferiority complex. That once you start dating such a man, he will get insecure when you the wife becomes a top executive, earns more money, and holds intellectual discussions with powerful people in offices, then comes home to a school drop-out or to a “himbo”, a millennial and Gen-Z slang to describe a man who is “a little slow, but he’s trying his best”.

Intelligence takes different forms — social, classroom, and streetwise. Some fall in love with a man who is street-smart and class-smart. That is the category that Dalpheen Moraa, who identifies as a sapiosexual, falls into.

Dalpheen Moraa

Dalpheen Moraa.

Photo credit: Pool

“But it’s very hard to find like-minded people,” she admits. She says that the pool of men her age who can hold intellectual discourse on politics, religion, and education is very small but she is lucky to have found one. Dalpheen, now married for three years with a child, values intellectual discussions with her partner. These conversations strengthen their emotional connection and help them understand each other better, she says.

Interestingly, while Dalpheen considers herself book-smart, her husband is more street-smart. She sees this as complementary, noting that knowledge is relative and comes in different forms.

“I learn a lot from him,” she says, appreciating how he navigates the world. She works in the fundraising and development space while her partner is in finance and economics.

Dalpheen notes that the top-most factor in her relationship is not really educational background or grammatical perfection. Instead, she seeks“someone who aligns with me spiritually, who knows why they’re here and what they want to accomplish”.

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Mirroring Dalpheen’s views is Mercy Mwongeli, a 30-year-old human resources professional. She says when settling for her ideal husband, intelligence was third after character and religious stand.

She says she is a graduate who has had her fair share of disappointments while dating men with diplomas and no tertiary education at all.

“You have to do a lot of explaining when dating such a person,” she says, a hint of frustration in her voice. “It’s just like having people from different cultures. People of the same culture will understand each other more as compared to people of different cultures.”

As a career-driven woman, Mercy further argues that she struggled to connect most with partners with no degrees and who were uncultured.

“It’s hard”, she says, “especially for career women like me to find somebody who understands that, yes, I have a career and I can still be a wife and a good mum. It doesn’t mean that I have to stay at home and be tied down to wifely duties.”

 Now married to an officer of the law who has an undergraduate degree in security management and police studies, Mercy finds herself in a relationship where intellectual compatibility plays an integral role. Despite their different career paths – she is in HR while he is in law enforcement – they share a similar educational foundation that allows for mutual understanding.

Their relationship, currently long-distance with Mercy in Bondo and her husband in Nairobi, is held by long phone calls.

Sexual selection

History shows that sexual selection is based on intelligence. Even in the past, women naturally preferred more intelligent mates to pass down this trait to their children.

Men, on the other hand, maybe less attracted to women who outperform them psychologically.

Lifestyle did a spot survey and asked a few men, “Would you marry intelligence or boobs and butt?”

Some argued that as you age, you need someone to strike up conversations with.

About 90 percent of your life after retirement is spent with your spouse, so what will you talk about if you are not on the same intellectual wavelength?

One said intelligent people crack the best jokes—dry humour, yes, but they are funny and clever. “Intelligence is sexy,” says Timothy Wanyama, a 36-year-old bachelor. “But I’m not talking about degrees or a high intelligence quotient (IQ). I’m interested in emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and how a woman navigates the complexities of life.”

He continues, “Honestly, there’s nothing sexier than seeing a woman in that intellectual sense, but it’s a rare thing. In my experience, many women turn disagreements into personal attacks. You argue that her idea isn’t right and give reasons, and suddenly it becomes a male-versus-female narrative.”

For the actuarial science graduate now working in real estate, accountability stands at the forefront of how to pick a partner.

He seeks a partner who can own their actions, good or bad.

“Life throws curveballs,” he says. “I’m drawn to someone who can face challenges head-on and grow from them.”

The ability to handle differing opinions also ranks high on Wanyama’s list. In a world often divided, he appreciates a woman who can engage with diverse viewpoints without losing her footing by being a drama queen. Wanyama is also keen on empathy and personal growth: “Can she put herself in others’ shoes? Is she willing to break harmful patterns?” These qualities, he believes, speak volumes about a person’s character and intellectual depth.

In the age of social media influence, Wanyama values independent thinkers.

“I’m interested in someone who forms her own opinions and does not base them on TikTokers or Instagram influencers,” he says. “Someone who can sift through the noise and think critically.”

Benjamin Maimbo, a livestock keeper in Makueni, says it is not important for people to have similar educational backgrounds. The 33-year-old says respect is paramount over everything.

“An intelligent woman to me is someone who exudes feminine energy and takes up the subservient role,” he says. Having majored in information technology in university, Benjamin offers that, as he is on course to getting married, he will not confine himself to the stereotypical notions and will settle for a woman’s character, not her education level and her physical attributes.

Verbal intelligence

So, who stays married longer? Or who is sexually appealing?

Susan (not her real name) was married for 12 years, until she was not. The 42-year-old notes that she had overlooked everything else in her ex-partner because he was very religious.

They were both educated — Susan with a Master’s degree in data science; her husband with a degree in anthropology. On paper, it seemed a perfect match until he started projecting his insecurities.

“He started limiting me,” Susan explains. “Suddenly, ‘now that you’re active in church, you shouldn’t wear trousers, or you should cover your head when not at home.’” These restrictions did not sit well with her.

The IT professional says, “It didn’t work because he felt like I was too high for him, maybe because our educational backgrounds sort of differed slightly.”

Despite their similar levels of education, their approaches to life and personal development had greatly diverged. The constant push for career advancement seemed to bug her husband.

Susan, a mother of two, defines an intelligent partner as someone who has evolved beyond shared religious beliefs and academic achievement. She now seeks someone who encourages personal development, supports ambitions, and is not afraid of challenging conversations.

“I’m looking for somebody who sees beyond where they are,” she explains. “Somebody who tells you, ‘You need to grow in this area,’ and supports that growth rather than feeling threatened by it. An intelligent man allows the woman to explore the world.”

In Stephen Otieno’s case, despite having a postgraduate degree in project management while the wife is a community development and social graduate, he speaks of mentoring her rather than feeling superior. His goal is to see her reach new heights, reflecting a partnership focused on mutual growth.

Financial planning

The father of two values their intellectual compatibility. “When someone is educated, this person is able to make arguments clearly with you. And when making final decisions, you eventually agree,” he says.

Financial planning talks are also crucial. Stephen explains their approach: “When I have 10 percent and she has 5 percent, we put it together. Then we decide what to save and what to spend on rent, food, and the children.”

With more than 10 years of marriage, Dennis Simiyu, a 39-year-old businessman, believes marriage transcends education.

“Remember, marriage has been there since the time of our forefathers. There was no formal education then. We cannot attach marriage to the idea that because we have a PhD in rocket science, we must get a similar person,” he says.

While Dennis believes that education is not the sole determinant of a successful marriage, he acknowledges its significance. “It is good to marry someone who has gone to school,” he says, “You have an advantage when you get someone who has gone to school...Someone who has gone to school, has attained a level of education, the reasoning, the judgement, how to handle things, and the communication are different.”

Drawing from his own experience, Dennis says that he is a finance graduate while his wife is an education (sciences) graduate.

The graduate prerogative notwithstanding, he describes his partner as being very intentional and aware of current socio-economic and political issues that inform their conversations.

Dennis acknowledges the role of intellectual compatibility in building a strong foundation.

“You leverage intellectualism to build a working relationship,” he says. “Not just intimate relationships, even at work, in business. You leverage it. It is such a big component in building lasting relationships in all facets: marriages, workplaces, and just general interaction with people. Intellectualism is key.”

When asked about the stereotype that men feel intimidated by highly educated women, Dennis said it happens in other aspects too.

“It is not just intelligence. If a man doesn’t have money or anything, they’ll feel intimidated. It is a natural thing. And you feel inadequate. But some see not being well-read as a challenge while others see it as an opportunity to build themselves,” he says.

Experts’ take

Nelson Aseri, a relationship expert, emphasises the growing importance of similar educational backgrounds in relationships, particularly in the now information-rich era.

He observes this trend in his practice and notes its impact on intimacy and world-views. Education, he argues, shapes expectations, decision-making, and communication in relationships.

“Communication in relationships has three elements: thought, feeling and action. The best communicators are those who have great intellectual maturity to communicate both congruently and without leaving an aspect out,” he says.

Research done in Finland also found that men who display signs of verbal intelligence, such as being good at conversation and writing, are more likely to get married than men whose intelligence excels in numbers or logic. Of the 190,000 men studied, men with verbal intelligence were the best communicators while those with logical intelligence were best at solving complex problems. Men with strong numerical intelligence were mathematically gifted.

Regarding the importance of intellectual compatibility, Aseri explains: “Gaining fulfilment in a relationship depends on an individual’s needs. However, the closer you feel you are growing intellectually with your partner (you can reason together, solve issues well, and challenge each other’s ideas and opinions) and understand each other the more compatible you get and the more intimacy grows.”

Importantly, Aseri comments on the changing prevalence of this viewpoint.

“At least 70 percent of younger generations consider the level of education among the top five requirements,” he says.

Maryanne Waruguru, a counselling psychologist, says that while IQ plays a role, emotional quotient (EQ) and social quotient (SQ) are equally crucial.

“High IQ doesn’t guarantee relationship success,” she says. “Can you handle emotions and navigate social situations? That often makes or breaks a partnership.”

Can partners with different intellectual levels make it work?

“Absolutely,” says Waruguru, “but it takes effort.”

Couples need to find common ground and be willing to learn from each other. She advises that an intelligent partner can bring advantages like better communication and more effective conflict resolution.

However, it is not all smooth sailing. Overthinking, potential arrogance, and a strong need for independence can be downsides of high intelligence in relationships. Waruguru stresses the importance of balance and open communication to address these challenges.

Interestingly, the expert points out that book smarts and street smarts can complement each other beautifully in a relationship. “It’s like a family business,” she jokes. “One partner might excel at boardroom strategies, while the other shines in customer relations.”

To leverage intelligence for a stronger relationship, Waruguru recommends staying open-minded, embracing mutual learning, and being willing to challenge each other’s perspectives.

“Intelligence in various forms can strengthen bonds”, she concludes, “but it requires effort, communication, and a readiness to grow together.”