“You’re so smart,” my manager tells me, leaning back on his chair, rubbing his hand on his face.
“Yeah…you’re witty. It’s more than just being smart. It’s smart and quick. How is he supposed to keep up with you?”
This about a guy he’d barely met. And about all guys, really. How can anyone ever keep up with me? And here’s the main “problem,” I’m not just “smart.” I speak. I just gather aaaaaalll that smartness together and I squeeze it from my brain and out of my big mouth.
This is not the first time my education or intelligence level is seen as a negative, usually relationally. And, you guys, I’m telling you, I’m pretty emotionally and socially intelligent! I swear I’m normal. So it’s not that I become awkward (my awkwardness is endearing and makes people like me better), or that I am unable to relate to others and they’re unable to relate to me. The main concern is that I become too intimidating to those around me.
Mainly men. Because I’m single.
In church, I became a leader. Then I became a leader of leaders. And suddenly my Christianity(?), my faith(?), my leadership skills(?) became too intimidating to the single guys in that same ministry.
“Am I too smart for guys?” I blurted during dinner later that day. My mom and stepdad were going to Brazil for an uncle’s wedding and my sister and I went to say goodbye over steak, rice and beans. I looked at my stepfather.
“You certainly are very intelligent. And that can be intimidating to some men,” he began, making eye contact. I’m sure he was remembering times when he’d felt intimidated in some discussion.
“But it’s not just that you’re intelligent. You have your opinions,” that drew chuckles, “and you say your opinions. And some men are definitely intimidated by that.”
I looked down at my food for a few minutes without saying anything.
“So what do I do?” I asked.
“About this? Be completely yourself. And someone won’t be intimidated. He’ll find it very appealing,” he smiled. And I wondered if he’d feel the same way for my mom if she were like me.
But it was the right answer. Because it’s a feminist answer. Because a man isn’t told to tone his well-informed opinions and intelligence down for women. Because I shouldn’t have to change myself in order to be with anybody, much less a man I’d plan on spending the rest of my life with.
Of course, delivery is a thing. And I’m constantly thinking about timing and tone and wording. Of course.
But it was also the right answer because how does one even do that? How does one change? Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been curious. I’ve read. I’ve asked questions and I’ve formed opinions. Sometimes too much. Sometimes I was the only one wondering. And nobody wants to be the odd one out. And if I knew how to change, to be honest…? Maybe I would change. Not for some man. But for my family. Because maybe it takes some kind of “leaving” in order to go beyond the limitations your family has set for themselves. But in the leaving of that small town or small-mindedness, what are you really leaving? What do you lose? But if I start unpacking that, this will be too long.
Meanwhile, maybe I’ll do some investigative work with some of my guy friends to figure out what is actually going on with them.