Take everything you think you know about highly intelligent people and toss it out the window. Here’s the inside scoop when it comes to building and maintaining a lasting friendship or relationship with someone who is intellectually gifted.
1. Intellectual discussions are important. But remember, intellectuals are people, too. Ask a line cook what they want to do after a 13-hour shift, and they’ll tell you the last thing they’re interested in is cooking a three-course meal at home. Invite a new stay-at-home mom to an adult dinner party and watch her eyes light up. Conversations and discussions are important for building a relationship or friendship with anyone, and people with high IQs are no different. But just because your friend is exceptionally bright, doesn’t mean he or she is one-dimensional. In fact, more often than not, the reality is quite the opposite. Nobody wants to have serious or intellectual conversations all the time and chances are, we’re actually looking for the right outlet for our wild, fun, quirky, or silly side.
2. Don’t be intimidated. We don’t bite. Talent and exceptional skills are valued in any society. But on average, most people tend to get uncomfortable around people with high IQs. Why? Think of it this way. Most everyone on the planet has at least one distinct forte. Something that they excel at. People are generally admired for this forte, whether it’s beauty, a great sense of style, skills in a discipline, athletic abilities, talents when it comes to art, etc. That talent is typically appreciated and welcomed. But come up against someone who is talented in their discipline AND three others AND knows a thing or two about wine AND is well-educated AND is attractive AND has a sense of style AND can play the guitar AND speaks multiple languages…and maybe you start to feel uneasy. For some of you, perhaps that isn’t the person you call when you want to let your hair down. Yes, generally people with high IQs are exceptionally talented in more than one area. But guess what? Their talents also mean they can spot talent in others. Talented people are drawn to talented people. If we want to spend time with you, it means we see attributes in you that make you special, too.
3. Push past the intellect. Chances are, there’s a lot more underneath. Again, intellectuals are not one-dimensional. Hollywood and culture have placed stereotypes on highly-intellectual people that aren’t necessarily accurate or fair. Sure, there are some out there who might more closely resemble a cast member of The Big Bang Theory than Natalie Portman or Steve Martin (who’s actually a member of MENSA), but by and large we’re still just people. Most of us are not entirely dominated or ruled by math or science. By our nature, however, we are naturally curious. So more often than not, we have tons of interests that you’re bound to share – sports, fashion, food, music, movies, outdoor activities, comedy, travel, etc. So don’t make our intelligence a big deal. Don’t assume you need to brush up on your current events just to pick up the phone and call us. Don’t ask us to run mental calculations just to see if we get it right. Don’t ask us what our IQs are, or expect us to know how to fix your computers. But there are plenty of us who are always down for a night on the town, a wild weekend, a boozy brunch, or just an afternoon of doing nothing at all.
4. Understand that smart people still do dumb things. We still get confused sometimes, or get lost on the road, trip over our words, or need your help or advice with things. We don’t know everything about everything. Some of us are still prone to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes because of our intellect, we can reason with and talk ourselves into almost anything if we put our minds to it. Being highly intelligent doesn’t mean being perfect. So if you want to have a meaningful connection and a rewarding friendship, don’t hold your highly intelligent friends up to an impossibly high standard. Everyone wants to feel like they can be themselves around their friends. We’re no different.
5. Recognize that if you come to them with a problem, their instincts are to problem-solve rather than just listen. People with high IQs have difficulty understanding why someone who has a problem would simply want them to listen with their mouths shut. For the most part, our brains aren’t wired to stare a problem in the face and not tackle it. So while you’re giving your account of a fight you just had with your husband or a conflict you’re having at work, even while we’re offering you a shoulder to cry on or listening intently, our brains are quietly flipping through a proverbial rolodex of possible solutions based on the information we’re gathering from you. If you’re the type who just needs a friend to listen, let us know that at the start so we don’t talk your ear off with what you should do, or what you should have done, in 25 different scenarios.
6. The idea that people with high IQs don’t have a depth of emotion or awareness is a myth. We’re brilliant. Not sociopathic. One of the stereotypes perpetuated by culture is that highly intelligent people are more robotic or unfeeling than others. There’s a saying: “the ones who express the least feel the most.” And the classic “ignorance is bliss” is another. Indeed, the more you think, the less you say, and the less you see, the less you suffer. Intelligence allows you to see the world more deeply and therefore makes you more acutely aware, often painfully so. Highly intelligent people are plainly put, more sensitive to the details many miss. And the more sensitive you are, the more aware you are to the world’s ills. Which means the more intensely you feel everything.
I recall moving to a new city years ago. I walked out of a hair salon on a cold November night and encountered a homeless man huddled in a sleeping bag on the ground next to a trashcan on the sidewalk. His entire body, including his head, was completely submerged in the bag and he had nothing else but a ratty backpack, a cardboard sign next to him, and a jar for donations. I couldn’t make out what the sign said, but I remember thinking, “Poor guy.” Most would. But many would have also mentally switched to another topic moments after turning the corner, even if they did stop to drop some money in his jar.
Sooo, what started off as a sympathetic thought for his misfortune soon evolved into thinking about the homeless epidemic in urban cities, which led to a mental exercise in assessing the accelerating rate of growth of the income gap between the wealthy and the poor and the shrinking of the middle class, which moved along to the systematic, institutional, and microeconomic mechanisms that create and grow an underclass, thereby keeping homeless people homeless, before I burst into tears – in public – feeling so sad and angry for this random man I knew had a very high statistical likelihood of dying on those streets without ever finding permanent relief from his crippling poverty and there was little I could do about it in that moment but give him money and a kind word.
See what I mean? It’s nuts.
Some rarely express it, but we do feel intensely because we think deeply. If you can understand that the intensity and passion that high IQ individuals often possess - whether it’s written on our faces or not - is simply a product of how our brains process information, you’ll find friendships with many of us to be that much more rewarding.
7. Honesty is the best policy. That’s true for anyone you meet of course, but those with high IQs have a B.S. radar that can be incredibly sensitive. Because we see things more deeply, veiled motives become transparent, the words in between the lines are more clear, and we see the world in a different way. We’re more likely to catch deceit or notice when something doesn’t quite smell right. We might not always say something aloud if it’s not in our best interests, but as natural introverts, high IQ individuals have keener observation skills than most and are quick to put the pieces of the puzzle together, even when they connect across months or even years of observation. Pair that with the fact that people with high IQs are more likely to be cynical about the world in which they live and less likely to trust the people they meet, and you get a winning combination for problems if honesty isn’t your strong suit. If you have a penchant for dishonesty or betrayal, give up now. These aren’t the types you’re going to get along with for long.
8. Not all of us think we’re better than you. While we can all agree there are traits that we all attribute to what a good or great person is, some high IQ individuals believe intelligence makes you better than others. Those people are narcissistic jerks who will probably never have any friends. Fin. Forget about them and focus on all the rest – the majority who know that there isn’t any one trait that makes someone a better person than someone else and things like loyalty and empathy can get you a lot further than a genius-level IQ. So if you meet one of us, relax and get to know us a little. We may not be as odd as you think.
Kai owns a design agency and a beach bar in Costa Rica and will never tell you what her IQ is. Feel free to contact her directly at email@example.com.