My beloved and I are attempting to buy a flat.
This has yielded many happy bonding moments, but none quite so satisfying as last week when he emailed our official offer for me to check over, and the figure he referred to was a full £100,000 more than we were intending. Sure, we were both exhausted, I didn’t pick the error up myself until the fourth reading, but it would have been a disaster had it been sent. And, still, given that I am innumerate and he is something of a mathematical whizz, the pleasure I gained from this was sizeable. Not so clever now, are we, Sir Isaac Newton?
A degree of rivalry over which partner is the more intelligent would appear part and parcel of many contemporary relationships. Now that we’re all equals in the world of work (if not in the world of pay) many of us secretly — or not so secretly — harbour disloyal opinions about our partner’s brain power compared with our own.
It’s how many of us have been brought up: the boys versus the girls at primary school. Moreover, ardent feminists such as myself often crave to be just that little bit better. Back in our mortgage negotiations, I became terribly excited at the prospect that I might earn a bit more than my boyfriend, even though he does three and a half days a week and I appear to slog seven. This time, I’d got the maths wrong.
This element of competition becomes all the more acute for capital dwellers. After all, every one of us has to be fairly high-flying merely to exist in this madly combative metropolis. If you’re from elsewhere, you will have clawed your way here using every possible wile. A desire to be the brighter biscuit in the box may even be considered the dark secret of many of the capital’s relationships.
Personally, I am — and have always been — an extremist: good at a few things; completely laughable at everything else. Think: a former deputy chief leader writer for The Times with a CSE in maths. My boyfriend, in contrast, is a genuine Renaissance man who can turn his hand to anything, talking as knowledgeably about baroque architecture as particle physics. My ‘A’ levels were As and an E; his a couple of As, a C and a D. The fact that I even know this may strike some as a little odd, given that we met in our 40s. Ditto my follow-up observation that his As were in geography and art, whereas at least my E was in a ‘proper subject’.
When we met, he told me that he was about to embark upon an MA in literary theory at Cambridge. I replied that I used to teach literary theory at Oxford. Apparently, on date three, I suddenly remarked, ‘Hold on, I’ve just realised you think you’re cleverer than me,’ then collapsed into hysterical mirth. It was at this point that he started referring to his ‘inner confidence’.
For the three and a half years since, there has been a constant comedic wrangling over which of us is a genius (me, obviously), and which is ‘a bit 2:1’ (him). This despite the fact that he used to work at brainbox HQ, McKinsey, draws beautifully, taught himself French so that he could do a degree in ancient philosophy there, followed by an MBA, and is so fluent in the language that French people ask him where he is from in France.
We’re not the only ones to wonder who is wiser. Brad Pitt may claim he has an interest in architecture. However, he is somewhat upstaged by his reported girlfriend, MIT professor Neri Oxman, known for art and architecture that combines design, biology, computing and materials engineering. George Clooney may have thought he was pretty sharp until he came across his now wife, Amal.
Generally, I’ve been extremely lucky: my significant others have tended to be bright. That said, some of the insignificant ones have proved rather less so. My brief run-in with internet dating brought me into contact with a chap who was so dim that I would lose time when he spoke, slipping into a bored reverie, coming round 20 minutes later to discover he was still talking. Eventually, he sent me a message declaring: ‘I truely love you, and truely want to be with you.’ I was truly out of there.
Still, that’s nothing to a pal whose girlfriend asked who the woman on the £10 note was. Answer: the Queen. Another mucker went out with a girl who had never heard of the Second World War, unaware that we had once fought Germany, and, indeed, been victorious. Some couples actively enjoy putting each other down in scenes that make Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? look tame. One of my dear friends once said to her husband: ‘You’re the thin one, I’m the clever one.’ I once saw a wife reduce her husband to tears by ridiculing his grasp of geopolitics over the pudding wine. As I left, she was protesting that his penis size surpassed his IQ.
More nuanced approaches can be just as cutting. A lawyer of my acquaintance enjoys confiding that she ‘married down, brain-wise. He’s perfect husband material — so restful to be around, happy and becalmed. But I don’t want the children starting to despise him when they outgrow him mentally.’ Someone once informed my brother that a particular girlfriend ‘must be terribly nice to have sex with’, but did he really have to bring her out? Okay, it was me who said it.
Happily, in my own case, I am more than aware that I am the one letting the side down. Although, there was the occasion when he gave me his account of feminist theory and I laughed so much that tears came out of my nose.
QUIZ: Are you cleverer than your partner?
Their favourite author is:
A) EL James
B) James Herriot
C) Henry James
Your political discussions make you:
A) worry about the future of humanity
C) see things in a new light
Your friends would describe your beloved as:
Their view on Love Island is that it is:
A) dead brainy
B) brain dead
C) culturally revealing
You’d like any offspring to inherit their:
A) sporting prowess
B) you’re not bothered so long as they don’t have your ears
C) cognitive skills
Your sex life is:
A) wild, animal, compelling, the glue that keeps you together — albeit, when they talk dirty, they rapidly run out of adjectives
C) it’s funny, they seem to love doing you even more than actually talking to you, but that’s the ultimate compliment, right?
Their favourite animal is a:
At university they were known as:
You’d like to be with them:
A) you are totally in no way together — end of
C) for now
It’s official: they are amoeba-level compared with your planet-sized brain. Here’s hoping they’re hot. Maybe don’t feel you have to go Instagram official?
Alas, you’re pretty evenly matched. Neither one of you is likely to win any prizes, but neither will your reproducing halt evolution in its tracks.
Play to your strengths: kindness, generosity, keeping quiet while the grown-ups are talking. Either that, or it’s time to start genning up at night school.
Illustration By Mick Broomfield