If you are single, even your most positive attributes can somehow get twisted into something damning. That includes your intelligence.
An article that popped up on Facebook had this tag line, “It is hard for people who are really smart to find love easily and that is the reason that they remain single for so long.” The person who wrote that is buying into the singlist assumption that staying single is a bad thing, as if no one could ever choose single life. The statement compounds that backward way of thinking with the additional insulting suggestion that the reason this bad thing is happening to you (you are single) is because you are smart. (And, for good measure, it assumes that love comes in just one flavor, the romantic one.)
See how that works? You thought it was a good thing to be smart. But if you are single, the spin is that it is a bad thing, and it will leave you stuck living single for way too long.
Why can’t we think about intelligence the way we usually do – as something good, a quality that most people would like to have?
First, though, can we answer the most basic question with data and not just opinions: Is there a link between being smart and being single?
I only know of one relevant study. In it, close to 7,000 high school students took an intelligence test. Then, when they were 53 or 54 years old, the researcher, Nadine Marks, recorded their marital status (and much more).
So was there a link between being single and being smart? The answer was different for women than for men, and for people who had been single all their lives and those who were once married.
The 50-something-year-old women who were divorced or separated were smarter than the married women.
The women who had been single all their lives were somewhat smarter than the married women.
There was no difference in intelligence between the widowed women and the currently married women.
The 50-something-year-old men who were divorced or separated were less intelligent than the men who were married.
The men who had been single all their lives, and the widowed men, had about the same levels of intelligence as the married men.
What do these findings mean?
The person who wrote that article I saw on Facebook would probably say that the lifelong single women are smarter than the married women because being smart made it hard for them to find romantic love. That’s consistent with a story we are often told about heterosexual single women – that if they seem too smart or too accomplished, men won’t be interested in them. However, as I discussed here previously, a recent study showed just the opposite.
I think there are lots of other possible interpretations. I’ll just mention a few, and invite you to share your own in the comments section. Maybe smart women are especially likely to develop interests that they want to pursue. Those could include professional interests or other kinds of passions. Maybe they want those pursuits, and not marriage, to be at the center of their lives. Maybe single life appeals to them in a deep way, and their intelligence helps them mentally inoculate themselves against the cultural myths that say that they should marry and that they could never be truly happy if they don’t.
For the same kinds of reasons, maybe smart women are particularly likely to leave a marriage they are not finding fulfilling.
As for why divorced men are less intelligent than married men, well, I’m not even going to go there.
The most important lesson goes beyond the question of intelligence. Single people, beware when other people try to take your positive qualities, the aspects of yourself that you deserve to be proud of, and try to turn them into negatives. That’s an example of singlism, and all of us (not just single people) should resist it.