Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Is Functional Illiteracy a Deal-Breaker for Me?

I mean, yes, professionally, it is a deal-breaker for me. I do not tolerate functional illiteracy in my students. It's my job not to tolerate it. It's my job to articulate to them why functional illiteracy is a bad thing, and to try to shed some light on the rules for English language usage. Sometimes I am more successful than others, but generally I think that I'm pretty good at this part of my job.

But when it comes to dating, does it really matter if a suitor is a good writer? This, as I'm in communication with the Computer Guy now, has become a matter of some importance. At least he's being funny about his lack of ability as a writer, and he does seem like a person with whom I'd have a good time. But do I dump him just because he doesn't use capital letters? Or is that cancelled out by the fact that he spelled "too" correctly? Do I dump him because he seems so intimidated by the fact that he is a crappy writer? Or is that cancelled out by the fact that he is self-deprecating and somewhat charming? Or do I dump him because he's charming, because I am too easily charmed?

I don't expect you all to have the answers to these questions, but I suppose at the root of all of this is a problem that I've had long before this foray into the online dating. What problem, you ask? Well, this problem with dudes making a big deal out of what I do, and this being translated into things like being intimidated about their lack of language skills, asking me to "grade" them on their performance in a variety of areas (and no, I'm not kidding, and yes, it's happened with more than one weirdo), or trying to prove that they're just as smart as I am or something, as if we're in some sort of smart-person contest. (Here's a tip: we're not, because I have a Ph.D. and I don't have to prove how smart I am anymore.)

Now, before all of my loyal and true readers get their panties in a twist and tell me that I'm just dating the wrong guys or considering the wrong guys, I would just ask that you consider my geographical limitations as well as the fact that I also really don't like being fetishized as a woman whose intelligence is the one true key to her sexiness, either. Because, yes, I've gone out with those guys, too, the ones who can't get over my awesome brain in order to deal with me in a normal way and to accept that I don't have brilliant thoughts constantly. What I want (which is perhaps crazy) is for what I do not to be a particularly big deal - either positively or negatively. Sure, I'm smart. So's my mom, who never went to college. So are many of my relatives who didn't even graduate from high school. So I'm not necessarily looking for somebody with whom I share every intellectual interest that I have or with whom to talk about books, etc. I have friends and colleagues and students for that. (Oh, and I should probably note that I've never had luck going out with other academics because I get weirdly competitive or I feel like I'm always supposed to be reading the New Yorker or something, and I just can't hang.)

So what is my point here? Well, I don't know. I guess I feel like this is something that academic single women have to deal with in a way that academic single men don't. I think there is often a cultural expectation that a man will have a higher degree than the women that he dates, or that a man will have more professional stature, or whatever. As a woman, though, I feel like I have to apologize for my achievements while at the same time I have to demand respect for them. It's a tough line to walk.


negativecapability said...

I never would have had anything to do with my boyfriend if I had met him online/over e-mail. He never went to college (well, he did for awhile, but didn't finish), he hates e-mail, and doesn't like to write.

BUT...he's very intelligent, can tell immediately when I'm caught up in my own BS, and he reads a lot. He just doesn't write. I think it works out because he respects what I do a great deal, but he doesn't put me up on a pedestal for it. In the beginning I think there was a little "why are you dating me"? insecurity going on, but he got over it fast. I am SO much happier than when I was dating a fellow academic (he happened to be a huge snot anyway, but still).

So, I would meet (or call, maybe?) the guy before you dump him - maybe his initial intimidation will go away if you have other things in common and hit it off.

chris said...

I feel ya Dr. C. I'd rather be fetishized as a man "whose [body] is the one true key to sexiness," damnit. I work out too freakin much to not have my physical features admired and praised. I'm tired of all these females swooning over my hot-ass brain. Sick and tired i say.

I'm jus playin.

As far as this being something academic single men have to deal with, though, i can't really say one way or the other whether or not this is more/less true for guys. I've never pursued nor been pursued by an academic woman. But i will say that it seems like regular civilian chicks aren't particularly turned on by my brain/academic pursuits.

Maybe i should do some research on this...

itinerarium said...

Hmm. Dating outside of the academy, I often also find myself apologizing for the achievements - as in, dammit, I wouldn't still be talking to you if I didn't already respect your brain, why get all insecure now? The flipside, having to demand respect, no, not at all, but that puts me in the position of demanding that the respect-for-the-respect be respected, if you see what I'm getting at. Sigh. nevermind.

Dr. Crazy said...

It is very interesting to hear the perspectives of my male readers on this one. Incidentally, the Computer Guy and I have moved to emailing (at our anonymous email accounts, but whatever). He seems like he'd be a good time but like he's exactly the guy I've gone out with already at least 15 times. Why do I say that?

1. He lives with roommates (yes, he owns the house, but 31 years old and roommates? Can you say arrested development?)

2. He went out last night because it was Fat Tuesday. As we do not live in New Orleans, I think this also falls into the arrested development category.

But he does appear to have a full-time job, and he is cute. Thus? Oh, what the hell. It wouldn't be the first time that I hung out with a guy who had roommates. (Of course, the last time that happened for real I ended up breaking up with one roommate to go out with one of the others, and the whole roommate situation was ruined and a bunch of people hated me and blamed me for what happened. Maybe I shouldn't go down this road again after all?)

La Lecturess said...

I don't have any answers to this, other than to say that I feel you, and to second the advice above that you meet the guy first. He doesn't really sound "functionally illiterate"; lazy more than anything.

I've had girlfriends for whom a difference in educational background (grad degree on the one hand and no college education on the other) did wind up ruining the relationship, but I've had others for whom it's mostly worked out--but only when the "less educated" boyfriend wasn't freaked out by the disparity and was both confident in himself and proud of his partner's achievments.

(I hear you on the academic men, too--I think the only reason I ever succeeded in dating an academic is because my current boy is from a working-class background, will drink a beer with anyone, and doesn't fetishize the trappings of the intellectual life.)

Dr. Crazy said...

No, he's not functionally illiterate, though his first couple of messages did concern me a little bit. I think he had performance anxiety :)

Derrick said...

Here is a middle-aged male perspective on the dudes being threatened.

I don't think its your accomplishment that bothers them. It is that they don't have a sense of accomplishment for themselves. And if a guy is not in an academic career it gets pretty tough to have any sense of significant accomplishment these days.

Maybe the equalizer would be a professional degree or someone who has his own business.

Konibono said...

I say give him a chance. Computer folks sometime express themselves in computer-English in emails and quite differently in person. He might be quite eloquent when speaking. Some people actually use language primarily as a tool for fairly literal communication.

We've gone through/are going through a somewhat similar issue at our SLAC. A female candidate for an important position just turned down our offer primarily because her husband, also an academic and the recipient of a pretty sweet offer from us, can't seem to deal with his wife being his boss or higher up on the ladder of success or something. It's a real shame. She would have been terrific here.

Dr. Crazy said...

derrick -
I think you're right on about the hows and whys - it all comes down to confidence and not feeling threatened or less than or something. I'm all for that, but it's harder to find a dude who's satisfied with his job than you might think.

Re: the Computer Guy: I'm entirely giving him a shot, as I've been enjoyably been emailing very very tiny emails back and forth with him this afternoon. He became much less of a verbal putz as soon as I mirrored his own emailing style, I found.

sheepish said...

Oh, and I should probably note that I've never had luck going out with other academics because I get weirdly competitive or I feel like I'm always supposed to be reading the New Yorker or something, and I just can't hang.

Isn't this the exact same attitude you hate in men when it is directed your way?

Dr. Crazy said...

I just was about to write this whole long explanation of why you're wrong, but I think you might be right. Dammit.

sheepish said...

Hmmm, I was hoping that I was wrong, actually.

In a more general sense, relationships are full of asymmetries, perceived and real - things like finances, physical appearances, intelligence, free time, circle of friends, literary abilities, etc. I think learning to deal with them, or celebrate the areas where one's partner excels, is one of the keys to having a good relationship.

Dr. Crazy said...

Well, see, you MIGHT be wrong, but your comment seemed too insightful to be totally wrong. What I was going to say when I was busy telling you that you were wrong is that my problem in past academic relationships has been that the academic men I've been with have expected me to be much more high-brow than I really am, and so would be really dismissive when i would talk about the lame stuff I'm actually interested in or would try to theorize it into an oblivion where it wasn't fun anymore. You know, sometimes when I'm talking about Brangelina I'm NOT trying to theorize celebrity - but those guys never seemed to get that about me.

I don't think that I do that to the guys who are non-academics whom I've dated, but I suppose I can't know whether I do that, can I? And why would I be immuned from doing that? That's why I second-guessed my initial, "Surely, that is not true, Sheepish" reaction.

But all the stuff you said in the second paragraph? Yes. Yes to all of that.

Derrick said...

RE: dudes not satisfied with jobs: yeah, I whine about mine daily. I call it "keeping it real" but it's just whining.

RE: confidence: here's some wierdness for you. I have to admit that I actually gain confidence from my women friends and colleagues. My male colleagues just soak up all the oxygen when they enter the room. Go figure.

p.s. I hope this doesn't double post.

Katie said...

I have nothing insightful to add, nothing at all, save for the fact that as soon as I read, "But when it comes to dating, does it really matter if a suitor is a good writer?" I had a flash of the Dr. Crazy/Carrie Bradshaw mindmeld that must have occurred. Love it.

Dr. Crazy said...

Hee! yeah, I was doing a little Carrie Bradshaw there. I thought about editing it out but then decided to embrace it :) I'm glad somebody caught it and wasn't horrified by it :)

And people say that blogs are too serious or that they don't offer spaces in which to play around with voices :)

Incidentally, I may have moved the thing with the Computer Guy to the telephone. We shall see.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Some people are less formal on-line than they would be when writing a paper or proposal.

If your main method of communication is going to be in writing, then how he writes does matter. Since y'all are going to phone, it seems to be less so. Just don't let him write anything for the two of you without getting the power to edit and polish.

angrygrad said...

I have always lived/interacted with computer science/engineering folk and I don't remember a single email that is longer than a few sentences (I save all emails from everybody and I am looking through my folders as I type this). Most of my email exchanges have been one/two liners without caps. Every topic is discussed via SEVERAL short emails.

Barry said...

I'm a little confused by your associating his having romm-mates with arrested developments. Obviously, you hope he is single, but why is it that me must live alone as well? Maybe there's a bit of a cultural difference going on here, but I don't think that sharing a home is necessarily a sign that he's not grown up.

Your last point is funny: all my life I have felt like apologising for the effort I've put into first my professional achievements and then my academic ones. While I still love to rave about, say, the Gilmour Girls, there is this whole other dimension that I often feel I have to supress to get along with random people I might meet.

Dr. Crazy said...

Re: the arrested development thing:

It's not only that he's got roommates, it's that he went out with them on a Tuesday night, got hammered, and ordered pizza in the middle of the night. Also, in this area of the country it's less common for people to have roommates beyond college (though I've run into a few dudes with exactly this sort of frat house arrangement).

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, and I should probably note that my best relationships have been with guys who live in boy-houses and who get hammered and order pizza in the middle of the night, so really I shouldn't be so judgmental because clearly something about this attracts me ;)

Jill said...

As for the refusing to use capitals thing, I was interested to learn that in sub/dom cultures the subs always use all little letters and only the doms get to use capitals. It gets exaggerated a bit too, so the dom would write everything correctly capitalised except for the sub's name, which would be written all in little letters, and the sub would write everything in little letters except (when writing to the dom) for words like You or Mistress or (when referring to the dom) Her or She.

Gave me a whole new view on those aesthetes who refute capital letters in order to look more like e.e. cummings or something.

Hm. Maybe you didn't want to know that.

csdorotoc said...

I'm never threatened by what a woman does because it doesn't matter. She could be a lawyer or a waitress and it wouldn't make a difference. I think many guys are the same way. And when sometimes a girl will bring up the topic I have to admit oblivion because the topic had not occurred to me.